Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6988
Book III: “The Legend of Britomartis, or Of Chastitie”
Adonis: The lost lover of Venus, who in legend died in a boar hunt but was restored to Venus for a part of each year.
Amoretta: Belphoebe’s twin, who was raised by Venus.
Britomart: The heroine of Book III, a chaste but fierce woman disguised as a male Knight to seek her love.
Chrysogonee: A Faerie and the mother of Belphoebe and Amoretta.
Cupid: The winged god who causes mortals to fall in love with each other.
Cymoent: Marinell’s mother, a protective and loving guardian although she is also a goddess and lives in the sea.
Dwarf: A servant of Florimell, seeking her in the forest.
Florimell: A beautiful woman chased by a lustful man.
Glauce or the Nurse: An older woman who looked after the young Britomart.
King Ryence: A friend of Merlin’s and Britomart’s father.
Liagore: A nymph with skill at doctoring.
Louts: Six men who worship Malecasta.
Lustful Man: Chasing Florimell.
Malecasta: A beautiful, false, lustful woman who rules a castle.
Marinell: A haughty and wealthy Knight who obeys his goddess mother’s instructions to never become close to women because of a prophecy.
Neptune: The god of the sea and Marinell’s uncle, who has given him the wealth that has fallen to the bottom of the sea.
Pleasure: The child of Cupid and Psyche.
Psyche: The mortal married to Cupid.
Scudamore: A Faerie Knight and the husband of Amoretta.
Tryphon: A god famed for his ability to doctor.
Two Brothers: The ungracious and cowardly brothers of the lout who chased Florimell.
Venus: The legendarily beautiful goddess of love and the mother of Cupid.
Prologue: The third Book of the Faerie Queen tells of the legend of Britomart, with the sub-heading “Of Chastity.” Spencer’s prologue first acknowledges the foolishness of inventing a story to demonstrate this virtue when it is already enshrined in his sovereign’s breast. He then continues by saying that the very perfection of Queen Elizabeth means that no author, no poet, could possibly convey it as well as a living example. Therefore, Spencer chooses to write about the mythical Britomart.
Canto i: Continuing the story from the previous Book, Acrasia has been sent under heavy guard to Gloriana’s court for justice. Prince Arthur and Guyon ride together in search of adventure and “to recouer right for such, as wrong did grieue.” They encounter a Knight with a lion-embossed shield who attacks Guyon and causes him to fall from his horse. This Knight is Britomart, who has disguised herself as a male Knight to seek the love of her life, who she has seen in Venus’s looking glass.
The Palmer, “by his mightie Science,” knows that Britomart’s spear is enchanted and so speaks to Guyon, calms him, and asks him to speak to the stranger. Guyon blames his horse for swerving, thereby assuaging his pride at the fall, and he and the strange Knight reconcile “through goodly temperance, and affection chaste.” Guyon, Britomart, and Prince Arthur travel companionably until a beautiful woman crashes out of the underbrush. A moment later, a lustful man rides out of the bushes chasing her. Prince Arthur and Guyon set out after the lustful man, but Britomart stays behind, not tempted by beautiful women and knowing that the two Knights can easily overtake and defeat the man.
Britomart rides towards a castle. Outside, six louts are beating the Redcross Knight. Britomart asks what cause they have, and the louts declare that their Lady demands all men’s devotion and this man will not declare his love of her. They threaten Britomart with the same fate if she does not give her allegiance to their Lady as well, and Britomart and the Redcross Knight band together and fight all six men. The six defeated men bring Britomart to the Castle, Castle Joyeous, and introduce her to their Lady, Malecasta.
Malecasta had a true love once, but he loved to hunt and was gored to death by a wild boar. Since his death and her loss, she has lived a lascivious and depraved life with only the barest semblance of honor and chastity. Malecasta receives visitors while lying on an immense bed with gold and tapestries surrounding her beauty. However, her eyes roll and flirt more any chaste woman’s would. She asks Britomart and the Redcross Knight to relax and enjoy the entertainment of the castle. All the men of the castle take off their armor and begin to feast.
In her armor, Britomart easily passes for a man, but without her armor her sex is apparent. So Britomart refuses to remove her armor even to relax. Instead, she simply raises the visor and shows her beautiful face, which Malecasta believes is male. Infatuated, Malecasta begins to connive how to get this handsome Knight into her bed. Spencer laments this tendency in women: “Faire Ladies, that to loue captiued arre, / And chaste desires to nourish in your mind, / Let not her fault your sweet affections marre, / Ne blot the bounty of all womankind.” For Spencer, love and lust cannot be reconciled—good women are chaste. Malecasta represents the lack of chastity, while Britomart is so chaste that she does not even recognize Malecasta’s lustful advances as such. Spencer describes Malecasta’s lust as a cancer.
