Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is an epic romance of the sixteenth century yet is so rich in allegory that the characters and various plot lines are still relative to today’s religious readers. Each character in Spenser’s epic can be referenced somehow back to the church, political climate or controversies of his time period. Some of these references are easy to overlook especially without the historical context yet with a close reader, they become more evident. One of the greatest allegorical episodes in The Faerie Queene is Redcross’ fight with the Errour. Spenser uses allegory throughout the cantos of his book to make larger statements on the church of his time period and especially on the road to redemption.
Redcross represents the knight of Holiness throughout the story yet it is easy to discern that he is not perfect and has not been tested before his journey with Una. Spenser makes it clear from the beginning that Redcross had “Yet armes till that time did he neuer wield” (22.214.171.124). This is Spenser’s way of telling the reader that Redcross has yet to be tested in battle and also in belief. However, he shortly receives his first test upon entering and exploring the woods with Una and her dwarfe. The three of them come across a cave in the woods. Both Una and the Dwarfe advise Redcross to use caution and even tells him that this is Errours den “A monster vile, whom God and mad does hate/therefore I read beware. Fly Fly/ this is no place for liuing men” (126.96.36.199-9). Yet this untested knight full of the ideas of grandeur and battle went in anyways to inquire as to the contents. The Holy knight discovers Errour in this den. She is half woman, half serpent and “full of vile disdaine” (188.8.131.52). This depiction of Errour as half woman and half serpent appears to be a biblical reference back to the story of Adam and Eve. Eve, having erred by eating an apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was persuaded to do so by Satan in the form of a serpent. Spenser combines both of these elements to paint a clear picture of who Errour is and that even though she is half human, that part of her is also a woman who is the root of man’s decent into sin. To further this allegorical reference, Spenser points out that Errour hates light and “Ay wont in desert darkness to remaine” (184.108.40.206). Redcross literally causes the light to enter the cave as it bounces off his armor but he also is figuratively is the light. Representing the Knight of Holiness, his light is also his faith and Errour has no interest in the light he has to offer and only wants to remain in her darkness or lack of faith.
Having painted a clear picture of Errour and her “dark” ways, Spenser moves forward with allegorical references to the political climate of his day regarding the various sects of the church that were rising up. These sects or different ideas can be tied to both her numerous offspring as well as her vomit. Her thousand offspring are said to be “sucking vpon her poisonous dugs, eachone / Of sundry shapes, yet all ill fauored” (220.127.116.11-8). Tying these offspring to the many offspring of the church a reader can see that Spenser does not really agree with the various schools of religious thought. The line “Of sundry shapes, yet all ill fauored” shows that he is aware that each one is different but does not believe any of them to be favored above the original interpretation. Furthering this idea that these offspring are impure is their decent back into their mother who has no interest in the “light” and wants to remain in “darkness”. Spenser near throws the allegories down the reader’s throat when Errour grabs hold of Redcross. He pleaded that “God helpe the man so wrapt in Errours endlesse traine” (18.104.22.168). Redcross, having gotten himself in a situation that he appeared too weak to overcome is pleaded for. Redcross not only represents the Knight of Holiness, he also represents new Christians. For instance, he had yet to have been tested because he is a new Christian but he also wants to be a pure as he can. As a new Christian, he also easily persuaded in the wrong direction and pleading for God’s help who is wrapped in error’s ways is a wonderful allegory to show that Redcross, as a new Christian is easily persuaded and that he needs God’s help to keep him from falling into this creature’s ways. Much to his luck, the more experienced Christian, Una, steps in to guide him in his battle. She tells him “Add faith vnto your force, and be not faint/ Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee” (22.214.171.124-4). Una, representing a unified church, saves Redcross from impending doom with her advice.
Furthermore, when Redcross strangles Errour she spews vomit full of books and papers with “loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke” (126.96.36.199-7). These books and papers are the various pamphlets from the pamphlet wars of Spenser’s time period. These pamphlets were designed to persuade Christians towards each groups’ own religious ideals and ended up dividing the once unified church into a number of different groups. Spenser’s description of these books and papers as vomit is a real sign of his own personal belief in a unified church. Additionally, Spenser’s use of toades is a reference to the false prophet and the beast as depicted in revelations that also have frogs come out of their mouth. Combing the pamphlets and the frogs, a reader becomes aware that Error is not only producing various off-springs of thinking but these offspring are also untrue as the false prophet’s prophecies are in fact false. Even when Errour’s offspring spewed out, they were unable to harm Redcross. He was easily able to brush them off of him and “oft doth mar their murmurings” (188.8.131.52). Having thrown off her offspring so easily, he is renewed in strength and able to “raft her hateful head without remorse” (184.108.40.206). Ironically, this “dark” and “evil” monster’s blood is black and lacks the life and color of a normal human. This black blood is also a reference to the lack of the blood of Christ within the beast because the blood of Christ is red. Even when she was slain, her offspring immediately began to drink her blood making “her death their life, and eke her hurt their good” (220.127.116.11). This is another stab at the various schools of thought swirling around Spenser’s time period. These offspring took advantage of their mother’s suffering to their benefit, not properly mourning her or her life. This behavior can be related to these various sects feeding off of the blood that had been spilt by the beheadings of the time period of others who had already broken off from the unified church and using it for their own benefit to further their causes. Additionally both the offspring and the various sects of the time period no longer required Redcross’s attention because “his foes haue saline themselues” (18.104.22.168). After this victory, Redcross is able to find a path and stick to it, similar to that of a founded Christian. Through this path, he is led out of the woods with his brood intact.
Spenser’s allegory throughout The Faerie Queene is something that so vividly screams at the readers of the time period as to the current religious and political turmoil occurring within their lives. At first glance, it would appear that Spenser simply referenced the struggles but through the word choice and descriptions of vomit and blood-thirsty offspring that Spenser was anything but indifferent to the struggles. Clearly this book was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth and meant to be a flattering portrayal of her and her ideals as evidenced in the dedication but Spenser used both the history of his people as well as the bible to add important context to his epic romance.