Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6252
Book II: “The Legend of Sir Gvyon, or Of Temperavnce”
A Palmer: An old man traveling with Sir Guyon (a “palmer” is a pilgrim).
Atin: A squire and messenger who announces Pyrochles’ arrival.
Belphoebe: A beautiful woman, possibly a goddess, who amazes Braggadoccio.
Braggadoccio: A braggart who uses Sir Guyon’s horse to pretend to be a Knight.
Claribell: The Lady of the Squire, a chaste and noble woman.
Crying Woman: Although claiming she has been raped, the woman is really Duessa.
Cymochles: Pyrochles’ brother, whose loves the sorceress Acrasia.
Dan Faunus: A rude and rustic character who pursues a Nymph with lewd intentions.
Elissa: The oldest sister in the castle, loved by sir Huddibrus.
Furor: A violent madman.
Infant: Son of suicidal woman and Sir Mordant, orphaned.
Medina: The middle sister in a castle divided by three sisters, also the nicest and most virtuous.
Miser: One of Archimago’s disguises.
Occasion: A hag, the mother of Furor.
Perissa: The cruel and conniving youngest sister with Sans loy in her service.
Phedon: A young squire being tortured by Furor.
Philemon: The deceitful friend of the Squire.
Phoedria: A beautiful but vain young woman who serves Acrasia and rows on the Idle Lake.
Pyrene: Claribell’s handmaiden.
Pyrochles: A descendent of gods, an undefeated and powerful Knight until he meets Guyon.
Sir Guyon: A good Elfin Knight, the hero of Book II.
Sir Huddibras: In service to the oldest sister, a strong and lucky but stupid Knight.
Sir Mordant: A good Knight who met the Sorceress Acrasia.
Sorceress Acrasia: A vile enchantress who lives on a Wandering Island.
Suicidal Woman: Sir Mordant’s wife and mother of his child.
Trompart: A fool pressed into service by Braggadoccio.
Proem: The author opens Book II discussing where Faerie land is and how to find it. He discusses the lands that have been discovered recently like Peru and the Amazon River and Virginia. With these examples, he argues that it is impossible to claim that only things that can be seen actually exist, for who had seen Virginia before it was discovered? Secure in the existence of the setting of the poem, Spencer continues by saying that if he fails to represent Queen Elizabeth in all her glory, then she may always use a mirror to see her beauty.
Canto i: The Archimago’s lies did not succeed in ruining the Redcross Knight’s happiness, but Canto i of Book II opens with the Archimago’s escape from the dungeon. Angry that he could not interfere with Una and Redcross, the Archimago sets out to cause havoc and mischief for the Redcross Knight as he travels back to the Faerie Queen. However, even his best-laid traps fail to confuse the Knight, who is wary because of his late experiences with sorcerers and Duessa.
When the Archimago stumbles across Sir Guyon and a Palmer traveling together, he sees the opportunity to work deceitful magic. The Archimago disguises himself as a miser and stops the pair. He tells them that a Knight has raped a young virgin. Sir Guyon replies with rage, asking if the wretch still lives. The Archimago directs the infuriated Knight to where he may avenge the woman.
When the Palmer and Guyon arrive, however, they find no unworthy Knight. Instead, a crying woman in torn clothing greets them. She bewails the loss of her honor, and the Knight promises to take revenge upon the traitor who has done such a vile deed. Although surprised by the accusation of the Redcross Knight, Sir Guyon rides off to seek him out and avenge the vile deed. As he rides away, the woman stops crying: it is Duessa. The Archimago has lifted her out of the rocks and nakedness and helped her to find a way to take revenge on the Knight and Una.
Guyon finds the Redcross Knight resting by a stream with his armor off. Guyon rides at the Redcross Knight, ready for battle. However, before their spears meet they recognize each other and turn away from the clash. Each apologizes to the other for their “hastie hand so farre from reason strayd” and acknowledges their allegiance to the same Lady. The Palmer tells Guyon that if he keeps his good ways he will be on the rightful path to heaven. Redcross Knight then rides off for more adventures.
