Essay, Research Paper
-Jesus Christ and the Red Cross Knight-
In his first book of The Faerie Queen, Edmund Spenser recites the tale of the Red Cross Knight and the many trials and tribulations that he encounters along his quest to save Princess Una’s kingdom. Throughout the tale Spenser makes many allusions to the Red Cross Knight being a Christ-like character. All of the qualities and attributes which Red Cross develops along the way lead up to his personification of Christ on the third day of the dragon fight. Many of these allusions are contained in small images and references.
The first image that Spenser uses to relate the tale’s significance to Christianity and Christ appears in canto I stanza iv:
A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside,
Upon a lowly Asse more white then snow,
Yet she much whiter,…
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,
And by her line a milke white lambe she lad. (I.iv.)
An image from the New Testament can be grasped from this scene. Picture Red Cross as Joseph on his way to Bethlehem leading the Virgin Mother Mary, Princess Una, who is riding on an ass carrying Jesus Christ the Lamb of God in her womb or in this case behind her. Although through this image Red Cross is seen as Joseph and not Christ, it is understood later in the story that the lamb represents what Red Cross could become through the help of Una and the trials he will face during his quest. The vision of Una as the virgin Mother of Christ solidifies her as having such characteristics as chastity, truth, and innocence. Each of these cement Una in the role of a perfect Romance maiden, one who can lead her champion to his utmost potential: that of a true romance hero.
The adventures of Red Cross mirror the temptation in the dessert of Jesus by Satan. “After spending forty days and forty nights without food, Jesus was hungry. Then the Devil came to him and said, ‘If you are God’s Son, order these stones to turn into bread…’”(Matthew 4.2-3) These temptations of Jesus by the Devil were needed in order to test and strengthen Jesus’ faith and restraint so that he could free the world of original sin. In comparison the many trials of Red Cross also serve as a rite of passage to help his abilities grow and his talent blossom. For every test he passes the closer he comes to being the complete romance knight. Without the tests he would not have been able to defeat the dragon and free Princess Una’’s kingdom.
Another allusion to Christ occurs when Red Cross is rescued by Prince Arthur from Orgolio the Giant and Duessa.
Therewith the Gyant buckled him to fight,
Inflamed with scornful wrath and high disdaine,
And lifting up his dreadful club on hight,
All armed with ragged snubbes and knottie graine,
Him thought at first encounter to have slaine…(I.viii.st.7)
Arthur, who is the hero of The Fairie Queen, is brought by Una to save her champion. During the rescue, Arthur directly reflects Christ in his actions. Arthur is everything Red Cross can become and has all of the perfect qualities and values of a knight. According to the third footnote of the canto “the battle between Orgolio and Arthur shadows that of the Redeemer against the Antichrist.” Once Orgolio is defeated there are a few lines in stanzas 35 and 36 which serve as “spiritual echoes reinforcing the association of Arthur with Christ:”
And there beside of marble stone was built,
An Altare, carved with cunning imagery,
On which true Christians bloud was often spilt,
And holy Martyrs often to dye,… (I.viii. st.36)
These lines reflect the passage “The Killing of the Children” in Matthew 2.16: “Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old and younger…”
In Prof. Kaske’s handout on “Una’s champions in Sequence”, she calls Arthur “a superman, that typifies ‘The Greater Man’ in the Harrowing of Hell of Hell,” or when he frees Red Cross from the dungeon. The Harrowing of Hell is described in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus as the belief that while “He was dead Christ liberated the righteous who lived before His time from Hell.” (pg.104 foot#8)
Red Cross will finally reach Arthur’s level of heroism on the third day of the dragon fight.
The climax of the allusions to Christ comes at the end of the tale with the dragon fight. Over this three day period Red Cross goes through a period of transformation where in each day he typifies and represents something different. The fact that the fight takes three days is in direct correlation with the crucifixion of Jesus and His Resurrection on the third day. On day one of the battle Red Cross is shamefully defeated:
And th’English Bath, and eke the german Spau,
Ne can Cephise, nor Hebrus match this well:
Into the same knight backe overthrowen, fell.(I.xi.st.30)
This blow dealt by the dragon to Red Cross symbolizes the end of the first day’s battle and the “crucifixion” of Red Cross.
