The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser

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Discuss color symbolism in The Faerie Queene, book 1.

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In book 1 of The Faerie Queene, the color white appears to symbolize purity and innocence, and the color black seems to symbolize brutality and savagery. A discussion of these symbols could focus on how they may perpetuate sexist and racist tropes.

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One color that appears in the first book of Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene is white. White is attached to the “lovely Ladie” riding alongside the knight. White might symbolize the innocence of the woman. White tends to symbolize purity. Throughout history, notions of purity and virginity have been used to alternately extoll and demean women. By connecting the lady to white, Spenser seems to be sending a signal to the reader that this particular lady is good and virtuous.

There’s also an argument to be made that white symbolizes a kind of animalness. White is the color of the “lowly Asse” and the lambs that Spenser brings up in the final line of the fourth stanza. Like the lady, these animals could be seen as innocent and pure. They are not corrupted by knowledge or the ways of humans. Although, it’s possible to conclude that Spenser is drawing a connection between animals and women, which might strike some as sexist and thus problematic.

In the first book, white is contrasted with black. While white in this work bears harmless, benign associations, black has links to danger and violence. The beast spews forth a “horrible and blacke” poison. She also summons a collection of “deformed monsters” that are “blacke as ink.” Again, black appears to symbolize savagery and brutality. Viewed through the lens of race, this color's symbolism becomes problematic as well.

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