The Faerie Queene The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser
by Edmund Spenser

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Faerie Queene Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Poetry Criticism)

The Faerie Queene Edmund Spenser

This entry represents criticism of Spenser's The Faerie Queene.

Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590-96), an allegorical romance designed to glorify Queen Elizabeth I of England, is celebrated as one of the greatest and most important works of English verse. Spenser's aim in writing The Faerie Queene was to create a great national literature for England, equal to the classic epic poems of Homer and Virgil. The Faerie Queene is divided into Books I through VI, each focusing on the adventures of a different hero or heroine and a different virtue, including Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. To suit his literary purposes, Spenser invented a verse form that has come to be known as the Spenserian stanza. Spenser was celebrated as a great national poet in his lifetime, and has since been recognized as a major influence on later writers, particularly the nineteenth-century Romantic poets. Critics have long recognized The Faerie Queene as an allegorical tale, including within its many subplots a variety of political, social, psychological, and religious allegories. Critics in the twentieth century and beyond have explored other aspects of The Faerie Queene, reading Spenser's representations of political figures, religious conflicts, and national politics in the historical and cultural context of Elizabethan England and the Protestant Reformation. Critics since the 1980s have taken a particular interest in Spenser's depictions of Queen Elizabeth I, offering a variety of analyses of The Faerie Queene concerned with representations of gender and power.

Biographical Information

By 1590, Spenser had published a collection of poetry, The Shepheardes Calendar (1579), and a volume of personal correspondence, Three Proper, and Wittie, Familiar Letters (1580), but was not yet considered a major literary figure of the day. In 1588 or 1589 he acquired a large plantation in Kilcolman, Ireland. There, as a minor British official, he became acquainted with the poet Sir Walter Raleigh, a neighboring landowner. Raleigh convinced Spenser to travel with him to London and present to Queen Elizabeth I the completed portions of The Faerie Queene. Spenser and his poetry were well received by the Queen, who approved the publication of Books I, II, and III of The Faerie Queene in 1590. This publication included an appendix reprinting Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, in which he explains his original intention in writing The Faerie Queene. Spenser wished to write a specifically English epic poem, thereby creating a great national literature to glorify both England and the Queen. His stated purpose was to emulate the accomplishments of such classic epic writers as Homer and Virgil. In 1591 the Queen rewarded Spenser for his literary success with a small lifetime pension. Books IV, V, and VI of The Faerie Queene were published in 1596. Spenser included a reference to his own marriage to his second wife, Elizabeth Boyle, in Book VI of The Faerie Queene, representing himself as the shepherd Colin Clout (a reference to his earlier, pastoral poetry), who plays his pipes in celebration of the woman he loves. Spenser's allegorical treatment of the political conflicts in Ireland in Book V may have been motivated by his own experiences as a representative of the British monarchy who lived for some twenty years in Ireland. Spenser remained in Ireland until 1598, when an Irish rebellion resulted in the burning of his estate. He then fled to London, carrying official letters about the state of affairs in Ireland, and died soon afterward, in 1599. Spenser's status in England is indicated by his burial in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, near the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer. Spenser continues to be celebrated as one of England's greatest and most influential poets.

Plot and Major Characters

The Faerie Queene is set in the fictional Faerie Land, ruled by the Queen Gloriana, an allegorical figure for Queen Elizabeth I,...

(The entire section is 150,742 words.)