The Poem (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, is holding her annual twelve-day feast. As is the custom, anyone in trouble can appear before the court and ask for a champion. The fair lady Una comes riding on a white ass, accompanied by a dwarf. She complains that her father and mother are shut up in a castle by a dragon. The Red Cross Knight offers to help her, and the party sets out to rescue Una’s parents. In a cave the Red Cross Knight encounters a horrible creature, half serpent, half woman. Although the foul stench nearly overpowers him, the knight slays the monster. After the battle, the Red Cross Knight and Una lose their way. A friendly stranger who offers them shelter is really Archimago, the wicked magician. By making the Red Cross Knight dream that Una is a harlot, Archimago separates Una from her champion.
Una goes on her way alone. Archimago quickly assumes the form of the Red Cross Knight and follows her to do her harm. Meanwhile the Red Cross Knight falls into the company of Duessa, an evil enchantress. They meet the great giant Orgoglio, who overcomes the Red Cross Knight and makes Duessa his mistress. Prince Arthur, touched by Una’s misfortunes, rescues the Red Cross Knight from Orgoglio and leads him to Una. Once again Una and her champion ride on their mission.
At last they come to Una’s kingdom, and the dragon that imprisoned her parents comes out to do battle. After two days of fighting, the Red Cross Knight overthrows the dragon....
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Faery Land. Mythical country that serves as a setting for the romantic adventures of idealized knights, whose charge is to perfect themselves in their calling and rescue or protect innocent victims from their enemies. An array of forests, caves, and dungeons gives each knight (a different hero in each of the poem’s six books) an opportunity to exhibit his skill and inspire gratitude and love in the person—usually a fair maiden—whom the dragon or monster of the moment is afflicting.
In a sense, Faery Land is also England, but not one visibly recognizable. While Spenser makes many references to English place names, as well as many more pertaining to other parts of the world, he makes no attempt to relate any part of his landscape in any realistic way to actual English sites. One effect of these allusions is to remind readers of England’s historical culture and values.
Spenser’s prefatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh explains the “Faerie Queene” as signifying the woman who reigned in England through most of Spenser’s life: Queen Elizabeth I. The Prince Arthur of the poem is not precisely the legendary King Arthur but an Arthur who, if Spenser had succeeded in bringing his poem to a conclusion (for he projected twelve, and possibly even twenty-four books), would have sought out Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, then wooed and married her. This union would have underscored the desirability of a marriage for...
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Humanism and Education
Tudor England in the sixteenth century was a place of great change. There were significant social, religious, and political changes during this time, and together, these changes created an atmosphere of danger and tension. One of the earliest transformations was the way in which English boys and young men were educated. Education had always been an issue that focused on men, since there was little interest, nor perceived need to educate females, but as the fifteenth century drew to an end, the emphasis on education changed. Instead of educating boys and young men for a lifetime serving God, as members of the clergy, there was a new emphasis on careers in government, requiring a different sort of education. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, two men, the English Sir Thomas More and the Dutch Desiderius Erasmus, were cultivating an intellectual movement that became known during the Renaissance as Humanism. According to the doctrine of Humanism, the education of a Christian gentlemen should be every society's primary concern. An important component of this education was a focus on the preparation of a young man for public service. As a way to achieve this goal, there was also a new emphasis on rhetoric and classical texts, and on a need to learn Latin grammar, the language of diplomacy. Latin had always been taught as necessary for the clergy, but now, it became clear there were other uses. Each country conducted its...
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Questions and Answers: Introduction and Book I, Cantos i-iv
1. Why are Una and the Redcross Knight companions?
2. Why does the Redcross Knight abandon Una?
3. What warning about Fidessa does the Redcross Knight ignore?
4. The Redcross Knight is deceived by the Archimago and Fidessa. Is the Lady Una ever deceived? If so, is her error of the same type as the Redcross Knight’s?