After feasting, dancing, and general merriment, everyone retires to bed. Britomart disrobes and sleeps, but Malecasta sneaks into her room. Britomart wakes only when Malecasta has climbed into bed with her. In only a nightdress, Britomart leaps out of bed and arms herself. Terrified, Malecasta screams loudly enough to wake the castle, then faints. When the men of the castle enter, Britomart threatens them with her sword, but her golden hair is loose and her sex is revealed. One man shoots an arrow at Britomart and causes a skin wound. She leaps at the six men. The Redcross Knight joins her in the fight, and they triumph. Then they dress and leave.
Canto ii: Spencer again laments his inability to properly praise Queen Elizabeth before rejoining Britomart and Redcross. Redcross asks Britomart why she pretends to be male and what motivates her to travel. A fit of passion shakes Britomart before she can tell her story. Britomart tells Redcross that from childhood, she was trained in warfare and traveled from Britain to Faerie Land in search of honor and fame. However, she concludes with a plea for Redcross to tell her any news of a dastardly fellow named Artegall. Redcross replies that that fellow is good and true, and that he will hear no news to the contrary as it must be lies. Britomart is overjoyed at this assessment of Artegall, for he is her true love. Eager for more news of Artegall, Britomart goads Redcross with implications of Artegall’s wrongdoing. Redcross appeals to her reason and stories of Artegall protecting orphans and Ladies. Britomart listens raptly and then asks how she would know this fellow if she met him. Redcross describes his armor, shield, and steed.
However, Britomart already knew these things about Artegall from looking in an enchanted mirror. The great magician Merlin once designed a mirror that shows only those things pertinent to the looker. For instance, the mirror would show an enemy’s assault, or a friend’s help. Merlin gave the looking glass to his friend King Ryence so that he would never be surprised by an attack. Britomart looked into the mirror one day and saw a handsome young Knight. Before this time she had never felt lust and “was pure from blame of sinfull blot” although Spencer says “her life at last must lincke in that same knot,” presumably the knot of love and lust that for Spencer should end in the knot of marriage. Although she did not realize it for some time, Britomart fell in love with Artegall through the mirror. She cried a lot, dreamt of the young Knight’s face, and eventually her Nurse asked if she was in love. Britomart denied this, for it was unlike anything she had ever heard love to be. After all, Britomart was in love with an image in a mirror, not a real person whom she knew, or even was certain existed. Relieved, the Nurse told her there was no shame in loving an image, and exclaimed that at least it was not lust that afflicted Britomart.
Unlike her Nurse, Britomart found no relief. Instead, she felt even more estranged from normal love and reality and feared that she would never be able to love a real person. The next morning, Britomart and her Nurse prayed in church, and then Britomart drank an herbal potion made by the Nurse, who tried to work magic to undo the love. But Spencer says this is impossible for gentle, true people because “no idle charmes so lightly may remoue” affection in a good person’s heart and so the love continued to burn in Britomart, and she remained insomniac and inconsolable. The Nurse did not know what to do.
Canto iii: The Nurse continued to try to cure Britomart of her lovesickness, but could not. Finally, they decided to ask Merlin, the maker of the mirror, to discover where this unknown paramour lived so that Britomart may find him. Disguised, Glauce and Britomart journeyed to Merlin’s underground lair, where he laughed at them for coming to him about love charms and love potions. Glauce explained that only serious magic could work so strongly on her Lady, and Merlin laughed again and said that Britomart could not hide under any disguise and of course he knew who she was.
Merlin prophesied to the Nurse and Britomart that when Britomart finds her true love, from the pair will spring a line of honorable and good people, culminating in a great sovereign. Merlin further told them that destiny guided Britomart to look in the mirror, not some mere chance, and that she must follow the guidance of her destiny. Merlin told Britomart that her lover was Artegall, a Briton was kidnapped and raised by faeries in Faerie Land. According to Merlin, Britomart’s destiny is to find Artegall, bring him back to human land, fight with him to reclaim that land from Paynims, marry him, and bring forth a line of warriors and kings.
