The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser

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Summary and Analysis: Book VI, Proem-Canto vi

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Book VI: “The Legend of S. Calidore or, Of Covrtesie”

New Characters Aladine: The son of Aldus who is incautious enough to be seriously wounded while enjoying his Lady’s courtesies.

Aldus: An older, honorable, retired Knight who owns a castle, father of Aladine.

Blandina: A Lady who was with an unworthy Knight, Turpine.

Briana: A proud woman in love with Crudor.

Calepine: A Knight in love with Serena.

Calidore: A brave, courtly Knight who exemplifies courtesy.

Crudor: A self-absorbed Knight who demands Briana provide a garment made of hair and beards before he will yield to her love.

Despetto, Decetto and Defetto: Three enemies of Timias who send the Blatant Beast after him.

Maleffort: Briana’s henchman, who takes a toll of beards and hair.

Matilde: The childless wife of Sir Bruin.

Priscilla: The Lady of a Knight attacked without cause while dallying with her in the forest.

Savage Man: A good, deaf-mute, naked man protected by magic.

Serena: A Lady stolen by the Blatant Beast.

Sir Bruin: A warrior who defeated a giant and now rules the giant’s lands.

Squire: An unfortunate who informs Calidore about a region.

Tristam: A nobleman in exile who Calidore takes as his squire.

Turpine: An unkind Knight who dislikes and targets other Knights.

Summary Proem: Although weary of writing, Spencer is so enamored with Faerie Land and finds such delight in it that he forgets his tiredness to write on. He calls Faerie Land “the sacred noursery / Of vertue,” a combination of heavenly and earthly delights. In that nursery, the fairest flower is that of courtesy, which is the subject of Book VI.

Canto I: Calidore is a Knight who lives in Court and exemplifies courtesy. He is well loved for his courtesy, but now travels on a “hard aduenture.” On the way, he meets Artegall, who explains his latest quest (see Book V). Calidore then tells his own quest, to kill the Blatant Beast who “is a Monster bred of hellishe race” and delights in tormenting Knights and Ladies. The description prompts Artegall to describe the beast accompanying the two hags whom he lately encountered, and Calidore confirms that this is the beast. Calidore hurries off in the direction Artegall had just traveled.

As he rides, Calidore encounters a Squire tied hand and foot to a tree and frees him. The Squire tells of a nearby castle where a toll is charged to pass through the narrow and rocky canyon that allows access to other lands. That toll is the hair of any Lady and the beard of any Knight. The Lady of this strange and cruel castle is Briana, who loves Crudor the Knight, who refuses to yield to her unless she brings him a mantle made of the hair of Ladies and the beards of Knights. Briana has put her henchman, Maleffort, in charge of this task. Maleffort met with this Squire and his Lady, shaved the Squire, bound him to the tree, and set off after his Lady. The Squire was to stay until Maleffort returned. As the Squire finishes the story, he and Calidore hear a woman screaming. They see a woman being pulled along by her hair.

Calidore pursues the unfortunate woman and her captor to the doorway of the castle, where he slays Maleffort. Calidore enters the castle and beats back the men who try to keep him from continuing. Upon entering a main chamber, Briana berates Calidore for killing her steward and her people in such an act of treason, then asks him to justify his unprovoked violence and theft of her castle’s treasures. Calidore...

(This entire section contains 4643 words.)

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encourages her to be courteous, and the Lady responds with disdain. The Lady then calls a Dwarf to take a message to Crudor saying that a Knight has her and her people captive. The next morning Calidore and Crudor battle. Crudor is knocked unconscious, but Calidore leaves him alone until he wakes and the battle resumes. Calidore knocks Crudor into the dirt, but before he can kill him Crudor begs for mercy.

