The Faerie Queene

Almighty Damsels and Superfluous Knights: The Unnecessary Masculine in The Faerie Queene, Books I & III

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Now now Sir knight, shew what ye bee, Add faith vnto your force, and be not faint: Strangle her, els she sure will strangle thee.

Introduction

Feminist reading of The Faerie Queene is problematical. Beyond its sheer size, for every symbol of truth there is a false duplicate; for every goddess, a hag, for every chaste virgin, a figure of promiscuity. What remains consistent, however, is that both Books I and III, however romances traditionally feature heroic knights and distressed damsels, burst with female characters who overwhelmingly outsmart their male counterparts. How the allegory develops from book to book is much discussed, but less attention is paid to how choice and use of allegory transforms gender representation, revealing much about Spenser’s feminine uncertainties.

Una: Submissive and Wise

In his ‘Letter to Ralegh’, Spenser declares his aim to ‘fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline’ and the opening of ‘Lo I the man’, clearly identifies the narrator’s gender. He calls his muse ‘her’, cementing gender relations; men lead, women follow. In Watts’s painting, Redcrosse straddles an elaborately dressed steed while Una crouches meekly on a donkey. Yet when the duo face their first challenge, Una’s innocence evaporates as she warns him not to go into the cave, ‘Yea but (quoth she) the perill of this place / I better wot then you, though nowe too late’. Yet Redcrosse refuses to listen: ‘But full of fire and greedy hardiment, / The youthfull knight could not for ought be staide’. As matters escalate, Una instructs Redcrosse: ‘Add faith vnto your force, and be not faint: / Strangle her, els she sure will strangle thee’. Padelford argues: ‘Had it not been for Prince Arthur, Heavenly Grace, he would have lost his life. Only at the end of a severe course of training is he able to do what he thinks himself able to do’. The failure to mention Una is baffling; when he is almost persuaded to take his own life by Errour, she again intervenes: ‘Out of his hand she snatcht the cursed knife, / and threw it to the ground, enraged rife’. As Gless states, ‘So dangerous a temptation demands exceptional aid, and Red Cross here receives it from Una’, as he does in almost every situation. Nevertheless, following the encounter with Errour, Una recedes into a submissive role, remaining silent while singular pronouns (‘that path he kept […] forward on his way […] he passed forth’) displace the plurals earlier suggesting shared venture (‘foorth they passe […] they thus beguile […] some end they finde’). Gless claims, ‘because Error has been subdued, it appears the wandering wood can no longer perplex [Redcross]’; Una’s part in victory has been forgotten as she recedes. Even during the final battle Redcrosse relies on deity in the form of the well and tree of life to defeat the dragon. Whether Una attributes victory to Redcrosse or Christ is ambiguous: ‘Then God she praysd, and thankt her faithfull knight, / That had atchieude so great a conquest by his might’. When Una’s father demands the truth, it appears that Redcrosse neglected to mention Fidessa/Duessa in the account he had previously given; as A. C. Hamilton suggests, Red Crosse ‘is not yet wedded to Truth’. As the allegorical ‘embodiment of truth for a theologically faltering knight’, it is unsurprising that Una takes this leading role; what is illuminating is that ‘truth’ is represented in a female body, to what extent she carries him, and that his journey to truth is incomplete by the book’s end.

Duessa: Evil and Astute

Duessa, the evil witch, is swiftly established as Una’s counterpart; ‘Una’, Latin for ‘one’, contrasts with her name. Where Una’s ‘truth’ is transparent, Duessa is more than she seems. ‘A goodly Lady clad in scarlot red’, she closely resembles the Whore of Babylon, Revelation’s ‘woman sit[ting] upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns’, to be feared and abhored. The opposite of Una, she nevertheless shares her ability to shape events through acumen; the encounter with Fradubio reveals Duessa’s wickedness and the idiocy of men. He states, ‘Thens forth I tooke Duessa for my Dame’; even after she turned his lady into a tree, he still engaged with her until he saw her fuller self and tried to flee. When describing his vision, Fradubio equivocates:

Her neather partes misshapen, monstruous, Were hidd in water, that I could not see, But they did seeme more foule and hideous, Then womans shape man would beleeue to bee.

As Gough argues: ‘In most Italian epic-romances, it is the beauty of the temptress that is an illusion; the hag’s hidden ugliness is presented as the truth. Fradubio’s confused and confusing language, however, suggests that Duessa’s seeming hideousness, not just her beauty, may result from a kind of self-blindness on the part of the knight who views her.’ As an allegory for the corruption of the Catholic Church, she is one whom Redcrosse must defeat, yet consistently hoodwinks him. He does not recognise her falseness until she is physically stripped:

Of fowle Duessa, when her borrowed light Is laid away, and counterfesaunce knowne. Thus when they had the witch disrobed quight And all her filthy feature open showne, They let her goe at will, and wander waies vnknowne. As with Una, Duessa’s authoritative presence has a direct impact on how Redcrosse is perceived; women exhibit authority, albeit in different ways, underlining a lack of male astuteness.

Florimell: Lusted and Strong

In Book I, while Una and Duessa display mental strength, physical strength is firmly attributed to male characters; in Book III these archetypes blur with Florimell and Britomart. When Prince Arthur and Guyon start in pursuit of the former they ‘follow beauties chace’; an allegory for beauty, she is so lovely that, seeing her, Arthur forgets the vision of the Faerie Queene. It might then be expected that Florimell would be a static character, to be admired and lusted for, so her actions become even more potent in contrast to her allegory. She displays physical strength, able to outrun both her pursuer and knights trying to save her; ‘But nothing might relent her hasty flight’. Ironically, only Florimell, the intended victim, remains unscathed; in his pursuit Timias is injured by the would-be rapist and subsequently kills him and his friends. The role of ‘victim’ is reversed through her resilience and intended violence transferred to men. Benson argues that Spenser praises the feminine, critiquing the supposed inferiority other literature of the time may have enforced: ‘Rather than being a mere abstraction, a prop to male order, or a useful tool for literary exposition, the feminine is an essential principle in the grand scheme of The Faerie Queene; it represents an alternate order’. Florimell never loses femininity or beauty, despite actions sliding into masculinity; Allston depicts her fleeing on her horse, hair flowing, angelic and serene. Her escapes are astonishingly consistent; she outruns the beast conjured by the hag and to save herself abandons her horse for a fisherman’s boat: ‘As shee arriued on the roring shore / In minde to leape into the mighty maine / A little bote lay houing her before. The beast kills her horse; but again, she has escaped, leaving a trail of violence. It matters that Florimell is presented as weak, consistently threatened by more powerful and menacing beings; her wisdom and strength in escaping situations cements her as the embodiment of female resilience in the ironic framework of a damsel in distress; her ability to leave devastation in her wake borders on the comical.

Britomart: A Helpless Maiden and Fierce Warrior

To Ralegh, Spenser described his love of Britomart as an ‘accident’, not an ‘intendment’ of the poem; that she models both knighthood and womanhood complicates feminist readings. As Gregerson argues: ‘When Britomart sets forth in male disguise, […] she enters a realm of considerable sexual ambiguity. Her achievement will be to hand herself over to Arthegall and to sexual generation, but her progress will expose boundaries and the ideologies of gender to considerable strain.’ Britomart initially symbolises complete authority, as she easily unseats Sir Guyon, but her invulnerability is questioned when she is wounded by Malecasta’s knights. She suffers rapid downfall and the second canto describes a young innocent maiden — a remarkable contrast with the first. Villeponteaux claims: ‘Spenser is never entirely comfortable with the warfaring chastity he creates at the start of book 3. Britomart’s disguise unsettles identity, presenting a challenge to the patriarchal notion that authority is something biologically masculine […] Perhaps that is why Spenser’s portrait of Britomart initially moves between two extremes: the masculine, authoritarian Britomart of canto 1 and the innocent and helpless maiden of canto 2 stand in stark contrast to one another.’ Crane draws on this duality of character; though clad in armour, the breastplate is not masculine, her shield is draped with cloth, and her nostalgic gaze is closer to Una than Redcrosse. While there are moments where one can perceive Spenser’s ambivalence towards female authority in Britomart, she clearly and consistently demonstrates not just martial skills, but wisdom. Pivotally, when Britomart, Sir Guyon, and Arthur first encounter Florimell:

The whiles faire Britomart, whose constant mind, Would not so lightly follow beauties chace, Ne reckt of Ladies Loue, did stay behynd, And them awayted there a certaine space, To weet if they would turne backe to that place: But when she saw them gone, she forward went, While the men assist Florimell, Britomart does not allow the situation to distract her, thus drawing a comparison with Redcrosse, who consistently allowed himself to be distracted from his quest, perilously courting downfall. However, Britomart soon encounters Redcrosse under attack and stops to help: that she offers knightly assistance to the man, not the woman, suggests she values his life more than Florimell’s, rendering her more masculine than feminine. Yet she represents chastity, and in saving Redcrosse makes chastity essential to holiness. As with Una’s truth, qualities allegorically presented in female form become essential to the male.

