An analysis of Cantos 10 from Edmund Spenser’s The Faeire Queen

 

The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser was first published in 1590

The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser was first published in 1590

Red Cross, surrounded by the holy, beautiful women in the House of Holiness begins to regret “so much the dart of sinfull* guilt […].”(Stanza 21, 189) Being confronted with the contrast between his recent adventures and the sister’s state of sinless grace makes him despair the loss of his own grace much more poignantly. Although he has already hit rock bottom in Despair’s cave in Cantos 9, he has periods such as the one in Cantos 10, Stanza 21, where he appears as though he is backsliding. He is “soule-diseased” (Stanza 24, 208) and apart from God at this point in his life. He has only recently begun the transition back into God’s grace but the middle of Cantos 10 is when he internalizes just how far he’s gone and realizes that the way back to God’s perfect love is going to be a hard journey to the point where he understandably experiences a moment of despair.

Fortunately for Red Cross he has the love of Una, who through patience and understanding has lead him into the place of redemption, the House of Holiness. The sisters, Fidelia and Speranza understand that the “root of [Red Cross’s] ill [is] inward corruption, and infected sin.” (Stanza 25, 218) Red Cross must now go on a spiritual journey where he will fast, pray, and do penance (Stanza 26, 27) in order for “the filthy blots of sin to wash away.” (Stanza 27, 241)

The House of Holiness gives Red Cross the resources to cope with his feelings of despair by giving him something concrete to hold onto; he has steps to take. This is important: He is not idle and he is suffering. Red Cross seems to be able to deal with despair, to reconcile his sins insomuch as he is able to castigate himself and punish himself physically “with and yron whip” (Stanza 27, 235), “in which his torment often was so great, that like a Lyon he would cry and rore.” (Stanza 28, 244-245) Red Cross has to be proactive with purging his own despair. If he wasn’t able to do this it’s possible that he would go on continuing to sin or he would commit suicide. The House of Holiness supplies him with the tools he needs to get right with God in terms that a knight could understand: physical suffering.

The House of Holiness is to Red Cross’s recovery as the House of Pride was to his demise. The houses mirror each other’s opposites. In Cantos 10 there are a lot of allegorical characters and all of them have their place in his learning and absolution before God, himself and Una. And because of the latter person to whom he must absolve himself, Charrisa is the character that stands out as exemplifying behavior that is crucial for Red Cross to learn. It is Charrisa who teaches him that fidelity produces much happiness, children and a beautiful life. And it is Charissa who leads him to Mercy, “whose sober lookes her wisedome well descried; Her name was Mercie, well knowne l.-oover all” (Stanza 34, 300-300) and therefore to the wise old man on the mountain, “forth to an hill, that was both steepe and hy; on top whereof a sacred chappell was […] wherein an aged hold man did lye.” (Stanza 45, 407-410).

The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser was first published in 1590

The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser was first published in 1590

Charissa is in “yellow robes arrayed still” (Stanza 30, 270) signifying marriage, fertility and maternity. After everything that Red Cross has been through: passing through the “pains of hell, and long enduring night” (Stanza 32, 288) it is important for him to be among this maternal figure that can rather pamper and soothe him with her words and soft motherly ways.

Charissa “gan him instruct in ever good behest, of love, and righteousness,” (Stanza 33, 291-292) in order that he may know the path of goodness and know specifically how to get to God. Charissa is charity personified. She gives to Red Cross exactly what he needs to go on to his next step which is the epitome of selfless charity: to see the need and fill it directly. Charissa offers Red Cross a balm of sorts after much endurance through darkness, Charity is the person who gives him encouragement to stay strong, much like a mother would do, but because she is also young and beautiful she is significant in that she could be a parallel of the future Una, thus showing Red Cross a vision of his possible future with Una if he stays on his path of righteousness.

Red Cross has just passed through the “pains of hell, and long enduring night” (Stanza 32, 288). He has subjugated his flesh, met with Faith, Hope, Charity and Mercy and he is almost fully recovered, but for one thing; he is a knight. Knight’s go on quests, and more importantly, after they have been spiritually tested and found worthy, they must go on a vision quest.

The difference between climbing the mountain and the lateral journey that Red Cross has heretofore been on is quite obvious, in that before he had no purpose before (since he left Una) and here he does.

The two mountains that are used to show comparisons are described as biblical or heavenly mountains, making reference to Moses, “That bloud-red billowes like a walled front on either side disparted with his rod (Stanza 53, 471-472) and again to Moses, “dwelt fortie dayes upon” (Stanza 53, 474). In this way Spenser alludes to the fact that Red Cross is on a holy journey ordained by God.

In stanza 54 there is a reference to what I take as Mount Zion, which is where the Gods live. “[…] that sacred hill, […] adorned with fruit […] of that deare Lord. All of this points to the fact that Spenser is comparing the mountain that Red Cross is climbing to a holy place and therefore implying that he is on a holy quest.

When Spenser describes the man on the mountain he does not use the word “seem” which is something that he used before to describe Archigmago. It is a clue for the reader that this person is not who they “seem” to be. But Spenser clearly states that he is “an aged holy man” (Stanza 46, 410) and that “ne other wordly business did apply.” (Stanza 46, 412) In the next stanza he is described as having “snowy lockes” (425); white clearly meaning to denote pure or holy.

Spenser describing him in this way does bring to mind the other old men from earlier in Book One. He does it this way to contrast them. Before Red Cross was not ready to get a vision, he was not tested and tried, put through the fire, so the men he met were not holy men to guide him on his way. First he had to go through a lot of temptation and hit rock bottom before he had the opportunity to meet someone who would help him on his path of righteousness.

* all spelling is [sic].

 

 

 

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