Monday, May 12, 2014

Many a knight and more ladies fair and monstrous - Faerie Queene - Book 1, Canto 2

In case you were curiass
Spenser continues with themes of duplication, dissimulation, and transformation in the second canto. We've got four knights and three ladies, except that one of the knights is a fake, as are two of the ladies. Just for balance, we have something that looks like a false squire.

We get some clues in the introductory quatrain. Spenser says,
The guileful great Enchaunter parts
The Redcrosse Knight from Truth :
Into whose stead faire falsehood steps,
And works him woefull ruth.
From whom does the Redcrosse Knight become separated? The lovely Lady, and it the quatrain is an indication, she is Truth. No wonder she so quickly recognized and disliked Erreur. We even get a name for her, which had been mentioned before. Her name is Una of the
black stole, most like to seem for Una fit
in the 15th stanza of the first canto. And due to the Enchanter's arts, we soon have
Una wandring in woods and forrests
The two get separated. After Enchanter failed to divide the knight from his lady by lust, he makes a squire for the false lady (which seems to make her fair Falsehood of the quatrain), and alerts the knight so that the he will see how they have "knit themselves in Venus shameful chaine."

It works. He's off with his sword and his "eie of rason was with rage yblent." The Enchanter stopped the knight from killing Falsehood. Instead, he leaves at morning light with the dwarf. The Enchanter's real goal seems to be to attack the lady,
For he hated her as the hissing snake,
And in her many troubles did most pleasure take.
The ladies are clearly important. The Enchanter, after some thought, takes the form of the Redcrosse Knight and goes off to find the lady. This is a matter for another canto, because we catch back up with the Redcrosse Knight. (I'm sure we're going to see the Enchanter in the form of the Redcrosse Knight again, as well as Una, though in the remainder of this canto, we don't.)

I really liked the name of the next night we meet: Sans Foy. Sir Faithless. And he has brothers. The middle child is "the bloudy bold Sans loy," or Sir Lawless; the youngest is Sans Joy, and Sir Joyless is probably no fun at parties. Spenser makes Sans Foy (and presumably his brothers) Saracens, which is to say, not Christian. They are the stock villains of heroic romance. Sans Foy attacks the Redcrosse Knight, but the cross on his curiass prevents Sans Foy from wounding him.  Sans Foy is not so lucky and seems to do himself in with his own helmet. Oops.

We have our third knight (Redcrosse, Enchanter in the form of Redcrosse, and Sans Foy), and now we get our third Lady (the first two being the lovely Lady and her false double made from a spirit). Just as the Redcrosse Knight was traveling with Lady and Dwarf, Sans Foy gets his entourage too.
Hee had a faire companion of his way,
A goodly Lady clad in scarlot red,
Purled with gold and pearle of rich assay;
And like a Persian mitre on her hed
Shee wore
In keeping the Saracen knight, here we have a woman in Middle-Eastern garb. Much more elaborate than the Lady who wears a veil and a black stole. Her name is Fidessa, well, kinda.

The Redcrosse Knight and Fidessa seek some shade and here we get our next transformation. The knight breaks a branch off a tree and it starts to bleed and cry. The tree is a man named Fradubio (our fourth knight) who has been enchanted into the form of a tree by Duessa, a sorceress. Like the Enchanter, Duesssa does transformations too, or at least that's what Fradubio tells us.

Fradubio had been in love with Fraelissa when he met Duessa. He dumped Fraelissa because Duessa seemed prettier. but then he found that Duessa wasn't so pretty after all. Okay, so she let herself go a little after she got married, and Fradubio accused her of being an enchantress whose former lovely form was a counterfeit. What an asshole! No wonder she turned him into a tree.

Or, if we believe Fradubio on this, Duessa made Fraeliss seem ugly by an enchantment,
a dull blast, that breathing on her face
Dimmer her former beauties shining ray,
And with foul ugly forme did her disgrace 
But then (too late), Fradubio seems Duessa in "her proper hew," and her own shape is "misshapen, monstrous."
more foule and hideous,
Than woman's shape man would believe to bee
Given that the women's shapes in Elizabeth England were fairly well concealed, though the mind does boggle at the thought of an Elizabethan man so benighted that he's not quite sure what's under that dress. It's too late, since Fraelissa is already "turnd to treen mold." For Duessa has transformed Fradubio right at the spot that Fraelissa has died.

It's Arthurian Romance; there's a way of breaking the spell, though probably not for Fraelissa. Now the bad news for the Redcrosse Knight:
The false Duessa, now Fidessa hight,
Heard how in vain Fradubio did lament,
And knew well all was true.
The Redcross Knight has gone from being accompanied by Lady Truth to being in the company of an hideous old hag in the form of a lovely lady. There are clearly problems ahead.
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