Merlin then presaged the future, describing horrors and oppression that Britons would have to undergo for hundreds of years. This diatribe continues for many stanzas, and its purpose seems to be to establish that Britomart is a descendant of the Trojans, and her progeny will rule Britain because of that noble heritage. After the great battles, during peacetime, Merlin predicted that Britons will focus on books and learning and a virgin queen will rise to rule them. A fit passed over Merlin, but when it ended he returned to his normal self and Britomart and Glauce took their leave of him.
Glauce thought up dressing in armor, with weapons, in order to pass through dangerous and warring lands without harm. Glauce reassured Britomart that warrior women run in her family and that she would make an appropriate “Mayd martiall.” Then they discussed the fierce warrior “faire Angela” who led her Saxon people in battle, and Britomart found the courage and inspiration for her quest. The castle had recently captured one of Angela’s sets of armor, and so after purloining this and dressing Glauce in squire’s clothing, the pair armed themselves and set out for Faerie Land.
After telling her tale, Britomart and the Redcross Knight part and continue with their own adventures.
Canto iv: This Canto opens with Spencer’s longing for warrior women to reappear. He asks why there are none now when Homer and other poets report that brave, strong women fought in many times and places. Spencer suggests that men’s insecurity keeps women from becoming true warriors in the sixteenth century. However, Spencer says that none of the legendary female heroes can “with noble Britomart compare” in valor, chastity or virtue. Spencer also says that Queen Elizabeth is of Britomart’s lineage, as Merlin suggested in the last Canto.
While traveling alone, Britomart recounts everything the Redcross Knight had said about Artegall, because she cannot quit thinking of him. However, this merely feeds her obsession. Eventually, she stops by the seaside with Glauce and sighs. Britomart complains to the sea, likening the love she feels to strong waves that have crazed her “feeble vessel” and that both fortune and love give no assurance or comfort of success. Then she forces herself to regain composure—just in time, as a strange Knight rides down the beach and threatens her with death for trespassing. Britomart’s sadness turns to rage and she attacks and sorely wounds the Knight.
Britomart has unknowingly but grievously wounded Marinell, the son of the goddess Cymoent. Marinell has lived with knowledge of a prophecy saying that a woman who was a stranger to him would cause him great pain and trouble. Because of this prophecy, Cymoent has urged him to forego all women, and Marinell has done so. He is a fierce and brave Knight, but his divine ancestry made him cocky and arrogant. The sea god, his uncle, brings him all the treasures that have fallen to the bottom of the sea and lines Marinell’s beach with gold and gems. It had never occurred to Cymoent to worry about a woman’s skill at arms, only at love. Marinell has thus lived in a state of suspended chastity because of fear for his life. Spencer inserts a comment about fate and destiny here: “So tickle be the terms of mortall state, / And full of subtile sophisms, which do play / With double senses, and with false debate, / T’approue the vnknowen purpose of eternall fate.”
Believing Marinell dead, Cymoent weeps on the beach with her servant nymphs. His uncle Neptune watches the grief of Cymoent and is also moved. If Cymoent weren’t immortal, the pain of losing her son would have killed her. However, she eventually calms and begins to clean Marinell’s body. One nymph who helps her, Liagore, feels for Marinell’s pulse and discovers that he is still alive, although badly wounded. Cymoent immediately moves Marinell to her home under the sea and sends for a famous doctor, Tryphon.
Meanwhile, Britomart rides with Glauce but with no other Knights. Hidden behind her and delighting at her solitude, the Archimago plots against her. Far away, the Prince, the Prince’s Squire Timias, and Guyon ride after the fearful Florimell. They split up in order to find her more quickly, and the Prince finds her. She flees, but he gives chase while calling out reassurances. His unfamiliar shield and arms scare her, and she flees until sunset. When Prince Arthur can no longer see Florimell because of darkness, he gives up the chase, lets his horse graze and tries to sleep. He curses Night for her hasty appearance: “Night thou foule Mother of annoyance sad, / Sister of heauie death, and nourse of woe.” The Prince continues by lamenting that any heart heavy with cares finds only trouble and pain in night, that slothfulness and the inability to see the beauty of God’s work hurts all men. Further, Prince Arthur equates light with life and darkness with death.
In the morning, rising from uneasy and short sleep, Prince Arthur continues his quest grumpy and unhappy.
