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Acrasia's Bower of Bliss
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Just your typical collection of tales about a Magical Land full of Knights in Shining Armor, the evil knights and monsters they fight, and the beautiful maidens they love. Except half the knights are total newbies who have no idea what they're doing, the monsters are personifications of sins, and the maiden is just as likely as her boyfriend to be a warrior who has to bail him out of trouble.

Maybe it's not so typical after all...

The Faerie Queene is a collection of 6 epic poems (and the few incomplete Mutabilitie Cantos) written by Edmund Spenser as a gift for Queen Elizabeth. The first three books were published in 1590 and the next 3 in 1596. As outlined in a letter to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, Spenser's plan was to write 24 books — the first 12 each starring a knight who personifies one of the 12 Private Virtues, and the rest starring the Public Domain Character Prince Arthur, who personifies the 12 Public Virtues — ending with an epic battle against the Faerie Queene's Arch-Enemy the Paynim King and her marriage to Arthur. Unfortunately, Spenser Died During Production; thus, we never meet the Faerie Queene in person, and Prince Arthur is never united with his True Love.

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Gloriana, the Queen of Faerieland, an obvious and flattering Expy of Queen Elizabeth, dwells in the magnificent royal city of Cleopolis where she runs the local Heroes "R" Us, the Knights of Maidenhead. The Knights are human beings who were Switched at Birth with Changelings (a supposedly favorite prank of The Fair Folk in those days) and serve the Faerie Queene in hopes of attaining honor and glory. The pattern of most of the stories is: a nearby kingdom is being terrorized by some threat, someone comes to Cleopolis to plead for aid, the queen sends a Knight to help them, the Knight and his companion go on a journey full of obstacles relevant to the virtue the Knight represents, the Knight defeats the villain. On the way, they eventually run into Prince Arthur, who fell in love with the Faerie Queene after seeing her in a dream. He is on his way to find her but keeps getting sidetracked by needing to help every character he meets along the way.

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The poems are strong Christian allegory full of symbolism and British legend. It was Spenser's first epic, a departure from the pastoral poetry he specialized in. It is widely studied in college English classes and a highly interesting read. Don't let the archaic language frighten you.

By far the most famous story is that of Saint George and his slaying of the dragon, re-told here in the eleventh canto of Book I.


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    In general 

The entire series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Britomart, Belphoebe, Palladine; giving it probably the strongest female presence of any of the classic epics.
  • An Aesop: Combined with Meaningful Name to make it clear that in the end, virtue always kicks vice's butt. Spenser even said in his introduction that he was hoping to demonstrate morality.
  • Angelic Beauty: Belphoebe's appearance is described as if she were a god or angel. Her skin is said to be as white as an angel, her rosy cheeks resemble ambrosia, and her eyes are like the stars. And just like biblical angels, her beauty is so overwhelming that it terrifies those that see her (or at least Braggadochio).
  • Allegorical Character: The protagonist of each book represents a different virtue.
    • The Redcrosse Knight represents holiness, as made clear by the fact that he is constanly saved by the Crucial Cross on his shield, his humility, and his devotion to Una, who herself represents the truth.
    • Sir Guyon represents temperance, which is made obvious since most of the villains he faces are Anthropomorphic Vices showing two extremes which he mediates.
  • Allegory: The whole poem is an allegory where the triumph of virtue over vice is represented with the exploits of various knights. The poem also serves as an allegory for what Spenser saw as the superiority of the Church of England to the corrupt Roman Catholic Church.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Belphoebe is introduced in an irrelevant episode of Book II where she scares off the minor villain Braggadocio. Then, when Squire Timias is dying of his injuries in Book III, who appears, but Belphoebe to rescue him.
  • Door Stopper: The Faeire Queene is one of the longest poems in the English language with over 35,000 lines. For comparison, that's the size of three and a half Paradise Losts, and The Faerie Queene was never even completed!
  • The Epic: The poem is a suitably important tale about noble knights doing battle with monsters in the early days of Great Britain's history. Like the classical epics, it is divided into Books and like medieval epics, those books are divided into cantos and like both, the story is incredibly long.
  • Expy: Britomart is closely based on Bradamante, the female knight who is one of the protagonists of Orlando Furioso.
  • Garden of Eden:
    • The final cantos of Book I are set in Eden, which is imagined as a lush kingdom whose people are being plagued by a dragon. In the Allegory of the poem, Eden represents a just and pious society, while the dragon threatening it represents sin (especially Pride).
    • The Bower of Bliss is a sensual imitation of the Garden of Eden set up by the temptress Acrasia to lower the guards of passing knights with its sheer beauty. It lacks the true glory of Eden, but since Eden was also the site of the original temptation, the comparison is apt.
  • The Ghost: The Faerie Queene, so important that she gives the book its name, never gets an appearance.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Satyrane, half human/half satyr; physically looks human but has a wild streak and love for nature.
  • The High Queen:
    • Gloriana the Faerie Queene never appears, but is praised by every hero who has met her for her wisdom and goodness. She also serves as the Greater-Scope Paragon of the story, since all the faerie knights that act as protagonists serve under her.
    • Canto X of Book II mentions various virtuous queens of yore meant to reflect Spenser's real-world patron, Queen Elizabeth. They include Guendoline, who imprisoned her lecherous husband after defeating him in battle, and Bunduca, who died defending Britain from the Romans.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Each of the poem's protagonists are mighty heroes who achieve great feats of strength, but are more praised for their virtue. Each is chaste, active, slow to anger, kind, and humble.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Given its length and the fact that each book stars a new protagonist, there are six stories worth of supporting casts and perilous foes in this one poem.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: The Redcrosse Knight and Sir Guyon are both notable for fighting with a shield in hand to save themselves from their enemies. Redcrosse obviously has the symbol of a cross on his shield, which helps fellow Christians identify him as an ally, and Sir Guyon has the face of the Queen of Faerie as his, which does much the same.
  • Meaningful Name: Some characters are simply named for their symbol, like Redcross the knight. Others have names in Canis Latinicus or Le Français des Chiens, such as Sansloy the rapist and Sansfoy the traitor ("lawless" and "faithless", respectively, spelled in an archaic way).
    • Some names even have a double meaning. For example, Archimago could be translated as "archmage" or "arch image" (from the Latin imago), describing his identity as Evil Sorcerer and master of illusions.
  • Mooks: Vast hordes of mooks are effortlessly put to flight by the good guys.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Long-predating Tolkien, elfes are established as a powerful race associated with womanly beauty, old magick, and great wisdom owing to their creation and enlightenment by Prometheus. In practice, though, the act just like humans. They wear armor, ride horses, succumb to sin, and partake in bloody duels reminiscent of medieval warfare.
  • Our Giants Are Different:
    • In Book I, the giant here is only twelve-feet tall, intelligent enough to speak, and civilized enough to have his own castle not too far from human civilization.
    • Book II establishes that giants have existed since the time of Adonis and that two of them were strong enough to kill an elven-king. Spenser also notes that each had a different number of heads, just to make things weirder.
  • Secondary Character Title: The Faerie Queene herself never appears and is far less active than even her male counterpart, King Arthur. This is ultimately unintentional, as the latter half of the poem was supposed to detail Arthur's meeting with the Faerie Queene.
  • Take That!: The Catholic Church is frequently on the receiving end.
  • Those Two Guys: Braggadocchio and Trompart, mostly harmless nuisances who go around together posing as a knight and his squire.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Middle Englishe: Spenser uses several archaisms to try to imitate the Middle English of Chaucer and his fourteenth century contemporaries, with varying degrees of success and failure. Several words with the "y-" prefix (used in Middle English to indicate the past participle, already more obsolete and exceedingly quaint by Spenser's time than "thou", for instance, is now) were made up by Spenser himself.

