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Duessa and Orgoglio: Red Crosse's Spiritual Fornication

  • D. Douglas Waters (a1)


The theological connotations of Duessa's whoredom with Red Crosse at the fountain and Orgoglio in the castle make it difficult not to see her as a symbolic strumpet in a sixteenth-century Protestant fashion. Stressing her flexible and dynamic traits through a careful modulation of the witch and whore symbols, Spenser consistently shows that she is much more than a one-dimensional symbol, operating in the somewhat static manner of the Renaissance tableau, a characteristic she does undoubtedly partake of in this section of the poem but without losing her inherent dynamism both in the literal story and in the moral and anagogical allegories. The artistic treatment of her role culminates in the dramatic unfolding of Red Crosse's spiritual fornication and its enervating results. As will become clear, there appears to be enough evidence in the poem itself to read ‘physical’ as a symbol of 'spiritual’ fornication.



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1 See ‘Errour's Den and Archimago's Hermitage: Symbolic Lust and Symbolic Witchcraft,’ ELH XXXIII (no. 3, Sept. 1966), 279-298, esp. 296-298; however, nothing is said there about spiritual fornication.

2 Prayers and Other Pieces, ed. John Ayre. Parker Society 11 (Cambridge, 1844), 354- 355, hereafter cited as Prayers.

3 Writings of John, Bradford; containing Letters, Treatises, and Remains, ed. Aubrey, Townsend parker Society V (Cambridge, 1853), 287289.

4 See the edition of Arnold Schroeer in Anglia V (1882), 137-264, esp. 223 and 172-175 et passim.

5 Henry Geast, Dugdale, The Life and Character of Edmund Geste… . ,the Principal Compiler of the Liturgy of the Church of England;… the First Protestant Bishop of Rochester, afterwards Bishop Salisbury (London, 1840), Appendix, 1, 76, ital. added.

6 Certain Sermons or Homilies … (London, 1848), p. 260, ital. added.

7 A catholike exposition upon the revelation of Sainct John (1574), STC 17408, sig. 5Ggr, ital. added, hereafter cited as Revelation of Sainct John. Abbreviations have been expanded and modern typographical conventions followed in all quotations from sixteenth-century texts.

8 Foure Sermons (London, 1599), sig. 2Cv.

9 The Works of Richard Hooker, ed. John Keble; 7th ed. rev., R. W. Church and F. Paget (Oxford, 1888), III, 501, ital. added, hereafter cited as Works.

10 The following Protestant definitions cannot be slavishly applied to the poem, mainly because of the inherent ambiguity of Spenser's allegory: I) ‘spiritual adultery and whorehunting’ are ‘when men do partly love and worship God, and yet… do … give reverence to strange and other gods,’ The Decades of Henry Bullinger, ed. Thomas Harding. Parker Society VII (Cambridge, 1848), l-II, 233-234; 2) spiritual fornication is trying to participate simultaneously in false and true religion, Herbert Westfaling, A treatise of reformation in religion, divided into seven sermons (1582), STC 25285, sig. 2Cv; and 3) spiritual whoredom is apostasy, Marlorat, Revelation of Sainct John, sig. 5Ggr; and Thomas Becon, Prayers, p. 612.

11 John W., Schroeder, ‘Spenser's Erotic Drama: The Orgoglio Episode,’ ELH XXIX (1962), 140159 , defends quite perceptively his main point that the ‘erotic drama’ of the entire Orgoglio episode is a poetic means of blending the narrative, symbolic, and allegorical elements into a consistent and unified whole.

12 Prayers, p. 234; see also p. 286. Others, such as John Bale for example, say the same thing about the church of Rome generally, see The Image of Both Churches in The Select Works of John Bale, ed. H. Christmas. Parker Society 1 (Cambridge, 1849), 498.

13 Revelation of Sainct John, sig. [7Ggv], ital. added; in this context fornication with the whore of Babylon as the church of Rome is committed in many ways—including hearing the mass specifically; see sig. [6Ggr].

14 Prayers, p. 387.

15 I hope to publish soon an article dealing partially with this point.

16 For explicit treatments of this paradox, as it relates generally to the sin of fornication with the church of Rome, see William Fulke, A Sermon preached … (12 nov. 1570) … Wherin is playnly proved Babylon to be Rome, (pub. 1572; repr. 1579), STC 11452 sig. IGr, hereafter cited as Babylon to be Rome; and John Hooper, An oversight and deliberacion upon the holy Prophete Jonas (1550), STC 13763, sigs. [7Lr-8Lv], stating that ‘… no man is farther from heavn, then he that feareth not hell: Nor no man farther from grace, then he that feleth not the daunger of synne …,’ hereafter cited as Oversight.

17 For the idea that the felicity of the mass-hearer turns to doubt and despair, which is many times another kind of pride, see Sermons of Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie. Parker Society XXVII (Cambridge, 1844), 521-522; Early Works of Thomas Becon, ed. John Ayre. Parker Society in (Cambridge, 1843), 319 and 338; Becon, Prayers, pp. 377-378; and Works of John Jewel, ed. John Ayre. Parker Society xxv (Cambridge, 1848), III, The Defence of the Apology, pt. 1, ch. x, div. 1, p. 247.

18 Babylon to be Rome, sig. IGr.

19 Oversight, sig. [8Lv].

20 Later Writings of John Hooper, ed. Charles Nevinson. Parker Society (Cambridge, 1852), p. 319.

21 Neither is it any longer necessary to make distinctions between pride (Lucifera) and pride (Orgoglio) as the following critics do: 1) Ruskin, The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw, C. G. Osgood, F. M. Padelford, et al., 11 vols. (Baltimore, 1932-57), F.Q., 1, 423 (hereafter cited as Var.); 2) Whitney, Var., 1, 427-428; 3) Padelford, Var., 1, 438; 4) A. S. P. Woodhouse, ‘Nature and Grace in The Faerie Queene,’ ELH XVI (1949), 203; 5) Theodor Gang, ‘Nature and Grace in The Faerie Queene: The Problem Reviewed,’ ELH XXVI (1959), 11-12; and 6) Pauline Parker, The Allegory of'The Faerie Queene’ (Oxford, 1960), pp. 84-85. Virgil K. Whitaker, ‘The Theological Structure of The Faerie Queene, bk. 1,’ ELH XIX (1952), 160, shows the distinction is not demanded by the moral allegory. Also William Nelson, The Poetry of Edmund Spenser, A Study (New York, 1963), p. 135, says he fails to find it in Spenser's text.

22 Works, ed. J. Scholefield. Parker Society xxxv (Cambridge, 1842), 608.

23 Works, ed. John Ayre. Parker Society XXIV (Cambridge, 1847), 11, 808; 788.

24 Works, ed. John Ayre. Parker Society XXIII (Cambridge, 1845), 1, 320.

25 The Catechism, ed. John Ayre. Parker Society IV (Cambridge, 1844), 454. See also Prayers, pp. 257 and 283.

26 Works, p. 496, ital. added; pp. 501, 503-513 et passim; 527, 489.


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