The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Book 1, Cantos 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Book 1, Canto 7

Duessa finds the Redcrosse Knight resting without his armor. She tempts him, and the two enjoy themselves. The Redcrosse Knight drinks unknowingly from a magical spring that weakens his body. In his compromised state, he can't defend himself from the approaching giant Orgoglio. Duessa convinces Orgoglio to capture and enslave the knight instead of killing him. Orgoglio agrees. The giant takes Duessa as his lover and gives her a monstrous beast.

The dwarf, who is still traveling with the Redcrosse Knight, finds Una and Satyrane and tells them the details of the knight's misfortune. Una resolves to find her knight alive or dead. She meets Arthur, the renowned prince who travels with a magic shield. Hoping for Arthur's help, Una tells Arthur about Redcrosse's quest to defeat the dragon. Arthur agrees to offer his aid.

Book 1, Canto 8

The poet laments the many misfortunes a righteous man must face. He returns to the story as Una, Arthur, Arthur's squire, and the dwarf approach Orgoglio's castle. They encounter the giant, Duessa, and the beast. Orgoglio and Arthur battle. The blinding light from Arthur's shield defeats the giant, who falls to the ground dead.

Arthur enters the castle to find the captive knight. He meets an old man named Ignaro, or Ignorance, who knows nothing about the knight's fate. Further inside the castle, Arthur finds the blood of innocent children and an altar where martyrs are sacrificed. Finally, he finds and rescues the Redcrosse Knight, who is trapped in a dungeon. Una and the Redcrosse Knight reunite.

Una urges the Redcrosse Knight not to kill the weak Duessa. Instead, the knight and Arthur disrobe her, revealing her true form as a filthy, bald woman. Duessa flees in shame.

Book 1, Canto 9

Arthur and his squire join Una, the Redcrosse Knight, and the dwarf. Una asks Arthur who he is and where he's from. Arthur doesn't know his ancestry. He was taken by his parents and raised by the faery knight Timon. The magician Merlin told Arthur he was "sonne and heire unto a king." Arthur then tells the sad story of his quest in Faery land. He fell in love with the Faerie Queene and has been seeking her for nine months. The Redcrosse Knight and Arthur exchange gifts before departing on their separate quests.

The Redcrosse Knight and Una meet Treusian, a knight with his hair in disarray and a rope around his neck. Treusian is fleeing the hellish man Despair. Despair trapped Treusian and his companion Terwin and nearly persuaded them to kill themselves, giving Treusian a rope and Terwin a knife. The Redcrosse Knight vows to defeat Despair. Treusian agrees to lead him to Despair's cave but refuses to enter himself.

But once the Redcrosse Knight arrives, Despair begins convincing him life is short and pointless. The Redcrosse Knight believes the speech. He almost kills himself before Una stops him, reminding him there is a heavenly purpose to his life.

Analysis

The discarding of his armor signifies the Redcrosse Knight is open to temptation and corruption. He drinks from a spring cursed because of a slow nymph who sat down to rest. Redcrosse suffers from spiritual laziness, however, not the physical kind. Spenser demonstrates holiness requires constant diligence. This is a biblical concept; the biblical letter to the Hebrews compares the Christian's journey to running a race.

Off his guard, however, the knight is vulnerable to Orgoglio. Spenser often uses giants to represent excessive versions of primal, uncivilized urges. Orgoglio, whose name in Latin means pride, born from the Earth and the god of the winds, represents the lawlessness Spenser imagines in a pre-Christian world. His height signifies his arrogance.

Orgoglio's castle shows the evil of those who actively attack the church. But, the proud giant can't work alone. Ignaro, the keeper of the castle, is so ignorant he can't see anything in front of him. To Spenser, he represents those who ignore religious abuses or stray from the true faith because they don't know any better. The prisoners beneath Orgoglio's altar signify those lured into Catholicism by the wavering loyalties of the English church. The dead martyrs may indicate the casualties in the ongoing conflict between England and Spain. Religious wars in 16th-century Europe were bloody, and they weren't the first of their kind. Dead children surround Orgoglio's castle, reflecting the biblical King Herod's (1st century BCE) massacre of baby boys when he believed the infant Jesus was a threat to his rule.

Duessa uses Orgoglio to gain power. As in Canto 2, she is associated with the Whore of Babylon described in the biblical book of Revelation. Her beast and golden cup are details Spenser borrows directly from the Bible. To Protestants of his time who associated the pope with the coming Antichrist, this symbolism would have quickly marked Duessa as evil.

In the face of so much opposition, the Redcrosse Knight needs a champion. He finds one in the form of Arthur, the mythological knight Spenser uses to represent magnificence or the perfection of the virtues. Accordingly, Arthur shows up to help whenever the main knight in the book has reached his or her limit. As the Faerie Queene's representative, Arthur can encourage the Redcrosse Knight and remind him why he was selected for the larger task.

Arthur is on a quest of his own. His Canto 9 story of loving the Faerie Queene expresses both the power and the danger of love. Since Arthur is noble, however, love motivates him to noble acts. And though the Faerie Queene arouses Arthur, she never loses her chastity, remaining a paragon of virtue. Spenser weaves in Arthur's mythological origin story from older sources to give authenticity to the character. Arthur exists outside The Faerie Queene in the larger realm of myth. Spenser adds the detail of Cleopolis, the imaginary capital of Faery land and the home of Gloriana, as a version of London, England's capital city.

The gifts Arthur and the Redcrosse Knight exchange with one another show their mutual loyalty. Arthur's healing liquid represents grace. The Redcrosse Knight's gift of a Bible shows his ongoing devotion to the faith and indicates how Spenser joins Christianity to British myth.

But, the Redcrosse Knight still isn't empowered to fight the dragon. His battle with Despair poses a crucial step in his journey. Despair is a sin in Christian belief. It can even be seen as an extreme form of pride. Under Despair's spell, the Redcrosse Knight believes his sin is so great God can't forgive him. He denies God's power of mercy. Only the truth of his faith, represented by Una, can pull him back to his quest. Una reminds the Redcrosse Knight he has an important role to play in divine justice.

Despair eloquently presents death as an easy exit from human suffering. His argument seems to make sense. The longer the Redcrosse Knight lives, the more time he has to sin. And as a sinner, he deserves to die. Despair's speech reflects doubts Spenser feels many Christians have about their own worth. But Spenser believes these doubts are toxic to true faith.

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