The Faerie Queene - Allegory in Canto IV
Spenser’s, The Faerie Queene, was written during the Renaissance, at a time of great change in Europe. Spenser’s literature established himself as a revolutionary writer with influential ideas. Like many people during this time, Spenser began questioning his surroundings. Nonetheless, a new concept of education arose which focused on ancient Greek and Roman texts and the understanding the concept of humanism, as opposed to previous mode of general education in Europe, which was the study of spirituality and religion. Spenser observed corruption within the Roman Catholic church, and with his use of literature and allegory, he was able to express these ideas and reactions to society. It is necessary to analyze Spenser’s work carefully because he uses fiction to represent different ideas and spiritual factors. Popular for the time period, Spenser writes a “courtesy book,” which means that the book’s purpose is to instruct people into becoming better individuals. He expresses this idea in his introduction where he writes, “The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline” (716). In Spenser’s, “A letter to the Authors,” he tells the reader that the narrative in The Faerie Queene is full of continuous allegory and that the reader must be aware of this to understand the book’s meaning. Even though The Faerie Queene contains 3 books with numerous cantos in each, I will focus on the first book and particularly Canto 4.
Edward Spenser’s literature in The Faerie Queene takes the form of an epic poem, while exemplifying the use of allegory, which gives the reader insight to some of Spenser’s ideas and reactions to the society of his time. Spenser believed that much sin occurs regularly in society, which is overlooked, and that the Catholic church was quite a suspect. Spenser uses characterization to create symbols which represent different concepts. His use of allegory in The Faerie Queene brings attention to the politics and Christianity of the time. Several examples of Spenser’s use of symbolism is with the characterization of Una and the Red Cross Knight. We can see from the beginning of the text that the Red Cross Knight is a representation of knighthood, as well as mind and will, and Una represents faith and truth. Spenser takes these ideas further by allowing Red Cross to abandon Una, implying that he has forsaken his faith. Red Cross will encounter trouble in his upcoming battles because of the lack of faith and his weak judgment.
Spenser’s fiction-making skills are evident in The Faerie Queene. Applying fiction to literature gives the reader the opportunity for self-discovery. Isabel Maccaffrey remarks further on this idea in her book, Spenser’s Allegory. She writes, “Each reader of the poem is encouraged to become a “noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline,” to recognize in the details of the fiction an unfolding of the ordinary processes of his life in a manner that will persuade him to understand their underlying nature and, having understood, to amend them”(57). The reader can juxtapose the events and actions of his life comparing them to the fiction that Spenser created, which can lead to the development of a more ideal person.
Canto 4 is essential because Red Cross is introduced to the ‘House of Pride’ and the seven deadly sins. At this point, we can see some of the purpose in Spenser’s use of fiction. The whole canto is full of allegorical hints that the House of Pride is far from being a holy place. One hint that Spenser uses is when he writes, “For on a sandie hill, that still did flit” (Bk1.C4.st5.li41). Building a house on sand does not provide sufficient protection, and adversity will make it tremble. The home of Queen Lucifera represents instability, which hints to the reader the sinful nature of instability. However, it clearly takes cleverness to build a...
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