He received, through the friendship of Sidney, the patronage of his uncle, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester—a powerful nobleman, because, besides his family name, and the removal of the late attainder, which had been in itself a distinction, he was known to be the lover of the queen; for whatever may be thought of her conduct, we know that in recommending him as a husband to the widowed Queen of Scots, she said she would have married him herself had she designed to marry at all; or, it may be said, she would have married him had she dared, for that act would have ruined her.
Spenser was a loyal and enthusiastic subject, a poet, and a scholar. From these characteristics sprang the Faerie Queene. After submitting the first book to the criticism of his friend and his patron, he dedicated the work to “The most high, mighty, and magnificent empress, renowned for piety, virtue, and all gracious government, Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, and of Virginia."
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE HISTORY IN THE FAERIE QUEENE.
The Faerie Queene. The Plan
Proposed. Illustrations of the History. The
Knight and the Lady. The Wood of Error and the Hermitage. The Crusades.
Britomartis and Sir Artegal. Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots. Other
Works. Spenser’s Fate. Other Writers.
THE FAERIE QUEENE.
The Faerie Queene is an allegory, in many parts capable of more than one interpretation. Some of the characters stand for two, and several of them even for three distinct historical personages.
The general plan and scope of the poem may be found in the poet’s letter to his friend, Sir Walter Raleigh. It is designed to enumerate and illustrate the moral virtues which should characterize a noble or gentle person—to present “the image of a brave knight perfected in the twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised.” It appears that the author designed twelve books, but he did not accomplish his purpose. The poem, which he left unfinished, contains but six books or legends, each of which relates the adventures of a knight who is the patron and representative of a special virtue.
Book I. gives the adventures
of St. George, the Red-Cross Knight, by
whom is intended the virtue of Holiness.
Book II., those of Sir Guyon, or Temperance.
Book III., Britomartis, a lady-knight, or Chastity.
Book IV., Cambel and Triamond, or Friendship.
Book V., Sir Artegal, or Justice.
Book VI., Sir Calydore, or Courtesy.
The perfect hero of the entire poem is King Arthur, chosen “as most fitte, for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many men’s former workes, and also furthest from the daunger of envy and suspition of present time.”