A further example of Britomart’s authority over men comes when she encounters Scudamore, unable to enter the castle:

With huge impatience he inly swelt, More for great sorrow, that he could not pas, Then for the burning torment, which he felt, That with fell woodnes he effierced was, And wilfully him throwing on the gras, Scudamore’s impatience (like Redcrosse’s) is illuminated by Britomart’s action: she tries to open the door but cannot, so waits until the next night for the procession to restart:

Where force might not auaile, there sleights and art She cast to vse, both fitt for hard emprize; For thy from that same rowme not to depart Til morrow next, shee did her selfe auize. Britomart not only copes with demanding situations alone; she also displays tact and patience, qualities noticeably absent in her male counterparts, and is victorious because of it.

Conclusion

A powerful and successful queen in a culture that envisioned order as hierarchical disrupted the patriarchal ideology of sixteenth-century England. I would argue that in all representations of women discussed, the text reveals Spenser’s ambivalence, not anxiety, about feminine authority. Una is submissive and largely unacknowledged, yet wise; Duessa evil, yet astute; Florimell lusted for, yet staggeringly strong; and Britomart both a helpless maiden and fierce warrior. Despite paradox, each demonstrates ability to overcome demanding situations, heightened more by Spenser’s choices of allegory, strengthening them as almighty damsels and revealing the knights to be superfluous.

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Various Allegories in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Edmund Spenser was one of the famous poet in Elizabethan age. He was born in 1552,in Smithfield in London.His father name is Jhon Spenser, a cloth maker. He published his first work named “Shepheared Calender” in 1579. It is series of ecologues ( the past twelve ecologues correspond to twelve month. His famous was ” the Faerie Queene” in 1590, and The Queen Elizebeth awarded him 100 dollars for the act of his great effort. The first three book of Faerie Queene was published in 1590, and last three book was published in 1596. He was in died in 1599, in Westminster Abbey.

Allegory

An allegory is form of writing usually a story or a description in which the person, the place, the object and the event have meaning and implication beyond the literal meaning. If it is a story, it is often implies a penetrating comment on life and society. The character in story often represent the idea or qualities such as patience, purity, truth, falsehood, anger, jealousy, greediness etc.

Example:

  1. Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan
  2. The faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  3. Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift

Allegorical work

The Faerie Queene was an allegorical work of Edmund Spenser. In book one the Faerie Queene, Spenser has shown the fight between vice and virtues and the triumph of Virtue.

Moral and Spiritual Allegory

This allegory deals with the action and interaction of vice and virtues.

  1. Good character is representing various virtuous
  2. Bad Character is representing vice
  3. Red Cross knight is representing holiness
  4. Lady Una is expressing as Truth and Goodness
  5. Una’s parent is showing Human race
  6. Dragon who captured Una’s parent is expressing evil
  7. Archimago is representing hypocrisy (his mission is to workout with sinister design and intrigues against the Red Cross knight and Una so that they can be seprated.

The mission of holiness is to help truth and fight against evil and thus regain its rightful place in human heart. Thus Red Cross knight was encouraged by Lady Una kills the monster error and merchant a head on his way, and the allegory behind the story is if Holiness fight with evil and save the Humanism. this is the allegorical meaning of the storyline.

Moral and Spiritual Allegories Blend with Religious Allegory

Reformation movement was in peak in the period of spenser. And it was deeply affect on Spenser. Reformation was one of the important religious movement of that time and spenser represented it allegorically. He is the strong supporter of the reformed Church of England, and he was against in Catholic Church, in this type of allegory;

  1. RedCrossed will represent reformed church of England.
  2. Parent’s of Una will represent Human Race
  3. Dragon who imprisoned Una’s Parent, he will represent Pope of Rome because was not allowed to read,and humanity was imprisoned of pope of Rome
  4. Monster error will represent the error or mistakes which human being make in the course of their Life. (Like when Red Cross did mistake of entrance into the cave and he did not listen to Una and then he had to fight with monster in the cave.
  5. Fight between Red Crossed and Monster will express the fight between catholic(Monster) and Protestant (Red Crossed).
  6. The Books and Papers were vomited by the error will show a pamphlet directed against Queen Elizebeth by Catholic.

Moral and Religious Allegories Blend with Political Allegory

  1. The Red Crossed Knight will represent as St. George of England
  2. Lord Leicester will be expressed as Prince Aurther.
  3. Lady Una will represent the National Church of England Truthness.
  4. Una’s Parents will represent people of England who hold in Subjection by Roman Catholic
  5. Dragon will represent Roman Catholic.
  6. Monster error will represent evil force.
  7. Archimago will represent Philip (ii) of Spain who was a Roman Catholic by faith. Philip (ii) effort a lot to propagate Roman Catholic. He wanted to support Roman Catholic.
  8. Duessa will represent Mary Stuart or Queen Mary because she behaved very harsh behavior against Protestant. She had many Protestant killed, She was Roman Catholic by Faith, She believe in Roman Catolic.

Personal Allegories

Characters:

  1. The character of Duesa will represent Falsehood and Evil.
  2. Sanfoy’s Character shows faithlessness, it means when a person goes away from God he will become faithlessness gradually.
  3. Sansloy will represent Lawlessness, It means that a person lose believe in rule over natural law.
  4. RedCross knight is led by Duessa to the palace of Lucifera pride when RedCross was mistaking to indulge with Duessa, he got Pride and it was great sin in Religion of Chritianity.
  5. Sir Satyrane will represent Goodness of nature or natural forces when he was protecting Una from Sansloy, it is represent that he always go with truth.
  6. The Character of Dwarf will represent Intelllect.
  7. Queene Gloriana will express the Character of Faerie Queen, Queen Elizabeth.
  8. Cambell will show friendship character.
  9. Calidore will represent knight of courtesy.
  10. Amorte will represent the virtue of married love
  11. Guyan will show knight of temperance.
  12. Artegall will represent embodiment of Justice.
  13. Britovart will express character knight of chastity.
  14. Ale will represent the character of Misfortune.
  15. Orgoglio will represent the Character of Pride.
  16. Plorinell will represent the character the nature of beauty.
  17. Caelia’s Character will represent Holiness.
  18. Pyrocles’ character will represent emotional meladies.
  19. Scudamour expresses the character of love

Allegory of Truthiness

When RedCross knight begins his Journey with Una and the Dwarf as companions to escape Una’s Parents from devil. It means allegorically the individual untested by Life’s challenges begins his journey with truth.

Allegory of Difficult Time

Seeking of shelter from storm RedCross wanders into the den of monster Error. RedCross defeated him with the help of Una and continues on his path. It means allegorically during difficult time in life, person makes an error but with the help of truth he or she is able to overcome on that error and continues on.

Allegory of Untrustwothy

When the Archimago alter his soul into Una and express that She was sleeping on bed with another person so that Redcross did not trust her more after watching this intolerable moment. it means allegorically that a person might be fooled by hypocrisy, and deception. He will lose sight of truth if he will not trust on his partner in journey of life and his life journey will be continued with grief.

Allegory of Faithlessnes

When RedCross left Una and started his journey without her, then a lot of challenge came like he encountered Sansfoy.He fought battle with him and killed him. It means allegorically that without truth a person faces the possibility of losing faith but he still fight with faithlessness until he overcome it.

Conclusion

This cantos of Faerie Queene tell us that when a person start a journey of life,a lot of difficulties come in life, if he would be pure and trustworthy himself, he will consider all difficulties as a challenges and he fights to unless he achieved his goal. Some time he loses his faith under circumstances of situation but he try to regain his position after fulfilling all his destiny in course of life.

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My Opinion about The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Summary

The Faerie Queene is a very long, but interesting poem. The author, Edmund Spencer creates an allegory to present the real world as he sees it. This poem was written to revolve around holiness and Christianity. With high hopes to follow serve the lord, Redcrosse, the king of knights goes through many difficult and unexpected obstacles. Redcrosse is faced with fighting the dragon of all evil. Unfortunately, he was barely ready to face the dragon. His dedication to prove himself led him to a mini downfall as he followed Duessa and her dwarf. Duessa is one of the main characters who is very deceitful and evil. The three of them got lost deep in what Redcrosse thought was the forest. The trees were most definitely a transformation from a spell from the evil Duessa herself. As they go on their adventures, they eventually came across Archimago, a malicious magician. He comes off as a nice old man to them. With lack of knowledge of who he really is, the three falls under his trick and goes into his home.

I chose to analyze line 9 of Book 1, Canto 2. In these nine lines, Archimago shows how evil he can really get. He mainly manipulated Redcrosse and Una because he was disappointed with the failure of his evil spirits.

Dragons

The Faerie Queene and Beowulf both use dragons as a very important source in their poems. The dragons are used to symbolize all the bad that happens in life. In each story, the dragon represents its unique characteristics. Throughout the poems, the dragons are mentioned to either make or break the characters. They can either bring out the good or bad within the characters. In each story the dragons are pointed out as evil creatures that must be defeated. One imagery that is used in both poems are the dragons being accompanied by fire. This is also a symbolization of evilness.

