The Faerie Queene


LINE 1. LO I THE MAN.... An imitation of the opening lines of Vergil's _Aeneid_:--

"Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus avena


Gratum opus agricolis, at nunc horrentia Martis."

Referring to his _Shepheards Calender_ (1579) Spenser thus gracefully indicates his change from pastoral to epic poetry.

5-9. KNIGHTS AND LADIES. The poet here imitates the opening of Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_.

10. O HOLY VIRGIN CHIEFE OF NINE, refers to Clio, the muse of history. Spenser should have invoked Calliope, the muse of poetry.

14. OF FAERIE KNIGHTS, the the champions of Gloriana, the queen of Faerieland. FAIREST TANAQUILL, a British princess, daughter of Oberon, king of Faerieland. In the allegory she is Queen Elizabeth.

15. THAT MOST NOBLE BRITON PRINCE is Prince Arthur, the perfect knight, who is in love with Gloriana. In the allegory the Earl of Leicester is probably meant, though by one tradition Sir Philip Sidney is identified with Prince Arthur.

19. IMPE OF HIGHEST JOVE, Cupid, the god of love, and son of Jupiter and Venus. He is represented as armed with an ebony bow (l. 23).

25. TRIUMPHANT MART, Mars, the god of war. The spelling is that of the Italians and Chaucer.

28. O GODDESSE HEAVENLY BRIGHT, Queen Elizabeth (aged 56), who was fond of such extravagant flattery, and expected it of all her courtiers.

31. PHOEBUS LAMPE, Apollo, the sun-god.

34. GLORIOUS TYPE OF THINE, the Lady Una, who stands for Truth in the allegory.

35. THE ARGUMENT OF MINE AFFLICTED STILE, the subject of my humble pen. "_Afflicted_" has the original Latin sense of "cast down."

36. O DEAREST DRED, O beloved object of reverence; a common salutation of royalty.


I. _The Plot:_ At the bidding of Gloriana, the Redcross Knight undertakes to deliver Una's parents from a dragon who holds them captive. He sets out upon his quest attended by a dwarf and guided by Una, mounted on an ass and leading a lamb. They are driven by a storm into a forest, where they discover the cave of Error, who is slain by the Knight. They are then beguiled into the house of Archimago, an old enchanter. By his magic he leads the Knight in a dream to believe that Una is false to him, and thus separates them.

II. _The Allegory:_ 1. Holiness, the love of God, united with Truth, the knowledge of God, is to deliver man from the thraldom of the Devil. Together they are able to overthrow Error; but Hypocrisy deceitfully alienates Holiness from Truth by making the latter appear unworthy of love.

2. There is a hint of the intrigues of the false Roman church and the treacherous Spanish king, Philip II, to undermine the religious and political freedom of the English people. The English nation, following the Reformed church, overthrows the Catholic faith, but is deceived by the machinations of Spanish diplomacy.

LINE 1. A GENTLE KNIGHT, the Redcross Knight, representing the church militant, and Reformed England. He is the young, untried champion of the old cause whose struggles before the Reformation are referred to in ll. 3, 4. His shield bore "a cross gules upon a field argent," a red cross on a silver ground. See _The Birth of St. George_ in Percy's _Reliques_, iii, 3, and Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, iii, 65.

15. FOR SOVERAINE HOPE, as a sign of the supreme hope.

20. GREATEST GLORIANA, Queen Elizabeth. In other books of _The Faerie Queene_ she is called Belphoebe, the patroness of chastity, and Britomart, the military genius of Britain.

27. A DRAGON, "the great dragon, that old serpent, called the devil," _Revelation_, xii, 9, also Rome and Spain. Cf. legend of St. George and the dragon, and Fletcher's _Purple Island_, vii _seq._

28. A LOVELY LADIE, Una, the personification of truth and true religion. Her lamb symbolizes innocence.

46. A DWARFE, representing prudence, or common sense; according to Morley, the flesh.

56. A SHADIE GROVE, the wood of Error. "By it Spenser shadows forth the danger surrounding the mind that escapes from the bondage of Roman authority and thinks for itself."--Kitchin. The description of the wood is an imitation of Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_, i, 37, Chaucer's _Assembly of Foules_, 176, and Tasso's _Jerusalem Delivered_, iii, 75. Morley sees in this grove an allegory of man's life, the trees symbolizing trade, pleasure, youth, etc.

69. THE SAYLING PINE. Ships were built of pine.

70. THE LOPLAR NEVER DRY, because it grows best in moist soil.

71. THE BUILDER OAKE. In the Middle Ages most manor houses and churches were built of oak.

72. THE CYPRESSE FUNERALL, an emblem of death among the ancients, and sacred to Pluto. Sidney says that they were wont to dress graves with cypress branches in old times.

