Medieval Harrowings of Hell and Spenser’s House of Mammon
This essay investigates the relations between The Fairie Queene 2.7, in which Guyon visits the House of Mammon, and the two most important imaginings of the Harrowing of Hell in medieval literature, L’s and that of the mystery cycles. Most important is the concept of ‘the guiler beguiled’, in which ‘resides a complex and serious theological issue: that Christ’s trickery of Satan by disguising His divinity in a human body was a legitimate and fitting payback for Satan’s trickery of Eve in the Garden of Eden. The associations of Guyon’s journey through the House of Mammon with the Harrowing of Hell thus influence our understanding not only of Spenser’s attitude toward his sources but also of the meaning of the episode itself’ (p. 190). Spenser was the not only the first great Renaissance poet, but the last great medieval one: ‘The House of Mammon’s association with the Harrowing of Hell provides a further example of Spenser’s inclusion, under the guise of an original story, of material that was, at least to Calvinists, highly dubious. And in a poem in which classical and Continental models receive the bulk of scholarly attention, this material was also, through the conduits of L and the mystery cycles, a peculiarly English ingredient’ (p. 192).
English Literary Renaissance, 37 (2007), 175–92.