Based on the initial appearance of Bradamante in Ariosto, OF 1.60-67, where the Saracen knight Sacripant is unhorsed before his lady Angelica. Unlike Spenser, Ariosto does not reveal the identity of the unknown champion who gallops back into the forest, nor does he sympathize with the pagan warrior in his discomfiture. Sacripant does lose his mount, killed in the encounter, and is comforted not by a fellow knight but by Angelica, who stretches diplomacy so far as to declare Sacripant victorious quando a lasciare il campo è stato primo (‘since he [the unknown champion] was first to leave the field’; 67.8).
7.9 Ariosto’s Bradamante receives from Astolfo la lancia che di quanti ne percuote / fa le selle restar subito vòte (‘the lance that at first touch / left the saddle immediately vacant’; 23.15.7-8). Ariosto inherits this spear from Berni’s 1542 redaction of Boiardo, as Upton explains in a gloss that would be difficult to improve on:
[This spear] was made by Bladud, a British king, skilled in magick; see B.iii.C.3.St.60. . . . The staff of this Speare was of ebony, see B.iv.C.6.St.6. and it was headed with gold: ‘una lanza dorata’, as Boyardo, in Orl. Innam. calls it. . . . But let us hear the history of it from the Italian poets. —Galafron King of Cathaia, and father of the beautiful Angelica, and of the renowmed warriour Argalia, procured for his son, by the help of a magician, a lance of gold, whose virtue was such, that it unhorsed every knight as soon as touched with its point. Berni Orl. Innam. L.i.C.1.St.43. . . . . After the death of Argalia, this lance came to Astolpho, the English duke [Orl.Inn.L.i.C.2.St.20.] with this lance he unhorses his adversaries in the tilts and tourneyments [Ibid. Canto iii.] Just as Britomart overthrows the knights with her enchanted spear, in B.iv.C.4.St.46. In Ariosto, Orl.Furios. . . . we read of this same inchanted lance. Again C.xviii.St.118 . . . Astolfo, in C.xxiii.St.15. gives this inchanted speare of gold to Bradamante . . . With this speare Bradamante gains a lodging in Sir Tristans castle, ‘la Rocca di Tristano’, Canto xxxii. (St.65.) Not unlike to Britomartis, who gains her entrance, when refused a lodging, B.iii.C.9.St.12. (1987: 625-26)
Upton also suggests the spear of Athena (Il 5.746) as the model for this enchanted spear, but Homer does not specify any enchantments, observing only that with her spear ‘heavy and huge and strong’ the goddess ‘vanquishes the ranks of men’ (τῷ δάμνησι στίχας ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων tōi damnēsi sthichas andrōn hērōōn).
Based on Ariosto, OF 1.22, where Ferraù and Rinaldo have just decided that they will try to catch the fleeing Angelica before they fight over her. The two knights dash off in pursuit of her (sharing Ferraù's horse), at which point the narrator exclaims, Oh gran bontà de' cavallieri antiqui! (‘O great goodness of the ancient knights!’). Given that the motive for the knights’ reconciliation mingles concupiscence with calculation of advantage, Ariosto’s irony is apparent. Spenser has separated the two moments (for the flight of Angelica, see st. 15-18) and, by doing so, muted the irony. But insofar as his golden chain of concord is still partly knit by the artful soothing of Guyon’s wounded pride (11.4-9n), Spenser is not so much ignoring Ariosto’s irony as softening its touch.
Based on Ariosto, OF 1.33-35. See st. 4-12n and st. 13n. In this canto Spenser recombines elements from two separate episodes in Ariosto, Bradamante’s joust with Sacripant and the flight of Angelica with Ferraù and Rinaldo in pursuit.
The refusal of the ‘single knight’ to change echoes the description of Britomart’s ‘constant mind’ and ‘stedfast corage’ in contrast to Guyon and Arthur (19.1, 8).
The second of the poem’s ekphrastic set-pieces (see II.xii.45.1n, and for a concise formal analysis of the present passage, Hollander 1995: 16-17).
Spenser’s six knights personify the steps in a conventional ‘ladder of love’ (gradus amoris), a classical topos widely diffused in medieval literature (cf. Friedman 1965-66). Spenser reinvents certain details—the number of steps in the ladder and their specific names varied—but he also revises the topos more fundamentally (and more mischievously), first by reversing assumed genders of lover and beloved and then by substituting the disguised lady knight of romance epic for the male lover of the medieval courtly love tradition (see st. 47n).
Spenser bases the Lady’s mistaken lust for Britomart on Ariosto’s Fiordispina, who falls hopelessly in love with Britomart’s prototype Bradamante (OF 25.29-70). The comedy of Ariosto’s episode (based on the Ovidian tale of Iphis and Isis, Met 9.666-797) is tempered with sympathy for Fiordispina, who has better luck than Malecasta in that Bradamante turns out to have a twin brother, much like Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Ariosto shows that Fiordispina’s passion for Bradamante/Ricciardetto is no less powerful for having its basis in illusion and its satisfaction in a bed-trick; Spenser turns this comedy of ‘falsed fancy’ the other way, implying that the Lady’s consuming passion for Britomart would be no less self-deceptive were the knight as ‘fresh and lusty’ as she imagines ‘him’ to be.
First of several apostrophes to female readers in Book III. See v.53.1, vi.1.1, ix.1.1-2, and xi.2.6; also Quilligan (1983: 185-99).
As Britomart slips into bed and Malecasta rises to steal anxiously toward her ‘bowre’ (60.2), Spenser at once recalls and transforms the scene from OF in which Ruggiero awaits the approach of Alcina (7.21-26). As Dodge shrewdly notes, ‘the situation is . . . the exact reverse’: the drama of sexual anticipation is displaced from the male knight in his chamber to the Lady of the castle in her approach (and the outcome will be quite different) (1897: 183). This allusion suggests in yet another way that the Castle Joyeous is a revisionary take on the Bower of Bliss, for the ‘vele of silke and silver thin’ worn by Acrasia at II.xii.77.4 alludes to the vel suttile that Alcina wears to her rendezvous with Ruggiero. The intertextual link points up the comic reversal not only of the scene from Ariosto, but also of that from the Bower: Britomart is no Ruggiero, nor is she about to become another Verdant. The comic reversal of outcome in this noctural scene is coded into the pun on the phrase ‘in armes’ that characterizes Noctante (see 45.7n), as Britomart veers abruptly from one sense of the phrase to the other.
A similar lament for the lost memory of women’s martial valor begins canto iv. Both passages draw immediately on Ariosto (OF 20.1-3, 37.1-23) and broadly on the Renaissance defense of women (see SpE s.v. ‘women, defense of’).
Unlike Ariosto, Spenser leads not with praise of women’s deeds but with censure of men’s bias. The corresponding passage in Ariosto appears at OF 37.2.4-6, 3.
On women warriors in Spenser and his Italian predecessors, see Robinson (1985). Women’s enforced turn from ‘warlike armes’ to ‘artes and pollicy’ adumbrates the theme of female rule, a subject of wide-ranging controversy in the sixteenth century. For Spenser’s care in hedging his position on the question, see SpE s.v. ‘women, defense of’. The corresponding stanza in Ariosto, which pairs warriors specifically with poets (as if replacing Virgil’s arma virumque with arma cantrixque), opens canto 20 of Orlando Furioso.
4.8-9 On early modern gender as a property as much of apparel as of bodies, see Orgel (1996: 83-105). These lines are imitated by Fletcher, PI 10.29.1-5:
Thus hid in arms, she seem’d a goodly Knight, And fit for any warlike exercise: But when she list lay down her armour bright, And back resume her peacefull Maidens guise; The fairest Maid she was . . .
This account of Britomart’s upbringing owes more to Tasso’s description of the Amazon warrior Clorinda (GL 2.39-40) than to Britomart’s actual history.
Spenser’s principal innovation is to have shifted the description into the first person, though he also breaks with Tasso’s second stanza to emphasize Britomart’s British origin and quest for fame. (Here as elsewhere, Fairfax’s translation shows the influence of Spenser’s imitation.)
