Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fighting Fire with Fire — Faerie Queene, Book 2, Canto 5

We're looking for fire imagery
Remember Acrasia? When I started this canto, my first thought was that Spenser had somehow forgotten her. The action picks up with the arrival of Pyrochles, whose varlet carried the shield reading “Bunrt I doe burn.” Just in case we didn’t get it from the name and shield, Spenser is quick to load on the words to remind us. Pyrochles is in “bright armes” off which “the Sunny beames do glaunce and glide,” and the sun throws forth “sparkling fire, That seem him to enflame.” And that’s just in the second stanza.

Pyrocles rides a steed that is “bloody red,” and that steed is soon going to be bloodier. Guyon is on foot, since he lost his horse in the second canto. Here we have a great moment of medieval warfare: a armored knight on horseback charging a swordsman on foot. Usually, the guy on horseback wins this sort of thing, but not in Canto V.

Sir Guyon salutes Pyrocles “with a sturdy stroke” which strikes Pyrocles’s shield, where it “bitt not,” instead
glauncing fell
On his horse necke before the quilted sell,
And from the head the body sundred quight.
This is not good news for Pyrocles who is “sore bruzed” by having his horse fall on him. Now both warriors are on foot (since Guyon lost his horse in the second canto); it’s time for swordplay. Pyrocles’s sword is “flaming,” but we all saw that coming. Despite all he has in his favor, Pyrocles doesn’t do too well in the battle. Sure, he strikes Guyon’s helmet, and while Guyon was “much ashamd that stroke of living arme Should him dismay,” “it did him little harme.” While Guyon’s first stroke at Pyrocles
inly bate
Deepe in his flesh, and opened wide a red floodgate.
But like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “it’s only a flesh wound,” and Pyrocles keeps at the fighting, despite his inability to harm Guyon. To make it worse, not only does Guyon beat Pyrcles, he lectures him.
’Fly, O Pyrocles! fly the dreadfull warre
That in thy selfe thy lesser partes do move ;
Outrageous anger, and woe-working jarre,
Direfull impatience, and hart-murdring love :
Those, those thy foes, those warriours far remove,
Which thee to endless bale captived lead.
But Pyrocles has a rejoinder. Why did he attack Guyon? Because Pyrocles has learned that Guyon has “done great tort Unto an aged woman.” So he pleads with Guyon to let Occasion free. Guyon does so, but not without a “don’t say I didn’t warn you.” After all, we know it’s a bad idea.

Once Occasion is freed, Furor shows up to fight Pyrochles. Not much in the way of thanks, really. Furor is already doing well when Occasion arms him with “a flaming fyer brond.” Pyrochles’s sword is probably only metaphorically flaming. This is real fire and things go badly for him and he is obliged to seek help from Guyon, who follows the Palmer’s advice and stays out of it.

When it looks like Pyrochles has died at Furor’s hand, his varlet (now named Atin) goes off to get Pyrochles’s brother, already named in the previous canto as Cymocles, who is at the castle of his lady, Acrasia. I had been wondering when she was going to show up.

Oh, the Bower of Bliss is a nice place, though there is a price. Like Circe, Acrasia eventually enchants her loves and “she does tranforme to monstrous hewes,” whereupon she locks them up, “Captiv’d eternally in yron mewes.” But up to that point, things are good.

We get a hint of bisexual pleasures, since the “lavish joyes” are “Mingled emongst loose Ladies and lascivious boyes.” We also get half-dressed dancing girls. Atin (Pryochles’s varlet) finds Cymochles
Amidst a flock of Damzelles fresh and gay,
That rownd about him dissolute did play
Their wanton follies and light meriments :
Every of which did loosely disaray
Her upper partes of meet habiliments,
And shwed them naked, deckt with many ornaments.
Atin tells Cymochles of the trouble that Pyrochles is in, which is enough to rouse Cymchles to call for his armor. And off he goes, with Atin to urge him on.
And Atin ay him pricks with spurs of shame and wrong.
We’re getting closer to Acrasia.
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