Each time Red Cross is wounded or has a set back represents a sin or non-chivalric quality. He is beaten so badly because of all of the mistakes or sins he commits. At one point on the first day Spenser describes Red Cross as “‘almost made affeard’ meaning temptation(dragon fight handout);” this symbolizes his first sin. When Spenser is describing Red Cross’s beard, he is explaining “corruption” which is expressing Red Cross’s susceptibility.
On the day one Red Cross is without Christ. Satan is larger than life to a man without Christ, but to a man with Christ he becomes tiny. On the first day “Red Cross typifies man under law. (dragon fight handout)” The law is symbolized in the form of Red Cross’ armor. When the dragon sears Red Cross through his armor with flame, Red Cross gives up: “he thought his … arms to leave and helmet to unlace. (I.xi.st26)” By attempting to remove his armor, “Red Cross gives up trying to obey the law since, according to Paul in Romans 7, trying makes the sin worse. (dragon fight handout)”
Red Cross battles these sins both nights of the battle through two Holy Sacraments. On the first night the well in which Red Cross is thrown by the dragon symbolizes the Sacrament of Baptism. Through this Baptism Red Cross is wiped clean of all sin and is now better prepared for day two’s battle.
On the second day Red Cross begins to hold his own against the dragon. Red Cross has undertaken Baptism and is now Christian. He no longer embodies “man under law”, but now he is “Christian man or man under grace” (dragon handout). The dragon’s attacks on day two symbolize various sins and Red Cross’ defenses represent the power of God. The dragon’s tail attack or “sting” typifies the sin of lust and how under any circumstances it is always “infixed” in Red Cross and humanity (I.xi st.39). The dragon’s claw-attack symbolizes doubts of God and his everlasting power. Both attacks are defended and then counter-attacked by Red Cross. To the first attack Red Cross reacts by “cutting off the sting at the tail with the ’sword of spirit which is word of God’”(Heb. 4:12; dragon handout). With the dragon’s second offensive, Red Cross, again with the same sword, removes one claw and cuts the other one off at the foreleg. This exemplifies the word of God and how it removes some doubts while other doubts one just have to live with, but can avoid acting on. Although Red Cross makes some damaging blows to the dragon, he still loses the day and ends up toppled again, but this time next to a tree.
His nigh forwearied feeble feet did slide,
And downe he fell, with dread of shame sore terrifide.
There grew a goodly tree him faire beside,
Loaden with fruit and apples rosie red,… (I.xi.st.45-46)
The tree symbolizes the grace received from the sacrament of Holy Communion. From this tree leaked an oil, representing God’s grace, that washed out and healed Red Cross’s wounds. “In the gospel of Nicodemus, Seth heals his father, Adam with ‘oil’ flowing from ‘the tree of mercy’; so Christ’s blood, in the fullness of time, would restore the descendants of Adam. (pg.149 foot#3)” The oil from the tree makes Red Cross whole again and ready for battle on the third day.
“And rose again on the third day…”(The Nicene Creed) On the third day Red Cross awakes and typifies Christ and how He was resurrected from the dead and was victorious over Satan and Original Sin. Red Cross is “instantly victorious over the dragon with no set backs, no wounds, and no sins.(dragon handout)” Throughout the battle the dragon embodies Satan and all that is evil in the world. When Red Cross slays the dragon with his sword, which represents “God’s Word”, he aims at the mouth of the beast, “exemplifying Christ destroying Original Sin at the source and or Satan. (pg.150; foot#6)” By ideologically “killing Satan” Red Cross has reached his full potential and in the future will become St. George.
In this first book of The Fairie Queen Edmund Spenser embodies in his main character, the Red Cross Knight, humanity’s battle with Satan and evil. Throughout the epic the Red Cross Knight and even Prince Arthur are, continually representing Jesus Christ and his victories on the Cross and at the end of time. They are both representing Jesus Christ in all that they do and the qualities of a good Christian. This personification of Christ culminates at the end of the story with the Red Cross Knight’s victory over the dragon.
Edmund Spenser’s Fairie Queen