Despair is a character that appears in book 1 of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. This spirit shows up at one of the darkest points in the Redcrosse knight‘s journey. In fact, it is Despair that comes the closest to killing St. George, more so than Error, Duessa, the Saracen brothers, or even the dragon.
Thankfully, he is saved by Una, but it is oddly prescient of Edmund Spenser to make this particular spirit, the embodiment of actual despair and depression, such a powerful villain. It’s a great move for mental health awareness, considering this text was released 400 years ago.
In The Faerie Queene, Despair would subtly convince people that life was not worth living, and that they should just kill themselves (hauntingly dark given today’s day and age).
The Redcrosse knight didn’t think that such a thing could have power over him, but it doesn’t take more than a small chat with Despair before he is ready to stab himself with a knife.
Lucky for him, Una keeps him from doing this and later takes him to the House of Holiness to recover.
It was thought, at the time, that God was the ultimate source of hope, and so by turning to God you could turn away from Despair. That is essentially what happens with the Redcrosse knight.
See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur