The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Quotes


But who can turne the streame of destinee, / Or breake the chayne of strong necessitee?

Night, Book 1, Canto 5

The Faerie Queene tackles such concepts as destiny and fate. These concepts were common in classical mythology as characters faced the futures ordained for them. In Spenser's Christian worldview, destiny becomes the heavenly design of God. Night, an ancient, powerful, and wicked goddess, has to face the fact even she can't change fate. The comparison of destiny to a stream suggests it will continue to flow in a predetermined direction.


Where justice growes, there grows eke greater grace.

Una, Book 1, Canto 9

Protestant Christianity emphasizes the importance of heavenly grace in overcoming earthly weakness. Here Una motivates the Redcrosse Knight after his losing battle with Despair. The knight is convinced his sin is too great to be forgiven. He believes he deserves eternal punishment. Una reminds him that while justice is still an important force in the world, grace and mercy are even more powerful. This idea is repeated in Book 5 when the virtue of justice must be tempered by mercy.


So darke are earthly things compard to things divine.

Narrator, Book 1, Canto 10

The Redcrosse Knight sees the city of Hierusalem or the New Jerusalem—another term for heaven. Afterward he's so dazzled by the light, he can't see anything. Spenser uses the visceral image of blinding light to illustrate an abstract concept. Light represents truth and revelation; darkness represents concealment and evil. This divine illumination is spiritual, not physical.

The character Contemplation is a man with poor eyesight, but his inner sight of holy, heavenly things is clear. The Redcrosse Knight's experience promises a new world in the afterlife where he won't struggle with sin any longer.


A harder lesson, to learne Continence / In joyous pleasure, than in grievous paine.

Narrator, Book 2, Canto 6

This quote reiterates an idea from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–22 BCE). It is harder to remain temperate when faced with pleasure than it is when challenged by pain. As Guyon struggles to overcome physical temptation, he doesn't have to push through much pain. Instead he is enticed by pleasure. In Canto 6, he fights to resist the allure of the idle Phaedria, who offers rest and possible romance.


Is there care in heaven? And is there love / In heavenly spirits to these creatures bace?

Narrator, Book 2, Canto 8

The poet is amazed that heavenly forces care about the "bace" or rude and inferior humans on Earth. The opening question "Is there care in heaven?" is rhetorical. The poet believes divine forces do intervene in human life out of concern and love. The quote expresses how honored humans should be to receive divine attention. They should work to achieve virtue out of gratitude.


The substance is not chaunged, nor altered, / But th'only forme and outward fashion.

Narrator, Book 3, Canto 6

This quote promises stability in the midst of temporary change. While describing the Garden of Adonis the poet observes that all plants and animals in the garden grow, transform, and die. But their eternal substance or essence remains constant. The Garden represents healthy sexual desire and generation of life, ensuring new plants and animals arise which share the substance of the old. This assurance will be echoed in Two Cantos of Mutability when Nature says all things will eventually return to their original, perfect state.


Be bold, be bold, and every where Be bold.

Narrator, Book 3, Canto 11

When Britomart enters the temple of Busirane to rescue Amoret she sees this challenge and warning. The mysterious statement reflects the risks Britomart and other characters take for love. When Britomart seeks Artegall in Faery land, she needs boldness and courage. Too much boldness leads to danger; Book 3 explores the many consequences of love gone wrong. But true virtuous love, the hardest kind of love to achieve, requires bravery. Amoret shows her own boldness by withstanding Busirane's torture.


Forged things do fairest shew.

Narrator, Book 4, Canto 5

This quote explains the appeal of the false Florimell. Book 5 will compare her to the creation of a goldsmith who uses fake metal and gives it gloss to hide its inferiority.

But the power of outward appearances means the artificial Florimell seems even more desirable than a real woman. As in Book 2's Bower of Bliss, the false human creation of art seems to outshine the divine creation of nature, though nature is actually superior. The sentiment also applies to the appeal of lust over true love and of excessive pleasure over temperance.


As the soule doth rule the earthly masse ... So love of soule doth love of bodie passe.

Narrator, Book 4, Canto 9

Spenser doesn't ignore the importance of "love of bodie" or physical attraction between a man and a woman. But the poem indicates attraction will fade without the genuine care and concern of friendship. Books 3 and 4 connect the virtues of friendship and chastity. Just as chastity requires devotion to a lover, friendship requires appreciation of virtues or "love of soule" in the other person. This quote also indicates Spenser's Christian belief that the eternal soul will outlast the impermanent body.


Ill can he rule the great, that cannot reach the small.

Artegall, Book 5, Canto 2

Artegall takes on a giant who believes his scales can administer justice to the world. The giant has lofty ambitions: he wants to level the mountains and topple tyrants. Instead, Artegall challenges him to weigh and measure a single word. The giant then attempts and fails to balance the concepts of right and wrong. The quote indicates any ruler who attempts to "rule the great" must begin with humility. He should trust divine power over forces larger than himself and know his place in the world.


Justice, though her dome she doe prolong, / Yet at the last she will her owne cause right.

Narrator, Book 5, Canto 11

When Spenser wrote Book 5, he felt that Europe was rife with injustice. Spenser's characters similarly endure miscarriages of justice. Artegall languishes as a slave to the Amazon queen Radigund, and the princess Irena is imprisoned by the giant Grantorto. Spenser reassures himself and his readers injustice is always temporary. He personifies justice as an outside force with her own long-term plan for victory.


Vertues seat is deepe within the mynd, / And not in outward shows, but inward thoughts defyned.

Narrator, Book 6, Proem and Canto 1

Spenser explores the nature of virtue in this quote, writing that true virtue is a state of mind, a condition of the soul, not just a series of actions. Courtesy, for instance, requires more than following a code of manners. It requires an innate nobility, possibly derived from noble birth.

More broadly the quote demonstrates how to tell good people from evil ones in a world of duplicity. Anyone can perform correct actions, but their motives may be selfish. The poem is full of enchanters and insincere, wicked people who pretend to be good for personal gain. The truly virtuous, however, are unable to disguise themselves as wicked. Characters like Timias and the savage man, for instance, fall into unfortunate circumstances. But those who meet them can see their true good natures anyway.


Who will not mercie unto others shew, / How can he mercy ever hope to have.

Calidore, Book 6, Proem and Canto 1

After fighting the rude knight Crudor, Calidore is about to kill him when Crudor begs for his life. Calidore's courtesy gives him modesty and humility. He knows he may be the one asking for mercy one day. The quote also recalls Spenser's Christian worldview. He believes all humans are sinners who need divine mercy to enter heaven.


It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill ... wretch or happie, rich or poore.

Melibee, Book 6, Canto 9

Melibee the shepherd left a rich courtly life for a simple life in the fields. Here he tells Calidore, a wealthy knight, the lessons he's learned in poverty. Material circumstances don't create contentment or misery. Each person creates conditions for themselves. Other characters in the poem express similar sentiments. When Guyon is tempted by Mammon's riches in Book 2, he maintains he has all he needs. In Book 5 Artegall argues divine justice has given each person what they require to survive.


Time shall come that all shall changed bee, / And ... none no more change shall see.

Nature, Two Cantos of Mutability, Canto 7

Though all earthly life forms experience change, Nature argues they will one day return to a perfect original state. Then change will cease. Spenser weaves this argument into his hope for a Christian vision of the afterlife. In the cantos of Mutability he indicates that change creates a lot of earthly pain—from death and decay to political turmoil. The Book 5 proem laments the corruption of human values after the purity of the ancient golden age. But after the stress and trouble of life on earth, true believers will enter eternal life with God.

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