After adventuring and spreading his glory throughout the land, Guyon and his Palmer hear a woman calling out for death from inside a thicket: “come then, come soon, come sweetest death / And take away this long lent loathed light: / Sharpe be they wounds, but sweet the medicines bee, / That long captived soules from wearie thraldome free.” She continues by blessing her child, telling the child to live and be happier than his parents were, and then terrible shrieks and death sounds fill the woods. Guyon dashes into the thicket and finds a woman by a stream with a dagger in her chest. She is dead, and the baby in her lap is playing with the blood dripping from her chest and into the stream. Beside them is the body of a smiling, handsome Knight. When Guyon sees him, he freezes, his heart turns to stone, and his blood runs cold.
Guyon races to the woman, removes the dagger and staunches the wound. His treatment succeeds, and the woman begins to breathe. He asks her to tell her story, for “help never comes too late.” When the woman opens her eyes and sees a shining Knight beside her, she swoons three times. Guyon catches her each time, and then begs her to tell her story, for one must give voice to remedy grief. She begs him to leave her alone and give her the peace of death, but Guyon insists that even if she is to die, he wants to remedy her plight or avenge the insult that has caused her such despair.
She throws her feeble hands into the air and begins her story. The dead Knight is Sir Mordant, the goodliest Knight that ever there was. He had set off in search of adventures while she was pregnant, and he met the Sorceress Acrasia on her Wandering Island in the perilous gulf. Acrasia traps Knights in her Bower of Bliss, where she “makes her lovers drunken mad” and then uses them for her own devices. While Sir Mordant was thus trapped, the story-telling woman bore his son and set off to find him. When she did, Sir Mordant had been changed so much by drugs and lust that he did not recognize her. so. She reclaimed his mind and used a charmed cup to bribe Acrasia to let Sir Mordant go. However, as Sir Mordant was released, the deceitful Acrasia cursed him, that as soon as he drank anything he would die. And so when Sir Mordant stopped at the stream, he took a sip of water and died.
With her story ended, the woman loses her strength and dies. In tears, Sir Guyon tells the Palmer that “raging passion with fierce tyrannie / Robs reason of her due regalitie / And makes it servant to her basest part.” He continues by vaunting the virtue of temperance, and mourns the loss of this woman to anguish, rather than crime. She has been defeated by emotions. Guyon and his Palmer bury the two bodies. Guyon swears over the grave that he deserves terrible curses if he doesn’t avenge this grievance.
Canto ii: Once Sir Mordant and his wife are buried, Sir Guyon picks up their orphaned child and tries to wash him, but the blood does not wash off. Sir Guyon does not know if the blood is a sign of his guilt for not having avenged the terrible deaths, or if it is a filthy effect of the charm on the blood of the infant’s mother.
The stream Sir Guyon uses, however, has an unusual history. A chaste nymph was out hunting and was pursued by Dan Faunus. She ran, to protect her chastity, but when she could run no more she called out to Diana to help her. Diana transformed the nymph into a stone, and her tears became the stream. Therefore, the stream cannot be polluted and cannot absorb filth. The infant’s stain cannot be washed off at this particular stream because it rejects all impurities.
And so the infant’s bloodied arms remain as they are as a symbol to chaste women and as a reminder to take revenge.
The Palmer carries the child while Sir Guyon carries all of the belongings. When they emerge from the thicket, their horse is gone. They walk for many uncomfortable days until they find a beautiful and well-made castle. Three half-sisters have divided the castle into three parts and live separately, fighting with each other.
The middle sister, Medina, greets Sir Guyon and the Palmer and brings them into the house. The other two sisters are entertaining their Knights. Sir Huddibras, a stupid but strong man, is the lover of the eldest sister. Sans loy, who recently shamed Una, is the lover of the youngest sister. The two Knights fight constantly, and upon hearing that a new Knight had arrived at the castle they gird themselves for battle with him. However, upon meeting each other on the way to fight Guyon, they begin to battle each other. The noise of the battle draws Sir Guyon, who dashes into the fight to try and stop it to understand what has happened. However, Sir Huddibras and Sans loy turn on him and battle him together. Like a fierce ship beset by waves on either side, Sir Guyon clashes with both of them, and defeats them both, adding to his glory.
