Introduction The Fairy Queen is English epic poem of a great magnitude, which, by no means, presents criticism of English society during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It is, so to say, social criticism written in form of allegory, and a product of social conditions that existed in England towards the end of the sixteenth century.
In the preface letter to Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser clearly presents his aim.He explains that he will write a poem of moral engagement concerned with England's moral and political identity. It is allegorical representation of political figures, religious conflicts and national politics in time and cultural context of Elizabethan England and the Protestant Reformation. Besides that, it praises Queen Elizabeth as extraordinary monarch and also takes considerable historical license in connecting her line, Tudor line, with King Arthur.Edmund Spenser intended to write twelve books of the Fairy Queen, all in the classical epic style, but he only completed half of it.
Each book tells the story of knight who represents certain Christian virtue, as he or she would convey at the court of the Fairy Queen. Because only half of the poem is finished, the unifying scene at the Queen's court never occurs; instead we have six books telling an incomplete story. Spenser in writing of this work heavily depended on Italian romantic sources, Ariosto and Tasso, as well as medieval and classical works such as The Romance of the Rose and Virgil's Aeneid. The model for his engagement in history is reflection of Virgil's Aeneid which is concerned with national integrity and morality. In 16th century Puritan England, it was believed that the purpose of every literary masterpiece is not only to entertain but also to teach moral and spiritual lessons.
This epic has the same goal. Spenser used methods of other authors, and mixed them together to criticize society, praise certain characters and virtues, and also to define characteristics of a good virtuous Christian man.Historical elementsIn this work we are introduced with the Fairyland ruled by the Fairy Queen also referred to as Gloriana which is representation of Queen Elizabeth, while the Fairyland stands for England. Gloriana, the Queen of Fairyland, holds at her court a feudal festival lasting twelve days, during which she sends twelve of her best knights on various adventures. The ideal knight is Arthur which is central figure of the poem, and appears in all books.
The six known books present adventures of The Redcross or Holiness, Sir Guyon, knight of Temperance, Britomart, female knight of Chastity, Sir Campbell and Sir Triamond, the knights of Friendship, Sir Artegall, the knight of Justice, and Sir Caledore, the knight of Courtesy.The Redcrosse also presents the individual Christian and he is like every other knight on some kind of quest. In his case that is Holiness.
He travels with beautiful Una, the Truth. Since Holiness cannot be attained without knowledge of Christian truth, evildoers are doing everything they can to separate Una from Redcrosse. These villains that come in between Una and Redcrosse present The Roman Catholic Church. Allegorically said, during the Reformation in England, people were against false religion, Catholicism, and embraced true religion, Protestantism or Anglicanism.Redcross is actually fighting against falsehood of The Roman Catholic Church.
The first villain that he has to conquer is Error, terrible beast that lived in the cave where they hid during the storm. Redcrosse kills the beast. "Her vomit full of books and papers was, with loathly frogs and toads which eyes did lacke …" (I.i.20)The papers mentioned in this quote represent Roman Catholic Church propaganda against Queen Elizabeth and Anglicanism. In 1570, Pope Sixtus V issued his bull of deposition against Queen Elizabeth, and by 1590, great numbers of pamphlets attacking the Queen and the Reformed church had been disseminated by Jesuit refugees.
Among other villains that come in between the Redcrosse and Una are Archimago, "arc-image" or idolatry of Catholics, and Duessa, which also represents Roman Catholic Church, dressed in purple and gold clothing. Redcrosse and Una are separated and have to overcome many troubles. Redcrosse is then trapped in the dungeon of terrible giant Orgoglio. The giant is actually allegorical representation of the Pope Sixtus V, and his relationship with Duessa is representation of the one that Pope had with Mary Queen of Scots. Orgoglio places a Triple Crown on Duessa's head and invests her with royal majesty, which is again representation of all things promised to Mary Queen of Scots by the Pope. "From that day Duessa was his dear, And highly honoured.