The Faerie Queene
Different Interpretations of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
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)
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.
A Role Of Allegory in The Faerie Queene
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’.
Array and establishment of parallel characters.
Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene features an array of characters that appear briefly, usually to influence Redcrosse in a critical moment along his journey. Fradubio is one such character, given sixteen stanzas in a poem of over 600 stanzas. The importance of Fradubio’s character becomes more puzzling considering his stanzas could be removed from Cantos II without discontinuity in the plot line. Why is this talking tree important, both for the literal storyline and the allegorical subplot? Fradubio functions as a parallel character to Redcrosse and contrasts between them pose questions of how grace is loss and obtained. Fradubio’s tale is a succinct preview of the plot come, allowing readers to consider Holiness, Doubt, grace, and other themes before they are fully addressed in later cantos.
Fradubio is easily establish as a parallel character to Redcrosse, through comparison with cantos II and the poem as a whole. In the beginning of his tale, Fradubio is “In prime of youthly yeares, when corage hot/ The fire of love and joy of chevalree” (188.8.131.52-2) similar to the naive Redcrosse, “his hart did earne/ To prove his puissance in battell brave” (184.108.40.206-7). 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’” (220.127.116.11-4). Fradubio has no way of knowing that Redcrosse will be saved by “The Well of Life” in the last cantos (1.11.29). At the time Redcrosse meets Fradubio in Cantos II, Redcrosse only at the start of this shared story arc. An attentive reader may gain foresight into Redcrosse’s fate and already begin thinking about how faith is lost and recovered.
Nonetheless, Redcrosse fails to see this warning against Duessa or the foreshadowing of his own future in Fradubio’s tale. Redcrosse, identified in Professor Drew Daniel’s lecture as representing Holiness, is repeatedly deceived by ill-willed magic and trickery. Examples include Archimago’s illusions of a fake Una, Duessa’s beauty, the House of Pride, and almost giving in to the arguments of Despair. The space around Fradubio and Fraelissa is so cursed that even shepherds “shund th’unlucky ground,” but Redcrosse cannot sense this animosity (18.104.22.168). 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 (22.214.171.124). 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 (126.96.36.199-4). 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” (188.8.131.52), “this gentle Lady” (184.108.40.206) 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” (220.127.116.11-2). 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” (18.104.22.168-8). 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” (22.214.171.124). 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” (126.96.36.199-7). 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 (188.8.131.52-8). 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,’” (184.108.40.206-8).
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.
The impacts of images on meaning of epic simile.
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.
Women used as steorotypes of gender.
“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.
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The Task of Interpreting the Allegory in Spenser’s Faerie Queene
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.
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.
The Beneficence of Despair
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.
The Malleability of Image in Spenser’s Faerie Queene: Fruitful Seed
SpenserÃ¢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 SpenserÃ¢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 ErrorÃ¢s vomit, Ã¢a Floud of pyson horrible and blacke,Ã¢? containing lumps of flesh, books and papers, and eyeless frogs and toads, who Ã¢creeping sought way in the weedy grasÃ¢? (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 ErrorÃ¢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 swellWith timely pride aboue the Aegyptian valeHis fattie wauves do fertile slime outwellAnd 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 ErrorÃ¢s vomit, the swelling of the Nile River leaves Ã¢Huge heapes of mudd . . . wherein there breed / Ten thousand kindes of creatures, partly male / And partly female of his fruitfull seedÃ¢? (21.6-8). This second quatrain continues with the ideas of the first; the Ã¢fertile slime,Ã¢? as it should, produces Ã¢fruitfull seed.Ã¢? But this seed is perverted. The sexual paternity and maternity of the seed are obscured, incestuous or otherwise depraved, and breed Ã¢ten thousand kindes of creaturesÃ¢? of mixed male and female orientation. Spenser writes, Ã¢Such vgly monstrous shapes elsewhere may no man reed,Ã¢? recalling the image of Error as half-serpent and half-woman, Ã¢Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaineÃ¢? (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 Ã¢” non-linear, spatial play within a romantic landscape Ã¢” 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 (ErrorÃ¢s vomit) or as an exposition of stanza 21 (ErrorÃ¢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 riverÃ¢s seed, is Ã¢fruitfull.Ã¢? Spenser writes, Ã¢She poured forth out of her hellish sinke, / Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small, / Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inkeÃ¢? (22.5-7). Both the spawne of Error and of the river are Ã¢deformedÃ¢? 