5. What scares the Redcross Knight away from the House of Pride?
1. The Faerie Knight has vowed to kill a dragon that is savaging Una’s land.
2. The Redcross Knight believes the deception of the Archimago, which pretends to show that Una is not chaste.
3. Fidessa and the Redcross Knight relax under a bewitched tree that used to be a man, Fradubio. Fradubio tells his story in which, as a young man who was very much in love, he was tricked by a sorceress into believing that his love was ugly and the sorceress beautiful.
4. While wandering the forests with her protective lion, Una meets the Archimago, who is disguised as the Redcross Knight. She falls for this deception and believes he is her true love. However, unlike the Redcross Knight, she never doubts her love’s good qualities; she believes him to be good, brave and strong even though he has deserted her and apparently loses a battle. The Redcross Knight doubts her chastity and begins to court another woman. Clearly, his errors are much more deep-rooted.
5. The Dwarf tells the Redcross Knight about thousands of prisoners trapped in dungeons beneath the House of Pride. They were ordinary men and women who were tempted into pride or indolence and now are paying the price. In such a lovely setting, surrounded by flattering women, it would be difficult for the Redcross Knight to maintain his honor and bravery. He flees in order to escape being trapped by his own vices.
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Questions and Answers: Book I, Cantos v-viii
1. What motivates Redcross to escape the House of Pride?
2. How is Satyrane different from the others in the troop of fauns, satyrs and nymphs? How does that difference benefit Una?
3. What character represents Pride and capture Redcross? What is Duessa’s role in each capture?
4. What textual clues link Duessa to Catholicism?
5. How is Orgoglio defeated?
1. Redcross’ Dwarf tells him of sinners trapped by pride or idleness and forever tortured in the dungeons beneath the House of Pride. Afraid of a similar fate, Redcross rides out in search of worthy pursuits.
2. Satyrane is half-man and was raised to be fearless. He has more intelligence than the other wood gods and so not only worships Una, but also understands her teachings. Because of his sympathetic nature (despite his ferocity) and intelligent bearing, Una confides her wish to escape and find Redcross, and Satyrane comprehends and helps her.
3. Orgoglio represents Pride. Duessa leads Redcross to the House of Pride, and he fights for her as booty as well as for his own honor in a prideful battle with Sans joy. Duessa also relaxes Redcross by the stream that causes weakness, and so he is unable to fight when Orgoglio appears. Duessa then bargains for Redcross’ life, but also causes his imprisonment.
4. In the sixteenth century, Protestants referenced the Whore of Babylon to indicate Roman Catholicism. Duessa wears the same clothes, carries the same cup, and rides the same beast that the Whore of Babylon has in the book of Revelation in the Bible. Furthermore, she brings Redcross to the House of Pride, and that kingdom is a sly reference to the Pope and Catholicism as well. Like the House of Pride, Duessa’s beauty and charm come from pomp and impudence, a common criticism of Catholicism by Protestants in the sixteenth century.
5. Prince Arthur’s intervention defeats Orgoglio. He blows a horn which opens locked doors and causes Orgoglio to leave his castle, and then uses blinding flashes of light and battles to kill Orgoglio, despite earthquakes and the injury of his own Squire.
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Questions and Answers: Book I, Cantos ix-xii
1. Why is Prince Arthur, who is from Earth, in Faerie Land?
2. What is Prince Arthur’s quest? How did he come by it?
3. What does the episode with Despair reveal about the Redcross Knight?
4. How does the House of Holiness prepare the Redcross Knight for his battle with the dragon?
5. What two miraculous events save Redcross during his fight with the dragon? How do they reveal the presence of God?
1. Prince Arthur was sent to Faerie Land because he was too young to assume the throne when his father died, although he was the rightful heir. His mother worried that the uncle who took over the kingship would kill the Prince to keep his claim to the throne, and so sent him to Faerie Land. Merlin watched over him, gave him spectacular gifts like his armor and shield, and a stepfather named Timon watched over him.
