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Home » , » Comment on the art of characterisation in The Faerie Queene Canto-I of Book-I?

In the art of character portrayal Spenser's position is next only to Shakespeare and Chaucer. The Faerie Queene is a picture gallery with luxurious details and colourful decorations. Taking into consideration the world of human beings, Spenser draws concrete and realistic pictures of Knights, ladies, queens, heroes and warriors.

Spenser's characters are mostly allegorical figures and they are presented before us either as human beings or as beasts in a life-like manner.

A gentle knight was riding on across the plain. He wore heavy armour and a silver shield, which bore the marks of many battles fought. His angry horse chafed and foamed at the bit, impatient of the control he was subject to. He seemed to be a fair knight and sat in the saddle as one ready for combat.

Thus the poet gives a graphic picture of the Red Cross Knight, who is the hero of Book-I. He is not given any name. He is known by his designation which is the Red Cross Knight. He is so called because he wears on his armour the sign of the cross, and because the same sign is also inscribed on his shield. The Cross, as we know, symbolises the martyrdom of Lord Jesus Christ. The Knight is an ardent follower of Christ and that is why he carries the sign of the cross on his armour and on his shield.

Lady Una, the heroine of the first book of The Faerie Queene, is a paragon of beauty and virtue. She has been portrayed as both an individual and a type. She stands for Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Wisdom and innocence. She appears as a lovely lady riding upon a humble ass, which is of white colour but the lady is even more beautiful white than the ass. However, her beauty is hidden under a veil. She is in a sad mood and sits dejectedly upon her slow-moving ass. She is also leading a milk-white lamb by a string. The lady is as pure and innocent as that lamb which walks behind her.

Una, according to the poet is the apotheosis of womawomankinde is Spenser's ideal of a perfect woman.

The medieval institution of Knight errantry had a peculiar fascination for Spenser and as a result, he has been able to create colourful word pictures of the scenes of adventures and fighting. Knightly encounters, blood and festive occasions. He gives free rein to his imagination when he deals with the objects of his creation.

Archimago is a wonderful creation of Spenser. He is one of the most dynamic characters in Book-I of The Faerie Queene. Outwardly he appears to be a holy person but inwardly he is extremely evil. He is a magician, constantly on the move, doing something or the other in the service of the devil. He is a master in the art of disguise and dissembling. He appears before the Red Cross Knight and Lady Una as a very old man with bare feet, a white and grey beard, wearing a long black garment, and a book hanging from his belt. His eyes are bent downwards as if gazing at the ground below, and as he walks on the way, he seems to pray and often beats his breast like a man who repents for his sin. Thus Spenser is gifted with a superb skill of narration. He has chosen the right word in the right place to give every detail of Archimago as a hypocritical person.

Spenser is an artist who knows well where he has to restrain his verse and content himself by touching upon a significant detail or two leaving the manifold details of the picture to the imagination of the readers. The portrait of the monster Error gives us such an impression.

To sum up, Spenser has shown his remarkable skill in the art of characterisation, while describing a character, he observed every detail of the person concerned, his or her dress, manner, appearance, virtues, vices, weaknesses or other qualities. His characters are both individuals and types, and in this respect, he is a follower of Chaucer.


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