Array and establishment of parallel characters.
Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene features an array of characters that appear briefly, usually to influence Redcrosse in a critical moment along his journey. Fradubio is one such character, given sixteen stanzas in a poem of over 600 stanzas. The importance of Fradubio’s character becomes more puzzling considering his stanzas could be removed from Cantos II without discontinuity in the plot line. Why is this talking tree important, both for the literal storyline and the allegorical subplot? Fradubio functions as a parallel character to Redcrosse and contrasts between them pose questions of how grace is loss and obtained. Fradubio’s tale is a succinct preview of the plot come, allowing readers to consider Holiness, Doubt, grace, and other themes before they are fully addressed in later cantos.
Fradubio is easily establish as a parallel character to Redcrosse, through comparison with cantos II and the poem as a whole. In the beginning of his tale, Fradubio is “In prime of youthly yeares, when corage hot/ The fire of love and joy of chevalree” (184.108.40.206-2) similar to the naive Redcrosse, “his hart did earne/ To prove his puissance in battell brave” (220.127.116.11-7). Both men were accompanied by a fair lady: Fraelissa or Una. They meet Duessa through a victorious battle against her former companion. After some form of magic trickery, each man trades the companionship of the fair lady for Duessa. Eventually, her two-faced nature is revealed. After experiencing great hardship, the men hope to acquire the grace of God. The ambiguous inclusive pronoun Fradubio uses includes Redcrosse when he states, “’We may not change,’ quoth he, ‘this evil plight,/ Till we be bath?d in a living well’” (18.104.22.168-4). Fradubio has no way of knowing that Redcrosse will be saved by “The Well of Life” in the last cantos (1.11.29). At the time Redcrosse meets Fradubio in Cantos II, Redcrosse only at the start of this shared story arc. An attentive reader may gain foresight into Redcrosse’s fate and already begin thinking about how faith is lost and recovered.
Nonetheless, Redcrosse fails to see this warning against Duessa or the foreshadowing of his own future in Fradubio’s tale. Redcrosse, identified in Professor Drew Daniel’s lecture as representing Holiness, is repeatedly deceived by ill-willed magic and trickery. Examples include Archimago’s illusions of a fake Una, Duessa’s beauty, the House of Pride, and almost giving in to the arguments of Despair. The space around Fradubio and Fraelissa is so cursed that even shepherds “shund th’unlucky ground,” but Redcrosse cannot sense this animosity (22.214.171.124). When Redcrosse thrusts Fradubio’s bleeding bough into the ground, “That from the bloud he might be innocent”, he seems to be actively denying insight which Fradubio may grant (126.96.36.199). Holiness embodies an innocence that borders on ignorance, which leads to the first fundamental difference between the overly trustworthy Redcrosse as Holiness and Fradubio as Brother Doubt.
Fradubio is identified in the footnotes of the Norton Critical Edition of The Faerie Queene as meaning “Brother Doubt” (Maclean and Prescott, 28). “Brother” denotes Fradubio’s connection with Redcrosse as well as the universal nature of Fradubio’s plight. “Doubt” denotes Fradubio’s allegorical role as someone religiously conflicted, seesawing between truth and deceit, faith and false faith, Protestantism and Catholicism. The first instance of doubt Fradubio has is between the beauty of Fraelissa and Duessa. He makes the mistake of only comparing outward beauty, a category in which Duessa “clad in scarlot red,/ Purfled with gold and perle of rich assay” has appeal (188.8.131.52-4). In the Norton Critical Edition footnote of this passage, Duessa is linked with the “pomp and hypocrisy of Rome [and Catholicism of Rome]” (23). Fradubio praises Fraelissa as “my deare love” (184.108.40.206), “this gentle Lady” (220.127.116.11) along with her beauty, while Duessa is only acknowledged for her outward traits. It may be concluded that seed of doubt and false faith is based in superficial appearances. Also, note that Fradubio and Redcrosse cannot reject true faith without active intervention by Duessa or Archimago. Good men may be susceptible to doubt, but it takes manipulation on the part of false faith to turn the men away from achieving grace.
The next instance of doubt in Fradubio’s story is discovering Duessa’s deception, which may be likened to acknowledging the evils of the Catholic Church. There is an odd contradiction to the scene in which Duessa’s true form in revealed: as Professor Daniel pointed out, Fradubio claims to see “neather partes misshapen, monstruous / Were hidd in water, that I could not see” (18.104.22.168-2). This contradiction is necessary to maintain Fradubio’s role as Brother Doubt. If Fradubio were to incidentally stumble upon Duessa’s true form, there would be no internal development allowing him to see through her deception. Doubt is not reserved for regressions in faith; it allows one to doubt their past misconceptions. Some instance or internal change must have caused Fradubio to question Duessa, such as the “feigned paine” of losing Fraelissa or an instinct that Fraelissa was “turnd to tre?n mould” (22.214.171.124-8). He was then able to “see” Duessa’s true form without literally seeing it. Thus, turns towards true faith require inward growth, rather than fortunate instance of chance.
Returning to the comparison of Redcrosse and Fradubio, the former protagonist’s storyline is fully realized in a return to grace, while Fradubio’s fate is left in state of uncertainty. Fradubio’s tale is such an accurate forecast of Redcrosse’s journey, why not give Fradubio the same end that Redcrosse achieves? With only sixteen stanzas in which to ascertain Fradubio’s character, it is difficult to conclude if Holiness is innately more deserving of grace that Brother Doubt. Fradubio recognizes his own shortcomings: “wretched man…whose nature weake” (126.96.36.199). However, Redcrosse displays the same susceptibility to outward beauty and tendencies towards prideful rage that Fradubio has. As previously discussed, Brother Doubt lacks the innate innocence of Holiness. There are nuances that possibly paint Fradubio’s character as less fit for grace. Fradubio needlessly starts a fight with Duessa’s companion in defense of Fraelissa, who is under no apparent threat. Earlier in cantos II, Redcrosse is attacked by Sansfoy upon Duessa’s urging, and he is forced to defend himself. All in all, such minute differences hardly seem to merit granting grace to one character and not the other.
The main difference between Fradubio and Redcrosse, which might explain the disparity in the conclusions of their plots is waiting versus action. When Fradubio realizes Duessa’s duplicity, he “gan refraine, in minde to slip away, / Soone as appeared safe opportunitie” (188.8.131.52-7). Such half-hearting action against a being he knows to be evil causes the state of inaction Fradubio is forced to adopt indefinitely, after Duessa turns him into a tree. Waiting is certainly a form of suffering, as even the cold and heat of the weather pains Fradubio (184.108.40.206-8). In contrast, Redcrosse is told by Contemplation in the House of Holiness that he has a long time of battles and trials before peace (1.10.61). Even before that, Redcrosse faces constant challenges, such as the Cave of Despair and House of Pride. While the form of trial varies, each man must fulfill his celestial duty: “’Time and suffis?d fates to former kind/ Shall us restore, none else from hence may us unbynd,’” (220.127.116.11-8).
Granted that Fradubio appears for only a small portion of The Faerie Queene, his story functions as a surprisingly complex parallel to that of Redcrosse. The challenge with such a short excerpt is that it will not hold all of Spenser’s beliefs on holiness, doubt, and grace; these will be revealed in depth through the rest of the poem. From Fradubio’s story alone, a reader in Spenser’s time who faces the similar doubts about which religion is true faith, Protestantism or Catholicism, can find comfort in the possibility of God’s grace. It will come with hardship in any number of forms, but one need not be Holiness incarnate or guided by idols such as Arthur to have hope of salvation.
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