Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Faerie Queene

Go To
Acrasia's Bower of Bliss

Just your typical collection of tales about a Magical Land full of Knights in Shining Armor, the evil knights and monsters they fight, and the beautiful maidens they love. Except half the knights are total newbies who have no idea what they're doing, the monsters are personifications of sins, and the maiden is just as likely as her boyfriend to be a warrior who has to bail him out of trouble.

Maybe it's not so typical after all...

The Faerie Queene is a collection of 6 epic poems (and the few incomplete Mutabilitie Cantos) written by Edmund Spenser as a gift for Queen Elizabeth. The first three books were published in 1590 and the next 3 in 1596. As outlined in a letter to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, Spenser's plan was to write 24 books — the first 12 each starring a knight who personifies one of the 12 Private Virtues, and the rest starring the Public Domain Character Prince Arthur, who personifies the 12 Public Virtues — ending with an epic battle against the Faerie Queene's Arch-Enemy the Paynim King and her marriage to Arthur. Unfortunately, Author Existence Failure got in the way; thus, we never meet the Faerie Queene in person, and Prince Arthur is never united with his True Love.


Gloriana, the Queen of Faerieland, an obvious and flattering Expy of Queen Elizabeth, dwells in the magnificent royal city of Cleopolis where she runs the local Heroes "R" Us, the Knights of Maidenhead. The Knights are human beings who were Switched at Birth with Changelings (a supposedly favorite prank of The Fair Folk in those days) and serve the Faerie Queene in hopes of attaining honor and glory. The pattern of most of the stories is: a nearby kingdom is being terrorized by some threat, someone comes to Cleopolis to plead for aid, the queen sends a Knight to help them, the Knight and his companion go on a journey full of obstacles relevant to the virtue the Knight represents, the Knight defeats the villain. On the way, they eventually run into Prince Arthur, who fell in love with the Faerie Queene after seeing her in a dream. He is on his way to find her but keeps getting sidetracked by needing to help every character he meets along the way.


The poems are strong Christian allegory full of symbolism and British legend. It was Spenser's first epic, a departure from the pastoral poetry he specialized in. It is widely studied in college English classes and a highly interesting read. Don't let the archaic language frighten you.

By far the most famous story is that of "Saint George and the Dragon".

    open/close all folders 

    In general 

The entire series contains examples of:

  • The Epic: Spenser's first, as opposed to his Arcadian speciality.
  • Expy: Not just the Queen, but various political figures of the day.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Satyrane, half human/half satyr; physically looks human but has a wild streak and love for nature.

    Book 1 
Book One
  • Protagonist: The Redcrosse Knight, the Knight of Holinesse
  • Mission: Slay a dragon and free the king and queen he's holding captive
  • Accompanied by: Princess Una (and a dwarf who carries their supplies)

This book provides examples of:

    Book 2 
Book Two
  • Protagonist: Guyon, the Knight of Temperance
  • Mission: Arrest The Vamp Acrasia and destroy her Bower Of Bliss, a paradise where she lures knights, sleeps with them, then turns them into animals a la Circe
  • Accompanied by: A palmer

This book provides examples of:

  • Bash Brothers: Pyrochles and Cymochles
  • Beneath the Earth: Guyon's trip to the Underworld
  • Book-Ends: At the start of the book, Guyon and the Palmer are too late to save a knight named Mordant (and his wife) from Acrasia's curse. At the end, they arrive on time to rescue her new victim, a knight named Verdant.
  • Celibate Hero: Guyon, to the point where he feels nervous just dancing with a woman at Alma's castle.
  • Death by Sex: Acrasia's clients, who are either turned into animals or, if they come to their senses, die shortly after leaving.
  • Driven to Suicide: Amavia, after her husband dies a delayed death from Acrasia's poison.
  • Kick the Dog: The dead couple and their orphaned infant Guyon finds in the forest illustrate the damage Acrasia's evil can cause and how urgent it is that he stops her.
  • Power Trio of half-sisters:
    • Elyssa, Deficiency
    • Medina, Moderation, or the virtuous Golden Mean.
    • Perissa, Excess
  • Save the Villain: Guyon wants to help Pyrochles against Furor, but the Palmer tells him it's none of his business since Pyrochles released Furor himself.
  • Story Within a Story: The histories Guyon and Arthur read at Alma's castle.
  • Sword over Head: Guyon to Pyrochles.
  • The Vamp: Acrasia and Phaedria.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Guyon only ever kills Pyrochles' horse throughout the story (and even considers that shameful), in sharp contrast to Redcrosse.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Pyrochles releases Furor and Occasion only to be fiercely attacked by him and suffers injuries that would have eventually killed him if not for Archimago's help. Later, he takes King Arthur's sword from Archimago despite warnings that he will not be able to slay its rightful owner with it, and predictably loses that fight. If he had taken Guyon's sword along with his shield (leaving Arthur's sword with Archimago), he and Cymochles would've likely won that fight (and slain Prince Arthur).

