Edmund Spenser – “The Faerie Queene” (ctd.)

Britomart tells Scudamore/Scudamour (Spenser himself is not consistent with the spelling) that his grief is indeed justified because what can be more heart-tugging than the story of a young lady imprisoned for her love? I will deliver her for you or I will die, she declares. Scudamore says, “It’s awfully nice of you but let me rather die for her, what is the point of both of us dying, since this mission is hopeless?” Britomart however insists: she picks Scudamore and his scattered arms up, finds his horse who has gone astray and they set off to the castle. As they arrive, they are dismayed (at least Britomart is) to see that there is no door, but instead at the gate there is a big and stinking fire burning. “That’s what I meant”, says Scudamore, “nobody can pass through the gate alive. So go away and leave me here to die of broken heart.” “No way”, says Britomart, “It would be a shame not even to try.” So she puts her shield in front of her face, stretches forward her arm with the sword and sets off at full speed. Miraculously, the fire parts in front of her and she passes through it like a thunder through air. Scudamore attempts to repeat this feat but Mulciber, Spenserian god of fire, is not that kind to him and even increases the heat, so he has to turn back.

One thing that is bugging me – does Scudamore notice that Britomart is a woman? He does not express any surprise, but maybe in the Faerie land lady knights were a normal thing. On the other hand she wears an armour, so maybe the reference to her “bounteous brest” really refers to her good heart. Admittedly, she speaks to him, but maybe she has Cate-Blanchett contralto and can pass for a young boy. This gender blindness of Scudamore and Spenser is really interesting.

Language note – Spenser writes about Scudamore’s “heavy stresse”, meaning his affliction. Not exactly the way we use “stress” today, but close enough.


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