Cf. the description at i.3.4-9 of the errancy of Guyon and Arthur, and Isa 1:17: ‘Learne to do wel: seke judgement, relive the oppressed: judge the fatherless and defend the widowe’.
The military purpose of Merlin’s glass extends Spenser’s sustained treatment of Britomart’s erotic volatility as a switchpoint between concupisciple and irascible impulses—between fantasies of being sexually ‘in armes’ and a defensive reaction of taking up arms (see st. 6 notes). As Hamilton notes, Britomart sees Arthegall in the mirror because ‘he invades her kingdom’.
Britomart’s first glimpse of the knight in the mirror corresponds to our first glimpse of her visage at i.42.7-43, with Artegall appearing as Phoebus here to Britomart’s Cynthia there.
This episode is closely modeled on a passage from the anonymous late-classical epyllion Ciris, attributed to Virgil in medieval and early modern editions. Ciris tells the story of Scylla’s treasonous passion for King Minos, who has laid siege to her father’s city. Merlin’s mirror, given to King Ryence ‘That never foes his kingdome might invade’ (21.3), serves a function analogous to that of King Nisus’s charmed crimson lock of hair: ‘As long as this preserved its nature . . . Nisus’ country and kingdom would be secure’ (123-25). The aligning of Artegall with Minos implicit in this analogy extends the pattern representing Britomart’s erotic experience as a form of combat (see notes to st. 6 and 21). Spenser’s major revision is to undo the Latin text’s substitution of Scylla for Britomartis (daughter of Scylla’s nurse, Carme, and Jupiter), who fled from Minos rather than toward him, and was rescued by Diana. In lamenting Scylla’s dangerous passion, Carme addresses the princess as her alumna (‘foster-child’, line 224; 33.6), and apostrophizing Minos, asks why he is destroying her foster-child as he once before destroyed her daughter (286-96). Spenser’s Britomart fuses the two daughter-figures as she embodies a fight-or-flight ambivalence toward her erotic object. (See Hughes 1929: 348-54; Roche 1964: 53-6.)
The insistent negatives in these lines (seventeen in all) echo ‘not of nought’ at 31.1, and begin the canto’s sustained reflection on the nothingness that underlies desire. Behind Britomart’s sense of the image as a void may lie a reminiscence of Aeneas in Carthage: animum pictura pascit inani / multa gemens, largoque umectat flumine voltum (‘he . . . feasts his soul on the unsubstantial picture, sighing oft-times, and his face wet with a flood of tears’; Aen 1.464-65).
The lurid diction and imagery of this stanza suggest that Britomart finds her metaphoric love-wound literalized in the onset of menstrual cramps and bleeding. This image of the female body is one of several places in Book III that show what was excluded from view in the Castle of Temperance (see II.ix.33.5-44.5n). L. Silberman observes that “by introducing menarche to the literary tradition of the Martial Maid, Spenser calls attention to his rewriting of that tradition in a strategy of emphasizing the feminine” (1995: 20).
Glauce’s references to heroines infamous for incest and bestiality emphasize even in denial that Britomart is reacting to her discovery of sexuality as if it were identical with ‘Such shamefull lusts’. Hence ‘Of much more uncouth thing I was affrayd’.
Britomart’s description of her predicament mirrors that of Arthur, of whom it is literally true that he loves ‘a shade, the body far exyld’, and ironically recalls the ‘falsed fancy’ of Malecasta (i.47.5).
Closely follows Ciris 371-373, except that Carme asks Scylla to spit in gremium mecum (‘into thy bosom, as I do’), not ‘upon my face’.
This stanza draws out the implications of ‘reverse’ at 48.9, suggesting that Britomart’s love for Artegall amounts to more than ‘fond fancies’. Glauce’s ministrations are aptly described by Hamilton 2001 as ‘comic withershins’.
Cf. Am 8.1-2, ‘full of the living fire, / Kindled above unto the maker neere’. The theory of love as a flame from heaven, kindling desire for the ‘true beautie’ of virtue which inspires lovers to noble action, is woven at large through Spenser’s Fowre Hymnes and is the most basic allegorical significance of Arthur’s quest for Gloriana. In principle it explains the relation between the poem’s ‘fierce warres and faithfull loves’ (I.pr.1.9). The difficulty of perfectly separating this love from ‘base affections’ is also represented in both works, most recently in FQ by the ambiguity of Arthur’s and Guyon’s motives in pursuing Florimell and by the horror Britomart experiences on first discovering sexual passion within herself.
Here Spenser presents love as a force mediating between fate and chance, ensuring that ‘The fatall purpose of divine foresight’ will play itself out in the seemingly chaotic course of human events. For moments at which Spenser plays on the interpolation of fate within chance, see I.ix.6.6-7.7; II.ix.59.5, 60.1.
In these stanzas Spenser plays with a distinction from the rhetorical tradition between factual and fictional descriptions. Thus Peacham (1577), for example, distinguishes between Topographia, ‘an evident and true description of a place’ (P1), and Topothesia, ‘a fayned description of a place, that is, when we describe a place, and yet no such place’ (P1v).
Cf. Malory 4.1-2, where the object of Merlin’s dotage is not the Lady of the Lake herself, but one of her damsels ‘that hight Nenyve’.
Cf. the description of Fidelia’s power ‘when she list poure out her larger spright’ at I.x.20. Like the subtle distancing of Merlin from his medieval reputation as half-demon, the strong resemblance between st. 12 and that earlier account casts Merlin as an agent of divine providence. Through such indirect means Spenser hints at a conversion narrative similar to the story of Merlin’s birth as given (for example) in the Old French Merlin, where the magician is sired upon a young nun by a demon acting as an incubus. The council of devils intends for this parody of the Annunciation to produce an antichrist, but Merlin is sanctified in the womb by his mother’s prayers and repentance, and after birth by the sacrament of baptism. Spenser’s Merlin remains a more ambiguous figure, claiming to speak for providence without having entirely severed his connection to diabolical origins—related, not coincidentally, in st. 13 immediately following the description that links him to Fidelia.
These stanzas present the second of three installments into which Spenser divides the British chronicles. He begins in II.x with what is chronologically the second part, covering the reigns of British monarchs from the mythic eponymous founder Brut to the succession of Uther Pendragon, the father Arthur does not know (see notes to II.x.arg.1, st. 5-68, and 68.2-3). The second part now resumes with the reign of Artegall and Britomart, which has no direct source in the chronicles but occupies the genealogical space from which Arthur, wandering in Faeryland, has been displaced. The gap between Arthur and Artegall-Britomart is the space in which the poem’s ‘present’—a hybrid of Faery fiction and British chronicle history—unfolds (see st. 29n). The third part of the chronicles, circling back to link the origins of British history to the westward ‘translation of empire’ from Troy through Rome to England, is given in canto ix.
Artegall’s royal heir remains unnamed, in part no doubt to downplay his equivalence to the chronicles’ Conanus, who came to the throne by killing his uncle. (Spenser thus reverses the chronicle acccounts, which identify no father for Conanus.) Spenser may also have chosen not to name the heir because he represents the point at which faery fiction is grafted onto the chronicles. The resulting genealogy, never spelled out, is complex. It may be summarized as follows: the Lady Igrayne (Igerne) bears sons both to Gorlois and to Uther. To Gorlois she bears the brothers Artegall and Cador; to Uther, their half-brother Arthur. Arthur succeeds Uther to the throne but dies without heir. The chronicles report that Arthur is succeeded by Constantius (Constantine), the son of his half-brother Cador. Meanwhile, however, Spenser has created an alternative genealogy whereby Artegall (‘equal to Arthur’; see ii.arg.2n) and Britomart not only succeed King Ryence to the throne of South Wales (cf. ii.18.5n) but also take the place of Ryence’s brother-in-law, Arthur, in the succession of British rule. This silent and, as it were, figurative supplanting of Arthur is re-enacted explicitly when their son merges with the historical Conan to usurp the crown from his uncle Constantius, who succeeds Arthur to the throne in the chronicles.
