Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

Wrath is dressed in blood-stained clothes. Even though he is often sorry about his crimes committed in a fit of passion, he cannot stop himself. His spleen is enlarged (since spleen was considered to be the seat of passion), he is shaking with palsy and he is suffering from something Spenser calls “Saint Fraunces fire”. and what probably is “St Anthony’s fire”, or erysipelas. The last in the procession is Satan himself, sitting on the carriage’s beam and wielding a whip with which he lashes the team, especially Sloth. So Lucifera goes in this manner to have some fresh air, followed by Duessa in her train, but Redcrosse does not join them. When everybody returns to the Palace, they find there Sansjoy, who has discovered his brother’s shield held by Redcrosse’s page upside down, which is a big insult. He snatches the shield from the dwarf, but Redcrosse snatches it back. They start to rush together until the Queen makes them stop and tells them that if they want to fight, they have to have a formal duel tomorrow. Sansjoy apologizes, blaming his reaction on his grief after his brother’s death, while simultaneously throwing some shade at Redcrosse whom he calls”treachour full of false despight” and claiming he could have won with Sansfoy only through deceit. Redcrosse does not answer back, because he means to fight with swords, not words.

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Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

Lechery is dressed in a green dress (colour of jealousy) and holding a burning heart in his hand. He is suffering, appropriately enough, from syphilis, which is not named but the description leaves no doubt: it’s the disease “that rots the marrow, and consumes the braine” (I 4: 233). The next one is Avarice, riding a camel laden with gold. Avarice is never satisfied with what he has but always wants more and never enjoys his luxuries. He is suffering from gout. He is followed by Envy, riding a wolf and chewing a venomous toad, but he is really eating himself, feeling envious about everything and everybody. He is wearing a dress painted full of eyes and hiding a venomous snake in his bosom. As he is riding, he is gnashing his teeth, envying both Lucifera and Avarice. But he also slanders anybody who does a good deed, like alms-giving, imputing a low motive, and he also spews venom (here Spenser being a bit self-serving) on anything a poet ever writes. The next one is Wrath, who is not the cute red guy from Inside Out, but a man riding a lion, brandishing a sword, constantly keeping his hand on his dagger and shaking  with rage “when choler in him sweld” (I 4: 297)

Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

Lucifera calls on her coach, which is as impressive and rich as Juno’s coach. Unfortunately, the six animals that pull the coach are not as wonderful. What we get here is the parade of the Seven Deadly Sins, known from other sources, with Lucifera representing the seventh sin of pride. You would have thought that someone as mindful of appearances as she would choose more impressive steeds, but that’s allegory for you.  Each of the animals is ridden by one of her counselors, representing one of the sins, with an animal to match. The first one is Idleness, riding an ass. (Poor donkey! How can you accuse this animal of being lazy?). The rider is a lazy monk, who carries a well-worn but little-read breviary in his hand. He always shirks work and is half-asleep, so that even Spenser notices he is a particularly bad choice for a leader rider for a carriage. He also has a fever because of too much sleep. The second is Gluttony, riding a swine. His neck is long like a crane’s: cranes were the traditional emblem for gluttony, because it was believed that since their necks were longer, they could enjoy swallowing food for a longer time. Gluttony is constantly eating and drinking, even when riding, and also throwing up. He is clad only in vine and ivy, like one of the followers of Bacchus. Of course he is also ill – he suffers from something Spenser calls “dry dropsie”. I am sure people familiar with the theory of humours and 16th c. medical theories could explain the matching of the particular disease with the vice. The third one is Lechery who is riding a goat (I guess no explanation needed here). Lechery is black and filthy, “Yet he of Ladies oft was loved deare/When fairer faces were bid standen by./O who does know the bent of womens fantasy?” (Bk I C 4 l. 214 – 217)

Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

Redcrosse and Duessa are let to the richly decorated audience hall where they meet Queen Lucifera. She is also richly dressed and beautiful – so concerned with her beauty, in fact, that she is even jealous of the shining of her throne and tries to outperform it, just like Phaethon tried to outperform his father Phoebus as the driver of the sun chariot., with dreadful results. Lucifera is holding a mirror at which she is looking all the time. She is the daughter of Pluto and Proserpina, but she claims her father was Jove, or an even higher god, if such exists. There is a giant dragon under her feet. She is a usurper who rules her kingdom through cunning and the advice of six powerful wizards. Oh, and she is a virgin queen. If this sounds familiar, well, it is meant to be, as Lucifera is the parody of Gloriana, who is in turn Spenser’s fictitious equivalent of Elizabeth. Just like Satan and his kingdom are a parody of Heaven, Lucifera is the parody of the real Virgin Queen of this poem – although one could read her also as some kind of veiled criticism directed towards Elizabeth.

