The Faerie Queene--Book I

by Edmund Spenser

The tale of the Redcrosse Knight uses extensive allegory to tell a tale of the human struggle for salvation. The Redcrosse Knight is tempted by Pride, through Duessa, and for a while is torn away from the pureness of Una, his true love. After his sins he must atone in the House of Holinesse before he can gain the garden of Eden that is his destiny. Even after he has killed the Dragon he must still journey on and prove his worth, while serving his mistress, before he can claim the bliss of love and perfect happiness.

The Redcrosse Knight becomes a symbol of man himself, and images of him are found through literature ever since. Alfred Lord Tennyson, for instance, describes Lancelot as "a red-crosse knight" in "The Lady of Shalott." John Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci" echoes heavily of Arthur's story of his visit from the Faerie Queene.

Below is a detailed summary of Book I:

Canto I:

The Patron of true Holinesse,
Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie him to entrape,
Doth to his home entreate.

Here we meet the redcrosse knight, an elfin warrior in service to the Faerie Queene. He is questing to do good, and has found the fair maid Una, who wishes him to save her royal parents from the dragon that has laid siege to their castle. But knowing he is not yet strong enough to defeat the dragon, Una travels with the knight, so that he may find ways to test and improve his valour.

The redcrosse knight, Una, and the dwarf his squire, while travelling, seek shelter from a storm in a shady grove beside the road, and then get lost. After wandering there for sometime, they are led to the cave of Errour, a hideous monster that is half woman, and half serpent. With some difficulty, the knight kills her, then watches disgusted as her babies, finding her dead, drink up her blood, and then swell up until they burst.

They find their way out of the cave, and are met by an old man who tells them of an evil man that plagues the land. The knight agrees to help, and he, Una, and the dwarf follow the man to his home, there to rest for the night.

After they are asleep, the old man is revealed to be an evil magician, and he starts cooking up trouble. First he gives the knight lustful dreams of Una, and then sends a sprite, enchanted to look like Una, to seduce him. The knight is not to be seduced, though, and gently sends her back to her own bed.

Canto II:

The guilefull great Enchaunter parts
The Redcrosse Knight from Truth
Into whose stead faire falsehood steps,
And workes him wofull ruth.

Early the next morning, the old man, who we now know to be the sorcerer Archimago, wakes up the knight to show him what he has "found," ie, Una in bed with a young squire. It is, of course, the false Una, but the Redcrosse Knight doesn't know this, and he's so angry he starts to kill her then and there, but Archimago stops him. The knight leaves quickly, then, with the dwarf.

When Una awakes and discovers that her knight is gone, she weeps and follows after him. Meanwhile Archimago disguises himself with magic as the Redcrosse Knight.

The real Redcrosse Knight then finds an evil Sarizen knight, Sansfoy, in the company of a beautiful woman. They battle, and Sansfoy is killed. The woman, Fidessa, tells him a sob story and then joins him on his travels, after informing him that Sansfoy has two brothers, "both born of one bad sire," Sansioy and Sansloy.

As the knight and Fidessa continue on, it becomes very hot, and they stop to rest in the shade of some trees. Here the knight decides she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, and starts to make a garland of leaves for her head. But when he blucks a branch from a bush, the bush bleeds. The bush then talks to him, and tells him that he was once a man, as were all of the trees that they were sitting under, but was cursed by the evil sorceress Duessa. So the knight swears to find and kill her, not guessing that Fidessa is in fact Duessa.

Canto III:

Forsaken Truth long seekes her loue
And makes the Lyon mylde,
Marres blind Deuotions mart, and fals
In hand of leachour vylde.

Meanwhile, Una travels on alone, searching for her knight. She stops to sleep in the forest, and a lion almost eats her, but then becomes so enchanted by her beauty that he stays on to protect her. Una finds her way to a town, but nobody will help her or talk to her because they're so scared of the lion. She tries to get an old lady to let her spend the night in her cottage, but the woman is also terrified of the lion and won't let her in. So the lion breaks a hole in the wall for Una to get in and rest.

The old woman's daughter's boyfriend is a thief and villain, and the lion kills him. Una moves on.

Archimago, disguised as the Redcrosse Knight, arrives in the village, and asks about Una, and the old woman says all kinds of nasty things about her, and gives him directions to follow her.

The "Knight" finds her, and makes excuses for his absence, and they go on together. Then they encounter Sansloy, seeking revenge for his dead brother. They battle, and Archimago, who is no knight at all, falls easily. Then his true self is revealed. Sansloy, however, knows Archimago, and leaves him alive, but beaten, under a tree. Then Sansloy kills the lion.

Canto IV:

To sinfull house of Pride, Duessa
guides the faithful knight,
Where brother's death to wreak Sansioy
doth challenge him to fight.

The Redcrosse Knight and Fidessa travel on, at her direction, to a glorious city set on a sandy hill. The foundation, in fact, is so unsteady that half of it is in ruin. Proud Lucifera is the queen of this city, and her chariot is drawn by her six councellors, on mismatched beasts. There is indolence, riding an ass, Gluttony riding a swine, Lechery riding a bearded goat, Auarice on a camel loaded with gold, Enuie riding a revenous wolf, and Wrath, upon a lion. The entire team is being driven by Sathan.