Spenser continues to diverge from the chronicles in making Vortipore less successful than his father, and in giving Vortipore an heir. (Holinshed says Vortipore ‘left no issue behind him’, and calls Malgo ‘the nephue of Aurelius Conanus’; 5.26, 27.)
In the words of Harper, ‘Careticus was not the son of Malgo, and he did not conquer the Saxons’ (1910: 151). The account of Gormond’s arrival to help the Saxons drive Careticus into Wales, laying waste to churches, towns, and fields along the way, corresponds to Geoffrey except in one detail, for Geoffrey refers to ‘Gormundus’ as ‘the king of the Africans’ (Historia 256); Spenser’s reference to his Norveyses follows Holinshed’s conjecture that Geoffrey mistook ‘the Norwegians for Affricanes, bicause both those nations were Infidels’ (6.90).
Here Spenser seems to have adjusted the account in Geoffrey by consulting multiple other sources, possibly some in Welsh. For details see Harper (1910: 153-58).
Cadwallin was Cadwan’s son, Edwin the son of Etheldred. Geoffrey explains that the peace negotiated by their fathers was broken when Cadwallin refused to permit Edwin to crown himself king of Northumbria (262-64). In the hostilities that followed, Edwin prevailed at first, aided by a magician (a sapientissimus auger, Pellitus) whose warnings gave him a military advantage until he was assassinated (264-70). (The gallows are Spenser’s innovation; other passages in which Spenser substitutes hanging for another form of execution are I.v.50.5-6 and II.x.32.9; see the discussion in Harper 1910: 83-84).
Spenser continues to follow the main lines of Geoffrey’s account but conflates battles and alters other details, suggesting that he may have consulted other chronicles, including a source now unknown.
Cadwallin sends Penda in pursuit of Oswald, next in line as king of Northumbria. Geoffrey reports that Oswaldus, under siege at Hevenfield, raised a cross and ordered his followers to pray (272). Spenser heightens the account with angels raising crosses on high who sponsor a bloodless victory, and makes the name a result of the battle rather than, as Geoffrey implies, the inspiration for Oswald’s pious actions.
In Geoffrey, Cadwalladrus rules for a dozen years before he falls ill, whereupon the combination of civil war, famine, and plague destroys the kingdom, forcing him to withdraw into Armorica (on the coast of Brittany; cf. II.x.64.5). The account of heavenly disfavor and the vision preventing the Britons’ return are based on Cadwallader’s lament in departing from England, and on the report that he heard an angel’s voice commanding that he give over his intended return: ‘as Cadualadrus was preparing a fleet, an angelic voice rang out, ordering him to give up the attempt. God did not want the Britons to rule over the island of Britain any longer, until the time came which Merlin had foretold to Arthur’ (276, 278).
The rulers named in this stanza are Welsh monarchs from the ninth, tenth, and twelfth centuries.
Spenser elaborates freely on hints from various chronicle sources (see Harper 1910:165-68). Uther fought the Saxons at Menevia (St. David’s, in south-central Wales) following the assassination of his brother Aurelius, and was crowned after the battle (Geoffrey, Historia 180). The Saxon queen Angela, mentioned by chroniclers as one possible source for the etymology of the name ‘Angles’/England, is a virgin only in Spenser’s account. Spenser has invented her combat with Ulfin (the knight who accompanies Uther on his nocturnal visit to Igerna) and Carados (a name that appears in Geoffrey and Malory, but not as one of Uther’s knights).
On Spenser’s use of Ariosto, see the notes to ii.1 and 2. As Hamilton observes, ‘this stanza is structured on the elegiac ubi sunt [L where are] topos’. The phrase appears in the opening lines or the refrain of medieval Latin works, usually lamenting the brevity of mortal things. Spenser’s focus is different: women’s glory hasn’t faded because of the general mutability of things. The elegiac associations of the language serve rather to set off the sexual politics that take the place of mutability in causing the disappearance to be lamented, even as they also anticipate the sorrowful tone that will prevail in the canto. At the same time, the narrator’s seeming innocence about where all the warlike women have gone, compared to the knowing criticism of masculine bias voiced in the opening of canto ii above, contributes to a wry undertone that qualifies this prevailing sorrow with an amused irony.
See the similar turn to Britomart and Elizabeth at ii.3.
Britomart’s refusal to remove her armor is introduced at i.42.7; when she does remove it on going to bed (i.58.6), the consequences are distressing. Here the mention of her unwillingness is not clearly motivated, and so the reader is left to muse upon the relation between Britomart’s keeping to ‘her former course’, her refusal to doff her arms, and her pensiveness as she ‘fashions’ a mental image of Artegall in response to the Redcrosse knight’s rhetorical ‘display’ of his appearance. (For the importance of rhetorical display in the account of Merlin’s prophecy, see the notes to iii.8.9, and 32.1.)
The language of this stanza is dense with terms used by Spenser to describe his own activity as a poet; in its emphasis on the idealizing force of Britomart’s fantasy, the description of her mental activity parallels Sidney’s definition in the Defence of Poetry of ‘right’ poets, ‘who having no law but wit, bestow that in colours upon you which is fittest for the eye to see’ (80). The description of Britomart’s mental activity in this stanza also harks back to the gestation simile (ii.11) that describes her first response to the image ‘displayed’ by Redcrosse.
The first of three formal complaints in this canto (see 36-39 and 55-60), Britomart’s three stanzas recast Petrarch, RS 189, a sonnet also imitated by Chaucer in the lament of Troilus (T and C 5.638-44) and by Wyatt in ‘My galley chargèd with forgetfulness’. Spenser revisits this topos in Am 34. For the Biblical provenance of the metaphor, see Psalms 69:15: ‘Let not the waterflood drowne me, nether let the depe swallowe me up’.
Classical precedents for the comparison of a sacrificial ox to a warrior struck down in battle include Homer, Il 17.520-24, and Apollonius Rhodius, Apollon 4.468-70, but Spenser’s simile is distinctive in its emphasis on the sacrificial animal’s pride in his ornaments, ignorance of their meaning, and stupefaction on receiving the ‘mortall stroke’—features that sustain the precarious balance between pathos and amused irony characteristic of this canto (see arg.4n).
all was in her powre: Cf. Horace, Odes 2.2.19-24:
Virtus . . . . . . regnum et diadema tutum deferens uni propriamque laurum, quisquis ingentes oculo inretorto spectat acervos.
‘Virtue . . . conferring power, the secure diadem, and lasting laurels on him alone who can gaze upon huge piles of treasure without casting an envious glance behind’.
Britomart does not need to struggle with Mammon; Guyon has won that battle. Cf. i.19.1-3, where Britomart is equally indifferent to Guyon’s other major temptation, ‘beauties chace’.
In the prophecy of Proteus concerning Marinell’s ‘sad end’, Spenser combines Thetis’s foreknowledge of Achilles’s death at Troy (Ovid, Met 13.162-3) with Cyrene’s instructions to her son Aristaeus on obtaining prophetic counsel from Proteus (Virgil, Georg 4.387-456).
Neptune’s unsolicited response to Cymoent and her sisters contrasts with the absence of any response to Britomart’s prayer and vow at 10.6-9, immediately preceding her encounter with Marinell. His response also extends the motif of mirroring, both in the repetition of line 3 (‘mournd at their mournfull’) and in the closing rhyme (‘See’ with ‘see’). In Ovid, the great flood summoned by Neptune recedes when Triton sounds his conch (Met 1.330-42); with Cymothoë, he helps Neptune calm the storm that opens the Aeneid (1.142-45).
The second of three formal complaints in this canto (see st. 8-10n).
wefte: On Spenser’s use of this form, see Zurcher (2007: 103).
Hamilton declares of ‘irrevocable’, ‘fittingly, the word cannot be scanned’. The scansion is difficult but not impossible: ‘thy’ and the first syllable of ‘irrevocable’ must be read as elided into a single unaccented syllable: ‘thy’revocable’.
