Spenser is probably the least read of the 'great' Elizabethan writers, and picking up his Faerie Queen it's easy to see why: it's over a thousand pages of poetry (9 line stanzas) written in a kind of cross-over medieval-renaissance English. Even English graduates tend not to have had to read the whole thing, getting away with selected cantos, a kind of edited highlights. But starting at the beginning and reading it straight through is a completely different experience, and one I'm very glad I have had. While it is overtly a moral and political allegory, Spenser is also a supreme story-teller and frequently very funny (in a literary kind of way).
Full of knights on chivalric quests, dragons, giants, monsters, the evil arch-magus and the sensually-tempting Duessa, this is like every fairy tale and Lord of the Rings copy-cat you've ever read, but put together by a supreme stylist and written in the most flexible, beautiful language. Some of the stories are very moving, others quite bizarre, and there's some very perverse sexuality on display. Since they often unroll simultaneously the narrative is a multi-layered one.
Creating deliberate links with both classical literature (particularly the epics of Homer and Virgil) as well as with medieval (Chaucer, especially) and Spenser's own contemporary Elizabethan age, this is both very different from Sidney and Shakespeare and yet also very close to them at the same time.
The best way to read it is to almost forget the fact that it's 'poetry', ignore the stanzas and simply read as if it were prose. Spenser's own sublime sense of rhythm and rhyme asserts itself and the words align themselves exactly as they need to.
Roche has edited this well but there is no introduction which is a shame, although the notes do extend beyond a simple glossary. But even so, this is a great edition of a magical and really enthralling classic.