The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser

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Summary and Analysis: Book VI, Cantos vii-xii

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3665

New Characters Brigands: Lowly thieves who prey on shepherds or anyone else they can.

Claribell: Bellamour’s love, who bore him a child left for dead outdoors.

Colin: A shepherd and musician.

Coridon: The shepherd most in love with Pastorell.

Disdain: A giant who punishes Mirabella according to Cupid’s dictate.

Lord Bellamour: The goodly Knight to whose castle Calidore brings Pastorell.

Meliboe: Pastorell’s father, a good man who disdains money.

Mirabella: A hard-hearted but beautiful woman who lets many men die out of longing for her.

Pastorell: A beautiful maid honored by shepherds and maids alike.

Scorn: A fool who helps the giant punish Mirabella.

The Graces: Venus’s damsels, who dance and embody love.

Summary Canto vii: Turpine pursues the Prince because he feels humiliated. Upon meeting two traveling Knights, Turpine lies and tells them the Prince did wrong to himself and his Lady. The Knights attack the Prince while Turpine waits. After killing one, the Prince forces the other to explain why they have attacked without provocation. The young Knight tells the Prince about the Knight who accused the Prince of bad deeds, and the Prince demands that he bring the accuser to him immediately.

The young Knight rides to Turpine, who is astonished by his severe wounds. Turpine rudely inquires where the captive Prince is, and the young Knight lies and tells him he will guide him to the Prince’s body. Turpine gladly follows. The prince has taken off his armor and lies on a grassy knoll, resting.

The savage man emerges from the forest and sees Turpine near the sleeping Prince. He uproots an oak to attack Turpine, remembering that the last time he saw Turpine, Turpine’s castle attacked him and the Prince. The noise wakes the Prince, who grabs his sword to defend himself from Turpine. The Prince leaps upon Turpine and knocks him over.

Spencer returns to the mourning Lady, riding an ass led by a fool and a villain. This Lady, Mirabella, was once a beautiful and good woman, but her beauty led others to admire and aid her, and she turned prideful and arrogant. She disdained all love and ignored suitors, preferring to follow her own whimsy than seek a love and companion. Many men died out of longing for Mirabella, and Cupid discovered this. Cupid brought Mirabella to trial, and she discovered that twenty-two men had died because of their love for her. She was thus sentenced to a punishment whereby a fool whips Mirabella’s horse and herself with unclean hands while a giant named Disdain insults and demeans her.

When Timias beholds the treatment the giant gives to the good Lady, he attacks the giant, who quickly overwhelms Timias, binds him, and leads him along beside Mirabella’s horse. The fool whips Timias along with Mirabella. Seeing Timias fall at the hands of the giant, Serena assumes he is dead and flees.

Canto viii: Spencer first urges Ladies to be as soft and tender in mind as they should be in behavior, or else they will suffer as Mirabella suffers. He continues by describing her compassion for the Squire Timias, who has been bound and attached to her procession, and so is now suffering as she does. The company soon meets Prince Arthur and the courteous Knight Enias. Timias hides his head and is not recognized, but Enias still acts to free the Lady and the Squire. He attacks the giant, but suffers the same bondage as Timias. Prince Arthur dismounts and joins the battle by smiting the giant’s leg. Although no wound appears, the leg cracks like a pillar. The Prince readies...

(This entire section contains 3665 words.)

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to behead the giant, but Mirabella calls out to him and stops him. She explains that if the giant dies, she will die a lamentable death. For her “proud and hard rebellious hart” she must do penance since she did not love any of them back, but rather laughed at and mocked those who pined away for her. Cupid sentenced her to roam the world with Scorn and Disdain until she has saved as many as she has killed. Mirabella must collect her tears in a bottle and her repentance in a sack, although the bottle leaks and the bag is torn. When they are full, her penance will be done, but she can see them leaking out behind her, and so her sorrow increases.

Realizing the justice of this punishment, the Prince frees the Squire, and upon realizing that it is Timias, he rejoices. Meanwhile, the savage man flies at the Fool and Scorn to free Enias. If Mirabell hadn’t summoned the Prince, the savage man would have killed the Fool and Mirabell would have been destined to permanent suffering. Mirabell and her tormenters part and the Prince, Timias, Enias, and the savage man continue on the Prince’s quest.

Meanwhile, Serena blames Calepine and her love of him for her sad plight. Serena lies down to sleep, but a band of cannibals finds her. When she wakes, Serena sees the cannibals sharpening their knives and screams. They strip her and look at her naked body, but their religion prohibits them from rape, so instead they put her on the altar. Their priest says charms while the others play horns and bagpipes prior to killing her.

