About The Faerie Queene Now Project

To read the beginning of Book One of the Faerie Queene, click here.

A poem of militant Protestantism contemporary with the original establishment of the national church, The Faerie Queene today seems remote from mainstream secular society, and from its relatively quiescent and marginalised official church. Paradoxically, in present-day England Spenser's poem has most in common with the insurgent religious intensity of other, 'minority' faiths. And yet, poetry itself has, since Spenser, lost much of its power to speak to and intervene in issues of fundamental social and religious concern.

The Faerie Queene Now’ responds by remaking religious poetry for today's world. It speaks to where we have come from and where we are going by exploring Spenser's foundational poem in various present-day religious, educational and cultural contexts. But it also aims to recreate and refunction Spenser's epic as a positive contribution to contemporary life. In doing this it hopes to bring some of the energy of Spenser's art and moment into official English religion, which it also hopes to open further to energetic and diverse elements not allowed for or even foreseen by the original national church. At the same time, it aims to bring official religion into creative dialogue with other groups in English society that are entirely beyond incorporation into any established church. In short, this project seeks via poetry and the imagination the greatest possible representation of religious and secular interests in relation to our shared inheritance and to those issues of religion and society which, one way or another, matter to us all.

The project splits into two main component projects.

One is The Faerie Queene Liturgy Project’, which seeks to create new liturgical texts and solidarity-builiding rituals for contemporary society inspired by the quest for holiness in Book 1 of Spenser's epic. Here critic and writer Ewan Fernie, will work in conjunction with the theologian Andrew Shanks, who has made a case for 'shaken poetry' as a source of religious renovation. Fernie and Shanks will be assisted by two major contemporary poets: Jo Shapcott and Michael Symmons Roberts. This team will prepare two extraordinary, inclusive services for the two very different environments of Manchester Cathedral and St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, working in each case with an impressive group of consultants including scholars, artists and theologians. The culminating event in Windsor will form part of the Windsor Spring Festival, 2011. (Our apologies, but contrary to previous advertisement, this event will NOT now feature Andrew Motion.) The May 8th 2011 event in Manchester will be preceded by a procession, through the city streets, with Catalan-style 'gegants', giant puppet figures, representing Spenserian figures. The liturgical texts will be published with a critical introduction.

This project will be complemented by The Faerie Queene Fable and Drama Project’, in which writer Simon Palfrey and director Elisabeth Dutton will evolve new stories and a play through intense collaboration with heterogeneous educational communities: two ethnically diverse comprehensive secondary schools, both from socially deprived wards; and the radically different students of Oxford University. The aim here will be to recover and communicate the trials and possibilities of virtue - religious and secular - in contemporary life. The culminating events will be the publication of a book of the project, illustrated by student collaborators, and workshops with stage time at Shakespeare's Globe.

The projects will come together in two events of reflection, dialogue and synthesis: a public arts event run by the Poet in the City charity at major London venue King's Place and a two-day cross-sector conference at Cumberland Lodge.

The overall project will come to fruition in a major collection of essays revealing what Spenser has to give to the arts, society and religion, entitled The Faerie Queene Now!