Distressed by the conflict, Medina runs into the midst of the battle with torn clothing and her hair pulled out. She entreats them to quit fighting, but her two sisters urge the Knights on. Medina then makes a speech about how peace and agreement nourish virtue and friendship and can make people strong enough to triumph over anger and pride. The Knights are so moved by her sentiment that they cease fighting. Medina asks them to rest and reconcile, and the Knights agree. Everyone follows Medina to her quarters, where a feast is readied.
The two other sisters conceal their hatred of Medina and pretend to delight in the new peace. The eldest sister, Elissa, does not speak or dance or eat, and she frowns through the festivities. Perissa, the youngest sister, laughs, dances, and eats to excess. Sans loy enjoys the festivities with her, but Sir Huddibras broods and grieves. Medina keeps the feast calm but lively, and asks Sir Guyon to tell of his travels.
Sir Guyon begins by describing the Faerie Queen’s beautiful and virtuous appearance, then describes her moral qualities and how all men must adore her for her excellence. He tells the company that he has been given the order of Maidenhead, and that each year there is a feast for the order’s honor. At the feast this past year, the Palmer had presented himself to the Faerie Queen with a grievance, and Sir Guyon had been chosen to redress the wrong. He must find and defeat Acrasia, the sorceress, and now the blood-stained infant provides additional incentive to do so to avenge the deaths of his parents.
Medina encourages Sir Guyon to continue to tell his tale, so that the company may learn of the dangers of pleasure and learn to abstain. Sir Guyon tells of Sir Mordant and his wife, and the guests listen. When he finishes, they all go to bed.
Canto iii: Before leaving on his quest, Sir Guyon names the infant Ruddymane and gives him over to Medina to be raised and taught to avenge his parents’ death. Then he sets off on foot, since his horse is gone. He walks beside the Palmer, not knowing that a commoner stole his horse while he spoke with the dying wife of Sir Mordant.
The horse thief, now riding with Guyon’s stolen spear in hand, sees a man lying like a peacock on the ground. He readies his spear and rides toward the fellow, demanding that he either fight for his honor or give himself up as a captive. The man, fearful, kissed the seeming Knight’s stirrup and became his liegeman, and they quickly become arrogant and foolish together. At this point, the author reveals that the horse thief’s name is Braggadoccio, a fitting name. The vainglorious and foolish liegeman’s name is Trompart.
As they ride together, the arrogant pair meets the Archimago. The Archimago is now angry with both Sir Guyon and the Redcross Knight and figures that any Knight he passes might be an instrument with which to attack them. The Archimago asks why the Knight carries only a single spear. Braggadoccio replies that the slight of having once lost his sword made him swear never to wear one until he had reclaimed the lost one. Besides, the braggart continues, he only needs one spear to defeat a thousand enemies.
The Archimago delights in this fool and begins to complain of two Knights who have slain Sir Mordant and his Lady, and very quickly Braggadoccio becomes enraged and demands to know where those terrible Knights might be. The Archimago eggs him on, but also suggests that he perhaps find a sword before meeting them, even if they are disgraceful examples of Knighthood, because they are quite powerful. However, Braggadoccio continues to vaunt himself. The Archimago promises to bring him only the best sword, Prince Arthur’s, so as to be ready for his battle. The Archimago then vanishes in a blast of wind.
Trompart and Braggadoccio enter a forest, but every leaf and every noise scares them. A horn sounds, and they hear someone coming through the brush. Braggadoccio falls from his horse and hides on the ground, but Trompart stays astride to confront this extremity. A Lady steps through the bushes, dressed in wealthy hunting clothes. She is absolutely beautiful and has gleaming lights in her eyes that even the gods envy. She is as fast as Nymphs, holds a spear and carries a bow and quiver, and wears her blond hair loose and entwined with flowers and leaves.
