This website uses cookies to ensure you have the best experience. Learn more

Spenser's Allegory Essay

1543 words - 7 pages

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 ...view middle of the document...

There we are. The end of error.
Now it’s easy to see why Spenser puts this episode right at the start of his allegorical epic. He intends to dramatise the battle, and ultimately the victory, of truth; and this is clearly the right way to begin such a striving, by tackling that emblematic enemy of truth, Error. But there’s more. In a sense, this defeat of error sets up the allegorical mode itself.

I’ll explain what I mean. Allegory is a way of seeing the world such that the inner truth of entities is displayed externally. In this respect it is different to the world in which we actually live. In the real world, as Shakespeare once pungently observed, there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. Indeed, that single insight, and the endlessly dramatically fertile disparity between appearance and reality, is the main motor of Shakespeare’s writing. It is very easy to fall prey to error, in our world, because the face our world presents to us is so often misleading, hypocritical and false. So our task is first to identify error, and only then to fight it. Or to put it another way, our first danger is to fall into error about error—not to recognise it for what it is.

By encountering and slaying error right at the start of the Faerie Queene Spenser is addressing this matter head-on. He is ushering us into a world in which error, in its manifold embodiments, will be plainly visible to anybody who has eyes to see. Lawlessness (say) will not insinuate itself into our acquaintance as freedom, or as revolution, or as anti-tyranny or anything like that; it will ride up fully armed, with Sansloy written on its shield, and try to hack us down. Evil will not walk the land as a plausibly-spoken and handsome man called George W.; it will take the form of an enormous, foul dragon that must self-evidently be destroyed. These things will still be lawless and evil; it’s just that they will be obviously lawless and evil. In other words, Redcross’s first victory is important because ‘the death of Error is the birth of Truth’ [James Nohrnberg, The Analogy of The Faerie Queene (Princeton University Press, 1976), p.147].

But there’s a problem here, and it’s one that has the potential to unpick the entire project. It’s this: how can it be that Redcross, having slain error, subsequently goes on to fall into error. Because that’s exactly what he does, and not just once, but many times. How can he be fooled into erroneously trusting the wicked Archimago? The falsely beautiful witch Duessa? How can the false knights (such as Sansloy, Sanfoy and Sansjoy) be riding around in a world in which error is dead, defeated, no more? Those three are manifestations of specific varieties of error; but the category itself has already been abolished! How can they persist?

Critics have of course noticed this, although they seem (in my reading of the secondary criticism at least) remarkably blithe about it. Here’s Russell J. Meyer:

In...

Other Essays Like Spenser's Allegory

The French And Indian War: The "Real" First World War

1955 words - 8 pages The Seven Years War, or more commonly referred to as “The French and Indian War”, has been called the true First World War. In this book The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, the author and historian Walter R. Borneman paints a detailed and elaborate picture that justifies the claim of it being the first true war of global proportions. If ever there truly was a climax to the never ending feud of the European powers

Is The Use Of Animals In Medical Research A Necessary Measure?

1513 words - 7 pages Throughout history, animals have been used in experiments to test product safety and obtain medical knowledge that benefits both humans and animals alike. Every year there are numerous medical breakthroughs, such as medications and surgical instruments, which are tested on animals to insure their safety before they are deemed acceptable for human use. Even though the results of the experiments saved millions of human lives, they are also

Education And The Evolving Job Market

2363 words - 10 pages The lives of students today are changing. They are preparing for lives and jobs that have never before existed. If teachers hope to have a significant and worthwhile impact on these quickly changing lives, they must change the way they think, prepare, and instruct our future generations. Children cannot afford to have teachers who remain stagnant in their methods and ideals. Students crave instructors that are willing to allow them to tap

Young And Relentless

1737 words - 7 pages There are numerous influences that can be responsible of teenager’s behaviors and attitude as they develop. One factor that is important to these behaviors is parental figures being over involved or uninvolved in their children’s lives. Many of these effects include illegal substance abuse, rising sexual activity, underage alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. Studies show parental participation plays a key role in the characteristics developed