2. Prince Arthur seeks Gloriana, the Faerie Queen. She came to him while he was resting, and he fell in love with her. Before he met her, he was a cold and rude young man, but after falling in love with her he has become a steadfast and true Knight.
3. The Redcross Knight has just endured the physical trial in Orgoglio’s dungeon, but Despair shows him that he is also susceptible to emotional and logical manipulation that can endanger his life just as much. Despair reminds him about God’s vengeance and justice, but does not mention God’s mercy. This harsh portrayal of God leads Redcross to bemoan all of his sins and fall prey to self-pity. Only Una’s influence saves him.
4. The House of Holiness gives Redcross a sense of identity and religion. It clarifies his mission in life and gives him the courage, strength, and acceptance of God to complete his quest with Una. He accepts God’s grace and his own destiny as a saint.
5. A well of healing water and the sap from a healing tree revive Redcross from near-death states and give him extra strength and stamina to battle the dragon. Since a plunge into healing waters can easily be tied to baptism, particularly in such a religiously laden work, and the tree is explicitly named as the tree of life, God’s presence is indicated by both events. Furthermore, the tree of life is right next to the tree of knowledge, suggesting that Una’s land is in Eden. If Eden is a physical locale, the Bible may be taken literally and...
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Questions and Answers: Book II, Cantos i-vi
1. What happened to Ruddymane’s parents?
2. Why does Guyon have to walk to Medina’s castle?
3. What reason does Pyrochles give for fighting with Guyon?
4. Why does Cymochles leave his indulgent lounging by the river?
5. In what circumstance does Atin discover that Pyrochles lives? Who else witnesses this?
1. Ruddymane’s father fell into indulgence at the Bower of Bliss and died because Acrasia cursed him when he left. His mother committed suicide in despair.
2. Braggadocchio stole Guyon’s horse while he was speaking with Ruddymane’s mother.
3. Pyrochles claims that it was not Knightly for Guyon to defeat the old woman Occasion.
4. Atin tells Cymochles that his brother Pyrochles was killed by Guyon and Cymochles must avenge that death.
5. Atin and the Archimago watch Pyrochles stumble into the river claiming that his organs have been set afire by Furor and Occasion, though nothing can be outwardly seen. The Archimago heals him.
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Questions and Answers: Book II, Cantos vii-xii
1.Why does Guyon enter the cave of Mammon? What happens when he leaves?
2. How do Guyon and Prince Arthur enter Alma’s castle? What is it like?
3. What is striking about Prince Arthur’s battle with Maleger?
4. What role does the Palmer play in the navigation to the Bower of Bliss?
5. What is Arcasia’s effect on her paramours?
1. Although Guyon has refused the wealth Mammon has offered, he is curious to see what it is he refuses. He enters the cave of Mammon out of curiosity and in response to Mammon’s invitation. When he leaves, he collapses from lack of food and water and only survives Pyrochles and Cymochles’ appearance because of the Palmer and Prince Arthur.
2. Guyon and Prince Arthur enter Alma’s castle victoriously, after defeating a band of brigands assailing the castle walls. Inside, they find an orderly castle where everything is useful and rooms exist for each type of good desire. The castle and Alma are models of temperance.
3. Two factors of Prince Arthur’s battle with Malegar are particularly striking. Prince Arthur is saved from death by his Squire, which Spencer attributes to God’s grace. If even Prince Arthur, a Christ-like figure, requires aid to survive, the situation of all men’s dependency on grace becomes evident. The second striking factor is Prince Arthur’s helplessness and the stalemate between him and Maleger. The battle is somewhat dreary to read because Prince Arthur is so impotent. This suggests the fallen state of all men and the need to continue to act despite feelings of helplessness and despair.
4. The Palmer continually restrains Guyon’s wish to linger in unwholesome places, vanquishes the vision of sea monsters, and guides the boat through a heavy mist to land. He controls and steers Guyon and the boat.
