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Faerie Queen Essay, Research Paper

Edmund Spenser is considered by many to be the next great poet after Geoffrey Chaucer (Renwick, 483). No other poet since Chaucer s time had such a command for both ancient and modern languages nor could his range of learning be touched by his fellow writers of that era (Ward, 117). Some view Spenser as a love and pastoral poet but others consider him to be a classical author (Fowler, 121). Regardless, Spenser remained a dedicated writer throughout his life – his writing never stopped until his death (Waller, 1). He was an inspiration to many later poets and writers such as Crowley, Wordsworth, Milton, Yeats, and even T.S. Eliot (Fowler, 121). Spenser s life ran almost identical to the Elizabethan Age. Not much is known about his early years, but it is thought that he was born in London to a family of humble means (Heale, 1). Although his family was poor, they claimed ancestry to the affluent Spencers of Altrop. Later in life, Edmund would dedicate poems to honor the daughters of this prestigious family. They, in turn, supported him during his literary life (Heale, 1). Even though Edmund did not have the monetary means, he somehow managed to attend the well-known Merchant Taylor s School for eight years. Here he learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He was also taught music and perhaps English (Fowler, 122). After leaving Merchant Taylor s, he enrolled at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge as a sizar, which meant he received an allowance from the college for doing menial jobs. This enabled him to attend the school (Fowler, 122). He received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts degree from Cambridge. He would have studied Greek language and literature, Latin, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music ( The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 87). Religion played a very important role in Spenser s education and life. He was caught up in the turmoil between the Protestant New Church of England and the old Roman Catholic Church. England under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was a Protestant nation. There were constant threats and uprisings from factions both inside and outside the kingdom who wanted Catholicism made the national religion once more. Spenser was a Protestant although not a puritanical one. He saw England as a Protestant champion whose duty it was to suppress Catholicism . Spenser s Protestantism plays a major role in the characters of his epic, The Faerie Queene (Heale, 5, 6). Protestantism required the poet to have religious justification for his writing. Total allegiance was demanded from every man and woman. The Elizabethan Protestant s God was an angry, determined God who demanded much from His followers. A believer knowing that his nature was inherently evil, had to constantly look toward God for redemption and salvation. Much of Spenser s poetry reflected the Protestant belief (Waller, 22, 23). While at Cambridge, Spenser befriended Gabriel Harvey who became one of England s intellectual leaders. Through Harvey, Spenser was introduced to Sir Phillip Sidney another great English author and courtier. Both Harvey and Sidney encouraged Spenser to write which he did with great aplomb. Sadly, much of this early writing has been lost (Waller, 13-16). Spenser became a part of a poetry group called Aeropagus due to his friendship with Sidney (Waller, 16). He gained political as well as literary contacts through his association with the group. Sidney introduced him to a family friend, Lord Grey who was made the new lord deputy of Ireland, an English colony, in 1580. Grey in turn made Spenser his secretary and they left for Ireland which was in constant danger of invasion by a Catholic Spain (Erhard, 778). Grey s policies in Ireland lost him favor with the queen. His military actions while trying to keep the Catholic Irish under control were considered to be too harsh and bloody. After many requests made to the queen from Grey, he was granted permission to return to England. Spenser stayed on in Ireland (Waller, 56-58). He had fallen under the spell of the beautiful, wild country. He returned to England only twice during his tenure of twenty years in Ireland (Erhard 778). It was there that he began work on his famous Faerie Queene (Heale, 3). Spenser, while under the service of Lord Grey, was granted Kilcolman Castle in Munster (Waller, 60). He lived there with his family and went on to become the High Sheriff of Cork. He spent his time writing and planting (Waller, 59) and, in fact, wrote most of his poems while living in Ireland (Waller, 57). Sir Walter Raleigh visited Spenser at Kilcolman and was the one who encouraged Spenser to continue his work on The Faerie Queene. He even accompanied Spenser to England in order to get the epic published (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 87). Spenser was married twice in his lifetime. He married Machabyas Childe in 1579. They had two children, a son, Sylvanus and a daughter, Katherine (Fowler, 