What are the Christian elements in the Red Cross Knight's dream in Canto I, XLVI-LV, of The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The Red Cross Knight's dream in Canto I, XLVI-LV, is unusual in that it is the deliberate handicraft of Morpheus, requested by the Knight's enemy, Archimago, and delivered to the Knight by the Sprite acting as "messenger." Morpheus delivers "A fit false dreame, that can delude the sleepers sent" (XLIII)--a false dream, a delusion--to be given to the Knight. The intent of the dream is to dishonor the Lady Una and separate her from her knight and he from his guiding Truth.

His dream is an erotic one that is delivered to him where he slept in a sound and peaceful sleep: "Where he slept soundly void of evill thought" (XLVI). Suddenly, the dream causes him to "dreame of loves and lustfull play" and to dream that Una is laying by his side. In shock he awakens to find "his Lady" is actually there, or so it seems. Unbeknownst to him, part of Morpheus's evil dream is a Sprite's imitation of the Lady Una:

He taught to imitate that Lady trew,
Whose semblance she did carrie under feigned hew. (XLVI)

Lo there before his face his Lady is,
Under blake stole hyding her bayted hooke; (XLIX)

The Christian elements in the dream enter after the shock of the dream and of the waking illusion of Una by his side.

All cleane dismayd to see so uncouth sight,
And half enraged at her shamelesse guise,
He thought have slaine her in his fierce despight: 445
But hasty heat tempring with suffrance wise,
He stayde his hand, and gan himselfe advise
To prove his sense and tempt her faigned truth.
Wringing her hands in womans pitteous wise,
Tho can she weepe,° to stirre up gentle ruth, 450
Both for her noble bloud, and for her tender youth.

  • First: The Knight is "cleane dismayed" to see Una [or whom he believes to be Una] in so compromising a situation, offering herself to him in such an unsanctified manner as this.
  • Second: He is enraged that his Lady, his Light, his Truth, could so relinquish God's goodness and rightness by the step she has taken.
  • Third: His impulse is to slay her but he is stopped from following through because of Godly impulses that prevent him: "hasty heat [anger] tempering with sufferance wise [cooling off with wise forbearance]."
  • Fourth: He gave her Christian counsel instead; her tears at his remonstrance stirred pity for her in his heart ("ruth" i.e. pity).
  • Fifth: Finally, as he lays awake in the dark after successfully sending "her" (the Sprite in disguise) away, he grieves for her disastrous "mood," pondering that this spiritually weak Lady (or so he thinks) is she for whom he must shed his blood to protect if that were ever required.

To recap, the Christian elements are

  1. The Knight's natural peacefulness before the Sprite intrudes;
  2. dismay at anothers' transgression, not scorn;
  3. rage at shamelessness;
  4. rage tempered by longsuffering (tolerant) wise decision;
  5. Godly advice and counsel; gentleness and pity.

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