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Arthur - The central hero of the poem, although he does not play the most significant role in its action. Arthur is in search of the Faerie Queene, whom he saw in a vision. The "real" Arthur was a king of the Britons in the 5th or 6th century A.D., but the little historical information we have about him is overwhelmed by his legend. Faerie Queene (also known as Gloriana) - Though she never appears in the poem, the Faerie Queene is the focus of the poem; her castle is the ultimate goal or destination of many of the poems characters. She represents Queen Elizabeth, among others, as discussed in the Commentary. Redcrosse - The Redcrosse Knight is the hero of Book I; he stands for the virtue of Holiness. His real name is discovered to be George, and he ends up becoming St. George, the patron saint of England. On another level, though, he is the individual Christian fighting against evil--or the Protestant fighting the Catholic Church. Una - Redcrosse's future wife, and the other major protagonist in Book I. She is meek, humble, and beautiful, but strong when it is necessary; she represents Truth, which Redcrosse must find in order to be a true Christian. Duessa - The opposite of Una, she represents falsehood and nearly succeeds in getting Redcrosse to leave Una for good. She appears beautiful, but it is only skin-deep. Archimago - Next to Duessa, a major antagonist in Book I. Archimago is a sorcerer capable of changing his own appearance or that of others; in the end, his magic is proven weak and ineffective. Britomart - The hero of Book III, the female warrior virgin, who represents Chastity. She is a skilled fighter and strong of heart, with an amazing capacity for calm thought in troublesome circumstances. Of course, she is chaste, but she also desires true Christian love. She searches for her future husband, Arthegall, whom she saw in a vision through a magic mirror. Florimell - Another significant female character in Book III, Florimell represents Beauty. She is also chaste but constantly hounded by men who go mad with lust for her. She does love one knight, who seems to be the only character that does not love her. Satyrane - Satyrane is the son of a human and a satyr (a half-human, half-goat creature). He is "nature's knight," the best a man can be through his own natural abilities without the enlightenment of Christianity and God's grace. He is significant in both Book I and Book III, generally as an aide to the protagonists.


Originally intended to be a total length of twenty-four books, The Faerie Queene is incomplete. Notwithstanding its grave incompletion, however, it is still one of the longest poems in the English language. In its day, The Faerie Queene found political favor and was quite successful; it became Spensers defining work (and still is), and it found such favor that Spenser was granted a pension for life by the monarch of 50 pounds per year. The poem is a moral allegory, written in praise of Elizabeth I, intending, through each book, to emphasize twenty-four different virtues. The first twelve would follow different knights who epitomized one of the twelve different private virtues. We speculate that the last twelve would have centered on King Arthur epitomizing the twelve public virtues. Spenser gives Aristotle as his source for these virtues, although the influence of other philosophers, namely Thomas Aquinas, is ostensible. By the time Spenser died, with the first three books published in 1590 and the next three in 1596, he only managed to cover six of the virtues: Holiness, Temperament, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. The incomplete seventh book appears to represent the virtue of Consistency. Of the six books completed, the first and third are most often read. Beyond the virtues the themes explored include politics and, perhaps most importantly, religion. In post Lutheran Protestant reformation, there was vehement protest between the still many Roman Catholics and Protestants occupying England. As an extremely devout Protestant, Spenser was especially annoyed by slanderous material against the Queen; moreover, Spenser saw the Roman Catholic Church full of idolatry and corruption. Thus, while his Protestant sensibilities and sentiments towards the Roman Catholic

Church color the entire work, they are principally displayed in the battles of The Faerie Queene, which often symbolize battles between Rome and London. What is most characteristic of Spenser in The Faerie Queene is his serious view of the capacity of the romance form to act as a paradigm of human experience: the moral life as quest, pilgrimage, aspiration; as eternal war with an enemy, still to be known; as encounter, crisis, the moment of illumination--in short, as ethics, with the added dimensions of mystery, terror, love, and victory and with all the generous virtues exalted. Modern readers' impatience with the obscure allusions in the poem, with its political and ecclesiastical topicalities, is a failure to share the great conflict of Spenser's time between Protestant England and Roman Catholic Spain--to Spenser, the war between good and evil was here and now. In The Faerie Queene Spenser proves himself a master: picture, music, metre, story--all elements are at one with the deeper significance of his poem, providing a moral heraldry of colours, emblems, legends, folklore, and mythical allusion, all prompting deep, instinctive responses.
Spensers attempts to gain the

favor of the Queen, the most noteworthy being his dedications to her in The Faerie Queen, gained him a reputation of a sycophant; Karl Marx famously dismissed him as Elizabeths arse-kissing poet.