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Contents:
  1. Onward Christian Soldier: A Lesson on Fighting Sin from ‘The Faerie Queene’ – MATHEW GILBERT
  2. The Faerie Queene
  3. SparkNotes users wanted!

Spenser only completed half of The Faerie Queene he planned. In a letter to Sir John Walter Raleigh, he explained the purpose and structure of the poem. It is an allegory, a story whose characters and events nearly all have a specific symbolic meaning. The poem's setting is a mythical "Faerie land," ruled by the Faerie Queene.

The Faerie Queene: Allegories Explained

Spenser sets forth in the letter that this "Queene" represents his own monarch, Queen Elizabeth. Spenser intended to write 12 books of the Faerie Queene, all in the classical epic style; Spenser notes that his structure follows those of Homer and Virgil. Each Book concerns the story of a knight, representing a particular Christian virtue, as he or she would convey at the court of the Faerie Queene.

Because only half of the poem was ever finished, the unifying scene at the Queene's court never occurs; instead, we are left with six books telling an incomplete story. Of these, the first and the third books are most often read and critically acclaimed. RSS Feed. Pedagogy About Me Courses. Illustration by Henry Ford. It's like an addiction: once you're an addict, you're always an addict for this challenging but beautiful poem.

I like to lead into the poem with this anecdote, to suggest to my students that this poem is challenging and that they might not like it at the beginning because of the difficulty of its language, but that this might be the start of a lifetime of enjoyment and pleasure for them if they are willing to give it a chance. Basically, to continue the drug analogy: I push Spenser on them by making them take that first hit.

I am a terrible influence. But where to start? In teaching Book I, I like to start very slowly at first, spending an entire day on just the first three stanzas of Canto I.

Onward Christian Soldier: A Lesson on Fighting Sin from ‘The Faerie Queene’ – MATHEW GILBERT

For stanza 1: This stanza presents Redcrosse as a chivalric knight. He is setting out on an adventure. In Spenser's description of the knight "pricking" on the plain, we can see a phallic pun and we know that Redcrosse is out to prove his manliness. I ask my students, what kind of person is Redcrosse? If this were a movie and you were a casting director, what actor would you cast as Redcrosse? They almost always start out with someone uber macho, like Russell Crowe, so I direct them to take another look at that amazing fifth line, where the stanza starts to nuance and pull back from what it's already stated.

What does the fifth line mean? What does it mean that his horse is foaming at the bit? They then recast Redcrosse as Zac Efron, and my heart sings for joy that they have such amazing senses of humor. Scudamour and Glauce enter Care's cottage to find Care, whose wretched physical appearance makes him Despair's alter ego, ceaselessly pounding upon an anvil among cinders. In their hellish environment, Care and his six servants, neither day nor night from working spared, But to small purpose yron wedges made; Those be vnquiet thoughts, that carefull minds inuade.

By implication, the product becomes not the literary equivalent of gold money or a brazen wall, but near-worthless yron wedges"--the result of unquiet thoughts afflicting a careridden mind. As the s dragged on and no substantial Elizabethan preferment came to Spenser and, as the completion of his grand poem must have seemed more distant than ever before, Spenser's mind apparently became more care-ridden. In the first flush of enthusiasm over his project, Spenser had imagined that the long labor of writing would bring him endless praise.

By the time of books 6 and 7, however, he became convinced that the praise would be finite, quelled by verbal detraction and slander.


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Sir Calidore heroically pursues the Blatant Beast Detraction or Slander , and, in a combat laden with allusion to Herculean labors, the knight succeeds in clamping an iron muzzle on his snout 6. But this labor is lost when the Beast breaks his iron chain and gets into the world again, causing more harm than he ever did previously 6. Spenser sadly concludes book 6 by conceding Ne may this homely verse, of many meanest, Hope to escape his venemous despite, More then my former writs, all were they clearest From blamefull blot, and free from all that wite, With which some wicked tongues did it backebite, And bring into a mighty Peres displeasure, That neuer so deserued to endite.

Therfore do you my rimes keep better measure, And seeke to please, that now is counted wisemens threasure. In the last two verses of the above-cited stanza, Spenser sardonically cautions his verses to keep better measure in order, sycophant-like, to please mighty lords, presumably by flattery--now the "wise man's" treasure.

