Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 1, Canto 10

By Edmund Spenser

Book 1, Canto 10

  • It's often true that people who are physically strong find themselves most vulnerable when they're up against spiritual and psychological enemies.
  • Take Redcrosse. He clearly struggled with the spiritual tests of Despair, not to mention that he was actually physically weakened from his long imprisonment in Orgoglio's castle.
  • Una therefore sets out to have him taken care of and heads to the house of Caelia, known for being a place of rest, wisdom, and virtue.
  • Caelia had three daughters: Sperenza, Fidelia (both engaged to be married, though still virgins), and Charissa, who is already married with many children.
  • So Una and Redcrosse arrive at this house and are let in by an old porter named Humilita, who takes them to a beautiful open courtyard where they see a happy guest named Zele and are received by a squire named Reverence who takes them to Caelia.
  • Caelia is delighted to see Una, whom she knows to be of heavenly descent, and praises her virtues while welcoming her and asking her what she needs.
  • She says she's surprised to see a knight there too, since knights are rarely good enough to find this special place.
  • Una explains that they have come to see her and Caelia welcomes them both.
  • As they're discussing other things, two of Caelia's beautiful daughters come in: Fidelia, dressed in white and carrying a cup of gold and a sacred book, and Sperenza, wearing blue and carrying an anchor.
  • They greet Una and Redcrosse and all talk happily. Una asks where their other sister, Charissa, is: she finds out Charissa has just had another child and is resting.
  • Caelia finally says that they must be tired and want to rest. She has them escorted to their lodging by a servant named Obedience.
  • After they've rested, Una asks Fidelia if she will take Redcrosse as a student, so he can learn wisdom and Christian morality from her.
  • She agrees and Redcrosse learns so much from Fidelia about God, and sin, and virtue that Redcrosse starts to feel depressed about how bad a person he was.
  • Good thing Sperenza is around to cheer him up, although not before Una comes across him in his depressed state and becomes worried.
  • Una goes to Caelia with her worries, and Caelia tells her to calm down and recommends that Redcrosse go see a man named Patience.
  • Patience proves very useful in alleviating much of Redcrosse's suffering, but the deep infection of sin that still torments him hasn't yet been removed.
  • So Redcrosse becomes extremely penitent, wearing nothing but coarse, black clothing, and is visited by Penitence, Remorse, and Repentance, all of whom temporarily cause Redcrosse pain, but only before they heal him.
  • Una pities poor Redcrosse, but knew that this was for the best and soon enough Redcrosse, better than ever, sees Una and pledges a new, truer love between them.
  • Una and Redcrosse then visit Charissa, who has now recovered from childbirth and who is incredibly beautiful, maternal, and full of love.
  • Una asks Charissa if she too will teach Redcrosse about virtue, and she happily agrees.
  • She teaches him about love and the right path to God and enlists the help of another woman, Mercy, who teaches him that no matter what he does, mercy should always be his goal.
  • Mercy then takes Redcrosse to a kind of hospital, where seven "Bead-men" (i.e. nurses or attendants) spend their time helping those there and doing good deeds.
  • The seven attendants are: the Guardian, who entertains and lodges everyone who comes; the Lamer, who gives food and drink to those who need it; one in charge of distributing clothing; one to help prisoners and pay their ransoms; one to comfort those near death; one to give the dead a proper burial, and finally, one to take care of the orphans of anyone who has died.
  • The guardian welcomes them to the hospital and Redcrosse stays there for a while both resting himself and helping out in order to learn about Christian charity and good deeds.
  • After the hospital, they head to a hill with a little chapel where a man, named Contemplation, is praying night and day. He is blessed with many visions of god.
  • Even though he's a bit irritated that they've interrupted his praying, he greets them and asks them why they are there.
  • Mercy answers that she is there to show Redcrosse the way to heaven and needs the old man to help take him there.
  • The old man agrees, remarking how lucky Redcrosse is, and takes him to a glorious mountain, famous for both spiritual and poetic reasons, and there points out an incredible city, the city of God, that is too incredible even for Spenser to describe to us.
  • The old man explains that this city is Jerusalem and that in it God's chosen people dwell.
  • Redcrosse is amazed and says that it completely outdoes every other city he's ever seen.
  • The old man agrees, although he says that Cleopolis, the city of the Faerie Queene, is the nicest non-city-of-God out there.
  • The old man concludes by saying that Redcrosse is now ready to help Una and become a great hero, but after he does all these things, he should come back here and seek this path to holiness. If he does, he'll become known as Saint George, the patron saint of England.
  • Redcrosse says he's too unworthy to receive such a great honor and wishes he could just stay with the old man here and skip the whole fighting thing, but the old man reminds him that he made a promise to Una to assist her.
  • Redcrosse agrees, but also wants to know why he'll play such a special part in English history.
  • The old man explains that he is descended from ancient English blood (the Saxons) and that as a baby, he was snatched by faeries, taken to Faerieland, and there was raised by a farmer.
  • Redcrosse thanks the old man for everything and returns to Una, who is delighted to see how well he is doing and so the two, finally, leave Caelia's house to go on their way.