The Faerie Queene: Poem - Summary and Analysis

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      The Faerie Queene is the greatest work of Spenser, the greatest poet of the Elizabethan period. The poem sets out to be a story with twelve Knights of Elizabeth who undertook various enterprises in her honor. The plan of the poem is explained by Spenser. Prince Arthur has seen in a dream Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, and ravished by her beauty resolved to seek her out in fairyland. The adventures that befall him are to form the main plot, and to serve as the connecting link between the different parts of the story. Now the Faerie Queene has an annual feast which lasts for twelve days, and on each day she sends forth a Knight to help someone in distress. It so happens that the redress of each wrong calls forth the exercise of a separate virtue. A book was to be devoted to the adventure of each Knight, and in the adventure of each Arthur still in the quest of the lady is to participate, thus gaining experience in all that befits a perfect character.

      The poem is a lovely mosaic into which are woven deeds of chivalry and pictorial fantasies and great moralizing. He declares his purpose to fashion a gentleman in the virtuous and gentle discipline. The Faerie Queene is an allegory. The allegory is continuous and the moral is very prominent. In the later books of the poem, allegory gives place to romance.

The Faerie Queene
The Faerie Queene

Critical Analysis

      For a variety of characters and incidents and even for the skill of structure The Faerie Queene is remarkable in the world's, fiction. Spenser paints a large number of characters, and the pictorial details of the poem are vivid. The poem reveals a sober, chaste, and sensitive spirit one keenly alive to sensuous beauty. He devised a stanza known as the Spenserian stanza. The first eight lines are iambic pentameter while the concluding line is an Alexandrine. The work has epical breadth; it appeared in installments. In 1589, Spenser published the first three books; in 1596 the second three followed, and after his death, two cantos and two odd stanzas of Book VII appeared. With its twelve divisions, each of which bears many smaller branches, the allegory is the most complex in the language. Characters like Arthur, Merlin, Fauns, and Satyrs are from classical romance and they stand for virtues. Their counterparts in the vices are Duessa (Deceit), Orgoglio (Pride), etc. Gloriana is Elizabeth, Duessa is Mary, Queen of Scots; Archimego maybe the Pope, and Artegal (Justice) is Lord Grey.

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