English 201: English Literature to 1700 Prof. Boyer
Study Questions for Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Book 1
The best beginning procedure is always to read the assignment all the way through, keeping track of characters, so that you know what's happening. If possible, read the whole work first. Try to get the big picture of the book (or canto) before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details. Then you're ready to read the work closely with these questions in mind. (In the discussion below, page and line numbers in parentheses refer to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., vol. 1[B] [2000] unless otherwise indicated.)

A note on the language: Spenser is consciously writing in a slightly archaic language in imitation of Chaucer. Many of his spellings in fact contain puns (for example, a "geaunt" or giant is made of earth, "gaia" in Greek) or other multiple meanings, and therefore editors keep the original spellings. (If we read Shakespeare in original spelling editions it would look much like this; the difference is that there is no sense that Shakespeare paid any attention to his spelling or to anything about the printed versions of his plays.) But Spenser's language is contemporary with Shakespeare's language, not Chaucer's, and therefore you should read Spenser with modern pronunciation.

A note on line numbering: It is traditional to refer to passages from The Faerie Queene by book, canto, stanza, and line numbers (not by line numbers within the whole canto, as our anthology does). These study questions use the traditional method, so that what appears in the anthology as line 115 of Book 1, Canto 1 (on p. 632) appears in these notes as 1.1.13.7 (i.e., Book 1, Canto 1, stanza 13, line 7). The introductory stanzas appearing in each Book before the beginning of Canto 1 are called the "proem"; thus line 10 on p. 628 of the anthology is cited in the traditional format as 1.Proem.2.1. The four short lines appearing at the beginning of each canto are the "argument" or description of the canto. The second line of the argument to Canto 1 on p. 629 is cited as 1.1.Arg.2.

Note that for convenience the questions often refer only to a stanza number (identified as "stanza[s]").

"A Letter of the Authors"

Canto 5 (summary only)

Canto 9

Proem and Canto 1

Canto 6 (summary only)

Canto 10

Canto 2

Canto 7 (summary only)

Canto 11

Canto 3 (summary only)

Canto 8 (summary only)

Canto 12

Canto 4

"A Letter of the Authors" (the Letter to Raleigh, pages 624-627)

1.

How does Spenser describe the kind of allegory he is writing and what objections might people have to it (page 624)?

2.

What, according to Spenser, is "the general end . . . of all the booke" (page 625)?

3.

Who is to be Spenser's hero? What is his connection to the Faery Queen?

4.

Who are the heroes of the first three books (pages 626-627)? How does each of their adventures begin?

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Book 1, Proem and Canto 1 (pages 628-641)

Proem

1.

In stanza 1, what change does the author claim to be making in his career? The parallel Spenser is claiming with Virgil, who began with pastorals and then moved to the epic Aeneid, is clearer when we realize that the Renaissance thought that The Aeneid began not with "Arms and the man I sing . . ." ("Arma virumque cano . . .") but with "I am he who once tuned my song on a slender reed, then leaving the woodland, constrained the neighboring fields to serve the husbandmen, however grasping-a work welcome to farmers: but now of arms and the man I sing . . ."

2.

To whom is Spenser referring in stanza 4, line 3?

Canto 1

1.

Who is the first character we see? What is he doing? How happy is his horse with him? What sort of knight is he, based on stanzas 2-3? Do we know the knight's name? (Throughout Book 1 Spenser calls him the Redcross Knight.) Which of the moral virtues does Redcross represent? (See the Book 1 title, page 628.)

2.

Who is the Lady with the Redcross Knight and what do we learn about her (stanzas 4-5)? Do we know her name? Who is with her (stanza 6, lines 1-4)?

3.

What happens when it starts to rain (stanzas 6-10)? When they discover that they are lost, how do they try to get out?

4.

What does the the Redcross Knight plan to do when they see a cave (at stanza 11, line 6)? How does the Lady respond (stanzas 12-13)? Where are they? What is ominous about the names (stanza 13, line 6)? How does the name of the woods match what has happened to them in it so far?

5.

The Redcross Knight's encounter with Error is the first of the important episodes in the poem. Read this segment carefully (stanzas 14-26). What does Error look like? Does she have any kids? What are they like? What happens when Error attacks? How does Redcross get free of the first attack (stanza 19)? What does Error vomit and what is the significance of that? How does she die? What happens to her offspring when she dies?

6.