Calidore lays down conditions for Crudor to survive. Crudor must welcome strange Knights and treat them respectfully unless they commit an offense; he must give up his foul dowry demand; finally, he must marry Briana and teach her courtesy. Briana embraces Crudor despite his subjugation before Calidore. Briana gives Calidore her castle and throws a banquet for him, but Calidore quickly gives the castle to Squire who almost lost his Lady. Calidore stays long enough to heal from his battle wounds and then continues on his quest.

Canto ii: The next adventure Calidore encounters is a young man on foot fighting with a Knight on horseback. Calidore rides up to a Lady watching the fray to find out what is going on, but as he does so the young man slays the Knight. Amazed at the youth’s fighting prowess, Calidore speaks with the youth. The youth, Tristam, declares that he had no wish to attack a Knight, but he saw him riding his horse with the Lady running on foot beside, and when the Lady lagged (as she surely must), the Knight poked her with his spear. Seeing such discourtesy, the youth spoke to the Knight, who taunted Tristam and then hit him. Tristam threw a dart and killed the Knight.

The Lady confirms the youth’s story and adds the details about what happened before Tristam was engaged. While riding with her own Knight, the pair encountered another Lady and a Knight in disarray. In a fit of lust, the Lady’s own Knight threw the Lady from the horse they were sharing and fought the other Knight for the other Lady. Meanwhile, the other Lady ran into the forest and hid. When the Lady’s Knight realized this had happened, he searched the forest with fury. Then, angry with his own Lady, he refused to take her up onto his steed and forced her to run beside him, hitting her with the butt of his spear to encourage her to hurry. So it passed until they met the young Tristam.

Still impressed with the fighting prowess and courtesy of Tristam, Calidore asks if he is noble born. Tristam replies that he is the son of a Briton King who died before Tristam was of age. A brother took over the throne and Tristam’s worried mother sent him to a foreign land rather than have him assassinated as a threat to the brother’s power. Since then, Tristam has traveled and tried to do good and resist idleness, but he implores Calidore to take him on as a squire. Calidore does so happily, but sends Tristam to take care of the Lady rather than join him on the quest to destroy the Blatant Beast.

Calidore continues and quickly finds the other Knight and Lady. The Knight is suffering from grevious wounds, and the Lady Priscilla explains that they were “joying together in unblam’d delight” when a Knight named Turpine killed her unarmed love. Calidore reassures Priscilla that the villain is now dead, places the wounded Knight on his shield, and bears him to a nearby castle.

Canto iii: Spencer begins by explaining that courtesy is vital because “the gentle minde by gentle deed is knowne,” and only those whose deeds reflect a good personality are worthy of respect. One example of courtesy is the elderly Knight, Aldus, who owns the castle where Calidore brings the wounded Knight. Aldus recognizes the wounded Knight as his son, Aladine. Priscilla worries that her good name will be besmirched by the discovery of her dalliance in the forest with Aladine, but Calidore’s courtesy leads him to keep quiet. When Aladine begins to regain consciousness, his first thoughts are for Priscilla and her honor. Aladine entreats Calidore to escort Priscilla back to her father’s house safely, as Aladine cannot do it himself.

Calidore rides with Priscilla back to her father’s house, and on the way cuts off the villainous Knight’s head and presents it to her father as evidence of a vile fellow who had detained Priscilla. Priscilla’s honor is thus saved.

Calidore continues on his way, and as he passes through a forest glade he sees a Knight, Calepine, out of his armor dallying with a Lady. After apologizing for the interruption, Calidore sits and talks with Calepine for a time, hearing about each other’s adventures and praising the Lady, Serena. As they talk, the Blatant Beast rushes out of the forest, grabs the Lady Serena, and disappears. On foot, Calidore chases the Beast. The Beast drops Serena and runs away, but Calidore leaves her to her Knight and continues chasing the Beast.