Allegories

The Faerie Queen is referred to as an Allegory because of its extended use of metaphors. In then poem each character represents something historical or a standard. In his poem, Spencer uses kings and queens in order to represent historical values. He also uses metaphorical terms in order to push forward his views on the moral values of Christianity. Spencer has his own has a unique sonnet form, it follows the rhythm: a b a b b c b c c d c d e e. Spencer is very huge on Holiness in book one, he represents the history of Christianity as a whole. He uses people, places and more in order to give his readers a better imagery of the story that he presents. The house of Holiness and the house of House of pride are both symbolic to Christians and Christianity.

Deep Meaning and Mysteries

This poem is full of mysteries. It is a very interesting read. Throughout this story many of the characters seemed to be left in the dark on some things. For instance, Redcrosse, the king fell for the evil witch, and also fell for the many tricks of Antimago. It is very interesting how he doubles some of the characters, for instance, how Antimago doubled una in order to trick Redcrosse into believing that she was with another knight. Spencer doubles characters to give out a bigger lesson on the perception of real life and real people. Spencer is a person who thinks outside of the box. All his stories/poems have deep meanings and values are always expressed throughout them. Spencer’s choice of words and more shows that understanding honor is very important in life. In order to have values and morals, honor must be present.

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Different Interpretations of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

This assignment will discuss the variation of the magnitude of the public issues that may be interpreted as psychological issues that are related to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene using the passage from Book II, canto xii. This will relate to some of the separate Books virtues and will include discussion of the critical resources Harold Skulsky, “Spenser’s Despair Episode and the Theology of Doubt.” and Frederic Ives Carpenter, “Spenser’s Cave of Despair.” The deeper meanings and and virtues within the six books of The Faerie Queene, however, are a matter of interpretation and therefore tend to lead to differing results from any given critic.

A Hidden Meaning and 6 Virtues

It is important to state that Spenser has written The Faerie Queene an allegory, which is a story or poem that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, this typically being a moral or political one, public issues often arise from a political background. Psychological issues or patterns that can occur in an individual and can be associated with a present or past distress or disability or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death and or pain. This then can exasperate emotional issues that can cause the person significant psychological distress. There are the six published allegories which concern private issues: holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice and courtesy, these private virtues can often morph into public issues and then as Danson Brown suggests oscillating between public issues and what might be characterised as more inward, psychological problems’ (Danson Brown, 2015, p. 250). Within these six books Of The Faerie Queene, Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy, each stanza has a complete idea or description and these then become linked by their common subject or virtue to form a longer story these, In turn, then form the cantos and link the books. Danson Brown explains a canto “functions in much the same way as chapters in a novel”. (Danson Brown, 2015, p. 340) Danson Brown informs “The Faerie Queene is very much a public poem” (Danson Brown, 2015, p. 251) and continues to state, “The Faerie Queene is symbolic, rather than realistic” (Danson Brown, 2015, p.254) which is shown through the virtues perceived in the Books.

The Virtue of Holiness

Book 1 represents the very public and personal virtue of holiness In summary of canto ix Arthur, travelling with Redcrosse and Una tells them of his quest for the Faerie Queene. Two knights swear their allegiance to each other, Queene and Country. Redcrosse and Una come across a second knight who has just met with the creature Despair. Redcrosse announces his plan to battle Despair. He continues on to find his cave, corpse-littered, dank and gloomy, as such written, it appears to describe the state of one’s mind whilst in despair, Redcrosse discovers the creature which has just finished killing his latest victim. Despair deviously manipulates Redcrosse in believing that he should end his own life now rather than continuing to consume his life with sin. Una prevents Redcrosse from stabbing himself and must take him away to resume his strength and faith. Redcrosse Knight represents holiness and England, he will, in fact, be revealed to be the significant St George. This stanza begins to illustrate how one’s mind can be altered from a strong state such as Redcrosse’s upon entry to cave to one of confusion and psychological damage that the character is in upon exit. Showing the interpretation of inward psychological problems as Danson Brown suggests. There are numerous examples of both psychological and public virtues represented in the relevant stanzas, publically it is to read and construed for a Christian to be holy, he must have true faith. Spenser was of the view that, in the English Reformation, the people had defeated ‘false religion’ Catholicism, and embraced ‘true religion”, Protestantism/Anglicanism. King in the Cambridge companion informs that Spenser “was a member of the Anglo-Protestant minority in Catholic Ireland”. (king, 2017,Google Books p 208) However, psychologically the story’s setting, as a mythical, fairyland combining, myths and legends, only emphasizes how its allegory is meant for a land very close to home, England. The title character, the Faerie Queene herself, is intended to represent Queen Elizabeth. Una, who travels with Redcrosse, name means ‘truth.’ There is deceit is organized by Archimago, whose name means ‘arch-image’. This representing Spenser’s religious views as the Protestants accused the Catholics of idolatry due to their extensive use of images. The sorcerer is able, through deception and lust, to separate Redcrosse from Una–that is, to separate Holiness from Truth.

Different Political and Religious Allegories

Critics have seen in Spenser’s epic poem about a variety of types of allegory, including social, political, historical, religious, moral, philosophical, and psychological. However, there are some generally recognised interpretations. Both religious and political allegory are central to the long, complex plot structure and diverse characterization of The Faerie Queene. The Faerie Queene is defined as a political allegory concerning the domestic and international status of Elizabethan England. But as stated before that both public and psychological issues often embroil and indeed spark wars, stemming from both politics and religion. The Faerie Queene was recognised by both the Queen of England and prominent literary figures of the day as the greatest work of English verse to be written by a poet of Spenser’s generation. Over the centuries, since Spenser’s death, critical response to The Faerie Queene has varied. Certainly, Spenser has exerted tremendous influence over generations of poets and has rightly been called “a poet’s poet.” Edmund Spenser was first called the ‘Poet’s Poet’ by the English essayist Charles Lamb. Although the phrase does not appear in any of Lamb’s writings, Leigh Hunt attributes it to him in his critique of Spenser in Hunt’s book Imagination and Fancy (published in 1844), which is an anthology of English poetry with accompanying commentary Spenser was recognized as an important influence on major English poets of the seventeenth century, most notably John Milton. Spenser’s tremendous influence on writers of the eighteenth century is indicated by the countless imitations of The Faerie Queene to be produced by a broad range of poets throughout that century. In the nineteenth century, critics generally dismissed The Faerie Queene. There has been more recent criticism of The Faerie Queene. In the twentieth-century academics of the New Criticism devoted much critical attention to Spenser’s The Faerie Queene., the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the New Criticism as a “focused attention on the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning. It was opposed to the critical practice of bringing historical or biographical data to bear on the interpretation of a work.” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017) Danson Brown informs of leading Spenserian Harry Berger Jr, remarked: “The poem never let me go because it has never let me in, has kept me digging outside its crooked walls for five decades in a responsive delirium of interpretation.” (Berger, 2003, p.19) (Danson Brown, 2015, p 278) Considering some of the critical responses, In stanza 35 the description of Despair with his ‘sullien mind’ his ‘griese lockes, long growen and unbound.’ Describes not only an image of desperation but also the strewn, dishevelled state of mind, when one is in Despair. (Spenser,stanza 35) Skulsky writes of Book 1 about the way Spenser uses effective and persuasive writing as a metaphorical battle with his theological speech and Despair. He continues to state “Merely as a piece of Spenserian narrative technique, the Despair episode in the book of Holiness is a considerable achievement” (Skulsky, 1981, p.227) Carpenter also talks of Despair in his journal and suggests that Spenser was “an idealist, or more properly an idealizer, and a dreamer” he continues “Despair is the forerunner of self-destruction” (Carpenter, 1897, p.129) suggesting that it is a sin to contemplate such thoughts as suicide and this is what sparks Spensers agon with his theological repertoire. Carpenter states “Despair, the advocatus diaboli, the personification of the morbid Puritanical conscience” Discussing a conscience begins to probe a personal psychological virtue and to describe this as puritanical is tantamount to suggest that Spenser is again talking of sin, displaying a very strict or censorious principled attitude towards self-indulgence or sex. Sin is only what one person conceives as so this is once again a personal virtue. This begins to delve into the crossing of public and psychological virtues and issues which Danson Brown suggested, suggesting more inward problems. There is no matter of doubt that Spencer’s poem. The Faerie Queene is filled with allegorical significance, and Spenser’s writing prowess, Spenser stands among the great writers of the Elizabethan period and partly began to fashion a new tradition in English Literature, the rich and vigorous imagery and careful treatment of metrical structure left an outstanding impact and influence on succeeding poets. The Spenserian stanza, Britannica explains was “a fixed verse of nine lines with a number of specific restrictions, the stanza being compiled of the rhyme scheme ababbcbbc, the first eight lines of each stanza are in iambic pentameter, the ninth and last line of the stanza is an alexandrine, which is a line of twelve syllables with an audible pause between the sixth and seventh syllables.” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017)

Conclusion

In conclusion, as in the introduction the allegorical meanings and the virtues represented within the six books of The Faerie Queene, however, are in part a matter of interpretation and according to one’s own views and morals can either keep public and psychological issues, separate or amalgamate and as Danson Brown suggests oscillate, this depends on individuals religious and political background, where such social, moral and emotional can differ and therefore tend to lead to differing results from any given critic.