In keeping with the narcissistic themes of the episode, Cymoent is here bewailing her own misfortune, not Marinell’s, and by the end of the stanza is arguing that he’s the lucky one. In the process she echoes the laments of Juturna for her brother Turnus in Virgil and of Inachus for his daughter Io in Ovid: quo vitam dedit aeternam? cur mortis adempta est /condicio? (‘Wherefore gave he me life eternal? Why of the law of death am I bereaved?’; Aen 12.879-80); sed nocet esse deum, praeclusaque ianua leti (‘It is a dreadful thing to be a god, for the door of death is shut to me’; Met 1.662).
Dilates upon the sense of 49.1-3. As usual, Spenser’s narrator takes Arthur at face value, and is careful not to notice ironies that might complicate this assessment of motive.
The third and final complaint in this canto’s series (see st. 8-10n). All three evoke amused sympathy as they balance pathos against various qualifying ironies, underlined by the parallels among them. Spenser’s account of Night in these stanzas is based principally on Conti, Myth. 3.12, which in turn gathers references from Euripedes, Cicero, and Hesiod. Arthur’s hostile address to ‘hasty Night’ (54.9) specifically echoes that of Chaucer’s Troilus, who also blames night for its haste (3.1427-42). For the praise of sleep, see Sidney, AS 39, ‘Come sleep, oh sleep, the certain knot of peace’. Both the longing for rest and the need to resist that longing are deeply rooted in Spenser’s sense of life as moral struggle: see especially the seductive rhetoric of Despair (‘sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas’; I.ix.40.8).
At I.v.20-44, Night accompanies Duessa on a journey to seek out Aesculapius in the classical underworld. Her genealogy is given at I.v.22.2-6.
The sharp antithesis between lust and idealizing worship is qualified by the narrative context (see notes to i.18-19, iii.1, and iv.48-51), even as the stanzas assert, problematically, that Arthur’s pursuit of Florimell is motivated by love. See iv.54.4-8, where Arthur, assailed by fantasies that keep him awake, blurs the distinction between Florimell and Gloriana.
Continuing the canto’s verbal for- play, the brothers’ impetuousness is emphasized by the repetition in ‘Forthwith . . . foorth . . . forrest’ (picked up again in lines 7-8, ‘For . . . forest’). The effect carries through the enjambments of lines 4-5, complete with verbs that ‘drive’ the rhythm across the line-breaks.
At A Vewe 98, Irenius describes a ‘perilous ford’ where Irish rebels would often attack English troops. In 1581 Ralegh, ambushed in this fashion by men loyal to the earl of Desmond and his brother, Sir John of Desmond, killed his attackers. The earl of Desmond and his brother were later killed as part of the New English suppression of their Munster-wide revolt. In the ensuing division and plantation of Desmond’s vast estates, Spenser secured the grant of Kilcolman castle and a ‘seignory’ of about 3,000 acres.
fortuned . . . ford . . . fo[r]ster . . . foorth . . . further . . . afore . . . force . . . forkehead . . . For . . . ford: See st. 16n: here the impulsion previously associated with for- opposes Squire’s progress.
This episode is based on Angelica’s nursing of Medoro in OF 19.17-42.
That the trail of blood leads to Timias associates him with the beast Belphoebe was hunting (see 20.7n). For tracking as a trope of interpretation, see II.pr.4.1-5 and note. Belphoebe’s arrival in this stanza divides the canto into halves of twenty-seven stanzas each; cf. vi.28n.
Belphoebe’s ‘melting eies’ and sudden pallor link her to Timias; her twofold response, first starting back and then pierced with pity, echoes Guyon’s response at II.i.42 on beholding the ‘Pitifull spectacle of deadly smart’ (40.1) presented by Mordant, Amavia, and the bloody babe.
These stanzas are based on Ariosto, OF 16-19 (see st. 27-54n).
Spenser’s description of Belphoebe’s ‘Pavilion’ echoes Ovid’s account of Gargaphie succinctae sacra Dianae (‘Gargaphie, the sacred haunt of high-girt Diana’; Met 3.155-63), the retreat where Actaeon spies the goddess bathing and is then torn apart by his hounds. Spenser alludes to an earlier version of the Belphoebe story at Time 519-32, where the ‘pleasant Paradize’ whose destruction the speaker laments is compared to one made by Merlin ‘for the gentle squire, to entertaine / His fayre Belphoebe’. As this ‘gardin wasted quite’ anticipates the destruction of the Bower of Bliss in II.xii, so too the description of Belphoebe’s ‘Pavilion’ echoes the poem’s earlier, more heavily eroticized versions of the locus amoenus, e.g. II.v.27-35, II.xii.50-52, and III.i.20.4-7.
Spenser reverses the situation in Ariosto, where it is Angelica rather than the wounded youth who suffers (see st. 27-54n). The contrast between Timias’s two wounds participates in a sustained and complex exploration in Book III of the conventional metaphor that characterizes love as a wound. This exploration begins with the tapestry image of Adonis ‘Deadly engored of a great wilde Bore’ (i.38.2); it continues in Britomart’s wounding by Gardante, in the subsequent account of her wounding by ‘the false Archer’ when she sees Artegall in her father’s mirror, and in the wound she inflicts on Marinell.
Timias’s lament in these stanzas echoes the three matched complaints in canto iv (see iv.55-60n).
In accusing himself of ‘villeinous despight’, Timias declares the sexual nature of his desire for Belphoebe, albeit in the mode of a self-reproach bordering on the suicidal.
Imitated from Catullus 62.39-47:
ut flos in saeptis secretus nascitur hortis, ignotus pecori, nullo convulsus aratro, quen mulcent aurae, firmat sol, educat imber, iam iam se expandit suavesque expirat odores;* multi illum pueri, multae optavere puellae: idem cum tenui carptus defloruit ungui, nulli illum pueri, nullae optavere puellae: sic virgo dum intacta manet, dum cara suis est; cum castum amisit polluto corpore florem, nec pueris iucunda manet nec cara puellis.
(*missing line supplied by editorial conjecture)
As a flower springs up secretly in a fenced garden, unknown to the cattle, torn up by no plough, which the winds caress, the sun strengthens, the shower draws forth, and even now it unfolds and exhales sweet fragrance, many boys, many girls, desire it; when the same flower fades, nipped by a sharp nail, no boys, no girls desire it: so a maiden, while she remains untouched, the while she is dear to her own; when she has lost her chaste flower with sullied body, she remains neither lovely to boys nor dear to girls.
Spenser’s echo of Catullus in the present episode is especially pointed in the way it plays against the Ariostan allusion: Angelica a Medoro la prima rosa / coglier lasciò, non ancor tocca inante: / né persona fu mai sì aventurosa, / ch’in quel giardin potesse por le piante (‘Angelica let Medoro pluck the first rose, hitherto untouched—no one had yet enjoyed the good fortune of setting foot in this garden’; OF 19.33.1-4).
The decorum of this stanza is at once risky and delicate, since Spenser as poet is venturing into the ‘secret store’ (50.9) where neither Ralegh nor Timias dares to tread (see pr.3.9n, pr.5.6-9n, and cf. II.iii.26.9n, II.iii.27.7-9n). The phrase ‘daughter of her Morne’ evokes Belphoebe’s youth but does so in a catachrestic figure that represents her virginity as precisely that which it prevents, offspring. The phrase ‘More deare than life’ reinforces this suggestion, implying that Belphoebe cherishes her own intactness more than Timias’s survival or the need to propagate. ‘The girlond of her honor did adorne’ implies a sense of display that runs counter to the privacy of ‘secret store’ (50.9), and the following lines play out these implications as the weather changes and Belphoebe allows her rose to spread its petals and ‘florish fayre’.
This doubleness runs through the diction of the lines as well: ‘lapped up’ means ‘wrapped’ or ‘folded’, but ‘lap’ is also a common early modern term for the genitals; ‘chayre’ describes how the petals are ‘lapped’ (dearly, from Fr cher), but also says what they are (Fr chaire flesh). In this diction and imagery the tensions surrounding the royal body natural are wrought to a fine pitch: at one extreme, the trope of catachresis respects the inexpressibility of the royal genitals, while at the other extreme the mimetic likeness of the opening rose to that which must not be named is no less unmistakable.