Redcrosse and Duessa make their obeisance, but Lucifera hardly deigns to look at them. only thanks them in a disdainful manner. Her lords and ladies, as vain as she, try to attract the guests’ attention by arranging their hair or the pleats of their dresses. They are very glad to see a new knight, but they are especially happy to see Duessa, who is no stranger to this palace. Duessa, for her part, considers Lucifera to be very discourteous to treat her and Redcrosse in this way.

Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

The dreadful Sansloy kills the lion, puts Una on his horse and rides away, deaf to her pleas. Her faithful palfrey follows them, thus ending Canto 3. Canto 4 begins with an exhortation to all the knights to be always faithful to their ladies and not to believe to readily in any stories about their unfaithfulness, lest they end up like Redcrosse, who is now being led astray by the new object of his affections. This piece of advice is theoretically good, at least when it comes to the general principle – don’t believe in gossips – but taking into account that Redcrosse saw Una in bed with another man with his own eyes, it’s not that good in real life. Now Duessa leads our knight to the House of Pride, which is a beautiful castle, but treacherous. A broad road leads to it, and many people follow it, but few get out, and only as broken men. The house is built on sand, so its foundations are not safe and in fact it is already crumbling at the back, but the cracks have been skilfully hidden by paint. They are let in by the porter named Malvenu (a pun on the traditional name of the porter at the castle of love in courtly romances, who was called Benvenu), and they enter a hall, decked with costly tapestries, where a great deal of various people are waiting for the lady of this palace.

[Edit] I‘ve just read that the fact that the Palace of Pride is covered with golden foil is the symbol of hypocrisy, because that is what hypocrisy literally means in Greek – hyper (over) + chrysos (gold). I was quite excited about it, until I’ve read that the OED gives a different etymology, But maybe Spenser was not quite up to speed with his Greek studies and this is a kind of folk etymology he was familiar with.

Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

Una and Archimago see a knight riding furiously toward them. He is Sansloy, the brother of Sansfoy slain by the real Redcrosse Knight, who now wants his revenge. Archimago is not too keen on fighting, but he cannot run away in the presence of Una, who believes him to be her knight. So he readies himself for the attack, but his shield with his false cross (because he is not really the Redcrosse Knight, the representative of true faith) can’t protect him and if his horse didn’t shy away, he would have been pierced through. (On a side note, those readers who complained that they couldn’t understand Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, because they didn’t know who was meant by “he”, would have a really hard time here, as Spenser refuses to use proper names, as exemplified by the line “He to him lept” (I,3: 317). I understand it’s easier to use personal pronouns, especially writing such a metrically demanding poem, but it does hinder reading and I am not really sure whose horse did shy.)

So Archimago falls down from his horse, badly wounded and Sansloy approaches him to finish him off, in order to complete his revenge, despite Una’s pleas for mercy. However, much to his surpise, when he takes off the knight’s helmet, he sees Archimago, who in fact is his friend. So apparently Archimago didn’t transform himself, just procured for himself an identical suit of armour. The moral is: girls, always check what is under the armour! Sansloy asks Archimago about the meaning of this, but Archimago has fainted. So he leaves him on the ground and instead concentrates on Una, flabbergasted by the appearance of Archimago. He pulls her down from her horse and her lion tries to defend her. However, Sansloy is not a wimp and “lust did now inflame/His corage more” (367 – 8), so he tears his shield back from the lion’s paws and draws his sword. I can’t find in my (admittedly perfunctory) search anything on this subject, but perhaps the fact that Archimago (the Catholic Church) is mistakenly attacked by a Saracen could refer to the then current topic of the struggle between the coalition of the Catholic countries and the Ottoman empire, indicating that Catholics and Muslims are pretty much on the same level from the Protestant viewpoint?

Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

Corceca and her daughter return home, weeping and wailing and on their way back they meet Archimago, disguised as the Redcrosse Knight  He asks them whether they have seen a lady answering to Una’s description and of course they tell him, with many complaints. ARchimago soon catches up with Una thanks to his magic horse but seeing the lion he does not dare to approach, but stands on a hill, where Una can spot him. Una thinks it is her beloved and approaches him weeping and asking him why he left her. He tells her he went off to fight a “felon strong” Archimago told him about and now he vanquished him, he hopes it’s a cause good enough to be excused. But it was only temporary and he would never abandon her because he loves her. Una, instead of asking “Couldn’t you tell me about it before you left? Or leave a note?” and kicking him in the ass, accepts it because, as Spenser notes philosophically, love never looks back. She is like a sailor who after many days of dangerous journey sees the port and starts to celebrate, and he pretends to be like a merchant who sees his ship from afar. Una and the false Redcrosse go off together, telling each other what happened to them during their separation, and he is especially interested in the lion.