This magnificent Lady (Belphoebe) stymies Trompart, who does not know if he should hide or approach. She speaks to him and asks if he has seen a hind, or deer, with an arrow in its flank. Trompart replies no, but begs to know which of the goddesses he converses with. Before she can answer, she hears movement in the bushes, and she stalks the noise with her spear in hand. Trompart steps between them, begging her hold back because his lord rests in the shade in that direction. Braggadoccio crawls out of the bushes. She speaks to him, telling him that Knighthood is a brave and glorious pursuit. He replies with wonder at her appearance there in the wilds, saying “The wood is fit for beasts, the court is fit for thee.” The Lady, Belphoebe, replies that court is full of oblivion and ease and leads people off of righteous paths, while work and toil and bravery bring one honor and goodness. She tells Braggadoccio that she seeks wars, woods, peril, and pain to try and be good, although the gate to easy pleasures is always in sight.
Braggadoccio marvels, but her beauty also arouses him. He leaps to embrace her, and she holds him off with her javelin, then flees. Trompart asks why Braggadoccio hid, and hears a re-invented tale of a pious and brave Knight errant, Braggadoccio’s version of events. The author concludes that anyone can see that Braggadoccio is not a proper Knight, and that even his horse chafes under him, eager to be free of the “base burden.”
Canto iv: The fourth Canto of Book II opens with the author’s opinion that some people are born to be valorous and to ride a horse well. The first stanza speaks of “gentle blood” and how others may sometimes ride horses, but not with the skill of those of gentle blood. Then the author follows Sir Guyon, who has been forced afoot by the loss of his horse. As he walks with the Palmer, Sir Guyon finds a madman dragging a wounded young man, a squire, by his hair over the ground. A wicked, limping hag follows them, hurling insults and reproaches to provoke the madman. She hands him stones and her staff with which to hit the young man. Guyon approaches and asks the hag what has passed, but she thrusts him away. Then he grabs the madman and pulls him away from the young man, and the madman attacks Guyon. However, the madman is too crazed to attack well and so hurts himself.
Not familiar with such fighting, Guyon tries to wrestle the madman to the ground, but falls over himself and is hit about the face with clumsy fists. Rising, Guyon draws his sword to stop the madman, but the Palmer cries out and stops him. The Palmer tells Guyon that this foe cannot be mastered or destroyed, cannot be hurt by steel or strength. The madman is Furor and the Hag is his aged mother, Occasion, “the root of all wrath and despight.” The Palmer explains that Occasion gives her son the power of Furor, to master and passionately overwhelm.
Sir Guyon turns to the Hag and throws her to the ground by her bedraggled hair, but she continues to provoke her son verbally. Even once her tongue has been pierced with a lock and she cannot speak, she beckons her son and makes signs to inflame him further. Sir Guyon ties both her hands to a stake so that she cannot move, and her son flees. Sir Guyon catches him and squeezes him in a bear hug. Furor fights back and Sir Guyon binds his hands and fastens him to an iron rack, then wraps him in a hundred iron chains and knots.
Having conquered Furor and Occasion, Sir Guyon stands but immediately sees the poor Squire tortured almost to death by the ruthless pair. Sir Guyon treats him and the man breathes and bemoans that “misfortune waites advantage to entrap / The man most warie in her whelming lap” and that he was “brought to mischief through occasion.” The Squire explains that he had a friend since childhood, Philemon. But the Squire loved a noble Lady, Claribell, so much that they never even disagreed, and “love that two harts makes one, makes eke one will: / Each strove to please, and others pleasure to fulfill.” Philemon seemed happy for the Squire, and the Squire managed to win the Lady’s hand in marriage from the dubious family and friends. However, the day of the wedding Philemon came to the Squire and told him the Lady was dishonorable and that the Squire should wait to marry her until he knew more. Jealous and enraged, the Squire asked Philemon to advise him. Philemon replied that he knew of the place where Claribell’s assignations were with this other man.
