Literature Study GuidesThe Faerie QueeneBook 2 Cantos 10 12 Summary

The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Book 2, Cantos 10–12 | Summary



Book 2, Canto 10

The poet invokes the Muses and the Faerie Queene to help him tell the next part of the story.

Arthur reads about the history of Britain. The book begins with Britain's ancient history as a wilderness populated by giants. It proceeds through the time of ancient Rome, explaining the origins of many place names in Britain such as Kent, Cornwall, and Devonshire. The chronicle continues to name the succession of British and Scottish rulers. It takes Britain from pagan to Christian dominance as warriors rise and fall. After naming Uther Pendragon or King Uther, the chronicle ends. Arthur reflects on how much he owes the country of Britain.

Meanwhile Guyon reads his own book about the origins of Faery land. It begins with Prometheus, travels through the magical history of elfin kings, and ends with the ruler Gloriana (the Faerie Queene).

After the knights finish reading, Alma invites them to feast.

Book 2, Canto 11

The next morning Alma has prepared a boat for Guyon's journey on his quest. Guyon and the Palmer set off while Arthur stays behind.

Once Guyon leaves, 12 troops of villains besiege the Castle of Temperance. They attack all five senses viciously. Arthur and his trusty horse Spumador ward most of them off. But, the troops' captain Malegar appears even stronger. He rides a tiger and has two hags named Impotence and Impatience fighting alongside him.

Arthur captures Impotence, the lame hag. Impatience attacks Arthur and nearly kills him, but his squire saves him. Arthur then attempts to kill Malegar, but he's shocked when Malegar revives twice after two blows that should have been deadly. Finally, Arthur remembers Malegar gets his energy from the mother Earth; separation from Earth will kill him. Arthur throws Malegar into a lake. Impotence kills herself with one of Malegar's darts in grief. Arthur's squire carries him back to the castle to rest.

Book 2, Canto 12

Guyon, the Palmer, and a boatman take two days to sail to the Bower of Bliss. They pass the Gulf of Greediness, the Rock of Vile Reproach, and the wandering islands, which float away from anyone who tries to land. Their boatman warns them against each danger.

Phaedria, who carried Guyon on the ferry, briefly tempts the travelers. They pass the Quicksand of Unthriftihood and the Whirlpool of Decay. A storm arises and the travelers fight off a series of sea monsters. They hear a woman crying, and Guyon wants to rescue her. But the Palmer tells him she's faking sorrow to take advantage of him.

As night falls the travelers arrive at the mermaids' bay. They sail past tempting mermaids, enter the fog, and fight off deadly birds and beasts. Once they make it to land, the Palmer defeats more monsters with his staff.

Finally, they arrive at the Bower of Bliss, a garden that expresses a triumph of art over nature. The gatekeeper is a tall, handsome man called Genius. Guyon stands amazed by the garden's beauty, but he steadfastly overcomes all its temptations, including an offer of gold and fruit representing Excess.

The Palmer warns Guyon they need to take Acrasia by surprise. They find her lying on a bed of roses with her new lover Verdant. Guyon and the Palmer capture them both. Guyon destroys the rest of the garden.

As they leave, Guyon learns the beasts he fought along the way are actually men, turned into animals by Acrasia's evil enchantment. The Palmer returns them to their human forms. One man, Grille, chooses to remain a hog.


Epic poets sometimes honored their royal patrons by presenting a catalogue of the patron's history, weaving their story into the story of the nation. Roman poet Virgil's epic, The Aeneid, celebrated the reign of the emperor Augustus by portraying his rule as Roman destiny. Spenser does the same with Elizabeth I. Most of the Canto 10 account of Arthur's past comes from British writer Geoffrey of Monmouth's (d.1155) History of the Kings of Britain, a 12th-century fiction book about Great Britain and its leaders. Spenser's version combines historical and mythological events.

Canto 10's British history revolves around a few key turning points:

  • The giants of the ancient world reign for centuries and marry the daughters of Roman emperor Diocletian. Historically this event is out of order since Diocletian lived in the 3rd century, but it connects Britain to Rome.
  • Brutus, the descendant of Rome's founder Aeneas, establishes the city of Troynouant or present-day London, England.
  • Julius Caesar invades and establishes Roman control. Historically this invasion happened around 54 BCE.
  • An uprising of the Saxon tribe, historically around 500 CE, leads to conflict between the Romans and the Saxons.
  • Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father, begins his rule.

A significant feature of this catalogue is the founding of Troynouant. The name comes from Troy, a city in Asia Minor with great mythological and literary significance. Rome was often considered the second Troy and London the third Troy, connecting the great Western cities through a common heritage. Canto 3 will continue the catalogue as the knight Britomart learns of her destiny to found Troynouant's royal dynasty. The history ultimately leads to the Tudor royal family and Elizabeth I's reign. Guyon's history of Faery land is invented by Spenser. But it has a parallel trajectory ending with the reign of Gloriana, Elizabeth's fictional representation.

Encouraged by knowledge of their destinies, Guyon and Arthur brave the temptations outside of Alma's castle. Since temperance deals with physical appetites, Book 2 addresses how bodies are vulnerable to attack. The assailants aim at the five physical senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. They conquer through sensory overload, and Impotence weakens the body itself while Impatience breaks down resistance to temptation.

Malegar signifies pain, sickness, and death, the ultimate assaults on the body. His helmet is a skull. His weakness—losing contact with solid ground—resembles the mythological king Antaeus whose strength came from the earth. The character's demise makes a larger spiritual point. Physical bodies, like the earth itself, will someday be reduced to dust.

Guyon faces physical obstacles in his final quest as well. Many of his sights mirror the adventures of Greek epic hero Odysseus in Homer's poem The Odyssey. Charybdis, a whirlpool which threatens Odysseus, resembles the Gulf of Greediness. The tempting mermaids are similar to the sirens in The Odyssey whose song derails any sailor who hears them.

Like the alluring but dangerous temptations Guyon faces elsewhere, the Bower of Bliss is an enchantment proven to be false. Everything in the garden looks heavenly, but it's not naturally beautiful. It's a poor artistic imitation of nature, designed to impress. Acrasia's new lover Verdant, whose name suggests an environment green with grass and vegetation, has been trapped by the luxury Acrasia promises.

Her gatekeeper Genius symbolizes genesis, generation, or creation—the source of life. He has a double nature indicating two possible uses of creation's gifts. In the Bower of Bliss Genius is the enemy of true life. He produces lust and pleasure; plants and animals that don't come from the natural world, or sexual activities that don't lead to procreation.

Guyon's final act of destruction reveals the artificial nature of the bower. When he restores the enchanted men to their original forms, however, he notices one man prefers his false form. Guyon and the Palmer dismiss him with a sentiment repeated throughout the poem. Virtuous people always strive for virtue, and wicked and immoral people aren't likely to change either.

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