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, Ã¢swarming all about his legs did crall, / And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at allÃ¢? (22.8-9).The closing couplet of stanza 22 is the narratorÃ¢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. ErrorÃ¢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: Ã¢From their noyance he no where can rest, / But with his clownish hands their tender wings / He brusheth off, and oft doth mar their murmuringsÃ¢? (23.7-9).The description of ErrorÃ¢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 Ã¢Well worthy be you of that Armorie,Ã¢? when in stanza 26 we have just been told that Ã¢His foes haue slaine themselves,Ã¢? we understand that the two statements are not incompatible (27.5, 26.9). From the KnightÃ¢s perspective, or perhaps from UnaÃ¢s, he is worthy, having stood in Ã¢certaine perillÃ¢? (24.2). He has not seen himself as the shepherd brushing flies from his flesh, as we have. Spenser reduces the KnightÃ¢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 SpenserÃ¢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 ArchimagoÃ¢s inn. While the two are sleeping, Ã¢[Archimago] to his study goes, and there amides / His Magick bookes and artes of sundry kindes, / He seeks out mighty charmes, to trouble sleepy mindesÃ¢? (36.7-9). This recalls ErrorÃ¢s vomit in stanza 20, which is filled with the stuff that magic is made of: Ã¢great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw . . . bookes and papers . . . loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lackeÃ¢? (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 dredLegions of Sprights, the which like little flyesFluttring 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 Ã¢the falsest twooÃ¢? 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, Ã¢the sowne / Of swarming BeesÃ¢? that surrounds the house of Morpheus (41.4-5). This sound, blended with the sounds of a Ã¢trickling streame from high rocke tumbling downe / And euer-drizling raine vpon the loft, / Mixt with a murmuring winde,Ã¢? Ã¢lulleÃ¢? the occupants of the town to Ã¢slumber softÃ¢? (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 Ã¢fit false dreame, that can delude the sleepers sent,Ã¢? 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 Ã¢” arriving somewhere Ã¢” 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.
Catholicism, Temptation, and Duessa in Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen”
Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene follows its protagonist Redcrosse on a traditional hero’s journey, all of which is a religious and historical allegory for the conflicts of the church taking place during Spenser’s time. Redcrosse encounters the mysterious Duessa on his journey, a figure who he initially trusts, but who ultimately wants to subvert him. Duessa fills not only the role of villain over the course of the story, she also acts as an allegory for the Catholic church and the biblical temptress, adding to Spenser’s message of the truth of the Protestant Church and the corruption of Catholicism.
Duessa’s constant trickery and deception represent the corruption associated with the Catholic Church. When Redcrosse meets Fradubio, the tree-man explains that Duessa deceived him so that he “took Duessa for my Dame” (805) and engaged in a relationship with her for some time, before he accidentally found her bathing and saw her in her true form, observing that “Her neather partes misshapen, monstrous // were hidd in water, that I could not see // but they did seeme more foule and hideous // then womans shape man would beleeve to bee” (805). Duessa deceives Fradubio into thinking that she’s the beautiful woman he fell in love with, when in fact she’s a deformed witch, and once he figures out who she is, she turns him into a tree. Duessa creates an image of beauty and innocence but is in reality corrupt and bent on destruction, an attitude that transfers into her interactions with Redcrosse. He is close to discovering who she really is after Fradubio tells his story, but as soon as he turns on her, Duessa pretends to faint, manipulating her appearance so she takes on a “pale and deadly hew” (806). Redcrosse is immediately worried for her and forgets any doubts he had; she manages to manipulate him into caring for her again by depicting herself as innocent, meek, and helpless. In taking on this facade that allows her to trick the other characters to further her own plans, Duessa also establishes herself as an allegory for the corruption that Spenser and other Protestants of his day believed was embedded in the Catholic Church. Duessa lures men onto her side by portraying herself as a beautiful, innocent maiden in need of a protector, much like Spenser believed the Catholic Church lured potential worshippers by painting themselves as the one true church, when in reality the institution had considerable amounts of corruption, from religious officials enjoying luxurious goods to high-level clergy members taking bribes. Duessa’s role in The Faerie Queene is to further Spenser’s allegory of the truth of the Protestant Church, a role furthered by the fact that she comes from Rome. She moves into the story as a symbol of the corrupting nature of the Catholic Church; a representative from Rome, she makes quick work of deceiving Redcrosse and others into believing that she holds nothing but beauty and innocence, when in reality she is corrupt and wants only to bring about destruction.
