The Faerie Queene


Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Similes 5 key examples

Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Book I: Canto II
Explanation and Analysis—Two Rams:

Spenser uses a simile that compares Redcross and a knight he encounters on his journey to “two rams.” Falling for the deceptions of the villainous Archimago, Redcross has abandoned Una and travels alone across Faerie Land. Still angry at what he falsely believes to be Una’s betrayal, he soon finds himself in conflict with Sans Foy, whose name means “Without Faith”: 

As when two rams stird with ambitious pride, 
Fight for the rule of the rich fleeced flocke, 
Their horned fronts so fierce on either side 
Do meete, that with the terrour of die shocke 
Astonied both, stand sencelesse as a blocke, 
Forgetfull of the hanging victory: 
So stood these twaine, vnmoued as a rocke, 
Both staring fierce, and holding idely,
The broken reliques of their former cruelty.

Here, Spenser describes the quarreling knights in a simile as “two rams stird with ambitious pride.” Much as two rams, or male lambs, might literally “butt heads” in order to establish dominance, the two knights are imagined by Spenser as competing “for the rule of the rich fleeced flocke.” Further developing this comparison, Spenser figures their swords as horns; much as two rams might be left in “shocke” after injuring each other, both of the knights have frozen after shattering their swords (“the broken reliques”) against each other. Spenser’s simile suggests that the conflict between the two evenly-matched knights is senseless, sparked by pride rather than true chivalry. 

Book I: Canto XI
Explanation and Analysis—As a Mountain:

Spenser compares a dragon to a mountain in a simile that underscores its tremendous size. In the concluding cantos of Book I, Redcross has finally reached the dragon that has plagued the kingdom ruled by Una’s mother and father. This scene marks the culmination of his hero’s journey after many distractions, mistakes, and opportunities for growth. However, the dragon is notably more formidable than his previous enemies. The narrator observes its formidable size and power: 

By this the dreadfull Beast drew nigh to hand, 
Halfe flying, and halfe footing in his hast, 
That with his largenesse measured much land, 
And made wide shadow vnder his huge wast;
As mountaine doth the valley ouercast.

The dragon is at a scale Redcross has not yet encountered; while Orgoglio the giant was described as being as tall as three men, the “largeness” of the dragon can only be measured in land (and apparently, quite a large amount of it). As the dragon flies, it leaves a shadow on the ground, “As mountain doth the valley ouercast.” Just as a valley might be cast in shadow when a large mountain blocks the sun, so too does the dragon cast the terrain beneath it in darkness. Spenser’s simile emphasizes the difficulty of Redcross’s final challenge, ultimately highlighting the miraculous nature of the knight’s victory.  

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Book III: Canto I
Explanation and Analysis—Malecasta and Britomart :

Spenser employs dramatic irony during Britomart’s stay in the house of Malecasta. Though the reader knows that Britomart is a female knight, her knight’s armor has concealed her body and Malecasta has falsely assumed that Britomart is a male. In a deeply ironic scene, the “Lady of Delight” attempts to court Britomart: 

Whom when the Lady saw so faire a wight, 
All ignoraunt of her contrary sex, 
(For she her weend a fresh and lusty knight)
She greatly gan enamoured to wex, 
And with vaine thoughts her falsed fancy vex: 
Her fickle hart concerned hasty fire, 
Like sparkes of fire, which fall in sclender flex, 
That shortly brent into extreme desire,
And ransackt all her veines with passion entire.

Malecasta is “ignouraunt” of the “contrary sex” of Britomart, whom she believes to be a “fresh and lusty knight.” Britomart is not only, as Spenser acknowledges, a female knight, but also the Knight of Chastity, leading her to butt heads repeatedly with the "wanton" Malecasta. In a simile, Spenser further describes Malecasta’s growing attraction to Britomart, which “like sparkes of fire” has set  “hasty fire” to her “fickle hart,” a fire which has spread through her “veines” and consumed her entirely. Malecasta’s subsequent attempts to seduce the female knight present the first of many challenges to the Knight of Chastity throughout Book III. 

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Book III: Canto IX
Explanation and Analysis—The Cuckold :

In Canto IX, Britomart, Satyrane, and a small cluster of other knights attempt to seek refuge from a storm in the castle of Malbecco. Through the figure of Malbecco, Spenser satirizes a common target of early modern folk humor: the cuckold, or in other words, a man whose wife conducts adulterous affairs. Of Malbecco, whose name means “evil goat,” the narrator writes: 

But he is old, and withered like hay, 
Vnfit faire Ladies seruice to supply; 
The priuie guilt whereof makes him alway 
Suspect her truth, and keepe continuall spy 
Vpon her with his other blincked eye; 
Ne suffreth he resort of liuing wight 
Approch to her, ne keepe her company, 
But in close bowre her mewes from all mens sight, 
Depriu’d of kindly ioy and naturall delight.

Malbecco has married the much younger Hellenore, but, as the narrator notes in a simile, he is old and “withered like hay,” and therefore an unfit husband for such a young woman. He feels guilty due to his inability to sexually pleasure his wife and as a result of his guilt he constantly suspects her of adultery, keeping a “continuall spy” or constant eye on her. However, the narrator mockingly suggests that even these paranoid attempts to keep her away from other men are in vain, as he has a “blincked eye” that cannot see well. The narrator is harsh in condemnation of Malbecco, who doesn’t allow anyone to see his wife and keeps her locked up in a “close bowre” away from “all men’s sight.” Malbecco, then, is a conventional satirical figure representing the vanity of older men who marry young wives.

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Book V: Canto II
Explanation and Analysis—Like as a Ship:

Spenser employs a simile that compares the dead Giant to a ship that has been shattered after running aground of a rock, emphasizing the vast scale of the Giant’s body. After losing patience with the Giant’s calls for equality, Talus swiftly and violently dispatches the Giant, pushing him off a cliff to his death. The narrator dwells upon the sight of the Giant’s shattered corpse: 

Like as a ship, whom cruell tempest driues 
Vpon a rocke with horrible dismay, 
Her shattered ribs in thousand peeces riues, 
And spoyling all her geares and goodly ray, 
Does make her selfe misfortunes piteous pray. 
So downe the cliffe the wretched Gyant tumbled; 
His battred ballances in peeces lay, 
His timbered bones all broken rudely rumbled, 
So was the high aspyring with huge ruine humbled.

Here, Spenser registers the tremendous size of the Giant, whose colossal body is described as being “Like as a ship” which has been driven by a “cruel tempest” or storm “upon a rocke." Spenser plays with the anatomical language used to describe boats, such as the wooden “ribs” of a ship which he imagines “shattered” into a “thousand peeces.” The narrator acknowledges this as a fitting punishment for the ambitious Giant, who “high aspiring” has taken a high fall and been “humbled” by “huge ruine.”

On the other hand, Spenser's simile registers a certain feeling of pity that the mechanical Talus is unable to feel. Much like a big ship, there is something impressive about the large-scale construction of the Giant’s body, and the narrator acknowledges something “piteous” about the scene. Though the Giant is a villainous figure here, Spenser nevertheless presents the destructive actions of Talus as being needlessly excessive. 

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