    Book 1 
Book One
  • Protagonist: The Redcrosse Knight, the Knight of Holinesse
  • Mission: Slay a dragon and free the king and queen he's holding captive
  • Accompanied by: Princess Una (and a dwarf who carries their supplies)

This book provides examples of:

  • The Archmage: Archimago is an old man who is a master of all forms of magic due to his extreme knowledge and bargains with the Devil. His name was a combination of the Latin words arch (meaning "first") and imago (meaning "finalized form"), thus literally "first and final form", a subtle reference to Alpha and Omega, one of the titles of the Judeo-Christian God. Many scholars agree that, this being an allegory, the name is a clever tip-off to the fact that the character embodies religious hypocrisy. The term "archmage" is a later bastardization of the name, first by Shelley, and eventually by Le Guin who gave the name its present day spelling and connotations.
  • An Arm and a Leg: King Arthur cuts off a giant’s arm in his attempt to rescue Redcross, which makes the giant so furious that he strikes Arthur harder with his club than he could have with two hands. If not for his magical shield, Arthur would be dead.
  • Attack the Mouth: Redcrosse slays the dragon by shoving his sword down its throat just as it rushes towards him in an arrogant bid to swallow the knight whole.
  • Beautiful All Along: Inverted to the extreme with Duessa who is so cunning that she somehow manages to come off as beautiful until stripped of her trappings at the end, revealing that she is as hideous on the outside as she is inside. The juicy details given by Spenser include her bald, infected scalp, toothless, rotten gums, reeking breath, sagging tits, genitals the details of which we are spared, a fox's tail covered with shit, and an eagle's talon and bear's foot.
  • Blind Seer: The personification of Contemplation is blind from old age, but only he is able to show Redcrosse a vision of what Heaven will look like if he stays on the path of holiness.
  • Big Bad: While the dragon is Redcross' and Una's target, Archimago and Duessa are the villains who separate them for most of the story, harass the heroes in every book, and send nearly every monster they fight after them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the end, Eden is saved from the dragon and our Knight in Shining Armor is finally betrothed to the princess, but shortly after, the knight must leave the princess for a whole six years to fight in a war.
  • Break Them by Talking: Despair's method of choice to drive his victims to kill themselves.
  • Author Tract: The whole thing involves extended metaphors about how awful the Catholic Church of Rome and Spain is.
  • Breath Weapon: The dragon temporarily defeats the Redcrosse Knight by breathing hellish fire on him, filling him with what the author calls a thousand pains worse than the sufferings Hercules felt before his death.
  • Chest Insignia: "On his breast, a bloodie cross he bore..."
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Fidessa's holy book is said to be written in blood, a reference to the bloody death of Jesus on the cross.
  • Crucial Cross: The Redcrosse Knight is so-named because he has a bloody cross painted onto his breastplate and shield. As part of the allegory of the work, Redcrosse represents holiness and his victories against vicious dragons, giants, and witches represent the steadfastness of God's grace in the face of evil.
  • Damsel Errant: Una fetches Saint George to defend her parents and their kingdom. They do become a couple.
  • Deus ex Machina: All seems lost when the dragon burns Redcrosse to death with his very breath, but Redcrosse happens to fall into a sacred pool blessed by God with the ability to bring the dead back to life. This saves Redcrosse and lets him defeat the dragon, as well as making it so that God plays the role in this holy warrior's victory.
  • Distracted by My Own Sexy: Lucifera is constantly looking admiring her beauty in a mirror, even when she has a crowd of princes and queens waiting to meet with her.
  • Distressed Dude: Redcross is drugged and trapped in Orgoglio's dungeon, forcing the princess to go and find another knight to rescue her rescuer.
  • Dragons Are Demonic: The dragon is seen attacking the Kingdom of Eden, viciously attack a shield with the symbol of the cross, burning the Tree of Life to the ground, and even spewing fire said to be just like the fires of Hell. Spenser lays it on pretty thick that he's trying to make his dragon a symbol of the Devil.
  • Dragons Versus Knights: All of Canto XI is dedicated to the epic, two-day long battle between the Redcrosse Knight, armed with sword, shield, and lance, and the dragon, armed with its whole body. Since Redcrosee is a Knight in Shining Armor representing holiness, having his Final Battle be with a beast biblically associated with the Devil is quite fitting.
  • Driven to Suicide: The goal of Despair is to drive every man he meets to suicide, and judging by the variety of corpses around his lair, he's made good progress. Ironically, seeing the Redcross Knight escape his clutches drives him to hang himself.
  • Earth Mother: Charity is an archetypical mother, surrounded by children and bare-breasted so she can feed the babe in her arm.
  • Easily Forgiven: Una (the True - that is, Protestant - Church) to Redcross after he abandons her; she seems more angry at Archimago and Duessa for tricking him.
  • Embodiment of Virtue: Every character introduced in Canto XI is a personification of some virtue.
    • Fidelia is seen teaching Redcrosse the Bible to represent one learning about God through their faith.
    • Speranza gives him an anchor to hold him steady to represent hope keeping you from being moved by evil
    • Charissa entertains Redcrosse as he learns the ways of goodness and introduces him to Lady Mercie, representing both how love can bring joy and teach us to be kind to others.
    • In the hospital, seven men are seen in service of God, each one representing one of the seven beatitudes from The Four Gospels.
  • Erotic Dream: Archimago sets up his first attempt to destroy Redcrosse by magically giving him lustful dreams, causing the knight to wake up full of shame as a Shapeshifting Seducer comes onto him.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Archimago is a deceitful and venal old man who can only cast a spell by making a Deal with the Devil. He offers Sacred Hospitality to Una and Redcrosse, only to assault them with nightmares and illusions meant to drive them to unchastity and hatred toward each other For the Evulz. He keeps torturing them until he tries to break up their marriage, at which point Una's father throws him into his dungeon.
  • Family Theme Naming: The three Persian brothers who heckle Redcrosse and Una during their journey are named Sans foy, Sans ioy, and Sans loy.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Despair uses an image of Hell filled with fire, sulfur, and brimstone (oh my) to strike fear into Redcrosse and convince him that killing himself is preferable to sinning in the future and going to Hell. The use of this depiction by a villain implies that Spenser might not like those who use it in real life.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Una is so lovely even a hungry lion can't bring itself to attack her. In fact, when a fearsome knight assaults Una, the lion is so devote to her that it risks its hide to attack the knight.
  • Given Name Reveal: It is only in Canto X that the Redcrosse Knight (and the audience) is given his real name that he will be remembered by on Heaven and Earth: Saint George, patron saint of England and The Dragon Slayer of legend.
  • God Is Good:
    • In Canto IX and X, it is God's mercy as told by Una that saves Redcrosse from suicide at despair's hand and contemplation of God that sees him fully recover from the lingering depression Despair left him in.
    • In Canto XI, the kingdom is only saved because God guided chance to allow Redcrosse to fall into a Healing Spring and then the Tree of Life when struck by the dragon's breath.
  • Healing Spring: There's a spring of silver water in Eden called the Well of Life with the properties of good medicine. It happens to be just behind Redcrosse when he falls to the dragon, and when he rises from the water next dawn, he is so fully restored the dragon thinks he's fighting a different knight.
