The Faerie Queene


Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Metaphors 8 key examples

Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Book II: Canto I
Explanation and Analysis—New Bait:

Spenser uses a metaphor that compares Archimago to a fisherman and the Redcross Knight to a fish. In the first Canto of Book II, the narrator states that Archimago had not yet given up on his attempt to ensnare Redcross in one of his traps. However, the narrator concludes that Archimago’s task has grown too difficult, leading him to seek new victims: 

Still as he went, he craftie stales did lay, 
With cunning traines him to entrap vnwares, 
And priuie spials plast in all his way, 
To weete what course he takes, and how he fares; 
To ketch him at a vantage in his snares. 
But now so wise and warie was the knight
By triall of his former harmes and cares, 
That he descride, and shonned still his slight: 
The fish that once was caught, new bait will hardly bite.

Throughout the stanza, Archimago is discussed metaphorically as a hunter, who intends to “entrap” his prey in one of “his snares” (a trap for catching small birds and animals.) Redcross, however, has grown “wise and warie” after his many close encounters with Archimago, and he is not nearly as naive and easy to fool as he used to be. The narrator argues that “the fish that once was caught, new bait will hardly take.” Much as a fish might grow wary of a form of bait that is used too often by a fisherman, then, Redcross has learned to see through Archimago’s illusions. Later in this canto, Archimago will turn his attention upon Guyon, who has not yet taken the “bait.” 

Book II: Canto VII
Explanation and Analysis—Feeding the Eyes:

In a metaphor, Spenser compares Guyon’s curiosity to a form of hunger. Throughout his encounter with Mammon, Guyon is not tempted by any of the demigod’s vast stores of wealth and treasure. However, his desire to prove himself against Mammon is characterized by Spenser as a form of temptation in itself. As Guyon moves through Mammon’s subterranean lair, the narrator notes that: 

All these before the gates of Pluto lay, 
By whom they passing, spake vnto them nought. 
But th’Elfin knight with wonder all the way 
Did feed his eyes, and fild his inner thought

Mammon takes Guyon on a tour through the vast network of caves that make up his domain. Guyon watches with “wonder” and curiosity as Mammon’s misshapen slaves work tirelessly to mine, refine, and mint gold into coins. At no point does Guyon face any serious temptation; indeed, the Knight of temperance seems to be completely uninterested in riches, wealth, or power, and he even turns down Mammon’s beautiful daughter.

However, Spenser writes that Guyon did “feed his eyes” and “fild his inner thought” with what he sees in Mammon’s lair. These metaphors suggest that, while Guyon might not covet material wealth, his curiosity is a form of covetousness itself. In fact, Spenser earlier describes the demonic Mammon as running his coins through his fingers “to feede his eye.” Guyon and Mammon do have something  in common, then, and to gaze with wonder upon Mammon’s collection is, for Spenser, no better than taking his gold. 

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Book III: Canto I
Explanation and Analysis—Her Wanton Eyes:

Spenser employs vision and ways of seeing as a metaphor throughout The Faerie Queene. Just as blindness or impaired vision often symbolize, for Spenser, poor understanding, Malecasta’s “wanton eyes” serve as a metaphor for her unchaste desires. The narrator describes the introduction of Britomart, Guyon, and the other assembled knights to Malecasta, the “Lady of Delight”: 

Thence they were brought to that great Ladies vew, 
Whom they found sitting on a sumptuous bed, 
That glistred all with gold and glorious shew,
As the proud Persian Queenes accustomed: 
She seemd a woman of great bountihed, 
And of rare beautie, sauing that askaunce 
Her wanton eyes, ill signes of womanhed, 
Did roll too lightly, and too often glaunce, 
Without regard of grace, or comely amenaunce.