Calepine finds Serena and tends to her wounds, then carries her, seking somewhere safe. Calepine spies a respectable home and tries to approach, but a broad river stands between him and it. As Calepine tries to devise a plan, another Knight and Lady ride up and Calepine begs the Knight to take Serena on his horse across the river. The Knight refuses rudely, and his Lady tries to offer her horse, but Calepine declines. Bravely, Calepine wades into the river and uses his spear to hold himself upright even with his burden. The Knight mocks Calepine from the river’s edge until Calepine accuses him of being a “blot” upon all Knights and challenges him to a duel. The Knight laughs and rides away with his Lady. When Calepine knocks at the house, the doors are shut against him. All of his entreaties are in vain, and the porter tells him that a Sir Turpine owns the house and refuses entrance to all.

Calepine and the sorely wounded Serena spend the night outdoors, then try to continue on. A Knight approaches, and Calepine sees it is the same Knight who mocked him from the water’s edge the day before. The Knight pursues him, intending to kill Calepine. Finally, the Knight—who Spencer then reveals is Turpine himself—spears Calepine and sorely injures him. Spencer then hints at a great rescue to occur in the next Canto.

Canto iv: Drawn by Serena’s shrieks, a savage man wandering in the forest rushes into the fray between Turpine and Calepine. The savage man attacks Turpine. Unbeknownst to all, the savage man roams naked because magic protects him from all injury. Even when Turpine hits him with a spear, the savage man has no wound. Turpine flees, and only because of his horse does he manage to escape the savage man’s chase. The savage man returns to the Serena and Calepine. Although he cannot speak, the savage man reassures both of them and uses herbs to stop their bleeding. Then the savage man takes them to his home to rest.

Calepine heals from his wounds under the savage man’s care, but Serena’s wounds have festered. Calepine wanders the woods one day, when he is healed, and comes across a bear holding a crying infant. Although unarmed, Calepine chases the bear and throws a stone into the bear’s open throat and then finishes the job by choking the bear to death with his bare hands. Then Calepine takes up the babe, but he is lost and cannot find his way back to the savage man’s lair.

As he wanders, Calepine encounters a crying woman. She tells him that she is Matilde, wife of Sir Bruin, who defeated a giant and now rules the giant’s land. However, Sir Bruin has no children and blames Matilde for this. Calepine offers Matilde the baby he has just found and reminds her that many brave Knights and heroes were of unknown lineage. Seeing no wrong in it, Matilde accepts the baby and keeps it as her own, deceiving her husband into believing it is his child. Matilde offers Calepine arms and a horse in exchange, but he declines and continues to search for Serena. Calepine can feel no rest or ease until he finds her.

Canto v: Spencer observes that the savage’s good treatment of Serena implies that somewhere in his lineage must be noble blood, for gentleness to women must come from gentle blood. When the savage realizes Calepine is missing, he seeks him in the forest but returns empty handed. Serena pounds her breast in sorrow and aggravates her wound’s bleeding. Although the savage man tries to treat her, Serena finds her horse and readies to seek Calepine. The savage man dons Calepine’s armor and travels with her.

They travel until Serena’s horse has trouble. At this point, the savage man lays aside his armor and tends to the horse. Prince Arthur and Timias ride past. Since Spencer last told of Timias, he has regained Belphoebe’s love but is pursued by three enemies: Despetto, Decetto, and Defetto. They used the Blatant Beast to attack Timias and chased him into an ambush. Backed against a tree, Timias fought them all off until tiredness began to set in. Prince Arthur happened upon the battle and freed the outnumbered and trapped squire before Prince Arthur realized that it was Timias, his own squire.

When Prince Arthur and Timias see a savage man surrounded by pieces of armor, they assume the worst. Timias attempts to take the armor, and the savage man restrains him. They prepare to battle, but Serena calls out, and Prince Arthur steps between them. Serena explains that the savage man has a gentle and good mind. Prince Arthur and Timias join them.

Since the Blatant Beast has wounded both Timias and Serena, the four travel slowly. They exchange stories, and Prince Arthur vows to avenge the pain Turpine has inflicted upon Calepine and Serena. That night, the four travelers stay at a hermitage. Timias and Serena cannot sleep for pain from the wounds. The next day, they cannot continue traveling, and so Prince Arthur rides out alone.

