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The Faerie Queene

Edmund Spenser

Book I, Cantos vi, vii & viii

Book I, Cantos iii, iv & v

Book I, Cantos ix & x

Summary

Sansloy, having captured Una, now means to have his lustful way with her; she cries out for help. Fortunately, the forest they are in has many woodgods--Faunes and Satyres, creatures half-human and half-animal--which come to her aid when they hear her cries. Sansloy flees, terrified at the sight of the beasts, who bow down before Una as if she were a goddess. Soon, a knight comes by-- Satyrane, born of a satyr and a human. He pledges to protect Una and goes with her as she continues her journey to find Redcrosse. On their way, they come across an old man, who claims to have seen the Redcrosse knight killed that day, by a pagan knight. Una is filled with grief; Satyrane, eager for revenge, asks where the pagan is now. The old man leads them to him--it is Sansloy, who did not, in fact, kill Redcrosse but defeated Archimago disguised as the hero. Nevertheless, the pagan and Satyrane draw swords and fight; after many hours there is still no victor, and Una slips away in fear while they do battle.

Meanwhile, the Redcrosse knight rests on the side of the road; he has not recovered from his battle with Sansjoy. Duessa had followed him and found him lying by a stream; he welcomes her company, not having learned his lesson. As they talk, a monstrous giant, Orgoglio, comes upon them. Only the pleas of Duessa keep the giant from killing Redcrosse; instead, he takes Duessa as his lover and throws the knight in the dungeon of his castle. The dwarf, however, manages to escape and, going back along the road, meets Una. Hearing the dreadful news of Redcrosse's capture, she faints twice but at last recovers. The dwarf then tells her how the deceit of Archimago first led Redcrosse away. Una "up arose, resolving him to find / Alive or dead: and forward forth doth pas, / All as the Dwarfe the way to her assynd [showed] (I.vii.28)." On the way to the giant's castle, she meets a good knight, arrayed in marvelous armor: His shield is pure diamond and gleams in the sunlight. This is King Arthur, traveling with his squire, and he asks Una to say what grieves her.

She pours out her whole story: She is the daughter of a king and queen, who are held captive by a fierce dragon. Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, sent Redcrosse to kill the dragon and free her parents, but that brave knight now lies captive to a giant. Arthur swears to free Redcrosse and goes with them to the gate of the giant's castle. There, he blows his great horn, summoning out Orgoglio; Duessa follows, riding on a seven-headed beast. The giant attacks, and misses with his first blow; Arthur then hacks off his arm. Meanwhile, the squire tries to hold off the seven-headed beast, but he is drugged by Duessa and nearly killed. Arthur, furious, cuts off one of the heads of the beast. But Orgoglio knocks him down from behind and would have killed him had not Arthur unveiled his shield, which blinded both beast and giant. Now the knight brings the giant to the ground and chops off his head. Seeing Arthur victorious, Una runs into the castle and finds the dungeon where her knight lies. Redcrosse has been weakened almost unto death, and he must be helped out by Una and Arthur. Once outside, they take Duessa and strip her, so that Redcrosse can see that she is truly a witch. Then, they leave her to flee into the woods as they rest in the castle, victorious.

Commentary

The woodgods, although they live in the forest, watch over nature, and are instinctively kind to Una, are not representative of "pure" nature like the Lion was. Because they are creatures of Greek and Roman mythology, and because they worship Una like an idol, they represent the primitive, idolatrous beliefs of the ancients. They bow down to Una but do not realize the Christian truth that she represents, and this is Spenser's dismissal of the gods of the Greeks and Romans. Satyrane, because he is only part woodgod, still has the goodness of nature and can help Una. However, because he does not represent anything Christian he cannot defeat Sansloy; Spenser repeatedly maintains that nature's best cannot perform the deeds that a Christian warrior must accomplish. These deeds must be performed by Redcrosse, who has been weakened by his visit to the House of Pride. Although he had the instinctive good sense to flee from that castle (his conscience at work), he still does not recognize the falseness of Duessa. This failure leads him near to death in the dungeon of Orgoglio. The giant represents godless pride, which can overcome the weak Christian who is still separated from Truth.

Arthur then becomes identifiable as a Christ figure, because he helps Redcrosse rise up from his lowest state. The allegory is not that simple, however; later, Redcrosse himself will be likened to Christ, and Arthur has more diverse meanings within The Faerie Queene. On the first level, he is the hero of the whole poem; Spenser intended to have him appear briefly in each book, usually to save the day when things look hopeless. Beyond that, the character of King Arthur had deep significance for a 16th-century English audience. Arthurian legend was well developed by Spenser's time and had turned a semi-historical fifth-century king into a timeless hero. Arthur represents Britain's golden age. Spenser suggests that this age could, in a way, return to England in his time--by championing religion, instead of damsels in distress. This connection will be strengthened later in the book when the poet suggests a connection between Arthur and Queen Elizabeth.

The return of the Catholic Church as the main enemy of this Book is also emphasized in the battle outside Orgoglio's caste. Duessa rides out on a very strange beast, in a scene that, more than any other passage, is a direct parallel to the Book of Revelation. That book, which is supposed to be a prediction of the future of Christianity in the world, reads: "And I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast...having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and covered with gold...having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations (Rev.17.3-4)." The woman in the Biblical passage is known as the whore of Babylon, and Protestants traditionally associate her with the Catholic Church. Her "golden cup" pours out the filth that temporarily overcomes the squire. Thus, the battle outside the giant's castle firmly associates Duessa with the Roman Church. And yet, she is not the greatest evil in the poem; Una finally reveals Redcrosse's ultimate goal: to free her parents from the giant dragon. This beast represents all evil--the evil that Spenser claimed was in the Catholic Church and all other forms.

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The Faerie Queene is a religious allegory.

by touhidsm, May 09, 2014

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Answer: There is no matter of doubt that Spencer’s poem, The Faerie Queene, is replete with allegorical significance. Edmund Spenser stands among the greatest writers of the Elizabethan period whose valuable contributions fashioned a new tradition in English literature. Nowadays he is hailed to be one of the chief initiators of the Renaissance movement in English literature. Spenser's rich and ... Read more

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