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Jealousy vs faith in literature: The Faerie Queen

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2112 words Published: 11th Apr 2017

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Jealousy vs. Faith

Dreams play a central role in Book I, Canto I of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and in Genesis from the King James Bible. They function as a way of causing jealousy in the characters awakened state. The Red Crosse Knight’s dream and Joseph’s dream cause them both to have jealous feelings and act as a way to test their religious faith.

In Book I, Canto I of the Faerie Queene, Red Crosse Knight is described as a strong and loyal man that was faithful in the words he spoke and deeds he completed. As Spenser writes:

But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,/

The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,/

For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,/

And dead as living ever him ador’d:/

Upon his shield the like was also scor’d,/

For soveraine hope, which in his helpe he had:/

Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,/ (Book I, Canto I, ii)

Red Crosse Knight travels on a mission to slay a dragon at the request of Gloriana, the queen of Faerie land. He is accompanied by a young woman, named Una, and her dwarf companion. Spenser first describes Una by her physical appearance, which implies her purity and innocence as well: “A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside … And by her in a line a milke white lambe she lad. / So pure an innocent, as that same lambe,/ She was in life and every virtuous lore,/”(406). Furthermore, the name Una alone suggests a sense of purity and innocence since it means unity. As the footnote in our text describes, “Elizabethan readers would know the Latin phrase Una Vera Fides (‘one true faith’) and also the proverb ‘Truth is one’” (416). This connotation emphasizes the significance of her morality and integrity.

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Red Crosse Knight’s dream changes his whole outlook of Una. Archimago and the Sprights appear to sense the Red Crosse Knight’s feelings of adoration for Una and decide to manipulate those emotions. They use sorcery and the power of dreams as a way to influence the Red Crosse Knight’s perspective of Una and make him think she is sexually tempting him. The Sprights made the Red Crosse Knight:

…Dreame of loues and lustfull play,

That nigh his manly heart did melt away,

Bathed in wanton blis and wicked joy:

Then seemed him his Lady by him lay

And to him playnd, how that false winged boy

Her chast hart had subdewd, to learne Dame pleasures toy. (416)

This not only challenges his belief in Una as a pure and innocent woman, but also takes advantage of his vulnerability to sexual desire.

The dream forces the Red Crosse Knight to confront his uneasy feelings of sexual desire, forcing him to become envious of his own alleged misconceptions of Una’s purity. As Spenser writes, “All cleane dismayd to see so uncouth sight,/ And halfe enraged at her shamelesse guise,/ He thought have slaine her in his fierce despight” (417). This illustrates how the dream and subsequent feelings of jealousy contributed to the Red Crosse Knight losing his faith in himself and his mission. Despite his test of Una’s intentions, he still feels unsettled and uneasy, falling back into a restless sleep.

Linwood Orange points out the Red Crosse Knight’s thoughts about the dream and how his jealousy leads him to question his faith:

He doubts for a moment, but he fails to distinguish clearly between beauty perceived only by the senses and spiritual beauty, between the “shadow” of Una and the true Una. Although he returns the spectral form of Una to her room, he has shown himself to be vulnerable … the Red Cross Knight, disillusioned by what his senses have communicated to him, becomes jealous, irrational, and violent … Returning to bed he suffers “bitter anguish” and becomes weary of life. (Orange 557)

This dream causes him to question life and his own beliefs. After seeing the impure Una, the jealousy takes over the Red Crosse Knight’s mindset and leaves him feeling powerless and alone. He accepts the dream vision as a real scenario and, in his emotional torment, fails to seek the truth. Rather than believe in his own faith and follow his original mission, the Red Crosse Knight allows the dream to pervade his consciousness and drum up feelings of jealousy and insecurity. These emotions effectively challenge the Red Crosse Knight’s faith.

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In the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, Joseph is considered the favorite son of Jacob, which evoked strong feelings of jealousy from Joseph’s eleven brothers. The brothers all knew that Jacob loved Joseph more than he loved them, which in turn, made them hate him and be unable to, “speak peaceably unto him” (King James Version, Gen. 37:4). Although Joseph was aware of how his brothers felt about him, he felt secure enough in his faith in God to share with them the following dream:

And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed. For behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. (Gen. 37:6-7)

The dream only serves to strengthen the jealousy and hatred that Joseph’s brothers feel toward him: “And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words” (Gen. 37:8). Regardless, Joseph remained confident in his faith despite their reaction. After one dream, Joseph was able to triumph over the jealousy’s test of his faith.

Shortly after revealing his first dream to his brothers, Joseph has a second, but similar, dream that he chooses to share with them: “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me” (Gen. 37:9). This time, the dream not only implied that the Joseph’s brothers, which were represented by the eleven stars, would pay respect to him, but that his father and mother, represented by the sun and the moon, would do so as well. Once again, Joseph stays true to his belief that the dreams were important messages from God and they must be shared with his family. As they did before, Joseph’s brothers were envious and resentful of his dream because it would mean they must bow down to him as their leader.

Even Jacob questioned the dream, as he scolded, “What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” (Gen. 37:10). This act highlights some of the jealousy that the dream evoked in Jacob, leading him to question his own faith. Yet unlike Joseph’s brothers, Jacob eventually accepts the dream as a message from God and complies.

The dream functions as a vision from God for Joseph and causes feelings of jealousy in his family’s awakened state. According to Bob Deffinbaugh, the dreams are another way of proving Joseph’s authority over the brothers:

The intensity of Joseph’s brothers’ reaction to his dreams indicates that there must have been some substance to their fears of Joseph assuming such great power and prominence. Joseph’s brothers were deeply distressed by his two dreams. And when the plot to kill him is first conceived, the dreams are a prominent part of their hostility and motivation: And they said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams! (Deffinbaugh)

Referring to Joseph as the dreamer indicates how important the brothers considered the dreams, even if they did not believe them. The plot to kill Joseph further confirmed the feelings of envy and hatred the brothers held for Joseph and how his dreams led them to reach the limit of their patience with him.

Although the brothers ultimately decide against killing Joseph, the dreams cause enough emotional unrest among them that they decide to sell Joseph as a slave. Joseph’s dreams stirred up legitimate fear in the brothers that Joseph may truly hold authority over them. These feelings of jealousy served as a test to Joseph’s faith as he believed so much in his dream that he was able to persevere through the hardship of slavery and his time in Egypt. While the dream functioned as a way to test Joseph’s faith, his brothers were unable to overcome their own envy and keep their faith in God’s message.

According to Youngblood, the dreams served as more of a negative aspect for Joseph. He states, “Joseph’s ‘latent pride and naiveté’ in reporting the dreams are major causes of the conflict. As for the dreams themselves, [he] totally aligns himself with Joseph’s perspective in asserting that their ‘ironically unexpected fulfillment’ is a divine providence in turning human evil to good purpose” (188). Youngblood does agree the dreams are the main source for his brothers’ jealousy and the dream was a vision from God, but he questions why Joseph shared this vision with them knowing how they feel about him already. Joseph’s faith in God outweighed his family’s feelings of revulsion and led him to deliver this information regardless of how angry or jealous they would become toward him. Youngblood further notes:

Joseph’s dreams were the main purpose of the family’s separation:

The conflict in Jacob’s family erupts due to paternal favoritism, but most readers are aware that its tragic effect is intensified by diving favoritism. For example, Redford rightly comments that ‘the principal device used to occasion the brothers’ jealousy is the dream that portends Joseph’s rise to power. Sarna points out that the coat given Joseph by Jacob is a ‘hated symbol of favoritism and a cause of discord’, and further asserts that Joseph’s dreams are ‘even more potent a source of disharmony.’ Ackerman also asserts that divinely inspired dreams, given to a younger son who wears a special garment, continue and intensify the theme of diving and parental favoritism that produces conflict.’ Joseph’s dreams as the primary force to drive the family to ‘conflict and fear’ is thus well recognized. (181)

The dream served as a powerful message to Joseph, but his brothers were unable to see past their own feelings of jealousy and rage, as well as feel secure in their faith in God and the message He was trying to send. Without these dreams, the brothers would likely have been able to tolerate Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph. But the two dreams validated their already existing insecurities and feelings of envy, pushing them to act upon their desire to get rid of Joseph for good.

Unlike his brothers, the dreams only strengthened Joseph’s faith. He understood the deeper meaning and purpose of the dreams as being messages from God. Were it not for his visions, Joseph may not have been able to find the strength to not only assert his authority over his brothers, but to ultimately go to Egypt to fulfill his purpose. As a result, the dreams function as way of validating Joseph’s power and invalidating his brothers’ power.

Dreams give us insight into the relationship between jealousy and faith between The Red Crosse Knight and Joseph in Book I, Canto I of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and in the Book of Genesis from the Holy Bible. Much like the Red Crosse Knight’s dream led him to question his faith in Una and his greater mission; Joseph’s dream strengthened his faith in God while it stirred up feelings of jealousy among his brothers. The dreams functioned as a way of controlling the Red Crosse Knight and Joseph’s conscious life decisions.

Works Cited

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “37. Jacob, Joseph, Jealousy, and a Journey to Egypt (Genesis 36:1-37:36).” Bible.org. N.p., 12 May 2004. Web. 01 May 2015.

Genesis.King James Bible. 37:1-42:38 Print.

Orange, Linwood E. “Sensual Beauty in Book I of “The Faerie Queene”” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 61.3 (1962): 557. JSTOR. Web. 30 April 2015.

Spenser, Edmund. “Book I, Canto I.”The Faerie Queene. 404-18. Print.

Youngblood, Ronald. “Five Favouritism Functions As Both Curse and Cure.” Victim and Victimizer: Joseph’s Interpretation of His Destiny. By Yiu-Wing Fung. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 2000. 188. Print.


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