The Faerie Queene
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The Faerie Queene is an English epic poem by Edmund Spenser, published first in three books in 1590, and later in six books in 1596. The Faerie Queene is notable for its form: it was the first work written in Spenserian stanza. It is an allegorical work, written in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.
A Celebration of the Virtues
A letter written by Spenser to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1589 contains an early plan for The Faerie Queene, in which Spenser describes the allegorical presentation of virtues through Arthurian knights in the mythical "Faerieland." Presented as a preface to the epic in most published editions, this letter outlines plans for 24 books: 12 based each on a different knight who exemplified one of 12 "private virtues," and 12 more centered on King Arthur displaying twelve "public virtues." Spenser names Aristotle as his source for these virtues, although the influence of Thomas Aquinas can be observed as well. It is impossible to predict what the work would have looked like had Spenser lived to complete it, but the reliability of the predictions made in his letter to Raleigh is not absolute, as numerous divergences from that scheme emerged as early as 1590, in the first Faerie Queene publication.
As it was published in 1596, the epic presented the following virtues:
- Book I: Holiness
- Book II: Temperance
- Book III: Chastity
- Book IV: Friendship
- Book V: Justice
- Book VI: Courtesy
In addition to these six virtues, the Letter to Raleigh suggests that Arthur represents the virtues of Magnificence, which ("according to Aristotle and the rest") is "the perfection of all the rest, and conteineth in it them all"; and that the Faerie Queene herself represents Glory (hence her name, Gloriana).
Politics and the poem
The Faerie Queene found political favor with Elizabeth I and was consequently a success, to the extent of becoming Spenser's defining work. A measure of the favour which the poem found with the monarch is that Spenser was granted a pension for life on account of it (50 pounds a year).
The poem celebrates and memorializes the Tudor dynasty (of which Elizabeth was a part), much in the tradition of the Aeneid's celebration of Augustus Caesar's Rome. Like The Aeneid, which states that Augustus is descended from the noble sons of Troy, The Faerie Queene suggests that the Tudor lineage can be connected to King Arthur. The poem is deeply allegorical and allusive: many prominent Elizabethans could have found themselves--or one another--partially representented by one or more of Spenser's figures. Elizabeth herself is the most prominent example: she appears most prominently in her guise as Gloriana, the Faerie Queene herself; but also in Books III and IV as the virgin Belphoebe, daughter of Venus and twin to Amoret, the embodiment of womanly married love; and perhaps also, more critically, in Book I as Lucifera, the "maiden queen" whose brightly-lit Court of Pride masks a dungeon full of prisoners.
The poem also displays Spenser's thorough familiarity with literary history. Although the world of The Faerie Queen is based on English Arthurian legend, much of the language, spirit, and style of the piece draw more on Italian epic, particularly Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. Of course, Spenser's work is on a much greater scale than these pieces, as it attempts to define itself by the eternal conflict of good versus evil.
The fifth Book of The Faerie Queene, the Book of Justice, is Spenser's most direct discussion of political theory. In it, Spenser both attempts to tackle the problem of policy toward Ireland and recreates the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots.
List of major characters
- Acrasia, Seductress of knights. Guyon destroys her Bower of Bliss at the end of Book 2. Similar characters in other epics: Circe (Homer's Odyssey), Alcina (Ariosto), Armida (Tasso).
- Alma, Her name means "soul." She is the head of the House of Temperance in Book 2.
- Amoret, The wife of Scudamour, kidnapped by Busirane on her wedding night, saved by Britomart. She represents the virtue of married love, and her marriage to Scudamour serves as the example that Britomart and Artegal seek to copy. Amoret and Scudamor are separated for a time by circumstances, but remain loyal to one another until they (presumably) are reunited.
- Archimago, An evil sorcerer who is sent to stop the knights in the service of the Faerie Queene. Of the knights, Archimago hates Redcross most of all, hence he is symbolically the nemesis of England.
- Artegal (or Arthegall), a knight who is the personification and champion of Justice. He meets Britomart after defeating her in a swordfight (she had been dressed as a knight) and removing her helmet, revealing her beauty. Artegal quickly falls in love with Britomart. Artegal has a companion in Talus, a metal man who wields a flail and never sleeps or grows tired but will mercilessly pursue and kill any number of villains. Talus obeys Artegal's commmand, and serves to represent justice without mercy (hence, Artegal is the more human face of justice). Later, Talus does not rescue Artegal from enslavement by the wicked Radigund, because Artegal is bound by a legal contract to serve her.
