King Charlemagne summons all his paladins and vassal barons to a court plenary meeting in Paris, an occasion to be celebrated with magnificent tournaments and great feasts. Christians and Saracens, friend and foe alike, are invited to take part. To the banquet on the opening night of this fete comes an unknown knight, a beautiful damsel, and four giants serving as bodyguards. The knight, who calls himself Uberto, offers his lovely sister, Angelica, as the prize to any man who can defeat him in the jousts to be held the next day. He, in turn, will claim as his prisoner any knight whom he unhorses.
Orlando, the greatest paladin of Charlemagne’s court, immediately falls in love with the beautiful damsel. Only respect for the monarch keeps Ferraù, a Spanish knight, from snatching her up and carrying her away in his arms. Even the great Charlemagne is affected by her charms. The only person who remains unmoved is Malagigi, a magician, who senses in the visitors some purpose quite different from that which they claim.
After the damsel and her brother retire for the night, Malagigi summons a fiend who informs him that Uberto is in reality Argalia, the son of King Galaphron of Cathay, who has been sent with his sister to demoralize the Christian knights. With Angelica as his lure, protected by a magic ring that would ward off all enchantment or make him invisible if placed in the mouth, Argalia plans to overcome the Christian knights and dispatch them as prisoners to distant Cathay. Armed with this knowledge, Malagigi mounts a magic steed and flies through the air to the stair of Merlin, where Argalia and Angelica are asleep. There he casts a spell over the watchers that causes them to fall into a deep slumber. The magician approaches Angelica with the intention of killing her, for she is as false as she is fair, but he himself becomes enslaved by her beauty and clasps her in his arms. Angelica wakes with a shriek. Argalia, aroused by her scream, runs to her assistance and together they overcome Malagigi. Angelica summons fiends and orders them to carry the magician to Cathay. There, King Galaphron confines him in a dungeon beneath the sea.
Dissension has meanwhile broken out among the knights of Charlemagne’s court, for all wish to try their skill against the strange knight to win such an enchanting prize. At length lots are cast to determine the order of combat. The first falls to Astolpho, the second to Ferraù, and the third to the giant Grandonio. Next in order is Berlinghier, Otho, and Charlemagne himself. Orlando, much to his indignation, is thirty-seventh on the list.
At the running of the first course, Astolpho is jolted from his saddle. Ferraù, who follows, is also unhorsed, but, contrary to the rules of the joust, he leaps to his feet and continues the fight on foot. After he has slain the giants who attempt to restrain him, he bears himself so fiercely that Argalia, even though he is protected by enchanted armor, finally calls a brief truce. When the combat is renewed, Angelica suddenly disappears, followed by Argalia. Ferraù pursues them into Arden forest but finds no trace of the knight or the damsel. Rinaldo and Orlando also set off in pursuit of the fleeing maiden. Meanwhile, Astolpho has taken up the magic spear that Argalia had left behind; with this weapon he performs great feats of valor until, carried away by the excitement of the combat, he kills friends and foes alike. Finally, Charlemagne commands that he be subdued.
Rinaldo, Ferraù, and Orlando wander through the forest in search of Angelica. Rinaldo has a rather ironic success in his quest. After drinking from a fountain that Merlin had created years before to relieve the love pangs of Tristram and Isolde, the knight’s love for Angelica turns to hate. A short time later he falls asleep beside a nearby stream. Angelica, coming upon the stream, drinks from its magic waters and immediately becomes enamored of the sleeping knight. When she pulls a handful of flowers and throws them over him, Rinaldo awakes and, in spite of her piteous pleas and avowals of love, flees from her in loathing.
Ferraù, riding through the forest, comes upon Argalia asleep beneath a tree. The two engage in fierce combat. Ferraù, finding a chink in his enemy’s magic armor, strikes him to the heart. Dying, Argalia asks that his body and armor be thrown into the stream. Ferraù agrees, keeping only the helmet of his adversary. As he rides on through the woods, he comes upon Angelica and Orlando, who, having chanced upon the sleeping maiden, has thrown himself down by her side. Supposing that Orlando is her protector, Ferraù awakes the sleeping man with taunts and insults. Orlando,...
(The entire section is 1921 words.)