In addition to being a force of corruption and destruction, Duessa’s mission to distract Redcrosse from his true mission furthers Spenser’s allegory that Catholicism distracts from the one truth of the Protestant Church. Redcrosse begins The Faerie Queene on a quest to help Una find her family and save her kingdom from a dragon, but once he meets Duessa and hears her of her “sad plight, friendlesse, unfortunate” (801), he is immediately distracted from his original quest and tells Duessa that “may ye rest // having both a new friend you to aid” (802). While he previously was deeply devoted to Una, all thoughts of her fly out the window as soon as Duessa presents her case. While traveling with her, Redcrosse encounters numerous horrors, from the House of Pride to the giant Orgoglio, and engages in numerous battles in the name of someone who is both cruel and who doesn’t care for him at all, rather than using his strength to fight for good. Duessa distracts Redcrosse so that he is unable to see his actual enemies. When Orgoglio attacks, Redcrosse is attacked “ere he could get his armour on him dight // or get his shield” (857). Duessa makes him let his guard down to the point where he is totally unprepared for potential attacks, and as a result is nearly killed by a monster who is fairly significant. When the giant is finally killed by Arthur, his body “was vanisht quite, and of that monstrous mas // was nothing left, but like an empty bladder was” (873). Orgoglio is described as being a large and formidable enemy, but in reality is simply filled with air and completely insignificant once vanquished. Redcrosse may easily have defeated him, as he’s defeated larger monsters, but because Duessa has weakened him and distracted his mind away from his original mission, he’s unable to defeat even small and insignificant enemies. Duessa is established as the ultimate foil for Una: Una’s name literally means “one”, further establishing her connection to the one truth of Protestantism, but Duessa’s name means “two”, alluding to ideas of duality and deception associated with the Catholic Church. In distracting Redcrosse from his mission of helping Una and weakening him in his fight against his enemies, Duessa establishes herself as a counter to Protestantism, and the truth Spenser and his English contemporaries believed it brought. She is not just an obstacle Redcrosse must content with; she represents the distraction from the truth that Spenser and his fellow protestants believed that Catholicism provided for the people of England after the Reformation.
Duessa’s seduction alludes to biblical seduction and temptation, establishing her as a religious allegory for the temptress. When Redcrosse first meets her she’s dressed in red, “Purfled with gold and pearle of rich assay” (798) and wearing “a Persian mitre on her hed” (798). Duessa is dressed in finery and presents physical beauty, both of which serve in drawing Redcrosse over to her cause: he’s drawn in by the image of a beautiful woman. Her primary method of distracting Redcrosse over the course of the poem is to seduce him: Spenser explains that the two of them are “Poured out in loosnesse” (857) together, implying that they’ve been having sex. Every time Redcrosse grows closer to figuring out who she truly is, she uses her beauty to seduce him into having sex with her. Her seduction eludes to the image of the temptress in the Bible: when she first meets Redcrosse her appearance is also similar to that of the whore of Babylon, who drew in people with her beauty and finery but who was blasphemous. Her temptation of Redcrosse also alludes to Eve, who many readers of the Bible interpret as having tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and caused the two of them to fall from Paradise. Duessa is not just a historical allegory for the Catholic Church: she is also a religious allegory for the figure of the temptress, and in addition to serving as Redcrosse’s enemy, she also serves as a continuation of the Bible’s message that women who tempt men, through their sexuality or through other means, are not to be trusted and will ultimately come to a bad end.
While Duessa serves as a symbol for Catholicism and biblical temptresses, she also fills the role of feared foreigner in a society terrified of differences. Duessa enters the play as an immediately recognizable foreigner: she’s dressed in bright colors and finery, a direct counter to the figure of Una, who’s described as “much whiter” (783) than her white donkey, and who hides “under a vele” (783), as would have been common for high-class English women of the time. Duessa’s bright clothes that don’t cover her entire body are distinctly out of place when contrasted to Una’s wardrobe, and her clothes immediately reveal her to be foreign and “other”. Not only is Duessa foreign, however, she is from the Holy Roman Empire: her father was “an Empererour // he that the wide West under his rule has” (801), and therefore has a connection to the Catholicism that would have frightened readers of the time. Not only is Duessa a symbol of a religion deemed corrupt and untrue, she is also a foreigner who comes from a far away land with distinctly different beliefs and different styles of dress. In a time of such severe religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, anyone who didn’t match the accepted British norms and standards – Protestantism, refinement – was immediately viewed as someone to be feared or ostracized. Duessa fills the role of fearsome foreigner, who Spenser’s contemporaries would immediately have recognized as an enemy because of her similarities to other enemies of the time. She acts as a villain who undermines Redcrosse, and a symbol of Catholicism and temptation in a society that would have recognized and condemned both, but she also represents the foreign and unknown people who her society would have feared because of their separation from the accepted norm.
