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retrospective moralization; see vii.1; v

retrospective moralization; see vii.1; v

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Introduction



with his challenger Sansjoy—a dubious necessity, despite the apparent

endorsement of the poet-speaker (v.8.1; 9.1), since the prizes are Duessa

and the shield of Sansfoy (v.1–15)—he gets drawn into Lucifera’s

community; for after his uncertain victory (v.13, 15), he accepts a ride in

Lucifera’s chariot (v.16), in which position, we recall, Lucifera is accompanied by Satan and represents pride served by the other six deadly sins.

Redcrosse finally leaves Lucifera’s castle on the prudential warning of the

Dwarf to avoid the temporal ruin that a sight of her dungeon portends.

Conquering Sansjoy and escaping from Lucifera’s obvious form of

pride, without paying her usual price, leads Redcrosse into two subtler

forms of pride. The first is complacency, or what the Renaissance would

have called the vice of “security,” or spiritual laziness: “Everything depends upon me, and I’ve done enough; I deserve a break.” Various religious thinkers, ancient and modern, have warned that acquiring a virtue

or performing a good deed can lead to spiritual pride of one sort or

another. In this complacent mood, he stops for rest; he takes his armor

off—an act that, in The Faerie Queene, usually symbolizes bad relaxation,

especially in the case of this armor, which is the armor of a Christian

man in Ephesians 6.11, 14–7. He drinks from the well of the lazy nymph.

The nymph parallels Redcrosse at this moment, in that she “sat down to

rest in middest of the race.” Drinking of her well or fountain makes him

lazy, thus expressing and intensifying his complacency and desire for

some rest and relaxation. Duessa catches up with him, and it is in this

mood that he fornicates with her (vii.2–7). Redcrosse himself, to whom

“lust” was once “unwonted” (i.49.1), would have condemned this act

earlier on; and it was for her alleged sexual infidelity to him that he abandoned Una (ii.5–6). Incidentally, we know that this sexual act is consummated, contrary to some recent doubts, because he is said to be “careless

of his health,” which implies penetration. Because his partner is Duessa,

this union allegorizes joining the Roman Catholic Church and renouncing the Protestant Church, which is represented by Una.

The second form of pride is his habitual combativeness, his can-do attitude, his eagerness—usually a virtue in the romance hero—to prove his

supposed abilities, which he tremulously tries to resume when challenged

by Orgoglio. Orgoglio as a giant is not only a typical romance opponent

but a symbol for Redcrosse’s basic sin, or ruling passion—moral overconfidence, as if to say, “I am a moral giant: everything depends upon me

and I can handle it.” The giant exhibits “presumption of his matchlesse

might” (vii.10.3); his “boasted sire” is “blustring Ỉolus” (vii.9.2). These

traits help us to see Orgoglio as a projection of the bad side of Redcrosse,

whom we have seen to represent the “man who boasts of fleshly might / And

vaine assuraunce of mortality” (x.1, my emphasis). Because its possessor



Introduction



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“yields” to “spiritual foes,” presumably Orgoglio and Despaire, we can

see that “fleshly might” in these contexts is used in the peculiarly Pauline

sense of, not just the body and the passions, but even the “will” (x.1.9)—

everything in mankind outside of divine grace or apart from the spirit of

God (e.g., 1 Cor. 1.29; Rom. 8.9, 12, 13). There are of course many

meanings to Orgoglio, but it seems to me that this Pauline meaning of

flesh as one’s own moral strength is primary, while those representing his

earthliness and fleshliness are literal and ancillary. Spenser was not inept

but perceptive to tempt Redcrosse with two kinds of pride.

Later, Arthur vanquishes the giant as a romance hero should and as

David did Goliath (1 Sam. 17), creating a contrast of bad and good giantfighters. The knights differ principally in regard to their armor and especially their shields. Redcrosse has laid aside his armor, which includes his

shield, glossed by Ephesians as the shield of faith (6.16; see “Letter”); and

Orgoglio attacks him “ere he could get his shield.” Now, David took off

the armor donated by King Saul, including the shield, when going to

meet his giant; but he did so because of his faith, faith in the protection

of God (1 Sam. 17.39, 45–6). That which substituted for armor in

David’s case is symbolized by armor in Redcrosse’s. This symbolism is

continued when Arthur’s armor, especially his shield, is described at

laudatory length; ascribed to it are some of the same miracles later said to

be wrought by Fidelia, or faith (x.20), so it seems to be related to faith,

perhaps as its miraculous result (see note ad loc.). This shield is crucial: it

saves Arthur from Duessa’s seven-headed beast and, finally, from Orgoglio himself (viii.18, 19, 20, and 21, mentioned once in each stanza).

Despite this humiliating defeat and humbling rescue, in the Despaire

episode, Redcrosse still exhibits his can-do attitude when he cries “hence

shall I never rest, / Till I that treachours art have heard and tryde” (ix.32);

he needs to be and will be humbled again. Medieval and Renaissance readers saw moral presumption and moral despair as related (Torczon); they

represent the happy moments and the sad moments of someone who

thinks everything depends upon him. As we have seen above, the way to

stop these vicious mood swings is a wise passiveness—a dependence on

God’s grace both for forgiveness after failure (ix.53) and for help toward

success (x.1.6–7). In retrospect, then, the rights and wrongs of Redcrosse’s

adventures in these temporarily ambiguous middle cantos can be sorted out.

