Newly knighted and ready to prove his stuff, Redcrosse, the hero of this book, is embarking on his first adventure: to help a princess named Una get rid of a pesky dragon that is totally bothering her parents and kingdom. So, she, Redcrosse, and her dwarf-assistant all head out to her home.
But before they get very far, they get lost in a forest and wander into the cave of a monster named Error who Redcrosse—just barely—defeats. After this riveting beginning, they soon come across a man they think is an old hermit, but turns out to actually be a powerful and sneaky magician named Archimago.
Not suspecting his malicious motives, the group goes back to his house with him for some much needed R & R. But sadly, that's the last thing they get… since Archimago uses his magic to construct a false version of Una, one who makes some uncomfortable sexual advances toward Redcrosse that provoke him to pack up and leave without her.
The real Una, meanwhile, wakes up stunned and hurt to find her knight Redcrosse gone.
As Redcrosse makes his way, he comes upon a knight named Sans Foy with a lady. Redcrosse kills Sans Foy and takes up with the lady, not realizing she's a crafty witch named Duessa. The two of them stop by some trees for a rest, but quickly discover that these trees are actually people—most notably a guy named Fraudubio—who have been transformed by a curse performed by that same Duessa (but no one except Duessa makes this connection).
Meanwhile, poor Una is wandering alone looking for Redcrosse and she looks so pure and sad that a lion joins up with her to be her protector. Aww. She and the lion spend an uncomfortable evening in the house of two wicked women and a thief (who the lion kills) and then run into Archimago disguised as Redcrosse.
However, before much happens, they are interrupted by Sans Loy—the brother of Sans Foy—who's seeking vengeance for the death of his brother. Archimago manages to elude him, but he snatches Una away.
Back to Redcrosse. He and Duessa arrive at a luxurious spot called the House of Pride and meet its mistress, Lucifera, who puts on a pretty disturbing performance involving the Seven Deadly Sins. Lucifera then puts on a tournament, and Redcrosse fights Sans Joy (you guessed it, the other brother of Sans Foy) and almost kills him until Duessa protects him (it turns out they have a bit of thing going on the side) by taking him to be healed in the house of Night. When she returns, she finds Redcrosse has left.
Una, in the meantime, is rescued from the clutches of Sans Loy by some friendly satyrs and soon comes across the knight Satyrane who helps Una look for Redcrosse. They find Archimago, who lies and tells them that Redcrosse is dead, which devastates Una. As she grieves, a very unhappy Sans Loy catches up with them and fights with Satyrane.
Duessa, who's been looking all over for Redcrosse, finally finds him and the two share a very intimate moment. This moment is followed by the attack of the giant Orgoglio, who defeats Redcrosse because Redcrosse is depleted from his intimate encounter. Orgoglio throws Redcrosse into prison and starts dating Duessa.
Now Una hears that Redcrosse isn't dead but thrown into prison and very fortunately runs into Arthur, who agrees to help her rescue him. They head off to the castle of Orgoglio where Arthur fights him, wins, and frees Redcrosse (who's feeling pretty bummed). Arthur then captures Duessa and reveals her for who she really is. Arthur then tells Redcrosse and Una a little bit about himself and his love for Gloriana, and then heads off on his own way.
Redcrosse hasn't recovered from his ordeal yet and is lead by another despairing knight, Trevison, to the cave of Despair where Redcrosse is almost talked into committing suicide. But Una saves him in the nick of time. Realizing that Redcrosse needs some serious help, Una takes him to the House of Holiness, where Redcrosse recovers and learns about true religious belief.
Rejuvenated, Redcrosse and Una finally arrive at Una's kingdom and Redcrosse fights the dragon. The dragon almost kills Redcrosse twice, but each time Redcrosse manages to rally. Victorious, Redcrosse slays the dragon.
In celebration, Una and Redcrosse are engaged, but the festivities are interrupted by a message from Duessa claiming that she's already engaged to Redcrosse. Redcrosse explains that she tricked him and the messenger is revealed to be Archimago. Everyone is relieved to hear of Redcrosse's innocence, but Redcrosse soon must leave to fulfill his duty to the Faerie Queene.
Heads up, Shmoopers: The Faerie Queen ain't brief. It's a big ol' doorstop of a read, and we feel like we'd be cheating you out of major plot points if we try to condense it down too much. So for the other books full of Faerie Queenerific goodness, we're going give you the basic-basics. Check out the Detailed Chapter Summaries for a more in-depth look.
Book 2, the book of Temperance, follows the hero Guyon and his guide the Palmer on their quest to avenge the death of Amavia and Verdant by finding and destroying the Bower of Bliss and its creator, the witch Acrasia.
As per usual in Faerie Land, they get sidetracked. This time, it's by encounters with Braggadochio, Furor and Occaision, Phaedria, and the house of Mammon. But after a refreshing visit to the house of Alma, things get back on track and off they head to one infamous Bower.
Book 3, on Chastity, features our favorite lady-knight Britomart on her quest to find her one true love, Arthegall. Disguised as a man along with her trusty nurse, Glauce, Britomart roams the land of Faerie knocking every knight she meets off their horse and finally agreeing to help Scudamore save his beloved Amoret, who is a prisoner in the house of Busirane.
Probably the oddest book in the whole poem, the fourth book on Friendship doesn't really have a single protagonist. We spend a little bit of time with the friends Triamond and Cambell, and their wives Canacee and Cambina, but we also spend a good deal of time with Britomart and Arthegall, both the real and the False Florimell, and the reculsive Marinell. This book is definitely something of a hodge-podge.
Returning to the more conventional structure of centering a book around a single knight, Book 5 features the exploits of Arthegall, knight of justice, and his rather alarming robot sidekick, Talus. Yeah, you read that right. They wander the land of Faerie enacting justice and punishment until Arthegall is embarrassingly captured by the queen of the Amazons, Radigund, and freed by his love, Britomart. Arthegall does finally succeed at the end of the book in killing the giant Grantorto, although he ends the book being chased by a new threat, the Blatant Beast.
Picking up right where Book 5 left off, Book 6 follows Calidore, a knight of courtesy, on his quest to stop the Blatant Beast. He too gets sidetracked along the way, making friends with Calepine and Serena—who we spend a lot of time with—and then taking some time out with the shepherds to live a pastoral existence. After winning the hand of Pastorella, he finally completes his quest and captures the Blatant Beast.