Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Faerie Queene Book II by Edmund Spenser.

[Summary of Book I]

This is not getting any easier. Not even vaguely. But there it is. I'm on schedule, and hoping to get ahead because this book does not deserve to come to Paris.

Like the last post, I'll link the sources at the bottom, without which this post would not be possible: I am truly indebted to these people.

In the last book, Archimago was in his dungeon, and Redcrosse had parted from Una to continue to serve The Faerie Queene. In the second book, Archimago escaped, and he meets Sir Guyon ("Guyon", the Knight of Temperance, leader of the Knights of Maidenhead, is a variation on the name of St. George, and means "holy wrestler". He is the hero of Book II, where Redcrosse was the hero of Book I)). Archimago tells him that Redcrosse raped a virgin (the evil Duessa, who, if you remember from Book One, personifies falsehood). He encourages Sir Guyon to revenge Duessa, however on encountering Redcrosse, Sir Guyon sees through Archimago's plans and they become friends. They go on to travel together, and meet a woman grieving for her dead husband, however the man has been enchanted and poisoned by Acrasia, "seducer of the knights" (Acrasia is also known as "Le belle dame sans merci" in Keats's poem). The grieved woman stabs herself, and dies after telling Sir Guyon her story, leaving her baby whose hands are stained with blood. He swears to revenge their death.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, by Cowper (1926)
In the second canto, Sir Guyon tries to wash the baby's hands, however the fountain will not clean them. The Palmer, who is accompanying them, tells him the story of a nymph who, when fleeing Faunus (the Roman God of the forest and the fields) turned herself into a fountain, and her waters cannot be made unclean or impure.

Whilst the Palmer is telling this story, Guyon's horse disappears, and when he realises, Guyon goes to find it. He comes to a castle and is welcomed by Medina - "Medina" means "Golden Mean" or "economy" and is exactly the right balance of temperament. She is the middle sister, the other two Perissa, meaning "excess" and Elissa, meaning "deficiency". These two sisters are jealous and argue with her, and their lovers, Sansloy (who we met in the first book) and Hudibras attack Guyon. Medina intervenes and they have a banquet, where Guyon tells Medina of The Faerie Queene and his quest.

In the third canto, Guyon leaves the orphan with Medina and carries on with his quest. At the same time, Braggadochio (a dishonourable knight) has stolen Guyon's horse and sword, and he attacks a man - Trompart (from the French meaning "to deceive"), and Trompart becomes his squire. They then meet Archimago, who tells them Recrosse and Guyon have killed a knight and his lady. Archimago goes to steal St. George's sword to aid Braggadochio in killing Guyon and Redcrosse, and meanwhile Braggadochio and Trompart encounter Belphoebe, a huntress (Phoebe is the Greek version of the Roman Diana, meaning "huntress") comes , and a very beautiful and virtuous woman (representing Elizabeth I). She resists Braggadochio's advances and rides away.

Meanwhile, Guyon encounters Furor - "fury", beating his squire Phaon whilst his mother, Occasion, provokes him further. The Palmer advices Guyon to tie them both up. Guyon asks Phaon how he came to be mentally enslaved by Furor and Occasion, and he replies because he allowed himself to indulge in jealousy (once killing his lover and friend having heard a false rumour). Guyon and the Plamer advise him, however they are interrupted by Atin, who hurriedly tells them that Pyrochles is seeking vengeance on behalf of Occasion, and hurls a poisoned dart at Guyon. Pyrochles finds them, they fight and Guyon defeats him, however he lets him live. He unties Furor and Occasion, and Occasion encourages Furor to beat Pyrochles. Meanwhile, Atin has gone to seek Pyrochles's brother, Cymochles, to seek revenge on Guyon.

Meanwhile, Guyon crosses "The Idle Lake" on Phedria's boat (Phedria is a servant to Acrasia) without the Palmer after Phedria has already taken Cymochles across, minus Atin. When he arrives, he is attacked by Cymochles having resisted the charms of Phedria, but she separates them and takes Guyon back to land, where Atin is waiting to attack him. Guyon rides away, and Pyrochles returns, and, burning from the fire of Furor, he jumps into the lake. Atin tries to save him, however Archimago appears and heals Pyrochles's wounds with a sword.

In the seventh canto, Guyon, still without the Palmer, meets Mammon. Mammon is one of the seven princes of hell, according to German bishop and theologian Peter Binsfield (1589), and in the New Testament represents money and greed. Mammon offers Guyon a reward if he'll serve him, and they talk about the nature of wealth. Mammon takes Guyon underground to his realm, hoping that Guyon will steal something, which will enable Mammon to kill him. Throughout this episode, Mammon tries to tempt Guyon, however each time he refuses. They go to the garden of Proserpina, and Guyon sees the River of Cocytus ("the river of wailing" in Greek legend), and then asks Mammon to return him back to his world. When he is returned, he is exhausted, and the Palmer finds him being attended to by an angel, which disappears before he gets close. Pyrochles, Archimago, and Cymochles arrive and take him for dead, stealing his helmet. When they try to take his armour, Arthur arrives; they fight, and Arthur's sword, enchanted by Arhimago, breaks, but the Palmer gives him Guyon's. Arthur then kills Pyrochles and then Cymochles, after he refuses to denounce his evil ways. Guyon recovers, thanks Arthur, and offers to become his follower. Arthur declines.

In the ninth canto, they talk of The Faerie Queene, and Arthur's desire to become one of her knights. They arrive at Alma's castle (Alma means "soul", and she is head of the House of Temperance), but they are warned to leave and then attacked by a "wretches" attempting to besiege the castle. They drive them away and then are welcomed by Alma. In the castle, they meet Praysedesire ("Praise Desire"), Shamefastness ("Bashful"), Eumnestes ("Good memory" and Phantastes ("Fantasy"). They then come to the library and find a book on British history, and a book about the Faerie Queene, which they read and discuss in Canto X.

In Canton XI, Guyon and the Palmer leave to fight Acrasia, however they find that once again the castle is besieged, with many more than before. The army are led by Maleager and his servants Impotence and Impatience. Maleager is one of the undead, and therefore cannot at this time be defeated. Arthur is carried back to the castle to recover from his wounds.

In the final canto, Guyon and the Palmer are at sea, in a tale not unlike The Odyssey (a shame that The Odyssey is another book I cannot comprehend along with The Faerie Queene, because it would make for a very interesting comparison! I'm very sorry I can't do that). They resist Phedria, avoid whirlpools and quicksand with a flood of monsters (which the Palmer defeats), as well as floating islands, mermaids, and a treacherous fog. They eventually capture Acrasia, and the Palmer turns all the beasts back into men.

And so ends the Book II of The Faerie Queene. I cannot emphasise enough how hard I am finding this, and this post, like the last post, took quite some time to write. It is helping a little, and it's certainly a good exercise. 

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Spenser's Faerie Queene: A Summary
Stories from The Faerie Queene
Summary Book II Faerie Queene


  1. This sounds like quite a fascinating book! I would probably need an annotated edition, though.

  2. I think I do, it really is fascinating, but I don't feel I could manage it by myself. Wondering if it's an idea to write about each book before I read it instead of after...



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