73. THE LAURELL. Victors at the Pythian games and triumphing Roman generals were crowned with laurel. It was also sacred to Apollo, the god of poetry, hence "meed of poets sage."

74. THE FIRRE THAT WEEPETH STILL. The fir exudes resinous substance.

75. THE WILLOW. "Willows: a sad tree, whereof such who have lost their love make their mourning garlands."--Fuller's _Worthies_, i, 153. Cf. Heywood's _Song of the Green Willow_, and Desdemona's song in _Othello_, IV, iii, 39.

76. THE EUGH. Ascham in his _Toxophilus_ tells us that the best bows were made of yew.

78. THE MIRRHE, the Arabian myrtle, which exudes a bitter but fragrant gum. The allusion is to the wounding of Myrrha by her father and her metamorphosis into this tree.

79. THE WARLIKE BEECH, because lances and other arms were made of it. THE ASH FOR NOTHING ILL. "The uses of the ash is one of the most universal: it serves the souldier, the carpenter, the wheelwright, cartwright, cooper, turner, and thatcher."--Evelyn's _Sylva_. The great tree Igdrasil in the northern mythology was an ash.

81. THE CARVER HOLME, or evergreen oak, was good for carving.

106. SHAME WERE TO REVOKE, etc., it would be cowardly not to go forward for fear of some suspected unseen danger.

114. THE WANDRING WOOD, i.e. which causes men to go astray.

123. MONSTER. The description of the monster Error, or Falsehood, is based on Hesiod's Echidna, _Theog_. 301, and the locusts in _Revelation_, ix, 7-10. She is half human, half serpent, because error is partly true and partly false. Dante's Fraud and Milton's Sin are similar monsters.

126. FULL OF VILE DISDAINE, full of vileness that bred disgust in the beholder.

130. OF HER THERE BRED, etc., of her were born a thousand young ones. Her offspring are lies and rumors of many shapes.

141. ARMED TO POINT, completely armed. Cf. Fr. _a point_, to a nicety.

145. THE VALIANT ELFE, because he was the reputed son of an Elfin or Faerie, though really sprung from "an ancient race of Saxon kings." Three kinds of elves are mentioned in the _Edda_: the black dwarfs, and brownies, who both dwelt under ground, and the fair elves, who dwelt in Fairyland or Alfheim. "The difference between Spenser's elves and these Teutonic elves shows how he perverts Fairy mythology in the same way as he does Classical myths."--Percival.

168. HIS GALL DID GRATE FOR GRIEFE, his anger was aroused on account of pain. In the old anatomy anger had its seat in the gallbladder. See Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_, I, i, 2.

177. HER VOMIT FULL OF BOOKES, etc. From 1570, when Pope Sixtus V issued his bull of deposition against Queen Elizabeth, to 1590, great numbers of scurrilous pamphlets attacking the Queen and the Reformed church had been disseminated by Jesuit refugees.

181. NILUS. Pliny believed that the mud of the Nile had the power of breeding living creatures like mice. _Hist. Nat._ ix, 84. So Shakespeare, _Antony and Cleopatra_, II, vii, 29.

199. GENTLE SHEPHEARD. In this pastoral simile, Spenser imitates Homer's _Iliad_, ii, 469, and xvii, 641, and Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_, xiv, 109.

208. THUS ILL BESTEDD. There is a similar combat in the old romance _Guy of Warwick_, ix, between the hero and a man-eating dragon.

217. HER SCATTRED BROOD. The poet here follows a belief as old as Pliny that the young of serpents fed on their mother's blood. In this entire passage the details are too revolting for modern taste.

232. THE WHICH THEM NURST. The antecedent of _which_ is _her_. In the sixteenth century _the_ was frequently placed before _which_, which was also the equivalent of _who_. Cf. the Lord's Prayer.

234. HE SHOULD CONTEND, he should have had to contend.

237. BORNE UNDER HAPPY STARRE. Belief in astrology was once common, and Spenser being a Pythagorean would hold the doctrine of the influence of the stars on human destiny.

239. THAT ARMORIE, the armor of the Christian warrior. _Ephesians_, vi, 13.

243. THAT LIKE SUCCEED IT MAY, that like successful adventures may succeed it. The word order is inverted for the sake of the rhyme.

250. TO FREND, as his friend.

254. AN AGED SIRE, the false enchanter, Archimago, or Hypocrisy, who is supposed to represent Pope Sixtus V or King Philip II of Spain. In general he stands for false religion or the Church of Rome. The character and adventure are taken from _Orlando Furioso_, ii, 12, in which there is a hypocritical hermit. The Knight at first takes Archimago to be a palmer, and inquires for the foreign news.