Philemon had courted Claribell’s handmaiden, Pyrene. He had told her how beautiful she was, how shameful it was that she had no rich clothes and jewels to match her own beauty, and he planted the idea that she should wear Lady Claribell’s clothes. Philemon, disguised, met Pyrene, who was dressed in Claribell’s clothing. The Squire watched, was deceived by the costume into thinking Claribell cheated on him, and left angrily. When he encountered Claribell, he killed her.
After the murder was discovered, the Squire was astonished to hear Pyrene step forward and confess that she had stolen her Lady’s clothes that night and would have appeared disguised. The Squire poisoned Philemon, then chased Pyrene with a dagger. However, fear inspired her to run quickly and she ran through woods and plains until Furor found the Squire.
Amazed by the story, Sir Guyon tells the Squire that what he lacks is temperance. The Palmer joins in, telling the Squire that “wrath is a fire, and gealousie a weede, / Griefe is a flood, and love a monster fell” and that all of these he must “expel.” The Squire tells them his name is Phedon, and then a man runs up to the three who are discussing temperance. He is exhausted and unimpressed by Sir Guyon’s Knightly status. This man, Atin, has a shield with flames on it and the words “Burnt I do burne” and holds two poisoned darts. Atin boldly tells Guyon to leave, or stay at his own risk, that a Knight is coming who is so powerful that he has never been defeated. Guyon inquires as to the Knight’s name, and is told it is Pyrochles, descendent of immortals and impossible for mortals to defeat.
Atin then announces that he has been sent ahead to find Occasion, for his master seeks a fight. The Palmer reprimands him, saying that Occasion cannot be found, and that his quest is that of a madman. Guyon tells Atin to take the message to his Lord that the old woman is bound already. Atin accuses Guyon of shaming Knighthood by fighting such an old woman and warns that Pyrochles will requite such shame. Atin throws a dart at Guyon, but Guyon raises his shield and deflects it. Atin flees.
Canto v: Canto v starts with an ode to temperance and how it gives one a steadfast life, but its greatest enemy then becomes the perturbation of that temperance. Pyrochles is one who upsets his own balance. He rides up to Sir Guyon on a blood-red steed whose hooves smoke with each step. Firmly standing his ground, Sir Guyon beheads the horse with his sword. On equal footing, the fight begins in earnest. Pyrochles smites Sir Guyon and splits his helmet and shield open. Angered, Sir Guyon strikes back and splits Pyrochles’ shoulder armor open and wounds him. In a fit, Pyrochles slashes around him with powerful strokes that could wound any man through any armor, but Sir Guyon stays back, feints, and avoids the blows.
The author compares the fight to an imperial lion and a proud unicorn; the lion can duck aside and cause the unicorn to ram his horn full force into a tree and then be stuck. With such sleights of hand and tricks, Sir Guyon exhausts Pyrochles and forces him to kneel and worship the saint on Pyrochles’ own shield. He then cuts the crest off his helmet, knocks him over, and puts one foot on Pyrochles’ chest. Then Guyon tells Pyrochles he can live, but he must swear allegiance to the victor, Guyon. Guyon comforts Pyrochles in his loss by saying that all men lose sometimes and it is “no shame.” Guyon tells him to direct his rage at himself and master his anger, impatience and murdering love.
Pyrochles defends himself, accusing Guyon of subduing and defeating an old woman. Pyrochles demands that Guyon set Occasion and Furor free in the name of Knighthood. Guyon gives him the captives, and Pyrochles immediately sets them free. Immediately upon release, Occasion and Furor admonish and insult both Knights. Quickly angered, Pyrochles fights Furor, but no matter what Occasion has to say, Guyon stays calm and patient and will not “with vain occasions be inflamed.” Armed with a burning brand and growing stronger with Pyrochles’ anger and impatience, Furor subdues Pyrochles before dragging him through the dirt.