Canto v: Spencer opens with a remark about how love can inspire some to base, low thoughts and behaviors, while in others love inspires great heights of chivalry and good deeds. Then he returns to Prince Arthur, who meets a Dwarf running through the woods. The Dwarf asks if he has seen a blond, beautiful maiden on a white horse. Prince Arthur replies that he tried to save her from a lustful lout, but she fled from her rescuer, Prince Arthur, as well. The Dwarf tells Prince Arthur that the Lady is Florimell, who loves and is devoted to Marinell. When word reached the court that Marinell had died, Florimell fled vowing never to return until she had found him, alive or dead. The Dwarf pleads with Prince Arthur to help him find Florimell. Prince Arthur replies with a quote that defines one of the major responsibilities of Knighthood: “Ill wears he armes, that nill them vse for Ladies sake.”
Prince Arthur laments the loss of his squire, Timias. Timias has been chasing the lustful villain who scared Florimell. However, the lout escapes and finds his two brothers, who are as ungracious as him. The lout incites the brothers to find and kill the Squire who caused him such distress. They hide on the bank of a river where Timias must pass and surprise him, and one of them uses his spear to keep Timias from crossing the river. Timias’ horse struggles in the deep water, but eventually rage allows Timias to cross despite wounds. Using forestry weapons (a scythe, boar spear and bow and arrow), the three bothers sorely wound Timias both while he is trapped in the water and once he makes it to land. However, Timias triumphs and kills all three brothers.
Once danger has passed, the severe wounds cause Timias to swoon. Luckily, the hunting maid Belphoebe (from Book II, Canto iii) is passing through the forest and finds him. She doctors him with herbs, and he regains consciousness and asks if she is an angel or a goddess. Belphoebe blushes and replies that she is the daughter of a wood nymph. Furthermore, she asserts that all men are linked by a “commun bond of frailtee / To succour wretched wights,” or, in other words, that all men can be injured and so must take care of those they find injured.
Belphoebe brings him to a pavilion in the woods where she nurses the squire back to health. However, in the process of healing his physical wound, Belphoebe opens a wound in Timias’s heart and he falls in love with her. He chastens himself for his base, low nature and accuses himself of wishing “to blot her honour, and her heauenly light” and tries to die rather than love so disloyally. However, he plays devil’s advocate with himself and says that gods find all love equal, so a squire could love even a heavenly born woman if it was true love.
Eventually, the lovesickness manifests as physical sickness. Doubting her nursing skills and unaware of Timias’s love, Belphoebe continues to treat him. He tries “to dye for sorrow great, / Then with dishonorable termes her to entreat.”
Canto vi: Spencer here recounts the story of Belphoebe’s birth, as well as that of her twin Amoretta. Both were born full of celestial grace and beauty. Their birth was miraculous, as Chrysogonee was a virgin. While asleep in a meadow one hot summer’s day, the sunbeams themselves impregnated her. However, Chrysogonee feared disgrace and shame when she realized she was pregnant, and so she fled into the woods and bore her children there.
Meanwhile, the goddess Venus sought after her son, Cupid. Cupid had run away after Venus had said harsh words to him, and with a mother’s fear she wanted to find him and offered a reward to anyone with news of him. Everyone who she asked, however, told her that love was terrible, wreaked havoc and caused languishing dismay. After looking in the courts, cities and countryside, Venus searched the woods. There, she came upon Diana naked. Diana’s nymphs closed in around her to protect her modesty from Venus’s gaze, and Diana asked why Venus had ventured into the forests. Venus asked for news of Cupid. Diana replied scornfully, and Venus reprimanded her about the foolishness of looking down on another’s sorrow, when it might become one’s own one day. Venus then suggested that Cupid had disguised himself among the nymphs and deflowered some of them. Diana became angry, so Venus changed tactics and flattered her until Diana relented and sent her nymphs to search the woods.
The nymphs found Chrysogonee. Just as she had conceived while asleep, she bore her children while sleeping, and just as she felt no pleasure while conceiving, she felt no pain in giving birth. The goddesses decided to take her babies. Belphoebe was taken by Diana and raised in the woods as a virgin. Venus took Amoretta to the Garden of Adonis, which is more pleasant than any other place. Although the garden is filled with flowers, its purpose is to grow the souls of all living things. Human and animal souls and the forms they will inhabit coexist in this peaceful, beautiful garden without corruption. The seasons happen simultaneously. No gardener is needed to tend the plants, which grow in the most beautiful of forms naturally. Mortality threatens all souls, but the Garden of Adonis is where souls escape that by continuous mutability. Souls grow and age, die and are reborn, but always persist in this Garden. Naked men and women’s souls, naked in the sense of without clothes and without bodies, wander the gardens delighting in love and sexuality. Spencer shares a rumor that Adonis, Venus’s lover who was killed, can live there and be visited by Venus.
Cupid and Cupid’s wife, Psyche, and daughter, Pleasure, usually live in the gardens. Venus brought Amoretta to Psyche and asked her to raise her in “true feminitee” there in the garden as if she was her own daughter, Pleasure.
Amoretta thus grew up a model of chastity and honor and then traveled to the Faerie Court, where she met and fell in love with the good Knight Scudamore.
By chastity, Spencer actually means sexual continence, or temperance of desire. The ideal for Spencer is that sort of love that Una and the Redcross Knight have in Book I, in which sexuality is satisfied and bound by marriage. Spencer does occasionally urge virginity, but he also glorifies lovers. Spencer’s chastity is really sexuality within legal bounds, not outright abstinence. Interestingly, Spencer’s females seem to either have or lack chastity in the same way that one either has or lacks noble blood (although the two are not synonymous). Through enchantment, Duessa had outward beauty, but her sinful and deceitful nature also was associated with her sheer ugliness. In an inverse example, Una’s beauty is revealed to be a product of her inner virtuousness when she spends time in the forest with the satyrs.
Britomart begins this book as a virginal, chaste woman. Unlike Redcross or Guyon, Britomart does not need to mature, be contemplative, or endure trials in order to achieve chastity. Her companion, Glauce, does not have to rein in Britomart’s desires the way Una and the Palmer must for the male Knights. Britomart simply has chastity, in the same way that she has physical beauty. Belphoebe, a character from Book II who resurfaces, is also an exemplar of chastity, but in a different way than Britomart. Belphoebe loves no man and has no expression of desire. Both women are beautiful, feminine, desired, fierce, and good in battle. Britomart and Belphoebe are similar in that their warrior status gives them androgyny and self-protection in a way that traditional ideas about women cannot. In this androgynous, gender-crossing behavior both women resemble Queen Elizabeth, who ruled a country despite being female. As usual, their names indicate their androgynous status, as Britomart means “sweet maid” but also sounds like “Brit Mars,” or British Mars. Mars was the Roman god of war, so Britomart is a sweet maid of war. Since “phoebe” is another name for Diana, the virgin huntress, and “bel” references the word for “beauty” in several languages, Belphoebe means beautiful virgin huntress and links Belphoebe to the gods. However, Belphoebe strives for self-sufficiency in a way that Britomart does not. Britomart seeks to extend her chastity into the bounds of marriage and so be active in her chastity. Belphoebe is immobilized by her chastity, although she still lives a good and chaste life.
Spencer directs Queen Elizabeth to compare herself to Belphoebe, not to Britomart, and since Queen Elizabeth is the virgin queen, who has no intention of marriage, this makes sense. However, the virtue of chastity that Spencer celebrates in Britomart’s story is more than that virginal, static, unchanging resistance to desire that Belphoebe displays. Britomart actively searches for a channel for her desires. Britomart seeks the appropriate, moral, balanced married life that is both chaste and fulfilling. In contrast, Belphoebe’s rant to Braggadocchio about work and wars being the way to challenge one’s self and keep away from the palaces of pleasure has a martyr-like ring.
The need for forceful, strong women to protect themselves and the virtue of chastity suggests that Queen Elizabeth’s chaste leadership not only models virtue for her people but also protects herself. By reminding the reader that Gloriana also represents Queen Elizabeth, Spencer manages to bolster the possibility for reading compliment and praise into the comparisons with Queen Elizabeth. Gloriana’s beauty, diplomacy, and rule cannot be questioned because Gloriana does not appear in the Faerie Queen except as a remote, glorified figure. Prince Arthur’s search for Gloriana and his adoring love of her offer a potential worthy suitor that suggests Gloriana’s chastity could turn into Britomart’s goal of chastity-in-moderation through marriage. However, Prince Arthur cannot find Gloriana, and so her chastity remains steadfast. Gloriana, like Queen Elizabeth, is in every sense untouchable. Spencer’s obvious omission of Britomart as a reference to Queen Elizabeth suggests that Britomart fundamentally differs from his Queen because Britomart seeks true love and married bliss.
However, Britomart is in the unfortunate position of never having met her true love. Prince Arthur has at least met and dallied with Gloriana, however briefly. Britomart pursues prophecies and images because of intense inner upheaval, while Prince Arthur at least knows and has an accurate representation of the person he loves. This state of suspended true love links Prince Arthur and Britomart. Neither has visible flaws or loses a battle. Since in Book I Prince Arthur is a Christ-like figure, Britomart too may represent God’s grace on earth.
Similar to Prince Arthur, Britomart’s initial experience of recognizing her true love completely alters her life. The powerful emotions Britomart feels for the man she is fated to love and marry initially cause her to fall ill and require assistance. She states her main fear as that she will never be able to love normally, but instead will forever yearn for an unreachable image. The other part of her fear lies in the strength of her love for Artegall. Her fear of being an aberration suggests that she believes the power of her emotion to be a negative attribute, something illustrating her own weakness or instability. Britomart’s main task in Book III is to reconcile the depth and intensity of her love for Artegall with her notions about chastity. Merlin’s prophecy about descendants and kings for Britain suggests that Britomart’s chastity will indeed be sexual temperance, or desire confined by marriage. The descendants give Britomart a useful and religiously acceptable reason for sexual desire. She can overcome the negative implications of losing her virginity because she will contribute to society. Spencer gives Britomart a Christian purpose in seeking her fulfillment of desire.
In this celebration of healthy, Christian desire, Spencer may be suggesting that Queen Elizabeth has a Protestant duty to marry and have children. If so, it is certainly not explicit. However, Spencer could not write such an opinion explicitly, because that would presume to advise or criticize the beloved Queen. Not only would that offend much of his readership, but it might also offend the Queen, his patron. At the very least, Spencer suggests that nothing in religion prohibits powerful women from having children.
When Britomart discovers the louts attempting to bully Redcross into changing his love from Una to Malecasta, the allegorical reading of this passage is that Chastity defends Holiness from the temptations of other women. Britomart then accompanies Redcross into the castle, and when Malecasta accosts Britomart in bed, it is revealed to Redcross just what confusions and negativity can be engendered by unchecked lust. Britomart’s male appearance leads to comedic interludes. For instance, when Britomart unseats Guyon with her enchanted spear, Guyon must exercise his temperance to moderate his rage at what he perceives as his own failure. Since the reader knows a woman wielding an enormous phallic object just knocked Guyon off his seat, Guyon’s attempt to exert self-control takes on additional overtones. Spencer uses the introduction of counterexamples to chastity to invoke humor as well. In the Castle Joyeous, Britomart’s innocence keeps her from recognizing Malecasta’s advances as such. Hidden in armor, presumably awkward in movement and gait, just the face of Britomart inspires the lustful and unscrupulous Malecasta to sneak into Britomart’s bed. The gentle mockery of a woman so lustful that she craves a barely seen, completely oblivious stranger, culminates when Malecasta screams in fear at the realization that the Knight she so lusted after was a woman. The irony, of course, is that Malecasta is more afraid of the “weaker sex” than of a lustful male Knight.
On an allegorical level, the Malecasta incident indicates again that lust obscures vision and those who wish for clarity of thought and action must not give in to temptation. Malecasta’s name literally means “badly chaste,” or “unchaste,” and she is a counter-example Spencer provides as a comparison against Britomart’s unswerving chastity and devotion to Artegall. In Canto vi, Venus’ life with Adonis in the Garden of Adonis also provides a counterexample to Malecasta, who has let herself fall into lechery and vice because of the death of her true love. On the other hand, Venus remains devoted to her lover even in death—although it is somewhat easier for her, as she can keep him alive!
Book III differs from Books I and II in that Spencer deviates from the tale of Britomart on numerous occasions to tell the stories of many other characters. Book II has the single odd interlude between Braggadocchio and Belphoebe, but Book III has many such interludes, beginning with Marinell and continuing with Florimell, Timias, and Belphoebe. The story of Britomart is much less focused and contains many more diversions. Duessa returns to Sans joy with Night, and the Archimago and Atin explain what has happened to Pyrochles, but Marinell is not linked to any of the enemy characters in the Faerie Queen. Instead, Spencer seems to tell Marinell and Florimell’s stories as parallel discussions of chastity to complement Britomart’s tale.
Marinell lives a chaste, warrior’s life by the seaside. His nymph mother Cymoent has begged him never to have relations with women because of a prophecy saying a woman would seriously harm him. So Marinell’s behavior is chaste, but only because of self-love and self-preservation. It is a cold, barren chastity without a basis in virtue.