- Arthur. This is the same Arthur of the Round Table, but he plays a different role here. He is madly in love with the Faerie Queene and spends his time in pursuit of her when not helping the other knights out of their sundry predicaments.
- Belphoebe, The beautiful sister of Amoret who spends her time in the woods hunting and avoiding the numerous amorous men who chase her. Timias, the squire of Arthur, eventually wins her love after she tends to the injuires he sustained in battle; however, Timias must endure much suffering to prove his love when Belphoebe sees him tending to a wounded woman and, misinterpreting his actions, flies off hastily. She is only drawn back to him after seeing how he has wasted away without her.
- Braggadocchio, a comic knight with no sense of honor. He steals Guyon's horse. He is not evil, just dishonorable.
- Britomart, a female knight, the personification and champion of Chastity. She is young and beautiful, and falls in love with Artegal upon first seeing his face in her father's magic mirror. Although there is no interaction between them, she falls in love with him, and travels, dressed as a knight and accompanied by her nurse, Glauce, in order to find Artegal again. Britomart carries an enchanted spear that allows her to defeat every knight she encounters, until she loses to a knight who turns out to be her beloved Artegal. Parallel figure in Ariosto: Bradamante.
- Busirane, the evil sorcerer who captures Amoret on her wedding night. When Britomart enters his castle to defeat him, she finds him holding Amoret's heart in a pan. The clever Britomart handily defeats him and returns Amoret to her husband.
- Calidore the Knight of Courtesy, hero of Book Six.
- Colin Clout, is a shepherd, noted for his songs and bagpipe playing, that briefly appears in Book VI, being the same Colin Clout from Spenser's pastoral poetry, which is fitting because Calidore is taking a sojourn into a world of pastoral delight, ignoring his duty to hunt the Blatant Beast, which is why he set out to Ireland to begin with. Colin Clout may also be said to be Spenser himself.
- Duessa, a lady who personfies Falsehood in Book One. As the opposite of Una, she represents the false religion of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Florimell, a lady in love with the knight Marinell, who initially rejects her. Hearing he was wounded, she set out in search and faced various perils, culminating in being captured by Proteus.
- Gloriana, the "Faerie Queene" herself.
- Guyon, the Knight of Temperance, the hero of Book Two.
- Malecasta, a decadent, jaded sophisticate who invites the weary knights to dinner. She studies Britomart at the feast, and tries to seduce her, unaware Britomart is a lady until Malecasta feels the sting of Britomart's magic sword.
- Marinell, "the knight of the sea"; son of a water nymph, he avoided all love because his mother had learned that a woman would do him harm; he was struck down in battle by Britomart, though not mortally wounded.
- Merlin, who is much the same as in Arthurian legend. A young Britomart goes to see Merlin after falling in love with Artegal, and he instructs her on how to proceed.
- Paridell, a false knight and a seducer of women. His name derives from that of the Trojan prince Paris. In Book Three, he runs off with Malbecco's wife, Hellenore.
- Pastorella, a woman raised by shepherds but revealed in the last Canto of Book 6 to be actually the daughter of Sir Bellamoure and Lady Claribell.
- The Redcrosse Knight, hero of Book One. Introduced in the first canto of the poem, he bears the emblem of Saint George, patron saint of England; a red cross on a white background is still the flag of England. The Redcross Knight is, in fact, early on declared to be the real Saint George.
- Sansfoy, Sansjoy and Sansloy (names meaning "Faithless", "Joyless" and "Lawless"), three enemy knights who fight Redcrosse in Book One.
- Scudamour, the lover of Amoret. His name means "shield of love".
- Talus, an "iron man" who helps Arthegall dispense justice in Book Five.
- Trompart, Braggadocchio's cunning squire. His name derives from the French tromper, "to deceive".
- Una, the personification of the True Church. She travels with the Redcrosse Knight (who represents England), whom she has recruited to save her parents' castle from a dragon. She also defeats Duessa, who represents the false (Catholic) church and the person of Mary, Queen of Scots, in a trial reminiscent of that which ended in Mary's beheading. Una is also representitive of Truth.
- The House of Pride, House in Book I that Redcrosse visits with Duessa. Lucifera serves as the head of the house and has six advisors who, along with Lucifera, represent the seven deadly sins.
- The Cave of Despair Redcrosse comes to the cave of Despair in Canto 9, where he contemplates killing himself at Despair's manipulation and urging.
- The House of Holiness Una brings Redcrosse here in Book I, Canto 10 after his encounter with Despair. He is tended to and taught by women, who eventually subject him to physical mortification as a form of spiritual penance.
