Dragons in Beowulf and in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

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Dragons in Beowulf and in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

When one usually thinks of a dragon, one thinks of dragon-slayers, adventure, damsels in

distress, and cheap fantasy novels. Dragons in literature have not always been used for such meaningless

entertainment. There are many precedents for dragons in medieval literature, two of the most prominent

being in the Old English poem Beowulf and in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. In both of these

epic poems, dragons play major antagonistic roles. The foe of Beowulf and the two dragons in The

Faerie Queene serve as important symbolic parts of the story and as reflectors that bring out the good, or

bad, qualities of the hero. Although each dragon represents
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During the ensuing battle the Warren 2

dragon is constantly emitting “fierce battle fire” and “fatal flames” that “light the land” (Beowulf 80).

Christine Rauer, author of Beowulf and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues, says that Beowulf is in fact

fighting fire and heat and that with the especially serpent shaped dragon, he is in fact fighting an

incarnation of the devil, or more likely, what the devil represents (Rauer 33). The first dragon from The

Faerie Queene enters in Canto Eight, also full of fire and hell imagery: “the proud Duessa came high

mounted on her manyheaded beast, and every head with fyrie tongue did flame, and every head was

crowned on his creast" (Spenser 875). The third dragon is perhaps the most fiery of all: “swolyne with

wrath and poyson, and with bloudy gore" and with “roused” and “brazen” scales, it seems to personify

the king of all evil: Satan (Spenser 914). As his “red and black” body descends upon his foe, “blazing

eyes...did burne with wrath, and sparkled [with] living fire” (Spenser 915). He is so evil in looks that

even the “cloudes before him fled for terror great” and “all the heavens stood amazed with this threat”

(Spenser 916). These fiery images associated with the dragons connect them with hell and therefore with

the opposite side of the hero. This association with the Devil is important to understand the connotations

of the

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