On the other hand, Florimell has fallen desperately in love with Marinell, to the point where the touch of any other repulses her. And yet Florimell, who is purely feminine and lacks any androgynous or male characteristics, possesses a beauty that draws lustful men. When first introduced, she is seen fleeing a lustful man. The Dwarf informs Prince Arthur that Florimell fled the Faerie Court because she heard Marinell had been killed, and her love of him inspired her to vow to find him or die. As we have learned in the previous Canto, Canto iv, Marinell has never returned Florimell’s love. Like Britomart, Florimell seeks a love without knowing what form that love will take, only what the man looks like. Also like Britomart, Florimell does not know where her love is, or if he is safe, injured, or dead.
However, Florimell is not like Britomart, who actively seeks her love while doing good works. Florimell’s helplessness is made quite clear. Her only resort when lustful men chase her is to flee. Florimell’s fear of lustful men also proves unjustified sometimes; even when the good Prince Arthur pursues Florimell in order to reassure and protect her, Florimell runs and will not listen to him. Florimell may attract lustful men, but she also distrusts all men because of some men’s uncontrollable lust. Despite her beauty and femininity, Spencer makes clear that Florimell’s helplessness in self-defense leads to harmful, dangerous fear. In this respect, Britomart’s androgyny serves her well. When a lustful maiden accosts Britomart, or if Britomart were to be approached by a lustful man, she has no need to flee. Britomart can defend herself, but Florimell has only one resort, flight.
The most carefully described battle scene in Book III is Timias the Squire’s battle with the three foresters. Timias chases the lustful lout who had pursued Florimell, and the lout and his two brothers ambush Timias with implements of forestry. In Spencer’s time, the forester was a common symbol of lust. Therefore, Timias fights three embodiments of lust. Furthermore, the battle begins with Timias trapped in the river, and for a surprisingly long time he remains there immobilized. Although he has set out to attack the lustful lout, now Timias is under attack. The temporary imprisonment in the river further complicates this reversal of his fortunes. Skill does not free Timias; instead, anger does. Perhaps his lack of temperance, his use of rage instead of moderation or skill, leads to his overwhelming lust for Belphoebe.
Belphoebe’s inability to discern Timias’ lust echoes Britomart’s inability to recognize Malecasta’s. Since Florimell so easily perceives lust and even imagines it in chaste men (like Prince Arthur), Belphoebe and Britomart’s inability to recognize lust suggests that their ability to defend themselves has freed them from worry about others’ lust. They have mastered their own desires in themselves and do not fear it in others, and so it does not occur to them as a reason for behavior. However, this is a blind spot in their vision that leads to problems. Britomart must defend herself against Malecasta’s henchmen, reveal herself as a woman, and leave the Castle Joyeous. Belphoebe’s blind spot causes Timias’ illness, since she does not send him away or remove herself from his presence, and his love grows until he would rather die than admit it to such a chaste, kind virgin. Timias perceives himself as unworthy because he knows that Belphoebe will not reciprocate his love and lust, and therefore considers his emotions base and baseless. Oddly, when Timias nears death, Spencer begins several stanzas praising Belphoebe’s chastity, as though driving men out of this world with lust and not recognizing it were a virtue in and of itself. Since Britomart went through a phase of lovesickness earlier in Canto i, condemning Timias for the same failing seems a bit underhanded. Yet Spencer devotes much time to praising Belphoebe for her chastity as Timias lies dying.
This is particularly curious since part of Redcross and Guyon’s experience of mastering a virtue involved experiencing or witnessing the vice firsthand. However, Spencer praises Belphoebe for being in the presence of the vice and still being unable to recognize it. Her very ignorance is part of her virtue. The underlying theme seems to be that the most fabulous of chaste women are ignorant about lust, inherently chaste, and defend their honor when provoked into recognizing lust. In addition, Spencer spends quite a bit of time describing Belphoebe’s beauty (although nowhere near as much as in Book II). In this way, Spencer’s praise of Belphoebe’s chastity links to the beauty that is part of what inspires lust in others. Spencer spends quite a bit of time in the Faerie Queen discussing how beauty should be worshipped and should inspire men to great, chivalric deeds. Therefore, the implication is that Timias should appreciate Belphoebe’s beauty and be moved to ever-greater heights of action by it, but should not feel, much less succumb to, the paralyzing vice of lust.