- The House of Temperance
- The Bower of Bliss. Acrasia's magical garden, destroyed by Sir Guyon in Book II, Canto 12.
- Castle Joyous
- The Garden of Adonis in Book III, Canto 6.
- The House of Busirane. An enchanted palace at the end of Book III where Busirane holds Amoret captive. Britomart is able to enter the house and rescues Amoret.
- Book I: The First Booke Of The Faerie Qveene contayning The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse, or Of Holinesse.
- Canto I: The Patron of true Holinesse,/ Foule Errour doth defeate:/ Hypocrisie him to entrape,/ Doth to his home entreate.
- Canto II: The guilefull great Enchaunter parts/ The Redcrosse Knight from Truth:/ Into whose stead faire falshood steps,/ And workes him wofull ruth.
- Canto III: Forsaken Truth long seekes her loue,/ And makes the Lyonn mylde,/ Marres blind Deuotions mart, and fals/ In hand of leachour vylde.
- Canto IV: To sinfull house of Pride, Duessa/ guides the faithfull knight,/ Where brothers death to wreak Sansioy/ doth challenge him to fight.
- Canto V: The faithfull knight in equall field/ subdewes his faithlesse foe./ Whom false Duessa saues, and for/ his cure to hell does goe.
- Canto VI: From lawlesse lust by wondrous grace/ fayre Una is releast:/ Whom saluage nation does adore,/ and learnes her wise behest.
- Canto VII: The Redcrosse knight is captiue made/ By Gyaunt proud opprest,/ Prince Arthur meets with Vna great-/ ly with those newes distrest.
- Canto VIII: Faire virgin to redeeme her deare/ brings Arthur to the fight:/ Who slayes the Gyant, wounds the beast,/ and strips Duessa quight.
- Canto IX: His loues and lignage Arthur tells/ The knights knit friendly bands:/ Sir Treuisan flies from Despayre,/ Whome Redcrosse knight withstands.
- Canto X: Her faithfull knight faire Una brings/ to house of Holinesse,/ Where he is taught repentance, and/ the way to heauenly blesse.
- Canto XI: The knight with that old Dragon fights/ two dayes incessantly:/ The third him ouerthrowes, and gayns/ most glorious victory.
- Canto XII: Faire Una to the Redcrosse knight/ betrouthed is with ioy:/ Though false Duessa it to barre/ her false sleights doe imploy.
- Book II: The Second Booke of the Faerie Qveene contayning The Legend of Sir Gvyon. or Of Temperaunce.
- Canto I: Guyon by Archimage abusd,/ The Redcrosse knight awaytes,/ Findes Mordant and Amauia slaine/ With pleasures poisoned baytes.
- Canto II: Babes bloudie hands may not be clensd,/ the face of golden Meane./ Her sisters two Extremities:/ striue her to banish cleane.
- Canto III: Vaine Braggadocchio getting Guyons/ horse is made the scorne/ Of knighthood trew, and is of fayre/ Belphoebe fowle forlorne.
- Canto IV: Guyon does Furor bind in chaines,/ and stops Occasion:/ Deliuers Phedon, and therefore/ by strife is rayld vpon
- Canto V: Pyrochles does with Guyon fight,/ And Furors chayne vnbinds/ Of whom sore hurt, for his reuenge/ Attin Cymochles finds.
- Canto VI: Guyon is of immodest Merth,/ led into loose desire,/ Fights with Cymochles, whiles his bro-/ ther burnes in furious fire.
- Canto VII: Guyon findes Mamon in a delue,/ Sunning his threasure hore:/ Is by him tempted, & led downe,/ To see his secret store.
- Canto VIII: Sir Guyon laid in swowne is by/ Acrates sonnes despoyld,/ Whom Arthur soone hath reskewed/ And Paynim brethren foyld.
- Canto IX: The house of Temperance, in which/ doth sober Alma dwell,/ Besiegd of many foes, whom straunger/ knightes to flight compell.
- Canto X: A chronicle of Briton kings,/ from Brute to Vthers rayne./ And rolles of Elfin Emperours,/ till time of Gloriane.
- Canto XI: The enimies of Temperaunce/ besiege her dwelling place:/ Prince Arthur them repelles, and fowle/ Maleger doth deface.
- Canto XII: Guyon by Palmers gouernance,/ passing through perils great,/ Doth ouerthrow the Bowre of blisse,/ and Acrasie defeat.
- Book III: The Third Booke of the Faerie Qveene contayning, The Legend of Britomartis. Or Of Chastitie.
