The Poem

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Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, is holding her annual twelve-day feast. As is the custom, anyone in trouble can appear before the court and ask for a champion. The fair lady Una comes riding on a white ass, accompanied by a dwarf. She complains that her father and mother are shut up in a castle by a dragon. The Red Cross Knight offers to help her, and the party sets out to rescue Una’s parents. In a cave the Red Cross Knight encounters a horrible creature, half serpent, half woman. Although the foul stench nearly overpowers him, the knight slays the monster. After the battle, the Red Cross Knight and Una lose their way. A friendly stranger who offers them shelter is really Archimago, the wicked magician. By making the Red Cross Knight dream that Una is a harlot, Archimago separates Una from her champion.

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Una goes on her way alone. Archimago quickly assumes the form of the Red Cross Knight and follows her to do her harm. Meanwhile the Red Cross Knight falls into the company of Duessa, an evil enchantress. They meet the great giant Orgoglio, who overcomes the Red Cross Knight and makes Duessa his mistress. Prince Arthur, touched by Una’s misfortunes, rescues the Red Cross Knight from Orgoglio and leads him to Una. Once again Una and her champion ride on their mission.

At last they come to Una’s kingdom, and the dragon that imprisoned her parents comes out to do battle. After two days of fighting, the Red Cross Knight overthrows the dragon. After the parents are freed, the Red Cross Knight and Una are betrothed. Still hoping to harm the Red Cross Knight, Archimago tells Sir Guyon that the Red Cross Knight despoiled a virgin of her honor. Shocked, Guyon sets out to right the wrong. The cunning Archimago disguises Duessa as a young girl and places her on the road, where she tells a piteous tale of wrong done by the Red Cross Knight and urges Guyon to avenge her. When Guyon and the Red Cross Knight meet, they lower their lances and begin to fight. Fortunately the signs of the Virgin Mary on the armor of each recall them to their senses, and Guyon is ashamed that he was tricked by the magician.

In his travels Guyon falls in with Prince Arthur, and the two visit the Castle of Alma, the stronghold of Temperance. The most powerful enemy of Temperance is the demon Maleger. In a savage battle Prince Arthur vanquishes Maleger. Guyon goes on to the Bower of Bliss, where his archenemy Acrasy lives. With stout heart Guyon overthrows Acrasy and destroys the last enemy of Temperance. After sending Acrasy back to the fairy court under guard, Guyon and Prince Arthur go on their way until on an open plain they see a knight arming for battle. With Prince Arthur’s permission, Guyon rides against the strange knight, and in the meeting Guyon is unhorsed by the strong lance of his opponent. Ashamed of his fall, Guyon snatches his sword and continues the fight on foot.

The palmer, attending Guyon, sees that the champion cannot prevail against the stranger, for the strange knight is enchanted. When he stops the fight, the truth is revealed: The strange knight is really the lovely Britomart, a chaste and pure damsel, who saw the image of her lover, Artegall, in Venus’s looking-glass and sets out in search of him. With the situation explained, Britomart joins Guyon, Prince Arthur, and Arthur’s squire, Timias, and the four continue their quest.

In a strange wood they travel for days, seeing no one, but everywhere they meet bears, lions, and bulls. Suddenly a beautiful lady on a white palfrey gallops out of the brush. She is Florimell, pursued by a lustful forester who spurs his steed cruelly in an attempt to catch her. The three men join the chase, but out of modesty Britomart stays behind. She waits a long time; then, despairing of ever finding her companions again, she goes on alone.

As she approaches Castle Joyous she sees six knights attacking one. She rides into the fight and demands to know why they are fighting in such cowardly fashion. She learns that any knight passing has to love the lady of Castle Joyous or fight six knights. Britomart denounces the rule and with her magic lance unhorses four of the knights. She enters Castle Joyous as a conqueror. After meeting the Red Cross Knight in the castle, Britomart resolves to go on as a knight errant. She hears from Merlin, whom she visits, that she and Artegall are destined to have illustrious descendants.

