The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Book 6, Cantos 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Book 6, Proem and Canto 1

Spenser's opening summary of Book 6 is "Contayning the Legend of S. Calidore, or of Courtesy."

The poet enjoys getting lost in Faery land so much that he loses track of his thoughts. As he begins the proem he calls on the Muses to help him describe the purity of antiquity.

Book 6 will use the knight Calidore to demonstrate the virtue of courtesy. This virtue has almost been forgotten in the present age, the poet adds, but survives in Queen Elizabeth's court.

Of all the knights at Faerie Court Calidore is the most courteous. His gentle manners, truth, and honesty make him genuinely likable to everyone he meets.

As Calidore embarks on his quest he meets Artegall returning to court. Calidore tells Artegall he's on his way to pursue the Blatant Beast, the child of the monsters Cerberus and Chimoera. The Blatant Beast torments people all over the land. Artegall reports he just encountered the beast but didn't recognize its power since he himself was not in danger. He wishes Calidore luck.

As he travels, Calidore finds a squire tied to a tree. He unties the squire and listens to his story. At a castle nearby the owners cut the hair of any ladies and shave the beards of any men who enter. Briana, the lady of the castle, must make a mantle of hair to earn the affection of her love Crudor. She's employed a wicked steward named Maleffort to help her. The squire and his lady passed by the castle, and Maleffort attacked them, chasing the lady while he tied the squire to a tree.

They soon hear the lady's shrieks as Maleffort drags her by the hair. Calidore pursues Maleffort to the castle and kills him in the castle doorway. Briana comes out and angrily asks Calidore what right he has to attack her. The real shame, Calidore says, lies with those who lack civility and show cruelty to their guests.

Briana sends a dwarf to fetch Crudor who will defend her against Calidore. After a few days Crudor arrives, and the two knights battle. Calidore, the better warrior, overtakes Crudor and is about to kill him when Crudor begs for mercy. Calidore grants the request as long as Crudor stops his wicked ways. Agreeing to reform, Crudor takes Briana as his love. She gratefully offers Calidore the castle as a reward. He declines, offering the castle instead to the squire he saved.

Book 6, Canto 2

Courteous knights and ladies like Calidore, the poet says, have a natural inclination to the virtue from birth.

Calidore arrives at a battlefield just as a youth, Tristram, slays an armed knight. Tristram is on foot wearing woodsman's clothes and carrying a hunters' horn. A lady waits nearby. She is also on foot.

Calidore asks why Tristram, who is not a knight, broke the law of arms by killing a knight. Tristram reports he saw the knight forcing the lady to walk in front of him and thumping her with his spear. Tristram was angry at the knight's cruelty, and they came to blows. Calidore agrees all men, knights or not, have a duty to be courteous to women.

According to the lady, the knight saw another couple—Priscilla and Aladine—enjoying themselves in a covert glade. The knight decided he wanted Priscilla. He threw his own lady from his horse and challenged Aladine, who was unarmed. Aladine requested time to get his armor, but the knight refused and wounded him. Priscilla ran and hid. The knight's rage at losing Priscilla led him to treat his own lady cruelly.

Impressed by Tristram, Calidore asks where he comes from. Tristram is the son of a Briton king Meliogras who reigned in Cornwall. After Meliogras died Tristram's envious uncle wanted the throne Tristram was set to inherit. Tristram's mother Emiline sent her son to Faery land for his own safety.

Tristram asks to become Calidore's squire and train as a knight. Calidore agrees and formally dubs Tristram a squire. Unfortunately, Calidore says, he promised to go on his current quest alone. Instead he asks Tristram to take the abandoned lady somewhere safe.

Next Calidore searches for Priscilla and Aladine. He finds Aladine wounded and Priscilla grieving. Calidore assures her the wicked knight is dead. He takes the two to a nearby castle.

Book 6, Canto 3

Calidore, Priscilla, and Aladine arrive at the castle of Aladine's father Aldus. Aldus puts aside his worry for his son to entertain his guests. Priscilla is concerned about Aladine's health and her own reputation; her father wants her to marry someone of higher rank than Aladine. She stays up all night. Aladine blames himself for her worry.