5. Arcasia weakens and debilitates her lovers, causing them to put aside their armor and relax in the idle Bower so that she can suck their souls.
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Questions and Answers: Book III, Prologue-Canto vi
1. Why doesn’t Britomart remove her armor at Castle Joyeous? What mistake does that lead Malecasta into?
2. Why does Britomart malign Artegall?
3. Why does Florimell flee Faerie Court? Why does she flee Prince Arthur?
4. What is darkly humorous about Cymoent’s attempt to protect her son from the prophecy’s fate?
5. Describe Belphoebe and her twin’s birth and upbringing.
1. Britomart leaves her armor on to hide her gender. Britomart’s beautiful face then incites Malecasta’s lust because she believes Britomart to be male.
2. Britomart is in love with Artegall and wishes to hear stories about him from Redcross, so she uses an insult to Artegall to provoke Redcross into praising Artegall.
3. Florimell flees Faerie Court because she hears that Marinell, her true love, is dead. Florimell flees Prince Arthur because she is afraid of all men being lustful.
4. Cymoent protects Marinell against the love of women because of a prophecy saying a woman will greatly harm Marinell. Cymoent does not worry that her strong, brave young son will be injured by a female, and so Britomart’s wounding of Marinell makes the prophecy both literal and true. Cymoent protected Marinell against the wrong kind of assault from a woman because Cymoent stereotyped women.
5. Belphoebe and Amoretta were born of a virgin who was impregnated by sunbeams and had her children while she was asleep. Venus and Diana found the newborns, and Amoretta was raised in the Garden of Adonis to be an example of femininity and true love, while Belphoebe was raised in virginal, female company in the woods with Diana’s nymphs.
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Questions and Answers: Book III, Cantos vii-xii
1. Why does Satyrane believe Florimell dead?
2. What motivates the witch to create the false Florimell?
3. Why does Paridell stay at Malbecco’s castle?
4. Why does Malbecco transform into a living example of jealousy?
5. What situation does Britomart find Amoretta in?
1. Satyrane sees the witch’s monster eating Florimell’s horse and finds Florimell’s bloodied golden girdle, so he believes Florimell has died because of the monster.
2. The witch’s son is sick with love for Florimell, and her disappearance ruins his state of mind. When the witch tells her son that Florimell is dead, her son goes nearly mad. After consulting the spirits, the witch creates the false Florimell so that her son will have something besides the missing image of Florimell to fixate upon.
3. Although Paridell claims injuries from his fight with Britomart are the reason he stays at Malbecco’s, Paridell really stays to court Hellenore.
4. Malbecco’s young and beautiful wife Hellenore runs off with Paridell and has sex with him, then goes into the woods and lives with satyrs as wife to all of them. When Malbecco finds her and begs her to return to his castle, she refuses. The intense jealousy Malbecco feels causes him to transform out of being a man and into a living example of jealousy.
5. Amoretta is tied to a pillar and her chest is split open when Britomart finds her. Amoretta’s heart is still pumping blood, which Busirane uses as ink with which to write.
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Questions and Answers Book VI, Proem-Canto vi
1. What conditions must Crudor meet in order to live?
2. How does Calidore acquire a Squire?
3. How is Turpine humiliated?
4. What does the Blatant Beast symbolize, and what happens when it bites someone?
5. Does the savage man need Prince Arthur’s protection? Why or why not?
1. Calidore forces Crudor to agree to be kind to all Knights and Ladies, to marry Briana and teach her courtesy, and to drop his dowry requirement of a mantle made of the hair of Ladies and Knights.
2. The brave, noble youth Tristam fought an armed Knight with only darts and bare hands for the honor of a Lady. To reward the young man, Calidore allows him to become a Squire, although he does not allow Tristam to travel with him.
3. Turpine flees before all of his minions, and his cowardly life has to be bargained for by Blandina. When he regains consciousness, Prince Arthur chastises him and his life.