123). They accompanied him to Ireland when he was appointed secretary to Lord Grey. Machabyas died in 1594 (The New Enclyclopaedia Britannica, 87). He took a new wife, Elizabeth Boyle, for whom he wrote the famous Amoretti and Epithalamion (Heale, 3). They lived at Kilcolman until Irish rebels burned it in 1598 (Fowler, 124). He, his wife, and his daughter escaped with their lives but their infant son died (Shepherd,101). The family returned to England in December 1598. Due to illness, Spenser died on January 13, 1599 and was buried next to Chaucer in Westminster Abbey (Fowler, 124). The real person Spenser was can be debated as he spent so much of his life in isolation. Through his poetry one possibly can get a glimpse of the man. It can be reasoned that he was loyal, patriotic, amorous, and very imaginative (Renwick, 485). It is also said that he was perhaps the first English writer of his time to embrace change or mutability as can be detected in the last cantos of The Faerie Queene. He enjoyed order and tradition just as any other Elizabethan, but he also saw change as a creative process (Fowler, 140). Of the many poems Spenser wrote, he is most noted for the allegorical epic The Faerie Queene. With this work, he introduced the Spenserian stanza. It is a stanza of nine iambic lines rhymed ababbcbcc. The first eight lines are pentameter, but a sixth foot is added to the final line, making that line an alexandrine (Beckson, 262). The Spenserian stanza became the next great literary device since the sonnet and blank verse for the following few generation of English writers (Ward, 122). The Faerie Queen contains six books and a fragment of a seventh. Each book except for the last contains twelve cantos. With each book a virtue is introduced and then a story unfolds to explain how the hero of that particular book obtains the virtue as his ultimate prize. The virtues are holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy (Erhard, 778). Spenser felt that the true gentleman would have all these virtues. The focus of this paper will be on Book One and the virtue of holiness. Queen Elizabeth I was the dedicatee of The Faerie Queene for which she gave Spenser a royal pension of fifty pounds a year for life (Murphy, 972). The character of Gloriana actually represented the queen and Faeryland was in reality his beloved England. Spenser was, of course, intending to flatter his queen in hopes of advancement, but he also wished to idealize her as she represented the sovereign, virtuous woman he so admired (Heale, 10). The reasons Spenser wrote the fanciful epic was first of all to glorify what he held dear Queen Elizabeth, England, Protestantism, and English poetry. Secondly, he wanted to create a poem that represented the example of a perfect gentleman. He knew it would be a challenge but he felt compelled to do so. Consequently, he created a masterpiece that more than any other poem of that time exemplified the Elizabethan Age (Waller, 95-102). Thirdly, he wanted to relate to his reader the dangers of falling away from the true church – the Protestant Church of England. He consistently presented the Catholic Church, the Pope and his clergy, and his followers as evil throughout the poem (Heale, 26-43). Spenser called upon several historical, biblical, and literary models to aid him in writing The Faerie Queene. Obviously, the Holy Bible was a major resource he used quite often especially while writing Book One. The book of Revelation is often alluded to. Most of the characters in the first book have a biblical meaning or represent a biblical person. The other sources he relied on were the Legend of St. George, The Aeneid (Heale, 20-26) and the history of King Authur (Spenser, 1069). The language of The Faerie Queene is archaic which tends to make the reading difficult for the first time reader (Daiches, 170). Therefore, it is wise to read the story through more than once to understand all the hidden meanings. The more one reads the epic the easier it is for the words to flow and make sense. Actually, Spenser s use of the archaic vocabulary keeps the story line which is centered around a medieval knight s quest for holiness pure (Heale, 11). According to A. C. Hamilton, the entire structure of Book One is based on the Holy Scriptures. One can take the book of Genesis which tells about the fall of man and go all the way through to the book of Revelation where the Son of God s return restores man to God and relate it to the entire story contained in Book One (Hamilton, 647). The epic is an allegory within an allegory within an allegory. Spenser pointed out in a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh that The Faerie Queene was a darke conceit and only by careful reading could one arrive at the true meaning and glorious message contained in the story line (Waller, 104). The three types of allegories that Spenser employed were the moral allegory, the political allegory, and the religious allegory. The moral allegory is simply good versus evil. The political allegory is the Protestant Church versus the Roman Catholic Church. The religious allegory is