Spenser’s pointed characterization aligns Malecasta with other negative examples of womanhood in the poem, from her opulent surroundings and dress to her association with non-Christian cultures (she is dressed in the manner of “Persian Queenes,” much as Duessa is described as wearing a “Persian mitre”). Though she is “of rare beautie,” the narrator insists that she has one visible flaw: “Her wanton eyes.” Her eyes, Spenser writes,  “roll too lightly, and too often glaunce, / Without regard of grace.” Malecasta’s eyes dart around freely as if she is taking in everything at once. For Spenser, her way of looking at the world metaphorically represents her values; the “Lady of Delight” takes pleasure in looking at everyone and everything rather than settling modestly upon just one man. Her “wanton” desires make her one of the negative examples of Chastity in Book III. 

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Book III: Canto II
Explanation and Analysis—Love's Ulcer:

Struggling with her deep love for Arthegall, whom she has met only in her vision-like dreams, Britomart metaphorically compares love to a growing ulcer that has afflicted her health. Speaking with her nurse, Glauce, after receiving another vision of Arthegall, Britomart brushes off any attempts to comfort her, insisting that: 

Sithens it hath infixed faster hold 
Within my bleeding bowels, and so sore 
Now ranckleth in this same fraile fleshly mould, 
That all mine entrailes flow with poysnous gore. 
And th’vlcer groweth daily more and more; 
Ne can my running sore find remedie, 
Other then my hard fortune to deplore, 
And languish as the leafe falne from the tree, 
Till death make one end of my dayes and miserie.

Using visceral imagery, Britomart figures her lovesickness as a grave physical illness that has developed within her “bleeding bowels” and rankles the “fraile fleshly mould” of her body. Further developing this metaphor, she states that her “entrailes flow with [poisonous] gore,” and that the ulcer afflicting her grows daily. Britomart’s feelings of anguish go far beyond conventional poetic laments regarding lovesickness; like the virgin warrior-goddess Diana to whom she is frequently compared in the poem, Britomart takes her chastity seriously, and she is deeply aggrieved by her feelings of longing for Arthegall.

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Book III: Canto X
Explanation and Analysis—Chewing the Cud:

Spenser uses a number of digestive metaphors in his portrayal of Malbecco’s frantic and self-defeating response to his wife’s affair. After Paridell and Hellenore have run off together, Malbecco has continued to dwell on his injured feelings. As the narrator states: 

Long thus he chawd the cud of inward griefe,
And did consume his gall with anguish sore, 
Still when he mused on his late mischiefe, 
Then still the smart thereof increased more, 
And seem’d more grieuous, then it was before: 
At last when sorrow he saw booted nought, 
Ne griefe might not his loue to him restore,
He gan deuise, how her he reskew mought, 
Ten thousand wayes he cast in his confused thought.

First, Spenser writes that Malbecco “chawd the cud” (or “chewed the cud”), a metaphor drawn from the behavior of cows and other bovines which imagines Malbecco as continually chewing on partially digested food. This animal metaphor, then, suggests that Malbecco has been “chewing over” the same subject without gaining any additional nutrition from it. Next, Spenser uses a second, closely related metaphor, noting that Malbecco “did consume his gall with anguish sore,” or in other words, he has chewed on a sore spot in his mouth. In doing so, Malbecco has done further damage to himself, as “the smart” or pain “increase[s] more” the more he chews it over until it “seem’d more grieuous then it was before.” Unable to overcome his feeling of personal injury, Malbecco has fixated on his wife’s affair and cannot move on from his past, setting him on a tragic narrative trajectory. 

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Book IV: Canto V
Explanation and Analysis—Care and Anxiety:

In Book IV, Scudamore seeks refuge in the house of Care while traveling across Faerie Land in an attempt to find his beloved Amoretta. Spenser uses the unceasingly noisy tools of Care’s workshop as a metaphor for the distracting and distressing nature of anxiety. Of Scudamore’s night in the house of Care, the narrator notes. 

