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Updated: Mar 18, 2021


Edmund Spenser is the Prince of poets, England Arch-Poet, and the major non-dramatic poet of the Tudor period, who was born in East Smithfield, London in 1552 or 1553 (no record exists to establish his exact birth date, but the year is known in part due to Spenser’s own Poetry Amoretti Sonnet 60, he writes that he is forty-one years old, so the year of his birth can be closely guessed). Spenser is popularly known as the poet’s poet, a lover of natural (Iris) beauty, as a representative new voice of his age, as an emergent modernist, as the formulator of new notion of authorship, as well as the poet who ultimately retires from the public sphere into a private. He went on to study literature and religion at Cambridge University’s Pembroke Hall, receiving a BA in 1573 and an MA in 1576.

The Shepheardes Calendar is his first major work, which appeared in 1579, dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney. Spenser's magnum opus, The Faerie Queene dedicated to Queen Elizabeth was considered as the major English epic. The first three books of The Faerie Queene were published in 1590, and a second set of three books were published in 1596. Spenser originally indicated that he intended the poem to consist of twelve books, so the version of the poem we have today is incomplete. Spenser used a distinctive verse form, called the Spenserian stanza. In a Spenserian sonnet, the last line of every quatrain is linked with the first line of the next one, yielding the rhyme scheme ABABBCBCCDCDEE.

He published numerous relatively short poems in the last decade of the sixteenth century, almost all of which consider love or sorrow. In 1591, he published Complaints, a collection of poems that express complaints in mournful or mocking tones. In 1594, Spenser’s first wife Nachabyas Childe passed away. He then married Elizabeth Boyle in June of 1594. Four years later, in 1595, Spenser published Amoretti and Epithalamion. Alongside his poetry, Spenser pursued a career in politics, serving as a secretary first for the Bishop of Rochester and then for the Earl of Leicester, who introduced him to other poets and artists in Queen Elizabeth’s Court. In 1580, he was appointed secretary to the Lord Deputy of Ireland. In 1581, he made Ireland his home. In 1596, he wrote an inflammatory pamphlet called A View of the Present State of Ireland. In 1597, Spenser’s home in Ireland was sacked and burned during an Irish Rebellion. He fled back to London, financially ruined, where he remained until his death in Westminister. He died in London in 1599 and was buried in Poets’ corner in Westminster Abbey.


The Faerie Queen is a long epic poem that begins and ends with Christmas affirmations. In it, Edmund Spenser draws on both Christian and classical themes, integrating the two traditions with reference to contemporary politics and religion. It was published in two parts: the first part Book 1 to 3 appeared in 1590; the second part Book 4 to 6, with which the first part was reprinted, appeared in 1596. The dedication to the 1596 edition is addressed to Elizabeth I, whom Spenser describes as the empress of England, France, Ireland, and Virginia. He adds that he is consecrating “these his labours to live with the eternitie of her fame.”One of the most distinctive stylistic features of The Faerie Queene involves Spenser’s use of allegory and typology. A character or event frequently is to be interpreted on multiple levels of significance. It is also noted for its form: it is one of the longest poems in the English language as well as the work in which Spenser invented the verse form known as the Spenserian stanza. In Spenser’s “Letter of the Authors”, he states that the entire poem is “cloudily enwrapped in Allegorical devices”, and the aim of publishing The Faerie Queene was to “fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline”.


Book 1 is titled as The Legend of the Knight of Red Cross (or Saint George or Of Holinesse). It narrates the story of knight of Holiness, The Red Cross Knight. This hero is named after the blood-red cross emblazoned on his shield. The Red Cross, as an individual, is the Protestant Everyman, but as Saint George, historically he was England’s patron saint, he also represented the collective people of England. He is a pilgrim who hopes to achieve the virtue holiness; his adventures in the book illustrate the path to holiness. Red Cross’s adventurous quest is to behold a vision of the New Jerusalem. He is also engaged in a holy quest involving the Lady Una, she is the representation of true faith. Red Cross must slay the dragon to free its prisoners the King and the Queen-Adam and Eve, Una’s parents. The dragon is the symbol of sin, the Spanish Armada, and the Beast of the Apocalypse, the defeat of the dragon restores Eden. Red cross is then free to enter the House of Holiness to be united with Una.

CHARACTERS: The Red Cross Knight, Lady Una, Dwarf, Monster Error, Archimago.

Canto 1:

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