The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser

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Discuss: "The Red Cross Knight is an Everyman figure who ultimately achieves his knightly quest."

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Now, Everyman does not have the pleasure of being shown the future or his place in the New Jerusalem. Everyman has to accept that on faith, though he is not alone in his final steps into the grave-- Good Deeds accompanies him, as a good Catholic should be so accompanied.  Red Crosse, however, being a literary invention of the Protestant Reformation achieves his identity as Saint George only on faith, though he has the benefit of Una's prayers and Prince Arthur's rescue when he has done all he can as a weak child of God who has fallen into the dungeons of Pride.

To this extent, one could argue that "Everyman" is not applicable, in that the strictly literary reference recalls a thoroughly Catholic work, the morality play Everyman.

Does RC achieve his quest? Again, this depends upon one's point of view. He does kill the dragon and free Una's parents, but the ending of Book I shows RC going off to finish his quest to destroy what threatens Holinesse-- namely, Duessa and all she stands for-- while Una, the One True Faith, must wait for his return before they can marry.

We might have thought that the destruction of the great Dragon of Sin would have sealed up the safety of Holinesse and the marriage of Holinesse with Unity once and for all, but it does not, because Archimago and Duessa both are at large in the world, and mere humans are easy prey for such crafty and evil villains.

Does this, then, indicate that his quest is incomplete at the end of Book I?  I tend to think so, not only because the book ends without a complete resolution of these problems but also because I need only look around me to see that Holinesse has not yet triumphed in this fallen world.

I'd like to think that Spenser hoped to return to this plot and theme later in his career, but the fact is that he didn't even finish the Faerie Queene, let alone return to begin a sequel.

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This proposition has basically two parts:  it proposes that The Red Crosse Knight is an "Everyman" figure and that he is shown to have achieved his quest by the end of Book I.  So, I'll take each on each part separately, though the easy answer to each is that it all depends on one's point of view. 

Whether or not Red Crosse is an "Everyman" depends on one's point of view to the extent that he seems not to have a unique or well-defined identity in Book I and that he has a name that is simply descriptive of his armor, the same as if one were writing about "The Black Knight" or "The Red Knight" or "The White Knight," etc.  His character could be said to be a bit more defined to the extent that the red cross on his armor and shield are associated with Christian iconography, but on the other hand we are told in the first Canto that this armor is borrowed-- it's not even his own!  It is marked with dents and scars from knightly fights in the past, but this knight did not fight them.  Now, we could assume that this knight aspires to become the knight who had inhabited that armor, but that is only an assumption, isn't it?

Book I is described as the story of the "Knight of Holinesse," but unlike the other Books of the FQ, this knight has to become holy, has to come to learn his identity during the quest.  For example, in Book II, Sir Guyon IS the Knight of Temperance; he has a name, and he possesses the quality of temperance long before the action of Book II opens-- the quest has to do with his teaching others his quality or ridding the world of intemperance.

But this is not so with Book I.  Red Crosse, wearing borrowed armor, sets off on his quest to free Una's parents from the dragon, and the first thing he does is to become lost in the Wood of Errour.  This element of the plot allegorically points to the fact of his quest for his identity, since a true Knight of Holiness would not so easily lose himself (and his Lady) in Error. We could also discuss what he encounters there-- the monstrous Errour, herself, who nearly subdues RC merely with slime and stink! He has a LONG way to go before he is ready to fight a dragon!  So, it's (I hope) a little clearer to see that RC is not like the others of Spenser's Knights of each Book of the FQ.  He has a double quest, it seems:  he must first achieve his identity before he can even hope to have a chance against the dragon who holds Una's parents in thrall.

To that extent, then, we could certainly argue that RC is an "Eveeryman" figure-- more humanized, he does not know himself; he begins in weakness and must build up to strength, lilke the rest of us. He doesn't even know his name until he reaches the Mount of Contemplation and is shown who he is in a supreme vision of the future and of his place in it.

I will continue my answer in another post, as this one is drawing near my word-limit!

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