The Faerie Queene is an epic poem, written on a grand scale. Epics often have strong national or cultural significance, serving as a reflection of the values, history, and identity of a people. In The Faerie Queene, Spenser celebrates the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and promotes the ideals and values of the Elizabethan era. In crafting an English epic, Spenser closely studied epic poems from classical Greece and Rome, works which likewise center upon the heroic deeds of their extraordinary protagonists. In the Proem to Book I, Spenser discusses his ambitious task to compose an epic:
Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.
Like Homer and Virgil, the most famous epic poets of Ancient Greece and Rome respectively, Spenser first summons the muses for divine inspiration and acknowledges the difficulty of his task. He claims that, previously, he has worn the “lowly Shepheards weeds” of a pastoral poet, or in other words, a poet whose work concerns more simple themes and is set in idealized rural settings. However, the muses have commanded Spenser to give up his “Oaten reeds” in favor of the “trumpets” of epic poetry, which often centers upon “Fierce warres.” Here, Spenser attempts to emulate the career of Virgil, who first wrote pastoral poetry before turning to his epic, The Aeneid.