    Book 3 
Book Three
  • Protagonist: Britomart, the Knight of Chastity
  • Mission: Originally to find the knight destined to be her husband, Artegall, but eventually becomes to save Amoret from the evil sorcerer Busirane and reunite her with her husband, Scudamour
  • Accompanied by: Her old nanny disguised as her squire, Glauce

The Book of Chastity breaks away from Spenser's pattern. Britomart is a British princess who has come to Faerieland disguised as a male knight on a personal mission to find Artegall. Book Three also introduces the by-plots of Belphoebe's romance with Arthur's squire, Timias, and the woes of Florimell, a Damsel in Distress who is always on the run because everywhere she turns, she finds another man trying to rape her, until she is captured by the sea god Proteus and thrown in his dungeon for refusing to sleep with him.

This book provides examples of:

    Book 4 
Book Four
Book Four is a Continuation of Book Three. Britomart finds Artegall, Florimell is released from her dungeon and engaged to Marinell, but first Satyrane invites all the knights in the land to a tournament and beauty contest. The prizes for the winning knight and the most beautiful girl will be... each other! Entering the tournament are best friends and brothers-in-law (they married each other's sister) Campbell and Triamond from one of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, "The Squire's Tale," another series cut short by Author Existence Failure. Britomart, still in disguise as the Knight of the Ebon Spear, wins the tournament, and enters Amoret in the beauty contest. The judges decide the "Snowy Florimell" (a clone of Florimell a witch made for her son) is the most beautiful girl, but she fails the final test: the real Florimell's golden girdle, which can only be worn by a virgin, won't fit her. In fact, it won't fit anyone but Amoret, which Britomart argues makes her the most beautiful. But the value of virginity and true love is the main point of Book Three. The Virtue of Book Four is Friendship, personified in Campbell's and Triamond's friendship and Britomart's and Amoret's (once Amoret realizes her rescuer is not a man who is keeping her near him to take advantage of her).

This book provides examples of:

    Book 5 
Book Five
  • Protagonist: Artegall, the Knight of Justice
  • Mission: Defeat the giant Grantorto and free a queen Irena and her kingdom
  • Accompanied by: The man of iron, Talus

In the middle of the book, Artegall loses a duel to the evil Amazon queen Radigund because he refuses to finish her off when he has the chance because of her beauty. When she imprisons him, it's not the famous Arthur who comes to his rescue but Britomart.

This book provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Talus. He kills everyone who looks at him the wrong way, and at one point cuts the hands off and drowns a woman who they've taken prisoner. The only thing that keeps him nominally on the side of good is that he works for Artegall, who has to curb some of his more bloodthirsty rampages.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Blatant Beast
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Radigund makes all the male knights she defeats and imprisons wear women's clothes and do women's chores.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Britomart fights Radigund to save Artegall.
  • Distressed Dude: Artegall getting rescued by Britomart.
  • Does Not Like Men: Radigund.
  • Downer Ending: Despite saving Irena from Grantorto, Artegall is shunned when he returns to Faerieland thanks to Envy, Detraction, and the Blatant Beast.
  • Expy: Artegall for the Earl Grey.
  • Fate Worse than Death: See Cool and Unusual Punishment.
  • Judgment of Solomon: Arthegall arbitrates a dispute between a squire and a knight over a woman (who is apparently incapable of telling them herself). It turns out the knight kidnapped the woman (and killed his own girlfriend when she objected to his running off with her) and is subsequently sentenced to carry her severed head around for a year as punishment.
  • Poisonous Friend: Talus, and how.
  • Sequel Hook: The sudden appearance of the Blatant Beast at the end.
  • Spot the Imposter: At Marinell's and Florimell's wedding, Artegall outs the Snowy Florimell as the fake, and she melts.
    • Braggadocchio's charade of posing as a knight is also revealed, along with his theft of Guyon's horse.
  • Woman Scorned: Radigund.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Artegall's policy; obviously, he's not too smart about how he uses it.

    Book 6 
Book Six
  • Protagonist: Calidore, the Knight of Courtesy
  • Mission: Capture the Blatant Beast

Calidore disappears from the radar for a good chunk of the action while the story follows Calepine, his girlfriend Serena, Arthur, Timias (who has regained the will to live and fight after being reconciled with Belphoebe), and their encounters with the Blatant Beast, whose bites cannot be healed and work like rumors, cursing the victims with bad reputations.

This book provides examples of:

Alternative Title(s): Faerie Queene


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: