Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Justice and Judgment

By Edmund Spenser

Justice and Judgment

Halfe furious unto his foe he came,/ Resolved in mind all suddenly to win. (I.i.24)

In the moments before he finally kills the monster Error, Redcrosse shows that "fury" and "resolve" aren't necessarily incompatible states of being.

[Redcrosse] was much enmoved with [Despaire's] speach,/ That as swords poynt through his hart did perse,/ And in his conscience made a secrete breach. (I.ix.48)

What makes Despair such a scary guy is his ability to make really bad advice seem like really good advice. That's why judgment is so important—you need to be able to judge the fact that Despair is a bad dude in order to not listen to him.

Thus heaping crime on crime, and griefe on griefe,/ To losse of loue adioyning losse of frend,/ I [Phaon] meant to purge both with a third mischiefe,/ And in my woes beginned it to end. (II.iv.31)

Phaon's lack of judgment in responding to what he thought was the infidelity of his fiancée, led him into a vicious cycle of bad choices producing more bad choices. The result? A whole lot of woe.

I Pilate am the falsest Iudge, alas,/ And most vniust, that by vnrighteous/ And wicked doome… Delivered vp the Lord of life to die. (II.vii.62)

Guyon meets the ghost of Pontius Pilate in the underworld with Mammon, and comes face to face with a central symbol of an absence of justice in the Christian tradition.

But ah, who can deceiue his destiny,/ Or weene by warning to auoyd his fate? (III.iv.27)

Even though Marinell's mother goes out her way to learn the fate of her child, she still has to make a judgment call and interpret that prophesy. Hint: she doesn't do a great job.

And said, Sir Knight, sith ye this Lady [False Florimell] clame,/ Whom he that hath, were loth to lose so light… Yee shall her winne, as I haue done in fight:… That who so winnes her, may her haue by right. (IV.iv.9)

Arguing over possession of the False Florimell, Blandamour proposes a fight as the best form of conflict resolution—not the last time we'll see knights turn to this practice as form of judgment.

For during Saturnes ancient raigne it's sayd,/ That all the world with goodnesse did abound… Iustice sate high ador'd with solemne feasts/ And to all people did diuide her dred beheasts./ Most sacred vertue she of all the rest. (V.proem.9-10)

Telling a familiar tale of "everything-was-better-back-in-the-day," our narrator describes a golden age primarily defined by the presence of true justice that is truly respected.

But if ye please, that I your cause decide,/ Perhaps I may all further quarrell end,/ So ye will sweare my iudgement to abide./ Thereto they both did franckly condescend/ And to his doome with listfull eares did both attend. (V.i.25)

In one of Arthegall's first interventions in a quarrel between two squires in Book V, Arthegall explicitly offers himself as a judge and a bringer of justice.

[Mercilla] was about affaires of common wele,/ Dealing of Iustice with indifferent grace,/ And hearing pleas of people meane and base. (V.ix.36)

In this snapshot of Mercilla's court, right before the harrowing trial of Duessa, we see how a queen has to be the ultimate dispenser of justice, assisting even those from lower classes who are "meane and base." Hey, that's a mean (and base) thing to say.

Another time, when as the shepherds did dispose/ To practise games… They for their Iudge did Pastorella chose… Then was the oaken crowne by Pastorell/ Giuen to Calidore, as his due right;/ But he, that did in courtesie excel/ Gaue it to Coridon, and said he wonne it well. (VI.ix.43-44)

This is how judgment goes down in the pastoral world: competition-style. It also pits the pastoral values of crowning the champion against Calidore's more courtly value of being "court"eous.

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