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The Faerie Queene

Edmund Spenser

Book III, Cantos viii, ix

Book III, Cantos vi & vii

Book III, Cantos x, xi & xii

Summary

When Satyrane was distracted, the beast he had tied up with Florimell's girdle was able to free itself and returned to its owner, the old witch. Her son assumed that Florimell was dead, and he fell even deeper into despair. To try to cure this, the witch now creates a false Florimell from a spirit, which looks exactly like her. This finally satisfies her son. But one day, as he is walking in the woods with the disguised spirit, the boasting knight Braggadocchio sees them. He is immediately jealous, and with brandished spear takes the false Florimell for his own. He has not gotten far, though, when another knight comes by and challenges him for the maid; Braggadocchio runs off in fear.

Meanwhile, the real Florimell is floating out to sea on the fisherman's boat. When the boat's owner finally wakes up, his shock at seeing himself adrift is quickly replaced by lust for the lovely woman he sees on deck. When she refuses his advances, he tries to rape her. Florimell's scream attracts the attention of Proteus, the "Shepheard of the seas of your," a shape shifter who lives beneath the water. Proteus comes and rescues her, throws the fisherman to the shore, and takes Florimell to his underwater abode. There, he himself tries to woo her, changing into many shapes to try and please her--a knight, a king, even a giant. When she insists upon keeping her virginity, he throws her into his dungeon in anger.

Meanwhile, Satyrane is journeying with the squire he rescued from Argante. They meet a knight named Paridell, who is looking for news of Florimell, and inform him that she is probably dead; at any rate, they have only seen her mangled horse. They still have hope, though, and they pledge to search for her together; but at the moment night is falling and they are in need of shelter. They go to a nearby castle but are refused entrance; as a storm breaks, they have to run into a shed to protect themselves. The squire explains why they were not let into the castle: It is the house of Malbecco, a grumpy old miser who has a young, attractive wife named Hellenore.

To safeguard her and his money, Malbecco admits no guests. Just as they are plotting how to gain entrance, another knight arrives at the castle. He is similarly rejected at the gate, and when he sees the shed full, he raises his spear to demand entrance. Paridell charges him but is knocked down. Satyrane steps in and stops the fight, suggesting that they concentrate their efforts on getting into the castle. All agree, and they gather firebrands to burn down the gate. Malbecco sees them coming and finally relents, admitting them in. When they remove their armor, they are shocked to see long hair and a woman's figure on the strange knight--it is Britomart.

Pleased to have such beautiful company, they all sit down to dinner and persuade their host to have his wife, Hellenore, join them. Malbecco, suspicious though he may be, does not notice Paridell and his wife exchange lusty glances. As dinner conversation, each of the guests is asked to tell of his or her ancestry. Paridell, his mind still full of Hellenore, claims to be descended from Paris the Trojan, who stole Helen from her husband. At Britomart's request, he then tells them how Aeneas escaped from Troy's ashes and went to Italy where his descendants founded Rome. This was the "second Troy," but Britomart also predicts a third Troy yet to come, which will grow from the city founded by the Trojan Brute. Paridell admits having heard such a prophecy of great kings and long wars to come, and such is their talk long into the night.

Commentary

Florimell's woes continue in canto viii, which is almost entirely concerned with men who lust after and abuse her or her false counterpart, the creation of the old hag. The false Florimell does not seem to mind it much when she is taken by Braggadocchio--who, as his name suggests, is a braggart, long on words but short on actions--and then by a stronger knight. But the real Florimell is in misery as men continue trying to violate her, the fisherman with force and Proteus with persuasion, and turn violent when she refuses. While Spenser is certainly not giving her the best treatment, he is in a way sympathetic to her. She could have avoided all of this trouble by giving herself up to lust early on, but she persists for the sake of her virtue. She takes the high ground, which is why she is not persuaded by Proteus' shape shifting. The many forms he can assume represent changeable, impermanent physical life. Her Beauty, though physical, is made higher than earthly things because of her chastity and her love, and so it has nothing to do with a being as fickle as Proteus.

Malbecco is a very familiar character in literature: The old man who marries young and is then constantly suspicious of his youthful wife. Spenser very likely took the Malbecco-Hellenore-Paridell love triangle idea from The Miller's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. We can see this by the way Malbecco is mocked in the poem and kept in the dark---just like Chaucer's old carpenter. However, as Hellenore's name suggests, there is also a connection with Helen of Troy. Helen was the wife of a Greek king, and she was stolen by the Trojan Paris, which initiated the Trojan War. Paridell reinforces this connection by showing that he is descended from Paris; he plans to steal Hellenore just like his ancestor stole Helen.

The discussion of Trojan ancestry also serves another purpose, outside of the poem's plot: to glorify the English nation and Queen Elizabeth. Spenser (and most in his day) would have considered the Trojans the greatest race of ancient times, since they founded Rome, the greatest empire of ancient times. Rome was, thus, called a "second Troy" (as Britomart mentions)--and Spenser links his people with antiquity by calling London a "third Troy." Through the mouths of Britomart and Paridell, he relates the legend that Britain was founded by Brute, a Trojan who fled Troy after he accidentally killed his father. Again, this is historical speculation on Spenser's part--no definitive records exist to prove or disprove the claim. The idea that the British Empire would be greater than Rome seems a bit forced, but it is essential for Spenser's justification of Queen Elizabeth as the greatest of all monarchs. In a more subtle way, this claim continues an argument of Book I--that the Church of England is destined to be greater than the Church of Rome.

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The Faerie Queene is a religious allegory.

by touhidsm, May 09, 2014

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Answer: There is no matter of doubt that Spencer’s poem, The Faerie Queene, is replete with allegorical significance. Edmund Spenser stands among the greatest writers of the Elizabethan period whose valuable contributions fashioned a new tradition in English literature. Nowadays he is hailed to be one of the chief initiators of the Renaissance movement in English literature. Spenser's rich and ... Read more

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