  • Heaven Above: Like Moses walking up to Sinai, the Redcrosse Knight must spend weeks atop the closest mountain peak to the sky he can find to prepare to commune with God. At the end of his time on the mountain, Redcrosse can even see the kingdom of Heaven above him.
  • Heroic BSoD: Redcross makes the mistake of taking on Despair while he is still in the middle of one of these, which leaves him in even worse shape than before. Una has to get her friends Faith, Hope, and Charity to whip him into shape.
  • The Hero's Journey: Two — Redcross is on his own Journey, of course, but so is Una, and the Boon she has to bring back to restore her kingdom just happens to be a knight.
  • Hero's Muse: The Redcrosse Knight is guided and inspired by his love, Una, who is the personification of the "true church".
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The dragon rushes straight at the Redcrosse Knight "with outragious pride" in hopes of finishing the two-day fight in one bite. This does end the fight with a single blow, but its Redcrosse, as he shoves his longsword down the dragon's maw.
  • Humble Hero: Redcrosse is the first to credit others who helped him defeat foul monsters and to point out his own faults when praised.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Sansloy establishes his merits as a vile villain after pretending to be corteuous night by trying to rape Una. Even a lion can tell what he's doing is evil and tries to get involved.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: After getting engaged to Una, Redcrosse puts off their wedding for six years so he can finish his service to the Faerie Queene. Though it makes him sad, Redcrosse anothers his vow above all else.
  • Lust: The representative of Lust is an ugly, filthy man named Lechery who rides around on a bearded goat. He holds an exposed heart in his hand and loves nothing more than to prey on weak women and get them to cheat on their husbands.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Archimago and Duessa manage to manipulate both Redcross and Una very effectively throughout the story, whether to send them into the lair of a monster or to convince them that the other has forsaken them.
  • Master of Illusion: Archimago and Duessa are both capable of making themselves appear as heroic knights, conjure dreams of beautiful maidens, and cover entire battlefields with false clouds all to cover their hideous faces and fell deeds.
  • More Than Mind Control: The encounter with Despair sees him break St. George's spirit and force him to kill himself not through magic, but with nothing other than words and guilt.
  • Murder by Suicide: Despair's modus operandi is persuading poor passerbys that they'd be better off dying rather than continuing to live and do more and more evil to merit greater punishments in Hell. He nearly manages to get the Redcrosse Knight to drive a dagger through his chest.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Part of Redcross' encounter with Despair sees the knight remember in horror all the damnable sins he's done in life and how likely he is to repeat the same sins again.
  • Near-Villain Victory: In the climax, Redcrosse is immolated by the dragon's breath and falls dead, leaving Una and the kingdom of Eden defenseless agains the monster's rampage for a whole night. It is only at sunrise that Redcrosse emerges from a magical pool, restored to life.
  • Neutral Female: Una does nothing in the Final Battle except watch as the dragon claws, bites, and immolates Redcrosse to near-death. Earlier, she steps in to save Redcross from Despair and instructs him from the sidelines during his first battle with the Dragon Errour. The fact that she finally stays out of it is actually a sign that Redcross has matured enough to handle the fight on his own.
  • No Name Given: Redcross doesn't know his birth name or anything about his family, until Contemplation informs him he is Saint George.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: The half-serpent/half-female monster introduced in stanza 14 of canto I, of which it isn't quite specified which half is which, has "A thousand young ones, which she dayly fed / Sucking upon her poisonous dugs."
  • No-Sell: The first half of the battle between Redcrosse and the dragon ends when Redcrosse lands a blow directly on the dragon's head... only for his sword to just bounce off the dragon's scales. Cue Breath Weapon.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Archimago tricks Redcrosse into thinking Una has cheated on him.
  • Numerical Theme Naming: Una represents unity, so her name is Latin feminine for one, and her evil mirror image Duessa represents duplicity, so her name calls to mind the Latin "duo" and the phrase two-faced
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The dragon at the end is a terrifying red dragon who has captured the kingdom of Eden and eaten many of its inhabitants. It has wings like sails, a tail many fathoms long, and of course fire breath as hot as the flames of Hell. Notably, the dragon has no hoard of treasure to speak of.
  • The Scrooge: A member of Lucifera's court named Auarice is a childless old man who carries overflowing sacks of silver and gold at his side. Despite this, his clothes are frayed, he's starving, and its clear he isn't even spending money on his health, since he so refuses to give up a single coin when he could hoard it.
  • Shapeshifting Seducer:
    • Archimago has a spirit assume Una's form and come half-dressed to the Redcrosse Knight in his bedroom. Redcrosse flatly refuses the spirit's advances even though he loves Una, valuing his chastity too highly.
    • Archimago tries to seduce Una by assuming Redcrosse's form, but Sansloy attacks him thinking he's Redcross and nearly kills him before realizing the mistake.
  • Sleepyhead: The counsellor Idlenesse spends most of his days asleep and can barely keep his eyes open since he doesn't exercise or do anything physical. This leaves him the perfect avatar of Sloth.
  • Snake People: The first monster Redcrosse faces is a hideous woman who is half serpent. She has the ability to projectile vomit of bile and poison, where her brood of vipers rests until called upon to assay her enemies.
  • Standard Hero Reward: After saving Una's parents' kingdom from the dragon, Redcross is betrothed to Una.
  • Symbolic Baptism: When the demonic red dragon kills the Redcrosse Knight, he falls into a pool of holy water and is submerged for the night. When the sun rises, the Redcrosse rises too, full of new life and strength he had never had before. Obviously, this symbolizes the process of being born again and the graves that Spenser believed come with baptism.
  • Telephone Polearm: You can tell the giant is a real threat to the likes of St. George and King Arthur because his club is really a tree trunk. Spenser probably borrowed this idea from either The Aeneid or The Thebaid, where a giant and a half-giant respectively fight with tree trunks.
  • Transflormation: In a scene straight out of either The Aeneid or The Divine Comedy, the knight relaxes beneath a tree and grabs one of its branches, only for it to bleed and scream that it's a man. Apparently, this poor soul was seduced by a witch and cursed to turn into a plant before discovering her identity.
  • Vanity Is Feminine: The only woman among the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins is Vanitie. She serves most directly for the queen of the sins, Lucifera, who spends most of her time staring at herself in the mirror.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: The personification of love, Charissa, is a rare female example. She's represented as beautiful mother who is shirtless since she's constantly breastfeeding her many children who she happily attends to.
  • Weaponized Offspring: Errour's poisonous vomit is also deadly because her serpentine offspring swim in it. The knight has to spend just as much energy shaking off snakes and vipers as he does blocking the monsters blows.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Una is accompanied by a lamb. When Redcrosse charges ahead and leaves her in the dust, the next time Una shows up, she's alone - lambless apparently.
  • Worf Had the Flu: The giant is introduced subduing the Redcrosse Knight and capturing him, but only because Redcrosse had drunk from the a cursed fountain that fatigued him. This gives King Arthur a chance to come in and save the day without making our protagonist looking too weak.