the fall of man (Fowler 138-139). Certainly not all three types were used in each cantos by usually at least one can be found (Waller 111-112). The characters themselves are allegories as well. The same character may at any one time represent one or all three allegories. Careful reading and contemplation will reveal the deeper meanings contained in the verses (Fowler, 139). Spenser also used symbolism and imagery as well throughout his romantic poem. A good example of imagery is found in his description of the evil character Duessa (Heale, 30). A goodly Lady clad in scarlot red, Purfled with gold and pearle of rich assay, And like a Perian mitre on her hed She wore, with crownes and owches garnished, The which her lavish lovers to her gave; Her wanton palfrey all was overspred With tinsell trappings, woven like a wave, Whose bridel rung with golden bels and bosses brave. (ii. 13)One can almost see her vulgar, garish opulence. Symbolism is quite easily discerned in the description of the chaste Una. A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside, Upon a lowly Asse more white then snow. Yet she much whiter; but the same did hide Under a vele, that wimpled was full low; And over all a blacke stole she did throw, As one that inly mournd: so was she sad, And heavie sat upon her palfrey slow; Seemed in heart some hidden care she had, And by her in a line, a milke whit lambe she lad. (i. 4)She represents truth and purity. (Heale, 27). Spenser was the first great allusive poet in English (Fowler, 133). He used many resources in creating his characters and plots. While reading the poem, the reader can quite easily comprehend that Spenser alludes to other literary works, historical events, and biblical occurrences throughout the epic. Another interesting point brought out by Brookes-Davies in his modernized selection of The Faerie Queene is the parallel between characters and cantos. The characters of Una and Duessa parallel each other. Una represents truth and Duessa represent deceit. Redcrosse who stands for holiness parallels Archimago who stands for evil. Cantos I finds the characters wandering in a dark wood where they meet with many dangers. Cantos 11 and 12 parallel this with the land of Eden where happiness prevails. Duessa s decent into Hades to seek healing for Sansjoy is paralleled by Redcrosse s ascent up the mountain to the House of Holiness where he is healed (Brookes-Davies, xxxi). Book One is centered around the virtue of holiness. Although holiness might not be thought of as a virtue that a knight might wish to attain, it is known that throughout the Middle Ages it was stressed whether it be by books or sermons, that Christians had to put on the whole armor of God to fight evil (Heale, 20-22, 33-34). The hero of the story is a young, untried knight named Red Crosse who is trying to obtain this virtue. The armor he is wearing represents the whole armor of God. Canto One In the opening verses the characters of Red Crosse, Una, and Gloriana are introduced. Gloriana, the Faerie Queene sends Red Crosse, the hero of the story, on a mission, to rescue Una s parents and their kingdom from a terrible dragon. This is the knight s first adventure although the armor he wears is old and used. However, the aged armor is enchanted and will protect him in many upcoming battles. The red cross upon his chest and shield represents the Christian faith. Una, Red Crosse s lady love, is perfect in every way. She is chaste and beautiful. She dresses completely in white with a black veil covering her face as if in mourning. The whiteness of her attire represents truth and the veil stands for the fact that sometimes the truth is hidden. Una stands for the one true religion. She holds a pure white lamb and rides upon a white ass. She is attended by a dutiful dwarf. After riding for a while the threesome seek shelter in a wood from a hard rain. At first the wood seems innocent enough but they eventually become lost and happen upon the cave of Error. Red Crosse decides to investigate despite the better advice of Una to stay away from the dark place. Inside the cave, the knight meets with a horrible dragon, Error. She is half woman and half beast and represents lies. She despises light so the glimmer form the knight s armor enrages her. They are immediately embroiled in a battle. The dragon s tail wraps around the knight who becomes helpless. Una screams for the knight to have faith and strangle the monster. Listening to her enables him to do just that. The dragon starts vomiting books and blind frogs and toads. This symbolizes the false books and teachings of the Catholic Church. The blind frogs and toads are those victims who blindly followed the teachings. Error also spews out her offspring that lie hidden in her innards. They immediately start to attack the knight but are more of an annoyance than an actual threat. The knight manages to cut off the dragon s head that causes her blood to gush forth. Her children stop hindering Red Crosse and start lapping up her blood instead. They gorge themselves to the point that they burst. This could represent the sin of gluttony