The mythmaking in this stanza sustains the precarious ambiguities of st. 51. God and Paradise evoke the memory of Gen 1:28, ‘Bring forthe frute and multiplie, and fil the earth’; God’s act ‘enrace[s]’ the transplanted flower but also embodies it in a line of descent through ‘earthly flesh’. It inhabits a ‘race / Of woman kind’, where the line-break restricts the word for ‘house or family’ to a single sex whose relation to ‘kind’ (nature) is in question, and it ‘beareth fruit’ in a resonant reassertion of the catachresis that opens st. 51.
The question here ascribed to ‘faire Ladies’ echoes that of Braggadocchio upon Belphoebe’s first appearance in the poem (II.iii.39), although he sees the court as a palace of pleasure rather than as ‘The great schoolmaistresse of all courtesy’.
pierst into her wombe: Early modern paintings of the Annunciation often feature a ray of light penetrating an enclosed space, as in Fra Angelico’s altarpiece The Annunciation (c. 1426) in the Museo Del Prado, Madrid.
The birth of Chrysogonee’s twins is embedded in a digression based on Moschus’s pastoral idyll ‘The Fugitive Love’. In the gloss to SC March 79, E.K. mentions this poem as having been translated into Latin by Poliziano and into English by Spenser. Tasso in 1581 had based an epilogue to the Aminta, entitled ‘Amore Fuggitivo’, on the same poem, and Spenser now elaborates its incipient narrative still more fully.
In the process he continues to use the romance convention of interweaving storylines to create a sliding movement of displacement: thus the consummation denied Timias is attained in a different key and setting by Titan’s bright beams; Venus searching for Cupid (Amor) will find Amoret; and the sequence wounding-courtship-consummation-impregnation-parturition will lead to a garden where ‘the fruitfull seades / Of all things living’ (8.3-4) play out their life-cycle in the poem’s narrative.
The progression from courts to the country appears in Tasso’s Prologue, where Cupid in pastoral disguise mentions that Venus would confine him tra le corti e tra corone e scettri (‘among the courts and among the crowns and sceptres’; line 18), and that he has escaped to dwell ne’ boschi e ne le case / de le genti minute (‘in the woods and in the houses of the humble folk’; lines 31-32).
Given Diana’s snide reference to Venus’s affair with Mars at 24.3, it is ironic that Venus now uses the same wiles to ‘disarm’ Diana; on the love of Venus and Mars as an allegory of concord, see Wind (1968: 85-96) and the prayer to Venus in Lucretius, De rerum natura 1.29-49.
27.1-3 See Gen 3:16, ‘In sorrowe shalt thou bring forthe children’, and the notes to st. 3. The birth is ‘wondrous’ because it bypasses the effects of the fall and of original sin. See Aquinas, Summa III, q. 35, art. 6, ‘Whether Christ was born without His mother suffering?’:
The pains of childbirth in the woman follow from the mingling of the sexes. Wherefore (Genesis 3:16) after the words, ‘in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children’, the following are added: ‘and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power’. But, as Augustine says (Serm. de Assumpt. B. Virg., Supposititious), from this sentence we must exclude the Virgin-Mother of God; who, ‘because she conceived Christ without the defilement of sin, and without the stain of sexual mingling, therefore did she bring Him forth without pain, without violation of her virginal integrity, without detriment to the purity of her maidenhood’.
This stanza dividing the twins at birth also separates the canto into halves of twenty-seven stanzas each, just as Belphoebe’s arrival on the scene (st. 28) did in canto v.
See note to arg. 3. In the architecture of the 1590 poem, Spenser’s Garden of Adonis is poised in contrast to both the Bower of Bliss at II.xii and the House of Busyrane at III.xii; it has clear links as well to the story of Venus and Adonis portrayed in Malecasta’s tapestries (III.i.34-38). As part of an ongoing engagement with Ovid in Book III, Spenser’s description of the Garden elevates and transforms the concept of metamorphosis much as the visionary speech of Pythagoras does in the final book of Metamorphoses (esp. 15.176-258). For the influence of Virgil (Aen 6.724-51) and Virgilian commentaries in mediating the Platonic doctrine of reincarnation to the Renaissance, see Wilson-Okamura (2010: 178-87).
In the critical tradition, this passage has provoked a series of either/or questions that it does not resolve: Is the Garden singular or plural? Does it exist inside or outside of the sublunary world? Are its most important philosophical debts to Plato and Neoplatonism or to Epicurus and Lucretian materialism? Does the grim reaper Time, described in stanzas 39-40, operate inside or outside of the Garden? Is the ‘wide wombe of the world’, said in st. 36 to contain ‘An huge eternal Chaos’, located inside or outside of the Garden? The persistence of such questions suggests that the signature trope for the Garden may well be amphibole (see 4.2n): the language of the Garden is itself generative.
The Garden is said to be ‘the first seminary / Of all things’ (30.4-5, emphasis added), but is bounded by ‘two walls’ with ‘double gates’, attended by a porter ‘the which a double nature has’ (st. 31), and characterized by ‘continuall Spring, and harvest there / Continuall, both meeting at one tyme’ (42.1-2). The implication is that the origin and continuity of the created universe depend upon a primordial coupling of opposites, including matter and form, life and death, nature and art. This coupling is figured by heterosexual copulation, although sexuality in the Garden is not specifically human but rather polymorphous and coextensive with the material world of natura naturans (nature as process).
The Gardin of Adonis: See arg.3n. Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus (276b) compares the writing down of ideas—as opposed to developing them through dialogue—to the planting of seeds in a small ‘forcing’ garden, i.e. one that uses artificial means to hasten the maturity of seedlings. Erasmus, citing Plato, Plutarch, and Theocritus, gives the proverb ‘more fruitless than gardens of Adonis’ (Adages 1.1.14). Spenser retains the association with fertility but not the disparaging tone of these references, perhaps following Conti, who reports that Athenians in ancient times ‘used to sow wheat and barley in fields near the city, and they called those places (that were sown with fruit-bearing trees) the Gardens of Adonis. Theocritus, in his discussion of the Adonia celebrants [participants in the rites sacred to Adonis], recalls those fruits that they offered to Adonis: “For there’s not a fruit the orchard bears but is here for his hand to take” (15.112)’ (Myth 439).
Other literary sources for Spenser’s Garden include the description in Lucretius of the mundi novitatem, ‘the world’s infancy’ (De rerum natura 5.780-924); the paradisal garden ‘consecrate to pleasure and to Venus’ in Claudian, ‘Epithalamium of Honorius and Maria’ (49-96); and the garden of Nature in Chaucer, PF 171-294. See SpE s.v. ‘Adonis, gardens of’.
30.1-6 The movement from ‘goodly flowres’ to ‘all things’ turns flowers into figures of all living things understood according to their species. (Flowers are also a conventional figure for rhetorical devices—a trope for tropes.)
The qualification ‘According to their kynds’ echoes Gen 1:24-25; it is also given special weight in Lucretius, who argues that ‘because every kind is produced from fixed seeds, the source of everything that is born and comes forth into the borders of light is that wherein is the material of it and its first bodies’ (De rerum natura 1.169-71: seminubus quia certis quaeque creantur, / inde enascitur atque oras in liminis exit, / materies ubi inest cuiusque et corpora prima). In other words, for Lucretius the fact that things grow from seeds, not randomly or ex nihilo, means that the ‘first seminary’ of each species is ‘its own proper material’ (1.191: sua de materia). This account contrasts with that of the soul’s afterlife and its reincarnation offered by Socrates in the Phaedo (70-72) and the Republic (617e-620e).
31.5-7 See st. 29-50n; also Plato, Phaedo 71e-72a on reincarnation, as well as Job 3:10 (‘the dores of my mothers wombe’) and Ps 9:13 (‘the gates of death’).
