The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser - more of the King Arthur legend

Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queene from "The Faerie Queene" illustrations.
Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queene from "The Faerie Queene" illustrations. | Source
Oil painting of Edmund Spenser.
Oil painting of Edmund Spenser. | Source

Edmund Spencer 1552-1599

More of the King Arthur legend can be found in Edmund Spencer's epic poem and masterpiece, The Faerie Queene. Spencer, one of England's greatest literary poets lived during the Elizabethan Era, the reign of Elizabeth I of England. He was so devoted to his queen that he wrote The Faerie Queene as a great allegory and epic poem to support his queen, Elizabeth I. Spenser spent most of his life writing this great masterpiece that was actually never completed at the time of his death.

Edmund Spenser was born in 1552 and studied at Cambridge University. The first major work he published was Shepheardes Calender in 1579. The next year he started composing one of the greatest poems in the English language and would continue writing it until his death in 1599. At the time of his death he had only completed one half of what he had planned to write.

During his life, Spenser was a devout Protestant and defender of Elizabeth I in her conflicts with the Catholic Church. Spenser saw the Catholic Church as evil and full of corruption and the wrong religion and anti-religion of England. The many battles in The Faerie Queene represent the battles between England and Rome.

Spenser also justifies the Tudor Dynasty and Elizabeth I as the rightful and just queen of England by basing the poem on the English Arthurian legend. He sought to connect Elizabeth to King Arthur to "prove" Elizabeth I and the Tudors were descended from King Arthur and her monarchy was true and just. He took his Arthurian legend from Geoffrey of Monmouth's account of Arthur in Prophetiae Merlini (Prophecies of Merlin) previously written in the 1100's. Arthur is the central hero of the poem who is in search of the Faerie Queene whom he saw in a vision. The Faerie Queene of course represents Elizabeth I.

Spenser had written 12 books of The Faerie Queene at the time of his death. Each book contains a knight representing a particular Christian virture as he/she would convey to the court of the Faerie Queene. The poem takes place in a mythical land and The Faerie Queene is intended to relate to Spenser's England which had replaced the Roman Catholic Church with Anglicanism as the national religion.

The poem is about the adventures of knights, dragons, damsels in distress etc. and an extended allegory about moral life and what makes for a life of virture.

Spenser used the Spenserian stanza in his poem which consisted of iambic pentameter as the main meter used (u`u`u`u`u`u) with a final line in iambic hexameter (` ` ` ` ` `) six stressed syllables in a row. (also called the Alexandrine). The rhyme scheme of each stanza is ababbcbcc.

Edmund Spenser also invented the Spenserian sonnet which was the melding together of the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets. The Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains and one couplet and in the Petrarchan sonnet the conclusion follows from the argument. His sonnets were written in this manner.

Una and the Lion (Book I) from "The Faerie Queene" illustrations.
Una and the Lion (Book I) from "The Faerie Queene" illustrations. | Source
Florimell's flight. (Book III)  from  "The Faerie Queene" illustrations.
Florimell's flight. (Book III) from "The Faerie Queene" illustrations. | Source

The Faerie Queene

As Edmund Spenser wrote his epic poem, he created one of the greatest allegories of the English language. Of the twelve books in the poem Spenser wrote, Books I and III are the most read, most popular and most critically acclaimed of them all. The poem follows the journeys of two knights and examines the two virtures Spenser considered most important for men to acquire a good and fulfilling Christian life - Holiness and Chastity. The characters of the "Faerie Land" Spenser created have symbolic meaning in the real world which at the time was the Elizabethan Era.