Duessa is well known in this city, and soon the pair are spotted by Sansfoy, who, seeing the shield of his brother carried by the Redcrosse knight, challenges him to fight.

Canto V:

The faithfull knight in equall field
subdewes his faithless foe.
Whom false Duessa saues, and for
his cure to hell does go.

The knight fights with Sansfoy, and both are badly hurt. Then Sansfoy disappears, and cannot be found, so the Redcrosse Knight is declared victor.

Duessa then entreats Night to take her to hell to find Hippolytus to heal Sansfoy.

The dwarf leads the knight behind the House of Pride, where he finds a pit strewn with wretched, miserable bodies, still alive, who have been condemned there for their sins.

Canto VI:

From lawlesse lust by wondrous grace
fayre Una is releast:
Whom saluage nation does adore
and learns her wild beheast.

Sansloy captures Una, and takes her off into the forest. He tries to seduce her and fails, and then rapes her. Her screams are heard, though, by a troupe of fauns and satyres, who come to rescue her. She lives with them for some time, until she is aided further in her quest to find her knight by Satyrane, the son of a satyr and a human.

Satyrane tells her that he was seen the Redcrosse knight both alive and dead, having seen him alive after witnessing Archimago's battle with Sansloy. Then satyrine and Sansloy fight, but he gets distracted by Una, and she flees the scene.

Canto VII:

The Redcrosse Knight is captive made
By Gyaunt proud opprest,
Prince Arthur meets with Una great-
ly with those newes distrest.

Duessa seeks out the Redcrosse knight, and finds him sitting in a field, unarmed and unarmored. Then he drinks of the stream, which is cursed, and loses his strength.

Duessa entreats the giant, Orgoglio, to fight the knight, and he beats him easily. Then she goes back to the giant's castle with him, and the beaten Redcrosse Knight in tow. She becomes the giant's queen, and the knight is thrown into a dark dungeon.

The Dwarf ran to find help, and finds Una. They share information of what has happened up to this point, then continue on and meet Arthur and his squire. He convinces her to tell her story, which she does, from the beginning.

Canto VIII:

Faire virgin to redeeme her deare
brings Arthur to the fight:
Who slayes the Gyant, wounds the beast,
and strips Duessa quight.

Arthur agress to help Una rescue her knight, and they travel to the giant's castle. There they fight, and Arthur wins. They investigate the castle, which is filthy and vile and covered with blood everywhere, and rescue the Redcrosse knight. He has been prisoner there for some months or starvation and complete darkness, and is thin and weak. They find Duessa, who reveals her true form, that of an old and ugly hag, and they strip her of all her clothes and then let her go.

Canto IX:

His loues and lineage Arthur tells
the knights knit friendly bands"
Sir Treuisan flies from Despayre,
Whom Redcrosse knight withstands.

The three of them stay in the castle for some time, resting and eating and telling stories. Arthur, it appears, is in love with the Faerie Queene, and wants to leave now to find her. The three say a fond farewell.

Una and the knight then travel on alone, where they encounter a man, Treuisan, with a rope around his neck, riding feverishly away from some pursuer, which he identifies as Despayre, who can convince anyone to kill themselves.

Treuisan leads them back to the cave of Despayre, who talks to the knight at length. Una has to save him from his own knife.

Canto X:

Her faithfull knight faire Una brings
to House of Holinesse,
Where he is taught repentance, and
the way to heavenly blesse.

Una leads the knight to the House of Holinesse, where she is well known. There his wounds are tended, they are fed, and relax, and the knight is instructed in their teachings.

Their hosts in the house of Holinesse are Coelia, Fidelia, Speranza, Charissa, Humilta, Zele, Reuerence, Obedience, Amendment, Penance, Remorse, Repentance, Mercie, and Contemplation. When he emerges from their training he is stronger than every, in body and in spirit. They show him the city of Hierusalem, the new Hierusalem, shining and great.

Canto XI:

The knight with that old Dragon fights
two days incessantly:
The third him ouerthrowes, and gayns
most glorious victory.

The Redcrosse knight finally fights the dragon that is opressing Una's parents. He fights for three days, and twice he is nearly beaten. The first time, the dragon accidentally throws him into the spring of life, which heals his wounds, so that the next day he can get up and fight again. The second day he is thrown into the shadow of the Tree of Life. The dragon cannot approach him there, because it detests anything so good, and the dew from the tree heals the knight a second time.

The third time they fight, the dragon is killed.

Canto XII:

Faire Una to the Redcrosse knight
betrouthed is with joy:
Though false Duessa is to barre
her false slights doe imploy.

Everyone in the castle, which is called Eden, celebrate. Una and the knight are betrothed, and all are feasting in great joy, until a messanger arrives, telling the king that the knight is already wed to another.

This letter, they determine, was written by Duessa, and the messanger is none other than Archimago. He is put in a dungeon, and the Redcrosse knight departs, for he had promised after he killed the dragon, to serve the Faerie Queene for six years.

Note: This is the first of several nodes on The Faerie Queene, which I will post as I finish reading it, and then give general information and links to the sections on each book within a single node.

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