Meanwhile Timias is wounded while pursuing the lustful forester. Belphoebe, the wondrous beauty of the Garden of Adonis, rescues him and heals his wounds. Timias falls in love with Belphoebe. Amoret, the fair one, is held prisoner by a young knight who attempts to defile her. For months she resists his advances. Then Britomart, hearing of her sad plight, overcomes the two knights who guard Amoret’s prison and free her. Greatly attracted to her brave rescuer, Amoret sets out with Britomart.

At a strange castle a knight claims Amoret as his love. Britomart jousts with him to save Amoret, and after winning the tourney Britomart is forced to take off her helmet. With her identity revealed, Britomart and Amoret set off together in search of their true loves.

Artegall, in search of adventure, joins Scudamour, knight errant. They meet Amoret and Britomart, who is still disguised as a knight. Britomart and Artegall fight an indecisive battle during which Artegall is surprised to discover that his opponent is his lost love, Britomart. The two lovers are reunited at last, but in the confusion Amoret is abducted by Lust. With the help of Prince Arthur, Scudamour rescues Amoret from her loathsome captor. He woos Amoret in the Temple of Love, where they find shelter.

Artegall, champion of true justice, is brought up and well trained by Astraea. When Artegall is of age, Astraea gives him a trusty groom, and the new knight sets out on his adventures. Talus, the groom, is an iron man who carries an iron flail to thresh out falsehood. Irene, who asks at the fairy court for a champion against the wicked Grantorto, sets out with Artegall and Talus to regain her heritage. With dispatch Artegall and Talus overcome Grantorto and restore Irene to her throne.

Later Artegall enters the lists against a strange knight who is really the disguised Amazon, Radigund. Artegall wounds Radigund, but when he sees that his prostrate foe is a comely woman, he throws away his weapons. The wounded Amazon then rushes on the defenseless Artegall and takes him prisoner. Artegall is kept in shameful confinement until at last Talus informs Britomart of his fate. Britomart goes to her lover’s rescue and slays Radigund.

Continuing his quest, Artegall meets two hags, Envy and Detraction, who defame his character and set the Blatant Beast barking at his heels. Artegall forbids Talus to beat the hags and returns to the fairy court. The Blatant Beast, defamer of knightly character and the last remaining enemy of the fairy court, finally meets his match. The courteous Calidore, the gentlest of all the knights, conquers the beast and leads him, tamed, back to the court of the Fairie Queene.

Places Discussed

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Faery Land

Faery Land. Mythical country that serves as a setting for the romantic adventures of idealized knights, whose charge is to perfect themselves in their calling and rescue or protect innocent victims from their enemies. An array of forests, caves, and dungeons gives each knight (a different hero in each of the poem’s six books) an opportunity to exhibit his skill and inspire gratitude and love in the person—usually a fair maiden—whom the dragon or monster of the moment is afflicting.

In a sense, Faery Land is also England, but not one visibly recognizable. While Spenser makes many references to English place names, as well as many more pertaining to other parts of the world, he makes no attempt to relate any part of his landscape in any realistic way to actual English sites. One effect of these allusions is to remind readers of England’s historical culture and values.

Spenser’s prefatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh explains the “Faerie Queene” as signifying the woman who reigned in England through most of Spenser’s life: Queen Elizabeth I. The Prince Arthur of the poem is not precisely the legendary King Arthur but an Arthur who, if Spenser had succeeded in bringing his poem to a conclusion (for he projected twelve, and possibly even twenty-four books), would have sought out Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, then wooed and married her. This union would have underscored the desirability of a marriage for Elizabeth which would presumably stabilize the royal succession and thus foster the integrity of the real English kingdom.

