Beauty … What Else is There?

Looks aren’t everything. We learn that from a young age, that it is what’s inside that counts. Not in accordance with the Red Cross Knight though. The story is a fantastical one at that which proves a difficult read, myself having to read it many times before I could quite understand it truly, but there was one thing that did catch my eye. The constant talk of appearance and virtue. The Red Cross Knight set on this adventure to protect the beautiful and young Una, but as soon as he is tricked into thinking she had spent her virtue, he’s out. See you later. This leads me to think about all of the texts that we have read so far. If it is not beauty, then it is a virtue, and as we spoke in class and discussed the texts it led me to this; not only is it religion that drives this text into the love of beauty and virtue, but it is also the male testosterone of the time period and writing that creates this need for a pristine, perfect woman.

As we continue through the story and the Red Cross Knight defeats the big bad monsters and continue on, we are met with another conflict in the story. Here we meet the Sorcerer Archimago, who sets sprites on the main characters. It is in this moment that we see the Red cross knight’s true intentions, even if it is not right up front and in your face, evidence is scattered within the text. When the first sprite attempts to lure the Red cross Knight he immediately continues back to sleep, thinking that it is not real. But, as soon as he sees the next sprite disguised as Una, it must be real. In this vision, he sees her “spending her virtue” and everything spirals downhill from here. 

So pure and innocent as that same lambe,

She was in life eury vertuous lore,

and by descent from Royal lynage came

The Faerie Queene Canto 1 pg. 7 last stanza Edmund Spenser

This innocence that he described seemed quite obvious. She was shy, beautiful and virtuous, and young, so why would the Red Cross Knight immediately give into the idea that she might not be. Jealousy, frustration with the possibility she would be so “careless”?

Long after lay he musing at her mood,

Much grieu’d to thinke that gentle Dame so light,

For whose defence he was to shed his blood.

At last dull wearinesse of former fight

Hauing yrockt a sleepe his irkesome spright,

That troublous dreame gan freshly tosse his braine,

With bowres, and beds, and Ladies deare delight:

But when he saw his labour all was vaine,

with that misformed spright he backe returned againe.

The Faerie Queen Canto 1 pg. 19 last stanza Edmund Spenser

The end of Canto 1, the Red Cross Knight packed his things and abandoned Una because of a vision of a sprite that he had seen. Taking this into account, and him knowing who Una is the person she is, how could he believe it? His first description of Una was a young woman innocent and virtuous – someone who he could trust, so why would he believe the deceit so quickly? With statements such as “For whose defence he was to shed his blood. At last dull wearinesse of former fight,”, “that troublesome dreame gan freshly tosse his brain”, and “Ladies deare delight: But when he saw his labor all was vain,”. (pg 19) In these comments, he admits that it was a dream that “tossed his brain”. 

Immediately after the Red Cross Knight leaves Una, he stumbles upon another young and beautiful maiden named Fidessa who claims to be the daughter of the emperor of the west. He swears to protect her in her journeys as he did with Una, merely because he is attracted to her. Reading this part of the story, it reminded me of the children’s cartoon The Swan Princess, story by Richard Rich and narrated by Brian Nissen. Basically, the movie is based on the ballet Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. There was one scene in the movie that struck me very similar to the reading because of how the Red Cross Knight reacts personality-wise. He seems very arrogant and doesn’t do much listening to anyone and if one thing persuades him to help someone, it’s beauty. 

The Swan Princess, story by Richard Rich and narrated by Brian Nissen

Continuing on, he hears the story of the two trees and Duessa, and when Fidessa faints, he thinks nothing of it. Nothing tells him that maybe she isn’t what she seems, or that she isn’t who she says she is. There is no skepticism or fear that she is an imposter, he believes every word she says as a product of her beauty. 

The red cross knight is on this journey as a search for holiness, armed with the faith of Christ, which leads me to question is this Red Cross Knight based on the Knights of Templar? The Red Cross Knight the entire story almost questions his faith, but also is on this journey to build his faith and help him with it, and these “temptations” that are the women who he escorts and protects are in a way his biggest temptation to prove his faith. It is not defeating the monsters, taking on the sprites, or getting Una to where she needs to go, it is forcing himself not to give in to his desires. 

But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,

The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,

For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,

And dead as liuing euer him ador’d:

The Faerie Queen Canto 1 pg. 7 second stanza Edmund Spenser

In all, it is quite clear that not only does religion play valuable roles in the text, but it is also a common major influence in the way that the characters act, and react. The author made a story about the man’s journey to gaining holiness and finding faith in his religion but did not neglect to enforce the woman’s place in that time period. That it was beauty and purity that made a woman desirable, especially in the context of Fidessa. He did not care to think that the woman might not be good because of her state of beauty and that creates obvious problems throughout the story. The time period, as well as religious influences, is the cause for this need for beauty, virtue, and perfection in women on the outside because they did not believe it to be present on the inside.

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