or it could also represent the death of innocents when they feed upon the words of false prophets. Red Crosse looks on in amazement at the terrible sight. Una praises her hero who would have been lost had she not screamed at him to fight back. Her counsel is representative of listening to the true word so it can set you free. The dragon also represents the many obstacles man must face on his road to redemption. She lives in darkness which means she turns away from the truth and light. The cave could represent the Catholic Church that is Error s domain. The knight is the Protestant Christian battling evil. Una represents truth and faith. It is because of her that the knight is able to fight and defeat the dragon. His mere strength and courage were not enough to overcome the dragon. He had to have faith and Una gave him that through her encouragement and guidance. After praising her hero, Una and the group move on. After finding their way out of the wood, they meet up with a kindly old man who appears to be a hermit. The knight asks him if he has heard of any adventures or does he know of any dragons. The old man answers yes and that he knows of a man who is terrible and has no right to live. He promises to show Red Crosse where the man lives. Una responds with the fact that they are all in need of sleep. The old man readily offers lodging at his house for the night. Although the old hermit seems innocuous and accommodating, he hides a sinister and evil character. He is in reality Archimago, the arch-magician. He despises Una for her goodness and purity and wishes her harm. He plans to mislead Red Crosse and cause his eventual downfall. He represents hypocrisy on the moral level as he tries to cover his evilness with goodness. On the political level he stands for the Pope as he leads innocent people away from the true church. On the biblical level he is Satan because he helps in the downfall of man. After the group has fallen asleep, Archimago begins to work his evil magic. He calls up two sprites to aid him in his devilish plans for Una and Red Crosse. One sprite he transforms into the image of Una and the other he sends on a mission to Morpheus, the god of sleep, to obtain a sensuous and misleading dream to trick Red Crosse. The first sprite posing as Una approaches Red Crosse as he lies sleeping and tries to seduce him. Being honorable, Red Crosses turns her away and sends the false Una back to her own bed. He is puzzled by her wanton behavior and is somewhat disappointed. Nevertheless, he is pledged to her and will honor that vow. He again falls asleep and the thwarted second sprite returns to his evil master, Archimago. Canto Two Archimago tries yet another tactic to deceive the unsuspecting Red Crosse and to undermine the gentle Una. He again employs the help of his two sprites. One stays disguised as Una and the other Archimago turns into lusty young squire. He creates a very shameful scene with the two and then quickly summons Red Crosse to the secret room so that he might observe his unfaithful ladylove in the throes of illicit passion with another man. Red Crosse becomes enraged and would have killed them had Archimago not restrained him. Following a very tormented night, Red Crosse rides away with the dwarf leaving an innocent sleeping Una behind. This scene represents Red Crosse being deceived by falsehood and hypocrisy. He is not yet capable of distinguishing what is false from what is true. His leaving Una behind symbolizes his turning away from the truth. It also represents man turning his back on the true church and following the false church s doctrines and rhetoric. Red Crosse s goodness which is representative of the once prevailing goodness of man is now marred by Satan who led him astray. Archimago again represents hypocrisy. He also is the instrument used by the false church to lead man astray. Una awakens in the morning to find Red Crosse has left her with no explanation. She must travel on alone and confused. Ever the faithful one, she goes in search of the man she loves. Meanwhile, back at the hermit s lowly home, Archimago congratulates himself on separating the lovers. He now devises another plan. He disguises himself as Red Crosse. The real Red Crosse and his travelling companion, the dwarf, meet up with another foe, a pagan knight named Sansfoy. A beautiful woman is riding with the pagan and encourages him to fight Red Crosse. The Christian knight easily defeats and kills the pagan knight. He rewards himself with Sansfoy s shield as a token of his victory over the pagan. Red Crosse very gallantly takes the much-distressed damsel under his protection. Little does he know that she is actually Duessa, an evil witch. Duessa, disguised as the Lady Fidessa, spins a tale of woe. She claims that Sansfoy forced her to accompany him when in reality she had entertained him all along the way. She claims to be the daughter of an emperor. The noble knight unable to see through the lies believes her story. They travel onward. In this scene Red Crosse defeats the pagan Sansfoy (without faith) because only strength and courage were needed and