From The Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., Fourth Series. — Volume Seventh. January — June 1871; London; 1871; pp. 1-2.
Spenser styles his poem “a continued allegory or dark conceit”; but he does not by that mean to say that it forms one continued allegory in the sense in which we now understand the term. In fact there is but one allegory in it — namely, the first book, “The Legend of Holiness”; and in all the rest of the poem the characters are mere impersonations of moral or physical qualities, or of real persons, without any specially connected series of events. I will here briefly state my conception of what I regard as the only allegory in the poem. This, then, I take to be the history of the Church from its commencement till the poet’s own time. In Una I see, not Truth simply, but the True Church; in Duessa, not mere Falsehood, but the False Church — that of Rome. The father and mother of Una, the king and queen of Eden, I take to be God the Father and the ancient Adamic or patriarchal Church. In the Dragon I discern the great enemy of man, Satan. In the Red-cross Knight the Christian people, represented by St. George, the patron saint of England, the great champion of true faith; and finally, in Archimage, Satan in his character of the tempter and seducer.
The adventures of the knight begin with his entering the grove of Error, and his encountering and slaying that monster. By this is probably meant the conflict with the various forms of religious error or heresy in the Church. Archimage then tries his wiles, and separates the knight from Una; but his doing so by making him suspect her purity seems rather to break the allegory. However, he abandons her, and then falls in with Duessa in company with a “faithless Sarazin” named Sansfoy, that is, Paganism, whom he slays; and he is then deceived by Duessa, who conducts him to the House of Pride, that is, the Roman Empire, which now becomes Christian. Here he encounters and slays a brother of Sansfoy, named Sansjoy, by which is perhaps meant the joyless condition of the Empire when separated from the True Church. On his discovering the real nature of the House of Pride, he seizes the earliest opportunity of flight, and abandons it.
Una meanwhile wanders alone in search of the champion who had deserted her. She meets with a lion, who becomes her protector. This lion forces an entrance for her into the house of Corceca and Abessa, and kills Kirkrapine, the paramour of the latter; but is himself slain soon after, defending Una against a Paynim named Sansloy, who had overcome Archimage, who had rejoined her under the from of the Red-cross Knight. From him she is delivered by a band of fawns and satyrs whom her shrieks brought to her aid. They lead her to their abode in the woods and mountains, where she lives among them and instructs them in morals and religion. By the aid of a knight named Sir Satyrane she leaves them, and sets out again in quest of the Red-cross Knight.
In this part of the allegory the lion seems to signify the counts of Toulouse, who protected the True Church against that of Rome, and gained its members admission into the religious houses against the will of their inmates, and punished those who made spoil of sacred things. By the Paynim Sansloy may be meant the papal adherents under De Montfort and others, who overcame the counts of Toulouse, and from whom Una is saved by the satyrs, that is, the Waldenses, whose abode was in the woods and valleys of Switzerland. Sir Satyrane, who is connected with them, I take to represent the Huguenots of France, who derived their creed and their name from the reformer of Switzerland; and it is very remarkable that he and Sansloy are left fighting — just as the Huguenots and the Papists were at the time — and are not mentioned any more in this book.
The Red-cross Knight meantime is overtaken and again seduced by Duessa, and he drinks of a fountain, the water of which quite enervates him, and he is then seized and thrown into a loathsome dungeon by a huge giant, who makes Duessa his leman, dresses her magnificently, and mounts her on a strange beast with seven heads. 2 Here then we have in this giant Charlemagne and his successors, the power and glory of the Papacy, and the miserable thraldom of the Christian people.
Una having learned the fate of her knight, now appeals to Prince Arthur, whom she meets; and he fights and slays the giant, delivers the knight, and strips and exposes Duessa, who flies to hide her shame in the wilderness. Prince Arthur, the poet tells us, is Magnificence, i. e. the doing of great deeds. He is the impersonation of British royalty as shown forth in the house of Tudor, and we have here the victory of that house over the papacy and its abettors.
In order to restore her knight to the vigour requisite for his conflict with the dragon, Una now leads him to the House of Holiness, where he is put through a course of instruction and discipline by Faith, Hope, and Charity, the daughters of Holiness. He then engages the dragon, whom he overcomes and slays after a perilous conflict of three days’ duration. At the end of the first day, when the hero’s strength is nearly exhausted, it is restored by his falling into the Well of Life; and at the end of the second day he is again saved by falling into the “stream of balm” that flowed from the Tree of Life. By the well and tree I think the two sacraments seem to be indicated. The remainder of the allegory is simple and easy to be understood.
I will further observe, that the allegorical characters cease with this book. So when we meet with the Red-cross Knight and Satyrane again, they are simply knights of Faerie, Archimage, a mere enchanter, and Duessa, the queen of the Scots.