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A Role Of Allegory in The Faerie Queene

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

How is the condemnation of moral duplicity in Book I of the Faerie Queene compatible with the duplicity or multiplicity of meaning that allegory requires?

In answering the above question, it is necessary to focus on the function of duplicity/multiplicity in the two contexts presented. In the moral context, duplicity is equivalent with dishonesty, it involves purporting to be one thing whilst being another; it is a necessary deceit. In contrast, multiplicity in allegory involves an affirmation of truth’s power and its ability to penetrate through boundaries of meaning. In other words, the many levels and meanings of allegory reflect the same truth in different ways, while the many differences in character of the morally deceptive reveal an inconstancy as they challenge truth (in the integrity of the character). Thus the relationship to truth in the case of the morally duplicitous is one of negation whilst that of the aesthetically duplicitous (allegory) is one of confirmation. In my essay I intend to explore these processes of negation and confirmation in relation to Spenser’s Faierie Queene Book I as I explain how allegorical ideologies are employed to create a certain kind of knight and a certain kind of reader that can attain the true whilst learning to recognise and avoid the false.

First it may be beneficial to examine the nature of truth as presented in the Fairie Queen in its characteristics of worth, vulnerability, power and simplicity. C.S. Lewis has stated that ‘the first thing we notice about the Spenserian images of good is their veiled, mysterious, even hidden character’ and indeed Una, representing Truth, is veiled throughout only relinquishing her coverings on two occasions; that is, when the Red Cross Knight is finally betrothed to her in Canto 12 and when she is by herself ‘farre from all mens sight’ (3:4). Truth must remain veiled at all other times because it is a valuable prize and therefore vulnerable to exploitation. This is epitomised in the image of Una’s virginity, ‘that stubborn forte’ (6:3) which can only be gained access to through commitment on the seekers part, the kind of commitment that Arthur displays in his search for his Queen ‘To seeke her out with labour, and long tyne, / And never vow to rest, till her I find.’ (9:15) Like the House of Holiness, Una’s ‘gates’ remain closed to passers by, and so she remains veiled throughout for risk of being raped for her beauty by dangerous characters such as Sans Loy and Archimago. This confirms one of the theories of allegory prevalent in the Renaissance, that allegory conceals ideas from the vulgar and reveals them only to the deserving’ Therefore, it is only once the Red Cross Knight has declared his intention as Arthur did, to fulfil the quest, returning to ‘that great Faierie Queen’ (2:18) and so proving himself a true knight, that Una appears to him without her veil and cloak.

When Una eventually does unveil herself, the blinding power of her beauty is evoked in the stanza beginning ‘The blazing brightnesse of her beauties beame’(12:23), with the plosive ‘B’s and long vowels sounds resonating with the meaning. Truth cannot be seen by the fainthearted and so if it is to have any appearance amongst the common people it must wear a veil as Moses did in the Old Testament after he had been with God.

The second purpose of allegory that River’s highlights is significant here. He essential power of truth is very hard to enunciate and through allegory we can find ‘a means of saying things that would otherwise be inexpressible’. In the same way that Una’s ‘great grief will not be tould, ? And can more easily be thought’ (7:41), huge concepts such as truth cannot be conveyed directly and simply, for if they were they would blind the reader. Biblical parallels seem especially apt to this question. Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (italics mine) and yet spoke in parables as a means of conveying profound truths. Similarly, the book of Revelation, which in its very name claims to make clear, is undoubtedly the most obscure book in the bible through its use of symbolism and apocolyptic techniques. In both cases truth is ‘filtered’ through a screen as ‘obscurity is paradoxically a means of achieving clarity’.

Allegory is just one of many techniques of defamiliarisation that are used in literature, as it promises to show the world in a new light and so it should not be surprising that the concepts percieved to be most important and powerful, such as truth, should be the most elusive being pinned down and consequently require the most obscurity to be expressed. It can be noted that Spenser’s use of archaic language is just another means of ‘making strange’ that enables the truth to be seen anew.

The final characteristic of truth that I would like to discuss here is simplicity and naturalness. In contrast to Duessa ‘in garments gilt,/ And gorgeous gold arayd’ (5:26), Una enters humbly like Jesus ‘Upon a lowly Asse’ (1:4) and ‘Under a vele, that wimpled was full low,’. Duplicity must display itself and captivate with shows (as exemplified by Duessa being set upon a seven-headed beast ‘for more aw and dread’ (7:18)), but truth conceals its splendour and through ‘simple truth’(3:6 italics mine) is able to tame the lion. The naturalness of truth ministers best to those who are most natural. Thus the lion and the fauns, although they be ‘A rude, misshapen monstrous rablement’ (6:8) recognise Una’s beauty and goodness and respond accordingly. Simple creatures are seen to have a keener discernment than men as they not only identify the goodness of Una, but also the evil nature of Duessa and despite her cloudy covering in Canto 5, the animals recognise her, barking, howling and hooting in warning to mankind.

An image that ties together these themes effectively, is that of the diamond box that Arthur gives to the Red Crosse Knight:

Prince Arthur gave a boxe of diamond sure,

Embossed with gold and gorgeous ornament,

Wherein were closd few drops of liquor pure

Of wondrous worth, and virtue excellent. (9:19)

This gift is a helpful metaphor for the depiction of truth and goodness within the allegory. The liquid is valuable ‘Of wondrous worth’; vulnerable, as expressed by the delicate description ‘a few drops of liquor pure’ and this phrase also expresses its simplicity, especially when compared to the previous line which is swollen with ‘O’s depicting the splendour of the box. The box is like the covering of the allegory, protective and transparent, its ornamentation embellishing (confirming) rather than detracting from what lies within; it is the necessary container of its precious contents.

Ultimately Spenser is trying to create in his epic romance the kind of knight and the kind of reader who will appreciate the precious nature of his allegory’s contents, ‘The general end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline’. It is quite frustrating therefore, to witness how easily the Knight is taken in by the deceptions of the various characters throughout the poem, where the cause is seen to be his naivety, as expressed in his first encounter with Duessa:

Her doutfull words made that redoubted knight

Suspect her truth: yet since no untruth he knew

Her fawning love with fowle disdainefull spight

He would not shend. (1:53 italics mine)

The moral Spenser seems to be advocating here, is that his reader must not be naive, he must treat the important matters discussed seriously, learning from the ‘untruth’ he encounters to be cautious. The reader, like the Knight, must pursue wisdom, for the allegory is not a naive form.

Discernment is a characteristic that both Knight and reader must seek at all costs and is exemplified by Prince Arthur who when confronted by Ignorance ‘ghest his nature by his countenance, / And calmd his wrath with goodly temperance.’ (8:34) The Red Cross Knight keeps falling under deception however, until Fidelia in the House of Holiness, ‘that knight so much agraste / That she him taught celestiall discipline / And opened his dull eyes, that light mote in them shine.’ (10:18) Thus understanding comes from a desire for truth, a commitment to knock at the gate of Holinesse in the first place, but also it is a gift of grace that is bestowed upon the Knight.

The reader is shown a similar grace in Spenser’s statement of intent, which brings light to our ‘dull eyes’, and this is another argument for the compatibility of style and content. Spenser informs the reader that he is creating ‘a continued Allegory, or darke conceit’, and in his opening letter and throughout the poem he proceeds to explain fairly clearly the relationship between his characters and their symbolic significance. There is no trickery here, he may be using a duplicitous form, but within that, there are clear signposts to enable the reader to discern what is happening. For example ‘Duessa’ is double in nature, as the embodiment of Deceit; Una is pure and single-minded as Truth, and the narrator lets us know that his namings are trustworthy, for he states in his description of Ignorance, ‘His name Ignaro did his nature right aread.’ (8:31) This may all be very well when the characters appear undisguised, in their true nature, but what about when they are pretending to be someone else? However, even here Spenser does not leave his reader or his Knight without aid, for he uses the mechanics of verse to expose the imposters every time.

The most obvious case is in Canto 12 when Archimago sends a message to claim Duessa’s betrothal (under the name of Fidessa) to the Red Cross Knight. The message may be signed off Fidessa, but the running of the alexandrine into 13 syllables (which occurs nowhere else in the text) highlights a disunity with the rest of the verse. A true ‘Fidessa’ (name derived from faithful) would have been faithful to the 12 syllables and her transgression of meter singles her out as having no place or claim here.

