The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Book 5, Cantos 4–6 | Summary



Book 5, Canto 4

Artegall and Talus travel further. They run into two squires, a pair of brothers, arguing over a coffer or large box filled with treasure. The box looks like it's been carried through the sea.

The brothers Bracidas and Amidas explain they each inherited a separate island from their father. The islands were once equal in mass. But over time Bracidas's island eroded and its land washed up onto Amidas's island. Bracidas's fiancée Philtera left him for Amidas after his fortunes declined.

Amidas's fiancée Lucy, a poor but virtuous woman, was so distraught she threw herself into the sea. Lucy happened to find the box of treasure and washed up on Bracidas's land with it. Bracidas saved Lucy's life, and she agreed to marry him. But Philtera argued the treasure was hers; she'd sent a ship to transport it to Bracidas's island.

Artegall sorts out the dispute and the brothers agree to abide by his judgment. He determines Amidas has a right to the extra land the sea brought him. Bracidas similarly has a right to the treasure the sea brought him. Bracidas is pleased by the verdict, but Amidas is not.

As Artegall continues onward he sees a knight, Turpine, about to be hanged by a group of women. He sends Talus to break up the group and save Turpine. Artegall asks how Turpine allowed women to oppress him. Turpine is confused about his own situation but offers the best explanation he can.

A brave Amazon woman, Radigund, has been challenging all the Knights of Maidenhood. She despises men since her own love Bellodant doesn't love her back. Any knights Radigund captures are forced to wear dresses and do household chores. If they protest she hangs them. Artegall vows to conquer Radigund. He takes Turpine with him.

They arrive at Radegone, the Amazon city where Radigund rules. The watchmen tell Radigund of their arrival, and she prepares an army of women to meet and fight them. They battle until evening when Radigund calls off the fight.

The next day Radigund decides she'd rather not lose any more troops in battle. She challenges Artegall to a one-on-one joust. If she wins, he has to obey her law and serve her. If he wins, she'll obey and serve him. Artegall agrees to these terms. They schedule the battle for the following day.

Book 5, Canto 5

Wearing a magnificent outfit, Radigund heads to the battlefield to challenge Artegall. At first Artegall has the upper hand. But he's distracted when he sees Radigund's face, throwing his sword down so he doesn't harm her. This gives Radigund an advantage. She overcomes Artegall, and he surrenders.

The Amazon women hang Turpine but let Talus escape. Artegall goes into Radigund's service as he agreed. He puts on women's clothing and enters a chamber full of other knights working at spinning wheels.

As Artegall works Radigund begins to fall in love with him. She confesses her love to her handmaid Clarinda. Fearing she's treated Artegall unfairly, Radigund asks Clarinda to convince Artegall of her good intentions.

When Clarinda seems sympathetic to his plight, Artegall is skeptical. He tells her he wants to honor Radigund's authority. But he'll take any favor Radigund wants to offer. As she returns to Radigund Clarinda realizes she's falling for Artegall herself.

Clarinda devises a plan. She tells Radigund Artegall would rather die a servant than be her lover. Radigund decides to wear him down by reducing his food rations and giving him more work. Clarinda then tells Artegall Radigund will never free him. But Clarinda offers to defy her mistress and free him herself. Artegall, not knowing of the deception, is grateful to Clarinda.

Book 5, Canto 6

The poet rebukes readers who find Artegall weak. He maintains Artegall kept his strong character even in imprisonment.

Meanwhile Britomart, the knight who loves Artegall, waits for his return. Secretly she worries he doesn't love her anymore. Talus finds his way to Britomart and reports Artegall is being held captive by a tyrannical woman. At first Britomart is convinced Artegall's been unfaithful. But when Talus tells her the details of Artegall's captivity, she travels to avenge him.

On her way she befriends Dolon, an elderly traveler, and spends the night in his castle. But she refuses to take off her armor or sleep in case of danger. Talus, who is traveling with her, also stays awake all night.

Early in the morning Britomart is sitting by the bed in her room. She sees the bed fall through the floor and realizes the room was a trap. As she readies herself to fight, two armed knights enter the room. Talus chases them away.

The poet explains Dolon is a wicked man who had no taste for the noble life of a knight. He has three equally wicked and fraudulent sons. Artegall killed his son Guizor, and Dolon has since been determined to get revenge. He recognized Talus as Artegall's assistant and assumed the knight with him was Artegall.

Britomart escapes with Talus. But they soon encounter Dolon's other two sons, Guizor's brothers, on the narrow bridge where Artegall defeated Pollente. Britomart rejects Talus's help and goes forward to fight the brothers herself, killing both of them.


Canto 4's first two stanzas address the political leader's role in justice. Enforcers must be both mighty and wise. Artegall exemplifies both traits. Spenser hopes Queen Elizabeth I, his ideal audience for the poem, will learn from Artegall's example.

The debate between Bracidas and Amidas answers the giant's argument in Canto 2, Stanzas 37–40. The giant wants to redistribute natural resources by leveling mountains and keeping the seas from the land. Artegall responds the tides will bring the land elsewhere, adding all lost things can be found. Bracidas's lost wealth proves this point neatly. The planet naturally delivered resources to each brother in the perfect proportion.

But each knight is somehow waylaid on his or her quest. Artegall meets his match in Radigund the Amazon, who allows her passion for vengeance against men to overcome reason and justice. Radigund and Artegall's story reflects the Greek myth of Hercules and the queen Omphale. In the myth Hercules is forced to dress as a woman and spin on a wheel. Radigund may also represent the historical Mary Stuart or Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–87), a devout Catholic who angled for Elizabeth I's throne. The gender politics of the Amazons also concern Spenser. In Canto 5, Stanza 25 he references his belief in women's divinely appointed roles as humble, moral guides to male leadership.

In Canto 5 the narrative takes an unexpected turn. Artegall, the hero, loses his battle. But he honors the bargain he made—observing law and order whether the results work out in his favor or not. Even Talus acknowledges this agreement. And Artegall is a model prisoner who doesn't attempt to escape when the opportunity presents itself. Radigund and Clarinda, meanwhile, are manipulative and compete for power and control.

The enemies of justice in Book 5 are devious. They don't just rely on their physical might. Dolon's plan to trap Artegall shows he prefers the life of wickedness to the noble life of knighthood. Spenser may be illustrating the craftiness of England's political enemies, particularly those like Mary Stuart who supposedly plotted to assassinate Elizabeth I.

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