However, Timias does not speak of lust, nor does Spencer once use the word “lust” to describe Timias’ state. Instead, Timias is accused of loving Belphoebe when she does not love him back. The main difference then between Timias’ and Britomart’s lovesickness is that Britomart has been assured that her love will reciprocate. The incident with Timias illustrates some of the particularly strange aspects of Spencer’s ideas about love. Apparently, any unreciprocated love is disloyal and should be stopped.
Belphoebe’s birth and the revelation that she is one of two twins raised by goddesses adds support to Braggadocchio’s and Timias’ first impression that Belphoebe is a goddess. Her beauty is augmented by her inner virtue and adherence to a chaste life, but at least partially derives from her divine upbringing and the special circumstances of her birth. It is difficult to say what Belphoebe’s lineage is, exactly, but there is a suggestion that Apollo, the god of the sun, impregnated Chrysogonee while she was sleeping. Thus, Chrysogonee resembles Mary, the mother of God, because her offspring were conceived without original sin, lust, or even sensuality. Furthermore, some passages in the Bible cite Christ’s birth as painless because Mary did not engage in original sin to conceive, and so Chrysogonee’s painless labor and delivery again links her to the mother of Christ. Her name is composed of two Greek words, “chrysos” and “gone,” which means “gold-producing” or “gold race,” suggesting that Belphoebe and Amoretta are golden, and thereby radiant and precious from birth.
Since Belphoebe was raised in an atmosphere of female chastity among Diana and her nymphs, Belphoebe represents a sterile, androgynous, chaste female who can defend herself and seeks causes to uphold. Belphoebe works for chastity, literally, although it is also inherent and natural to her.
The Garden of Adonis is one of the most discussed sections of the Faerie Queen. It is often compared to Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss from Book II, a garden the produces the opposite effect upon men. The Garden of Adonis stresses Spencer’s emphasis upon classical legend and medieval poets, since the story of Venus and Adonis is a classical Greek legend told by Ovid, a medieval Roman poet. Throughout the Faerie Queen, there are references to classical gods, such as Morpheus, Diana, Earth, and Air in Book I. Numerous other sources are referenced in the description of the Garden of Adonis as well. The Garden illustrates how uses allusion to tie his work to other sources, from other epic poetry to the Bible to romance literature of his time.
The Garden of Adonis also displays Greek philosophical thought. Even in the garden, no living thing can escape time and therefore mortality. So those in the garden must go through infancy, adulthood, and old age. However, the soul itself does not change. The shape the soul occupies changes form and shape, but the soul is changeless and eternal, shifting from body to body while in the Garden. This is a reference to Plato’s theory of forms, which says that all things have a perfect, permanent component that exists despite the constant change and imperfection of the world. The physical form the souls inhabit allows mortality’s demands to be satisfied, but that very mutability does not affect the form of the soul, which persists perfectly forever.
In the Garden of Adonis, love and procreation are natural and inevitable. Cupid and Psyche’s sexual life leads to their child, and Spencer approves. This sharply contrasts with the Bower of Bliss, where men’s sexuality saps them of manhood. The main difference is that in the Bower, sexuality is limited to stimulation without love or procreation. The Bower is a place of indulgence and excess, while the Garden of Adonis balances sexual pleasures with love and filial responsibility. Unlike the Bower of Bliss, all stages of life are represented in the Garden of Adonis. Life is complete and sexuality is healthy. Jealousy, sterile lust, and dissipation do not occur in the Garden. The Garden’s healthy sexuality proves that there can be sinless sexuality. The vice of lust need not afflict all those who engage in sexual behavior, and the Garden as a sinless, ageless setting is one way in which souls may have sex without blot or degradation.
The Garden of Adonis also seems like a second Eden in the Faerie Queen. The first references to Eden occurred in Una’s kingdom, in Book I, Canto xii. The Garden of Adonis has naked men and women wandering around free from original sin and delighting in the garden and each other. This is very similar to the description of the Biblical Eden before the Eve and Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Thus, the Garden of Adonis is a heavenly model of an Eden that still persists, although the earthly Eden has been disrupted. The earthly Eden can even be overrun by a dragon, so far is it from the original state of bliss.
The religious allegory in Book III is subdued. Chastity is defined in a Christian way, with sin attaching to lust, but with healthy sexuality being part of life and procreation. The Garden of Adonis links easily to Eden, and the notion of souls clearly supports Christian ideas. However, the characters are more examples of chaste and unchaste behavior than they are allegorical symbols of Roman Catholicism (like Duessa) or of Catholic sins and pomposity (like Queen Lucifera and Orgoglio).
Unlock This Study Guide Now
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support