Another, more widely employed technique, is the reversal of word order as a confirmation of deceit. Thus when Fradubio is describing his encounter with Duessa he tells how,

Me chaunced of a knight encountered bee,

That had a like faire Lady by his syde,

Like a faire Lady, but did fowle Duessa hyde.’ (2:35)

Then again, in stanzas 44-45 the Knight experiences Duessa’s guile through reversal of ‘found’ and ‘fear’ in the word order:

Then turning to his lady, dead with fear her found. 44

Her seeming dead he found with feigned fear, 45

The effect of bridging the stanza heightens her falseness as the 10 syllable line of stanza 45 fails to attain the 12 syllables of its predecessor and the ‘seeming dead’ becomes an unconvincing imitation that we would expect even the Knight to recognize. The Knight, however, as I have mentioned is naive at the outset and so is undergoing a process of ‘becoming’ throughout his quest. Here is where I would like to suggest that the allegory and its multiple meanings, instead of being at odds with a condemnation of moral inconstancy, could actually play a part in what I term the ‘sanctification’ of the Knight.

I propose that the unavoidable duplicity of allegory creates a framework from which the Knight must escape (through his trials) and this is how he is offered the possibility of perfection. As a character who represents holiness and yet is not fully holy (as evidenced by his falling into temptation and despair) he is in a position of constantly striving as he undergoes a process of ‘becoming’ holy. Caught between opposing forces of flesh and spirit and similarly trapped between at least two levels of allegory, he must attempt to become unified with his self, his imperfect knightly nature driving for the holiness he represents. Thus his fighting is not only against dragons and Saracens, but the very duplicity of allegory that splits him form himself and the abstract quality of holiness that he functions as. This tension finds expression in the verse form with the extra two syllables at the end of the 9 line stanza straining forward as he tries to attain his goal:

Full jolly knight he seemed, and faire did sitt,

As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.’ (1:1)

And as the first alexandrine leans forward, he begins his quest on the road to becoming a ‘full jolly knight’ (italics mine) and not only one that ‘seemd’.

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Array and establishment of parallel characters.

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

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” (1.2.35.1-2) similar to the naive Redcrosse, “his hart did earne/ To prove his puissance in battell brave” (1.1.3.6-7). 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’” (1.2.43.3-4). 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 shepherdsshund th’unlucky ground,” but Redcrosse cannot sense this animosity (1.2.28.8). 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 (1.2.44.6). 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 (1.2.13.3-4). 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” (1.2.31.6), “this gentle Lady” (1.2.35.4) 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” (1.2.41.1-2). 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” (1.2.39.7-8). 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” (1.2.33.4). 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” (1.2.41.6-7). 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 (1.2.33.6-8). 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,’” (1.2.43.7-8).

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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The impacts of images on meaning of epic simile.

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Spenser’s Faerie Queene fights against reduction; there is no one-to-one correspondence of thing to meaning. Spenser recasts figures and images throughout the poem, allowing meanings to be changed and complicated through the course of reading. Language and form work to divide these moments of action and implication; the space within or between stanzas (or cantos, or books) allows shifts in narrative tone and complications of meaning. As Spenser revises the act of wandering in Book I, Canto I, giving it a moral meaning alongside its spatial one, so he takes an epic simile, and, using a sequence of comparisons, forces it to undergo changes in meaning and intent. In Canto I, this technique is seen in stanzas 20 through 23, in Spenser’s epic similes of the Nile River and the shepherd.

Stanzas 20 through 22 sustain a single image, with variations. It is the image of glut uncontained and spilling. Stanza 20 describes Error’s vomit, “a Floud of pyson horrible and blacke,” containing lumps of flesh, books and papers, and eyeless frogs and toads, who “reeping sought way in the weedy gras”? (20.2-8). Spenser takes care to introduce some idea of life along with the dead and material fragments of the vomit; the frogs and toads, released from Error’s mouth, creep away in the grass in a startling and unexpected image. This allows Spenser to move into his epic simile in stanza 21, in which the sense of life is perverted in the course of the simile. The simile, taken from the natural world, begins by referencing fertility, the healthy abundance and cycle of seasons bringing rain and flood:

As when old father Nilus gins to swell

With timely pride aboue the Aegyptian vale

His fattie wauves do fertile slime outwell

And ouerflow each plaine and lowly dale. (21.1-4)

But in the second quatrain of the stanza, the idea of regeneration is complicated. Like the creatures that creep out and away from Error’s vomit, the swelling of the Nile River leaves “Huge heapes of mudd . . . wherein there breed / Ten thousand kindes of creatures, partly male / And partly female of his fruitfull seed” (21.6-8). This second quatrain continues with the ideas of the first; the “fertile slime,” as it should, produces “fruitfull seed.” But this seed is perverted. The sexual paternity and maternity of the seed are obscured, incestuous or otherwise depraved, and breed “ten thousand kindes of creatures” of mixed male and female orientation. Spenser writes, “Such vgly monstrous shapes elsewhere may no man reed,” recalling the image of Error as half-serpent and half-woman, “Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine”(21.9, 14.6-9). The natural and abundant order of the world, like the natural and rich human acts of wandering and procreation, so quickly becomes tainted. Spenser implies that error is constantly breeding, lying dormant in fertile mud, so that romantic wandering  “non-linear, spatial play within a romantic landscape” too easily becomes epic wandering, which is not innocent but morally suggestive.

The epic simile in stanza 21 runs on to stanza 22, so that it is unclear whether the simile should be read as an exposition of stanza 20 (Error’s vomit) or as an exposition of stanza 21 (Error’s vomit-children). At any rate, it probably does not matter. Spenser links both excretions to the perverse propagation of the river in stanza 21, so that all three stanzas are tied visually and allegorically. Error, like the river’s seed, is “fruitfull.” Spenser writes, “She poured forth out of her hellish sinke, / Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small, / Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inke” (22.5-7). Both the spawne of Error and of the river are “deformed” and unnatural offspring. While these monsters are characterized by their foulness, nearly overcoming the Knight with their vivid stink, the narrator notes that they are harmless, “swarming all about his legs did crall, / And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at all” (22.8-9).

The closing couplet of stanza 22 is the narrator’s interjection, a distancing effect that allows the reader a small release from the epic and narrative tension sustained and built through the three stanzas. We are told that the Knight cannot be harmed, and therefore we are able to enjoy the quality of the poetic image, especially as it takes a comic turn in stanza 23. Here, Spenser uses another epic simile to combat that put forth in the preceding stanzas. Error’s offspring are transformed from the thick and lowly (creeping and swarming) to the light and airy. He writes,

As gentle Shepheard in sweete euen-tide,

When ruddy Phoebus gins to welke in west . . .

A cloud of cumbrous gnattes do him molest,

All striuing to infixe their feeble stings. (23.1-5)

It is still a mob scene, but a gentle one, more of a disturbance than a danger: “From their noyance he no where can rest, / But with his clownish hands their tender wings / He brusheth off, and oft doth mar their murmurings” (23.7-9).

The description of Error’s offspring is enclosed between two epic similes, both taken from the natural world, but with different degrees of threat and therefore different degrees of narrative distance from the Knight. Spenser uses a series of comparisons that introduces different modes of vision throughout the canto, allowing multiple perspectives. Thus, when Una approaches the Knight in stanza 27 to greet his victory, telling him “Well worthy be you of that Armorie,” when in stanza 26 we have just been told that “His foes haue slaine themselves,” we understand that the two statements are not incompatible (27.5, 26.9). From the Knight’s perspective, or perhaps from Una’s, he is worthy, having stood in “certaine perill” (24.2). He has not seen himself as the shepherd brushing flies from his flesh, as we have. Spenser reduces the Knight’s adversary in the space of a stanza, and suggests that bigger and more dangerous battles are yet to come.

The strength of the poetic image, and its malleability in Spenser’s design, is seen in the way it returns later in Canto I. In stanzas 36 through 38, he revisits the simile of the shepherd and the flies. Following the defeat of Error, the Knight and Una take a rest in Archimago’s inn. While the two are sleeping, “[Archimago] to his study goes, and there amides / His Magick bookes and artes of sundry kindes, / He seeks out mighty charmes, to trouble sleepy mindes”(36.7-9). This recalls Error’s vomit in stanza 20, which is filled with the stuff that magic is made of: “great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw . . . bookes and papers . . . loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke” (20.3-7). This symmetry of base materials throws Archimago on the side of evil in the canto, aligning him with Error.

From these books, Archimago chooses a few verses,

And forth he cald out of deepe darknesse dred

Legions of Sprights, the which like little flyes

Fluttring about his euer damned hed,

A-waite whereto their seruice he applyes. (38.1-4)

The shepherd in stanza 23, Redcrosse, has become Archimago in stanza 38, the flies have become sprites, and the epic simile has been freed from the merely metaphorical world to become a real and corporal part of the narrative, anticipating the granting of physical form to allegorical characters as Book I continues. Accompanying this shift from the figurative to the literal is an intensification of degree. The harmless flies, fluttering around an entirely different and less moral shepherd, suddenly become dangerous. Archimago chooses “the falsest twoo” from this swarm, and sends them to the Knight. The swarm is reduced in number, but gains in specificity and threat.

