Explain personal, historical, political allegories in Spenser's The Faerie Queene.

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

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Many scholars recognize two dominant categories of allegory in Spenser's work: (1) moral and religious allegory; (2) historical and national allegory. "Political" is a term that might be interchangeable with either of the standard terms, historical/national. "Personal" might be interchangeable with either of the standard terms moral/religious.

The moral or religious allegory (one allegory described by two different focalizing words) addresses Spenser's objective of producing a work that might instruct and guide gentlemen and noblemen into living morally and religiously upright and virtuous lives:

The generall end therefore of all the booke, is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline. (Letter to Sir Walter Raleighi, The Faerie Queene)

The dominant characters of this category of allegory are Red Cross Knight and Una. He has various companions at different times and does or does not behave, at any given moment, with virtue. An early example of virtuous action is when, with Una's help, Red Cross Knight finally stops the monster Error in Wandering Forest. An example soon after of his acting virtulessly is when he abandons Una (allegorizing True Religion) at the inn after having a dream that she herself was unvirtuous and sent to seduce him.

The dominant historical or national (political) allegory is that which cast Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, as the double of England's Queen Elizabeth I. She is introduced in Canto I as the bestower of valorous adventures and the rewarder of suppliants. Red Cross Knight is introduced as the recipient of a mission from Gloriana that would end with him slaying a "dragon horrible and stearne":

Upon a great adventure he was bond,
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie lond,
To winne him worship, and her grace to have, (Canto I, Stanza III)

The Dedication of The Faerie Queene establishes the connection between Elizabeth I and Gloriana. The historical/national aspects of the allegory are calculated to give her praise, glory, and honor for her virtue, valor, and noble sovereignty:

THE MOST HIGH, MIGHTIE, AND MAGNIFICENT
EMPERESSE ...
ELIZABETH
BY THE GRACE OF GOD ...
Defender of the Faith etc.
HER MOST HUMBLE SERVAUNT
EDMVND SPENSER
DOTH IN ALL HUMILITIE
DEDICATE, PRESENT, AND CONSECRATE THESE HIS LABOVRS
TO LIVE WITH THE ETERNITIE OF HER FAME. (Dedication, The Faerie Queene)

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