And well my folly’s meed he gave,
Who forfeited, to be his slave,
All here, and all beyond the grave.
He saw young Clara’s face more fair,
He knew her of broad lands the heir,
Forgot his vows, his faith forswore,
And Constance was beloved no more.
Despite the first canto’s description of Marmion’s glorious entrance to the castle of Sir Hugh and the respect with which Sir Hugh greets him, the reader learns through the course of the poem of Marmion’s selfish and traitorous nature. Constance de Beverley reveals that though she left her convent—facing severe worldly and religious consequences—to be with Marmion, he abandoned her for Clare. Marmion broke Constance’s heart, and his abandonment also contributed to her brutal execution at the hands of religious authorities who punished her for “broken vows, and convent fled.” It is not just Constance whom Marmion has wronged: he also separated Clara de Clare and her fiancé, Ralph de Wilton. Loving Clara “for her land,” Marmion lied that de Wilton had been disloyal to the king, deprived him of his honor, and nearly killed him in a duel.
The hand of Douglas is his own;
And never shall in friendly grasp
The hand of such as Marmion clasp.
Until canto 6, Lord Marmion has been admired by nearly everyone, receiving the highest honors from nobles of both England and Scotland. This quote from Douglas, a Scottish earl with whom Marmion had been staying, marks a turning point in the story: Marmion’s wrongs have been brought to light. The night before, Douglas had reinstated de Wilton as a knight after learning of Marmion’s lies and forged documents accusing de Wilton of disloyalty. Douglas remarks here that though his castle is owned by King James and the king can insist that Douglas host anyone there, Douglas can still choose to not shake hands with Marmion.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
This quote from the sixth canto is often mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare. At this point in the story, the consequences of Marmion’s actions have begun to catch up with him: he realizes that the palmer sent with him as a guide in Scotland has been his enemy, de Wilton, the whole time; that Douglas has learned of Marmion’s treachery and supported de Wilton; and...
(The entire section is 600 words.)