- Canto I: Guyon encountreth Britomart,/ faire Florimell is chaced:/ Duessaes traines and Malecastaes/ champions are defaced.
- Canto II: The Redcrosse knight to Britomart/ describeth Artegall:/ The woundrous myrrhour, by which she/ in love with him did fall.
- Canto III: Merlin bewrayes to Britomart,/ the state of Artegall./ And shewes the famous Progeny/ which from them springen shall.
- Canto IV: Bold Marinell of Britomart,/ Is throwne on the Rich strond:/ Faire Florimell of Arthur is/ Long followed, but not fond.
- Canto V: Prince Arthur heares of Florimell:/ three fosters Timias wound,/ Belphebe finds him almost dead,/ and reareth out of sownd.
- Canto VI: The birth of faire Belphoebe and/ Of Amoret is told./ The Gardins of Adonis fraught/ With pleasures manifold.
- Canto VII: The witches sonne loues Florimell:/ she flyes, he faines to die./ Satyrane saues the Squire of Dames/ from Gyants tyrannie.
- Canto VIII: The Witch creates a snowy Lady,/ like to Florimell,/ Who wrongd by Carle by Proteus sau'd,/ is sought by Paridell.
- Canto IX: Malbecco will no straunge knights host,/ For peeuish gealosie:/ Paridell giusts with Britomart:/ Both shew their auncestrie.
- Canto X: Paridell rapeth Hellenore:/ Malbecco her pursewes:/ Findes emongst Satyres, whence with him/ To turne she doth refuse.
- Canto XI: Britomart chaceth Ollyphant,/ findes Scudamour distrest:/ Assayes the house of Busyrane,/ where Loues spoyles are exprest.
- Canto XII: The maske of Cupid, and th'enchaunted/ Chamber are displayed,/ Whence Britomart redeemes faire/ Amoret, through charmes decayd.
- Book IV: The Fovrth Booke of the Faerie Qveene contayning The Legend of Cambel and Telamond, or Of Friendship.
- Canto I: Fayre Britomart saues Amoret,/ Duessa discord breedes/ Twixt Scudamour and Blandamour:/ Their fight and warlike deedes.
- Canto II: Blandamour winnes false Florimell,/ Paridell for her striues,/ They are accorded: Agape/ doth lengthen her sonnes liues.
- Canto III: The battell twixt three brethren with/ Cambell for Canacee/ Cambina with true friendships bond/ doth their long strife agree.
- Canto IV: Satyrane makes a Turneyment/ For loue of Florimell:/ Britomart winnes the prize from all,/ And Artegall doth quell.
- Canto V: The Ladies for the girdle striue/ of famous Florimell:/ Scudamour coming to Cares house,/ doth sleepe from him expel.
- Canto VI: Both Scudamour and Arthegall/ Doe fight with Britomart,/ He sees her face; doth fall in loue,/ and soone from her depart.
- Canto VII: Amoret rapt by greedie lust/ Belphebe saues from dread,/ The Squire her loues, and being blam'd/ his dayes in dole doth lead.
- Canto VIII: The gentle Squire recouers grace,/ Sclaunder her guests doth staine:/ Corflambo chaseth Placidas,/ And is by Arthure slaine.
- Canto IX: The Squire of low degree releast/ Poeana takes to wife:/ Britomart fightes with many Knights/ Prince Arthur stints their strife.
- Canto X: Scudamour doth his conquest tell,/ Of vertuous Amoret:/ Great Venus Temple is describ'd,/ And louers life forth set.
- Canto XI: Marinells former wound is heald,/ he comes to Proteus hall,/ Where Thames doth the Medway wedd,/ and feasts the Sea-gods all.
- Canto XII: Marin for loue of Florimell,/ In languor wastes his life:/ The Nymph his mother getteth her,/ And giues to him for wife.
- Book V: The Fifth Booke of the Faerie Qveene contayning The Legend of Artegall or Of Ivstice.
- Canto I: Artegall trayn'd in Iustice lore/ Irenaes quest pursewed,/ He doeth auenge on Sanglier/ his Ladies bloud embrewed.
- Canto II: Artegall heares of Florimell,/ Does with the Pagan fight:/ Him slaies, drownes Lady Munera,/ Does race her castle quight.
- Canto III: The spousals of faire Florimell,/ where turney many knights:/ There Braggadochio is vncas'd/ in all the Ladies sights.
- Canto IV: Artegall dealeth right betwixt/ two brethren that doe striue,/ Saues Terpine from the gallow tree,/ and doth from death repriue.
