Different Interpretations of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

February 19, 2021 by Essay Writer


This assignment will discuss the variation of the magnitude of the public issues that may be interpreted as psychological issues that are related to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene using the passage from Book II, canto xii. This will relate to some of the separate Books virtues and will include discussion of the critical resources Harold Skulsky, “Spenser’s Despair Episode and the Theology of Doubt.” and Frederic Ives Carpenter, “Spenser’s Cave of Despair.” The deeper meanings and and virtues within the six books of The Faerie Queene, however, are a matter of interpretation and therefore tend to lead to differing results from any given critic.

A Hidden Meaning and 6 Virtues

It is important to state that Spenser has written The Faerie Queene an allegory, which is a story or poem that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, this typically being a moral or political one, public issues often arise from a political background. Psychological issues or patterns that can occur in an individual and can be associated with a present or past distress or disability or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death and or pain. This then can exasperate emotional issues that can cause the person significant psychological distress. There are the six published allegories which concern private issues: holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice and courtesy, these private virtues can often morph into public issues and then as Danson Brown suggests oscillating between public issues and what might be characterised as more inward, psychological problems’ (Danson Brown, 2015, p. 250). Within these six books Of The Faerie Queene, Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy, each stanza has a complete idea or description and these then become linked by their common subject or virtue to form a longer story these, In turn, then form the cantos and link the books. Danson Brown explains a canto “functions in much the same way as chapters in a novel”. (Danson Brown, 2015, p. 340) Danson Brown informs “The Faerie Queene is very much a public poem” (Danson Brown, 2015, p. 251) and continues to state, “The Faerie Queene is symbolic, rather than realistic” (Danson Brown, 2015, p.254) which is shown through the virtues perceived in the Books.

The Virtue of Holiness

Book 1 represents the very public and personal virtue of holiness In summary of canto ix Arthur, travelling with Redcrosse and Una tells them of his quest for the Faerie Queene. Two knights swear their allegiance to each other, Queene and Country. Redcrosse and Una come across a second knight who has just met with the creature Despair. Redcrosse announces his plan to battle Despair. He continues on to find his cave, corpse-littered, dank and gloomy, as such written, it appears to describe the state of one’s mind whilst in despair, Redcrosse discovers the creature which has just finished killing his latest victim. Despair deviously manipulates Redcrosse in believing that he should end his own life now rather than continuing to consume his life with sin. Una prevents Redcrosse from stabbing himself and must take him away to resume his strength and faith. Redcrosse Knight represents holiness and England, he will, in fact, be revealed to be the significant St George. This stanza begins to illustrate how one’s mind can be altered from a strong state such as Redcrosse’s upon entry to cave to one of confusion and psychological damage that the character is in upon exit. Showing the interpretation of inward psychological problems as Danson Brown suggests. There are numerous examples of both psychological and public virtues represented in the relevant stanzas, publically it is to read and construed for a Christian to be holy, he must have true faith. Spenser was of the view that, in the English Reformation, the people had defeated ‘false religion’ Catholicism, and embraced ‘true religion”, Protestantism/Anglicanism. King in the Cambridge companion informs that Spenser “was a member of the Anglo-Protestant minority in Catholic Ireland”. (king, 2017,Google Books p 208) However, psychologically the story’s setting, as a mythical, fairyland combining, myths and legends, only emphasizes how its allegory is meant for a land very close to home, England. The title character, the Faerie Queene herself, is intended to represent Queen Elizabeth. Una, who travels with Redcrosse, name means ‘truth.’ There is deceit is organized by Archimago, whose name means ‘arch-image’. This representing Spenser’s religious views as the Protestants accused the Catholics of idolatry due to their extensive use of images. The sorcerer is able, through deception and lust, to separate Redcrosse from Una–that is, to separate Holiness from Truth.

