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The Faerie Queene

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Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene is well known as an allegorical work, and the poem is typically read in relation to the political and religious context of the time. The term allegory tends to be loosely defined, rendering a whole work an extended metaphor, or even implying “any writing in verse or prose that has a double meaning”(Cuddon 20). In true Spenserian style, with everything having double meanings, both uses of the term allegory are applicable to his writing.

Thus, during the course of this essay it is best not to think of allegory in terms of the size of a body of writing, but as writing with a “second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning”(Baldick 6). Whilst reading for political and religious allegory is key in understanding Spenser’s message, reading for moral allegory also provides readers with detailed insight into the text. It is because of this that I have chosen to focus not only on political and religious allegory but also the moral allegory that accompanies episodes in Book One focused on Una and Duessa. The two characters represent a multitude of allegories; truth and falseness, and Protestantism and Catholicism being the most prominent. Una and Duessa represent a binary opposition, and it is because of this that they help to produce a wealth of allegory when read closely. The characters represent conflicting ideas, yet neither of which would be conceivable without the other. Both characters can only function in the poem when supported by one another, if one character were to be removed, the binary opposition would be removed and the allegory drawn from either Una or Duessa would be less productive. The two episodes I will be investigating are Canto I, Stanzas 4...

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...ly representing someone or something more true to life. Roberts is right in saying “Spenser’s allegorical poem demands the active engagement of its reader to produce allegory”(1). Although he never permits to say it directly, he is also right in noting that close reading of The Faerie Queene provides a much broader ranger of allegory. The examined stanzas are somewhat deceptive; they are short seemingly unimportant introductions that do not contribute to plot. However, in keeping with the true double nature of Spenser’s writing they contribute so much more than that to the text. Spenser uses the stanzas as a gateway for us to begin our study of his characters. Each close reading provides the reader with a different allegory, and it is through these multiple interpretations that Spenser manages to reveal part of his overall political, religious, and moral messages.
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