The Natural Law Theory

1231 words - 5 pages Obeying by the natural law theory is the only true and moral way to live life; especially a life lived in God’s image. God’s presence is a guiding factor to obtaining a moral and virtuous life, which can only be obtained by following the natural law theory. God created a set of laws as a supreme guide for humans to live life, like any law these laws were created to ensure wellbeing for everyone. The laws he created are the civil law, the natural

Resolved: Presidential Signing Statements Threaten To Undermine The Rule Of Law And The Separation Of Powers

1811 words - 8 pages The subject of signing statements has created much debate among the houses of Congress, government officials, and the public alike. These signing statements fall under the categories of constitutional and legislative history signing statements. Constitutional signing statements are those in which the president deems certain provisions of the legislation as unconstitutional, therefore they should not be enforced (Bradley & Posner, 2006

Oppressive Systems Of Government In Egypt And Animal Farm

1529 words - 7 pages As in Egypt, Orwell demonstrates through his allegorical novel “Animal Farm” that leaders are able to establish and maintain power over a people, and in turn create an oppressive and corrupt government system. Orwell shows the significant difference in the education and levels of knowledge in the animals, and how the government takes advantage of this difference. The split between the levels of intelligence is portrayed in the first chapter when

The Pathway To Psychosis

1415 words - 6 pages “How all occasions do inform against me” is a line from act IIII, scene IIII of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This line, spoken by Hamlet, expresses his emotional state as he is currently overwhelmed by the death of his father, the king of Denmark, and the situation surrounding it. After Hamlet learns of his father’s death he finds out that his mother has married Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. On top of all of that, Hamlet soon after

Rated “M” For “More Censorship Not Needed”

1241 words - 5 pages Since the moment video games became a commercial success there have been people who have pushed for unfair amounts of censorship to be placed upon the content of the games and its availability to children. These groups push for increased regulations on content but there is already an appointed group to handle this issue, the ESRB. Even though there has been an increase in mature content in the video game industry, increased censorship is not

Four Components Of A Legally Astute Social Media Marketing Manager

1914 words - 8 pages With the advances in technology constantly changing companies have to find better ways to market their products to consumers. The explosion of Facebook has given companies a way to market products to consumers. Examine how a legally astute manager can use social media to his advantage. Review different forms of dispute resolution and determine which one works the best. What is the best course of action, the government can use to

Obama's Values

1217 words - 5 pages As individuals, we don’t tend to take action unless it’s for self-interest; however, in Dreams from My Father, Obama spends three years, after college, as a community organizer in Chicago. Obama goes through tribulations, disappointments, and even complete failures organizing meaningful events, decisive meetings, and humble gatherings but he keeps working toward achieving any possible change in the community. Even though results give him every

Related Papers

The Separation Of Capital Ownership And Control

1577 words - 7 pages The argument of whether the separation of capital ownership and control is an efficient form of organization has constantly been a controversial issue. The criticism whether the controllers’ act is in the best interest of the owners’ wills never end as long as hired managers operate management. As the number of public companies has been increasing over the course of this century, meanwhile the American style of contact based corporation has

The Versatility And Flexibility Of Oled's

1014 words - 5 pages In April 1, 2002, organic light emitting diodes gain rise in the scientific community with their published, more practical form at Ames Laboratory. “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, have developed and demonstrated a novel, fluorescence-based chemical sensor that is more compact, versatile and less expensive than existing technology of its

Comparing The Moral Virtues Of Antony And Julian The Apostate

1103 words - 5 pages Roman emperor Julian the Apostate and Christian leader Antony both exhibited many qualities of character during their existence. Both of them led very distinctive lives although shared several ethical values. Book 25 of “The Later Roman Empire” and the book “Early Christian Lives” show concrete evidence of this. In the following essay, I will argue how both leaders’ lives were devoted to their religious beliefs and their mutual cardinal virtues

Living In A Cashless Society Essay

1637 words - 7 pages Money in a traditional sense no longer exists. Money is becoming much of a concept than a physical material, and most ordinary bitter have not see the reality of the switch. People today are using credit and debit cards on a regular basis and in everyday situations such as meal purchased at fast food, highway tolls, clothing, groceries, gas stations, etc. all of these means of systems could be regarded as a cashless society or world. The question