The Error episode contains two epic similes, or extended comparisons. Epic similes usually run for several lines and begin with "As when..." or some similar opening phrase. The first epic simile takes up all of stanza 21, the second all of stanza 23. How does the language of each simile reflect what is going on in the main action of the poem art that point?

7.

This would also be a good chance to look at the shape of the Spenserian stanza (described on the bottom of page 623). Look carefully at stanza 21 and note how the meter, rhyme scheme, and line lengths work. How many words does Spenser need for each rhyme in each stanza?

8.

How difficult is it to get out of the woods once Error has been defeated (stanza 28)?

9.

Whom do the Redcross Knight and the lady meet when they leave the woods (stanza 29)? What does the Redcross ask the hermit? Is there any action in the neighborhood? What does the lady suggest (stanza 32), and what does the hermit then suggest (stanza 33)?

10.

What are the hermitage and the hermit like (stanzas 34-35)? Does anything seem to be not quite right?

11.

What does the hermit do as soon as the Redcross Knight and the lady are asleep (stanza 36, lines 7-9)? Are we surprised? Should anything have warned us something wasn't quite right?

12.

Notice that the magician/hermit calls up two "sprights" or spirits in stanza 38. Keep track of those two. What does he do with the first one (stanza 38, line 8)?

13.

The House of Morpheus is a frequent device in epic and romance poems; note 1 on p. 638 identifies earlier versions in Ovid and Chaucer. (And "The House of Something is an even more frequent motif, one that we will meet at least twice more in Book 1. Remember that the messenger is the first of the two "sprights." Read the House of Morpheus passage carefully (stanzas 39-44). What happens? What has the "spright" been sent for? How easily does he get it? Does Morpheus as a character provide a good example of the characteristic he represents? (This is one form of allegory that we will meet often--a character with an abstract name like Morpheus (i.e., Sleep) who shows the characteristics of that abstraction.

14.

What do we learn about the magician/hermit in this passage? Notice the double meaning of his name in note 3 on page 639. He is an important evil character for the whole poem.

15.

What does Archimago do with the other "spright" (stanza 45)? Once a duplicate of the lady has been made, the lady herself is finally named. What is her name and what is it's significance?

16.

What does Archimago do with the false dream he got from Morpheus (stanzas 47-48)? What does the image of Una in this false dream tell the Redcross Knight (stanza 48)?

17.

What happens when the the Redcross Knight wakes up (stanza 49)? Is this really Una? (Remember stanza 45.) What does this false Una tell Redcross about why she really left her father's kingdom (stanza 52)? Does all this work on Redcross? What does he tell her to do (stanza 54)? What happens when Redcross finally gets back to sleep (stanza 55)? Notice that the false dream and the "spright" made to look like Una leave Redcross (stanza 55, lines 8-9).

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Canto 2 (pages 642-652)

1.

Archimago tries once more (stanzas 1-6). What does he do? How well does it work? What happens to the Redcross Knight and Una's dwarf?

2.

What does Una do (stanzas 7-8)? Her story continues in Canto 3. Notice the poetic description of dawn in stanza 7. This is another epic tradition. Why would a goddess like Aurora be weary of her husband's bed? Notice that he is called "aged Tithones." When Aurora fell in love with the mortal Tithonius, she got her wish to have him made immortal, but she forgot to ask to have him remain young, so he just keeps getting older and older, while she stays young. Poets have had lots of fun with this situation.

3.

How does Archimago respond to what has happened (stanza 9)? What does he do next (stanza 11)?

4.

What is the Redcross Knight's name (stanza 12)? What happens when he meets Sans Foy and the lady with him (stanzas 12-19)? What does the description of the lady say about what she represents in the poem (stanza 13)? Who sins the fight between Sans Foy and the Redcross Knight (stanza 19)?

5.

What does the lady then do (stanzas 20-25)? Who does she say she is (stanza 26)? Be sure to look at note 2 to see some of the associations Spenser's original audience would make in this description. What does Redcross tell her (stanza 27)? How does she respond? What is the narrator telling us in the last 5 lines of stanza 27?

6.

How are Redcross and Fidessa getting on (stanzas 28-30)? What happens when Redcross breaks off a bough to make her a garland.

7.

What warning does the voice give to Redcross, and how does Redcross respond (stanzas 31-32)? Who is Fradubio, how did he get into this difficult situation, and whom does he blame (stanzas 31-42)? Duessa, like Archimago, is an important evil character in The Faerie Queene.

