In writing his classic epic, Edmund Spenser created what he referred to as an allegory as he wrote that the epic would be “cloudily enwrapped in allegorical devices,” (Spenser 11). This means that the characters he created in the imaginative world are a mirror of the characters of the real world (Walter 154). He committed himself to inform the real world and teaching moral values through the characters he created. There are various virtues, which are explored in the epic poem. For example, in books 1 and 2, the poem sets to explore holiness and chastity through Redcrosse, the knight of holiness and Britomart the knight of chastity. The construction and development of the character’s pilgrimages in pursuing their prescribed life vocations, the poem curves the characters in the shape of known servants (Walter 154). For example, Redcrosse is a model of the apostle Peter, and this gives the first impression of the kind of duty these characters are created to perform in the epic (Glazier 382). This paper evaluates the way Edmund Spenser has presented the need for duty and responsibility in this paper through characterization.
Throughout the epic poem, the writer has explored the significance of observing one’s duty by accepting the responsibility which one has been called for. Just like the leaders in the current world, the epic is straightforward in the way it handles issues of adherence and dereliction of duty. In this epic, there are many heroic figures who are assigned some duties, most commonly, a question to tackle. Most duties involve a challenging task to struggle a monster to death in an act of protecting another character (Howard 623). Sometimes, the duty involves pursuing a certain virtue to the end, and in case such a dream is lost; the character has to pay for it. For instance, the knight of holiness is supposed to serve God as per his role since, as a Christian, this is the key virtues in the pursuit of faith. However, this character finds himself in trouble as he pursued his dream and duty. In his quest to seek Una’s unification, the symbol for truth and holiness, he realizes that this cannot be attained without knowledge of Christian truth. Since he is not mature enough to handle the task, he is misled by Duessa the witch (Turnage 560). For that case, he has to pay for his mistake and he suffers terribly, but this suffering is like the fire test which he had to pass to attain faith, hope, and charity (Turnage 560). The hero is able to overcome the drawback after passing this test, and by the divine assistance, he kills the world evil, which is represented by the dragon (Turnage 560).
From this lesson, the real world characters, especially those who have been charged with social responsibilities and public leadership get to learn that making mistakes sometimes is inevitable. They are also made to understand that one should take responsibility when he fails in his or her duty. It is by taking responsibility that one can triumph in his or her endeavors. On her side, Britomart has a duty to maintain her virtue of chastity in which she has been able to resist lust (Levin 18). However, she has a problem in accepting love, which she feels whenever a vision of her future husband appears in a magic mirror. This character triumphs in her quest by learning how to combine chaste resistance and active true love, and this way Spenser curves a niche for a truly Christian love which is achieved when one takes his duty with moderation (Loewenstein and Mueller 369). The contrast for this is found in book three where the destructive power of unchaste life is well illustrated. Duty and responsibility bear fruit, when people identify their weaknesses, accept them, and work toward overcoming them for the best. In book 8, we see Mirabella explaining the way Times deserves to be punished because he has failed to save her. However, in this case, Mirabella is also unable to choose who to be her husband but her lack of courtesy only wins her admirers (Levin 20). Both Mirabella and Timias derelict their duty and responsibility and are subject to punishments. On the other hand, Calpine has identified his weakness, and his brashness is replaced with bravery. At first, he lost his honor when he failed in protecting Serena against the blatant beast (Turnage 567). At last, we see Serena being able to feed cannibals; an act he could not do in the past, and because of this his lost honor is restored and he succeeds heroically (Turnage 567).
In conclusion, whenever characters take responsibility for their duties and overcome the challenges in their duties in this epic, they succeed. That is why the Knight Redcrosse fights many demons and is not defeated by despair but goes on in her quest to rescue the king. Most of these characters are a mirror of the real world, and Spenser is able to show through the characters in this epic that failure to take responsibility and duty seriously leads to loss of honor. However, when one takes responsibility and duty, he may fall, get punished and restore his or her lost glory.
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Loewenstein, David, and Janel Mueller. The Cambridge history of early modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
Levin, Richard. “The Legend of the Redcrosse Knight and Una, or of the Love of a Good Woman.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 31.1 (1991): 1-24.
Spenser, Edmund. Thomas P. Roche, Jr., with the assistance of C. Patrick ODonnell Jr. ed. The Faerie Queene. New York: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.
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