Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

1590 & 1596

Spenser, The Faerie Queene


  • Intro

    ‘I have already undertaken a work … under the title of a Faerie Queene, to represent all the moral vertues, assigning to every virtue, a Knight to be the patron and defender of the same.’


    Edmund Spenser’s description of his epic poem The Faerie Queene is perhaps the best summary of a text that is long, complex and notoriously difficult to pin down. The Faerie Queene is an allegory of how to attain Christian virtue, an imaginative reworking of aspects of British history, folklore and mythology, and a poem in praise of Elizabeth I. It is told in six books, each of which focuses on a different virtue. These virtues are defended by different knights, and are threatened by various forces, but ultimately upheld.


    The Faerie Queene is perhaps most memorable for its vivid descriptions of individual characters, such as the ‘foul and hideous’ witch Duessa, the Redcross Knight, who represents Holiness, and the Dragon who symbolises evil, ‘swolne with wrath, and poison, and with bloudy gore’. Spenser’s admiration for Elizabeth I is shown through characters such as Britomart, who represents Chastity, and Gloriana, while his attacks on the Catholic church – and his references to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots – give the poem a clear political dimension.

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