Finally, in stanza 41, Spenser condenses the image to a sound, “the sowne / Of swarming Bees” that surrounds the house of Morpheus (41.4-5). This sound, blended with the sounds of a “trickling streame from high rocke tumbling downe / And euer-drizling raine vpon the loft, / Mixt with a murmuring winde,” lulle “the occupants of the town to slumber soft” (41.1-4). The beautiful aural imagery of the stanza is indulgent and deceptive, lovely but dangerous in the way it diverts Morpheus from his labors. The sound of swarming bees thus prefigures the “fit false dreame, that can delude the sleepers sent,”which Morpheus delivers to Archimago (42.9). Although the image is condensed into a single element, that of sound, it retains its rhetorical power through allusion to its earlier appearances in the canto.

Spenser delights in the limber quality of language and form, the way images and meanings can be altered and complicated in the course of a few stanzas, the way metaphor can come to life. The romantic impulse might mourn the restriction of wandering to a morally problematic act, but the epic impulse “arriving somewhere” forces this to be the case. Both impulses perform in the Faerie Queene, however, as Spenser wanders through language, recasting images with different intents, resting only when his design is exact.

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Women used as steorotypes of gender.

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

“The Faeire Queene” is an epic poem written by Edmund Spenser in the 16th century – English Renaissance, but set in the Middle Ages because of its being a chivalric romance. Aside from religious allegories, juxtapositions, and contradictions, Spenser mentions the place of gender by giving his reader the stereotypes, meaning set of postulated ideas about the specific type of somebody or something, which includes race, ethnicity, religion, culture as well as the gender of that century’s women. Protagonist and antagonist, Una and Duessa, are the representations of two opposite gender stereotypes in a literary sense in the “Faerie Queene”. The writer focuses on the virgin and the whore by combining facts and his ideas about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, who he aims actually, by giving examples from the bible.

To begin with, 16th century was the era of discoveries, inventions, explorations and great literary works. To exemplify, Leonardo da Vinci constructed a flat-water wheel, Peter Henlein invented pocket watch, Zacharias Janssen – compound microscope, Galileo Galilei invented water thermometer, Isabella Cortese wrote a book about alchemical secrets, and Thomas More wrote his ‘Utopia’… Besides, Elizabeth I was one of the most successful women who was treated as “a female monarch in a male world”; however, it was thought that women were affected by their emotions and passions so they ought to have been housekeepers and dutiful whereas men had a rational way of thinking, which gives them the right of ruling a country. (Norton 541) As it is understood from the instances, there are rarely women who contributed to the history of humanity in this century. This issue is stated confessedly in the book “Who am I This Time?: Female Portraits in British and American Literature” as “Patriarchal society views women essentially as supporting characters in the drama of life. Men change the world, and women help them.” (Pearson and Pope) The reason why almost all are males is that women generally were not allowed to work in such fields as medicine, law or education because they were considered to be weaker than men. There were some socio-cultural stereotypes that women were expected to obey; therefore, their only duty was, customarily, to take care of their family, especially their husbands. These duties consisted of preparing food for them, cleaning the house and having enough knowledge of medicine in case of the sicknesses of the family members. While men had serious jobs, women in 1500’s were supposed to be housewives, washerwomen, milliners, dyers, bakers, nannies, servants… On the other hand, the ones who worked not only got paid less but also were abused from time to time due to their gender.

Furthermore, there are some literary stereotypes attributed to women along with socio-cultural ones. These are used by writers, playwrights and poets in order to touch the audience’s own life conveniently, to help them understand and perceive smoothly, and occasionally, to criticize these clichés. Edmund Spenser wrote this allegoric poem to show the significant virtues and vices by benefiting from these literary stereotypes. Unrefinedly, women were supposed to be either virgin, mother/wife, old maid, or the goddess/whore in the literary texts. In the Faerie Queene, Spenser centred upon two specific stereotypes which were virgin in the face of Una and whore in the face of Duessa so as to represent the actual figures of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

What is more, one of the main characters of the Faerie Queene is Una stereotyping ‘virgin’ in the poem. She is narrated as the ideal Christian woman, who is actually a women whom Spenser wants in his own life. First of all, virginity symbolizes pureness and innocence and Una is described as “so pure and innocent, as that same lambe, / She was in life and virtuous lore,” (Book I, Canto I, Stanza 5, Lines 1&2). Also, her whiteness in her physical appearance is the sign of that purity, which is given in the previous stanza; “A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside, Upon a lowly Asse more white now then snow, Yet she much whiter, but the same did hide Under a vele, that wimpled was full low, And over all a blacke stole she did throw, As one that inly mournd; so was she sad, And heavie set upon her palfrey slow, Seemed in heart some hidden care she had, And by her in a line a milke white lambe she lad.” (Book I, Canto I, Stanza 4) Her innocence is conveyed through the metaphor, which emphasizes the underlying meaning as well as the appearance of her throughout the stanza. ‘Snow’ embodies purity and rebirth in the literature and it is generally used with ‘white’ denoting purity, light and innocence. In the second line of this stanza, the speaker says, ‘more white now then snow’ and the next stanza repeats, “she much whiter”. Snow and white already mean pureness and Una is even more innocent then these images. Besides that, in the last line, “a milke white lambe” refers to her chasteness; however, here, there is an allusion for Christianity owing to ‘lambe’ that is one of the titles of Jesus Christ that is mentioned in the bible, John 1:29 & John 1:36, which compares her to Jesus just like in the previous stanza, “as that same lambe”. Instead of white, ‘fair’ is another word used for her both physically and spiritually. King calls for her daughter like this, too; “Then forth he called that his daughter faire, / The fairest Un’ his onely daughter deare, / His onely daughter; and his onely heyre;” (Book I, Canto XII, Stanza 21)

Moreover, the virgin is the one who stays as a girl and who is untouched, ignorant of earthly concerns, which makes her angelic; she never has to acknowledge sexual intercourse. Afterhand, this figure may turn into mother/wife, or seductress if she falls down her purity and commits fornication like it is mentioned in the Revelation; “And there followed another Angel, saying, Babylon that great city is fallen, it is fallen, for she made all nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” (14:8) Una prefers the first one, to become wife, and she conserves her chastity until she gets married to Redcross Knight who mentions her as virgin, too: “Thine, O then,” said the gentle Redcrosse Knight, “Next to that Ladies love, shalbe the place, O fairest virgin, full of heavenly light, Whose wondrous faith, exceeding earthly race, Was firmest fixt in mine entremest case. And you, my Lord, the Patrone of my life, Of that great Queene may well gaine worthy grace: For onely worthy you through prowes priefe Yf living man mote worthy be, to be her life” (Book I, Canto IX, Stanza 17) In addition to the phrase “fairest virgin”, the speaker underlines Una’s innocence one more time by saying “heavenly light”. Light is wielded as a religious allusion, as well, since Una pulls him to the right way like Jesus as it is mentioned in the Bible; “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12) She helps Redcross to find the proper way, the light, in his journey. Likewise, he says, “you, my Lord, the Patrone of my life”, he sees her as the protector of himself, he cannot be a hero without her and he needs her support. Indeed, these can be considered as a socio-cultural stereotype of women together with its literary sense, because women are expected to take care of their mates and help them. Then, in the fourth line, Redcross points out “earthly race”, which refers to the worldly pleasures, her not being besotted with it, and her virginity. Identically, men admire and worship, from time to time, to the virgin stereotype as a result of her beauty and try to seduce her; nevertheless, she cannot be deluded whatever they do since she is the most maiden; “Who, after Archimagoes fowle defeat, Led her away into a forest wilde; And turning wrathfull fyre to lustfull heat, With beastly sin thought her to have defilde, And made the vassal of his pleasures vilde. Yet first he cast by treatie, and by traynes, Her to persuade, that stubborne fort to yilde.” (Book VI, Canto III, Stanza 3)

Conversely, another main character in the Faerie Queene is Duessa who is the stereotype as the whore. She is absolute opposite of the virgin, Una. Even Spenser expresses her as “false Duessa” twenty-two times in the book. Literally, this stereotype is considered as goddess and she is enraptured in men’s weakness by tempting and seducing them through her beauty and sexuality. On the other hand, it is revealed by Arthur that Duessa is not that charming in reality to contrary of what is known when she is captured by him; “So as she bad, that witch they disaraid, And robd of royall robes, and purple pall, And ornaments that richly were displaid; Ne spared they to strip her naked all. Then when they had despoild her tire and call, Such as she was, their eyes might her behold, That her misshaped parts did them appall, A loathly, wrinckled hag, ill favoured, old, Whose secret filth good manners biddeth not be told.” (Book I, Canto VIII, Stanza 46) This ugliness of her is the result of her moral and inner deformity. A verse from the bible counterbalances this circumstance, as well; “And the women was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and gilded with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, and had a cup of gold in her hand full of abominations, and filthiness of her fornication.” (Revelation 17:4) What is essential is not her physical appearance but who she is. Therefore, what Aristotle says comes true; “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities.” In this quotation, quality may be substituted for her morals. Thus, what Redcross Knight has to do is to choose either Una or Duessa, either good or bad, either virgin or whore…

