Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Unhappy House of Medina — Faerie Queene, Book 2, Canto 2

The Knight of the Dish
(Is that shield a pink triangle?)
Back to The Faerie Queene. I’m still trying to finish a canto each day (although I’m beginning to contemplate taking the weekend off). I keep giving myself these writing assignments for the blog, but they can get in the way of other things I need to write and do. It feels really good to be sitting at the computer and writing. It feels really good to be reading an Elizabethan poem and jotting down my thoughts on it. Can I stand this much pleasure?

One of the pleasures of the text is that it is a tough one. This is tougher than reading an uncorrected Shakespeare text. Part of the problem is that the edition I’m using has really bad layout. In order to get two columns of text, long lines are often wrapped (in a bracket) either above or below the line they continue. Total pain. Probably adds to the confusion.

Okay, here’s where I have to confess to some confusion on my part. At the end of Book 2, Canto I, where the text reads,
And worse and worse, young Orphane be thy payne,
If I, or thou, dew vengeaunce doe forbeare,
I had lost track of to whom Sir Guyon was talking. It is the son of the dead woman and knight. Sir Guyon then sort of pre-figures Lady Macbeth,[1] in that he spends two stanzas attempting to wash the blood off the baby’s hands. It’s pretty ineffectual, since,
He washt them oft and oft, yet noght they beene
For all his washing cleaner.
There’s a reason. The palmer explains that stream comes from a rock which is a nymph who was transformed to save her from a faun. Her purity (in that as a rock she is eternally virginal) causes the stream to be
chaste and pure as purest snow,
Ne lets her waves with any filth by dyde;
But ever, like herselfe, unstayned hath been tryde.
When the choices are rape by a faun or all eternity as a rock, you’ve haven’t got any good ones. No wonder she’s crying. In any case, the kid’s hands are just going to have to stay filthy. And then someone stole his horse.

Then he comes to Castle Anthrax.[2] Not, really, but that’s what it made me think of. Instead of “eight score” women, we just get three. And two of them have boyfriends. The eldest consorts with Sir Huddibras, a braggart knight (taken from Samuel Butler’s poem), while the younger has our old friend Sanloy. They don’t like each other.
These two gay knights, vowd to so diverse loves,
Each other does envy with deadly hate
And daily warre agaisnt his feoman moves,
In hope to win more favour with his mate,
And th’ others pleasing service to abate,
To magnifie his own.
For for Huddibras and Sanloy, the arrival of Sir Guyon is a good thing. Someone else to fight. Except they attack each other as well, so it isn’t two against one so much as every man for himself, “A triple warre with triple enmity.”

Medina actual ends the battle, to the disappointment of her sisters, Elissa and Perissa (they get named much later than she does).[3] She’s the peacemaker, but they don’t like that. Elissa and Perissa are opposites with Medina (no surprise) the balanced middle. It’s clear that poor Sir Huddibras has a lady (Elissa) who would find any food to rich, any speech too loud, any entertainment too crude. No wonder he envies Sanloy, who is devoted to Perissa, who
poured out in pleasure and delight :
In wine and meats she flowd above the banck.
At the end of the canto, tells of his story and how he has vowed to visit retribution on Acrasia (remember her?). I can’t see this sitting well with Sanloy and Perissa, given that Perissa has a bit of Acrasia’s spirit in her.

  1. Probably written in 1606, a decade after The Faerie Queene.  ↩
  2. If you’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you already know what Castle Anthrax is. If you haven’t seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, why are you wasting time on my blog when you clearly should be watching the movie. I’ll be here when you finish.  ↩
  3. Specifically: Medina is named in Stanza 15, but Elissa in 35, and Perissa in 36.  ↩

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