By chance, Calipene has been searching for Serena nearby and is awakened by the noise. He approaches as the priest wields the knife above the naked Serena, and he immediately rushes into their midst and saves her.

Canto ix: Calidore continues to chase the Blatant Beast. He comes across group of shepherds if they have seen the beast, and they deny it but offer him food and drink. Calidore accepts and notices a beautiful maid sitting who is surrounded by maids and shepherds. Many love Pastorell, but one shepherd in particular sickens with love of her, and his name is Coridon. Pastorell’s father, Meliboe, notices Calidore and invites him to sleep with them for the night, and Calidore accepts. When Calidore inquires about the father’s secret to happiness, Meliboe responds that he does not envy anyone and is happy with his lot. The father reveals that he once lived at court, but found it to be a waste of time, and so returned to his village. Calidore respects the father and is highly attracted to Pastorell. Calidore asks if he can stay with them and restore himself, and he offers old to recompense them for any trouble. Meliboe refuses the money, “that mucky masse, the cause of mens decay.”

Calidore stays and courts Pastorell, but his mannerisms are strange to her, and she does not respond. In order to change tactics, Calidore dresses as a shepherd and accompanies Pastorell in herding each day. Jealous, Coridon talks badly about Calidore. During a celebration, Pastorell and Calidore are chosen to lead a dance. Calidore puts Coridon in his stead. Another time, Coridon and Calidore wrestle. Calidore wins and almost breaks Coridon’s neck, but presents the prize back to Coridon, saying he is the true winner, and eventually Calidore’s courteous, gentle behavior wins Pastorell’s attention.

Canto x: Despite his behest to keep from delays, Calidore halts his search for the Blatant Beast to woo Pastorell. One day, ranging the forests, he enters a fabulously beautiful place. It is the retreat of Venus and home to the Graces. Hiding in the woods, Calidore sees one hundred naked maidens, the Graces, dancing. Enraptured, Calidore moves toward the dancers, but when they spy him they disappear.

The only one to remain is the shepherd who played their music. Calidore asks him who those beings are, and why they allowed Colin’s presence but not his. Colin explains that that they are the Graces, and are gentle, mild, kind, free of malice and guile.

Calidore returns to Pastorell and competes with Coridon for her favor. One day, while all three of them are picking strawberries, a tiger comes out of the woods and heads for Pastorell. Coridon fears for his own life and does not rescue her, but Calidore stands before the beast with his shepherd’s hook and beheads him. This act helps to win Pastorell’s heart.

One day, while Calidore is out in the forest, a group of brigands steal everything Meliboe has and imprison his people. Coridon and Pastorell are captured. The brigands travel underground and keep their captives there, intending to sell them as slaves. Trapped, Pastorell’s beauty fails as she becomes more and more sorrowful.

Canto xi: Spencer complains that once luck turns bad, it continues to get worse and worse. While trapped by the thieves, Pastorell incites the lust of the captain of the brigands. Her heart will not bend to his will, however, and so he begins give her trouble. Afraid that he will rape her, Pastorell feels forced to show him small favors. Eventually, she falls ill from a sickness of the mind. The captain leaves her bedside only to receive the merchants and slave-traders who demand the sale of all captives.

When Pastorell does not emerge to be sold, the slave-traders become agitated. The captain responds angrily and reprimands them for begrudging him one small girl, now so ill and pale that she is almost useless. To prove his point, the captain brings them to Pastorell. Despite her sickness, her beauty still shines through. The slave-traders offer pots of gold, but the captain becomes enraged at the thought of selling his love, and he draws his sword. During the fight, Coridon escapes into the cave, but Meliboe is slain. Meanwhile, the captain defends Pastorell. When a stroke slices through and kills him, it also hits Pastorell, and she falls into a swoon. Corpses fall atop her. The brigands find Pastorell and try to heal her. When she regains consciousness, she realizes that everyone she knows is dead, and that she is the booty of the slave-traders.

Spencer leaves Pastorell in this plight to return to Calidore. When Calidore returned to the cottage and found the village empty, the cottage destroyed, and Pastorell missing, rage and sorrow took him over. He searches the woods, plains, and surrounding areas, but finds no one. Finally, he sees a ragged soul and chases him down: it is Coridon. Coridon tells him of Pastorell’s plight. Calidore asks Coridon to lead him to the place of the fight, and they dress in shepherd’s weeds and go. Underneath his clothes, Calidore is armed.

When they approach a flock of sheep, they see some of the thieves sleeping around it, keeping the sheep penned in. The thieves hire Calidore and Coridon to care for the flock. That night, Calidore invades the cave, kills the captain, and frees Pastorell. After killing the remaining brigands, he restores the flock to Coridon.

