Discuss The Faerie Queene as an Allegory
There is no doubt that Spencer’s poem, The Faerie Queene is replete with allegorical significance. Much of the poem would lose its meaning and also the interest of its allegorical significance was somehow to be deleted from it, having only the interest of a fairy tale that can please only children. In his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, Spencer made it clear that his poem, The Faerie Queene, was a continuous allegory or a dark conceit, as he called it, and that his design in this poem was to depict the twelve ethical virtues of mankind, with the twelfth, Magnificence, being the perfection of all the rest. However, as Spencer could not complete the poem he could only deal with six of that virtue in the six books of the poem, namely Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. Fach of the six virtues has to struggle against evil and whenever it failed, Magnificence comes to its rescue. But Magnificence cannot advance those virtues on the road to heaven. There the help of certain other Christian virtues, such as faith, Hope and Charity is needed. In this way, each of the six books completed traces a process of struggle, victory, defeat, rescue, and final triumph.
Asked by Queen Gloriana, in Canto I, we find the Red Cross Knight or Holiness traveling with Una, personifying Truth, towards the kingdom of her father to liberate it from the tyranny of a Dragon representing the Devil. Allegorically, Holiness has allied itself with truth to bring about the spiritual liberation of the human race from the bondage of the Devil. But this liberation cannot be brought about unless the powers of evil, serving the devil, have previously been met and conquered. The first of these powers of evil is Error which is here symbolized by a monster who is half-woman and half-serpent, and who is foul and hateful not only in herself but also in her offspring or in her results. But error can be overcome by the combined strength of Holiness and Truth. This is why the Red Cross Knight needs some words of encouragement to defeat the monster symbolizing error.
But evil, when it appears in some disguise, cannot be conquered as easily as error. In Canto II Archimago, symbolizing hypocrisy works all the mischief which he is capable of and Succeeds in bringing about a separation between the Red Cross Knight or Holiness and Una or Truth. This separation comes about because the Red Cross Knight wrongly thinks Uno to be a wanton woman and to be unworthy of his love. After forsaking Una, the Red Cross Knight meets the infidel, Sans foy, in the company of Duessa, representing falsehood, who calls herself by the name Fidessa. Here the Red Cross Knight kills the infidel, Sans foy, but yields to Duessa as falsehood which has assumed the shape of faith. And so Holiness is now unified to falsehood.
Una is now alone till she comes across a Lion who becomes her companion and her protector, With the help of this Lion, symbolizing the natural reason of man, Una deprives Corceca, representing blind devotion, and her daughter, personifying superstition, of the support which they had been receiving from Kirkrapine symbolizing a plunderer of the church. But now hypocrisy once again appears in the disguise of the Red Cross knight and Una readily accepts him as her knight without suspecting any evilness as evil is not apparent. However, Archimago is soon unmasked by one of its own confederates, Sans loy symbolizing lawlessness. And now even the lion symbolizing the natural reason of man can not face the onslaught of lawlessness. The lion is therefore killed by San loy and Una or Truth falls into the hands of Sans loy.
The Red Cross Knight, who had got Duessa as his new beloved, is taken by her to Lucifera’s palace where Lucifera, symbolizing Pride and arrogance, lives with her six counselors or six other deadly sins namely, Idleness, Gluttony, Lechery, Envy, Avarice and wrath. Then the Knight fights a battle with sans joy and comes out victorious though badly wounded. At this point, the dwarf representing prudence or common sense, advises the Red Cross Knight and he quickly departs from Lucifera’s palace. Allegorically, here Holiness wins over joylessness but is badly wounded because he lacks the support and guidance of Truth. But prudence or common sense still remains with Holiness and so he is able to escape from the clutches of Pride and its six counselors.
On the other hand, Una, at the hands of sans loy now faces the danger of being robbed of her virginity or chastity. However, her honor is saved when satyrs and fauns, symbolizing barbarism, responds to her cries of help. Sans loy’s running away from the scene means that lawlessness feels terrified of the power of barbarism which can overwhelm it with violence even greater than its own. But While inspiring terror in the lawless person, Barbarism offers spontaneous and joyful homage to truth, and Truth in return undertakes to educate Barbarism. Then comes Six Satyrane, who rescues Una from the hold of the Satyrs and Fauns. But Una has once again to flee from the scene when Sir Satryrane engages Sans loy in a battle and she is then pursued by the disguised Archimago. This means that, when heroism and lawlessness are fighting a battle over Truth, Truth departs hastily and is pursued by hypocrisy.
In the next Canto, the Red Cross Knight gets weakened by drinking the water of a spring which is under Diana’s curse and by passionately making to Duessa, is defeated in a battle with the Giant Orgoglio symbolizing carnal pride who makes him a prisoner in his dungeons. Una, in quest of the Red Cross Knight, learns about his fate from the dwarf and then gets an assurance of his release from Prince Arthur, symbolizing Magnificence. Allegorically, these incidents mean that Holiness falls prey to carnal pleasure and furthermore to carnal pride which seeks to crush Holiness. However, Magnificence comes to the rescue, and after a fight succeeds in killing the Giant Orgoglio. Duessa’s real identity is also now exposed. Allegorically, Magnificence is able to overcome carnal pride because all pride is unholy. The exposure of Duessa’s real identity means that falsehood is now exposed and so it becomes apparently despicable.
Then the Red Cross Knight is reunited with Una but instead of some good result, he again falls victim to another evil, Despair. Under the influence of Despair, he would have killed himself if he had not been prevented by Una from doing so. Allegorically, it means that while Holiness and Truth had been united but no good result can immediately follow because all this time, while Truth has remained pure throughout, Holiness is tainted by its contact with falsehood. That is why despair is able to influence Holiness though Holiness is saved from self-destruction by Truth which urges Holiness to seek the grace of God.
Umor now takes the Red Cross Knight to the House of Holiness because she knows that the grace of God can be obtained only by going through a course of self-purification. Here the Red Cross Knight meets personifications of different virtues and gets the necessary training from them. Allegorically, Holiness here commences a life of penance and remorse. Holiness here listens to the exhortations of faith, Hope, and Charity. Holiness here undergoes the treatment prescribed by a physician called Patience. This treatment involves remorse, repentance, and the mortification of the flesh. Having undergone this course of instruction, Holiness is led by Mercie to a hospital where live the seven men of prayer who represent the seven principal good deeds. Then comes the last stage of this life of piety. This stage is the stage of Contemplation, and it points to the road leading to heaven.
Thus comforted and instructed, the Red Cross Knight proceeds to accomplish the task of destroying the Dragon or Devil which has been terrorizing the Kingdom of Una’s father.
In other words, Holiness is now fit and qualified to fight against the power of the Devil or Satan. But in order to win a victory over the force of evil, it needs also the rejuvenating powers of the well of life and the tree of life. This symbolically means the inspiration which can be obtained from Christ and his message. Aided by Christ and the gospel, the Knight conquers the Dragon though the contest against him lasts for as many as three days which was also the duration of Christ’s own fight against the powers of hell. This allegorically means the liberation of the human race from the tyranny of the Devil. However, even at this stage, an effort is made by falsehood and hypocrisy to frustrate the union of Holiness and Truth, though this effort is defeated by Una’s prompt rejection of the false claims made by Duessa as conveyed to her father by Archimago who is disguised as a messenger. Even then this union cannot be a permanent one. The Red Cross Knight has yet to serve the fairy Queen for a period of six years. But now Holiness is not forsaking Truth, as it had done on a previous occasion. This time Holiness is leaving with the consent of Truth because Truth understands the commitments made by Holiness to others. A permanent union between the two would take place in due course.