In this article, Ong argues that Edmund Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland reveals that Spenser held conflicting views of the Irish:  he supported a particularly ferocious policy of England's domination of Ireland, but he also was quite reserved in his criticism of the Irish.

In order to sort out these conflicting views, Ong traces the literary tradition from which A View . . . was written, acknowledging Raphael Holinshed's The Second Volume of Chronicles:  conteining the Description, Conquest, Inhabitation, and Troublesome Estate of Ireland . . . as its most direct predecessor but focusing on earlier works in the tradition, Edmund Campion's A Historie of Ireland and Sylvester Giraldus Cambrensis' Topographia Hibernica and Expugnation Hibernica.

Ong's comparison of Spenser's view of the Irish with the views of Campion and Cambrensis shows that Spenser, for the most part, followed tradition in terms of English attitudes toward the Irish:  all three writers tended to see the Irish in extremes, as people with good "natural" qualities but the inability to convert those qualities into art.  This assessment by Ong seems to draw on his interest in the relationship between abstract ideas and the material realm, which is more fully elaborated in "The Province of Rhetoric and Poetic" and "The Meaning of the 'New Criticism.'"

Toward the end of this article, Ong turns to a more specific discussion of Spenser's ideas about England's political policies on the Irish.  Like his more general views on the Irish, Spenser expresses contradictory views on this topic:  he asserts that the English may be responsible for the "wild" nature of the Irish, but he also advocates a policy of starving the Irish into submission to England.

Return to Listings