In its basic structure, however, the poem is a complex allegory with a stated purpose: “To fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” In the largest sense, then, its Faerie Land is the human soul. Spenser believed strongly that it was the writer’s goal to paint virtue in an attractive, active, even heroic manner capable of inspiring readers to perfect themselves morally and thus qualify as “gentle” or “noble” persons, whatever their social class. Faery Land might be called the landscape of the soul, and the movement from place to place symbolizes the soul’s labors throughout life. Each book of the poem celebrates a particular virtue. The Red Cross Knight of book 1 seeks to perfect himself in holiness, Sir Guyon of book 2 represents temperance, and so on.

Typically in the course of each book, its hero comes to places that help or challenge him (or her, for Britomart of book 3 is a female knight devoted to chastity) in the quest for moral perfection. Thus the Red Cross Knight is challenged by the House of Pride, Guyon by the Cave of Mammon. Eventually the knight reaches a countering place that fosters virtue: the Red Cross Knight, the House of Holiness; Guyon, the Bower of Bliss (a good place because the Bliss depicted is natural and moderate). Spenser’s descriptions of these places are often graphic. For example, Sir Scudamour of book 4 spends a night at the house of a blacksmith named Care, who along with six assistants wields “huge great hammers that did never rest,” hammers which “like bells in greatness orderly succeed.” The combination of this crew working all night and a pack of howling dogs permits the knight no sleep, but the purpose of the episode is not to represent the blacksmith’s trade but to convey the anxiety of Sir Scudamour at this point in the narrative. What is most “real” for Spenser throughout is not the material, sensible world but the life of the human spirit.

Historical Context

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Humanism and Education
Tudor England in the sixteenth century was a place of great change. There were significant social, religious, and political changes during this time, and together, these changes created an atmosphere of danger and tension. One of the earliest transformations was the way in which English boys and young men were educated. Education had always been an issue that focused on men, since there was little interest, nor perceived need to educate females, but as the fifteenth century drew to an end, the emphasis on education changed. Instead of educating boys and young men for a lifetime serving God, as members of the clergy, there was a new emphasis on careers in government, requiring a different sort of education. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, two men, the English Sir Thomas More and the Dutch Desiderius Erasmus, were cultivating an intellectual movement that became known during the Renaissance as Humanism. According to the doctrine of Humanism, the education of a Christian gentlemen should be every society's primary concern. An important component of this education was a focus on the preparation of a young man for public service. As a way to achieve this goal, there was also a new emphasis on rhetoric and classical texts, and on a need to learn Latin grammar, the language of diplomacy. Latin had always been taught as necessary for the clergy, but now, it became clear there were other uses. Each country conducted its international business in Latin, and with international travel and trade, there was a greater need for men to assume these new duties. In this new world, there was a close connection between universities and the government. The sons of nobility attended colleges, but so too, did an increasing number of commoners, many of whom were destined for government service. Initially, humanism combined classical learning with Christianity or Catholicism. In humanism's early development, More was an enthusiastic supporter of Greek Classical texts, but he was also a Catholic who chose to die rather than agree to take the oath that acknowledged the king as head of the church in England. With the adoption of a new religion, the second-generation movement of humanism included Protestantism. Like many men of his period, Spenser was a strong advocate of Humanism, and so, one of his desires in composing The Faerie Queene was to create a model for the ideal gentlemen. Spenser was enamoured of chivalry and the medieval world, where men were honorable and where men adhered to a code of behavior that emphasized morality and truth. In composing his epic, Spenser sought to educate the public to chivalric ideals by recalling the medieval romance, which he thought presented a better society. Spencer's text not only revives the classical epic, which in its purest form, had not been used since Virgil, but it emphasizes the ideals of charity, friendship, and virtue, which are the hallmarks of the humanistic movement. In addition, Spenser uses allegory to tell his story, and allegory is a medieval tradition, which recalls the importance of allegory in biblical teaching. The setting of Spenser's epic is medieval England, but the topic is Renaissance in origin. As Philip Sidney argued in his Defence of Poesy, poetry has merit in its ability to make education sweeter and easier to swallow. Spenser accomplished this by resurrecting the medieval romance and the chivalric knight as instruments to demonstrate the righteousness of the Church of England.

