The demand this question has placed before us is to analyze and extract the qualitative elements as well as the distinctive portrayal of characters of Spenser’s epic poem Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto1. In order to determine whether the characters in the poem are merely allegorical devices or if they have their own individuality, I am going to discuss the protagonist as well as the other prominent characters, their context based appearances.
I am going to present the Red Cross Knight and lady Una in terms of their allegorical depiction as well as unique individuality. There are two types of allegories used in the poem i.e. spiritual and moral allegory as well as religious and political allegory. Spenser has depicted Red Cross Knight as the Embodiment of Holiness. He has appeared to be the clad in the mighty armor of Christ. On the other hand, he also had some unique individuality as he had been appeared to be very rational in his thoughts and decisions. An example of this individuality can be depicted from the text of Fairy Queene, Book1 Canto1 when Red Cross Knight denied Lady Una’s opinion while approaching towards the Monster Error.
“But full of fire and greedy hardiment,
The youthfull knight could not for ought be staide,
But forth vnto the darksome hole he went,” (Spenser 119-120)
Moving towards another character of the epic poem, Lady Una, a symbol of truth, is accompanied by the Red Cross Knight, to release her parents from the dragon. The unity of holiness and truth has been represented allegorically through the characters Red Cross Knight and Lady Una to describe that in order to remain holy, every Christian must be a true embodiment of truth. This unity has an allegorical context of Protestantism that has been emerged after fighting the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly Red Cross Knight, encouraged by lady Una, killed the monster, left a moral lesson that wherever the holiness is accompanied by the truth, it will defeat all evil masses in a society. All the Evil forces, and the Dragon in Spenser’s epic were an Allegorical representation of Church Catholic and all of their followers are as similar as serpents, as were the broods of the dragon. Archimago, a symbol of hypocrisy, is also represented as an evil virtue allegorically, who tried his best to separate holiness from truth, stating that whenever the holiness and truth are separated, hypocrisy get its chance to mislead holiness from its path. But on the other hand, character of Archimago can be depicted allegorically, as he had appeared to be very hospitable and kind to the Red Cross Knight and Lady Una, when he offered them to stay at his place as depicted by Spenser in the text:
“Is wisely to aduise: now day is spent;
Therefore with me ye may take vp your In
For this same night. The knight was well content:
So with that godly father to his home they went.” (Spenser 294-297)
Holiness being separated by truth is a clear portrayal of the dangers of English Church from hypocrisy and plots of Catholicism. Red Cross Knight mislead by the hypocrisy becomes a victim of falsehood. The character of Duessa, an opposite virtue of the character of lady Una, being a duplicate in appearances but not in virtues, is a representative character for falsehood and false beliefs. Holiness after being separated by truth, becomes week and feeble, that it is easily trapped by Duessa, the embodiment of false beliefs. Duessa in this context is an allegorical presentation of Catholic Church.
On a political and personal level, Spenser’s main concern with his work was to please the higher authorities in the court, and above all to win please and patronage from the butter up of the Queen I.e., Queen Elizabeth of England whom he honored as Gloriana. In Spenser’s epic, Gloriana is the character that sets the quests and journeys for the knights symbolizing flatterers of the Queen of England. Spenser in the character of Red Cross Knight praises some gentlemen such as Sir Philip Sidney or Sir Walter Raleigh, in a manner as if he were a second St. George, the patron saint of England. Red Cross Knight with all his efforts to maintain personal holiness while averting all elements of haughtiness and pleasure in all its forms, delivered the image of Saint George, the Patron Saint of England. This analysis presented Red Cross as a merely allegorical character, presenting Saint George of England, a symbol of holiness for all Christian men. Una, by Spenser, has been presented as some fairy lady of the court i.e. Queen Elizabeth. In the character of Archimago, Spenser ridicules the odious King Philip II of Spain, and in the character of false Duessa, Spenser has depicted the Mary Queen of Scots.
As a matter of fact, we can evaluate that the characters in the epic were merely allegorical presentations of the real life authorities but some of the characters also have unique individuality i.e. Red Cross Knight and the character of Archimago. Spenser’s characters have more than one purposes of their appearance in the epic. These characters were settled in the epic to deliver some moral lessons as well as notify the Throne holder, about the serpents and the falsehood people, how to recognize them then deal with them as well as maintain the emblem of the truth and holiness i.e. English Protestant Church.