    Book 2 
Book Two
  • Protagonist: Guyon, the Knight of Temperance
  • Mission: Arrest The Vamp Acrasia and destroy her Bower Of Bliss, a paradise where she lures knights, sleeps with them, then turns them into animals a la Circe
  • Accompanied by: A palmer

This book provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Origin Connection: The Prometheus myth repeated here identifies him not as the creator of humanity, but the creator of elvenkind. This was likely done to make the story consistent with Christian anthropology while also bolstering the seriousness of the elven characters by associating them with well-respected Classical Mythology.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Ambition is personified as the queen of the nether-world who helps men grow in power and wealth by leading them to tear down their fellow men. Despite her beauty and status, our hero Sir Guyon refuses to take her hand in marriage because everything good in her has been ruined by her rivalry and envy with others who strive for greatness.
  • Anti-Regeneration: Arthur realizes the only way to stop Meleger from returning to "life" after each killing blow is to separate him from mother Earth, so he tosses him in a lake.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: Arthur stabs through the seven layer of armor in Guyon's shield to impale and kill the villain who stole it.
  • Baleful Polymorph: The knights that give in to Acrasia's advances and abandon all reason to lust are gradually transformed into wild animals fueled only by the base passions they succumbed to. The story is clearly borrowing from the episode in The Odyssey where Circe turns men into pigs, but the difference is that the men here are complicit in the process that turns them into animals.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: It is said that the British queen Bunduca killed herself rather than be captured by the Romans. The author praises her for this murder by comparing her to other ancient women like Semiramis, Hypsiphil, and Tomyris.
  • Bookends: At the start of the book, Guyon and the Palmer are too late to save a knight named Mordant (and his wife) from Acrasia's curse. At the end, they arrive on time to rescue her new victim, a knight named Verdant.
  • Burning with Anger: The wrathful Pyrrochles is described as wielding a flaming sword, wearing armor so bright that it looks like he's Wreathed in Flames, and giving off smoke with every step he takes. When Pyrrochles' furious blows tire him out, Guyon is described as having his courage "kindled", allowing him to overpower his fiery foe.
    "'I burne, I burne, I burne,' then loud he cryde, / 'O how I burne with implacable fire, / Yet nought can quench mine inly flaming syde, / Nor sea of licour cold, nor lake of mire, / Nothing but death can doe me to respire.'"
  • Celibate Hero: Sir Guyon has no lover and refuses every untoward advance made to him in order to maintain his duty as a knight to be chaste. His dedication to chastity is to the point where he feels nervous just dancing with a woman at Alma's castle.
  • Circle of Standing Stones: Stonehenge is casually explained to be an elaborate gravemarker for The Good King Aurelius, who reigned within a generation of Constantine.
  • City of Gold: The underworld is almost entirely built of dusty gold, which Mammon mines to bribe the good men of the world to his evil ways. Unlike most examples of this trope, this isn't a beautiful sight, but a disgusting, evil place too dark for the gold to even be seen.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The book ends with the realization that one of Acrasia's victims actually prefers living life as a filthy pig rather than being a man. Guyon and the palmer feel a mix of pity and disgust for a man so deceived and denigrated that he can't even imagine the joys of human life.
  • Cool Horse: King Arthur's horse Spumador is said to be "born of heavenly seed" and as it barrels through an angry Half-Human Hybrid army, it is compared to horses who drew Apollo's sun-chariot.
  • The Corrupter: Mammon spends three days trying to convince Guyon to serve him and abandon temperance by arguing for the glory of gold, offering to betroth him to Ambition personified, and even offering him a Forbidden Fruit from the Underworld. Still, Guyon politely refuses him at every opportunity and leaves without falling prey to Mammon's guile.
  • Death by Sex: Acrasia's clients, who are either turned into animals or, if they come to their senses, die shortly after leaving.
  • Defiant to the End: Pyrrochles refuses to be spared by Arthur and pretty much orders him to kill him or be killed himself. Arthur is disappointed, but doesn't hesitate to execute Pyrrochles.
  • Desecrating the Dead: Downplayed Trope; two evil knights come across Sir Guyon's unconscious body and assume he's dead, which doesn't stop them from trying to loot his armor and shield right in front of an old man who is (prematurely) mourning him. He tries to shame them for insulting the dead, but they ignore him.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Amavia, after her husband dies a delayed death from Acrasia's poison.
    • Impatience and Impotence kill themselves after their captain, Meleger, is slain by Arthur. Impatience dives in a lake alongside Meleger and drowns, while Impotence falls on Meleger's blade.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Guyon mentions that one of the other knights of the Faerie Queene is named Arthegall. Book V, published six years after this book, would feature Arthegall as its main protagonist.