The combination of doubling and ambiguity in these lines lends itself to many construals. Comparison to the double gates of Alma’s house (II.ix.23 and 32) suggests that the Garden may reverse the bodily processes of ingestion, digestion, and excretion. The ‘Doubly disparted’ gate through which the knights enter Alma’s castle is framed ‘of more worthy substance’, and is the way ‘by which all in did pass’; through the contrasting ‘backgate’, excrement is ‘avoided quite, and throwne out privily’. The Garden, by contrast, has ‘double gates’ through which ‘both in and out men moten pas; / Th’one faire and fresh, the other old and dride’. This ambiguous syntax either breaks down the distinction between Alma’s entrance and exit or reverses the analogy, yielding a golden wall with a gate through which fair and fresh ‘men’ exit, and an iron wall with a gate through which old and dried ‘men’ enter.
Here again Spenser fuses the Epicurean teaching that living things grow according to their species with echoes from the account of Eden in Genesis (1:22-25), although as L. Silberman observes with respect to the first line, ‘this is an Eden without Adam’ (1995: 45).
Spenser’s account of Chaos fuses classical with scriptural precedents. The most important classical description of Chaos is that of Ovid, Met 1.5-20. Arthur Golding, in the Epistle to his 1567 translation, proposes that Ovid’s account is based on scripture (342-49). In 1596, Spenser will locate Chaos ‘Downe in the bottome of the deepe Abysse’ (IV.ii.47.6), echoing the Vulgate’s translation of Gen 1:2, Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi (‘And the earth was without forme and voyde, and darknes was upon the depe’).
Spenser’s stanza echoes classical arguments that the sum total of matter in the created universe never changes (Lucretius, De rerum natura 1.215-64; Ovid, Met 15.251-58), but it does so in support of the hexameral argument that new matter is produced out of Chaos. This matter has been identified with Augustine’s prima materia, although the plural ‘substaunces’ might seem rather to imply the Lucretian idea that each species possesses a kind of matter proper to itself (see 30.1-6n and 35.5-7n).
This may in turn suggest that Spenser identifies Chaos not only with the abyss out of which God created the universe, but also with the state into which matter returns when it loses its form in death. So in Rome 307-8, ‘The seedes, of which all things at first were bred, / Shall in great Chaos wombe againe be hid’. On this reading Chaos would be ‘inside’ the Garden insofar it refigures the transition elsewhere associated with the return through ‘the hinder Gate’ (32.9; see notes to st. 31-33).
38.1-7 See Lucretius, De rerum natura 2.1002-06:
nec sit interemit mors res ut meteriai corpora conficat, sed coetum dissupat ollis, inde aliis aliud coniugit; et effit ut omnes res ita convertant formas mutentque colores et capiant snesus et puncto tempore reddant;
Nor does death so destroy as to annihilate the bodies of matter, but it disperses their combination abroad, and then conjoins others with others; and its effect is that thus all things turn their shapes and change their colours and receive sensation and at a given time yield it up again;
As W. Hyman observes of st. 39, ‘The first thing this description of time should recall to the reader is Guyon’s own handiwork in the Bower’ (2007: 212).
Since Time as the grim reaper Saturn is an enemy only to individual creatures, not to the ‘shapes’ or species-forms that are ‘bred’ in the Garden (35.1), the suggestion that Time may be cutting down ‘all . . . That in the Gardin of Adonis springs’ while it is still growing in the Garden has proven confusing to readers and commentators. If, however, ‘it’ in 39.1 refers to the lilly of 38.9, then ‘all the rest’ must designate the host of embodied creatures who take their origin from the Garden but live and die in the world. At the same time, the ‘mowing’ of these creatures may be viewed either as passage out of the world or as re-entry into the Garden. In this sense the process lamented in these stanzas as destruction corresponds to that described from the opposite perspective at 33.1-4: ‘After that they againe retourned beene, / They in that Gardin planted bee agayne; / And grow afresh, as they had never seene / Fleshly corruption, nor mortall payne’. See 40.6n; for a similar doubling of perspectives, see II.xii.1.4n and the discussion of fomes peccati in the introduction to Book II (p. 000). Spenser’s description of the Garden repeatedly telescopes opposed perspectives into a single phrase or image (see st. 48n); in this sense the locus is always both singular and plural at the same time (see arg.3n)
spyde: Breaks the rhyme-scheme; Church (1758) points out that ‘saw’ would fit.
Presumably Venus is viewing the old and dried forms that have returned to the Garden for replanting. Spenser’s narrative fictionalizes different perspectives on a single event (death) as successive stages in a process (being mowed down, returning to the Garden, being replanted there).
This description of gratification untroubled by hostility, jealousy, or censure suggests that the Garden is a locus of sexuality viewed as a natural function rather than as a human experience fraught with emotional complexity, regulated by social custom, law, and religious or ethical principles. This does not mean human sexuality is excluded from the Garden, only that it is represented there under the aspect of generative nature personified by Venus genetrix. Hence the blurring of distinctions in lines 7-8, where the terms ‘Paramor’ and ‘leman’ initially suggest human sexual partners, but then give way to ‘Each bird his mate’ without distinguishing whether the phrases are offered as alternatives or equivalents.
Spenser’s description of the Garden as a locus amoenus should be compared to the equivalent stanzas in his description of the Bower of Bliss. Both passages echo descriptions of paradisal gardens in Homer, Genesis and the Song of Songs, Ovid, Ariosto, and Tasso (see II.xii.42, 51-52 and notes).
This description of Venus’s bower (46.1) represents an anamorphic mons veneris.
The shift in this stanza from natural vegetation (sweet-briar and honeysuckle) to an anthology of metamorphoses signals the return of an allegory of poesis and an engagement with Ovid that recur throughout the canto. This resurgence of literariness within the garden of natural reproduction is accompanied by a clustering of allusions to contemporary writers, detailed in the notes below. There may even be a witty play with form in a stanza of only eight lines whose subject is ‘sad lovers’ cut off in youth; 1609 adds a half-line—‘And dearest love’, following ‘paramoure’ (line 3)—whose effect is only to heighten the sense of formal incompletion.
47.8-9 Cf. 9.1-2, ‘Great father he [the sun] of generation / Is rightly cald, th’authour of life and light’. Adonis becomes ‘the Father of all formes’ specifically in copulating with Venus. On heterosexual coupling as an imaginative solution to the philosophical problem of how forms can be joined with matter—unresolvable within the terms of Platonic metaphysics—see Teskey (1994 and 1996). The ‘copula’ Spenser here envisions is at once sexual (although it reverses Plato’s vertical positioning of the partners within the coupling) and grammatical: unless forms can be embodied in matter, it becomes impossible to predicate the existence of things.
Hamilton follows Lewis (1966) in proposing that Spenser identifies Adonis with matter and Venus with form, but Spenser’s Adonis may be better explained by the Epicurean notion that different kinds of matter contain ‘seeds’ (primordia or semina) out of which forms grow. Forms come and go as creatures live and die, but Lucretius argues that the principle of continuity that enables natural forms to recur must inhere within matter, since otherwise anything could arise from anything else, whereas we see in nature that oaks grow only from acorns, and acorns grow only from oaks. Spenser’s Adonis is ‘lapped’ within the anamorphic pudendum of the Garden like a Lucretian seed-principle harbored within matter: not separable from matter, but certainly not coextensive with it, especially when matter is thought of, contra Lucretius, as opposed to form.
In line 4, ‘cloyd’ means both ‘pierced’ and ‘surfeited’, and as such offers an exemplary moment in this stanza’s doubling of its cast, insinuating an identity between the boar that gores Adonis and the lover who satiates him. The logic of this identification would seem to be that of 42.1-2 (see note), with spring and harvest, or birth and death, ‘both meeting at one tyme’, or of 46.5, where ‘flowres and pretious spycery’ lap Adonis in connotations at once of blossoming and of embalming. This doubling of Venus and the boar is reinforced by the fact that the wounding of Adonis was proverbially genital; Golding’s Ovid goes so far as to specify ‘his codds’ as the location of the wound (10.839).