Canto vi: Spencer reveals that the Blatant Beast causes wounds of “infamy,” and that is why they are so slow to heal. A poisoned humor infects Serena and Timias with corrupt ideas and body. The hermit who cares for them used to be a Knight, but age forced a retirement, and he chose the hermitage. While tending to Serena and Timias, the hermit realizes that the wounds are festering. The hermit also realizes that only good living and virtuous thought will heal them since the Blatant Beast infects the mind as well as body. He tells Timias and Serena that they must seek a cure within themselves rather than relying on salves and potions. He concludes that they most “subdue desire, and bridle loose delight” and live a temperate, careful life in order to defeat wounds caused by the Blatant Beast.

By obeying the hermit, both are healed. They leave the hermitage together and meet a mourning maiden led by a fool. However, Spencer breaks the narrative here to return to Calidore’s story.

Prince Arthur has pursued Turpine to avenge his terrible behavior. When he finds the castle, it is deserted. The savage man has accompanied him and stables his horse while Prince Arthur wanders. Eventually, a groom emerges and challenges Prince Arthur for trespassing. Prince Arthur feigns injury and asks for the right of an errant Knight to be housed and fed by the castle. The groom lays hands upon the Prince to throw him out of the castle, and the savage man witnesses and charges the groom. Drawn by the commotion, people emerge from the castle and call to the Lord of the castle, and Turpine enters and demands that his people kill the Knight who has hurt one of his own. All of the castle servants descend on Prince Arthur while Turpine moves into position to attack from behind. Sensing the trap, the Prince turns on Turpine, causing him to flee. The Prince follows to the chamber where Turpine’s good Lady Blandina sits, waiting to hear what has happened during the altercation. There, Prince Arthur knocks Turpine unconscious.

Blandina shrieks and covers Turpine with her own dress to protect him. When Turpine regains consciousness, Prince Arthur upbraids him for his un-knightly behavior and unkind treatment of strangers. Because the Prince respects the Lady, he gives Turpine’s life to her, but demands that Turpine live “in reproch and scorn” and give up all semblance of Knighthood. Then Prince Arthur returns to the savage man, fearing for his life. However, he finds the man surrounded by slain enemies and killing more. The Prince calms him and takes him to Blandina and Turpine. The sight of Turpine causes the savage man to rage again, but Prince Arthur soothes him.

Analysis Spencer’s dual weariness and fascination with Faerie Land compel him to keep writing but suggest that Book VI will be different from previous Books.

Calidore attacks Briana and Crudor because they have uprooted the social order and threaten good Squires, Knights and Ladies. Briana and Crudor have created a new custom requiring a toll of Ladies’ hair and men’s beards before any can pass, and that sort of custom is degrading. Calidore attacks because he perceives them as being discourteous and rude. Some have interpreted Calidore as attacking in order to uphold the social order, which requires Ladies to have long hair and men to have beards. However, when Calidore confronts Briana, she accuses him of unprovoked violence and asks why he has come to steal her wealth. Briana cleverly turns Calidore into the dishonorable one, and in the process suggests that he lacks virtue. This question cannot be brushed aside casually, no matter how strange and seemingly cruel Briana’s mistreatment and shaving of passers-by has been. Although Knights engage in violence to protect others and themselves, violence itself is certainly looked down upon in Protestant teachings. Spencer has even referenced this matter before, in Book I when Redcross is informed that he will eventually become St. George once he has laid aside his arms.

