The Fairy Queen as an Allegory
Edmund Spenser the writer of Fairy Queen stands among the greatest writers of the Elizabethan period whose valuable contributions fashioned a new tradition in English literature. Nowadays he is hailed to be one of the chief initiators of the Renaissance movement in English literature. Spenser’s rich and vigorous imagery, and careful treatment of metrical structure left a profound influence on the succeeding poets and ensured his place as one of the seminal literary artists in the flamboyant field of English literature.
Spenser reached the highest pinnacle of his art and invention with his romantic tour de force The Faerie Queene. It has been hailed as Spenser’s masterpiece, the supreme triumph of the poetic art in English literature. The poem is an allegorical romance symbolising the moral and spiritual journey of an individual through innumerable temptations of sins towards the ultimate attainment of glory and truth. The poem thus has a serious purpose behind its fanciful characters, settings and events. All the characters in The Faerie Queene have allegorical significance since they represent abstract ideas. The title character, the Fairy Queen (Gloriana) herself, is meant to represent Queen Elizabeth. The Red Cross Knight who is appointed by the Fairy Queen to assist Lady Una in releasing her parents from the prison of Dragon is the embodiment of Holiness, piety, and true religion (Protestantism). Lady Una stands for truth, goodness and wisdom. Her parents symbolise humanity held by Evil represented by the foul Dragon. The mission of Holiness is to champion the cause of Truth and regain the right of human race, held by subjection by the mighty force of Evil.
For a Christian to be holy, he must have true faith. So Holiness must be grounded in Truth in order to remain pure and immaculate in the world. As long as Truth and Holiness are united no evildoer can stand against holiness. The power of truth invigourates Holiness. The plot of Book I mostly concerns the attempts of evildoers to separate Red Cross from Una to decrease his strength. Most of these villains are meant by Spenser to represent one thing in common: the Roman Catholic Church. The poet felt that, in the English Reformation, the people had defeated “false religion” (Catholicism) and embraced “true religion” (Protestantism/Anglicanism).So Red Cross must defeat villains who mimic the falsehood of the Roman Church. In the course of his mission he and Una come upon various manifestations of evil. The first encounter is with monster Error. The monster Error allegorically stands for all sorts of mistakes which every individual makes in the course of his life. The fight of the Red Cross Knight with the monster Error symbolises the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. The books and papers vomited by Error allude to the offensive pamphlets directed against Queen Elizabeth by the Roman Catholics.
The Red Cross Knight may able to defeat these obvious and disgusting errors, but until he is united to the truth he is totally lost and can be easily deceived. This deceit is arranged by Archimago, who symbolises the hypocrisy of Papacy. When Truth and Holiness are separated, Hypocrisy gets the chance to mislead Holiness. The separation of Truth from Holiness symbolises the danger of the English Church against the hypocrisy and plots of the Roman Catholicism.
Once separated, Holiness is susceptible to the opposite of truth or falsehood. Red Cross may able to defeat the strength of Sansfoy or faithlessness through his own native virtue, but he falls prey to the tricks of Falsehood herself –Duessa. Duessa also represents the Roman Church, both because she is “false faith”, and of her rich, purple and gold clothing, which, for Spenser, displays the greedy wealth and arrogant pomp of Rome. Historically Duessa stands for Queen Mary who was a Roman Catholic by faith. Having been separated from Truth, the Holiness becomes weak and feeble. He cannot withstand the fierce attack of Falsehood and becomes a prey to Duessa. Red Cross becomes a veritable puppet in the hands of Duessa. In the similar manner Truth also becomes weak and in order to protect her virtue she gets aid and succour from Lion which stands for Courage. But subsequently the hypocrisy of Archimago makes her an easy victim Sans Loy who stands for lawlessness. She is later saved by Sir Satyrane who is a symbol of the Natural force. The implication here is very clear and concrete. Truth cannot be subjected to Lawlessness for long. It has a natural force which would assuredly impel it to reassert itself against all hindrance. The humility, symbolised by the Dwarf, informs Truth the story of the sufferings of Holiness. Then Truth goes in search of Gloriana, the Fairy Queen and Holiness is led to the palace of Divine Grace by Truth. There he recovers his former strength. He is now ready to fight against the malignant forces of nature.
Thus at the end Spenser represents the triumph of Holiness and Truth. They may be separated by various evildoers but ultimately they are united again to bring about the redemption and moral salvation of human race.