What are Spenser's aims in designing The Faerie Queene, and how far does he achieve it in Book One?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Edmund Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene, he faced an enormous challenge. He wrote in the language of Geoffrey Chaucer, as a compliment not only to this other author, but also to the era of medieval ideals. He wanted to inspire people to acts in the ways of chivalry again. He hoped to influence people in their actions—but he also influenced several famous writers.

Spenser also endeavored to present a picture of what he believed the best, most ideal England would look like. And he used allegory.

There are two levels of allegory present. One level examines the moral, philosophical, and religious...The second level is the particular, which focuses on the political, social, and religious... 

Spenser accomplished a great deal. On the literary front, he wrote an epic in the manner of the early Greeks: Homer and Virgil. He brought into vogue the use of a genre long out of use. He...

...resurrected a classical literary genre that had been virtually ignored for hundreds of years.

In terms of his achievements, there is much to be said. We might infer that he was successful in one aspect of bringing chivalry to the forefront again: for in the medieval period, women were to be cherished, fought for and rescued. This veneration of women took place during Elizabeth's reign because she was "ordained by God" to be England's sovereign—and she was a woman. So poets praised her (even unrealistically...but she was the Queen.) And Spenser was a "leading proponent of Elizabeth." He desired to recreate a sense of chivalry that he believed to be missing from this era.

Sir Philip Sidney (in 1579) had bemoaned England's lack of accomplishment "in English poetry since the time of Geoffrey Chaucer." Spenser had planned to write twenty-four books (or so he wrote to Sir Walter Raleigh)—concentrating half on "private virtues" and the other half on "public virtues," in order to resurrect the kind of poetry Sidney felt was gone. Spenser died before he was able to reach this goal. However...

Spenser envisioned becoming the sort of great poet that Sidney said England needed. Spenser wanted to create a great national literature...

Critics seem to agree that Spenser accomplished this desire in the writing of The Faerie Queene.

In terms of Book One, Una is saved by the Red Cross Knight, who remains faithful in protecting her and saving her parents. With regard to the chivalric code that Spenser wanted to reintroduce to the Elizabethan era, he was successful in hightlighting the honor and merits of such behavior. Una is saved, and she and the Red Cross Knight eventually marry.

Read the study guide:
The Faerie Queene

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question