The poem is an allegory representing ihe court of Queen Elizabeth. The whole is an interweaving of Greek myths and English legends.
Spenser planned to divide his epic poem into twelve books. The 12 books were to tell of the warfare of 12 knights. But only six books of the "Fairy Queen" were finished. The first two books are the best and the most interesting. The allegory is not so clear in the rest.Prince Arthur is the hero of the poem. In a vision he sees Gloriana, the Fairy Queen. She is so beautiful that he falls in love with her. Armed by Merlin he sets out to seek her in Fairy Land. She is supposed to hold her annual 12-day feast during which
12 adventures are to be achieved by 12 knights. Each knight represents a certain virtue: Holiness, Temperance, Friendship, Justice, Courtesy, Constancy, etc., which are opposed to Falsehood, Hypocrisy and others in the form of witches, wizards and monsters.
Spenser imitated antique verse. One of the features of those verses was the use of "Y" before the past participle, as "Yclad" instead of "clad" ("dressed"). He was the first to use the nine-line stanza. In this verse each line but the last has 10 syllables, the last line has 12 syllables. The rhymed lines are arranged in the following way: a b a b b c b c c.
A gentle knight was pricking on the plain, a
Yclad in mighty arms and silver shield, b
Wherein old dints of deep wounds did remain, a
The cruel marks of many a bloody field; b
Yet arms till that time did he never wield; b
His angry steed did chide his foamy bit, c
As much disdaining to the curb to yield; b
Full jolly knight he seemed, and fair did sit, c
As one for knightly jousts and fierce encounters fit. C