Moved with pity, Guyon moves to save Pyrochles, but the Palmer warns him off of such “pitty vayne” and says that if he does so he “deserves to tast his follies fruit.” Guyon refrains.
Meanwhile, Atin has ridden away upon seeing Pyrochles falling under Guyon’s sword. Atin announces Pyrochles’ death to Cymochles, Pyrochles’ brother. Cymochles fights for a Lady, none other than the sorceress Acrasia of the Bower of Bliss. Cymochles has given himself up to a life of lust and luxury and is bedecked in roses and lies beside a stream. On the other side are numerous half-naked damsels playing and stripping to compare body parts. This sight is enough to cause any man to be “made drunke with drugs of deare voluptuous receipt.”
Atin shames and insults Cymochles out of his pleasantly hedonistic situation and forces him up and onto his horse with news of Pyrochles’ death. Canto vi: Cymochles rides to find Guyon and arrives at a stream. A gondola drifts down carrying a woman, who is laughing and talking to herself.
Cymochles asks for a ride across the stream, and the woman agrees but will not let Atin onto the boat. She steers the boat very haphazardly and tells good stories but interrupts them with vain laughter. However, Cymochles is charmed and relaxed, and the author observes, “So easie is, t’appease the stormie wind / Of malice in the calme of pleasant womankind.” Cymochles asks her name and the woman boastfully replies that it is Phoedria, a fellow servant of Acrasia. She rows him into the Idle Lake and onto an island.
The island is extraordinarily beautiful. Phoedria leads Cymochles to a shady area, puts his head in her lap and sings him to sleep. She then drugs Cymochles to keep him asleep and continues rowing. She soon comes across Guyon, who also asks her for passage. She takes Guyon, but leaves his Palmer behind on the far side.
Guyon is not charmed by Phoedria’s manner or stories, and rather dislikes her loose attitude. When he sees the island, he becomes angry with her and demands that she take him to the other side of the river. Phoedria laughs at his request, blames the wind for their course, and suggests that he rest on the island until the wind changes. Guyon assents, and she shows him the beautiful bowers and sings for him even prettier than the birds. Yet he is not charmed, and wishes to leave her as soon as possible.
When Cymochles awakes, his ire is renewed and enhanced by his anger with himself for being seduced by Phoedria. He finds Phoedria and Guyon attacks them. Cymochles hurls insults at Guyon and enflames his rage. Cymochles shears off part of Guyon’s sword, and in a rage Guyon cleaves his helmet in two, cutting Cymochles to the bone.
Phoedria throws herself between them and begs them to stop fighting over her. She insists that if they must fight for her favor, they should do it in the way that best pleases her, without arms at all and through love and pleasure. The men listen, and calm down, and the Faerie Knight asks for passage off the island, which Phoedria willingly gives.
On the far shore, the Redcross Knight sees Atin, who curses him for killing Pyrochles. Guyon continues on, and the author shifts the attention to Atin, who is still waiting for passage across the river.
As Atin waits, he sees a strange spectacle: a Knight on foot running in bloodied armor straight into the water. Atin approaches to try to help, and finds it is Pyrochles. Pyrochles yells from the water that he is “burning in flames, yet no flames can I see” and begs Atin to help him kill himself. Atin sees the Archimago and begs him to help. Pyrochles tells them that his organs have been set afire by Furor. The Archimago inspects him and cures him, thus saving him from slow death.
Book II is subtitled “Of Temperance,” and temperance is Guyon’s strength. To be temperate is to live a balanced and moderate life, exercising restraint on the passions and not giving in to weaknesses. Like in Book I, Guyon is guided by a moderate, faithful companion who advises him in tricky situations. This is not a Lady, like Una, but the Palmer. The Palmer is the source of Guyon’s quest given to him by Gloriana, just as Una gave Redcross his own quest.