8.

Why might Fidessa be unhappy that Redcross is hearing this story? (See stanza 44, line 1.) What happens to Fidessa, and how does Redcross respond (stanzas 44-45)?

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Canto 3 (pages 652-662)

Summary: Una wanders "Forsaken, wofull, solitarie mayd / Farre from all peoples prease, as in exile" (3.3.2-3) looking for Redcross. While she is sleeping, a lion attacks but recognizes her royal nature and so protects her instead, following her as she searches for Redcross. She finds Archimago disguised as Redcross and thinks she has found her knight. But Archimago is defeated by Sans Loy, revenging his brother's death, who then reveals Archimago to Una. Sans Loy kills the lion and takes Una with him by force.

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Canto 4 (pages 662-674)

1.

Where do Redcross and Fidessa/Duessa stop for the night? Read the description of the House of Pride carefully (stanzas 2-5). What isn't quite right about this building?

2.

Read stanzas 7-12 carefully. Who might come to mind for Spenser's readers at the mention of "A mayden Queene" (stanza 8, line 5)? Where is she sitting? What is under her feet? What is she holding? What attribute does this queen seem designed to represent? What is troublesome about the name Lucifera? Who are her parents? Whom does she claim her father is? How did she become a ruler?

3.

How do the lords and ladies greet Redcross (stanza 15)? Why do they welcome Duessa more warnly? How does Redcross respond to these people?

4.

Stanzas 17-36 describe a procession of the Seven Deadly Sins (see note 6 on page 666--amazing! Actually, Spenser works interestingly with numerology in The Faerie Queene, but he certainly didn't have anything to do with the page in this anthology that the procession of the Seven Deadlies would begin on!) The procession represents another set piece in which the author's challenge is to describe the characteristics of each sin in the person representing that sin.

5.

The first six sins appear in three pairs: Idleness (i.e., Sloth) and Gluttony (at 18.6 and 21.1), Lechery and Avarice (at 24.1 and 27.1), and Envy and Wrath (at 30.1 and 33.1). What is the seventh? Where is it represented? Who is sitting on the coach's beam (stanza 36)?

6.

Where is this procession going (stanza 37)? Who is riding next to Lucifera? How does Redcross respond to all this?

7.

Who has arrived when they return to the palace (stanza 38)? Why does Sans Joy attack Redcross Knight, and what happens (stanzas 39-43)?

8.

What happens when Duessa/Fidessa visits Sans Joy that night (stanzas 44-51)? How honest is she in describing Sans Foy's death? What does she promise to Sans Joy?

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Canto 5 (pages 674-687)

Summary: Redcross knight wins the victory over Sans Joy, who disappears before Redcross can kill him. At night, Duessa journeys to Night and with her goes to recover the body of Sans Joy, which they then take to Hell. (The journey to Hell is another epic convention.) There Aesculapius agrees to treat him. When Duessa returns to the House of Pride, she discovers that Redcross Knight has left, having been told by the dwarf what happens to people who stay there.

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Canto 6 (pages 687-698)

Summary: Sansloy woos the captive Una, and when she refuses him, tries to rape her. But she is saved by a group of fauns and satyrs, who then worship her as their goddess. A knight, Sir Satyrane, arrives to visit his kindred and leaves with Una. They meet a simple pilgrim, actually Archimago, who describes seeing the death of Redcross Knight. Sir Satyrane goes after the person who killed him (Sansloy again) but learns that the person he had fought was Archimago, not Redcross. As they fight, Una flees.

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Canto 7 (pages 698-710)

Summary: Duessa soon catches up with Redcross in the shade by a fountain that dulls anyone who drinks from it. Redcross has lost his strength but still courts his lady Fidessa. Redcross is attacked and captured by the giant Orgoglio and thrown into a dungeon, while the giant makes Duessa a queen. The dwarf has fled and soon meets Una. He tells her what has happened to Redcross since he left Una. They then meet a knight who has a shield of diamond (kept covered) that cannot be pierced. This is Prince Arthur (yes, The Faerie Queene is another example of Arthurian literature). Una tells him why she went to Gloriana's court to seek assistance for her parents and how the untried knight became her champion. Arthur promises to rescue Redcross.

