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 . BibleSources.Org. John 1. 27 Oct. 2007 . BibleSources.Org. Rev. (Also Apoc.) 12. 27 Oct. 2007. “Saint George.” Wikipedia. 2002. 22 Oct.-Nov. 2007 . Spencer, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. A.c. Hamilton. New York: Longman Group Limited, 1977. 27-162.

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