Religious Turmoil
In The Faerie Queene, Spenser is reflecting the Renaissance emphasis of leading a life of beneficial action. At the same time, his text reflects the real-life tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, which was formally established by Elizabeth I in 1559. The pope's response to the queen's action was her excommunication in 1570, but officially, there was little notice of the pope's actions. After the formal establishment of the Anglican Church, some of the tension of the past twenty-five years dissipated, primarily because the queen was more tolerant of religious choice and less likely to endorse the extreme prosecution that Mary I favored. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and abbeys in 1534, it was not because he would not tolerate dissenting religious views.

Certainly he had no use for the Catholic Church, but that was primarily because the pope refused to permit his divorce. And, to assure the succession of any heir he might have after divorcing his first wife, Henry required that his citizens take an oath that recognized him as head of the Church of England. But Henry was never vehement about religion. The king dissolved the monasteries and abbeys to claim the land, buildings, monies, and expensive art and jewelry that lay inside. Henry VIII understood that eliminating the Catholic Church would make him rich; it was simply a sound economic move. After Henry died, his young son, Edward VI became king and for a while the religious component of Tudor life remained stable. But the young king did not live long, and at his death, his elder sister, Mary, became queen. During the brief years of Mary's reign, 1553-1558, religious intolerance and religiously inspired murder became commonplace. Mary, who was Catholic, immediately reinstated Catholicism as the official religion in England. Moving quickly, she outlawed Protestantism to please her new bridegroom, Philip of Spain. Protestants were persecuted, and hundreds were burned at the stake when they refused to convert to Catholicism. Mary's ruthlessness earned her the nickname, "Bloody Mary." In contrast to Mary's rule, Elizabeth seemed a refreshing new breath in the kingdom. She was young and beautiful, full of energy and vibrant. And although she quickly established Protestantism as the official religion, she manifested none of the intolerance of her older sister, Mary. The legacy of Mary's reign was a fear of Catholicism and a determination to permit no Catholic in government, nor should Catholics have any power. The immediate effect of Mary's reign was that any plotting that was discovered, any subversion that was detected, any unexpected crisis, could well be credited to Catholic sympathizers. Although Elizabeth's reign was prosperous and relatively peaceful, religion still remained a force that could divide the people. Spenser reflects these fears and determination in The Faerie Queene.

Literary Style

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Character
The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual's morality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures to more complex multifaceted ones. Characters may also be defined by personality traits, such as the rogue or the damsel in distress. Characterization is the process of creating a life-like person from an author's imagination. To accomplish this task, the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who that character will be and how that character will behave in a given situation. Most of the characters in The Faerie Queene differ slightly from this definition, since each character is little more than a "type." The audience does not really know or understand the character as an individual. For instance, Una represents little more than a quality, not an individual. The audience understands that Una signifies truth, an essential component of an ideal world and a tenet of religious belief.

Epic
An epic is a long narrative poem, which presents characters and events of high position. There may be a central heroic figure, or, as in the case of Spenser's Faerie Queene, there may be several heroic figures, such as the Red Cross Knight, Prince Arthur, Sir Guyon, Sir Artegall, and Calidore. There is frequently a muse who inspires the writer to create a work that is inspired and magnificent in its scope. The epic most frequently recounts the origins of a nation or group of people. The Faerie Queene creates an ideal Britain, and it mythicizes Queen Elizabeth I, making her the ideal monarch. Epics usually share certain features: a heroic figure who is imposing in his greatness; a vast setting or great nation; heroic deeds; supernatural forces, such as miracles, gods, or angels; elevated diction and style; and an objective narrator. The Faerie Queen is an epic in the tradition of The Odyssey, creating an ideal world, filled with heroic deeds and people.

