Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2143
Agape: A Faerie with much knowledge of nature who has extended the lives of her three sons.
Ate: The mother of all discord, war, and debate.
Blandamour: A false and fickle Knight who accompanies Duessa.
Cambell: A good, true, and fierce Knight whose sister is Canacee.
Cambina: Triamond’s sister, a student of magic.
Canacee: Cambell’s wise and intelligent sister who refused to love any man, instead obeying the governance of her mind.
Care: A blacksmith who makes iron wedges of unquiet thoughts that invade peaceful minds.
Man in Castle: A man who lives in an area where if a man does not have a woman by nightfall, he is thrown outside the castle gates.
Triamond: A Knight who travels with Cambell and is one of Agape’s three sons.
Proem: Spencer defends himself against critics who say that vaunting love creates weakness in the young. He then rededicates his work to Queen Elizabeth, who is a perfect, chaste example of his principles.
Canto i: Spencer reveals that Amoretta was captured by Busirane (the enchanter in Book III) on her wedding day. Amoretta would rather die than lose her virginity to a man who was not her husband. Amoretta knows that according to tradition, she owed the Knight a debt for saving her; a woman saved by a Knight becomes his booty. Believing Britomart to be a man, Amoretta is afraid, though grateful. However, Britomart makes no advances upon Amoretta. One night, in a strange castle, Britomart fights to keep Amoretta from a man who claims her. After winning, Britomart discovers that the man will be cast out of the castle for not having a woman. Britomart claims him as her own, removes her helmet, and reveals that she is a woman. Amoretta therefore realizes she has nothing to fear, and the man is able to remain in the castle. This just solution to a thorny problem was entirely of Britomart’s devising.
Amoretta and Britomart travel together seeking the men they love. One day, they meet Duessa, the witch introduced in Book I. Duessa is accompanied by Ate, who is the mother of all discord; Blandamour, the fickle Knight; and Paridell, the lascivious, lying Knight from Book III. Blandamour attempts to fight Britomart, who injures him severely. When Blandamour then meets Scudamore (Amoretta’s husband from Book III), Blandamour is too sore to fight him. Blandamour’s jealousy over Amoretta’s true love for Scudamore causes him to rue his fight with Britomart. Paridell offers to fight this new Knight for Blandamour, then charges Scudamore. Scudamore defeats Paridell, and his company rides up to watch Paridell suffer.
Duessa chides Scudamore and Blandamour for fighting over the same woman (Amoretta) while she is off loving some other man (Britomart), and Ate supports this false version of events.
Canto ii: Paridell, Blandamour, Duessa, and Ate encounter Sir Ferraugh, who won the false, spirit-animated Florimell from Braggadocchio at the end of Book III. Paridell and Blandamour are immediately infatuated with the snowy-skinned, false woman. Now it is Paridell who is too sore from his last fight (with Scudamore), and so Blandamour attacks Sir Ferraugh. Blandamour disables the proud Knight with one blow, and so wins the fake Florimell. For days, Blandamour courts the false woman, who is so well schooled in the art of flirtation that Blandamour falls ever more in love with her. Paridell becomes inflamed with jealousy. Forgetting their friendship and honor, Paridell and Blandamour fight like dogs until the Squire of Dames (also from Book III) witnesses their battle. The Squire of Dames tells the pair of base Knights that Satyrane, who had found Florimell’s girdle and horse and believed her to be dead, had declared a tournament to be held. Each Knight was to bring his Lady, and the Lady judged fairest would receive the girdle. Squire of Dames tells the pair that they should fight to keep that girdle, and Florimell’s honor, in the right hands.
As Paridell and Blandamour ride with Florimell to the tournament, they meet Cambell and Triamond, who are both with their Ladies. Canacee is Cambell’s sister, whose right to be without a man and obey only her own mind is defended by Cambell. Triamond loves Canacee, and Triamond and Cambell good friends now.
Canto iii: Spencer declares that Triamond’s mother is “fond and vaine” for wanting to extend the misery of her three son’s lives, for life is a perilous and pained experience. She had connived to get the fates to join the threads representing the three lives of the brothers so that their souls and lives were combined. This way, any one would have the length of life of all three combined, and so years ago when Cambell killed Triamond’s two brothers in a fight over Canacee, their spirits and length of life entered Triamond’s body. Only a magic ring kept Cambell alive despite his wounds and Triamond’s onslaught. Without that ring, any one of the brothers might have dispatched Cambell. However, Triamond’s uncannily long life was also enchanted. In a final blow, Triamond and Cambell killed each other.
The crowd began to disperse, but Canacee wailed and both Triamond and Cambell started up, fully alive again. The battle recommenced. They only paused when a chariot drawn by lions pulled up beside them, bearing Triamond’s sister, Cambina, a student of magic. The sister had a rod of twined serpents and a cup of nepenthe, the drink that soothes all men’s minds and brings eternal peace. Cambina looked at each man, then tried to convince them to stop fighting. When they continued, she threw herself down on the ground, where her tears mixed with the blood and sand. The men ignored her and the fight raged on. Finally, Cambina stood, immobilized them with magic, and gave them sips from the cup of nepenthe. The men were immediately good friends, and Cambell married Cambina while Triamond married Canacee.
Canto iv: When Paridell and Blandamour realize these two feared warrior friends are approaching, Blandamour wishes he were not so “sore of his late lucklesse fight.” Although he is too sore to fight, when Cambell and Triamond approach, Blandamour nevertheless begins to insult them. Braggadocchio rides up and demands to have the false, bewitched Florimell back, and Paridell says that anyone who wins Florimell gets the hag Ate as well. Braggadocchio says that if, rather than a hag, another beautiful woman was promised, then he would fight. Everyone laughs. Cambell chastises everyone for loose behavior when they should be resting for the challenges ahead.