Since Calidore represents courtesy, and courtesy is considered not only a virtue but also the “fairest” of the virtues, examining what Spencer means by courtesy may help to resolve this problem. Spencer first defines courtesy in his own words at the beginning of Canto iii. He says that gentle deeds and a good personality show courtesy. Courtesy is akin to the “Golden Rule” from the New Testament, of treating others as you wish to be treated, and implies having consideration for the situation of others and providing generously for such situations. Thus, when Calidore regards shaving Knights and Ladies as wrong, he does not directly support the prevailing social order. Rather, he considers how those Knights and Ladies are likely to feel, and what ramifications the shaving would have for them in various situations. Such are the factors of how Calidore would determine a behavior as courteous or discourteous, and by those standards Briana’s new custom is unquestionably discourteous. Such behaviors remove the symbols of masculinity and femininity, rendering men pre-pubescent and women freakish by sixteenth-century standards.

With that in mind, Briana’s accusation is pure sophistry. She tries to confuse the issue rather than confronting her own lack of respect for the men and women shaved on her orders. However, Briana raises the valid point of whether or not any form of violence is justified, even if done by a Knight for a cause generally considered to be right. Of course, much of the Faerie Queen concerns battles and tournaments and other forms of ritualized violence, and many enemies die at the hands of righteous Knights. However, since Spencer sets the action in a distant, fictionalized land in the past, he can follow historical precedents without having to deal with the issue of the moral qualities of violence. With this stylistic device, Spencer can to some degree circumvent pacifism and criticism of violence. Even Redcross had to fight the dragon before he could give up warfare and live peaceably.

Tristam is the first example of courtesy besides Calidore. By saving the Lady from her uncouth and abusive Knight, Tristam shows bravery and courtesy. However, to demonstrate his courtesy, Tristam has had to transgress social convention by fighting his superior in rank. Calidore’s response, to make him his Squire, brings up the issue of superiority and rank yet again. The fact that Tristam has noble blood and handsome features connects courtesy to those with good lineage and implies that possession of a virtue improves one’s features. These two suggestions have appeared in every Book of the Faerie Queen to some extent, so their appearance here is no surprise. But Tristam’s lowly status despite being a Prince, and Calidore’s almost token gift of making him a Squire without allowing Tristam to accompany him, illustrate that social convention trumps courtesy.

The episode with Priscilla demonstrates Calidore’s courtesy in a way that his attacks on the discourteous have not. The admiration of Tristam’s nearly unarmed defense of a Lady’s pride illustrates some of Calidore’s impressions about courtesy, but with Priscilla we get to see firsthand how Calidore operates courteously. Although he cannot slay the rude Knight who dishonored Priscilla and Aladine, when he sees the wounds on Aladine he immediately places him onto his shield—rendering himself vulnerable to attack—and carries Aladine to the nearest castle. Once there, he does not relate the story as Priscilla has told it to him, but rather says nothing that would imply that Priscilla had sexual relations with Aladine. In this way, he allows Priscilla to preserve her honor.

There is a sense of mystification when Calidore stumbles upon Serena and Calepine in the forest. Serena and Calepine are having sex, with Calepine’s armor off and weapons laid aside, just as Priscilla and Aladine were when the savage Knight found them. Calidore’s courteous response is a bit strange; he reassures them that their behavior is fine, and he sits down to speak with Calepine. Although it’s strange enough to converse with a couple engaging in the sexual act, what makes this even odder is that despite his experience in such matters, he does not warn the couple that what they are doing could lead to trouble. Thus, when the Blatant Beast emerges from the woods and seizes Serena, the reader can only feel a sickening sense of déjà vu.

The Blatant Beast seizing Serena would have reminded any sixteenth-century reader that society looked down upon women having sex before marriage. The Blatant Beast, who is described in greater detail later, embodies slander. Because Serena was seized by Slander just after dallying with Calepine, the suggestion is that other people would grab her and “chew her up” for her actions, just as the Blatant Beast does. Calepine remains with Serena, suggesting he truly does love her, although he was helpless to protect her from the Blatant Beast. On an allegorical reading, Calepine’s love cannot stop gossip-mongers from ruining Serena’s honor.