Genre
Genres are a way of categorizing literature. Genre is a French term that means "kind" or "type." Genre can refer to both the category of literature such as tragedy, comedy, epic, poetry, or pastoral. It can also include modern forms of literature such as drama, novels, or short stories. This term can also refer to types of literature such as mystery, science fiction, comedy, or romance. The Faerie Queene is an epic, but it has also been labeled a romantic epic.

Parable
A story intended to teach a moral lesson. The stories in The Faerie Queene are designed to teach people how to be better Christians and how to live a moral life. The Bible is one of the most obvious sources of parables, since religion traditionally relies upon stories to teach lessons. This tradition stems from a period in which most men and women could not read, and the clergy found that stories were the most effective way to instruct moral lessons. Spenser uses his poetry in much the same way that the clergy uses the bible, to tell stories that teach a lesson.

Plot
This term refers to the pattern of events. Generally plots should have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, but they may also sometimes be a series of episodes connected together. Basically, the plot provides the author with the means to explore primary themes. Students are often confused between the two terms; but themes explore ideas, and plots simply relate what happens in a very obvious manner. In The Faerie Queene, Spenser creates a series of stories, and so, there are multiple plots. Sometimes, these many plots are unfolding at the same time, as characters and story lines jump from one idea to the next. But the themes include the need to prepare oneself for God and the importance of morality in creating an ideal world.

Romantic Epic
A romantic epic is a long narrative poem that combines the medieval romance and the classical epic. The poets who created romantic epics used many of the features of the classical epics but combined these features with stories of love and both romantic and religious. Spenser uses traditional romance, but he combines romance with love of God to create a blending of secular and religious love.

Setting
The time, place, and culture in which the action of the play takes place is called the setting. The elements of setting may include geographic location, physical or mental environments, prevailing cultural attitudes, or the historical time in which the action takes place. The location for The Faerie Queene is mostly Britain, but the time is in flux, with Spenser interjecting contemporary ideas into his work, which primarily recalls a period much earlier when knights and chivalry were common.

Stanza
A stanza is a grouping of two or more verse lines, which may be defined by meter, rhyme, or length. The stanza may also be considered as similar to a prose paragraph, exploring one element of the author's thoughts. The Spenserian Stanza, is nine lines, with a rhyme scheme of abbabbcbcc. Many other poets adopted the Spenserian Stanza for their work, including Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Tennyson.

Compare and Contrast

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Sixteenth century: In 1517, Martin Luther's actions grow into the Protestant reformation. This event has important ramifications for England, when King Henry VIII seeks a divorce from his wife. When the Pope refuses to grant a divorce, the king declares himself as leader of the English church. This act, in 1534, creates the Anglican Church and establishes Protestantism as the official church. In effect, it also outlaws the Roman Catholic Church, since Henry seizes all church property, using it as a source of revenue. Spenser uses this history to depict Una as Truth, the Anglican Church. Duessa represents falsehood, the Roman Catholic Church, which is attractive on the outside, but corrupt on the inside. This illustrates the English notion that Catholicism was all about performance and ornamentation and lacking substance inside.

Late twentieth century: In many ways, the English still view the Catholic Church with suspicion. There are still laws that prohibit a member of the monarchy from marrying a Catholic, and the Anglican Church remains the official Church of England. No Catholic can inherit the throne.

Sixteenth century: After Henry VIII and his only son, Edward VI, died, Mary I inherits the throne, and in 1555, she restores Catholicism to England and outlaws Protestantism. After marrying Spain's heir to the throne, Mary begins persecuting Protestants, burning those who fail to embrace the Catholic faith. Mary becomes known as ‘‘Bloody Mary’’ because of her actions. These persecutions lead to an enormous animosity between Protestants and Catholics, which Spenser depicts in his epic by having many evil characters portrayed as Catholic, such as Archimago, Duessa, and Error. In contrast, the good knights, such as the Red Cross Knight, are represented as Protestant.

