Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Spenser's Transformation of the Traditions of Classic Epic and Medieval Romance

Spenser's The Faerie Queene was written mainly to fulfil an allegorical purpose and to "fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline." However, the moralistic tone is softened by the fact that the whole complex allegory is masquerading as a medieval romance, with the added bonus of many features borrowed from the great classical epics. The very beginning of Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, quoted above, immediately links his poem directly to Milton's Paradise Lost whose intention is to "justify the ways of God to men" and indirectly with Virgil's Aeneid, which was likely commissioned by the Emperor Augustus and has a similar didactic message.

This text most closely resembles the Aeneid of all the classical epics, because both are designed to teach the reader and illustrate how to be a good person. Each knight in The Faerie Queene embodies a Christian virtue: Redcrosse represents holiness, and Guyon, temperance. The idea that the central character should sacrifice his own personal happiness for the greater good is common to both Spenser's poem and to Virgil's work. Just as Aeneas has to leave Dido and continue his quest to find a site to found Rome, so...

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