Additionally, Duessa takes the advantage of female power of seduction for the purpose of teasing men into the defenceless position; “Then bowing downe her aged backe, she kist / … / Did closely lurke; yet so true-seeming grace” (Book I, Canto V, Stanza 27, Lines 1&4) Even though she, even herself, affirms her seductresses; “Duessa I, the daughter of Deceipt and Shame”(Book I, Canto V, Stanza 26, Line 9), she still describes herself as “virgin widow” (Book I, Canto II, Stanza 24, Line 8) who cannot never be reached. She continues to offer herself to people such as Orgoglia; “… hold thy mortall hand for Ladies sake, / … / And me thy worthy meed unto thy Leman [mistress] take.” (Book I, Canto VII, Stanza 14, Lines 6&9). From another point of view, the way Duessa acts is to keep men away from their knightly responsibilities in contrast to Una who helps Redcross Knight. She destructs men and brings them to the failure instead of supporting them. Here, it is seen that she is the paradox of socio-cultural stereotypes, as well. Duessa does not think about wifely or motherly issues while she only cares about sexual pleasure and so she changes her carnal mates very frequently.

In the chivalric romance epic “The Faerie Queene” composed by Edmund Spenser in 1590, the author uses the stereotypes of women in the late sixteenth century. Una and Duessa are personified ingeniously. Spenser achieves his goal, which is to celebrate Elizabeth I, Protestant church and British community. He approaches Queen Elizabeth in terms of virginity, Protestantism, head of the church of England which is the true one and restored by her, her reaching Saint George who is symbolized by Redcross Knight in the poem and her dressing style meanwhile he approaches Mary, Queen of Scots in terms of whoredom, her instigation and infidelity, widowhood, Roman Catholicism which is false church and her execution. The writer substantiates his ideas via verses from the bible time to time in order to be clearer in his expressions.

Works Cited

Brown, Pearl L., and Michele Hoffnung. “Images of Women in Psychology and Literature: An Interdisciplinary Course.” Feminist Teacher, vol. 6, no. 1, 1991, pp. 14–20. JSTOR, <www.jstor.org/stable/40545594>. Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope, Who am I This Time?: Female Portraits in British and American Literature. New York: McGraw Hill, 1976. Cavanagh, Sheila T. “Nightmares of Desire: Evil Women in ‘The Faerie Queene.’” Studies in Philology, vol. 91, no. 3, 1994, pp. 313–338. JSTOR, <www.jstor.org/stable/4174492>. De Beauvoir, Simon. “The Second Sex.” 1949. Greenbelt, Stephen. gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton. 2012. Print. Lambert, Tim. “Life for Women in the 16th Century.” 2016. 20 June 2016. <http://www.localhistories.org/women.html> Robin, Diana Maury, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin. Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. California, Colorado, Oxford. ACB-CLIO. 2007. Smith, Roland M. “Una and Duessa.” PMLA, vol. 50, no. 3, 1935, pp. 917–919. JSTOR, <www.jstor.org/stable/458228>. “The North American Review.” The North American Review, vol. 82, no. 170, 1856, pp. 284. JSTOR, <www.jstor.org/stable/25104695>. Spenser, Edmund. The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser in Five Volumes, 1. Volume. Wisconsin-Madison University: W. Pickering. 1825. Savitt, D. Jill. “Female Stereotypes in Literature (With a Focus on Latin American Writers.” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. 2016. 8 June 2017 <http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1982/5/82.05.06.x.html>. The Holy Bible. Revelation and John. “The North American Review.” The North American Review, vol. 82, no. 170, 1856, pp. 284. JSTOR, <www.jstor.org/stable/25104695>.

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The Task of Interpreting the Allegory in Spenser’s Faerie Queene

August 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

In many ways The Faerie Queene presents a unique challenge to the English reader. It can be described as epic, romance or fantasy and covers a wide range of topics religious and romantic, political and spiritual, Christian and Pagan. It is also incomplete, leaving the resolution of the separate narrative open for conjecture. Moreover, it is a poem that refuses to reveal itself in one sitting; demanding more of the reader than usual. MacCaffrey describes the challenge to the reader as

“The characters, including the heroes, move primarily in the horizontal plane, but Spenser’s readers have their attention repeatedly drawn to the upper and lower limits of reality which are also the sources of the poem’s truth. This vertical dimension is ordinarily beyond the horizon of the characters, but visible to us; as always when a distance develops between fiction and reader, the effect is to make us aware of fictiveness itself and to ponder the nature and relevance of fictions”

Interpreting the allegory in The Faerie Queene is not simply a task of deciphering a code, but a matter of relating to the Spenserian, Elizabethan and Fairy worlds in order to make sense of and then bring together the carefully structured layers and meanings of the poem.

Both Spenser’s contemporaries and his modern audience are likely to know when they approach The Faerie Queene that what they are reading is an allegory. Allegory as a literary device evolved out of the classical method of interpreting the world through figurative means with Gods and myths, combined with the (somewhat simplistically stated) progression from simile to metaphor to allegory. Allegory was used extensively in the Bible; thereafter the technique was regarded as one of moral intentions and was used throughout the medieval period from Dante and popular romances like The Romance of the Rose to Chaucer. Therefore Elizabethans would have been fully aware of the allegorical style of The Faerie Queene, as are modern readers whose copies are invariably prefaced by Spenser’s famous letter to Sir Walter Raleigh. So we should assume that Spenser was not intending to confuse his readers in any way but use allegory as a technique best suited to espousing his ideas and views on contemporary Elizabethan society.

Therefore the reader has to perform the task of following the narrative in Fairy Land as well as being conscious on another level of Spenser’s aims of “fashioning a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline” based on Protestant Christianity and glorifying, in the same vein, the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The role of the Redcrosse Knight in Book 1 of The Faerie Queene can be examined to highlight the demands placed on the reader in interpreting the allegory. As MacCaffrey explains, “In the epistemological allegory of Book 1, Spenser compels both his reader and his hero to confront the duplicity of seemings”. This “duplicity of seemings” is mostly represented by the roles and differences of Una and Duessa. The reader already knows that Redcrosse is ‘holiness’ from the prefatory quatrain and must bear this in mind to understand the significance of the problems he has to overcome. Duessa, Abessa and Archimago are, for Spenser, allegorical representations of the Catholic Church – ones that are specifically aimed at deceiving Redcrosse and the reader, for Redcrosse is in many ways the Christian, or more precisely, Protestant everyman. His quest for truth and holy glory is one that Spenser sees as the duty of every man and it is the forces of Catholicism that are placed in the way. But Catholicism is not Spenser’s only evil in the poem; Islam, as represented by the 3 brother “Sarazins”, is seen to be without faith (Sansfoy), without law (Sansloy) and without joy (Sansjoy). There would have been very little problem in interpreting these names for Spenser’s audience as any reader of such a poem would most likely have rudimentary knowledge of the poem’s names Latinate origins; however the modern English reader may not comprehend the name’s meaning without secondary material. Comprehension of the names in The Faerie Queene is always useful at an early stage of reading as they provide a ‘short cut’ to the allegorical significance of the characters.

Another problem for the modern reader is the blatant and consistent attacks on anything non-Protestant, be it the Catholics, the Muslims or the faithless. As a prominent Elizabethan, Spenser was writing with the backing of the political and religious power base, and his views would have been either applauded or opposed quietly. However, modern English readers inhabit a society where multiculturalism is publicly celebrated and religious intolerance officially unacceptable. In Northern Ireland, for example, study of the allegory of The Faerie Queene would be a highly contentious issue as to celebrate the poem would blatantly be an attack on Catholicism in an area of the world where religious differences can cost lives. Similarly unacceptable would be to endorse a poem that condemned Islam as being without law, faith and joy in a British society with an established Muslim community that would be deeply offended. Whilst it is impossible to criticise Spenser for lacking the sensibilities and enlightenment of the 21st century, a new task for the reader is to take Spenser’s targets and give them a universal meaning. This is dangerous in terms of developing an exclusive interpretation (i.e. attempting to publish a book defining a universal interpretation) but the allegory of The Faerie Queene should be interpreted personally so that it means something for each individual reader. This may mean accepting Fidessa-Duessa as being the personification of falseness, but ignoring her being the Whore of Babylon, or perhaps accepting her as the Whore of Babylon but rejecting that figure as a representation of the Catholic Church. Similarly, Sansfoy does not have to be a Muslim in order to represent the folly of being lawless. This selective interpretation may break the ‘completeness’ of Spenser’s poem but the process in itself would be a worthwhile experience.

