Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Coming of Age

By Edmund Spenser

Coming of Age

Even though the The Faerie Queene doesn't offer us a narrative of one single character's development in the way most coming-of-age stories do (like in Harry Potter), every main knight we meet is developing, learning, and growing in very important ways. In fact, we could say that the main characters in The Faerie Queene are learning how to be the virtues they embody as opposed to embodying those virtues automatically from the get-go.

That's why Redcrosse falters from Holiness at first by taking up with Duessa and Guyon falters from temperance when he leaves behind the Palmer. So clearly Spenser thinks that youth is a state in which we learn and grow. We bet Spenser would have loved Stand By Me.

Questions About Coming of Age

  1. What kinds of lessons do the knights in the poem generally have to learn? What kinds of things happen to them when they don't make the right choice?
  2. Do male and female characters seem to equally be depicted as learning and developing? Why or why not?
  3. What about villainous characters? Do they seem to grow and develop or do they seem to remain generally the same?
  4. Could you pick one character from The Faerie Queene who seems to change the most? Who, why, and how?

Chew on This

Coming-of-age is a process that involves deep emotional and psychological developments that Spenser's allegorical mode doesn't depict at all, making this poem a pretty boring story about growing up.

Too many random things happen to characters in the poem to make it a plausible depiction of coming-of-age. Characters just don't seem to have enough control over their world.

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