The characters in The Faerie Queene are as follows:

  • Arthur - the central hero of the poem and in search of the Faerie Queene whom he saw in a vision. (see painting above, under the title)
  • Faerie Queene (also called Gloriana) - the focus of the poem although we never really see her in the poem because the poem is uncompleted. This character of course represents Elizabeth I.
  • Redcrosse - the knight and hero of Book I. He represents the virtue of Holiness. His real name is George and he eventually becomes St. George (of the Dragon) and becomes the patron saint of England. He represents the individual man fighting against evil - or allegorically, the Protestants fighting the Catholic Church.
  • Una - Redcrosses' future wife. She represents Truth which Redcrosse must find to be a true Christian.
  • Duessa - She represents Falsehood. Her beauty is only skin-deep. She nearly steals Redcrosse away from Una.
  • Archimago - a sorcerer who can help change his own appearance or that of others. In the end his magic is proven week and ineffective when up against the virtues of Holiness and Truth.
  • Britomart - the heroine of Book III. A female warrior virgin who represents Chastity. She desires true Christian love and searches for her future husband. She is a skilled fighter, strong of heart, and calm in times of trouble.
  • Florimell - a female character in Book III. She represents Beauty. She is chaste but constantly is hounded by men who go mad with lust for her. She loves one knight who seems to be the only character who doesn't love her.
  • Satyrane - son of a human and a satyr (1/2 human and 1/2 god creature). "Nature's Knight" and he represents the best man can be without benefit of Christianity.

Many more characters appear in The Faerie Queene but these are the most important protagonists and antagonists in the epic poem's story. Since Spenser never completed the poem before his death, we never see a resolution to the conflicts between the protagonists and antagonists in this Arthurian legend. Even the Faerie Queen herself never has her unifiying court scene at the end. The public and the court understood the political and religious statements Spenser was making through his allegorical epic poem, and especially, Queen Elizabeth I, for whom the entire poem was written to support.

Interestingly, Spenser wrote his poem in Old English which is roughly the type of English Chaucer wrote in when he wrote the Canterbury Tales. Although Spenser was living during the time where Middle English was being used He felt the Old English form was more condusive to connecting King Arthur to Elizabeth I and the Tudor Dynasty. Again, it is probably easier for the modern reader of today to read an English translation of the original poem than the difficult Old English in which Spenser wrote his poem.


Source:

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. The Norton Collection of English Literature, Vol. I.

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Comments 27 comments

Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

I am incredibly fascinated by this Hub. You are so educated in this area Suzette. I knew very little of this and love that era so much. Thank you! This shall be read again by me over and over.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hyphen: Thank you for your comments. I was an English literature major in college, as well as a Spanish major, and I love all the English literature. I've been re-reading some of these literary pieces that I haven't read or studied in 35 years. It has been a fascinating journey for me, too. I'm glad you are enjoying these. I enjoy your Bible women series so much and find your knowledge of that remarkable.


alliemacb profile image

alliemacb 4 years ago from Scotland

This is a great hub. I lecture in medieval literature and it's great to read a hub by someone who's clearly enthusiatic about Spenser and able to make the subject lively and readable. Voted up.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

alliemacb: Well, thank you very much! That is so cool that you lecture in medieval literature. It is one of my favorite time periods and I also love the renaissance period also. I just had to revisit some of these great works -it has been too long since I read them and my interest and zeal in this area really has never waned. Thanks for stopping by and reading - I appreciate your input, especially being a lecturer in medieval lit.

Where do you lecture?


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

I contributed on the topic before but didn't see my post. Late 1590's the playwright did a satyre on what may have been the origins of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes for children. Being shrouded in mystery for as kids we didn't care where they came from but certainly delighted in rteciting them. One thing for sure is Mother Goose was garbed in a 16th century costume and much of the work was allegorical.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet: It must have been glitch on HP as I didn't delete your comment. I think what you are referring to is "Shepheardes Calendar." These were short little couplets - six lines at the most about people or places he wrote about. He wrote them to appear one on each month on Calendars and I think he did 12 or 13 years of them. Yes, most of Spencer's work was allegorical and very metrical. If it's not this I don't know what it could be as he did not write Mother Goose. Thanks so much for your insightful comments and I hope this jogs your memory.l


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Yes. That is what i thought. The reason i raised 'Mother Goose' is i looked for an appropriate hub and this seemed to be the best to start with. As kids we didn't get Doctor Seus stories but definately Mother Goose. Apparently there were more than one. Boston U.S.A. lays claim as does Devon England. But back to the Faerie Queene itself. More than a co incidence that our present Queen used a Royal barge named 'Gloriana' during Her Majesty's diamond jubilee year. Regarding the King Arthur connection, many English princes are given Arthur as a middle name but we haven't had a King Arthur recently.