  • Epic Catalog: Book X is a list of British monarchs written much in the style of Homer's catalog of ships. The source for the name and story of each monarch is Geofrrey of Monmouth's collection of British legends.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: In contrast to the Sans brothers from book I, the violent knights Pyrrochles and Cymochles legitimately love each other and protect each other from those seeking revenge on their family for their many, many cries. When Arthur injures Cymochles, Pyrrochles can't help, but weep for his brother mid-fight and redoubles his efforts to defeat Arthur so he can save his brother.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Guyon releases Occasion and Furor at Pyrrochles' request, but as soon as he does, Furor starts to savagely beat Pyrrochles and Ocassion encourages everyone to get more and more violent. Guyon tries to intervene and capture Furor and Ocassion, but the wise Palmer advises him that Pyrrochles would only release the two captors again and that his pity is in vain. Allegorically, this represents the need to completely avoid moments of temptation and anger, since engaging with them only leads to more pain.
  • Feathered Fiend: One of the many obstacles the witch sends against Guyon and friends as they sail to her lair is a horde of every evil bird you can think of. Predatory owls, Creepy Crows, stritchs, shrills, and even winged bats and harpies all harass the good guys as they near the end of their quest.
  • Gate Guardian: Alma's palace is guarded by a porter who spies upon every visitor from his tower day and night and rejects any who intend to speak foolishly or act criminally by striking his alarmbell. This is largely symbolic of the impossibility of getting into Heaven when tempted to evil.
  • Give Me a Sword: Arthur breaks his spear killing Cymochles, leaving him unarmed against Pyrrochles until an old man tosses him Cymochles' sword. Since Cymochles and Pyrrochles stole this sword from a knight he thought was dead, it's karmic that Arthur uses this to win the fight.
  • A God Am I: Mammon introduces himself as the great god of the world and claims that all the goods of the world come from him. He even tries to convince Sir Guyon to worship him, but the knight mocks him for his vain claim to divinity.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The library of Eumnestes contains records of everything he remembers from his thousands of years on Earth. This includes chronicles on all the kings of Britain and the history of faeries, both of which take up the bulk of Book X.
  • Harmful to Minors: Amavia's baby is left to wallow in the blood of his parents after his father is poisoned and his mother kills herself in despair. The despicable sight of an infant innocently covered in blood is enough to drive Guyon to avenge the parents.
  • Ironic Hell: Pontius Pilate is damned to wash his hands forever with no chance of getting off the filth and blood for literally and figuratively washing his hands of sentencing Christ's to death at the crowd's demand.
  • Kick the Dog: The dead couple and their orphaned infant Guyon finds in the forest illustrate the damage Acrasia's evil can cause and how urgent it is that he stops her.
  • Lean and Mean: Maleger, the captain of the forces attacking temperate Alma's castle, is a giant man who is so oddly thin that he looks like a ghost.
    "As pale and wan as ashes was his looke,
    His bodie leane and meagre as a rake,
    And skin all withered like a dryed rooke,
    Thereto as cold and drery as a Snake,
    That seem'd to tremble euermore, and quake[.]"
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: Phaedria specializes in tempting knights to abandon their duties with her beauty, irrelevant jokes, and a beautiful island where she lures her guests to sleep. The unvirtuous knight Cymochles is easily swayed by her, but chaste Guyon sees past her temptations and only listens to her out of a sense of politness before leaving.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Archimago tricks Sir Guyon into thinking that the noble Redcrosse Knight is a rapist in order to get the two to kill each other. Guyon nearly strikes Redcrosse down as soon as he sees him, but upon seeing the blood-red cross on his shield, he realizes Redcrosse is a holy man and gives the knight the time to explain his innocence.
  • A Lizard Named "Liz": The first generations of elves all have elf in their name. They are all descended from Elfe, whose sons were Elfin, Elfinan, and Elfinine, who themselves had kids named Elfinell, Elfant, Elfar, and Elfinor. Then Elifcleos founded Faerie and the theme naming is finally broken with his son Oberon, who was special enough to get his own name. His brother Elferon didn't warrant such special treatment, and died young to add insult to injury.
  • Loyal Phlebotinum: The enchanted sword Mordurre was enchanted by Merlin for Arthur, so when an enemy tries to use it to cut Arthur's head off, the sword deliberately moves out of the way.
    "His owne good sword Morddure, to cleaue his head. / The faithfull steele such treason no'uld endure, / But swaruing from the marke, his Lords life did assure."
  • Magic Staff: The palmer's staff is able to stop storms and calm rampaging monsters because it is made of the same material as Mercury's caduceus. It has the same powers as Mercury's, so it can theoretically tame the Furies and other demons of the Underworld.
  • Mega Maelstrom: The ludicrously-spelled Quicksand of Vnthriftyhed and Vvhirlpoole of Decay are giant aquatic hazards capable of sucking giant ships filled with precious cargo into them to be lost forever. Metaphorically, each represents the inability of riches to persist due to a lack of frugality or the mere passage of time.
  • Methuselah Syndrome: Eumnestes is a librarian so old he remembers the infancy of Methuselah and has first-hand accounts of all the wars of ancient Greece, which he spends all day reading through with the help of his young assistant, Anamnestes.
  • Minorly Mentioned Myths and Monsters: A couple obscure creatures like the ziffius, the wasserman, and the sea-satyre are mentioned in the catalogue of sea monsters in the last canto of the book.
