The Quest for Holiness: Spenser’s Debt to Langland.
Both WL and Spenser teach the way to salvation through self-knowledge and the practice of virtue. PPl and Book One of The Faerie Queene have a circular form beginning in either dreams or a dreamlike imaginary landscape; their protagonists pass from an initial passive stage of awareness into practice; in both works the “Dobet” stage culminates in a three-day joust between the forces of good and evil; and both poems close with a departure. Spenser is deliberately following WL in the use of personification allegory, especially to suggest more than one value for a character. FQ appears even less bound than PPl by the rules of everyday logic in the juxtaposition of the “real” with the supernatural; FQ’s characters are also more isolated from a real, social background. Una and Duessa show striking resemblances to Holy Church and Meed; Redcrosse and Piers are similar in their origins as men of the land, their associations with knighthood, and their common accretion of higher identities. Images of light and darkness, and number symbolism — especially of the number three — are common to both poems. WL looks backward for a standard of community conduct, Spenser associates evil with the past and looks to the future for good; similarly, WL views social justice from the perspective of its victims, the commons, while Spenser extols the existing hierarchy and status quo. Their criticism of the abuses of the church necessarily differs, but both insist on the necessity of “mesure” and condemn luxury and excess. Will can only look to the vision of Christ and the apotheosis of Piers for hope for salvation; Redcrosse is repeatedly assured of his “election,” no matter how often he may fall temporarily into sin.
Rev. Judith H. Anderson, YLS 9 (1995): 153-55.