In the House of Holiness in Canto Ten, presented as the normative

opposite of Lucifera’s House of Pride, most of the speakers after x.1 are

surprisingly Catholic; they tell Redcrosse what he must do to get to

heaven: penance (x.27) and good deeds (x.34, 51). This apparent aboutface remains an interpretive problem. We gather that the Calvinist Manifesto of ix.53 (in essence, “God decides who is going to heaven, and you



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Introduction



are one of them”) and x.1 (in essence, “No human being has the power

or the will to do anything good, so when you seemed to do some, it was

only God working through you”) applies only to Redcrosse’s adventures

so far, exemplifying how and how not to set up a proper relationship

with God. Apparently, once one is in a state of grace, as Redcrosse now

is, the Catholic ethic of self-help is correct. At a deeper level, Spenser

may have planned such a reversal in order to eliminate intolerance and reunite the two denominations, or at least to counter the Romanist charge

that Protestants neglect their neighbor’s welfare and focus only on the

inner life and on sin. Whatever Spenser’s intention, at least we can infer

from the Catholic coloring of almost everything, except the first stanza

in Canto Ten, that the anti-Catholic satire is over; religious issues will be

ones that Catholics and Protestants have in common—the conquest of

evil and Satan. And sure enough, there is no indubitable anti-Catholic

satire in the rest of the book except possibly Archimago’s attempt to reclaim Redcrosse for Duessa (xii.24–36). A Christian’s good works are declared meritorious (x.33.9; 34.9; 38.5–6; 51.3–4), as only the Catholics

believe they are; moreover it is not Fidelia (faith) or Speranza (hope), but

Charissa (charity) and her deputy Mercy who “to heaven [teach] him the

ready path” (33.9; 34.9; 51.3–4; see also Amoretti, 68.13–4; and Hymne of

Heavenly Love, 169–217). Conversely, the poet-speaker warns that people

are damned for lack of charity—“wrath, and hatred” (x.33). This was the

belief of Henry VIII. But then we are again told that only the “chosen”

can get to heaven (x.57, echoing ix.53)—the Calvinist or extreme

Protestant position. The contradiction between charity and predestination as entrance requirements could perhaps be reconciled if one took the

mediating position that the source of good deeds, one’s own spontaneous

feeling of charity or brotherly love that gets one into heaven, is not selfgenerated but infused by God at his own pleasure—a position expounded

by St. Augustine.

In the House of Holiness (x.21; 27.9), one is surprised to see Redcrosse despair again—another contradiction and one resolvable as a paradox. As Luther says (Thesis 18 for Heidelberg Disputation, 1518, in Luther,

502), a Christian needs to experience moral despair in order to learn his

or her own moral helplessness and need of grace. This time Redcrosse’s

suicidal thoughts are thwarted emblematically when he grasps the anchor

of Speranza, or hope. Speranza’s anchor may symbolize the advice Una

dispensed the first time: the assurance of God’s mercy for repented sin

and even—who knows—a Calvinist assurance that he is among the

“chosen” (ix.53).

Having attained an inspiring vision of heaven (x.57), Redcrosse engages in a complex dialogue about his own aspirations with the Hermit

Contemplation. Here too, good deeds, at least of the more worldly and



Introduction



xxv



spectacular sort, receive endorsement in Cleopolis and from Gloriana,

the Faerie Queen who reigns there. To become one of Gloriana’s courtiers

in Cleopolis, one must achieve something worthy of fame (x.58–59),

whereas to gain entrance to the New Jerusalem, one need not do anything, just be divinely “chosen” and forgiven (x.57). Surprisingly for a

Christian mentor, the Hermit says Redcrosse must win fame in Cleopolis before he can go to heaven (x.59–60). The Hermit’s meritocratic discourse here is not that of Christianity, but that of romance and of

classical epic. One possible resolution is that the two cities and their contrasting lifestyles are appropriate, respectively, for youth and for old age.

Whatever its meaning, this postponement of heaven and the contemplative life prepares us for another postponement: Redcrosse’s announcement that he cannot marry Una now, only become engaged to her,

because he has to go back and finish his tour of duty for Gloriana (xii.18;

41). The first postponement also prepares us for the fact that subsequent

books of the poem (until the very last stanzas of Book Seven) are not

about getting to heaven, but about winning fame (and the hand of one’s

beloved ) on this earth. The ambivalent relationship between the cities is

paralleled by that of their inhabitants. Even though everyone, including

the poet-speaker, calls him an Elf, Redcrosse learns that he is really a

Briton (x.60; 64–67). One of the differences is that Elves never get to see

the New Jerusalem (52.2–6), whereas qualified Britons are apparently

welcome in Cleopolis and in the two holy places, the Mount of Contemplation and the New Jerusalem. Further differences between the races

will emerge in Book Two, Canto Ten.



11. Climax

Spenser’s choice of a dragon instead of a human as principal antagonist

avoids the guilt attendant upon most chivalric battles—a guilt invoked

both by Despaire and by the Hermit Contemplation (ix.43.3–6;

x.60.8–9). Humans are redeemable and hence cannot be killed without

some guilt. Animals such as dragons also yield more readily than do

humans to symbolic interpretation. Symbolism brings one sort of

grandeur—the grandeur of generality. The phrase “that old Dragon”

(Arg.xi) quotes Rev. 20.2: “the dragon that olde serpent which is the

devill and Satan.” This means that, on at least one level, Spenser’s dragon

represents the devil. This symbolism accords with the fact that Spenser’s

dragon occasioned Adam and Eve’s fall, albeit a sinless one, allegorized by

their imprisonment in the brazen tower (“Letter”; vii.44).

The dragon is killed conclusively, although Archimago and Duessa return to deceive (xii.24–36). Spenser even makes fun of low-class simpletons who think the dragon is still alive (xii.10). At the crucifixion, Christ



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