not the faith required for him to defeat the dragon Error. He has completely abandoned truth (Una) and turned toward a false love, Duessa. The scorching heat forces the three travelers to take shelter in the shade of two trees. The knight wanting to make his new ladylove a garland plucks a bough form one of the trees. From the branch spurts blood and the tree shrieks in pain. The tree whose name is Fradubio starts talking with the knight. He tells the story of how he and his true love were turned into trees. As a young knight he had been traveling with his true love Fraelissa when they encountered another knight riding with a gentle lady. Both knights declared their own ladies the most beautiful and a fight ensued. Fradubio killed his foe and took the dead knight s fair lady into his protection. Little did he know that the fair maiden was really the evil witch Duessa. The young knight then begins to compare the two ladies and tries to decide who is the most beautiful. Duessa takes the matter out of his hands and turns Fraelissa into a tree. She then convinces Fradubio that his first love had really been a witch all along. He takes Duessa as his new love.On the day that all witches have to do penance, Fradubio chanced upon Duessa and saw her for what she really was. Before he could escape her, she turns him into a tree as well. Red Crosse asks is the spell can be undone and Fradubio responds that he and Fraelissa must first bathe in the well of the living. Duessa hearing the tree s tale is afraid he will guess who she really is and pretends to faint so that Red Crosse is distracted. He kisses the lovely lady and soon forgets all about the trees. They journey on. Here again is another story of yet another knight who is misled by falsehood and deception. The method for reversing the spell is to be bathed in the living well, which represents baptism and rebirth. Canto Three Una searches diligently for her knight. She has traveled hard and has grown weary. She lies down to take a rest. As she sleeps a fierce lion rushes out of the wood. Instead of devouring her, he is taken with her beauty and innocence and becomes her protector. In biblical terms the lion almost always represent God. Here we have God protecting truth. At first, Una is a little leery of the lion, but she soon realizes he means her no harm. She relates her sorrowful tale to him and they become traveling companions. They come upon a woman carrying a pot of water. Una asks her if she knows of a place that she and her friend might stay for the night. The woman does not answer her but sees the lion and runs away in fear. Una and the lion follow her to the house where she lives with her mother. The lady runs into the house and slams the door but the lion soon knocks it down. Una and the lion find the lady and her mother who continuously prays cowering in the corner. It turns out that the woman with whom Una tried to speak is deaf. Her name is Abessa. In the story she represents the abbeys and monasteries (Spenser, 1084). Her mother is Corceca, superstition (Spenser, 1084). She constantly recites prayers and Ave and three times a week she sits in ashes. Night approaches and the women fall asleep. The lion stands guard over the gentle Una. Abessa and Corceca sleep but they are in constant fear of the lion. In the middle of the night, there is a knock at the door. It is Kirkrapine, a friend of the mother and the lover of Abessa. He is a lowly church thief. He was probably returning from one of his night raids and wanted to share his wealth with the two women. When his knocks are not answered, he barges in and is instantly killed by the lion. The women hear the squirmish but are too afraid to investigate so they go back to sleep until morning. With the morning light, Una and the lion leave and the two women discover that Kirkrapine is dead. The mother immediately begins to pray. They chase down Una and throw abuses at her. The mother tries to put spells on the guiltless maiden but to no avail. This whole scene represents the abuses of the Catholic Church. The women accept dirty money from a man who robs from churches to line his and their pockets. They turn deaf ears and blind eyes to his evil deeds. Kirkrapine stands for greed on the moral level and for all the Church officials who use the Church to obtain ill gotten gains on the political level. The lion killing Kirkrapine represents how nature works with grace, according to A.S.P. Woodhouse in his criticism of The Faerie Queene. He points out that the lion represents nature and Una represents grace. The lion slaying the church robber symbolizes the harmony that exists between nature and true religion. Together they join forces to fight worldly corruption. As the two women turn toward home, they happen to meet a knight who is actually the evil Archimago disguised as Red Crosse. They tell him their sad story and he goes in search of Una. He catches up with her and Una is overjoyed at seeing her true love. After asking why he left her, he concocted a story that she willingly believed. She was simply relieved to have him back at her side once more and so