The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram



Before beginning the narrative of his poem, Spenser includes an introductory letter to his friend, the English writer Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1544–1618). The title of the letter explicitly states that Spenser has included the letter to help the reader better understand the poem. The letter then explains Spenser's goals in the poem: to provide instruction for the noble and virtuous life and to honor Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) in the character of the Faerie Queene. Each knight in the poem will model a certain virtue. Spenser discusses some of the ambitious storylines he hopes to include in the first three books.

Spenser's friends and fellow writers wrote several commendatory verses praising the poem, which are also included in the Introduction. And, Spenser wrote for the Introduction a group of dedicatory sonnets addressed to influential lords and earls in Queen Elizabeth's court.

Book 1

Book 1 chronicles the quest of the Redcrosse Knight, who represents the virtue of holiness. The Redcrosse Knight's goal is to defeat a dragon terrorizing the kingdom of his faithful lady Una. As the Redcrosse Knight travels he encounters many challenges to his faith, including the deceptive wizard Archimago and the enchantress Duessa. He also meets and befriends Arthur, a noble prince who seeks his love—the Faerie Queen Gloriana.

After repenting of his sin in the House of Holiness, the Redcrosse Knight learns it is his destiny to become the English Saint George. He kills the dragon and frees Una's kingdom.

Book 2

Book 2 follows Guyon, a knight who represents the virtue of temperance, or moderation. Guyon hopes to conquer Acrasia, an enchantress who lures men with the indulgent pleasures in her Bower of Bliss. Guyon and his assistant, the wise Palmer, teach lessons of temperance to people they meet on the way. Though Guyon is led by Mammon (a reference to the worship and love of money) into the underworld, he resists, finds his way back from hell, and survives.

Guyon and Arthur rest at the House of Temperance. There Arthur reads a chronicle of British history and Guyon learns more about the history of Faery land. Guyon destroys Acrasia's bower and frees her prisoners.

Book 3

Book 3 introduces Britomart, a female knight who represents the virtue of chastity or sexual abstinence and devotion to a lover. Britomart has fallen in love with the knight Artegall after seeing him in the wizard Merlin's magic mirror. Merlin tells Britomart that she and Artegall will found the city of London or Troynouant. They will also begin the Tudor royal dynasty leading to Queen Elizabeth I.

Along the way, Britomart rescues Amoret, a woman trapped by the evil wizard Busirane. She continues on her quest at the end of Book 3 since she hasn't met Artegall yet.

Book 4

Book 4 celebrates the virtue of friendship and its connection to love. The knights Cambell and Triamond, who represent true sacrificial friendship, compete in a tournament and show devotion to one another. Book 4 also continues many stories begun in Book 3, including Britomart and Amoret's search for their lovers.

Book 5

Book 5 follows Artegall who represents the virtue of justice. With his enforcer Talus, Artegall embarks on a mission to free the princess Irena and her kingdom from the giant Grantorto. Artegall rectifies many instances of injustice along the way. He is briefly enslaved to the Amazon queen Radigund until Britomart rescues him.

Artegall and Arthur travel to the palace of Mercilla, who represents mercy. There, he sees Duessa tried for her crimes and sentenced to death. While Artegall kills Grantorto and frees Irena, Arthur releases a woman named Belge and her kingdom from the tyranny of the monster Geryoneo.

Book 6

Book 6 follows Calidore, a knight who represents the virtue of courtesy. Calidore is on a mission to capture the Blatant Beast, a loud monster representing slander or false statement. On his quest, Calidore challenges several discourteous knights. He also meets the knight Calepine and his lady Serena, who is bitten by the Blatant Beast.

As Calidore travels, he stumbles upon a peaceful field of shepherds. Enchanted by their simple lifestyle, he stays for a while and woos the shepherdess Pastorella. But, a tragedy finally forces him back into action as a knight. He subdues the Blatant Beast. Later, however, the Beast escapes and roams the world.

Two Cantos of Mutability

These two Cantos tell the story of Mutability or Change and her attempt to rule the heavens. A proud goddess, Mutability feels her reign on Earth is not enough. She challenges Jove the king of the gods for celestial rule. She makes her case to Nature, describing the constant transformations of the natural world and the planets.

Nature, however, decides change itself is temporary since all things will eventually return to their original, perfect state. She refuses to let Mutability rule the heavens. In a final incomplete Canto, Spenser hopes to earn a place in the unchanging afterlife.

The Faerie Queene Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Arthur begins seeking the Faerie Queene.

Rising Action

2 The Redcrosse Knight and Una meet Arthur.

3 In the Castle of Temperance Arthur reads Britain's history.

4 Arthur defeats Malegar outside the Castle of Temperance.

5 Florimell flees and Arthur pursues her unsuccessfully.

6 Amoret is rescued by Arthur.

7 In his travels Arthur resolves a conflict between knights.

8 Mercilla tries and condemns Duessa as Arthur watches.


9 When Geryoneo threatens Belge's kingdom, Arthur defeats him.

Falling Action

10 Timias and Arthur reunite after a long separation.

11 The savage man and Arthur begin traveling together.


12 Arthur defeats the discourteous Turpine.

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