Book I’s foretelling of trouble to come is reinforced when the Archimago reappears. He and Duessa cause confusion in the very first Canto, although Redcross is too learned and holy to fall for their machinations. Yet the Archimago’s continued presence speaks to the uncertain state of order throughout the entire work. One virtue, and one virtuous Knight, is not enough to quell the negative forces working against good Protestants. The narrative thread from Book I is also reinforced by Sir Guyon meeting Redcross and recognizing him.
The first adventure reinforces Guyon’s quest with the Palmer. Sir Mordant and his Lady were killed by the very sorceress Guyon seeks. The suicide of the Lady also fits in with Book I, so that not only the narrative structure but also the thematic structure continues into Book II. Just as in Book I the central temptation for both Una and Redcross was rest and an end to worldly sorrow, here Sir Mordant’s Lady calls out for an end to light that reveals only more pain. The temptations that beset Redcross have not disappeared from the Faerie Queen just because Redcross has vanquished them personally. These evils persist. However, Sir Mordant’s Lady commits suicide because of an excess of despair and hopelessness. Sir Mordant dies because of his lasciviousness in the Bower of Bliss. Both of these deaths are the result of intemperance, as Sir Guyon points out. If reason had prevailed and moderated their behavior, Sir Mordant and his Lady would have survived. Ruddymane, the infant, and his bloodstained arms indicate that the infant is marked with the sins of its parents. The father fell into wanton lust and the mother succumbed to suicide, and those sins have marked the child so that he will always be reminded of those weaknesses.
Guyon’s moral quest is the pursuit of a moderate and well-mannered life in the form of temperance. The opposite of temperance is indulgence, of either pleasure or pain. The suicidal Lady provides information about the sorceress Acrasia, Guyon’s enemy. Acrasia is a fitting rival for a model of temperance, as her Bower of Bliss lulls men with drugs and lust until they are passive, able to respond only to her whims. The Bower of Bliss exemplifies excess and lack of moderation, and so Acrasia is Guyon’s enemy not only for this adventure, but also as a symbol of all that Guyon must reject in order to be temperate and good.
Furthermore, the passivity of those captured by Acrasia contrasts with Guyon’s active state. Guyon finds orphans, hears tales, meets vain Pyrochles, entertains Medina, and bickers with Phoedria, while those in the Bower of Bliss lie back and accept voluptuous pleasure. Guyon’s temperance results from his activity. This passivity is common in Spencer—it is the paralysis of man trapped by sin, as discussed in the analysis of Book I. The men trapped in Acrasia’s bower ignore their wives and children, and even when they try to escape, they are cursed and die. Their indulgence has taken away their fighting spirit, their moral values, their families, and their lives.
The interval at Medina’s castle illustrates another important concept about temperance. The three sisters represent different states of being, where the brooding, silent Elissa embodies excess of thought and despair; the lustful, gluttonous Perissa illustrates lack of restraint; and Medina shows the happy medium of temperance.
Braggadocchio the horse thief epitomizes a lack of honor and honesty. He pretends to be a Knight, fabricates tales to explain his lack of a sword, intimidates a vainglorious man into being his squire, and ignominiously cowers in the forest when he hears rustling noises. Even Trompart is braver than Braggadocchio. Yet for all his bluster and tall tales, the only truly bad acts that Braggadocchio commits are the theft of the horse and the attempted rape of Belphoebe. Both of these are portrayed as impotent, foolish acts done by someone who simply didn’t think enough to know better. Despite causing Guyon much more anguish than the Archimago, Braggadocchio’s character is much more sympathetic and bumbling than purely evil. He simply lacks thoughtfulness. In addition, he lacks noble blood. Spencer makes this point in numerous ways, referring to Braggadocchio as “base” and “lowly” at several points, and saying that noblemen are born to ride horses and others simply cannot. In some respects, Braggadocchio remains exempt from criticism because he is too simple and lowly to know better.
The character of Belphoebe deserves special consideration because Spencer continually returns to the notion of androgyny in the Faerie Queen. Belphoebe’s beauty and sex are evident, but she also hunts for her own food, defends herself from Braggadocchio’s rape, remains vigilant and brave, and takes up arms like a man. This gender-crossing behavior does not in any way make her unwomanly; on the contrary, Belphoebe is considered a paragon of a woman, practically godlike. Belphoebe’s androgyny completes her and frees her from feminine weaknesses.
