Blog Topic #2

CRITICAL

Write a paragraph describing the dramatic power of the opening stanzas of Spenser’sĀ The Fairie Queen. Try to point out why this poem is really worth reading.Ā 

The Faerie Queene fits in the category of important books so big that they often stay in our ā€œto readā€ pile for years. But finally, after having studied in high school the context of Elizabethan age, I have the chance to deal with the text and form my own idea about it from whatĀ I have read.

The opening stanzas of Spenser’s work recounts about the adventures of a hero,Ā a typical knight errant on a quest for adventure; he is young and anxious to prove himself and consequently goesĀ through a process ofĀ maturation and personal development, emerging as aĀ hero. (So in this sense we can say it is a kind of Bildungsroman.)

From the second stanza I started to realizeĀ the Christian allegory from the view of the shield and of the Redcrosse asĀ a symbol for Holiness or perhaps more specifically, a person who wants to learn how to be holy. Redcrosse is therefore a symbol of the Everyman sinner trying to achieve holiness. The allegory about holiness and goodness is to me aĀ more general allegory about Protestants learning to resist the tempting seduction of Catholic images.

Going through the poem, in the thirteenth stanza we come through anotherĀ allegory in his enemy’s looking as “Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide, But th’other halfe did womans shape retaine”Ā¹. Here the figure of a woman, which is one of goodness, is represented only in half as a sign of corruption. We are therefore able to associate and interpretĀ these hero adventures and encounters as a spiritual struggle against many evils and temptations, doctrinal error and hypocrisy.

This constant desire of the hero to fight for his honor can be read as a celebration of human heroism:

Faerie_Queene_Title_Page
William Ponsonby, 1596

And ever as he rode, his hart did earne
To prove his puissance in battell brave

Vpon his foe, and his new force to learneĀ²

It is clear here how much effort the hero puts in defeating himself from the evil, which is seen as a potent force and how he is constantly reminded of the sovereignty of God by carrying the “bloudie Crosse”Ā³Ā upon his breast. These descriptions, together with the figure of the “milke whiteĀ lamb”, the serpent and the poison, make the religious aspect immediately clear. This is to me the most striking aspect that we get by going through the first stanzas of the allegorical poem.

The poem is really worth reading because it gives us a precise idea of what was the religious situation in that time, when England had just broken away from the Catholic Church and formed its own Protestant Church. Reading The Faerie Queene from a close point of viewĀ make us aware of how religion was for Spenser often not just an exploration of good living and ethical decisions, but specifically a defence ofĀ Protestant principles againstĀ Catholic ones. In other words, religionĀ motivates almost every aspect of TheFaerie Queene, from the desiresĀ of the main characters to the representation of villains.

I have to admit it was not easy to read the poem as Ā sometimes I had the feeling of not really “getting” Spenser, but once going through it carefully, it became a very enlightening and interesting poem.

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Illustration by Henry Ford

“But on hisĀ brest a bloudie Crosse he bore

The deare rememberance of his dying Lord. (I.2)”

Ā¹ The Faerie Queene, E. Spencer, 1590, Book I, Stanza 14, Line 8, 9.

Ā² The Faerie Queene, E. Spencer, Book I, Stanza 3, Line 6, 7, 8.

Ā³ The Faerie Queene, E. Spencer, Book I, Stanza 2, Line 1.

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7 thoughts on “Blog Topic #2

  1. Hi Beatrice, an amazing submission! Having not read the Faerie Queen, your submission has definitely piqued my interest in the poem as well as your detailed analysis. I enjoyed how you carefully analysed the appearance of the knight with the Christian allegory and provided evidence for this – it is always interesting when authors and artists slip Christian meanings within their works, especially during the Renaissance era when humanism was reigning. I also liked how you utilised images within it – the image of the half snake half woman is definitely an eye catcher. Your grammar and spelling are also superb. I greatly look forward to further analyses from you! šŸ™‚

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  2. Hello there, Beatrice, what an informative post! At first, though my interest was piqued at taking a quick look at The Faerie Queen, your submission has definitely made me want to read the whole thing. You’re very clear and concise in your analysis. I particularly like how you spoke quickly about the background of the poem’s story at first, then dissected into the contextual aspects by writing about the religious imagery and symbolism. Great job!

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  3. An excellent entry Beatrice and I am glad that you challenged yourself to tackle this difficult piece of literature. Well done!

    *Please attend to editing your work carefully. Here is what I have picked up:
    *So in this sense we can say is a kind of Bildungsroman= So in this sense we can say IT is a kind of Bildungsroman
    * a person who want to learn how to be holy. – a person who wantS to learn how to be holy.
    *in the thirteenth Stanza = in the thirteenth stanza [proper nouns; common nouns: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/730/1/%5D
    * here the figure of a woman,= Here the figure of a woman, [new sentence needed]
    *as a spiritual struggling against many evils = as a spiritual struggle against many evils
    * how he is constantly reminding of the sovereignty of God = how he is constantly reminded of the sovereignty of God
    * this is to me the most striking aspects that we get= this is to me the most striking aspect that we get
    * The poem is really worth reading because gives us a precise idea = The poem is really worth reading because IT gives us a precise idea
    * but specifically defends Protestant principles over Catholic ones.= but specifically A DEFENCE OF Protestant principles AGAINST Catholic ones.

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