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Edmond Spenser: The Fairie Queene

Vocabulary: epic, epic simile, invocation of the muse, allegory, archaism, neologism

Introduction: According to the quotation from Spenser in the Norton introduction to The Fairie Queene, what is the poem's general end or purpose? What does the name Sansfoy mean according to the introduction?

On the level of historical allegory, what two characters represent Queen Elizabeth in the poem, according to Spenser's letters to Raleigh?
Sir Raleigh's wife Bess, when she read The Fairie Queene, identified several characters as being whom?
How does Spenser's career mirror or echo that of Virgil?
What two famous Italian romantic epics does Spenser borrow from to create The Fairie Queene?
List the rhyme scheme of a "Spenserian stanza." What meter appears in the first part of such a stanza? What meter appears in the last line?
In "A Letter of the Authors" that precedes the poem, what mythic king's history does Spenser choose for his work?
According to Spenser's "A Letter," who do the following characters all represent: Belphoebe, Phoebe, Cynthia, and Diana?

Identify the Following Characters Red-Cross Knight, Una, Duessa, Errour, Archimago, Sansfoy, Sansloy, King Arthur, Kirkrapine, Orgolio (know what Orgolio means in Italian, and what Kirkrapine means in archaic English), Ignaro the Gatekeeper

Reading Questions:

  • In Book I, after Spenser invokes the Muse, what other spirits does he summon to help him in his task?
  • What decoration appears on the "Gentle Knight's" shield and on his breast? What color is this decoration? [Lecture: With what historical events is this particular emblem associated in the 12th century and later.]
  • What animal does the "lovely Ladie" ride? How does this connect to biblical iconography? What second little animal does she lead behind her mount? What might this symbolize in an allegory?
  • Who or what carries the lady's "needments" (her luggage)?
  • Why does the trio get off the road and huddle under the trees?
  • What creature or monster lives in the cave or den the Redcross knight finds when he gets lost in the forest?
  • What does the top half of Errour look like? What does her bottom half look like? What does she have on the end of her twisty tail?
  • How many offspring or children does Errour have with her in the cave, sucking on her dugs?
  • What allegorical explanation can you offer for Errour's photophobia?
  • When the Redcross Knight tries to strangle Errour, she vomits up several items. In addition to poison, and lumps of flesh, and gobbits of meat, frogs, and toads, what other unusual substance does she vomit up?
  • All the little baby errors, when they see that Errour is dying, try to re-enter at "their wonted entrance." What orifice is this? When they can't re-enter her body, what do they do?
  • When the Knight encounters the old hermit near dusk, what advice does the old hermit give him before he sets out to seek he "straunge man" who "wasteth all this countrey farre and neare"?
  • What does the pious hermit do once his guests have gone to bed?
  • What errand does Archimago send the sprites on that requires them to go to the underworld?
  • Who or what does one of the sprites disguise itself as?
  • Why does the Red-Cross Knight abandon Una? (What does he think Una has done?)
  • Canto #2 and later:
  • Why does Una cry when she awakens in the morning?
  • In Canto 2.8-9, what does Archimago take great delight in?
  • After the Red-Cross Knight abandons Una, what saracen knight does he encounter?
  • Canto #3
  • What does the lion do when it encounters Una?
  • How does Archimago die?
  • Canto #8
  • What heroic figure shows up to rescue the Redcross Knight?
  • What beast does Duessa ride in stanza 6?
  • What does King Arthur do to the giant when the giant swings and misses with his huge club?
  • What is the name of the giant who fights King Arthur? Who is this giant's lover? What does this giant's name mean in Italian? How is that allegorical?
  • When King Arthur chops off the giant's head, what happens to the body?
  • What figure guards the castle as an ironic, senile inversion of Saint Peter? Characterize this old man.
  • What is Duessa's true appearance? Describe what animal parts she has and why they are symbolically appropriate?


Identifications: Explain who the author is, what the work is, and what the significance is for each passage below:

Be able to identify any passage from Book I, Canto 1 or Book 1, Canto 8.


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