  • Mr. Imagination: Phantasies is an old man living in the castle of Alma whose room is filled with a fly for every passing thought a person can have and drawings of every image one could imagine. He meditates on these day in and day out, making him seem a bit of a madman.
  • Not Quite Dead: Arthur drives his sword right through Meleger's chest and is distracted by the lack of blood just enough for Meleger to get a cheap hit in. Figuring blades don't work, Arthur crushes the man and enjoys his victory... only for the man to get up and keep hitting him.
  • Numerological Motif: There's a flurry of references to Christian numerology in the description of Alma's castle. The castle is shaped like a circle and a triangle simultaneously (representing God's perfection and the three-persons of the Trinity) that is also somehow proportioned off the numbers three and nine.
  • Out, Damned Spot!:
    • Canto II begins with Guyon attempting to guiltily clean his hands of the blood of the couple he failed to save from poisoning and death, only for none of the blood to come off.
    • Canto VII: The ghost of Pontius Pilate is trapped in the river Cocytus forever failing to wash his hands clean of Christ's blood.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: After Arthur truly defeats Meleger, he collapses from blood loss and begins to die. Thankfully, his squire is there to return him to Alma's castle to have his wounds tended to.
  • Power Trio of half-sisters:
    • Elyssa, Deficiency
    • Medina, Moderation, or the virtuous Golden Mean.
    • Perissa, Excess
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Holy Grail is mentioned in Canto X as being brought to Britain by St. Joseph.
  • Put on a Bus: Canto XI kicks off with Guyon getting on a boat and leaving Alma's castle as the author spells out that Guyon is also leaving the story for the time, but will come back later.
    "But let them pas, whiles wind and weather right / Do serue their turnes: here I a while must stay, / To see a cruell fight doen by the Prince this day."
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Guyon and Arthur learn of the ancient British queen Bunduca, who bravely fought agains the occupying Romans. Her captains betrayed, but she fought 'til the bitter end.
  • The Savage Indian: Meleger's arrows are said to look like the deadly and cruel arrows used by American Indians, negatively associating that race with this 1590 poem's vile villain.
  • Save the Villain: Guyon wants to help Pyrrochles against Furor, but the Palmer tells him it's none of his business since Pyrrochles released Furor himself.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: The aquatic centipede Scolopendra is mentioned as part of a horde of vicious sea creatures alongside well-known animals like whales and famous monsters like the Hydra.
  • Story Within a Story: The histories Guyon and Arthur read at Alma's castle.
  • Tempting Apple: Mammon's last offer to convince Guyon to worship him is to offer him a beautiful golden apple, the same fruit that Eris used to kickstart the Trojan War. Despite having gone three days without food, Guyon refuses, and the narration assures us that it is only this that saved Guyon from a certain death.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Guyon only ever kills Pyrrochles' horse throughout the story (and even considers that shameful), in sharp contrast to Redcrosse.
  • To Hell and Back: Guyon spends three days being lead through the Underworld by the fiend Mammon, walking past Anthropomorphic Personifications of evil and damned criminals as Mammon offers him a share of the many treasures buried there. Guyon refuses, so Mammon is honor-bound to return Guyon to the surface, where Guyon immediately faints from starvation.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Pyrrochles releases Furor and Occasion only to be fiercely attacked by him and suffers injuries that would have eventually killed him if not for Archimago's help. Later, he takes King Arthur's sword from Archimago despite warnings that he will not be able to slay its rightful owner with it, and predictably loses that fight. If he had taken Guyon's sword along with his shield (leaving Arthur's sword with Archimago), he and Cymochles would've likely won that fight (and slain Prince Arthur).
  • The Underworld: Mammon rules the Underworld with his daughter, Prosperina, which takes after the Greek account of the Underworld than classic depictions of Hell. Persephone's garden is there, Tantalus is seen reaching for food that moves out of his reach, and souls are even seen wailing beneath the river Cocytus.
  • Unicorn: Unicorns Monoceroses are mentioned amongst a school of sea monsters that assault Guyon's ship, alongside the likes of the Hydra. This depiction owes a lot to the animalistic description of unicorns in the writings of Pliny the Elder.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Prince Arthur reacts to his foot and hip getting stabbed by losing all composure and fighting off two opponents with incredible speed. The narrator even compares him to a raging bull or a starving lion desperate for food. The two knights can barely block all of his blows and they quickly fall to his fury.
  • The Vamp: Phoedria throws herself at any man who comes near her island in hopes of leading them astray and leaving them forever stranded in the middle of the deadly sea.
  • Victory by Endurance: Guyon defeats Pyrrochles by dodging his massive blows over and over until Pyrrochles is too exhausted to fend off Guyon's attacks.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: The first two things we learn about Alma is that she's a virign in a white gown, and sure enough, she's noted for her kindness and chastity despite pressuret to marry by many a rich knight.
  • We Can Rule Together: Mammon offers Sir Guyon enough coin and gold to make a mountain out of if the knight agrees to serve him. Guyon refuses.

    Book 3 
Book Three
  • Protagonist: Britomart, the Knight of Chastity
  • Mission: Originally to find the knight destined to be her husband, Artegall, but eventually becomes to save Amoret from the evil sorcerer Busirane and reunite her with her husband, Scudamour
  • Accompanied by: Her old nanny disguised as her squire, Glauce

The Book of Chastity breaks away from Spenser's pattern. Britomart is a British princess who has come to Faerieland disguised as a male knight on a personal mission to find Artegall. Book Three also introduces the by-plots of Belphoebe's romance with Arthur's squire, Timias, and the woes of Florimell, a Damsel in Distress who is always on the run because everywhere she turns, she finds another man trying to rape her, until she is captured by the sea god Proteus and thrown in his dungeon for refusing to sleep with him.

This book provides examples of:

  • Brick Joke: Florimell and Marinell became this when Spenser decided to write more than three books and continued their story in Book Four.
  • Cupid's Arrow: There's an extended metaphor that as Timias' arrow wounds is mended, the wound from Cupid's arrow only grows deeper as he falls in love with Belphoebe.
  • Dark Is Evil: Sir Guyon goes on a monologue detailing how night is a corruption from Hell, hiding the crimes of sinners, obscuring the beauty of God's creation, and giving the wicked rest while leaving the scrupulous turning in bed in fear, guilt, and sorrow.
  • Damsel in Distress: Florimell, many times. Amoret, to the Evil Sorcerer Busirane.
  • Designated Victim: The Damsel in Distress Florimell, to the point where Spenser feels guilty for all the torment he puts her through.
  • Empathic Environment: The hills and mountains even start to cry as they watch a sea nymph mourn her fallen son.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Belphoebe heals Timias' arrow wound, only for the squire to develop a new wound from Cupid's arrow. He keeps his love to himself, though, knowing Belphoebe's celibacy and his own low station would make it impossible for them to be together.
  • Iconic Item: Satyrane concurs Florimell is dead when he finds her golden girdle in the mouth of a beast.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Busirane and Amoret, Proteus and Florimell.
  • Insomnia Episode: A recurring trouble in Book III is characters being unable to sleep due to love-sickness:
    • In Canto III, we hear about how Britomart had trouble sleeping for days after experiencing Love at First Sight out of a mix of fantasy, confusion, and guilt that eventually compels her to hunt down her love.
    • In Canto IV, Sir Guyon has a monologue that lasts through the night about how Dark Is Evil and the night brings out the worst of men's fears, regrets and sorrows that make it difficult for them to sleep anyway. The canto ends at dawn, with Guyon riding away completely exhausted.
  • Light Is Good: Sir Guyon's diatribe against the night includes a brief praise for the day and how it exposes violence and lies for all to see and gives rise to truth and honesty that humanity needs in order to thrive.
    "For day discouers all dishonest wayes, / And sheweth each thing, as it is indeed: / The prayses of high God he faire displayes, / And his large bountie rightly doth areed."
  • Love at First Sight: Britomart falls desperately for Artegall upon first seeing him from a distance. She's aware of how ludicrous this is and even feels guilty about it as she goes to sleep each night thinking of him. It takes her nurse's reassurance to convince Britomart that what she's feeling really is love, not just Lust or some narcissitic projection
  • The Muse: Spenser invokes the muse Clio in Book 3 so that he can do justice to the ancestors of his patron, Queen Elizabeth I.
  • Nice Day, Deadly Night: Part of Sir Guyon's sleep-deprived rant is railing against the night for allowing thieves and murderers to hide their crimes and another part is praising the day for exposing such sins and striking fear to those who committ them.
    "Our life is day, but death with darknesse doth begin."
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: Britomart's magic spear will unhorse any mounted foe, apparently without ever seriously injuring them.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Amoret and Belphoebe. Amoret was raised by Venus to become the perfect wife and Proper Lady; Belphoebe was raised by Diana to become a Virgin Power Action Girl.
  • The Power of Love: A major theme of the book is the greatness of love and its distinction from lust. Britomart's love for Arthegall is one of her major motivating factors in adventuring on and Spenser himself repeatedly describes love as the noblest thing in the world.
    "Well did Antiquitie a God thee deeme, / That ouer mortall minds hast so great might, / To order them, as best to thee doth seeme, / And all their actions to direct aright / Thou doest effect in destined descents, / Through deepe impression of thy secret might, / And stirredst vp th'Heroes high intents, / Which the late world admyres for wondrous monime[n]ts."
  • Prophecy Twist: Proteus prophesized that would Marinell meet his doom at the hands of a woman. His mother assumed this meant he would fall in love with a woman and die doing some great deed for her, but in actuality, her mighty son was defeated in single combat by a female knight known as Britomart.
  • Rescue Romance: Timias falls in love with Belphoebe after she saves his life by healing his wounds.
  • Retcon: After Spenser decided to expand the series beyond three books, he rewrote the ending so that Amoret and Scudamour do not reunite as soon as Britomart rescues her.
  • Rule of Three: Timias' monologue where grappling with his crush on Bellphoebe is three stanzas, each ending with "Dye rather, dy, than euer X." The first time he says it its to disway himself from loving her, then to disway himself from ever being disloyal to her, and lastly to promise never to forsake his love for her.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Britomart. Once to the audience, and several times in-story.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Florimell. Virtually every male character who sees her wants to rape or abduct her.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Marinell and Florimell
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Deconstructed with Malbecco and Hellenore
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Britomart kills a random challenger she comes across on her journey, at which point the narrative shifts to detail the man's entire backstory and the mourning process his mother goes through.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The sea goddess Cymoent laments having to live on after her son's death and goes so far as to argue that immortality is worse than death precisely because she has to see her friends and children die.
    "O what auailes it of immortall seed / To beene ybred and neuer borne to die? / Farre better I it deeme to die with speed, / Then waste in woe and wailefull miserie."
  • The Worf Effect: Britomart is introduced handily defeating the powerful hero of the previous book, Sir Guyon, and soon after defeats six knights that were giving Book I's protagonist a run for his money. Though attributed in part to her enchanted spear, both victories make it clear she is just as powerful as other epic heroes.
  • Wowing Cthulhu: The grief Cymoent feels upon her son's death is so profound that the world's sea monsters do nothing but watch with mouths agape as she approaches her son's corpse.

