Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The Faerie Queene is a long epic poem that begins and ends with Christian affirmations. In it, Edmund Spenser draws on both Christian and classical themes, integrating the two traditions with references to contemporary politics and religion. The poem begins with a representation of holiness in book 1, and the Mutabilitie Cantos (first printed with the poem in 1609 after Spenser’s death) conclude with a prayer. Book 1 is identified as the Legend of the Knight of the Red Cross (or Saint George) in canto 2, verses 11-12. Red Cross, as an individual, is the Protestant Everyman, but as Saint George, historically England’s patron saint, he also represents the collective people of England. He is a pilgrim who hopes to achieve the virtue holiness, and for the reader his adventures illustrate the path to holiness.
Red Cross’s overarching quest, as an individual, is to behold a vision of the New Jerusalem, but he also is engaged in a holy quest involving the lady Una, who represents the one true faith. To liberate Una’s parents, the king and queen, Adam and Eve, Red Cross must slay the dragon, who holds them prisoner. The dragon represents sin, the Spanish Armada, and the Beast of the Apocalypse, and when Red Cross defeats the dragon he is in effect restoring Eden. Red Cross is then able to enter the House of Holiness and is deemed worthy to be united with Una.
Book 2 depicts Guyon, the knight of temperance, who learns the wisdom of the classical dictum “Nothing too much” (or “Nothing in excess”). Guyon is accompanied in his quest by a holy palmer and, when he faints at one point, is aided by an angel. These Christian elements suggest that in the quest to achieve temperance grace plays a role complementary to that of reason. Guyon is educated in the house of Alma (soul) and then challenges the sorceress Acrasia (lust) in the Bower of Bliss. Guyon frees the men who have been changed into beasts by Acrasia’s magic, but one of them (Grill) decides to remain a hog, suggesting Spenser’s conviction that there are limits to human perfectibility.
Book 3 concerns chastity and concludes the first part of The Faerie Queene. Even though book 4 is the beginning of the second part of The Faerie Queene, it is linked to book 3 because they both focus on Britomart, a female knight who represents Britain and Elizabeth, and a number of other characters whose stories are interlaced. Britomart falls in love with Artegall, the knight of justice, whose name means “equal to Arthur,” and Merlin prophesies their marriage. Elizabeth is also portrayed as Belphoebe, a beautiful virgin with whom Timias (understood as a figure for the real-life Sir Walter Ralegh) falls in love. Amoret, the twin sister of Belphoebe, is allegorized...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Spenser’s The Faerie Queene was published in two parts: the first part (books 1 to 3) appeared in 1590; the second part (books 4 to 6), with which the first part was reprinted, appeared in 1596. The dedication to the 1596 edition is addressed to Elizabeth I, whom Spenser describes as the empress of England, France, Ireland, and Virginia. He adds that he is consecrating “these his labours to live with the eternitie of her fame.” Although The Faerie Queene makes use of romance, as well as epic conventions, Spenser intended the poem to function as an English epic, a celebration of the emerging British empire. In his letter to Sir Walter Ralegh dated January 13, 1589, he states that the “generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.” Spenser also states that he will use the Aristotelian virtues as a means of organizing the themes of his epic, indicating that he will write a twelve-book epic, portraying in Arthur the twelve private moral virtues that he exercised before he was king. If this work is well received, he adds, he may continue by describing how Arthur came to embody the twelve “politick” virtues after he became king. When the second part appeared in 1596, the title page described the poem as “disposed into twelve bookes, fashioning XII morall vertues,” but no suggestion is given regarding whether the moral virtues are private or public.
One of the most distinctive stylistic features of The Faerie Queene involves Spenser’s use of allegory and typology, both of which are unfamiliar to a modern audience and have therefore often been misinterpreted. Renaissance authors inherited a tradition of reading texts allegorically from medieval writers. The method of reading Homer’s works and the Bible in terms of a fourfold allegory derived from Alexandrian exegesis of these texts. According to this method of reading, anything that was not educational or useful in a text should be interpreted figuratively. No level of meaning would be taken literally. A reference to the Temple of Jerusalem, for example, would be interpreted historically as the Temple of Jerusalem, allegorically as the Church on earth, morally as the individual believer, and anagogically or mystically as the final communion of the saints in heaven.
Renaissance readers and writers think of allegory somewhat in the way that modern readers think of symbolism; meanings are concealed in the imagery and narrative. In Spenser’s case, the allegory is not continuous, nor is it consistent. Elizabeth, for example, is represented by the maiden hunter Belphoebe and by Britomart, the female knight, who will marry Artegall (equal to Arthur), the knight of justice. The offspring of Britomart and Artegall will produce the Tudor dynasty culminating in Elizabeth, but in book...
