Unlike the works of contemporaries like William Shakespeare and John Donne, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596) is almost invariably reproduced by modern editors with its peculiar sixteenth-century spellings intact, on the grounds that orthographic modernization would violate the poem’s deliberately archaic style and obscure its densely encoded verbal wit. Drawing on the resources of traditional bibliography, intellectual history, and digital database analysis, this essay proposes that the “old spelling” Faerie Queene is as much an artifact of the mid-eighteenth century as it is of the late sixteenth—and that its relation to Spenser’s intentions is less clear than the role it has played in securing norms of scholarly rigor, historical accuracy, and textual precision. Despite what most modern editions imply, attending to “Spenser’s spelling” tells us less about the poet and his poem than it does about the history of our own disciplinary formation.

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