- Canto V: Artegall fights with Radigund/ And is subdewd by guile:/ He is by her imprisoned,/ But wrought by Clarins wile.
- Canto VI: Talus brings newes to Britomart,/ of Artegals mishap,/ She goes to seeke him, Dolon meetes,/ who seekes her to entrap.
- Canto VII: Britomart comes to Isis Church,/ Where shee strange visions sees:/ She fights with Radigund, her slaies,/ And Artegall thence frees.
- Canto VIII: Prince Arthure and Sir Artegall,/ Free Samient from feare:/ They slay the Soudan, driue his wife,/ Adicia to despaire.
- Canto IX: Arthur and Artegall catch Guyle/ whom Talus doth dismay,/ They to Mercillaes pallace come,/ and see her rich array.
- Canto X: Prince Arthur takes the enterprize/ for Belgee for to fight,/ Gerioneos Seneschall/ he slayes in Belges right.
- Canto XI: Prince Arthure ouercomes the great/ Gerioneo in fight:/ Doth slay the Monster, and restore/ Belge vnto her right.
- Canto XII: Artegall doth Sir Burbon aide,/ And blames for changing shield:/ He with the great Grantorto fights,/ And slaieth him in field.
- Book VI: The Sixte Booke of the Faerie Qveene contayning the Legend of S. Calidore or Of Covrtesie.
- Canto I: Calidore saues from Maleffort,/ A Damzell vsed vylde:/ Doth vanquish Crudor, and doth make/ Briana wexe more mylde.
- Canto II: Calidore sees young Tristram slay/ A proud discourteous knight,/ He makes him Squire, and of him learnes/ his state and present plight.
- Canto III: Calidore brings Priscilla home,/ Pursues the Blatant Beast:/ Saues Serena whilest Calepine/ By Turpine is opprest.
- Canto IIII: Calepine by a saluage man/ from Turpine reskewed is,/ And whylest an Infant from a Beare/ he saues, his loue doth misse.
- Canto V: The saluage serues Serena well/ till she Prince Arthure fynd,/ Who her together with his Squyre/ with th'Hermit leaues behynd.
- Canto VI: The Hermite heales both Squire and dame/ Of their sore maladies:/ He Turpine doth defeate, and shame/ For his late villanies.
- Canto VII: Turpine is baffuld, his two knights/ doe gaine their treasons meed,/ Fayre Mirabellaes punishment/ for loues disdaine decreed.
- Canto VIII: Prince Arthure ouercomes Disdaine,/ Quites Mirabell from dreed:/ Serena found of Saluages,/ By Calepine is freed.
- Canto IX: Calidore hostes with Meliboe/ and loues fayre Pastorell;/ Coridon enuies him, yet he/ for ill rewards him well
- Canto X: Calidore sees the Graces daunce,/ To Colins melody:/ The whiles his Pastorell is led,/ Into captiuity.
- Canto XI: The theeues fall out for Pastorell,/ Whilest Melibee is slaine:/ Her Calidore from them redeemes,/ And bringeth backe againe.
- Canto XII: Fayre Pastorella by great hap/ her parents vnderstands,/ Calidore doth the Blatant beast/ subdew, and bynd in bands.
- Two Cantos of Mvtabilitie: which, both for forme and matter, appeare to be parcell of some following booke of The Faerie Qveene under The Legend of Constancie. Neuer before imprinted.
- Canto VI: Proud Change (not pleasd, in mortall things,/ beneath the Moone, to raigne)/ Pretends, as well of Gods, as Men,/ to be the Soueraine.
- Canto VII: Pealing, from Ioue, to Natur's Bar,/ bold Alteration pleades/ Large Euidence: but Nature soone/ her righteous Doome areads.
- The VIII Canto, vnperfite.
References in popular culture
- In the novel The Incomplete Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, the protagonist finds himself in "Faerieland" and befriends Britomart and Belphoebe.
- David Lodge's novel Small World refers to The Faerie Queene in its text (most of the characters are scholars of English literature) and the character Persse McGarrigle undergoes adventures paralleling those of the Red Cross Knight in Book I.
In 1998, an audio cassette was made of the play. John Maffatt was the reader.
- ^ Sources used include The Faerie Queene summary and media adaptations of the story.
- Allegory in Renaissance literature
- Epic poetry
- Online edition of The Faerie Queene
- Mary Macleod's 1916 retelling in prose
- Project Gutenberg edition of Books I-III incorporating modern rendition and glossary