(The entire section is 1167 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis: Introduction and Book I, Cantos i-iv
Book I: “The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse, or Of Holinesse”
Abessa: The pious, prayerful mother of Corecca, who does not mind her dating a thief.
Archimago: A magician who disguises himself as an old man.
Corecca: The deaf and dumb daughter of Abessa, who is dating Kirkapine the thief.
Dwarf: The carrier of belongings, a lackey for the Lady and the Knight.
Error: A vile monster with a long, poisonous tail and many offspring.
Fidessa/Duessa: An ancient and ugly sorceress (Duessa) disguised as a beautiful young maiden (Fidessa).
Fradubio: Once a man, now bewitched into a tree....
(The entire section is 5447 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book I, Cantos v-viii
A simple man: The disguised Archimago, who gives Satyrane and Una false information.
Ǽolus: The wind, father of Orgoglio.
Aescalpius: A fantastical healer who, though alive, has been consigned the darkest cave of hell for bringing the dead to life.
Diana or Cynthia: The virginal goddess of the hunt, who lives in the forests with an array of nymphs.
Earth: The mother of Orgoglio.
Hippolytus: A huntsman sent to hell because his father had him brought back from the dead.
Ignaro: Orgoglio’s stepfather, an ancient and blind man.
Jove: The king of the gods.
King of Babylon, King Croesus and Antiochus:...
(The entire section is 5535 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book I, Cantos ix-xii
Charissa: Dame Celia’s daughter, who is pregnant.
Contemplation: A man who fasts and prays to lower the effects of his body upon his spirit, and who gives Redcross much information.
Dame Caelia: Runs a holy house for rejuvenation with her three daughters.
Despair: A demon that removes all hope from men.
Dragon: A fearsome creature devastating Una’s land.
Fidelia and Speranza: Dame Celia’s virginal daughters.
King: The lord of the land the dragon was decimating and father to Una.
Mercy: The leader of an order of goodly Protestants who give aid and succor to those who need it.
Messenger: A minion...
(The entire section is 5401 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book II, Cantos i-vi
Book II: “The Legend of Sir Gvyon, or Of Temperavnce”
A Palmer: An old man traveling with Sir Guyon (a “palmer” is a pilgrim).
Atin: A squire and messenger who announces Pyrochles’ arrival.
Belphoebe: A beautiful woman, possibly a goddess, who amazes Braggadoccio.
Braggadoccio: A braggart who uses Sir Guyon’s horse to pretend to be a Knight.
Claribell: The Lady of the Squire, a chaste and noble woman.
Crying Woman: Although claiming she has been raped, the woman is really Duessa.
Cymochles: Pyrochles’ brother, whose loves the sorceress Acrasia.
Dan Faunus: A rude and...
(The entire section is 6252 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book II, Cantos vii-xii
Alma: A good virgin who is Lady of a castle beset by villains.
Boatman or Ferryman: The man who guides Guyon’s boat as he seeks Acrasia.
Brutus: A royal descendent who cleared Britain of giants and became King.
Bunduca: A female martyr who rose up against the Roman rule but whose forces were decimated and so she killed herself.
Caesar: An Emperor who took over much of Europe and attacked Britain.
Fiend: The guardian of riches, who stalks visitors in hopes he can kill them when they touch or steal an item of wealth.
Giants: Enormous, strong creatures that destroyed the land that was to become Britain until Brutus arrived....
(The entire section is 6081 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book III, Prologue-Canto vi
Book III: “The Legend of Britomartis, or Of Chastitie”
Adonis: The lost lover of Venus, who in legend died in a boar hunt but was restored to Venus for a part of each year.
Amoretta: Belphoebe’s twin, who was raised by Venus.
Britomart: The heroine of Book III, a chaste but fierce woman disguised as a male Knight to seek her love.
Chrysogonee: A Faerie and the mother of Belphoebe and Amoretta.
Cupid: The winged god who causes mortals to fall in love with each other.
Cymoent: Marinell’s mother, a protective and loving guardian although she is also a goddess and lives in the sea.
(The entire section is 6988 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book III, Cantos vii-xii
Argante: A giantess who is infected with lust.
Busirane: A vile wizard who tries to win Amoretta’s consent with torture and fear.
Hellenore: The young and carefree wife of Malbecco.