Late twentieth century: Not surprisingly, religion is still a source of conflict around the world. As it was in sixteenth-century England, the conflict between Protestants and Catholics still rages, accounting for bombings and deaths in both London and in Ireland. Each side still views the other as evil and destructive, much as they did when Spenser was writing his epic.

Sixteenth century: In1588, Elizabeth I defeats the Spanish Armada. The Spanish Armada, consisting of 132 vessels, sailed against England, with intent to invade and claim the country for the Catholic Church. The English rebuffed the invasion, and with the aid of a storm, destroyed more than half the ships. Elizabeth is seen as a heroic monarch, and thus her depiction in Spenser's epic as the Faerie Queene, the virginal queen who inspires such loyalty from her knights.

Late twentieth century: The English have managed to successfully defend their small nation against invasion for the last four hundred years, defeating first Napoleon, and later, Hitler. The devotion to country and ideals that Spenser celebrated in his epic has continued to motivate the English to overcome overwhelming odds and defeat enemies, even when victory appeared out of reach.

Sixteenth century: In 1587, Elizabeth I has her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, executed. Mary had been a prisoner since 1568, when she was forced to flee Protestant Scotland. While a captive of Queen Elizabeth, Mary was frequently the center of plots to overthrow the queen and place the Catholic Mary on the throne. The concern that the Protestants felt about Mary is depicted in Spenser's work. In Book V, Duessa is tried and found guilty. She represents the evil and deception that many English citizens felt that Mary represented.

Late twentieth century: Although the English royalty are firmly entrenched on the throne, many other countries still bear witness to the possibility of a coup. This is unlikely in England, where the monarchy remains very popular, as it was when Spenser was writing.

Media Adaptations

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An audio cassette of The Faerie Queene (1998), with John Moffatt as reader, is available from Naxos of America. This recording, which is also available as a CD, contains selections from Spenser's text.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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SOURCES
Frye, Northrop, "The Structure of Imagery in The Faerie Queene," in Edmund Spenser's Poetry, edited by Hugh McClean, W. W. Norton, 1968, pp. 582-593.

Hough, Graham, "The Structure of The Faerie Queene," in Edmund Spenser's Poetry, edited by Hugh McClean, W. W. Norton, 1968, pp. 575-582.

Sidney, Philip, The Defence of Poesy, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. I., 6th edition, edited by M. H. Abrams, W. W. Norton, 1993, pp. 480-500.

Spenser, Edmund, "A Letter of the Authors" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. I., 6th edition, edited by M. H. Abrams, W. W. Norton, pp. 516-519, 1993.

FURTHER READING
Berger, Harry, Jr., Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics, University of California Press, 1988.
Berger's book contains essays that he has written on Spenser's work. The essays span nearly twenty-five years of study of Spenser's poems and exam his work from several critical vantages.

Cavanagh, Sheila T., "Nightmares of Desire: Evil Women in The Faerie Queene," in Studies in Philology, Vol. 91, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 313-338.
Cavanagh examines the way women function in Spenser's epic, arguing that the dreams and visions of men suggest that women are dangerous.

Ferry, Anne, The Art of Naming, University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Ferry's book is a rhetorical study of the language in Spenser's epic. Ferry makes connections between grammar and repetitions, etc., and then makes further connections to historical interpretations.

Fitzpatrick, Joan, "Spenser's Nationalistic Images of Beauty," in Cahiers Elizabethains: Late Medieval and Renaissance Studies, No. 53, April, 1998, pp. 13-26.
Fitzpatrick examines Book I of Spenser's epic for representations of Irish Catholics in the demonic characters. Fitzpatrick argues that Spenser's demonization of the Irish appears in other Spenser work as well.

Frye, Susan, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Frye uses three separate episodes from Elizabeth's reign to explore her struggle for power. A significant portion of this text focuses on the queen's response to Spenser's epic.