These doublings, difficult to hold in mind, are at once complicated and reenforced by the parallel between Venus and Adonis in the Garden and the wounding of Timias in the preceding canto. There, Belphoebe pursues a wounded beast whose trail leads her to Timias, implying the possibility of a supplementary identification between the wounded boy and the boar. She then heals his thigh-wound (as Venus preserves Adonis), but in doing so wounds his heart (as if reviving the role of boar, or Foster-with-boarspear, on another level). Similarly, the language of the present stanza not only hints at an identification of the Venus who preserves Adonis with the boar that wounds him, but also suggests a supplementary analogy between Adonis ‘lapped’ in her genital arbor and the boar ‘emprisoned’ in her cave: in the logic of the allegory, it is precisely by harboring Adonis ‘from the skill / Of Stygian Gods’ (46.6-7), perpetually enclosed within Nature’s vagina, that she can shut the boar away from him ‘for ay’.
These stanzas begin to isolate within the Garden a specifically human domain of erotic experience, represented by the suffering of Psyche and her eventual reconciliation with Cupid.
The narrative here returns to the preceding episode, which served to induct us into the Garden. This return is anticipated in st. 49 (see 49.5-9n).
In returning us to the adventures of Florimell, the narrative closes off a digressive loop that began with Timias’s decision to pursue the Foster, leaving the pursuit of Florimell to Arthur and Guyon (iv.47.1-4).
On the ‘surmise of divinity’ topos in FQ, see II.iii.33n. Spenser is again associating Florimell with Venus (cf. 10.3n).
The passion of the witch’s son for Florimell in this episode is analogous (in a comic vein) to that of Timias for Belphoebe in canto v. These two episodes, flanking the purely naturalistic description of sexuality in the Garden of Adonis (see vi.41n), place erotic desire in a distinctly human and social context, emphasizing disparities of rank as if they were differences of kind like the species-forms in the Garden. They also bracket the paradisal freedom of utterance in the Garden (see vi.43.7-9n) with matched episodes in which a lover of inferior station is unable ‘to utter his desire’ (16.4). This challenge is one the poet himself confronts initially in the proem and recurrently throughout Book III: how to find a language adequate to the perils of speaking as a male about the sexual or psychological interior of a noble woman (see pr.5.6-9n). Britomart finds her own desire for Artegall unspeakable, both in her initial confession to Glauce and again when she enters Merlin’s cave; his prophecy in canto iii develops one response to the challenge, as it lends both voice and legitimacy to Britomart’s desire by installing it within a dynastic narrative.
Compare Glauce’s efforts to cure Britomart, ii.48-51 and iii.5.3-5.
The appearance of the witch’s beast marks a sharp turn away from the comic tone of the episode, almost as if the blow suffered by the witch and her son with the loss of ‘their fayre guest’ (19.8) turns them from hapless admirers of divine beauty back into evil monsters, or as if Florimell’s fear triggers the emergence of the beast. Both impressions may be accurate: Florimell leaves ‘For feare of mischiefe, which she did forecast’ (18.4), but it is not clear from the previous description of their behavior that she should fear either of her hosts. The beast’s appearance, seeming to confirm her fears, may as easily be their consequence as their cause; for the hysteron proteron motif, see 1.2n and v.10.1-2n.
For Myrrha’s seduction of her father Cinyras, see ii.41.1n and Ovid Met 10.431-80, esp. 475-76, describing her flight. In Ovid this story leads into that of Venus and her mortal lover Adonis, who is the offspring of this incestuous union (cf. I.i.9.6n and Met 10.489-524, esp. 524, describing Adonis’s beauty as avenging his mother’s passion). For Daphne’s flight from Apollo see Ovid, Met 1.525-552; Spenser has previously echoed this passage in connection with Florimell’s flight (see iv.46.4-5n). The combination of wickedness with fearful innocence in this double simile puts a number of ambiguities into play, as the repeated phrase ‘Not halfe . . . Nor halfe’ manages indirectly to suggest that Florimell is the sum of her counterparts. The reference to Myrrha, anticipating Florimell’s repulse of the aged fisherman’s lust, repeats the hysteron proteron motif in which fear seems to summon its objects into existence; see st. 22n and viii.23.7, where Florimell addresses the fisherman as ‘father’.
Spenser echoes a version of the myth of Britomartis. See ii.30-51n for his earlier recourse to the pseudo-Virgilian Ciris for one version of the story; here he echoes a different version, one reported (and dismissed) by Diodorus Siculus, in which Britomartis, pursued by Minos, ‘fled into some fishermen’s nets’ (Bib Hist 5.76). These allusions indirectly associate Florimell’s flight with one aspect of Britomart’s more complex and ambivalent response to erotic experience.
The narrative leaves Florimell afloat in the shallop with a sleeping fisherman; her story will be resumed in canto viii.
See 28.7-9 and note above. The beast substitutes the palfrey for its rider; Sir Satyrane infers the reverse of this substitution, fearing that the palfrey ‘rent without remorse’ (31.3) indicates a similar fate for its rider.
31.8-9 her golden girdle: Florimell’s girdle, or ‘cestus’, has an elaborate classical genealogy. It was customary in Greek antiquity for a bride to wear a marriage girdle (κεστός kestos) which the groom would loosen on the wedding-night. The loosening of the girdle in Homer is similarly a prelude to sexual intercourse when Poseidon, impersonating the river-god Enipeus, lies with Tyro: ‘And he loosed her maiden girdle, and shed sleep upon her. But when the god had ended his work of love, he clasped her hand’ (Od 11.246-47). Homer’s Venus wears a girdle that embodies her power of arousing desire; Hera borrows it under false pretenses to seduce Zeus (Il 14.214-21). In Ovid, Ceres learns her daughter Persephone’s fate when the nymph Cyane shows her the girdle that fell from Persephone when she was carried by Dis into the underworld (Met 5.470). Spenser will supplement this history with his own invention when the girdle reappears in Book IV (v.3-6).
Florimell’s chastity remains intact, but the loss of her girdle, like the fate of her palfrey (see st 31n), presents Sir Satyrane with an ominous sign ‘that did him sore apall’ (31.9; cf. 35.5-6, ‘the implacable wrong, / Which he supposed donne to Florimell’).
33.5-9 In ‘Hurling his sword away’ Sir Satyrane imitates Arthur’s combat with Maleger (II.xi.41.6-7), except that he throws his sword ‘furiously’ rather than ‘lightly’ (II.xi.41.7). He leaps ‘lightly’ onto the beast, but in so doing becomes its rider, a situation that recalls the ambiguous mirroring between Florimell and her palfrey as Satyrane grows ‘enrag’d’ while the beast ‘Rored, and raged’. An element of burlesque enters into the scene as the frustrated knight heaps strokes on an ‘underkept’ bestial element (33.8) that belongs partly to his own nature: thus the ‘great cruelty’ with which the beast roars refers at once to its suffering and to Satyrane’s punitive violence (see 35.7).
Cf. Boiardo’s description of Orlando in combat with a dragon: Al fin con molto ardir gli salta addosso, / E calvalcando tra le coscie il tiene; / Ferendo ad ambe mano, a gran tempesta / Colpi raddoppia a colpi in su la testa (OI II.iv.19.5-8, ‘At last, he mounts its back. He holds / It by his thighs. He rides. He’s bold. / His two hands flail—a hurricane. / He hits its head. He hits again’).
The simile in this stanza expands a proverb echoed in Guyon’s combat with Furor at II.iv.11.9: ‘The bankes are overflowne, when stopped is the flood’ (Smith 1970, no. 731). It also echoes the simile comparing Maleger’s arrows to ‘a great water flood’ at II.xi.18.4-9, and recalls the contrasting simile of the ‘fire, the which in hollow cave / Hath long bene underkept’ that describes Arthur’s resurgence in that battle (32.1-2). All three passages echo Ovid’s description of the wrath of the Theban king Pentheus: Sic ego torrentem, qua nil obstabat eunti, / Lenius et modico strepitu decurrere vidi; / At quacumque trabes obstructaque saxa tenebant, / Spumeus et fervens et ab obice saevior ibat (‘So have I seen a river, where nothing obstructed its course, flow smoothly on with but a gentle murmur; but, where it was held in check by dams of timber and stone set it its way, foaming and boiling it went, fiercer for the obstruction’; Met 3.568-71). The allusion to Ovid comes to Spenser by way of Ariosto’s description of Ruggiero’s anger in a confrontation with Mandricard (OF 26.111).