4. The Blatant Beast symbolizes slander, and the bites fester until the recipient behaves and thinks moderately.
5. The savage man is protected by magic from any injury, and so needs no one’s protection. Furthermore, the savage man fights very well.
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Questions and Answers: Book VI, Cantos vii-xii
1. Why does Turpine lie to the two Knights about Prince Arthur?
2. Why can’t Timias, Enias, or even Prince Arthur free Mirabella from her tormenters?
3. How does Meliboe’s wisdom possibly lead Calidore astray?
4. Why do the slave-traders demand to see Pastorell? Why does the captain resist?
5. What happens to the Blatant Beast?
1. Turpine feels humiliated by Prince Arthur, but he is afraid that he will be defeated again if he engages in combat with him. By lying to the two Knights, he can send proxies to defeat his enemy.
2. Mirabella’s punishment was decreed by the gods. She must endure it until she has completed two nearly impossible tasks, and if her tormenters die then she will suffer eternally.
3. Meliboe says that the secret to happiness is to be happy with one’s lot. Because Calidore becomes content and secure in the village, by doing exactly what Meliboe has advised, Calidore does not continue his quest to kill the Blatant Beast. This error leads many more to suffer from the Blatant Beast’s rampages.
4. The slave-traders remember Pastorell’s beauty and want to witness it again. The captain resists because he is in love with her and does not want to sell her or let others lustfully gaze upon her. 5. Calidore captures the Blatant Beast and muzzles it. He leads it around to villages to increase his own glory and fame. After a time, the Beast is released into England, where it continues to wreak havoc today.
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The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual's morality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures to more complex multifaceted ones. Characters may also be defined by personality traits, such as the rogue or the damsel in distress. Characterization is the process of creating a life-like person from an author's imagination. To accomplish this task, the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who that character will be and how that character will behave in a given situation. Most of the characters in The Faerie Queene differ slightly from this definition, since each character is little more than a "type." The audience does not really know or understand the character as an individual. For instance, Una represents little more than a quality, not an individual. The audience understands that Una signifies truth, an essential component of an ideal world and a tenet of religious belief.
An epic is a long narrative poem, which presents characters and events of high position. There may be a central heroic figure, or, as in the case of Spenser's Faerie Queene, there may be several heroic figures, such as the Red Cross Knight, Prince Arthur, Sir Guyon, Sir Artegall, and Calidore. There is frequently a muse who inspires the writer to create a work that is inspired and magnificent in its...
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Compare and Contrast
Sixteenth century: In 1517, Martin Luther's actions grow into the Protestant reformation. This event has important ramifications for England, when King Henry VIII seeks a divorce from his wife. When the Pope refuses to grant a divorce, the king declares himself as leader of the English church. This act, in 1534, creates the Anglican Church and establishes Protestantism as the official church. In effect, it also outlaws the Roman Catholic Church, since Henry seizes all church property, using it as a source of revenue. Spenser uses this history to depict Una as Truth, the Anglican Church. Duessa represents falsehood, the Roman Catholic Church, which is attractive on the outside, but corrupt on the inside. This illustrates the English notion that Catholicism was all about performance and ornamentation and lacking substance inside.
Late twentieth century: In many ways, the English still view the Catholic Church with suspicion. There are still laws that prohibit a member of the monarchy from marrying a Catholic, and the Anglican Church remains the official Church of England. No Catholic can inherit the throne.
Sixteenth century: After Henry VIII and his only son, Edward VI, died, Mary I inherits the throne, and in 1555, she restores Catholicism to England and outlaws Protestantism. After marrying Spain's heir to the throne, Mary begins persecuting Protestants, burning those who fail to embrace the Catholic faith. Mary becomes...
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Topics for Further Study
The Cult of Elizabeth was an important literary force at the end of the sixteenth century. Because of a number of excessively flattering literary portrayals, Elizabeth, as a virgin queen, achieved goddess status. Discuss how Spenser's depiction of Elizabeth as Gloriana pays homage to this idea of Elizabeth, the goddess.
Investigate the circumstances surrounding the British victory over the Spanish Armada, and discuss the impact of this event on Elizabethan society. Why was it so important for the British to defeat Spain, a Catholic country? Try to explore how a major victory during wartime contributes to national pride. Consider if this is a factor in Spenser's epic. Research the Catholic and Protestant conflict in England during the sixteenth century. Using what you discover, discuss the depiction of both Catholics and Protestants in Book I of Spenser's epic.
The impact of Humanism on sixteenth-century life was an important factor in how society functioned. Spenser saw the world of knights and religious quests as providing an effective model to teach people about truth, loyalty, and virtue. Select a modern text or film and discuss how this piece teaches its audience about these same attributes.
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What Do I Read Next?
Edmund Spenser's ‘‘The Shepheardes Calendar’’ (1579) is a series of poems that celebrate the pastoral tradition and perfection of country life.
John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) is the story of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Milton derived many of his ideas from The Faerie Queene.
Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (1485) is the story of King Arthur. Spenser also uses many of the Arthurian legends in The Faerie Queene.
Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesy (1579) argues that poetry serves an important purpose in the education of people and maintains that poetry is superior to philosophy and history in teaching about virtue.
Virgil's The Aeneid (30-11 B.C.) is a Roman epic that served as an important influence for Spencer's epic. The story of Aeneas and his journey establishes a history for the Roman people and the heroic behavior of Aeneas serves as a model for which men should strive.
The Cambridge Cultural History: 16th Century Britain (1992) edited by Boris Ford, provides an accessible history of sixteenth century life, including: cultural and social life, architecture, literature, music, art, and Renaissance gardens.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Frye, Northrop, "The Structure of Imagery in The Faerie Queene," in Edmund Spenser's Poetry, edited by Hugh McClean, W. W. Norton, 1968, pp. 582-593.
Hough, Graham, "The Structure of The Faerie Queene," in Edmund Spenser's Poetry, edited by Hugh McClean, W. W. Norton, 1968, pp. 575-582.
Sidney, Philip, The Defence of Poesy, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. I., 6th edition, edited by M. H. Abrams, W. W. Norton, 1993, pp. 480-500.
Spenser, Edmund, "A Letter of the Authors" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. I., 6th edition, edited by M. H. Abrams, W. W. Norton, pp. 516-519, 1993.
Berger, Harry, Jr., Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics, University of California Press, 1988.
Berger's book contains essays that he has written on Spenser's work. The essays span nearly twenty-five years of study of Spenser's poems and exam his work from several critical vantages.
Cavanagh, Sheila T., "Nightmares of Desire: Evil Women in The Faerie Queene," in Studies in Philology, Vol. 91, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 313-338.
Cavanagh examines the way women function in Spenser's epic, arguing that the dreams and visions of men suggest that women are dangerous.
Ferry, Anne, The Art of Naming, University of Chicago Press, 1988.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Alpers, Paul J. The Poetry of “The Faerie Queene.” Princeton: N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. Attempts to describe the language of The Faerie Queene and discusses the nature of Spenser’s poetry.
Anderson, Judith, Donald Cheney, and David Richardson, eds. Spenser’s Life and the Subject of Biography. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. Offers selected essays concerning Spenser’s biography and career as a poet and civil servant.
Freeman, Rosemary. “The Faerie Queene”: A Companion for Readers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. Displays a keen appreciation of Spenser’s poetry and the peculiarity of his epic. Part one discusses the poem’s origin, structure, and allegory; part two makes a book-by-book thematic analysis.
Graham, Hough. A Preface to “The Faerie Queene.” New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. A seminal work of Spenser criticism. Relates The Faerie Queene to the tradition of the romantic epic. Provides a book-by-book commentary and considers the poem as a whole.
Hume, Anthea. Edmund Spenser: Protestant Poet. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Argues that Spenser espoused the militant Protestantism associated with the Leicester Circle...
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