Heninger, S. K., Jr., "Orgoglio," in Edmund Spenser's Poetry, edited by Hugh McClean, W. W. Norton, 1968, pp. 593-602.
Heninger uses the giant, Orgoglio, as an example of Spenser's intention to conflate morality and history. Heninger maintains that Spenser uses classical mythology, the Book of Revelations, and recent politics in the Orgoglio episode to explore the connections between morality and history.

Summers, David A., Spenser's Arthur: The British Arthurian Tradition and 'The Faerie Queene,' University Press of America, 1997.
Summers traces the history of the Arthurian legend through literature and examines its impact on British society.

Villeponteaux, Mary, “'Not as Women wonted to be' Spenser's Amazon Queen," in Dissing Elizabeth: Negative Representations of Gloriana, edited by Julia M. Walker, Duke University Press, 1998.
Villeponteaux examines the representation of Elizabeth in the Amazon queen, Radigund.

Williams, Kathleen, "Spenser and Medieval Romance," in Edmund Spenser's Poetry, edited by Hugh McClean, W. W. Norton, 1968, pp. 555-563.
Williams discusses the use of myth in Spenser's epic and argues that Spenser took old myths and made them contemporaneous with Elizabethan life.

Bibliography

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Sources for Further Study

Alpers, Paul J. The Poetry of “The Faerie Queene.” Princeton: N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. Attempts to describe the language of The Faerie Queene and discusses the nature of Spenser’s poetry.

Anderson, Judith, Donald Cheney, and David Richardson, eds. Spenser’s Life and the Subject of Biography. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. Offers selected essays concerning Spenser’s biography and career as a poet and civil servant.

Freeman, Rosemary. “The Faerie Queene”: A Companion for Readers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. Displays a keen appreciation of Spenser’s poetry and the peculiarity of his epic. Part one discusses the poem’s origin, structure, and allegory; part two makes a book-by-book thematic analysis.

Graham, Hough. A Preface to “The Faerie Queene.” New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. A seminal work of Spenser criticism. Relates The Faerie Queene to the tradition of the romantic epic. Provides a book-by-book commentary and considers the poem as a whole.

Hume, Anthea. Edmund Spenser: Protestant Poet. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Argues that Spenser espoused the militant Protestantism associated with the Leicester Circle and held views that require classification of him as a Puritan.

King, Andrew. The “Faerie Queene” and the Middle English Romance: The Matter of Just Memory. Oxford, England: Oxford, 2000. A study that emphasizes the importance of regionalism on Middle English writers, especially Spenser. Also explores the thematic role of exiled youth and his counterpart, the outcast virgin.

King, John N. Spenser’s Poetry and the Reformation Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Approaches book 1 of The Faerie Queene as a Protestant saint’s life and argues that Spenser was influenced by a distinctly Protestant poetics and tradition.

Mallette, Richard. Spenser and the Discourses of Reformation England. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. Examines Spenser’s complex adaptation and parody of religious controversies on preaching, chastity, marriage, apocalypse, providence, and free will.

Parker, M. Pauline. The Allegory of “The Faerie Queene.” Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1960. More accessible than other studies of the poem’s allegory. Approaches the poem thematically, identifying five major themes that cross the boundaries of individual books.

Read, David. Temperate Conquests: Spenser and the Spanish New World. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000. Representative of recent work on Spenser and European colonialism. Focuses on Spenser’s View of the Present State of Ireland and books 2 and 5 of The Faerie Queene.

Sale, Roger. Reading Spenser: An Introduction to “The Faerie Queene.” New York: Random House, 1968. Speculates that Spenser’s transformation from a medieval to a modern poet prevented him from finishing his epic. Also argues that the poem is intentionally “undramatic.”

Van Es, Bart. Spenser’s Forms of History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Describes Spenser’s preoccupation with time and memory while probing his handling of historical chronicles and other antiquarian materials.

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