The Faerie Queene is an epic poem chronicling battles and adventure, but it also serves as a historical allegory for the Protestant-Catholic conflict in England and a religious allegory for the Bible. Within all three of these contexts, Duessa serves as a foil for Redcrosse: as a villain, as a symbol for Catholicism and as a symbol for the biblical temptress. She also represents the fear of foreigners and anyone who strayed from the norms of Spenser’s day, by acting as a person who readers of the time would have already perceived as a villain, but in every possible form, she represents a challenge to be faced and an obstacle to be overcome.
Una and Red Cross in Faerie Queene
Spencer’s Faerie Queene is perhaps the most intricate allegory written in the history of the English language. In this poem Spencer not only releases his creative genius by twisting the letters within his words to create perfect puns but also seeks to engage the Elizabethan youth in courtly behavior by disguising it in the form of an allegory rather than writing a handbook on proper sixteenth century etiquette. Faerie Queene is a poem that romanticizes the history of England by attributing various valiant knights with many virtues, the first of which is Holiness. Being the first book of an intended 24 part masterpiece, Spencer aims to place certain emphasis on holiness, insinuating that all virtues are founded first through divinity. Holiness is present throughout the length of book I of the Faerie Queene through elaborate allegory to best illustrate this important virtue. The central character of this holy book is the Red Crosse knight. Red Crosse, cleverly named after the emblem he wears on his chest and armor, is associated with holiness from the beginning of canto i. The armor that clothes Red Crosse is a reference to Ephesians 6:11-16, which commands to “put on the whole armor of God… the breastplate of righteousness” and “the shield of faith” so “that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” By alluding to a popular passage of the bible, Spencer emphasizes the importance of religion and faith in everyday life and insinuates that religion could be incorporated even in the most pleasurable activities, such as a reading of The Faerie Queene. What is also interesting about this particular allusion to Ephesians, is the fact that Spencer transforms biblical allegory into fictional truth by clothing Red Crosse with actual armor and having him “able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13) against all his adversaries. The “bloudie Crosse he bore” (I i 2.1) is worn in “remembrance” (I i 2.2) of the blood sacrifice of Jesus and insinuates certain heavenly protection such as warding his adversaries away like vampires. This emblem of blood could also be perceived as an allusion to the Christians massacre under the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian. According to hagiographical sources, St. George refused to partake in the Christian genocide and confessed his true faith (Wikipedia). In this manner, the bloody cross across Red Crosse’s chest is another reference to St. George and his execution after declaring his own Christianity. St. George’s sacrifice for faith and for his attempt to save other Christians characterizes him as a Jesus like character and reinforces Red Crosse’ holiness. The dents on Red Crosse’s amour further establish his connection to Jesus, for they insinuate that like Jesus, Red Crosse also went through many trials and tribulations; all of which he was able to surpass by being clothed in the armor of God. The connection between Red Crosse and his Lord is elevated by their mutual need to dress in each other’s essence; for while Red Crosse must clothe in God to save himself, God must clothe in human to save all of humanity. While Red Crosse’s armor is an indication of his reverence for God, this old and damaged armor also serves to illustrate his difficulty with following the path of holiness. The dents on the “shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16) insinuate that Red Crosse’s faith is damaged. This is most evident when Red Crosse abandons his fair lady over a risqué dream. The facility with which the enemy is able to manipulate Red Crosse into abandoning not only his damsel, but his duty to complete the quest is startling. His rash reaction is significant because it reveals the frailness upon which his faith is built. It is ironic that by condemning Una’s alleged dishonor, Red Crosse himself acts in a dishonorable manner by leaving a troubled damsel to the fate of a dangerous world and furthermore abandoning the quest for which “he was to shed his blood” ( I i 55.3). By risking Una’s life Red Crosse also risks his own faith, for he is turning his back on holiness itself. Because Red Crosse’s faith is delicate and brittle, he is unable to identify wickedness and use his faith as a shield. One instance in which his shield is tested is in his fight against the Dragon threatening Una’s kingdom. When the dragon unleashes his fiery wrath upon Red Crosse, “that est him goodly arm’d, now