Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Bower of Bliss

By Edmund Spenser

Bower of Bliss

Home of the bewitching and alluring witch Acrasia, the Bower of Bliss is one of the most memorable and strange places in the whole of The Faerie Queene. Coming at the end of Book 2, The Book of Temperance, the Bower of Bliss represents the ultimate challenge to our hero of temperance, Guyon, by embodying everything temperance is not. What happens in the Bower of Bliss stays in the Bower of Bliss.

The Bower is full or erotic, gustatory (taste-related), and visual temptations that invite excess rather than moderation, consumption rather than abstinence. In its seeming natural beauty—but just seeming, never real—the bower evokes ideas of the Earthly paradise of Eden, however this too is part of its temptation, since it's a false and perverse version of Eden. Just like Vegas is a false and perverse version of Venice, Paris, New York, and Luxor.

However, what makes the Bower of Bliss such a fascinating moment poetically is the beauty of Spenser's writing here and its ability to lure the reader into its delights along with Guyon. Critics have often wondered why Spenser so beautifully described a place that we are meant to understand as false, and there's no easy answer.

One issue that is clearly at play in the Bower is the problem of appearances and artifice, since the Bower does indeed seem too beautiful, but beautiful in an artificial way. However, how exactly we should distinguish between natural beauty and artificial beauty is never explained, and Guyon's violent destruction of the place suggests that spending too much time contemplating the mysteries of the Bower of Bliss might be part of the problem itself.