The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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



Book 6, Canto 4

A savage man spies the wounded Calepine and Serena in the woods. He feels compassion for the first time in his life. The savage man doesn't have weapons or know how to use them, but he still pursues Turpine for vengeance. He scares Turpine away and returns to the couple. Priscilla is afraid of the savage man at first. He can't speak but his kind gestures reassure her.

Using his knowledge of natural remedies, the savage man heals Calepine's wound. He brings the couple to his glade in the woods. Although Calepine recovers, Serena's wounds are deep and internal, and the savage man can't find a cure.

While wandering in the woods, Calepine comes across a bear with an infant in its mouth. He saves the baby by choking the bear and is glad to discover the baby is unharmed. But Calepine got lost pursuing the bear. He wanders with the baby until nightfall.

Then he finds a woman named Matilde weeping alone in the woods. She and her husband Bruin, who rules the surrounding land, are unable to have a child. Bruin conquered the giant Cormorant for the land, and Cormorant will take it back unless Bruin has an heir. Matilde recalls a prophecy saying Bruin will "Be gotten, not begotten" of a son.

Good fortune has come her way, Calepine says. He offers her the infant in his hands, adding many noble knights have come from unknown lineage. Matilde convinces Bruin the child is his. The baby later grows up to be a knight who accomplishes great deeds.

Calepine, however, is worried about Serena. He vows not to rest until he finds her.

Book 6, Canto 5

Even when someone suffers misfortune, the poet says, it's easy to tell if they have gentle, noble blood. The savage man, for instance, shows signs of being noble.

Noticing Calepine is gone, the savage man searches for him without success. He tries and fails to comfort the grieving Serena. Though she's not completely healed, she goes to look for Calepine. The savage man insists on coming with her. He takes Calepine's armor but can't find the sword since Calepine hid it. A lady and a savage man seem like an odd pair, the poet notes. But the savage man treats Serena with great respect.

The travelers encounter the reunited Arthur and Timias. The poet narrates how the knight and squire found each other again. While Timias was happily living with Belphoebe he faced many enemies, especially three named Despetto, Decetto, and Defetto. The three foes sent the Blatant Beast to trap him, knowing Timias was bold enough to chase all wild beasts in his path. Timias didn't catch the beast. But in his pursuit, he ran into Arthur. The two had a joyful reunion.

Now Timias notices the savage man's armor and assumes it is stolen. Timias and the savage man battle until Serena steps in. She tells her story. Arthur is moved and vows to get revenge on Turpine.

The four travelers spend the night at a hermitage. The hermit who hosts them is a former knight who grew tired of the world's demands. Serena and Timias are still recovering from the wounds the beast gave them and stay longer at the hermitage. Arthur and the savage man leave together.

Book 6, Canto 6

The painful wounds the beast gives are internal, not external. They are impossible to cure with ordinary medicine. The hermit, an experienced healer, searches for a remedy in vain. He finally tells Serena and Timias they must heal themselves. Bred from hellish monsters, the beast gives a special kind of wound to which even the noblest people are vulnerable. The only cure is a lifestyle of abstinence, honesty, and restraint.

Serena and Timias take the hermit's advice and their wounds heal. They travel together from the hermitage. On their way they meet a woman in mourning dress being led by a lewd fool.

The poet interrupts Serena and Timias's journey to return to Arthur and the savage man. Arthur travels to Turpine's castle where he is denied entrance. Enraged, the savage man kills the castle's porter. Turpine and his men prepare to fight Arthur and the savage man.

Arthur quickly overtakes Turpine. Blandina, Turpine's lady, pleads for his life. Arthur spares Turpine and rebukes him for his cowardice and lack of courtesy. He tells Turpine never to bear arms or claim knighthood again.

Meanwhile the savage man has slaughtered almost everyone in the castle. Arthur stops him and brings him back to Turpine and Blandina. There, Arthur has to stop the savage man from murdering Turpine too.

Blandina entertains her guests but her courteous manner is false. She plans to trap them later. Turpine also acts politely but secretly vows revenge on Arthur.


The savage man is one of many "wild men" in medieval and Renaissance literature. He often behaves like an animal. He's incapable of speech. And in Canto 6 his vicious protectiveness of Arthur reveals an animalistic instinct; he kills everyone he perceives to be a threat.

Spenser uses the savage man as proof even someone in the humblest circumstances can be courteous. The savage man communicates his good intentions and compassion to Serena without using language. He's an attentive companion to her during their travels. He even becomes the companion of Arthur, the most virtuous man in the poem. The opening stanzas of Canto 5 suggest the savage man does have noble blood, though Spenser never gets around to telling his origin story.

Calepine's discovery of the abandoned baby returns to a major question of Book 6. Does nature or nurture produce courteous people? Even though the baby's true parents could be anyone, Canto 4 indicates he'll still grow up to be a virtuous knight. This supports the idea virtue is innate and does not come from circumstances of birth.

Courtesy also stays with knights when they give up the rigors of knighthood. Book 6 includes two retired knights who chose a more modest, less demanding lifestyle: the hermit in Cantos 5 and 6 and the shepherd Melibee in Canto 9. Their rejection of courtly life may reflect Spenser's growing disillusionment with Elizabeth's court by the time Book 6 was written.

Meanwhile the Blatant Beast continues to do its work. Despetto, Decetto, and Defetto, the Beast's henchmen who attack Timias, represent despite, defeat, and defect or failure. Despite is a term for spite or malice. Slander is malice, highlighting defects and defeat in its victims. The goal of slander is to make someone else fail.

What can someone do if they have been slandered? The Blatant Beast's wounds are internal and difficult to cure. Slander can start with something small but grow into something terrible if allowed to flourish, as Canto 6, Stanza 8 indicates. While people cannot control what others say, however, they can control their own behavior. The hermit advises Serena and Timias to lead model lives of restraint. By not giving anyone a reason to criticize them, they may avoid slander in the future. He also tells them to watch what they say so they don't slander others. Canto 6, Stanza 14 recommends avoiding secrecy and choosing truth over gossip.

The hermit's remedy of open honesty contrasts with the false courtesy of Turpine and Blandina. Turpine maintains the ruse of being a noble, reformed knight. Blandina flatters her guests while secretly planning revenge, demonstrating an insidious form of discourtesy.

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