Mother Hubberds Tale

by Edmund Spenser

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 597

The Fox

The Fox, a clever and immoral rogue who is ambitious to rise in the world and is ready to use any trickery or deception to do so. Based on the character Renard of French tales, he is a shrewd observer of others and ready to exploit their weaknesses, as well as being ready to resort to crime if it suits his purpose. In the earlier sections of the poem, he is satisfied with rather minor acquisitions, robbing ignorant farmers of their livestock and exploiting gullible parishioners of their offerings, but as the poem progresses, he becomes more ambitious and aspires to be a courtier, rich and powerful at court. When his companion the Ape usurps the Lion’s kingdom, the Fox becomes his chief minister and uses his high position both to enrich himself and to bring his relatives into court, showering them with the positions and wealth of true noblemen he has ruined. Although he has come to hold a place that should be one of honor and trust, he abuses it for mere personal gain and power. At the end of the poem, when the Lion returns to claim his rightful throne, the Fox tries to place all blame on his partner, the Ape, but the Lion strips the Fox bare and sends him into exile.

The Ape

The Ape, a companion of the Fox in his career of trickery and crime. He cares more for his own creature comforts and pleasures than for riches or power. Like the Fox, he is able to assume disguises easily and plausibly, and the two make a perfect pair in deception, fooling first individuals, then parishes, and finally the entire kingdom with their wiles. When they arrive at court, the Ape achieves success through his talents at dancing, acrobatics, juggling, and conjuring. He also writes love poetry, gambles, and engages in plots. When, by a stroke of luck, the Ape seizes the crown from the sleeping Lion, he makes himself king and with the Fox begins to plunder the riches of the land. His punishment, upon the return of the true king, is to have his tail and ears clipped.

The Lion

The Lion, the king of the beasts, less a realistic figure than an allegorical character. He loses his crown because the Ape discovers him asleep, symbolic of the ills that attend a monarch who relaxes his vigilance for even a moment. The Lion’s awakening by Jupiter and his return to power represent that rightful rule cannot be forever denied.

The Farmer

The Farmer, the first character encountered and cheated by the Fox and the Ape. Although he seems to be honest, he is extremely credulous and believes their absurd tale that the Ape is a shepherd and the Fox his faithful dog.

The Priest

The Priest, an illiterate and dissolute cleric who advises the Fox and the Ape to imitate his own example and live on the goodwill of the faithful people of a parish. He knows little or nothing of true religion and cannot even follow the rituals he is required to perform. Again, Spenser presents a symbolic figure, this one illustrating the debased nature of too many so-called clergymen of the period.

The Sheep

The Sheep,

the Ass

the Ass,

the Tiger

the Tiger, and

the Boar

the Boar, representative of the minor characters who populate the court and who are first fooled and later ruled by the Fox and the Ape.


Jupiter, less a character than another symbolic figure who represents the divine impulse to order, law, and rule.

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