The Faerie Queene is probably one of the most noteworthy works written by Edmund Spenser. It is characterized by the hidden sense that even the slightest details within the book may possess.
At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the book is highly allegorical and many images are very symbolic. This is why often a reader has to carefully look beyond what he/she sees in the images and characters, which are quite simple at first glance. Probably one of the most interesting things in the Faerie Queene book 1 is the allegoric image of the Anglican church and its struggle with other churches depicted symbolically in the traits, actions, and relations of the main characters of the book, notably in the image of Redcrosse Knight of Holiness.
In fact, it is quite difficult to trace an analogy between the main character of the book and any of the churches, which existed in Europe. Taking into considerations the historical background that naturally influenced Edmund Spenser, while he had been writing his book, it is possible to reveal what the Redcrosse Knight of Holiness symbolise. In general, the main character of the book may be referred to as an allegoric symbol of the Anglican church. The reason why Redcrosse Knight of Holiness is preferably a symbol of Anglican Church, i.e., the Protestant Church of England may be seen in his name and actions.
It is also noteworthy that the adventures of the main characters may also be interpreted as the author’s view on the conflict and contradictions existing between the churches and all the processes relating to this problem that was burning at that epoch in England and Europe.
To support the idea that the author intentionally wants to depict the Anglican church through the image of Redcrosee Knight of Holiness, first of all, it is necessary to briefly discuss the name of the main character. Redcrosse Knight of Holiness is quite an ‘eloquent’ name since Red Cross may be easily associated with England and, consequently local church, i.e., Anglican Church. Furthermore, his appearance in the book is also quite noteworthy when the author describes him as follows:
A gentle knight was pricking on the plain (Book 1, Canto 1, St 1)
In such a way the author probably intends to show that the Anglican church is rather close to the true church and acts directly without scheming against its opponents. Though it should be pointed out that in such interpretation Edmund Spenser to a significant extent idealize the Anglican Church.
However, the name of the main character is not the only reason why it is possible to estimate that he symbolizes the Anglican church. What is probably more important and more ‘eloquent’ is what the character does in the book. At this respect, it should be pointed out that the author obviously supports the Anglican Church since from the beginning Redcrosse Knight is traveling with Una, a beautiful and pure woman whose
As the great eye of heaven, shyned bright,
And made a sunshine in the shady place
(Book 1, Canto III, St 4).
At the same time, it is necessary to underline that Redcrosse Knight of Holiness is still on his way to seek his ideal. To put it more precisely, he may be easily deceived, and he cannot always clearly distinguish what is true and what is not. The evidence of such a state may be seen from the fact that at the first Redcrosse takes Duessa for Una, and only later he understands his error when he is practically dead in the result of his adventures with Duessa. In fact, Duessa wants to control Redcross Knight by all means that is particularly obvious when Sansjoy challenges him and receives favors from Duessa. In such a way Redcrosse seems to be not as strong and independent as initially, a reader might think.
Nonetheless, “the noblest mind the most contentment has” (Book 1, Canto 1, St 35) and he eventually finds the right way. In this respect it is entirely symbolical that Redcrosse Knight, i.e., the Anglican Church, is engaged to Una, symbolizing the true church. Moreover, their unification may be seen in canto x when Una brings the wounded Redcross Knight to the House of Holiness, where he eventually recovers. Symbolically after that, he is shown the heavenly Jerusalem. In fact, it is impossible to imagine more direct hint at the superiority and righteousness of the Anglican Church compared to the Roman Catholic Church.
Thus, in conclusion, it is possible to say that among all the symbols and allegories the Faerie Queene has in abundance, the image of the main character, Redcrosse Knight of Holiness as the symbol of the Anglican Church is probably the strongest and the most interesting. The author managed to allegorically depict the contradictions between the churches existing in his time and demonstrated his position in this question.
Spenser, Edmund. (1992). The Faerie Queene. London: Longman.
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