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Canto 8 (pages 710-721)

Summary: Orgoglio fights Arthur, with the help of Duessa's beast. When the beast accidentally uncovers Arthur's shield, the beast is blinded. Arthur then kills Orgoglio, who deflates like a bladder (or balloon). Arthur finds Redcross in the dungeon, but Redcross wants to die. Once Arthur has brought Redcross out of the castle, he strips Duessa to reveal the ugly witch that she really is and then lets her go.

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Canto 9 (pages 721-734)

1.

Notice the "goodly golden chaine" of stanza 1, another epic device that goes back to the Iliad. In The Faerie Queene it will ultimately link all of the knights together through their contact with Arthur, who appears in each book.

2.

Why is Arthur in Faerie land (stanzas 3-8)? What did he previously think about love, and what caused him to change (stanzas 9-12)?

3.

What happened to Arthur when he slept in the forest (stanzas 12-15)? Was this only a dream? What evidence is there that something actually happened? How is this dream different from Redcross Knight's dream in canto 1, stanza 52? How long has Arthur been searching for the Faerie Queen? Do you think he will ever find her?

4.

How do Arthur and the Redcross Knight bond (stanzas18-19)? What is significant about the two gifts?

5.

Is Redcross ready to fight the dragon yet (stanza 20)?

6.

What has happened to the fearful knight who suddently appears in stanza 21 and to his friend (stanzas 21-31)? Who is this fearful knight (see stanza 32, line 5)? Who is his friend (stanza 27, line 3)? Whom do they encounter and what does he urge them to do? What is Sir Trevisan's advice to Redcross (stanza 31)? What does Redcross decide to do (stanza 32)?

7.

What happens to Redcross when he encounters Despair (stanzas 33-51)? Why is Despair able to convince Redcross that he deserves to die? Why is Despair's language so effective? What things are missing from Despair's arguments? Be sure to read Despair's speeches carefully; this is another of the famous set pieces in The Faerie Queene.

8.

How is Redcross rescued from Despair (stanzas 52-53)? What does Una tell Redcross that convinces him to leave?

9.

What does Despair do when Redcross Knight gets away? How effective is it?

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Canto 10 (pages 734-750)

1.

Who are the real enemies, according to stanza 1?

2.

Where does Una take the Redcross Knight for recovery (stanzas 2-3)? This place is identified as the House of Holiness in the argument to this canto. Who lives there (stanza 4)?

3.

What figures appear as Una and Redcross enter the House of Holiness, and what do they represent (stanzas 5-7)?

4.

Who is Dame Caelia and what does she represent (stanza 8-11)? How does she know Una? Why is she surprised to see Redcross there?

5.

Who is Fidelia, how is she described, and what does she represent (stanzas 12-13)? Have we seen anything like the cup and book before? (See canto 9, stanza 19)?

6.

Who is Speranza, how is she described, and what does she represent (stanza 14)? Why isn't Charissa with her two sisters (stanza 16)?

7.

What does Fidelia teach Redcross (stanzas 17-20)? What is the result for Redcross (stanza 21)? Is this a familiar position for him to be in? How is it different this time, or is it?

8.

What does Speranza teach Redcross (stanza 22)? Why is Una upset (stanzas 22-23)? Who comes to cure Redcross, and how effective is he (stanzas 23-24)?

9.

What happens to Redcross while he is under the care of Patience (stanzas 25-28)?

10.

Who is Charissa, how is she described, what does she represent, and what does she teach Redcross (stanzas 29-33)? Why is it fitting that Redcross meets her only now?

11.

Where does Mercy take Redcross and what does he learn there (stanzas 34-45)? The seven beadsmen represent the seven works of charity, or corporal mercy (see note 4, page 744). Why is this section especially relevant at Saint Xavier University?

12.

Where does Mercy then take Redcross (stanzas 46-51)? Have we met a hermit before in The Faerie Queene? How are this hermit and hermitage different, if they are?

13.

What does Contemplation tell Redcross about himself in stanza 52?

14.

Contemplation then takes Redcross to "the highest Mount." To what other mounts is this one compared (stanzas 53-54)? Are there any surprises here?

15.

What does Redcross see from the mount (stanzas 55-56)? What is the new Jerusalem (stanza 57)? How does it compare to the Faerie Queen's capital, Cleopolis (stanzas 58-59)?

16.

What does Contemplation say about Redcross Knight's race and name (stanzas 60-61)?

17.

How does Redcross respond to being there (stanzas 62-63)? Why can't he stay there?