Canto xii: After rescuing Pastorell, Calidore takes her to Lord Bellamour’s castle for safekeeping. Bellamour and his love, Claribell, were thrown into a dungeon by her angry father for secretly marrying Claribell, but even in separate cells they could not be kept apart, and she conceived a child. Afraid, Claribell gave the infant to her handmaid, who took the baby girl outdoors and left her to die or be found. A shepherd found her. When the angry father died, Bellamour and Claribell’s fortunes were reversed and they have since ruled the castle. They care for Calidore and Pastorell until Calidore remembers his quest and sets out to kill the Blatant Beast.

While dressing Pastorell, her handmaid recognizes a birthmark on her chest as the same as that of the baby girl from so many years ago. The handmaid runs to Claribell and tells her that Pastorell is Claribell’s child. Claribell dashes to Pastorell and tears open her dress, and upon seeing the birthmark embraces her. Bellamour and Claribell celebrate.

Meanwhile, Calidore ventures forth. He follows the trail of ruin that the Beast leaves behind. Eventually, he finds the Beast in a monastery. Upon seeing Calidore, the Beast flees, but Calidore pursues. In a narrow enclosure, Calidore traps the Beast, who runs at Calidore with an open mouth filled with iron teeth and a thousand tongues. Unafraid, Calidore stands his ground and soon quells the Beast. Calidore closes his mouth forever, stopping the reign of insults and terror upon Knights and Ladies. Then Calidore leads the Beast through Faerie Land, proving his own prowess and the Beast’s subjugation. Defamation and rude insults are stopped in Faerie Land forever.

Eventually, the Beast is released in Briton, outside Faerie Land, and there the Blatant Beast still lives. Not even poets can escape insult and injury.

Analysis Prince Arthur’s failure to intimidate Turpine into good, courteous behavior surprises anyone who has read Books I-III of the Faerie Queen. In those books, Prince Arthur is presented as an almost Christ-like figure containing superior virtues. For Prince Arthur to fail at a task now is quite odd. For Prince Arthur not only to fail, but to also fall asleep and put himself into danger is absolutely bizarre.

Overall, Book VI provides numerous examples of flawed surrogates who try to do what Calidore successfully manages to do--that is, to restore order. Prince Arthur cannot quell Turpine on first try, and bizarrely falls asleep while waiting to confront him. The savage man requires the restraint of others with more reason. Calepine becomes injured and then lost and has to be awakened to save Serena from being sacrificed, proving that he is unable to take care of himself, much less his Lady. The implication here is that courtesy requires great strength, reason, and fighting ability. However, even Calidore has clear weaknesses. Calidore uses his sword to enforce courtesy, and yet rides away from each situation once it has been verbally resolved. It seems likely that Turpine would have followed Calidore if Calidore had been the one to subdue him.

Furthermore, like Redcross, Calidore becomes seriously distracted from his quest. Unlike Redcross, Calidore is attracted to a good and chaste woman, but the long delay from his quest increases the terror and havoc wreaked by the Blatant Beast. The eventual release of the Blatant Beast in Britain endangers the very author who writes the story, Spencer, because Slander can attach itself to any poet. As a hero, Calidore seems untrustworthy and flawed, even though he does succeed in his quest temporarily.

Spencer wrote Book VI when little fame or praise had accrued to him from the publication of previous Books. Presumably he was beginning to fear that all of his labor was for naught, and that may explain the Proem at the beginning of Book VI. By relating his weariness to the reader in the context of why he keeps writing—because his story is fascinating—Spencer suggests both that he deserves praise, and that without it he may not continue writing. Book VI also directly opposes things that were considered virtues or vices in other Books. In Book I, violence was specifically named as a sin, but in Book VI Calidore’s violence is condoned and considered part of his virtuousness because he fights for courtesy. Book III celebrates chastity, but Calidore covers up unchaste behavior with lies and speaks kindly to unchaste couples. Spencer’s weariness practically takes the form of calling vices virtues and virtues vices. The craving for rest reaches a peak in the last existing stanzas of Book VII, but this exhaustion makes a decidedly pertinent appearance at the beginning of Book VI.

Spencer’s response to the reception of his work is ironic, given how he praises the perseverance of his characters. In Books I, II, and III in particular, the characters—not just the Knights, but also side characters such as Florimell—are put through an endless number of harrowing circumstances. Spencer praises those that fight on despite the situation seeming dire or hopeless. A common message is that persistence will be rewarded through God’s heavenly grace. Characters who give in to hopelessness are pitied and maligned, while the heroes never swerve from duty and active work even in the face of terrible odds. So for Spencer to despair over the reception of his work directly contradicts the message he conveys through his characters.

