The Faerie Queene

from Book 1, Canto 9

A drawing of Una saving the Redcross Knight outside of the Cave of Despair. Skeletons are strewn about. Despair holds a dagger.
William Kent, “The Redcross Knight over ruled by Dispair but timely saved by Una,” Victoria and Albert Museum

Webtext: Representative Poetry Online

Audio: LibriVox via Audio Books on YouTube

Accessible PDF

Accessible Word Document

Encountering the Text

Continuing the theme of madness and the project of expanding the idea of a canon of early modern disability texts, we selected the Trevisan/Despair episode in Book I of The Faerie Queene. This episode puts allegory to use in the project of articulating and expressing the usually-interior experiences of self doubt, self-loathing, depression, and suicidal ideation. But in the context of a religious epic, and in the midst of Redcrosse’s journey, what are we to make of this detour into madness? 

  • Just as we asked about Ophelia, what would it mean to read Trevisan’s experience through a lens of disability? How would this reading inform the shadowed allegory at work in the poem?
  • Also as we asked about Ophelia, how is Trevisan’s visit to Despair (and his communication of the experience to RCK) potentially gendered?
  • How are physical and mental/emotional disability in conversation or tension in this episode? How does Spenser’s description of what an embodied Despair would look like play into or undermine tropes of disability?