18.

Why did Contemplation say that Redcross is English (stanzas 64-66)? Note that being English means that he is Anglo-Saxon (in this case Saxon). Arthur is British, one of the Celtic kings of Britain. What little we know of the historical Arthur suggests that he won a great battle against the Anglo-Saxons in about 500 CE. The Tudors claimed Welsh descent, the Welsh being descendants of the Celtic Britons, so they claimed to be uniting the British and the English lines.

19.

What happens when Redcross looks back down (stanza 67)? What happens after Redcross has rejoined Una and rested for a while (stanza 68)? Is he ready to fight the dragon now? What does knowing his name suggest about the outcome of that battle?

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Canto 11 (pages 750-762)

1.

What do Una and the Redcross Knight see as they approach her parents' kingdom (stanzas 1-4)? Where do her parents now live?

2.

What happens in stanzas 5-7? This is a traditional epic invocation of the muse. What does stanza 7 suggest about what will happen later in The Faerie Queene? (This seems to refer to the book describing the final battle, which Spenser never wrote.)

3.

What does the dragon look like (stanzas 8-14)? Who or what is the dragon? There's a hint in the first line of the Canto 11 argument, which refers to "that old Dragon." Spenser's original readers would have picked up on the phrase from Revelation, which reads, in the Geneva translation, "And the great dragon, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, was cast out" (Rev.12.9; compare 20.2).

4.

What happens in the first day's battle (stanzas 15-28)? What finally defeats the Redcross Knight?

5.

What saves Redcross (stanzas 29-30)? What does the Well of Life represent?

6.

How does Una respond (stanza 32)?

7.

What happens in the second day's battle (stanzas 33-45)? Why is Redcross able to wound the dragon today when he couldn't yesterday? (See stanza 36.) What finally defeats the Redcross Knight?

8.

What saves Redcross (stanzas 46-49)? What does the presence of the Tree of Life tell us about where we are? How does the tree save Redcross?

9.

How does Una respond (stanza 50)?

10.

What happens in the third day's battle (stanzas 51-54)? Why is Redcross able to kill the dragon today when he couldn't the other two days? What does the Redcross Knight's victory on the third day represent? Who then is the dragon?

11.

How does Una respond (stanza 55)?

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Canto 12 (pages 763-772)

1.

What metaphor does Spenser use in the first stanza to represent the writing of the poem?

2.

How do the people in the tower learn of the death of the dragon (stanzas 2-3)? What sort of celebration is proclaimed (stanza 4)?

3.

What is the procession to the Redcross Knight and Una like (stanzas 5-12)? How are the common people portrayed (stanzas 9-11)? Are these people you can recognize?

4.

What happens when they return to the palace and the Redcross Knight tells his story (stanzas 13-16)?

5.

What does the king propose, and why does Redcross object (stanzas 17-18)? What might the significance be of having to serve six years? Who is opposed to the Faerie Queen? (Compare canto 11, stanza 7.) Compare these two stanzas on the need to return to the battle with canto 10, stanzas 60-66.

6.

What does the king tell Redcross to do after he has served his six years with the Faerie Queen (stanzas 19-20)?

7.

What does Una look like now that she has ended her travels (stanzas 21-23)? Note 3 on p. 768 gives an idea of what she represents (again from Revelation, which is the source for much of the imagery in cantos 10-12; the Song of Songs is also relevant here). How does Redcross respond to her?

8.

What interruption occurs? Note that the first half of 24.6 introduces a speech but that the poem itself is interrupted by the second half of the line.

9.

What is in the letter that the messenger brings (stanzas 24-28)? Who sent it? What does she claim? Note that Una's father is further identified by the title given to him in 26.1. Compare 26.3-4 with canto 2.22.7-9. But what do we already know about Fidessa? What does Fidessa threaten in 28.7-8?

10.

How does the king respond to this (stanzas 29-30)? What does Redcross tell him (stanzas 31-32)? Whom does he say Fidessa really is? What does Una add (stanzas 33-34)?

11.

What happens to the messenger (stanzas 35-36)? Who is he? What is suggested by 36.4-5?

12.

What happens in the betrothal ceremony and at the feast (stanzas 37-40)? Who seems to provide the music? Notice the parallels from Revelation cited in the notes.

13.

How long does the Redcross Knight stay, and what does he do next (stanza 41)?

14.

How is the last stanza of the canto like the first?

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