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Spenser's Allegory

  • Date Submitted: 03/23/2010 11:44 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 58.8 
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Spenser’s allegory
Posted by Adam Roberts on 03/16/07 at 10:52 AM

The Faerie Queene is an allegory.   So far so good.   The first adventure in this enormous allegorical textual edifice concerns the Redcrosse Knight, who stands for ‘holiness’, and who is travelling through Fairyland in the company of his woman, the beautiful and virtuous Una.   They enter a dark and tangled wood, and there encounter a hideous monster called ‘Errour’.   A nasty piece of work, this creature: ‘a monster vile, whom God and man does hate’:

Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide,
But th’other halfe did womans shape retaine,
Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine.

Redcrosse fights the monster and kills it.   It’s not easy.   She wraps him in her coils; but he grabs her ‘gorge’ so tightly that she is compelled to loosen her grip on him.

Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.

This vomiting combines the strictly allegorical (the poison, gibbets and toads all represent the evil that ‘error’ performs in the world) and a more direct mode of representation—erroneous books and papers are the sorts of things that might literally (rather than allegorically) lead us astray.   But to put that on one side for a moment; the main thing is that the Redcross Knight is successful in his fight.   He lifts his sword

And strooke at her with more then manly force,
That from her body full of filthie sin
He raft her hatefull head without remorse;
A streame of cole black bloud forth gushed fro[m]; her corse.

There we are.   The end of error.
Now it’s easy to see why Spenser puts this episode...


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