The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser

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Who are the women referred to in Book One of The Faerie Queen?

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The most significant woman mentioned is Gloriana, the Faerie Queene herself. Gloriana is a thinly veiled stand-in for Queen Elizabeth I. She is presented as powerful and beautiful—or at least, the reader is told so, since Gloriana never makes an appearance in the story proper.

The main female figure in Book One is Una, the love interest of the hero, the Red Cross Knight, and a stand-in for Truth/the True Church. Though she requires a hero to save her, she is an intelligent and wise person, often giving the Red Cross Knight advice on what to do next. She is innocent and virtuous, a model of chaste love.

Una's antithesis, Duessa, also appears in Book One. She represents the Catholic Church and therefore falsehood. She is a wicked sorceress who keeps her true identity hidden from the Red Cross Knight, much the way the Anglican Church (the "true" church according to Spenser) tricked its believers into accepting false doctrines. Her falseness also links her to Mary, Queen of Scots, who claimed she was the true English queen rather than Elizabeth I.

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One of the most notable women mentioned in Book One of The Faerie Queen is the queen herself, referred to as Gloriana. While she never actually appears in the epic, she is who all the characters seek and so she is omnipresent throughout the entire epic.

Gloriana is actually a symbol for Queen Elizabeth I, emulating her virtues as a ruler. Poet of this English epic, Edmund Spenser dedicated and presented the poem to her in hopes of gaining her favor by extolling the virtues of religion and morality.

Una, whose name means truth, is one of the protagonists of the epic (alongside the Red Cross Knight) and goes to Gloriana for help in retrieving her parents who have been held captive by a dragon. As Queen Elizabeth I was sought for truth and wisdom, so is the Faerie Queen.

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In the epic poem The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser has two purposes. The first is to extol the virtues of medieval chivalry (with the hope that there will be renewed interest in this way of life), and the other is to praise Elizabeth I.

In Book One, there are several women. Our damsel in distress, who is also a woman of merit, is Una. She calls upon the Red Cross Knight to help her rescue her parents who have been imprisoned by a dragon.

In this opening section, Spenser explains the legend of the Red Cross Knight and focuses on the importance of morality and holiness in man's life.

The various women in the story are not just characters in a plotline, but many also have symbolic meaning.

Una is portrayed as a wise, honest and admirable young woman who goes to the Faerie Queene requesting help in saving her parents.

She represents truth and the true church.

(The "true" church referred to here is the Anglican Church—the church of Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII who split with the Roman Catholic Church because the Pope would not grant him a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.) Una can make suggestions to the Red Cross Knight, but his decisions are his own. 

In the poem, Una is described as:

So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,

She was in life and euery vertuous lore... (Canto I)

Duessa is "an evil enchantress" with magical powers to put on an appearance that belies what she is within: "corrupt." Duessa represents:

...falsehood, the Roman Catholic Church, and Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Gloriana is the Faerie Queene—she represents Elizabeth I of England. It is to Gloriana that Una goes for help.

Acrasia is another villainess: she (like the Sirens in the tales of Odysseus) lures men with her evil power, to their destruction. She is...

...the mistress of the Bower of Bliss.

While there are several women in Book One, Una is representative of all that is good, a main character who travels with the Red Cross Knight to save her parents, facing a string of adversaries.

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