And euermore, when he to sleepe did thinke, 
The hammers sound his senses did molest;
And euermore, when he began to winke, 
The bellowes noyse disturb’d his quiet rest, 
Ne suffred sleepe to settle in his brest. 
And all the night the dogs did barke and howle 
About the house, at sent of stranger guest: 
And now the crowing Cocke, and now the 
Owle Lowde shriking him afflicted to the very sowle.

Despite the kind welcome offered to him by Care, Scudamore is unable to rest. Whenever he feels that he might fall asleep, “the hammers sound his senses did molest.” The construction tools used by Care and his six workers are in use all throughout the night; when the hammers are put down, the “bellowes noyse disturb’d his quiet rest” instead. Even the dogs in Care’s home “did barke and howle” through the night, “at sent of stranger guest.” He is still awake in the morning as roosters begin to crow. 

Here, Spenser's metaphor meditates on the nature of “care” or anxiety.  The anxious Scudamore is unable to sleep until he has been reunited with Amoretta, and the constant distractions and noise of Care’s home metaphorically reflect Scudamore’s own uneasy state of mind. 

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Book V: Canto II
Explanation and Analysis—A Mirror :

Spenser metaphorically describes the severed head of the villainous Pollente as a “mirror” to warn other potential tyrants. Pollente comes to Arthegall’s attention for his monopolistic control of a bridge; he demands a heavy fee of anyone who desires to cross the bridge and thereby blocks the free exchange of commerce across Faerie Land. After Arthegall has defeated Pollente in a fierce battle and beheaded his opponent, he pitches it upon a pole as a warning to others. As the narrator notes: 

His corps was carried downe along the Lee, 
Whose waters with his filthy bloud it stayned: 
But his blasphemous head, that all might see, 
He pitcht vpon a pole on high ordayned; 
Where many years it afterwards remayned, 
To be a mirrour to all mighty men, 
In whose right hands great power is contayned, 
That none of them the feeble ouerren, 
But alwaies doe their powre within iust compasse pen.

Pollente’s head remains upon the pole for “many years,” where it serves as a “mirrour to all mighty men,” demonstrating to them “in whose right hands great power is contayned.” In describing the head metaphorically as a mirror, Spenser suggests that other would-be tyrants might look upon the severed head and imagine their own, like the reflection of a mirror. This terrifying image, the narrator suggests, might compel others to behave lawfully. When Spenser refers to the “right” hands in which “great” power is correctly contained, he does not mean “the people” in a democratic sense, but rather the monarch and his or her administrators, whose job is to enforce the law. 

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Book VI: Proem
Explanation and Analysis—Side Trips:

In the Proem to Book VI, Spenser employs a metaphor that compares his own process of writing The Faerie Queene to a wandering along a pleasant path. Explaining, and also defending, his approach to writing his epic poem, Spenser notes: 

The waies, through which my weary steps I guyde, 
In this delightfull land of Faery, 
Are so exceeding spacious and wyde, 
And sprinckled with such sweet variety, 
Of all that pleasant is to eare or eye, 
That I nigh rauisht with rare thoughts delight,
My tedious trauell doe forget thereby; 
And when I gin to feele decay of might, 
It strength to me supplies, & chears my dulled spright

Here, he metaphorically describes his writing process as the “weary steps I guyde, / In this delightfull land of Faery.” The Faerie Queene has a famously convoluted structure, in which many different episodes and events obstruct the protagonists’ paths towards their goals. Fittingly, Spenser notes that his path has been “exceeding spacious and wyde.” He further expands this metaphor, describing the various pleasures that have distracted him along his way as a “sweet variety” of enjoyable side-trips that have been “pleasant” to the “eare or eye.” Ultimately, he confesses that he has all but forgotten his “tedious trauell” towards his destination, or in other words, the conclusion of his poem. Spenser’s metaphor casts the various sub-plots of The Faerie Queene as enjoyable excursions and defends his decision to take "the scenic route” towards the poem’s finale.  

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