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Home » , » How does Spenser blend the Medieval, the Renaissance and the Reformation elements in The Faerie Queene?

The Faerie Queene is a wonderful blend of the Medieval, the Renaissance and the Reformation elements. Though the spirit of Renaissance, or that of the Reformation, has its hold on Spenser's mind, the old order that has been passing away, has also its appeal to him. The Renaissance was an intellectual, moral and cultural movement which spread over Western Europe in the 14th, 15th, and early 16th centuries. It marked the revival of interest in the classical learning of ancient Greece and Rome. Broadly, it marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern world. The Renaissance freed man's mind from the slavery of the monastic ideals, asserted the supremacy of reason and inspired him to take an aesthetic delight in the beauties of the world and the pleasures of the senses. The new age was characterised by the spirit of adventure, love for beauty, moral earnestness, a love for richness and magnificence, power and pelf, etc.

During the period of the Renaissance, there was a revival of old classical literature of Greece and Rome. Spenser borrowed the materials of his poetry from the classical writers but he modified them in his own way. The Greek philosophical ideas deeply affected the Renaissance thoughts and Spenser, as the child of the Renaissance, was greatly influenced by the Greek philosophers. The plan of The Faerie Queene, to fashion a gentleman of noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline, was derived from Aristotle.

The Reformation was a movement in the 16th century to reform the abuses in the Roman Church and establish the Reformed or Protestant Churches. This movement led to the various Protestant schisms of the 16th century with several leaders such as Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in France, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland. Spenser was equally influenced by the Renaissance and the Reformation. He was a devout Christian and zealous protestant. But he did not allow his Renaissance ideals to damp his religious enthusiasm.

The allegory of The Faerie Queene as revealed in Book I, is certainly a brief outline of the history of Reformation in England. We know how Queen Elizabeth, heading the Protestants, goes to war against the Catholic forces, headed by the Queen of Scots. As a zealous Protestant and ardent patriot, Spenser represents Queen Elizabeth as Una, or the embodiment of truth or true church. This is in striking contrast with Mary, Queen of Scots as Duessa or the embodiment of Falsehood or the false religion, Catholicism. The Red Cross Knight is St. George of England, who, like a true Christian, makes his way to holiness and blessedness through a perfecting discipline. In his epic, Spenser justifies the part played by the Englishmen in their fight against the Church of Rome and he is to be admired for his strong support for and belief in the cause of Reformation.

The medieval elements are also traceable in The Faerie Queene, Book-I. Spenser looks back to the ideas and ideals of the Middle Ages. Chivalry, Honour, Courtesy, worship of women, and compassion for the poor or the afflicted, are some of the most predominant characteristics of the Middle Ages and Spenser has imbibed a strong sympathy for them. He draws upon the Arthurian romances of the Middle Ages for his famous epic.

To sum up, love of display and adventure, are strictly medieval traits and Spenser has freely and fully exploited them in his epic. His description of the pageantry of the court masque and entertainment, the beauty of Knightly armour and the dress of well born ladies all display the medieval element in his poetry. But his greatness lies in the fact that he has been able to blend successfully all the three elements of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the medieval life of chivalry and heroism.


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