34.7-9 Spenser’s ‘wofull husbandman’ has a number of antecedents, including the villan (peasant) in Ariosto’s version of the obstructed-river simile (st 34n). Another Ariostan precedent appears in the description of the fall of Bizerta:
Con quell furor che ‘l re de’ fiumi altiero, quando rompe talvolta argini e sponde, e e che nei campi Ocnei s’apre il sentiero, e i grassi solchi e le biade feconde, e con le sue capanne il gregge intiero, e coi cani i pastor porta ne l’onde . . . . (OF 40.31.1-6)
‘It was as when the Po, proud king of rivers, goes on the rampage: he breaks his banks, forces his passage into the fields of Ocnus where he carries away in his flood the fertile ploughland and fruitful crops, entire flocks complete with their sheepfolds, herdsmen and sheep-dogs all pell-mell’.
Together these Ariostan similes match the double inflection of Spenser’s flood as at once an internal state (34.3n) and an external event compared to physical combat. Behind all three passages lies Ovid’s description of the flood with which Jove destroys the human race. Spenser’s lines are much closer to the Ovidian original than to either of Ariosto’s imitations of it: sternuntur segetes et deplorata coloni / volta iacent, longique perit labor inritus anni (‘The standing grain is overthrown; the crops which have been the object of the farmer’s prayers lie ruined; and the hard labor of the previous year has come to naught’; Met 1.272-73).
The Giantess bearing a captive squire reverses the image of Dis carrying away Persephone (see 31.8-9n), and seems to contrast with the beast as a figure of female rather than male lust. As such she and her victim travesty the maternal eroticism of Venus cherishing Adonis in the Garden. The episode qualifies any simple gendering of its contrasts, however: the beast was created by a female ‘maker’ (35.9) and is bound with an emblem of feminine chastity in marriage, while the ‘bold knight’ who pursues the Giantess (37.4; ‘He’ at 43.8), and who alone can threaten her, will be revealed as an armed virago on horseback, like Britomart. This reversal, akin to the moments when Britomart is mistaken for a male, may be echoed in the name ‘Argante’ (47.2) if it alludes to the male knight in Argantes in Tasso.
43.1-3 The combination of alliteration and repetition (‘him pluckt perforse, / Perforse him pluckt’) underlines the comedy of the moment; if the first episode in this canto plays with motifs of exaggeration and diminution (see 5.2n), the image of Satyrane plucked from his saddle by a giantess evokes a humorously literal incongruity of proportions: the knight who moments ago wielded a spear ‘in bignes like a mast’ (40.6) suddenly seems as small as a child.
The humor is reinforced by the Virgilian allusion, which adds yet another gender-reversal. In the Aeneid Tarchon, infuriated by the exploits of the virago Camilla, berates his own troops by questioning their virility, whereupon haec effatus equum in medios, moriturus et ipse, / concitat et Venulo adversum se turbidus infert / dereptumque ab equo dextra complectitur hostem / et gremium ante suum multa vi concitus aufert (‘he spurs his horse into the midst, ready himself also to die, and charges like a whirlwind full upon Venulus; then tearing the foe from his steed, grips him with his right hand, clasps him to his breast, and spurring with might and main, carries him off’; 11.741-44). This allusion may be routed through Berni’s 1542 imitation of the Virgilian passage: In questo temp il gigante Orione / Preso sene portava Ricciardetto, / Lo teneva pe’ piedi il ribaldone: / Chiamava forte ajuto il giovanetto’ (‘At that moment the giant Orione carried off the captured Ricciardetto; the large evil man held him by the feet, the young man cried loudly for help’; Rifacimento dell’Orlando innamorato 188.8.131.52-6).
This inset narrative is adapted from the Inkeeper’s tale in Ariosto OF 28. An anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, holds that John Harington translated the tale and circulated it among the ladies in the royal court. Elizabeth is said to have ‘punished’ him by barring him from the court until he had finished translating the rest of the poem (Park 1804, 1.10). When Harington published the completed translation in 1591, he took note of Spenser’s imitation:
The hosts tale in the xx viij booke of this worke, is a bad one: M. Spencers tale of the squire of Dames, in his excellent Poem of the Faery Queene, in the end of the vii. Canto of the third booke, is to the like effect, sharpe and well conceited; in substance thus, that his Squire of Dames could in three yeares travell, find but three women that denyed his lewed desire: of which three, one was a courtesan, that rejected him because he wanted coyne for her: the second a Nun, who refused him because he would not swear secreacie, the third a plain countrey Gentlewoman, that of good honest simplicitie denyed him. (373)
Spenser’s imitation may allude to Harington’s escapade, but the anecdote serves even if apocryphal to illustrate the point of Spenser’s allegory, which calls attention to the circumstances of the tale’s telling and reception, and in this way reflects critically upon its circulation as a tale that is recurrently both disavowed and retold.
Satyrane’s facetious comparison of the Squire’s quest to the labors of Hercules (61.4) gains irony from the proverbial ‘Choice of Hercules’, a classical exemplum of virtue supplied by Xenophon (Memorabilia 2.1.21-33). Satyrane may slso be thinking of Pausanius, who reports: ‘Hercules, they say, had intercourse with the fifty daughters of Thestius, except one, in a single night’ (Description of Greece 9.27.6).
Spenser’s story of the false Florimell may have been inspired by a classical narrative (attributed to the Greek poet Stesichorus and taken up by Euripides in his play Helen) according to which Paris absconded to Troy with a phantom while the real Helen remained in Egypt under the protection of King Proteus (Roche 1964:152-67). Given the prominence of the sea-god Proteus in Florimell’s adventures, and the immediate proximity of these adventures to Spenser’s fabliau-treatment of the Helen story in canto ix, an allusion does seem likely.
Spenser’s description of the false Florimell’s creation implies a combination of alchemy and witchcraft: Mercury is a staple of alchemical processes, and the witch’s journey to a distant mountain-range famous for its snow recalls Medea’s nine-day journey to gather magical herbs on Ossa, Pelion, Othrys, Pindus, and Olympus (Ovid Met 7.216-36). These arcane practices are fused in a parodic literalization of the Petrarchan blazon, which inventories the physical beauties of a mistress by way of far-fetched similitudes. Compare Spenser’s handling of this convention in Amoretti (e.g. 15, 17, and 21), where he acknowledges in the opening sonnet that his beloved ‘derived is’ from Helicon, the haunt of the Muses. The allegory of poetic invention implied in the creation of the false Florimell may be recognized by Ralegh, who imitates Spenser’s fiction (unless Spenser is imitating him; the dating of Ralegh’s poem is uncertain) in a lyric found in different forms in two early seventeenth-century manuscript miscellanies:
Nature, that washt her hands in milke and had forgott to dry them, Instead of earth tooke snow and silke at love’s request to try them, If she a mistress could compose to please loves fancy out of those. (Rudick 1999: 113)
Cf. the contrast between true beauty and ‘mixture made / Of colours faire, and goodly temp’rament / Of pure complexions’ in HB 64-98.
the carcas dead: Implying that sexual desire for mere appearances might as well be necrophilia. Compare HB 82-87:
Or why doe not faire pictures like powre shew, In which oftimes, we Nature see of Art Exceld, in perfect limming every part. But ah, beleeve me, there is more than so That workes such wonders in the minds of men.
As a female impersonator, the witch’s ‘wicked Spright’ may glance at the Elizabethan theater’s practice of training boys to play women’s roles.
There is a revealing failure of logic in Braggadocchio’s challenge to the unnamed stranger. The initial—and in Braggadocchio’s case, entirely spurious—contrast between words and blows, winning and stealing, breaks down in lines 4-5, which might be paraphrased ‘But if you want to fight, run away’—advice that Braggadocchio will himself promptly heed.