most of all him harm’d” (I xi 27.9), as his entire body is scorched under the heat of the armor. It is interesting that despite having had his holiness and faith replenished at the house of Holiness, Red Crosse’s “shield of faith… [was un]able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16) dragon. The dragon itself can be viewed as a biblical allusion to “The great dragon [that] was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9). It could then be said that the searing of Red Crosse was a test of his faith by the enemy. Although there is no mention of Red Crosse actually removing the armor of God, he did “[think] his armes to leaue and helmet to unlace” (I xi 26.9). This insinuates that Red Crosse begins to doubt whether the importance holiness is worth the pain he must endure. Red Crosse’s helmet, a reference to “the helmet of salvation” ( Ephesians 6:17), signifies his uncertainty of being saved by the grace of God. One who must constantly worry for Red Crosse’s loss of spiritual direction is the lovely damsel; Una. Her name is derived from the Latin word meaning “one,” and represents the divine truth through one true faith. Una’s holiness is initially established through many depictions of her purity and wisdom. Una enters the first canto on a white donkey. While donkeys may have been a common mode of transportation in the Elizabethan era, the image of Una traveling on a donkey is loudly reminiscent of Virgin Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. Una resembles Virgin Mary in that she too is pure with virginity and carries God’s truth and holiness inside of her. The implication is furthered by the funeral like attire and sadness upon Una “As one that inly mournd” (I i 4.6), much like Mary’s mourning for her son Jesus. By creating parallels between Virgin Mary and Una, Spencer insinuates that Una, or the Anglican Church, is God’s instrument on earth to bring salvation to humanity. The allusion to the New Testament is developed further by the white lamb that accompanies Una. The lamb is being led “by her in a line” (I i 4.9), insinuating that Una is the lamb’s shepherd, just as Christ is thought of as being the shepherd of mankind. Much like Jesus, Una shepherds Red Crosse with divine truth and holiness; watching over him and retrieving him to the light when he has gone astray. The white lamb is also a direct reference to John 1:29, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world;” a biblical metaphor for Christ. Its important to notice the relationship between Una and the lamb, as they are connected through a rope. This bind is significant because it gives Una a very intimate connection to the lamb, Jesus, and it insinuates that as long as Una maintains that bond to the lamb, God will not abandon her; The Church of England. However, by establishing the lamb as Jesus then declaring that Una is as “pure and innocent, as that same lambe,” (I i 5.1) reveals Spencer’s feeling of admiration towards the church of England. By elevating Una to the same degree of holiness as Jesus, Spencer establishes the English Church as an institution tested but unspoiled by corruption¬¬¬¬¬¾ worthy to be God’s sole voice on earth. Also by creating this parallel between Una and the lamb of God, it can be said that the Church of England is God over the all other religious institutions. If Una is the truth and therefore “the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John1:1), then Una can also be seen as an allegory for God, for only in her path can holiness be acquired. Despite Una’s holiness and divinity, the relationship between Red Crosse and Una lacks faith. Just as his shield, Red Crosse’s faith for Una is wounded and dented. While he is a man of God, Red Cross is unable to keep himself from acting upon his nature and venturing far from his quest for holiness. When Red Crosse comes across the den of Errours, his heart becomes full of “fire and greedy hardiment” (I i 14.1) and he becomes so engulfed in his own manhood to listen to Una’s wise advice. Even when Red Crosse dismisses her pleads to refrain from seeking out evil, Una keeps her faith in Red Crosse and offers him encouragement and hope in moments of “sore constraint” (I i 19.1). It is interesting to note that despite Una’s holiness, truth and light, she has no real power over Red Cross, for all she can do is suggest and encourage. In this aspect, Una’s relationship to Red Cross is much like God’s relationship to humanity; for despite his magnificence in relation to man he limits himself by suggesting a set of guidelines by which he believes men should live by. When men ignore his advice and end up in Errour’s den, he like Una, offers hope to those who are willing to listen. Red Crosse’s faith is not something out of a faerie tale, but an accurate portrayal of man’s relationship with God. Man must travel great distances, suffer much hardship, and overcome wickedness’ temptations with God’s truth always at his side. Only then can man find the path to holiness and with it accomplish magnificence. Works CitedBibleSources.Org. Eph. 6. 27 Oct. 2007