Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hit the Woman First — Faerie Queene, Book 2, Canto 4

This canto tells of a
who could have used
a sword.
I return to my dilatory reading of The Faerie Queene.[1] I’d rather post these at intervals instead of rushing through because I “have to” finish a Faerie Queene post. Sir Guyon seems to have a knack for attracting all those who, for no readily apparent reason, want to attack a noble and virtous knight. The allegorical figures are just laying in for him.

In terms of narrative, this is somewhat strange, because as the canto opens, all he’s doing is looking for his horse (which Sir Braggachio made off with). Clearly, at some point, Sir Guyon and Sir Braggachio are going to meet. For that matter, the Book clearly has to end with Sir Guyon encountering Acrasia. but not yet.

Spenser starts us off with a brief (one stanza) digression on the difference between the low- and high-born, with the suggestion that the nobility are simply naturally better at some things, such as feats of arms and love of entertainment. Even horseback riding
seemes a science
Proper to gentle blood;
although Spenser doesn’t prove this. It’s ironic because our noble knight has lost his horse anyway, so it doesn’t matter if he’s naturally good at horse riding, given that he does’t have a horse. Then again, he would have had to dismount anyway to help the man he sees in the third stanza.

“A mad man, or that feigned mad to bee” is attacking “a handsom stripling with great crueltee,” which is a bit of an understatement, since the mad man is beating and stabbing the youth. The two are accompanied by “a wicked Hag,” who provokes the madman. This all leads to a strained allegory, in which the woman is “occasion” and her son is Furor. Surely “occasion” doesn’t have to be an occasion for furor, but it could be an occasion for joy, or serenity, or (I dunno), temperance.[2]

Sir Guyon goes for the mad man with no avail, and the every useful Palmer “his most trusty guide” (but why is the Palmer black?[3]) points out that Furor
is not such a foe,
As steele can wound, or strength can overthroe.
Palmer points out that Furor’s source of strength is his mother, Occasion. Sir Guyon wrestles her to the ground and puts an iron lock on her tongue (just where did he get that?). Furor flees, but Guyon is able to bind him as well. Then Guyon looks to Furor’s victim, wondering how that all came to pass. He talks for seventeen stanzas to tell his tale. No word if Guyon attempts any medical intervention in that time.

The story matches, to some degree, the Hero and Claudio story line in Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare’s play is about a decade younger), except with a much more tragic twist. Clearly this sort of plot was quite current and everyone wanted to play with it. As you’ve had since 1698 to read Much Ado About Nothing, you’re really not entitled to a spoiler warning. Spenser makes you wait for names (always), but the whole thing is easier to follow once you’ve gone from “a Lady fayre of great degree” to Claribell.

In Spenser’s story, Phaon (the now wounded man), fell in love with a “a Lady fayre of great degree” (Claribell). His friend, Philemon, romances the Claribell’s handmaid Pryrene, in order to convince Pryene to dress in her mistress’s clothing and stand at the window. Convinced that Claribell is faithless, Phaon kills her. Ouch. This is way harsher than being called “an approved wanton.”[4]
Phone goes all serial killer after that. He concludes that his (former) friend Philemon had arranged the whole thing either out of envy
Or of him selfe to treason ill disposed
and so Phaon (we learn his name soon after) poisoned Philemon.
Of deadly drugs I gave him drinke anon
And washt away his guilt with guilty potion.
He was on the point of also killing the maid, Pyrene, when she fled (who can blame her, everyone else was murdered already, so she was clearly next). This is much bloodier than Much Ado About Nothing. It’s almost like a mixture of Much Ado and the final scene in Hamlet.[5] While chasing Pyrene, Phaon was set upon by Furor. Sir Guyon counsels temperance (but, then again, we should expect that).
’sith thou hast
Falne into mishchiefe through intemperaunce,
Henceforth take eked of that thou has past,
And guide thy waies with with warie governaunce.’
So no more seeking to use a “murdrous blade” on her, okay?

We end the canto with the arrival of the varlet of Pyrochles, for whom we get a well worked-out genealogy. Taking it forwards (because we get it in receding generations):
•  Aeternitie (Eternity) is the father of
•  Herebus who with Night is the father of
•  Phlegeton with Jarre is the father of
•  Acrates with Despight is the father of
•  Pyrochles and Cymochles.

Aeternitie > Herebus > Phlegeton > Acrates > Pyrochles and Cymochles. Quite a lineage when your great-great-grandfather is Eternity. In any case, Pyrochles is seeking Furor. And, in keeping with his master’s name, Pyrochles’s varlet is carrying a shield with the words “Burnt I doe burne.” Pyrochles’s varlet is astonished that any knight would fight an old woman. Now we just wait for Pyrochles to show up. Palmer probably needn’t bother telling the hothead the secret of beating Furor.

  1. Truth be told, I’m in the midst of a big project right now which is sucking up a lot of my time. I’m playing hooky from it to get this blog post written.  ↩
  2. Remember, Sir Guyon is an allegory of temperance. How so, I’m not sure, because he hasn’t shown himself to be so yet.  ↩
  3. We were reminded of this in Book 2, Canto 4, Stanza 2, line 4 (should I call that II:IV:ii:iv?)  ↩
  4. Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, Scene 1, line 44.  ↩
  5. It’s not a spoiler. Most of the major characters die at the end. And several die long before that, but you knew that, since Hamlet is probably the most famous play in all history. Oh, and Snape kills…er, never mind.  ↩

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