Belphoebe also presents the philosophical argument against leisure and court life. She considers hers to be a harsh but moral life of work, war, and hunting--far superior to the easy task of finding pleasure. She even considers sweat a sign of good, active labor. Since she is speaking to a consummate idler, Braggadocchio, this speech is particularly pointed. Spencer suggests that those with noble blood know both how to spend time in pleasure and how to do good, godly work and therefore must choose between the two options. However, the lowly who fall into pleasure and leisure are even stranger to the equation, and so Braggadocchio’s newfound semblance of Knighthood illustrates both base pretension and unjustified laziness.
Braggadocchio’s failings are those of a poor man, while Furor and Occasion are simply personifications of human error. Furor and Occasion are minor enemies of Sir Guyon, but they illustrate the effects of unbridled passion. Furor’s rage renders him impotent. Occasion’s power lies only in her tongue-lashing and ability to egg her son on and cause distress by proxy. With the Palmer’s advice, Guyon easily overcomes and immobilizes both of them. Their rancor and ire are unjustified and untargeted, and they are excessive and impartial, almost to the point of being deadly, in their careless venting of passion. Even when immobilized and rendered helpless, they continue to spew venom. These characters represent extremism without moderation.
Pyrochles’ character is more complex. Pyrochles has faults, but they are more embedded in his personality and interests. The displays of vanity and anger by Pyrochles illustrate his lack of moderation, but Pyrochles does not resemble base characters such as Occasion and Furor. Pyrochles has faults, but he is essentially still a Knight who defends old women. This is in sharp contrast to Braggadocchio, who hides from noises in the forest. Pyrochles’ noble blood and brave behavior differentiate him from Braggadocchio, Furor, and Occasion. He is more like Guyon than any of those characters, although his weaknesses are on display in a way that Guyon’s aren’t in these Cantos.
Cymochles is similarly Knightly, although in the first scene he has succumbed to lustful idleness by gazing at the scantily clad maidens across a river. Cymochles and Guyon are further related in the mind of the reader when they both meet Phoedria, travel to the Lake of Idleness, and try to escape the beautiful island. Although Cymochles falls under Phoedria’s spell more so than Guyon, the two Knights are quite similar. In some respects, Cymochles fate seems, mirror that of Guyon’s. However, Cymochles fails to recognize the importance of his own quest to fight Guyon, and so he is led astray. Guyon chafes under the delay with Phoedria, while Cymochles is able to release his worldly cares and concerns, forget about his quest, and enjoy the moment. By forgetting his quest, Cymochles has committed the worst error possible in this Spencerian world: neglect of duty.
Atin’s reunion with Pyrochles and the chance meeting with the Archimago highlight something which happens quite often in the Faerie Queen. Just as the good Knights recognize one another and often befriend one another, as Redcross and Guyon do, the evil characters often ally with each other. The Archimago and Duessa are the first to unite, but when the Archimago heals Pyrochles from the wounds Furor and Occasion caused him, the Archimago positions himself to use to injure Knights.
Throughout these Cantos in Book II, characters with varying degrees of temperance appear, and Guyon can measure himself against them. Medina and the Palmer are the two most temperate and wise guides that Guyon can have, but Guyon leaves Medina’s castle. When Guyon boards Phoedria’s boat, he separates himself from the Palmer. Just as Redcross was separated from his guide Una, and therefore lost his way, Guyon quickly finds himself on a pleasant island designed for idleness. However, Guyon seems to be made of sterner stuff than Redcross, and does not succumb to temptation.
When compared with the others in Book II, Guyon’s temperance proves to be outstanding and firm. He easily defeats each intemperate character and berates them about their need to control their passions. Even when presented with seductive, beautiful places for idleness, Guyon’s sense of duty drives him onward.
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