Beneath the Surface: False Appearance in The Faerie Queene
In his classic literary work, The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser brilliantly weaves a number of themes together to communicate complex moral, political, and cultural meanings. The first book alone characterizes this incredible complexity. He leads the reader through Redcrosse’s journey to reunite with Una, from one dangerous setting to another memorable character, in interrelated cantos. Two such scenes in Book one poignantly demonstrate a theme Spenser portrays throughout The Faerie Queene: false appearances. At the end of canto eight, after Una meets a significantly weakened Redcrosse in the dungeon of Duessa’s castle to show the effects of living under false pretenses, false Duessa’s showy façade is stripped away to reveal her true ugliness. Spenser utilizes colorful imagery to depict her appearance before and after the revelation—from her wrinkled skin to her disgusting stench. Her deceptive front illustrates the duplicity and impurity of the Catholic Church in contrast to the nobility and purity of victorious Una and Arthur. Removing Duessa’s regal, gaudy clothes undoubtedly signifies the removal of the deceptive mask of the Catholic Church. Another notable instance that demonstrates this theme comes near the beginning of the first canto when Una and the Dwarf approach and enter Error’s den. Error’s characteristics directly parallel those of Duessa. The whole scene is replete with metaphors and symbolism that relate to the meaning and techniques of the episode from Canto eight. In the multifaceted imagery and action of these two scenes, Spenser emphasizes the contrast between the pretentious mask the Catholic Church erected to hide false teachings with the clarity and joy that truth brings. Before Duessa is stripped of her showy clothes, Spenser depicts the consequences of living under disguises when Una meets Redcrosse in the dungeon of Duessa’s castle. Having been trapped in the dungeon of Duessa’s castle for so long, Redcrosse shows the wearing effects of being with Duessa; he is extremely weak. The blinding effects of twisted Catholic Church theology are presented in a literal way when Una finds Redcrosse in the dungeon: “His sad dull eyes deepe sunck in hollow pits, / Could not endure the sunne to view” (8.41.861-2). When the Anglican Church directly encountered the Catholic Church, the ability to see truth undoubtedly became obscured. But, Spenser asserts, all is not hopeless. Deception of the true Anglican Church will not be in vain, but will be, ultimately beneficial. In a sense, Una forgives Redcrosse, explaining that “fortune will make amends” for Redcrosse’s sin since “good comes from evils endured” (Greenblatt 806). In canto eight, Spenser portrays Una as the Anglican Church who seeks the wellbeing of the wandering Christian, Redcrosse. The true Church does not condemn the Christian who strays from truth. Although she is immediately taken aback by his physical deformities, she is delighted to have found him at all and takes compassion on him, saying, “But welcome now my Lord, in wele or woe, / Whose presence I have lackt to long a day” (43.379-80). Likewise, although the Church does not ignore problems that disbelief causes, but openly points them out, she always seeks to bring the believer back into fellowship with her. Una questions what force influenced Redcrosse so strongly and notes that whatever source harmed him clearly tarnished his appearance. The true Anglican Church quickly recognizes that the underlying reason the Catholic Church thrives is her illusive façade. Truth locates masks and demands their removal. Falsehood which caused Redcrosse’s marred appearance can only be completely destroyed when it is stripped of its attractive appearance. Arthur, viewed as the perfection of all virtues and the story’s hero, recognizes this fact. He responds to Una’s positive remarks to Arthur, explaining that deception can only have a good outcome...
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