On the day of the tournament, Satyrane hangs the prize girdle in plain view, and the battle commences. Sir Ferramont defeats both Paridell and Blandamour and scares Braggadocchio out of entering the fray. Triamond leaps to fight instead and defeats Ferramont and three others who come to Ferramont’s aid. Thus, Triamond nearly decimates the entire force supporting and defending Satyrane, who attacks Triamond himself. A dreadful wound causes Triamond to retire to the edge of the battle. Satyrane is declared victor for that day, and Triamond does not return to fight the next morning when the battle continues.
Cambell steps up to fight Satyrane for Triamond. Only after several hours of fighting, when Satyrane’s steed stumbles, does Cambell gain the advantage. When Cambell leaps from his horse to take Satyrane’s armor, all of Satyrane’s supporters surround him and point their swords at him, and he must fight all one hundred of them until he is taken captive. Triamond leaps up from the bed where he is supposed to be healing, dons Cambelland Cambell seizes a weapon and the two fight side by side. Triamond and Cambell are declared victors for that day of the tournament.
The third and last day, Satyrane’s forces prevail. Finally, a strange Knight enters the field alone. This Knight’s armor is like wood and moss, and the horse is covered in oak leaves. The new Knight kills seven of Satyrane’s Knights. Rumors circulate that it is Artegall himself. Artegall dominates the field until evening, when another strange Knight emerges and with a spear knocks him off his horse. Cambell runs out to dispatch Artegall. Triamond then runs out to avenge Cambell, but also is defeated. Blandamour then also fails. The enchanted spear belongs to Britomart, who overthrows any who comes near her. Britomart declares herself allied with Satyrane’s forces, the Knights of the Maidenhead, and they win the prize.
Canto v: Spencer explains that Florimell’s girdle represents chaste beauty combined with honor, the perfect Lady for a Knight to serve. The final part of the tournament requires the Ladies to compete in beauty for the award of the girdle, which will give them chaste love and true wifehood. The prizes for the fighting part of the tournament are divided: Satyrane for the first day, Triamond for the second day (since Cambell was taken captive), and Britomart for the third day. Artegall takes issue with Britomart’s prize, not knowing Britomart is a woman, and waits for a chance for revenge.
Each Knight brings his Lady to the judges and removes her veil. Cambina, Canacee, and Duessa begin the procession, and a hundred other Ladies follow. Amoretta precedes the false Florimell, who overwhelms all who see her. The bewitched spirit overwhelms all good sense and reason. The judges award the girdle to the false Florimell, but it falls off every time they try to fasten it, as if the girdle knows the wearer unworthy. Other women try the girdle on as well, but the girdle falls from each. The Squire of Dames turns it to a joke, and the entire company laughs until it is discovered that the girdle fits Amoretta. The false Florimell tries again, but the girdle continues to fall. The judges still award it to the bewitched spirit that resembles Florimell and try to give the false Florimell to the third day’s victor, who no one knows is Britomart. Britomart is unmoved by Florimell’s beauty and so refuses her. Instead, the false Florimell is given to Satyrane. Furious at his loss, Blandamour challenges Satyrane to a duel. Braggadocchio claims prior ownership, to which the false Florimell gives witness.
Dismayed at the permanent fighting this enchanted Florimell causes, Satyrane invents a solution. He suggests that they let Florimell voluntarily choose any Knight she wishes, for “Sweet is the loue that comes alone with willignesse.” She chooses Braggadocchio, who creeps away with her under cover of night. In the morning, all the Knights pursue her, except Britomart.
Canto vi: Scudamore meets Artegall, the Savage Knight, who declares that he is waiting for the Knight who disgraced him at the tournament. Scudamore knows that Britomart wields the enchanted spear and declares that that foul Knight stole his Ladylove. Artegall and Scudamore travel together to avenge their honor. They quickly find Britomart who immediately disables Scudamore but Artegall proves more resilient. Artegall kills Britomart’s horse, forcing her afoot, where she cannot use her enchanted spear. Bravely, she fights and wounds Artegall. Thus, unknowing, the two who greatly love each other and will love each other even more, continue to fight. Finally, a forceful stroke from Artegall breaks Britomart’s helmet in half. Her beautiful face and tumbling blond locks are revealed. Artegall drops his sword, then drops to one knee and begs her pardon for his error. Britomart holds up her hand, ready to fell him with a wrathful stroke but is unwilling to kill an unarmed man. She begs him to finish the fight, but he will not. Scudamore approaches, sees that Britomart is a woman, and he kneels before her as well.
Glauce approaches and removes Artegall’s helmet, revealing the face that Britomart has sought so long and so dear. Scudamore realizes his error at believing Britomart to have had sexual relations with Amoretta. Britomart finds herself unable to even scold Artegall, and Artegall finds himself enraptured with Britomart. Scudamore apologizes and says Artegall’s name, and Britomart rejoices. Glauce chastens each, reminding them of their pride, anger, and “rebellious[ness] vnto loue” and concludes that “For louers, heauen must passe by the sorrowes hell.”
Scudamore inquires after Amoretta, and Britomart reveals that she disappeared one night in the desert, presumably to seek Scudamore, as Amoretta only ever loved him. Seeing Scudamore’s distress, Britomart vows to find Amoretta to either see them united or kill whomever has hurt her.
Artegall and Britomart vow to marry. However, Artegall has one quest, and Britomart has yet another, so they must part, although with “ten thousand vowes from bottome of his heart” that they would return to each other as quickly as possible. Scudamore and Britomart return to the desert to search for Amoretta.