Calidore remedies the situation by traveling to Priscilla's castle with her and explaining Priscilla is blameless. He brings the wicked knight's head as proof of his story.

Continuing his journey, Calidore accidentally stumbles on another couple Calepine and Serena as they enjoy private time in a glade. He apologizes and befriends Calepine. As the two knights discuss adventures Serena wanders into the woods. The Blatant Beast catches her in his mouth and runs away.

Catching up with the beast, Calidore gets it to drop Serena. Calidore continues to pursue the beast while Calepine tends to his wounded lady. He lifts her onto his horse and walks beside her to find shelter. They come to a river. Calepine asks Turpine, a knight passing nearby, to help him get Serena across the river safely. Turpine refuses. He mocks them as they struggle across the river on their own. Calepine gets angry and challenges Turpine, who laughs at him.

Calepine gives up on Turpine and goes to a nearby castle. The porter won't let the couple in despite Serena's severe wounds. Turpine is the lord of the castle, the porter says, and anyone who enters has to challenge him. Still the porter brings Turpine the request. Turpine says no although his lady Blandina urges him to be courteous. Barred from the castle, Calepine and Serena sleep under a bush.

The next morning Calepine sees Turpine and pursues him unsuccessfully. He sustains a wound in the process.

Analysis

Spenser's version of courtesy is more than just good manners. Courtesy in the 16th century encompassed a range of skills, many of which men and women learned in a royal court. In fact, courtesy was a cottage industry; the "courtesy books" of the Renaissance gave instructions for proper conduct. Appearance, speech, and education all played a role. Calidore's name comes from the Greek kalos or beauty, emphasizing the attractiveness of his manners and appearance.

Spenser believed aristocracy was the best breeding ground for courtesy. Canto 1, Stanza 1 praises the exceptional courtesy found in royal courts. And Canto 2, Stanza 1 indicates the courteous know their place in the social hierarchy and understand how to behave. Kings, queens, and knights, for instance, have a greater obligation to be courteous role models.

Fundamentally, however, Spenser's version of courtesy deals with social responsibility toward others. A courteous man honors and protects women according to the code of chivalry. A courteous woman demonstrates grace and kindness. More importantly the virtue is a state of being, not just a series of actions.

The vice opposed to courtesy is slander or false statements designed to damage someone's reputation. While courtesy requires kindness towards others, slander wishes others evil. Slander is personified by the Blatant Beast Calidore seeks. The Blatant Beast, like many of the poem's villains, originates in hell.

In his search of the beast Calidore strives to be on his best behavior, demonstrating chivalry to all he meets. Briana and Crudor represent a reverse of the chivalric ideal. Rather than honoring his lady, Crudor forces her to complete a shameful task. But Calidore gives Crudor a chance to reform, proving his own humility and compassion. Calidore realizes he could be in Crudor's position one day. He's a frail human; he could be defeated in battle too. Similarly, Calidore refuses Briana's gift of the castle, preferring to give it to someone else.

When Calidore meets Tristram he recognizes the young man's inner nobility. Despite his action of killing a knight, a violation of the chivalric code, Tristram has potential for knighthood. He is willing to break the law of arms to obey the higher law of courtesy to a suffering lady.

Calidore also breaks the chivalric code in Canto 3. When he presents the knight's head, he says he saved Priscilla from a knight who was pursuing her. This isn't quite what happened; he omits the fact Priscilla and Aladine were together in a glade. But the truth would damage Priscilla's reputation. Calidore's lie breaks the letter of the law out of kindness to Priscilla.

Turpine, on the other hand, has the appearance of knighthood without the character. Despite his skill as a knight, he's cruel and arrogant. Though his pride would be a vice no matter who he was, standards are higher for him because of his knighthood. He is obligated to help others in need. Here the vice of pride returns in a slightly different form than Book 1, where pride involved thinking too highly of oneself at the expense of God. Now pride involves elevating oneself at the expense of others.

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