November 18, 2021

#08-154: The Faerie Queene

Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queen

Note: Centuries before us considered The Faerie Queene to be one of the greatest works in the English language. Though it's not easy to read, it's still a fascinating work today, with many a moral lesson.

Get Ready: If you were to write a book about morality, what virtues would you consider the most important? Name at least three or four.

Most people know names like Shakespeare, Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales), Milton (Paradise Lost), and Dickens. But surprisingly few know Edmund Spenser, author of arguably one of the greatest works of British literature: The Faerie Queene.

Published during the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth the First--Spenser was a slightly older contemporary of Shakespeare--the work is a thinly-veiled allegory referring to Elizabeth, "the Virgin Queen." One of the longest poems in the English language, it examines chivalric virtues as a guide to, as Spenser put it, "fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline."

Based on the first three of its six books, Elizabeth granted Spenser a pension for life, though there's no evidence that she ever actually read it.

Each book features one knight in service to Gloriana--the Faerie Queen--and one virtue. Book I examines Holiness in the person of "the Redcrosse Knight," who fights a monster named Errour, and then overcomes the tricks of an evil wizard named Archimago. He is captured by a giant named Orgoglio ("Pride" in Italian), and rescued by his lady love Una ("One," representing Truth and the Church). He recovers his health with the help of King Arthur.

In Book II, Sir Guyon embodies Temperance. He, too, faces Archimago's wiles, and sets out to deal with several knights who either are evil, act rashly, or have simply been tricked into wrong behavior. He captures a witch and frees the knights who have been imprisoned by her.

Britomart, in Book III, is a lady knight (really!) who represents Chastity. Here the story's threads begin to come together, as Britomart meets Arthur and Guyon, and rescues the Redcrosse Knight. Meanwhile, she pursues another knight, Sir Artegall, with intentions of marriage.

Book IV continues the story of Book III, examining Friendship by showing the relationship of two knights, Cambell and Triamond, but also, surprisingly, following the course of two complicated love affairs, between Britomart and Sir Artegall, and between Sir Scudamore and his love, Amoret.

Book V looks at Justice in the person of Britomart's lover Artegall. Along with his "metal man" companion, Talus--a kind of automaton--he sets off to aid a damsel in distress (her name, Eirena, means "peace"), righting injustices along the way.

Finally, Book VI speaks of Courtesy (proper behavior) in the person of Calidore, who subdues a loud monster, representing slander, and amusingly named "the Blatant Beast."

A complex, well-told tale with a moral twist, The Faerie Queene is well worth the considerable effort required to read it.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. automaton
  2. blatant
  3. chastity
  4. chivalric
  5. damsel
  6. righting
  7. slander
  8. temperance
  9. thinly-veiled
  10. wiles

  1. speaking ill of others
  2. slightly hidden
  3. tricks
  4. moderation; self-restraint
  5. like a robot
  6. a noble young woman
  7. making good; correcting
  8. knightly; virtuous
  9. proper sexual behavior
  10. obvious; offensively noisy

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 18, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. j; 3. i; 4. h; 5. f; 6. g; 7. a; 8. d; 9. b; 10. c