    Book 4 
Book Four
Book Four is a Continuation of Book Three. Britomart finds Artegall, Florimell is released from her dungeon and engaged to Marinell, but first Satyrane invites all the knights in the land to a tournament and beauty contest. The prizes for the winning knight and the most beautiful girl will be... each other! Entering the tournament are best friends and brothers-in-law (they married each other's sister) Campbell and Triamond from one of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, "The Squire's Tale," another series cut short by Died During Production. Britomart, still in disguise as the Knight of the Ebon Spear, wins the tournament, and enters Amoret in the beauty contest. The judges decide the "Snowy Florimell" (a clone of Florimell a witch made for her son) is the most beautiful girl, but she fails the final test: the real Florimell's golden girdle, which can only be worn by a virgin, won't fit her. In fact, it won't fit anyone but Amoret, which Britomart argues makes her the most beautiful. But the value of virginity and true love is the main point of Book Three. The Virtue of Book Four is Friendship, personified in Campbell's and Triamond's friendship and Britomart's and Amoret's (once Amoret realizes her rescuer is not a man who is keeping her near him to take advantage of her).

This book provides examples of:


    Book 5 
Book Five
  • Protagonist: Artegall, the Knight of Justice
  • Mission: Defeat the giant Grantorto and free a queen Irena and her kingdom
  • Accompanied by: The man of iron, Talus

In the middle of the book, Artegall loses a duel to the evil Amazon queen Radigund because he refuses to finish her off when he has the chance because of her beauty. When she imprisons him, it's not the famous Arthur who comes to his rescue but Britomart.

This book provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Talus. He kills everyone who looks at him the wrong way, and at one point cuts the hands off and drowns a woman who they've taken prisoner. The only thing that keeps him nominally on the side of good is that he works for Artegall, who has to curb some of his more bloodthirsty rampages.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Blatant Beast
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Radigund makes all the male knights she defeats and imprisons wear women's clothes and do women's chores.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Britomart fights Radigund to save Artegall.
  • Distressed Dude: Artegall getting rescued by Britomart.
  • Does Not Like Men: Radigund.
  • Downer Ending: Despite saving Irena from Grantorto, Artegall is shunned when he returns to Faerieland thanks to Envy, Detraction, and the Blatant Beast.
  • Expy: Artegall for the Earl Grey.
  • Fate Worse than Death: See Cool and Unusual Punishment.
  • Judgment of Solomon: Arthegall arbitrates a dispute between a squire and a knight over a woman (who is apparently incapable of telling them herself). It turns out the knight kidnapped the woman (and killed his own girlfriend when she objected to his running off with her) and is subsequently sentenced to carry her severed head around for a year as punishment.
  • Poisonous Friend: Talus, and how.
  • Sequel Hook: The sudden appearance of the Blatant Beast at the end.
  • Spot the Imposter: At Marinell's and Florimell's wedding, Artegall outs the Snowy Florimell as the fake, and she melts.
    • Braggadocchio's charade of posing as a knight is also revealed, along with his theft of Guyon's horse.
  • Woman Scorned: Radigund.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Artegall's policy; obviously, he's not too smart about how he uses it.

    Book 6 
Book Six
  • Protagonist: Calidore, the Knight of Courtesy
  • Mission: Capture the Blatant Beast

Calidore disappears from the radar for a good chunk of the action while the story follows Calepine, his girlfriend Serena, Arthur, Timias (who has regained the will to live and fight after being reconciled with Belphoebe), and their encounters with the Blatant Beast, whose bites cannot be healed and work like rumors, cursing the victims with bad reputations.

This book provides examples of:


Alternative Title(s): Faerie Queene

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