Overall, because Book VI is so different than what has come before it, it is difficult to interpret it in light of the moral structures and themes of the previous books. Mirabella, who embodies careless flirtation, seems to be one exception. Her cold and unfeeling behavior to men who were deeply in love with her fits into Book II, in which Belphoebe told Timias she cared for his wounds because all humans are bound by their weak bodies, and so people must care for one another’s injuries. In Book III, Amoretta and Florimell illustrate how passionate love can lead to horrible circumstances and should be appreciated on its own terms. All of Florimell’s attackers failed to respect her emotions, and Busirane could not force Amoretta to change her love even through enchantment and the removing her heart. Duessa’s cold use of men against each other was a transparent example of the evilness of lack of emotion. These stories all demonstrate that women should not only respect the love of others’, but should also refrain from any mockery or derision of love. Love is natural when presented with beauty, and the men who display it should not be treated badly. Deep, abiding love untainted by the vice of lust is always worthy of respect in Spencer’s world. Mirabella’s failure to respect that leads to her harsh, perpetual punishment.

A parallel also exists between Serena’s story and Una’s. Both are captured by wild bands, but Una’s inherent goodness wins her the adoration of the wild creatures that capture her. Perhaps because she was not chaste, Serena has no such effect on the cannibals. Una hardly ever requires rescue because her grace and goodness keep most men’s behavior within acceptable bounds. Serena has no similar effect, and so needs Calepine to save her from the Blatant Beast as well as the cannibals.

Calidore’s interlude of staying with the shepherds to woo Pastorell breaks up Book VI oddly. Calidore continues to be courteous and does kind things for Meliboe and Pastorell, but the focus of the Book seems lost. The Blatant Beast is ignored, the enforcement of courtesy is put aside, and Calidore delights in acts of simple labor and wandering the forest.

However, Spencer cannot leave Calidore in that idyll. First, the incident with the graces breaks his routine. This seems like a heavenly nudge to Calidore to remember that things exist outside of his idyllic little world. Because the graces disappear when Calidore approaches, Spencer introduces the somewhat dismal idea that nothing perfect and delightful can sustain close scrutiny. And like the graces, God’s grace may vanish if Calidore does not start to behave appropriately to a Knight.

Shortly thereafter, the outside world intervenes and destroys the entire idyllic setting and most of the characters. The story of Pastorell’s suffering resembles Florimell’s story in several key respects. Both women possess beauty such that unchaste, un-virtuous men are driven to extremes of lust and violence upon merely viewing them. Both women accept gifts and flattery out of fear of the man who offers them. Both women are trapped in underground caves for long periods of time. It seems as if Spencer has tired of the plight of beautiful women and so has devised the same punishments and plotline for both characters. The significant difference is that Pastorell’s story destroys her entire life. Her home, her beauty, and her family are gone.

This rupture in Calidore’s dream world impels him to return to his quest. When he finally kills the Blatant Beast, the description of the Beast emphasizes its many tongues, which is appropriate for an animal that represents slander. By killing the Beast and ending slander in Faerie Land, Calidore completes his quest and frees himself to return to Pastorell and try to recreate his happy life. However, while he was away, Pastorell found her birthparents and a new home. By the time Calidore returns, he will find Pastorell and her new family together and will be able to enter into a different, but possibly still happy, world with Pastorell.

The story of Bellamour and Claribell strongly resembles the story of Raleigh and his wife. It also emphasizes the principle brought forth in the Malbecco and Hellenore episode in Book III. Love cannot be constrained or forced, and those who try will find themselves facing the same situation they were trying to prevent. Pastorell’s happy new life with her newly discovered parents also allows the beautiful girl to have noble blood and live a life befitting one of noble blood. For Spencer, a natural order has been restored when a shepherdess too beautiful for her setting is discovered to be a princess and is treated as such.

However, Book VI does not end with the happy reunion of Calidore and Pastorell, although that ending would be quite easy. Instead, Calidore is seen leading the muzzled Blatant Beast from village to village as a spectacle to add to his own glory, but there is no mention of his return to Pastorell. Perhaps her time in the cave so faded her beauty that Calidore no longer loves her.

The note that Book VI ends on is ominous. Spencer’s weary and half-angry stanzas about the defamation of poets and good people suggests that far from being fascinated by his own characters and wondering what will happen to them next, or delighting in telling the tale, Spencer’s thoughts have spiraled back onto himself and his unrecognized, un-praised situation in the world. This suggests that perhaps for Spencer Faerie Land is no longer as fascinating as it once was.


Summary and Analysis: Book VI, Proem-Canto vi