The Faerie Queene

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Una and the Lion by Briton Rivière

The Faerie Queene is a poem by Edmund Spenser, first published in 1590 (the first half) with the more or less complete version being published in 1596.

The poem found political favour with Elizabeth I and was consequently very successful, to the extent of far overshadowing Spenser's other poetry. A measure of the favour which the poem found with the monarch is that Spenser was granted a pension for life on account of it.

The poem celebrates the Tudor dynasty (of which Elizabeth was a part), and links the dynasty with the Arthurian tradition. The poem is deeply allegorical and allusive: many prominent Elizabethans may readily be discerned skulking amongst the dramatis personae. Its incidents involving knightly combats against giants and sorcerors resemble the epic poetry by Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso, and their followers on themes drawn from the metrical romances from the Matter of France, but the plot of The Faerie Queene is Spenser's own. Important allegorical figures include Una, who symbolizes the true Protestant religion; the evil Duessa, who represents Roman Catholicism; Britomart and Belphoebe, warrior maidens who symbolize English virtue, and Gloriana the Faerie Queene, a nickname often found to refer to Queen Elizabeth I. The Redcrosse Knight introduced in the first canto of the poem bears the emblem of Saint George, patron saint of England; a red cross still features in the Union Jack as a symbol of England.

Many modern readers find this poem (as much of Spenser's poetry) both difficult to read and even more difficult to comprehend. Its sources are both rich and complex, its language both archaic and arcane. Moreover, the structure of the story is not conventionally episodic narrative, but involves fluid and unpredictable transitions in events both forwards and backwards in time. Nevertheless it is a beautifully crafted epic which richly rewards those patient enough to take it on. Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae discusses The Faerie Queene at length, and has stimulated more recent interest in the poem.

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