The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Book I: Canto IV Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator warns young knights like the Redcross Knight of how they can be led astray by people like Duessa (who is still disguised as a fair lady named Fidessa). As the Redcross Knight travels, he comes across an impressive building that looks like it could be the house of a prince. Many people from all ranks of society seem to be going towards the house, but few return. Duessa urges the Redcross Knight to approach.
In a book that began with an encounter with the monster Error, it is fitting that the Redcross Knight spends much of the book being led astray by a false woman.
Themes
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Quotes
The house turns out to be more of a palace, with high brick walls that have golden foil all over them. But though the house looks impressive, it sits on a weak foundation. A porter named Malvenù lets them inside, where many people wait eagerly to see the lady of the palace.
The contrast between the strong-looking house and the weak foundation is an obvious metaphor that recalls a Bible parable about how structures built on weak foundations will fall. It also suggests that outward beauty can be deceiving.
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On a bright throne, wearing royal robes, is a maiden queen who seems to shine like the sun. She looks up toward heaven, refusing to look down at earth. Beneath her is an ugly dragon. This queen is the daughter of Pluto (god of the underworld) and Proserpina (Pluto’s queen, whom he kidnapped from the world above). Her name is Lucifera.
Lucifera’s name is a clear reference to Lucifer (Satan, the devil), who was known for his pride. Lucifera, then, is a female embodiment of pride, something that her queenly appearance here confirms.
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Lucifera usurped the throne through trickery and brutality, and she has become a tyrant. Duessa (still disguised) leads the Redcross Knight toward Lucifera.
Lucifera’s shaky claim to her throne reflects the unstable foundation of her house.
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Lucifera comes down from her throne, looking as splendid as the goddess Juno, or perhaps a peacock, as she gets into her coach. The coach is drawn by six different beasts, each of which has one of her six counselors riding on it. Each of the six beasts is monstrous, resembling a different one of the seven deadly sins (Idleness, Gluttony, Lechery, Greed, Envy, and Wrath), with Lucifera representing the seventh: Pride.
Peacocks are associated with pride today and have had that association since long before even Spenser’s time. The seven deadly sins were traditionally considered to be the roots of all other sins a Christian could commit, but rather than fear them, Lucifera literally uses them to pull her forward as the beasts that move her coach.
Themes
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Lucifera and the deadly sin beasts ride for pleasure across flowery fields, with Duessa sitting right next to Lucifera. The Redcross Knight, however, is out of place in this crowd. When Lucifera has finished her ride and returns to the palace, a knight is waiting there with Sans joy written in red on his shield
Lucifera’s grand ride on her beasts is a way for her to extravagantly flaunt her queenly status, although some, like the Redcross Knight, can see through her hollow display.
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Sansjoy notices that the Redcross Knight has the shield of his slain brother, Sansfoy. Sansjoy starts a fight with the Redcross Knight. They clash, but Lucifera orders them to stop, saying that they should fight properly the next day.
By this point, it’s clear that all “pagans” like Sansjoy are mortal enemies of virtuous Christians like the Redcross Knight, and so conflict between the two of them is inevitable.
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Sansjoy lies to Lucifera and tells her about how the Redcross Knight used treachery to kill his brother Sansfoy. He throws down his gauntlet as a promise to fight the Redcross Knight in battle the next day.
Even evil knights often followed certain parts of the knightly code of conduct, which is why Sansjoy asks for a duel instead of just trying to murder Redcross outright. A gauntlet was an armored glove, and throwing down one’s gauntlet was a way to issue a challenge to another knight.
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Night falls. While everyone is sleeping, Duessa gets up and goes to find Sansjoy, who is awake and plotting ways to defeat the Redcross Knight. Duessa talks about how she loved Sansjoy’s fallen brother Sansfoy but how the Redcross Knight has trapped her with him. She asks Sansjoy to avenge Sansfoy.
But while Sansjoy has requested a duel, it may not be a fair fight if Duessa gets involved. This confirms that Sansjoy is not a righteous knight, despite his willingness to follow certain parts of chivalry.
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Sansjoy promises that he will do his duty to Sansfoy’s ghost by sacrificing the blood of the Redcross Knight.
Both good and evil characters in the poem seek revenge—the difference here is that Sansfoy was not a righteous character and so doesn’t deserve vengeance.
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Duessa fears that Sansjoy may be defeated by bad fortune. Sansjoy reassures her. Duessa says she’ll provide Sansjoy with hidden help.
Even evil characters like Duessa recognize the power of holy characters like Redcross, and they fear it.
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