Yet June rides upon a Crab, so that he backward yode, as Bargemen wont to fare Bending their force contrary to their face, Like that vngracious crew which faines demurest grace. The "plough-yrons" make this bargeman a ploughman, thus evoking the fleeting recollection of the georgic author. Spenser had said that as a poet in the future, sycophant-like, he would "seeke to please" and thus by his behavior sardonically show the "wise man's treasure" if not his riches.

In the Georgics, Virgil's farmer often sees his work undone: sic omnia fatis in peius ruere ac retro sublapsa referri, non aliter quam qui aduerso uix flumine lembum remigiis subigit, si bracchia forte remisit, atque illum in praeceps prono rapit alueus amni. As with a man who scarce propels his boat Against the stream: if once his arms relax, The current sweeps it headlong down the rapids.

As early as book 2, Spenser complained that his projected account of Queen Elizabeth's lineage amounted to a "labour huge, exceeding farre my might" 2. Rather than bring his tremendous labor to a perfect end, canto 8 of book 7, consisting of only two stanzas, is titled "vnperfite. Still, Spenser's belief that a great reward requires virtually endless labor violates a major teaching of the New Testament.

In the parable of the laborers and the hours, the kingdom of heaven is "like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard" Matt This householder hires workers in the morning and at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour of the day, sending them into his vineyard and at the end of the day offering each of them a single penny as wages.

When the laborer first hired complains about this seeming inequity, the householder concludes, "'Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee So the last shall be first, and the first last. In the spirit of Protestantism, emphasis falls upon the single task performed faithfully. Endless labor earns no more than eleventh-hour work or this single task.

In God's scheme, the wages, so important to the worker, are inconsequential; they are all the same, as evidenced by the one penny paid to each laborer. Theologians often interpret this coin symbolically as the passport to salvation. Spenser's endless work was meant to earn endless earthly praise and the material riches of court preferment. Spenser, in a different, secular fashion, seems to have believed that the "endless" labor of forging successive verses into a mammoth poem could do the same.

According to William Sessions, the "intention and unspoken premise behind Spenser's letter to Raleigh" is the work ethic of [Virgil's] Georgics filtered through the later Aeneid--"Spenser has learned the full lesson from Virgil's Anchises: redemption is possible in time. Sidney's Aeneas, Spenser's hero knows that his labor, in the underworld of the narrative, has the confident goal of redemptive achievement within time's own political and social structures. Sessions never does acknowledge certain deep contradictions within Spenser's long labor and its goal or the pessimism and sense of emptiness associated with them in later parts of The Faerie Queene: "Although Spenser has his own variations on the mode of Vergilian trial, his basic paradigm is the same: difficult labors on a dark path through time As found in the poem, this trial involves the reader in the laborious exercise of unde rstanding the plural structure with its double-edged allegory; then, as a consequence of such invigorating structure, the reader gains the larger lesson of endurance and triumph in time.

Not Spenser's fictive knights, not the historical author--but rather the persevering reader of this ambitious Renaissance epic comes to understand "the larger lesson of endurance and triumph in time," mainly because he or she generally lives far beyond the reading experience of the poem with many opportunities for it to enrich his or her life in manifold ways.

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The Faerie Queene

Spenser's reward for his work finally resides in the deep, intangible appreciation of generations of readers of The Faerie Queene. Maurice Hunt teaches at Baylor University. Press, , pp. Low, pp.


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Also see William A. Twenty-five associate the word with 'long,' the greatest single association by far" Sessions, p. See D. Press, McRae, p. Yeats concludes that Spenser "is a poet of the delighted senses, and his song becomes most beautiful when he writes of those islands of Phaedria and Acrasia" p. See Hunt.

SparkNotes users wanted!

George and Katherine George. Yeats, p. Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. Hamilton London and New York: Longman, , 2. Hereafter, all references to the FQ are to this edition, cited parenthetically by book, canto, stanza, and, when appropriate, line numbers. Ben Jonson, The Complete Poems, ed. George Parfitt New York: Penguin, , p. The remark appears in his Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden David T. Read, in "Hunger of Gold: Guyon, Mammon's Cave, and the New World Treasure," ELR 20, 2 Spring : , construes the hellish work of Mammon's underground as Spenser's negative allegory of the brutal Spanish mining of precious ore and processing of bullion into inflationary gold and silver coins.

Harry Berger Jr. William A.