295. TAKE UP YOUR IN, take lodging.

301. A LITTLE WYDE, a little way off.

315. AN AVE-MARY, Hail Mary, a prayer to the Virgin. Cf. _Luke_, i, 28.

317. THE SAD HUMOUR, the heavy moisture, or "slombring deaw."

318. MORPHEUS, the son of Somnus and god of sleep and dreams, who sprinkled the dew of sleep on the brow of mortals from his horn or wings or from a bough dipped in Lethe.

323. HIS MAGICK BOOKES AND ARTES. Monks engaged in scientific investigation, such as Friar Roger Bacon, were popularly supposed to use cabalistic books, and to make compacts with the Devil by means of necromancy, or the black art, as in st. xxxvii. Before the close of the century Marlowe's _Doctor Faustus_ and Greene's _Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay_, both based on the popular belief in magic, were presented on the London stage.

328. BLACKE PLUTOES GRIESLY DAME, Proserpine, the avenger of men, and inflicter of curses on the dead. She is identified with Shakespeare's Hecate, the goddess of sorcery, and with Milton's Cotytto, goddess of lust. To this latter sin the knight is tempted.

332. GREAT GORGON, Demogorgon, whose name might not be uttered, a magician who had power over the spirits of the lower world. The poet is here imitating the Latin poets Lucan and Statius.

333. COCYTUS, the river of wailing, and STYX, the river of hate, both in Hades. There were two others, _Acheron_, the river of sorrow, and _Phlegethon_, the river of fire.

335. LEGIONS OF SPRIGHTS. In this stanza and the preceding Spenser follows Tasso's _Jerusalem Delivered_, xiii, 6-11, where the magician Ismeno, guarding the Enchanted Wood, conjures "legions of devils" with the "mighty name" (l. 332).

339. CHOSE. Imitation of Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_, ii, 15, in which a false spirit is called up by a hypocritical hermit. The description of the House of Sleep in st. xxxix _seq_. is modelled on the same poet, _Orlando Furioso_, ii, 15 _seq_. The influence of Homer's _Odyssey_, xi, 16 is seen in st. xxxix, ll. 348 _seq_.

348. TETHYS, the ocean. In classical mythology she is the daughter of Uranus (heaven) and Gaea (earth), and the wife of Oceanus.

349. CYNTHIA, the moon. The allusion is to the story of Diana and Endymion. See Lyly's play _Endymion_.

352. WHOSE DOUBLE GATES. Homer, _Odyssey_, xix, 562, and Vergil, _Aeneid_, vi, 893, give the House of Dreams a horn and an ivory gate. Spenser substitutes silver for horn, mirrors being overlaid with silver in his time. From the ivory gate issued false dreams; from the other, true ones.

361. SLUMBER SOFT. This stanza shows Spenser's wonderful technique. His exquisite effects are produced, it will be noticed, partly by the choice of musical words and partly by the rhythmical cadence of the verse phrases. It is an example of perfect "keeping," or adaptation of sound to sense. Cf. Chaucer's description of the waterfalls in the Cave of Sleep in his _Boke of the Duchesse_, 162.

376. WHOSE DRYER BRAINE, whose brain too dry. In the old physiology, a dry brain was the cause of slow and weak perception, and a moist brain of quickness.

378. ALL, entirely, altogether.

381. HECATE, queen of phantoms and demons in Hades, and mistress of witches on earth. See xxxvii.

387. THE SLEEPERS SENT, the sleeper's sense.

405. MOST LIKE TO SEEME, etc.. most likely fit to seem for (represent) Una. _Like_ is an adv. A very awkward inversion.

411. BORNE WITHOUT HER DEW, i.e. created by him in an unnatural manner.

425. FAYRE VENUS, the daughter of Jupiter, or Zeus, and the sea-nymph Dione. She is the same as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

430. THE GRACES, Euphrosyne, Aglaia, and Thalia, daughters of Zeus and Aphrodite.

431. HYMEN IO HYMEN, refrain of an old Roman nuptial song. Hymen, the son of Apollo and the Muse Urania, was the god of marriage.

432. FRESHEST FLORA, the goddess of flowers. She typified spring.

447. TO PROVE HIS SENSE, etc. To test his perception and prove her feigned truth.

449. THO CAN SHE WEEPE, then did she weep. _Can_ here is the Northern dialect form for the middle English _gan_, past tense of _ginnen_, to begin, which was used as an auxiliary.

454. THE BLIND GOD, Cupid, Eros, or Amor, the god of love.

478. Like other knights of romance, e.g. Sir Galahad and Sir Gareth in Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, iii, 65, etc., the Redcross Knight does not yield to the temptation of the flesh, but overcomes it.