Thursday, 31 January 2013

Faerie Queene, Book I: Redcrosse and Una

I had never crossed my mind that reading Faerie Queene would be such a journey. I even had no idea that it would be so long. Not only the length of it, the language of the book is very strange to me, especially the spelling. I by no means dislike the book, though. It's a beautiful and interesting book, written in the form of stanzas and I sense the eagerness of the author to imitate the fine example of Homer and Virgil of old. So, what's the first book all about?

It tells a story of Knight Redcrosse, a knight of Queen Gloriana of Fairy Land, who goes in a journey to defeat a dragon and take back a kingdom from it. In his journey he is accompanied by a beautiful and virtuous lady, Una, the princess of the kingdom mentioned above. On his way, however, both of them have to face different challenges before they at last find the dragon and kill it. In fact, killing the dragon is a matter of one “canto”, while the difficulties of the journey occupy the ten cantos before.

The difficulties mentioned include the three brothers Sansfoy, Sansloy and Sansjoy, the wicked sorcerer Archimago and also the witch Duessa. Another problem they have to face is guilt, mainly in Redcrosse's self, for going with Duessa to the House of Pride and being misled by her before, and for other sins he has committed. This feeling becomes manifest when Redcrosse meets Despair, who reasons that it's better to die now than adding more sin while one is living. Redcrosse falls into despair and even persuaded to kill himself.

Una, knowing what happens, takes the knight to the House of Holiness, where the knight is given a chance to repent and where his sins are washed away. In the House of Holiness dwell Fidelia, Charissa, Speranza, and many others who symbolise the powers that can “heal” people from despair.

And yet through the journey, Redcrosse and Una find friends of many kinds, who help them to complete their journey. For example, when Una is left alone by Redcrosse, she meets a lion who then protects her along her journey, although sadly the lion is later killed trying to protect Una. They also meet King Arthur, who helps Una to free her knight from the Duessa. The people from House of Holiness also prove to be their friends. With such helps along the journey, Redcrosse and Una can at last find the dragon and defeat him. 

Una and the Lion

Among other things, I find the symbolization in Faerie Queene most interesting. The poem was made for the same purpose as when Virgil created Aeneid. Spencer wanted to “deify” Queen Elizabeth, portrayed there as the great Fairy Queen. But apart from that, he had another thing in mind. It's actually about Protestantism in England versus Catholicism. Therefore we see the Knight of Redcrosse, symbolising Holiness, and Una, symbolising Truth, has to deal with Archimago (symbolising the use of images), for example. Thus we also have the three brothers Sansfoy (faithlessness), Sansloy (disloyalty), and Sansjoy (joylessness) as enemies of Holiness and Truth. We also have the personification of Despair, that leads people, even Holy ones, to Death.

Despite my own opinion about all these, I find the way Spencer tries to insert these elements into the story as quite interesting. One complain though: the language. This book is certainly not one for light reading. Anyway, I can't wait to read more of Faerie Queene


  1. Spenser sounds like the father of many fantasy plots! It's a pity he's neglected nowadays, in the early 19th century he was considered one of the major poets among Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer etc. But his language is very archaic and hard to understand. I tried to read the Faerie Queene and gave up. Look forward to reading your thoughts on Britomarte.

    1. That's right. The language is the greatest barrier. It needs time even to understand the word, not mentioning the symbolism in the story.

      I will try to write down my progress every time I finish one book. Thanks.

  2. I read Book One to my kids, and we had to use outside sources to get through it. Nonetheless, I still love the story, and I hope someday to read it again for myself.

    1. Me too. I use Sparknotes fot reference. Sadly though, although they have No Fear Shakespeare, they don't have the like for Faerie Queene. I'll try my best to read it nonetheless.. :D