For such a personal interpretation to occur, firstly the reader must understand Spenser’s intentions fully. The crux of this task lies in the navigation of the “vertical axis” that MacCaffrey mentions. Redcrosse does not symbolise a fixed concept or figure. We have seen that he is allied to the reader in the problems he has to overcome, making him in one respect an ordinary man, but he is clearly not just that. Spenser fashioned him to represent holiness, although this definition should be treated carefully as he is not holiness itself, but a man who has holiness. There are characters, such as Malbecco (Jealousy) in Book 3 who are concepts in themselves and Una as Truth represents this type of allegorical figure. Whenever she is with Redcrosse he has ‘true Christian Truth’; when she is absent he is prey to the evils of Duessa and Archimago. Redcrosse possesses holiness and courage but lacks experience; at the beginning of Book 1 he is described as yearning for glory: “his hart did earne / To prove his puissance in batell brave”. This gives us an impression of youthful endeavour – he yearns for glory in battle, thus suggesting that he has not yet achieved much. The way he is deceived by Duessa is a challenge – one that he initially does not seem able to win as he is led towards Lucifera and the seven sins, but overcomes eventually by way of his holiness and his reunion with Una. The allegory here is not only for the individual man to steer away from deceit and pride towards truth and holiness, but a chronicle of how Christians as an entire religious people were deceived (in Spenser’s eyes) by the Catholic Church. It was only the true holiness of man that enabled him eventually to embrace the ‘true religious faith’ of Protestantism. The religious allegory is the primary concern of Book 1; only with the introduction of Arthur does the political one begin (to be developed later).

When the Redcrosse Knight is revealed as St. George the reader then has a new level on the ‘vertical axis’ to deal with. His role as a Protestant role model is combined with his representation of the British nation. Whilst the device of allegory can be categorised by the different applications, techniques and situations with which it is used, e.g., situational allegory, typological allegory, psychological allegory etc., this need not concern the reader as such a categorisation can prove confusing and unhelpful. Rather, the priority for the reader should be the distinctions between the topics of the allegory, for example when Redcrosse is led up the mountain by Contemplation the reader should consider this an important part of his development in the surface narrative but also bear in mind that Redcrosse signifies a Moses or Christ-type figure; “he leads him to the highest Mount; / Such one, as that same mighty man of God, / That bloud-red billowes like a walld front”, as well as being symbolic of England – at the top of the mountain his destiny as St. George, patron of the English, is revealed as well as contemplation of London and Elizabeth in their allegorical forms of Cleopolis and the Faerie Queene. That Spenser is quite explicit with his references to his referred meaning again demonstrates that he openly intended for those meanings to be apparent to his audience. It is when Spenser is not so open about his intentions that the reader has to juggle priorities in his consciousness.

In conclusion, the task of the reader of The Faerie Queene involves active participation, patience and a compromise between objectivity and subjectivity. The surface narrative, which can be overlooked as a hindrance to understanding the poem, becomes a help when the reader is prepared to follow the fairy story – the battles between Knights and monsters against a backdrop of bleeding trees and mythical creatures. For the narrative of the fairy story is designed to be synchronised with the allegorical developments. Thus the journey to the mountain, led by Contemplation, is the cerebral ‘calm’ before the physical (and allegorically spiritual) ‘storm’ of the dragon battle. If the reader is confused then the enjoyment of the surface narrative will engage the attention so that rereading is possible and fruitful. Keeping the different allegorical strands in mind when reading The Faerie Queene is, however, what makes reading it rewarding; once it is understood the surface narrative becomes subservient to the referred meaning as ultimately it is a vehicle for Spenser’s ideas. In other great epics like, for instance, Paradise Lost, any allegory concerning the English Civil War is essentially subservient to the surface narrative about the ultimate battle of good and evil. But the reader of The Faerie Queene must always have allegory as the priority of their consciousness to fully receive the complete impression of the poem.

Bibliography

Greenlaw, Edwin. Studies in Spenser’s Historical Allegory. London: OUP, 1932.

Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.

MacCaffrey, Isabel G. Spenser’s Allegory. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976.

MacQueen, John. Allegory. London: Methuen, 1970.

Parker, M. Pauline. The Allegory of The Faerie Queene. London: OUP, 1960.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene, ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

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The Beneficence of Despair

July 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

The consequence that Spenser faces in casting the Redcrosse knight as the obvious hero of The Faerie Queene is that all who oppose him throughout the poem are immediately branded as inherently evil figures. Such is the case with Despaire, whose encounter with the Redcrosse knight on the surface looks like a cruel and conniving attempt to make the hero of the story commit suicide. Upon closer analysis, however, Despair can be seen as “that cursed man” (I, ix, 308), not because he embodies evil, but rather because he is himself cursed and endures a more miserable fate than those who stumble upon him.Spenser sets Despair apart from characters such as Duessa or Archimago, who actively pursue the Redcrosse knight for the sake of bringing him to ruin, as well as from Errour and the Dragon, whose horrendous physical appearance and prowess suggest their potential to do great harm to the knight. Despair, unlike the knight’s other opposition, neither pursues him nor poses immediate physical danger. Rather, the knight comes seeking Despair at his cave, and at a purely physical level, the only threat to him comes from his own hand (since Despair does not do the actual killing).When Despair is first introduced, the description of his physical appearance resonates with that of the knight only one canto earlier, when he was in the dungeon of the Giant (I, vii, 357-369). Particularly when Spenser describes how Despair’s “raw-bone cheeks through penurie and pine, / Were shronke into his jawes, as he did never dine” (I, ix, 314-315), he sounds very much like the picture of the malnourished knight, “whose feeble thighs, unhable to uphold / His pined corse, him scarse to light could beare, / A ruefull spectacle of death and ghastly drere” (I, viii, 358-360). This resonation has the affect of reminding the reader that the fate Despair faces could have fallen upon any man, including the knight himself.Having brought Despair to the same level of humanity as the knight, Spenser further nullifies the notion that Despair is a malicious enemy and emphasizes his doomed state on Earth with the description of his surroundings. The image of him confined to a cave where “beside there lay upon the gras / A drearie corse, whose life away did pas, / All wallowd in his owne yet luke-warme blood, / That from his wound yet welled fresh alas” (I, ix, 319-322) paints a vivid picture of his miserable situation. It is hardly the portrait of a bloodthirsty villain who triumphs over every life ended by his rhetorical power, or over the sight of his latest visitor’s fresh blood.His act of persuading people to commit suicide somehow reduces the evil attributed to him, as opposed to if he were presented physically murdering his visitors. Spenser somehow finds a perfect balance between the craftiness of Duessa and Archimago and the physical brutality of the Dragon or Errour. Despair cannot be blamed for craftiness or deceit because he does not disguise his intent to drive people to suicide. At the same time he cannot be blamed for inflicting physical harm on people. Spenser cleverly created a character who could be admired for his rhetorical ability and who cannot be wholly blamed for the destruction of lives. Despair also escapes blame because he does not do nearly as much harm to the knight as any of the other “villains.” In fact, the knight escapes from the cave unscathed.Despair’s response to the knight’s departure is also crucial to the portrayal of his character. When the knight leaves, he does not pursue him because the knight is not the true victim in this scene. What ensues the knight’s departure reveals the true victim: Despair, who “when…[he] saw his guest / Would save depart, for all his subtill sleight, / He chose an halter from among the rest, / And with it hung himselfe, unbid unblest. / But death he could not worke himselfe thereby; / For thousand times he so himselfe had drest, / Yet nathelesse it could not doe him die, / Till he should die his last, that is eternally” (I, ix, 479-486).The sense of comfort in human companionship invoked by the use of the word “guest” suggests the loneliness of Despair in the midst of his interminable life in the cave. Despair’s response upon the knight’s departure reveals his belief that suicide truly is the best escape from the despair that he suffers. Given this conclusion, the fact that he persuades others to take their lives no longer appears as an act of evil, but rather an attempt to spare others from his own miserable fate.If it were his passion to ensnare men and persuade them to take their lives, he would be outside of the cave pursuing after victims, possibly wearing an effective disguise such as Duessa and Archimago, that would win him credibility. Instead he sits in a hollow cave with festering corpses. Surely anyone who stumbles upon him would be suspicious of him, thus making his job of luring them to suicide more difficult. His condition, his dwelling, and his candidness suggest that he is not doing this job out of his own volition or zeal, but rather because this is the fate that has been allotted to him by some unmentioned, greater supernatural power.This sense is strengthened by the mention of his numerous unsuccessful suicide attempts. If his fate were in his hands, then he should have no problem taking his own life; instead, “death he could not worke himselfe thereby” (I, ix, 483). There is a sense that Despair operates under the authority of a greater power which spares his life in each suicide attempt and propels him into the continuous doom in the cave. His role as an advocate for suicide suddenly turns into a life that he has been unfortunately fated with rather than a malicious endeavor of his own volition. As the canto comes to a close, Despair’s grim fate invokes far more pity than the knight’s momentary danger, from which he escapes unharmed.

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