Based on letters and notes made by Sir Walter Raleigh and Spencer, Faerie Queen aficionados speculate that Serena represents Sir Walter Raleigh’s wife. Raleigh had sex with his wife before he married her, and then tried to keep both that and the marriage a secret, but failed. Both were courtiers at Queen Elizabeth’s Court, and for their behavior were imprisoned and exiled from the Court. Raleigh’s wife suffered more insult and degradation than he did, as a woman who had sex before marriage generally fared worse than the man. Raleigh eventually publicly announced the marriage, but the damage to his wife’s reputation was irreparable.

Although Calepine and Serena are portrayed sympathetically, note that Calidore does not remain to help them. Rather, Calidore pursues the object of his quest. Courtesy does not stop Calidore from continuing his duty rather than offering succor to the grieving and seriously wounded.

Turpine’s mockery at Calepine’s efforts to aid Serena by crossing the river suggest that even once Calepine publicly proclaims his loves for Serena, they will still be derided. Because Turpine is basically unlikable and cruel, Spencer manages to add another narrative aside in which societal norms are criticized.

Turpine forbids the wounded Serena and forlorn Calepine entrance to his house, and the next day he wounds Calepine terribly. If Turpine represents society, society is thus shown by Spencer as using its power unjustly. This notion is reinforced when the savage man, who is by definition outside of societal norms, accepts the wounded couple and heals them out of the goodness of his heart. In this way, the savage man demonstrates both more courtesy and more regard for human nature than Turpine or even Calidore. Spencer’s speculation that the savage man has noble blood illustrates an interesting point about Spencer’s own preconceptions about human nature. Although the slander that would attend to a woman who had sex before marriage would be worse in court or public places, Spencer here implies that nobles practice better behavior than others. Spencer seems oblivious to any hypocrisy here.

The bizarre interlude with Calepine, the infant, and Matilde shows that Calepine is courteous even to those he does not love. The encounter and wrestling with the bear to save the baby makes for good reading, but Calepine then promptly gives the baby to the crying Matilde, and we never hear about the infant again. However, Calepine’s courtesy is established by his kind and brave behavior in saving the infant, and his generous, trusting gift of the baby to Matilde.

Yet the savage man seems to exceed Calepine in courtesy, for he is willing to give up his entire life to keep Serena from traveling alone while wounded. By donning Calepine’s forgotten armor, the savage man does exactly what Calepine would have done had he been present. The savage man then defends Serena in several encounters, although he lacks the capacity to always understand when his prowess is required and when to stop fighting. This shows that a high intellect or social training is not required to be courteous, that only a good heart is needed to courteous.

The intervention of virtuous Prince Arthur allows Calepine’s disappearance and Timias’ weakness to persist while Prince Arthur deals with Turpine. In Spencer, villains rarely go unchallenged, and Turpine’s foul behavior requires some sort of response. The pairing of Prince Arthur as a good fighter and Turpine as a wretched soul also allows for a comparison of the virtuous with the virtue-less.

Turpine’s cowardly behavior during the fight with Prince Arthur provides a comic interlude. First, Turpine grandly commands his minions to fight, but when Prince Arthur approaches, the grand lord flees to his Lady’s bedchamber, where she covers him in feminine garments and pleads for his life. From his failure to fight to his Lady’s bargaining for his life while he is draped in a dress, Turpine goes from a mocking, irreverent figure to a defeated fool, however temporarily.

The goodly time spent at the hermitage provides rest, healing, and philosophical wisdom for the wounded Timias and Serena. The festering of wounds caused by the Blatant Beast are due to the secondary meaning of the Beast, that of Slander. Slander not only hurts reputations, but also hurts the recipient’s feelings and often leads to more scandalous behavior as they struggle to reclaim their good name. The hermit’s firm advice to be temperate and avoid strong emotions as well as excesses of behavior would allow any slandered person to regain self-control as well as outward appearances. By listening to the hermit, Timias and Serena, on a symbolic level, learn both how to heal from slander and how to avoid it in the future.


Summary and Analysis: Book V, Cantos vii-xii


Summary and Analysis: Book VI, Cantos vii-xii