Malbecco: An elderly miser with a young and beautiful wife he keeps imprisoned out of (unfounded) jealousy.
Monster: A vile thing resembling a hyena, called up by the witch because it feeds on women’s flesh.
Ollyphant: A giant, the twin brother of Argante and also a slave to lust.
Palladine: A female Knight, chaste and brave.
Paridell: A Faerie Knight sent out to search for Florimell.
Paris: The Trojan whose love for...
(The entire section is 6090 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book IV, Proem-Canto vi
Agape: A Faerie with much knowledge of nature who has extended the lives of her three sons.
Ate: The mother of all discord, war, and debate.
Blandamour: A false and fickle Knight who accompanies Duessa.
Cambell: A good, true, and fierce Knight whose sister is Canacee.
Cambina: Triamond’s sister, a student of magic.
Canacee: Cambell’s wise and intelligent sister who refused to love any man, instead obeying the governance of her mind.
Care: A blacksmith who makes iron wedges of unquiet thoughts that invade peaceful minds.
Man in Castle: A man who lives in an area where if a man does not have a woman by...
(The entire section is 2143 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book IV, Cantos vii-xii
Aemylia: A prisoner like Amoretta in the lustful beast’s cave.
Amyas: A Squire of low degree who loves Aemylia.
Corflambo: A monstrous pagan whose eyes shoot deadly beams of fire.
Dwarf: Amyas’ keeper when he was held by Poeana.
Lustful Beast: A strange, hairy creature that survives by capturing maidens, deflowering them, and then eating them.
Placidas: A Squire fleeing Corflambo with a Dwarf.
Poeana: Corflambo’s beautiful but wanton daughter.
Canto vii: When Britomart had fallen asleep in the forest, Amoretta had gone for a walk. A hairy beast swept down from the trees and...
(The entire section is 1981 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book V, Proem-Canto vi
Amidas: The younger, luckier brother betrothed to Lucy but who eloped with Philtra.
Astroeia: The woman who raised Artegall to know right from wrong and justice from injustice.
Bracidas: The unlucky but virtuous brother who fights with Amidas.
Clarinda: Radigund’s handmaiden and fellow woman warrior.
Dolon: A fallen Knight who hates Artegall because he killed Dolon’s son in a fair fight.
Grantorio: An evil giant.
Irena: A good woman who is oppressed by Grantorio.
Lucy: A poor girl with virtue who tries to kill herself and instead marries Bracidas.
Munera: Pollente’s Lady, who receives all the...
(The entire section is 2402 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book V, Cantos vii-xii
Adicia: Souldan’s wife, who eggs Souldan on in evil deeds.
Belge: An honorable mother of seventeen sons, twelve of whom have been killed by a tyrant.
Gerioneos Seneschall: A deformed tyrant with three bodies who worships his dead father, who was also similarly deformed.
Isis: An Egyptian nature goddess.
Malengin: A shape-shifting robber who lives in an underground labyrinth.
Paynim Knights: Two pagan Knights who chase Samient.
Queen Mercilla: The good and kind queen of the region.
Samient: A fleeing damsel who serves Queen Mercilla.
Souldan: A vile man who tries to kill Queen Mercilla and her...
(The entire section is 1951 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book VI, Proem-Canto vi
Book VI: “The Legend of S. Calidore or, Of Covrtesie”
Aladine: The son of Aldus who is incautious enough to be seriously wounded while enjoying his Lady’s courtesies.
Aldus: An older, honorable, retired Knight who owns a castle, father of Aladine.
Blandina: A Lady who was with an unworthy Knight, Turpine.
Briana: A proud woman in love with Crudor.
Calepine: A Knight in love with Serena.
Calidore: A brave, courtly Knight who exemplifies courtesy.
Crudor: A self-absorbed Knight who demands Briana provide a garment made of hair and beards before he will yield to her love.
(The entire section is 4643 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Book VI, Cantos vii-xii
Brigands: Lowly thieves who prey on shepherds or anyone else they can.
Claribell: Bellamour’s love, who bore him a child left for dead outdoors.
Colin: A shepherd and musician.
Coridon: The shepherd most in love with Pastorell.
Disdain: A giant who punishes Mirabella according to Cupid’s dictate.
Lord Bellamour: The goodly Knight to whose castle Calidore brings Pastorell.
Meliboe: Pastorell’s father, a good man who disdains money.
Mirabella: A hard-hearted but beautiful woman who lets many men die out of longing for her.
Pastorell: A beautiful maid honored by shepherds and maids alike....
(The entire section is 3665 words.)