they ride on together with ever-faithful lion running along side. They do not get too far before they meet up with Sansloy, the brother of the fallen Sansfroy. When the pagan knight sees the cross upon the Christian knight s chest he assumes he has met up with the killer of his brother. The two fight and the Christian knight is wounded in the battle. Before Sansloy which means without law delivers the deathblow he removes the fallen knight s helmet only to discover it is Archimago, a friend of his. Sansloy is ashamed because Archimago is an old man. Una is overcome with shock. Sansloy seeing her is filled with lust and tries to attack her. The lion comes to her defense but is killed by the pagan. Sansloy then puts Una on his horse and rides away. Canto Four Red Crosse and Duessa still disguised as Fidessa approaches a beautiful castle known as the House of Pride. The roadway to the palace is wide and much traveled. The palace is ruled by Lucifera a woman who is very proud and vain, but breathtakingly beautiful. Her kingdom is magnificent but it is built upon a sandy foundation that will some day make the entire building fall into total destruction. The bodies of those who have died from having too much pride and giving into vices because of pride are strewn along the way. This represents the worldly pride of man. Too much pride can destroy a man. The wide roadway is representative of the fact that the pathway to destruction is wide and often traveled. Lucifera is of course pride or vanity. Lucifera is so full of self-love that she only rarely looks down and she does so with much effort. Most of the time she is looking at herself in the mirror. She rides along in a gilded carriage drawn by six unequal beasts. Each beast carries a rider and all together they represent the seven deadly sins. Idleness rides upon a slothful ass. Beside him rides Gluttony on a filthy swine. Next comes Lechery upon a bearded goat. Avarice follows on a camel laden with gold. Envy rides upon a ravenous wolf. Lastly comes Wrath carried by lion. Each sin comes with deadly vices and diseases and is horrendous in appearance. Satan rides with them all upon wagon beam. He constantly lashes out at the lazy team. All along the way, crowds of shouting people hail them. These verses are self-explanatory. The seven deadly sins are presented and the price one pays for giving in to them. The next verses bring the third pagan brother Sansjoy (without joy) into the picture. He has arrived at the House of Pride and is furious because he has spied the shield of his fallen brother in the possession of Red Crosse. He snatches the shield away and immediately challenges the Christian knight to a fight to the death. They begin to battle but Lucifera orders them to stop until the next day. That night after all the feasting and merrymaking, Duessa visits the pagan knight and warns him of the Christian knight s armor. It is enchanted and protects the knight in battle. She also declares her love for his fallen brother. Here again the duplicity of Duessa is shown. She is forever deceiving all she meets. She promises all things to all people but is faithful to no one. Red Crosse is still under her spell. The truth is still hidden from him. She is betraying him to another. On the political level this stands again for the Catholic Church. It promises redemption and salvation while it is actually deceiving its innocent followers. Brookes-Davies brings out an interesting point in his editing of the poem. When Sansjoy is introduced, Red Crosse is a very different knight from the one he was at the beginning of the epic. He was at first a joyful, untried knight. He was not yet aware of the ways of the world. After killing Sansfroy, he lost his faith. Now that he is doing battle with Sansjoy he is without joy. Faithlessness leads to joylessness, which is a worldly sorrow. Canto Five Sansjoy and Red Crosse begin to fight. Red Crosse s worldly pride has gotten in the way of his holy quest. He is now fighting for the sake of a mere shield. He has completely turned away from his faith and is traveling a very treacherous road toward destruction. Again, this is representative of fallen man turning away from the true faith and bowing down to graven images. The shield has become more important to Red Crosse than his mission of righteousness Both men are seriously wounded. Suddenly Sansjoy disappears just as it seems that Red Crosse is about to defeat him. He has been hidden in a dark cloud. Red Crosse is declared the victor and the shield is returned to him. He declares his service to the queen, Lucifera. Red Crosse is taken to a bed and treated for his wounds. The evil Duessa stays by his side weeping and worrying over him until night falls. She then makes a hasty getaway so she can take the fallen Sansjoy into the bowels of the earth where she can find someone to heal his wounds. The Goddess of the Night aids Duessa in bringing the fallen pagan warrior to Aesculapius, a famous Greek physician who resides in Hades. He ministers the wounds of Sansjoy and helps heal him.

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