The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Faerie Queene, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is divided into six books, and each book explores a different virtue: holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy. While there are recurring characters who appear in multiple books, the main character is different for each book and is always a knight who represents the book’s central virtue. For example, the protagonist of Book I is the Redcross Knight, who embodies the book’s theme of holiness. His name comes from the red Christian cross emblem on his shield, which has magic power to protect him. Later in the book, it’s revealed that the Redcross Knight is in fact a version of St. George, an English saint famous for slaying a dragon, further confirming the character’s holiness.

The obstacles that the Redcross Knight faces on his way to slay the dragon are all full of holy symbolism. For example, he encounters a monster named Error, which is a half-serpent with a knotted-up tail and which prefers to live in the darkness. The monster’s name makes the symbolism clear: Error represents errors, with its knotty tail and preference for darkness showing how errors thrive on confusion and ignorance. But while Error is a fearsome monster, the Redcross Knight manages to slay it by chopping off its head, providing a visual representation of how holiness is able to overcome errors. Though the allegory with Error may seem simple, The Faerie Queene is dense with these kinds of symbols and often contains shocking imagery, such as when Error’s children eat its corpse until they gorge themselves and explode. Echoing the Bible, stories from Greek and Roman mythology, and the work of previous writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser structures The Fairie Queene so that each section has a clear moral. While it’s never a surprise when virtue triumphs over evil, Spenser portrays this conflict in creative ways, using surprising imagery and poetic language to bring everyday moral problems to life for readers.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism appears in each book of The Faerie Queene. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Quotes in The Faerie Queene

Below you will find the important quotes in The Faerie Queene related to the theme of Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism.
Book I: Proem Quotes

Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Book I: Canto I Quotes

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y clad in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruel markes of many a bloudy fielde;

[…]

But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose weete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as living ever him ador’d:
Upon his shield the like was also scor’d

Related Characters: Redcross Knight
Related Symbols: Shields
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Book I: Canto IV Quotes

Young knight, what ever that does armes professe,
And through long labours huntest after fame,
Beware of fraud, beware of ficklenesse,
In choice, and change of thy deare loved Dame

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Redcross Knight, Duessa, Una
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Book I: Canto IX Quotes

Come, come away, fraile, feeble, fleshly wight,
Ne let vaine words bewitch thy manly hart,
Ne divelish thoughts dismay thy constant spright.

Related Characters: Una (speaker), Redcross Knight, Despair
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Book I: Canto XII Quotes

Now strike your sailes ye jolly Mariners,
For we come unto a quiet rode,
Where we must land some of our passengers,
And light this wearie vessel of her lode.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Redcross Knight, Una
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:
Book II: Canto I Quotes

His carriage was full comely and upright,
His countenance demure and temperate,
But yet so sterne and terrible in sight,
That cheard his friends, and did his foes amate:
He was an Elfin borne of noble state
[…]

Him als accopanyd upon the way
A comely Palmer, clad in blacke attire,
Of ripest years, and haries all hoarie gray

Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
Book II: Canto IV Quotes

And round the wreath, this word was writ,
Burnt I do burne. Right well beseemed it,
To be the shield of some redoubted knight

Related Symbols: Shields
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:
Book II: Canto VIII Quotes

There the good Guyon he found slumbring fast
In senseless dream; which sight at first him sore aghast.

Beside his head there sate a faire young man,
Of woundrous beautie, and of freshest years.

Related Characters: Sir Guyon, Mammon, The Palmer
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:
Book II: Canto X Quotes

After him Uther, which Pendragon hight,
Succeeding There abruptly did end

Related Characters: Arthur , Sir Guyon, Alma
Page Number: 345
Explanation and Analysis:
Book II: Canto XII Quotes

Said Guyon, See the mind of beastly man,
That hath so soone forgot the excellence
Of his creation, when he life began,
That now he chooseth, with vile difference
To be a beast, and lack intelligence

Related Characters: Sir Guyon (speaker), Acrasia, The Palmer
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Proem Quotes

It falls me here to write of Chastity
That fairest virtue, farre above the rest;
For which what needs me fetch from Faery
Forreine ensamples, it to have exprest?
Sith it is shrined in my Soveraines brest

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Britomart
Page Number: 383
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto III Quotes

The man whom Heavens have ordaynd to bee
The spouse of Britomart, is Arthegall:
He wonneth in the land of Fayeree

Related Characters: Merlin (speaker), Britomart, Arthegall, Glauce
Page Number: 422
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto VIII Quotes

Now when the Beast, which by her wicked art
Late forth she sent, she backe returning spyde,
Tyde with her broken girdle, it a part
Of her rich spoyles, whom he had earst destroyd,
She weend, and woundrous gladnesse to her hart applyde.

Related Characters: Florimell, Sir Satyrane, Marinell, Venus
Related Symbols: Florimell’s Gold Belt
Page Number: 492
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto XII Quotes

But Britomart uprearing her from ground,
Said, Gentle Dame, reward enough I weene
For many labours more, then I have found,
This, that in safety now I have you seen,
And meane of your deliverance have beene

Related Characters: Britomart (speaker), Sir Scudamore, Amoretta (Amoret)
Page Number: 560
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto I Quotes

Of lovers sad calamities of old,
Full many piteous stories doe remaine,
But none more piteous ever was ytold,
Then that of Amorets hart-binding chaine,
And this of Florimels unworthie paine

Page Number: 383
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto II Quotes

Though now their acts be no where to be found
As that renowned Poet them compyled,
With warlike numbers and Heroicke sound,
Dan Chaucer well of English undefiled,
On Fames eternall beadroll worthie to be fyled.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Priamond, Diamond, and Triamond, Cambell, Canacee, Cambina
Page Number: 587
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto IV Quotes

Then all with one consent did yield the prize
To Triamond and Cambell as the best.
But Triamond to Cambell it relest.
And Cambell it to Triamond transferd;
Each labouring t’advance the others gest,
And make his praise before his owne preferd:

Page Number: 616
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto V Quotes

Then was that golden belt by doome of all
Graunted to her, as to the fairest Dame.
Which being brought, about her middle small
They thought to gird, as best it her became;
But by no meanes they could it thereto frame.

Related Characters: Florimell
Related Symbols: Florimell’s Gold Belt
Page Number: 624
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto I Quotes

And such was he, of whome I have to tell,
The Champion of true Justice Artegall.
Whom (as ye lately mote remember well)
An hard adventure, which did then befall,
Into redoubted perill forth did call.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Gloriana (The Faerie Queene), Arthegall, Britomart
Page Number: 727
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto IV Quotes

For eqaull right in equall things doth stand,
For what the mighty Sea hath once possest,
And plucked quite from all possessors hand,
Whether by rage of waves, that never rest,
Or else by wracke, that wretches hath distrest,
He may dispose by his imperial might.

Related Characters: Arthegall (speaker), Bracidas, Amidas, Lucy, Philtera
Page Number: 764
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto VII Quotes

Where being layd, the wrothfull Britonesse
Stayd not, till she came to her selfe againe,
But in revenge both of her loves distresse,
And her late vile reproach, though vaunted vaine,
And also of her wound, which sore did paine,
She with one stroke both head and helmet cleft.

Related Characters: Radigund, Britomart, Arthegall
Page Number: 807
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto X Quotes

When they had seene and heard her doome a rights
Against Duessa, damned by them all;
But by her tempred without griefe or gall,
Till strong constraint did her thereto enforce.

Related Characters: Duessa, Mercilla, Arthegall
Page Number: 838
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto XII Quotes

But ere he could reform it thoroughly,
He through occasion called was away,
To Faerie Court, that of necessity
His course of Justice he was forst to stay,
And Talus to revoke from the right way

Related Characters: Arthegall, Talus, Eirena, Grantorto
Related Symbols: Faerie Court
Page Number: 870
Explanation and Analysis:
Book VI: Canto I Quotes

But mongst them all was none more courteous Knight,
Then Calidore, beloved over all,
in whom it seemes that gentlenesse of spright
And manners mylde were planted naturall

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Calidore, Sir Turpine
Related Symbols: Faerie Court
Page Number: 878
Explanation and Analysis:
Book VI: Canto VI Quotes

No wound, which warlike hand of enemy
Inflicts with dint of sword, so sore doth light,
As doth the poysnous sting, which infamy
Infixeth in the name of noble wight:
For by no art, nor any leaches might
It ever can recured be againe;

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Calidore, The Blatant Beast
Page Number: 938
Explanation and Analysis:
Book VI: Canto VII Quotes

And after all, for greater infamie,
He by the heeles him hung upon a tree,
And baffuld so, that all which passed by,
The picture of his punishment might see,
And by the like ensample warned bee

Page Number: 956
Explanation and Analysis:
Book VI: Canto IX Quotes

So there that night Sir Calidore did dwell,
And long while after, whilest him list remaine,
Dayly beholding the faire Pastorell,
And feeding on the bayt of his owne bane.
During which time he did her entertaine
With all kind courtesies, he could invent;
And every day, her companiee to gaine

Related Characters: Calidore, Pastorella, Coridon, Melibee, Colin Clout
Page Number: 984
Explanation and Analysis:
Book VI: Canto XII Quotes

Ne may this homely verse, of many meanest,
Hope to escape his venomous despite,
More than my former writes, all were they clearest
From blamefull blot, and free from all that wite,
With which some wicked tongues did it backebite,
and bring into a mighty Peres displeasure,
That never so deserved to endite.
Therefore do you my rimes keep better measure,
And seeke to please, that now is counted wisemens threasure.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), The Blatant Beast
Page Number: 1023
Explanation and Analysis: