In a sense, Faery Land is also England, but not one visibly recognizable. While Spenser makes many references to English place names, as well as many more pertaining to other parts of the world, he makes no attempt to relate any part of his landscape in any realistic way to actual English sites. One effect of these allusions is to remind readers of England’s historical culture and values.
Spenser’s prefatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh explains the “Faerie Queene” as signifying the woman who reigned in England through most of Spenser’s life: Queen Elizabeth I. The Prince Arthur of the poem is not precisely the legendary King Arthur but an Arthur who, if Spenser had succeeded in bringing his poem to a conclusion (for he projected twelve, and possibly even twenty-four books), would have sought out Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, then wooed and married her. This union would have underscored the desirability of a marriage for Elizabeth which would presumably stabilize the royal succession and thus foster the integrity of the real English kingdom.
In its basic structure, however, the poem is a complex allegory with a stated purpose: “To fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” In the largest sense, then, its Faerie Land is the human soul. Spenser believed strongly that it was the writer’s goal to paint virtue in an attractive, active, even heroic manner capable of inspiring readers to perfect themselves morally and thus qualify as “gentle” or “noble” persons, whatever their social class. Faery Land might be called the landscape of the soul, and the movement from place to place symbolizes the soul’s labors throughout life. Each book of the poem celebrates a particular virtue. The Red Cross Knight of book 1 seeks to perfect himself in holiness, Sir Guyon of book 2 represents temperance, and so on.
Typically in the course of each book, its hero comes to places that help or challenge him (or her, for Britomart of book 3 is a female knight devoted to chastity) in the quest for moral perfection. Thus the Red Cross Knight is challenged by the House of Pride, Guyon by the Cave of Mammon. Eventually the knight reaches a countering place that fosters virtue: the Red Cross Knight, the House of Holiness; Guyon, the Bower of Bliss (a good place because the Bliss depicted is natural and moderate). Spenser’s descriptions of these places are often graphic. For example, Sir Scudamour of book 4 spends a night at the house of a blacksmith named Care, who along with six assistants wields “huge great hammers that did never rest,” hammers which “like bells in greatness orderly succeed.” The combination of this crew working all night and a pack of howling dogs permits the knight no sleep, but the purpose of the episode is not to represent the blacksmith’s trade but to convey the anxiety of Sir Scudamour at this point in the narrative. What is most “real” for Spenser throughout is not the material, sensible world but the life of the human spirit.