Different Political and Religious Allegories

Critics have seen in Spenser’s epic poem about a variety of types of allegory, including social, political, historical, religious, moral, philosophical, and psychological. However, there are some generally recognised interpretations. Both religious and political allegory are central to the long, complex plot structure and diverse characterization of The Faerie Queene. The Faerie Queene is defined as a political allegory concerning the domestic and international status of Elizabethan England. But as stated before that both public and psychological issues often embroil and indeed spark wars, stemming from both politics and religion. The Faerie Queene was recognised by both the Queen of England and prominent literary figures of the day as the greatest work of English verse to be written by a poet of Spenser’s generation. Over the centuries, since Spenser’s death, critical response to The Faerie Queene has varied. Certainly, Spenser has exerted tremendous influence over generations of poets and has rightly been called “a poet’s poet.” Edmund Spenser was first called the ‘Poet’s Poet’ by the English essayist Charles Lamb. Although the phrase does not appear in any of Lamb’s writings, Leigh Hunt attributes it to him in his critique of Spenser in Hunt’s book Imagination and Fancy (published in 1844), which is an anthology of English poetry with accompanying commentary Spenser was recognized as an important influence on major English poets of the seventeenth century, most notably John Milton. Spenser’s tremendous influence on writers of the eighteenth century is indicated by the countless imitations of The Faerie Queene to be produced by a broad range of poets throughout that century. In the nineteenth century, critics generally dismissed The Faerie Queene. There has been more recent criticism of The Faerie Queene. In the twentieth-century academics of the New Criticism devoted much critical attention to Spenser’s The Faerie Queene., the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the New Criticism as a “focused attention on the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning. It was opposed to the critical practice of bringing historical or biographical data to bear on the interpretation of a work.” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017) Danson Brown informs of leading Spenserian Harry Berger Jr, remarked: “The poem never let me go because it has never let me in, has kept me digging outside its crooked walls for five decades in a responsive delirium of interpretation.” (Berger, 2003, p.19) (Danson Brown, 2015, p 278) Considering some of the critical responses, In stanza 35 the description of Despair with his ‘sullien mind’ his ‘griese lockes, long growen and unbound.’ Describes not only an image of desperation but also the strewn, dishevelled state of mind, when one is in Despair. (Spenser,stanza 35) Skulsky writes of Book 1 about the way Spenser uses effective and persuasive writing as a metaphorical battle with his theological speech and Despair. He continues to state “Merely as a piece of Spenserian narrative technique, the Despair episode in the book of Holiness is a considerable achievement” (Skulsky, 1981, p.227) Carpenter also talks of Despair in his journal and suggests that Spenser was “an idealist, or more properly an idealizer, and a dreamer” he continues “Despair is the forerunner of self-destruction” (Carpenter, 1897, p.129) suggesting that it is a sin to contemplate such thoughts as suicide and this is what sparks Spensers agon with his theological repertoire. Carpenter states “Despair, the advocatus diaboli, the personification of the morbid Puritanical conscience” Discussing a conscience begins to probe a personal psychological virtue and to describe this as puritanical is tantamount to suggest that Spenser is again talking of sin, displaying a very strict or censorious principled attitude towards self-indulgence or sex. Sin is only what one person conceives as so this is once again a personal virtue. This begins to delve into the crossing of public and psychological virtues and issues which Danson Brown suggested, suggesting more inward problems. There is no matter of doubt that Spencer’s poem. The Faerie Queene is filled with allegorical significance, and Spenser’s writing prowess, Spenser stands among the great writers of the Elizabethan period and partly began to fashion a new tradition in English Literature, the rich and vigorous imagery and careful treatment of metrical structure left an outstanding impact and influence on succeeding poets. The Spenserian stanza, Britannica explains was “a fixed verse of nine lines with a number of specific restrictions, the stanza being compiled of the rhyme scheme ababbcbbc, the first eight lines of each stanza are in iambic pentameter, the ninth and last line of the stanza is an alexandrine, which is a line of twelve syllables with an audible pause between the sixth and seventh syllables.” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017)


In conclusion, as in the introduction the allegorical meanings and the virtues represented within the six books of The Faerie Queene, however, are in part a matter of interpretation and according to one’s own views and morals can either keep public and psychological issues, separate or amalgamate and as Danson Brown suggests oscillate, this depends on individuals religious and political background, where such social, moral and emotional can differ and therefore tend to lead to differing results from any given critic.

Read more