Female warrior is embedded in our psyche recurringly because in Celtic tymes women fought along side men or urged them to fight harder.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Limpet, I think hub writer docmo has done Mother Goose, if I remember correctly. You can check him out. His hubs are really well written. I have never done a Mother Goose hub. I remember my dad reading Mother Goose rhymes to me and my sister when we were growing up. It was such a great to have dad read to me.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Limpet: I just checked my Norton's anthology. Spencer wrote Mother Hubbard as one of his entries for Shepardees Calendar and yes it was satirical. Sorry, I had forgotten all about Old Mother Hubbard and her empty cubbard. LOL ! Did she become part of Mother Goose Rhymes? She might have because I remember that rhyme. Most of Spencer's work was allegorical and satirical.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

merry we meet

well i have learned something here

i think what we had as infants was stories that had reached the high mark during the Victoriana era embellished with more modern authors (Enid Blyton/ Beatrix Potter). I studied English Lit about the Fae in Scottish ballards which pre date Spenser by a century or more. Before then we had the piskies (pixies) of Devon & Cornwall. Whenever the Cornish want to susceed from merrie olde England they might use the Piskie liberation army for assistance. In Breton folklore it is the Corrigans (les Corries) ruled by a Queene back in Druidic tymes.

bless


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

merry we meet

Having lived in a parish longer than i care to remember it was only recently that i passed the free lending library and for the first tyme noticed in niches life sized stautues of Bacon and Spenser garbed in the identical costuming of their day. Alas both were draped in netting to prevent the onslaught of the London pigeon flocks.

Bless


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet: How interesting! I would have loved to have taken a course on faeries and pixies etc. How fun. When I taught Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" I did a short lesson on faeries and beliefs back in Shakespeare's time. I find the whole faerie lore so interesting in England. Thanks so much for your input. I have had a cousin and his son here from Italy for the past week or so and have not been on HP. I appreciate your visit.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet: Oh my gosh! That is so interesting. Yes, I have read Bacon too, but so long ago, I barely remember! LOL! That is so cute that the librarians cover them with netting to keep the pigeon do-do off the statutes. I am sure Bacon and Spenser appreciate that! Stop in the library some day and borrow a book. LOL! Thanks so much for the local color. I must get back to England some day.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

I've recently been mulling over whether Spenser, Shakespeare and Rymmer may have derived their theme for Faerie Queene from a real life warrior chieftain named Cartamundia who lived about the time of Boudicca who rebelled against the Roman occupiers. The Romans referred to Cartamundia as Regina (meaning a Queen) but i think they may not have wanted to take her on in battle as Boudicca was already giving them enough grief.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet: There you are. I went to your profile and you have no hubs - why not? Thanks for stopping here. Well, your theory certainly has merit. I never heard of Cartamundia but these women warriors certainly gave the Romans a run for their money and land. LOL! Well, the critics (and who says they are right) all say the Faerie Queene is Queen Elizabeth I, but since the time of the poem is the early middle ages it could be as you say. Who knows? May be you could channel Spenser and see who he really meant.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

As tyme goes bye (my spelling) words change their meaning especially olde English. Now that we have reached the juxtaposition between the Faerie Queene and Elizabeth I some of my schooling is returning to mind. Goode Queene Bess or the Virgin Queen was a Tudor whose heritage was (supposedly) direct from Arthur of the previous millenia. An absolute monarch 'Lizzie' answered to no one. Merrie olde England was expanding globaly and court intrigue was the order of the day. There happened to be a cabal of men who revered Her Majesty as almost divine. Astrology was then still a science and mainstream faith questioned by rationalist. Because Arthurian tales are shrouded in mystery elven folk and the fae came into the equation.... more to follow!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet: So good to see you again! Yes, you have got it right about good Queen Bess, all right. She certainly had a cabal of men eating out of her hand. And good Queen Bess also had several of them beheaded. You had to be careful around this mighty queen. She suffered no fools! The monarchy certainly wanted to be connected to or claim heritage to the just King Arthur. Because he lived during the early middle ages, there is much mystery, with elven folk and fae involved in his story as you say. When I taught Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Eve" I spend time teaching about the faerie lore etc of England. The kids loved it, and we had so many 'inside' jokes about the faeries and such. You would make a great teacher teaching about your homeland and all the history and literature and faerie lore. I especially enjoyed early British literature when I studied at university. I had some fantastic professors in British lit who really brought it alive for us. So, it has always been a favorite period for me to write about. Well, I could go on and on and enough about me. Thanks for stopping by and adding such interesting comments and info - I do enjoy your visits.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

