Here’s a taste of why I enjoy Renaissance literature.

Knights in magical armor, ladies whose beauty shines like the sun, ferocious dragons, giants, subterraneous blacksmith shops, river gods, dancing satyrs, Eden-like gardens jousting touraments, castles, warlike amazons, and prophetic dreams … all of these can be found in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem, The Faerie Queen.

Not only is the Faerie Queen a delightful tale, but, as an allegory, it explores six virtues. The Red Cross Knight represents holiness; Guyon embodies temperance; Britomart, the lady knight, is chastity; Cambell and Telamond portray friendship; and Sir Calidore’s adventures show courtesy. The Faerie Queen herself, who is mirrored in various characters throughout the poem, stands as a picture of Queen Elizabeth. The poem also contains many evil characters: Malengin the shape-shifter who represents guile; Malbecco, the embodiment of jealousy, who lives alone in a cliffside cave, feeding on poisonous toads and frogs; Despair, a skillful rhetorician, who tempts travelers to end their sorrows through suicide; Braggadochio, who boasts of his greatness but runs away when danger approaches; Error, a snake-woman, who nurses little “dragonets”; Busirane, a cruel and cunning magician who holds lady Amoret captive; Duessa, an ugly witch who disguises herself as a lovely maid.

Sir Phillip Sidney, a contemporary of Spenser, wrote that a true poet creates “speaking pictures” that teach virtue with delight. Spenser is such a poet.