Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Spenser was influenced by the classical conception of the four cardinal virtues of Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, and Prudence and the Christian tradition of three theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity, but in The Faerie Queene his treatment of virtue becomes his own synthesis of these traditional concepts. In his “Letter to Raleigh,” he says that his first twelve books will be concerned with the twelve private virtues identified by Aristotle and that he will postpone his treatment of public virtue or “politicke virtues” to a later work. When he died, he had completed only six books of the projected twenty-four. Spenser’s six books deal with holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy. Attempts to classify these virtues as either public or private have been unsuccessful. Although it is possible to identify specific allegorical passages in which Spenser draws upon a specific tradition—for example, the presence of personifications of Faith, Hope, and Charity, in the House of Holiness—his handling of virtue has to be understood within the context of episodes in the poem.
Spenser guides the reader to a concrete understanding of the abstract virtues of Holiness or Temperance by a sequence of imaginative adventures and images. The knights functioning as protagonists of each book undergo tests of their respective virtues and battle antagonists as a means of defining their virtue. For example, the first book...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Faerie Queene Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Duty and Responsibility
Throughout the The Faerie Queene, Spenser emphasizes the importance of performing one's duty and accepting responsibility to complete the quest. Several heroic figures emerge during the course of the poem and each is given a question to undertake, a monster or demon to extinguish. Each time, the hero must overcome disadvantage and hurdles to succeed, but the importance of the quest is always the overriding concern. Although the Red Cross Knight must fight several demons and overcome despair, he always continues on the quest to rescue the King and Queen of the West. Similarly, Artegall must be rescued himself by Britomart. And although he really wants to continue with her, he must complete the quest of freeing Irena. Calidore is also momentarily distracted, enjoying a brief pastoral respite, but he also realizes that he must complete his quest in subduing the Blatant Beast. Throughout this epic, Spenser makes the same point again and again: mankind must be responsible and fulfill the duties set before them.
For Spenser, deception is most often represented by the Roman Catholic Church and by Spain, which most clearly represents Catholicism in Britain. Archimago and Duessa represent how deception will attempt to prevent the honorable man from completing his journey and prevent him from meeting with god. During this period, the division between the Catholic world and Protestant world was...
(The entire section is 998 words.)