In Elizabethan tymes a court appointed official was the 'Master of the Revels' whose duties included selection of plays (known as masques) as well as scripting, costumes and even censorship. Here is where our word 'masquerade' derives from. Usually the part of leading Ladies were portrayed by male actors, around the corner from my lodgings is a building still standing and mounted on the wall a plaque reading Shakespeare performed in this playhouse as a young actor.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet: I have been on vacation for a bit and this is why it has taken me so long to get back to my comments. How interesting! i never knew where the word masquerade came from. I always thought it came from the French language. Shows you what I know! LOL! i did know that during Shakespeare's time only men were permitted to be actors and had to play the women's parts in disguise. That is why I loved the movie "Shakespeare in Love," so much. Gwyneth Paltrow also played the part of a young boy so she could act on the stage. How cool that Shakespeare performed around the corner from you during his lifetime. Small world!


limpet profile image

limpet 22 months ago from London England

No historical proof but worth pondering; Queen Elizabeth I (Gloriana) charged two courtiers Sir John Dee and Robert Dudley with a mission to the west of her kingdom in search of evidence for the Tudor connection to King Arthur. If this actually occurred it has remained secret, certainly many tales of the arcane could have been gleaned had that happened.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 22 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi again limpet: I know that this is all a fantasy story, but I know that the British monarchy has always tried to find the Tudor (and Windsor) connection to King Arthur. They tried to do this and Monmouth's history also tried to make the connection back in the medieval days. I hope that someday proof of life and existence of King Arthur is established. If not, it is the greatest myth ever told.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 months ago from London England

merrie we meet merrie we meet merrie we meet

many blessings to all kindred spirits.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

limpet, I have wondered what happened to you. Yes, merrie we meet and many blessings to you. How are you and what's up? I have recently relocated to Taos, New Mexico and now I am into learning southwest culture of the U.S. But, I have not forgotten England one of the first places I traveled to outside the U.S. I love English culture and especially the history and literature of your beautiful country. Hope all is well with you


limpet profile image

limpet 2 months ago from London England

Taos New Mexico ! The English author, poet, playwright D.H. Lawrence went there in self imposed exile to establish a utopian style commune there.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Limpet! You know your authors and literature! I have visited the DH Lawrence ranch nearby here. It is beautiful. I haven't heard of a commune associated with him. Dorothy Brett lived with Lawrence and his wife in the ranch because she typed his manuscripts for him. She lived in a small residence on the ranch . Lawrence built her a one room cabin. As for the commune part that could have happened but the Taosenos don't want that known. Who knows. Taos didn't always like those who came but I think Lawrence was well liked. There is also a stone memorial to him on the ranch also but no one knows where his ashes lie or were spread.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 months ago from London England

merrie we meet

Stonhenge (near to Salisbury in the county of Wiltshire) has been nominated by a corporate events organiser to be this site of an upcoming pop festival. Sadly it is not our type of festival, more so 'grunge' heavy metal etc. Still, we must allow all and sundry their fun.

Bess


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 months ago from Taos, NM Author

hi limpet, Stonhenge as a concert venue? It is hard for me to see that. In my opinion it should be left alone in its solitude and quietness. We don't know for sure, but it might be a burial place for our ancestors. (I am part English by the way). I understand progress and the need for bringing commerce to the area. I am not into grunge or heavy metal music. But, at least have some classical music played there. Then, of course it wouldn't draw as many people. I just hope they don't trash the place.

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