The Faerie Queene 24: Disdain, cannibals and bucolic love

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Prince Arthure overcomes Disdaine (1895-97), print, 'Spenser's Faerie Queene', ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

In the last episode, Prince Arthur, accompanied by the woodsman, visited Sir Turpine’s castle, where they were denied hospitality. Arthur disposed of Turpine’s armed guard, and chased the knight into his lady’s chamber, where he was only saved by his lady Blandina throwing herself between the prince’s sword and her knight. As his punishment for his unknightly conduct, Arthur told Turpine to go without arms or claiming to be a knight. Although this appeared to restore order, Blandina hides her true feelings, and Turpine still harbours bitter resentment.

Canto 7

Turpine is baffuld, his two knights
doe gaine their treasons meed,
Fayre Mirabellaes punishment
for loves disdains decreed.

The following morning, Arthur and the woodsman leave the castle, with Sir Turpine behind, intending to attack them once he gets the chance. He doesn’t have to wait long before he tricks a couple of young knights who believe his lies about Arthur dishonouring him. The two ride past the prince, issue their challenge, and charge at him simultaneously.

One knight is immediately impaled on Arthur’s lance, which pierces his helmet and knocks him dead to the ground. The other rides past without making contact, only to be knocked flying on his second pass. The prince jumps down and the young knight, Enias, pleads with him for mercy. His life spared, he tells Arthur of Turpine’s trickery.

Enias then tricks Turpine, telling him that his mission has been accomplished. When they reach Arthur, he has fallen asleep and the woodsman has gone foraging for food. Turpine realises that Arthur isn’t dead, and tries to escape, but Enias insists that he stays to face the consequences of his treachery. Arthur awakes, the woodsman returns, so Turpine is stripped of his arms and armour, and left strung up from a tree by his heels as an example to others.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Turpine is baffuld (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s squire Timias and Serena have met Mirabella, a fair lady riding an old ass led by a giant, and followed by a cruel Fool. She explains that she was of humble birth, but had risen to fame through her exceptional beauty. As a result she had grown conceited, and had come to exercise cruel power over her admirers and suitors. She left them in the depths of misery, many dying from being spurned by her, which had only fuelled her arrogance further.

When Cupid held his court on Saint Valentine’s Day, few lovers were left. Infamy and Spite reported to Cupid that this had been caused by Mirabella, so the god sent Portamore to bring Mirabella to justice. At her trial, she confessed and begged for mercy. Her sentence is thus to travel with the giant Disdain and the Fool Scorn until she has saved an equal number of lovers as she had sent to their deaths. Over the two years since her sentence, she has saved the lives of only two, leaving her another twenty before completing her punishment.

Taking pity on her, Timias attacks the giant, but he fights back with an enormous iron club. When the squire slips, that club knocks him unconscious. Disdain then proceeds to tie Timias up, as Serena flees in terror. When the squire recovers consciousness, he is dragged along by a rope, whipped and abused.

Canto 8

Prince Arthure overcomes Disdaine,
Quites Mirabell from dreed;
Serena found of Salvages,
By Calepine is freed.

Arthur and Enias come upon Timias as he’s being goaded on by the giant, with Mirabella grieving for his abuse. Arthur gives the young knight permission to tackle Disdain himself. At first, Enias has to dodge the giant’s crushing blows, but soon his sword wounds his opponent and draws blood. When the club smashes Enias’ sword out of his hand, the Fool holds him down ready to be taken captive like Timias.

Arthur intervenes, and strikes deftly when the giant swings his club high. The prince’s sword cuts deep into Disdain’s knee, but as Arthur raise his sword to behead him, Mirabella pleads for him to be spared, as his death would kill her as well. Mirabella explains her situation and punishment to Arthur, who frees Timias and is forced to leave her to go her way escorted by the giant and Fool.

Serena has reached a grassy plain, where she halts, dismounts, and laments the absence of her lover, Calepine, before falling asleep. She’s discovered there by a tribe of cannibals, who start sharpening their knives when she awakes in panic. The natives relieve her of jewellery, then strip her clothes, only to be reproached for their lust by their priest, who is preparing to cook her. As the daylight fades, they carry her to a sacrifical altar nearby, and the priest approaches with a knife.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Prince Arthure overcomes Disdaine (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

The noise they’re making draws the attention of Calepine, who has been searching for his lover. He rushes over, arriving just as the priest is about to kill Serena. The knight’s sword quickly puts a stop to their murderous plans, and the priest and cannibals are killed instead. When Calepine turns to free Serena, she is silenced by the shame of her nakedness, and in the dark, he doesn’t even recognise her until sunrise, when they’re reunited.

Canto 9

Calidore hostes with Meliboe
and loves fayre Pastorell;
Coridon envies him, yet he
for ill rewards him well.

While those events had been taking place, Sir Calidore was relentlessly pursuing the Blatant Beast across far distant lands. When he reaches some shepherds, he asks them if they have seen the beast pass. Recognising his fatigue, they invite him to stop and rest. As he enjoys a break and refreshment, he notices a young shepherdess who’s being serenaded by the shepherds for her beauty: she is Pastorella, and is giving the young Coridon a cold shoulder. Calidore starts to fall in love with her, and when they disperse at dusk it’s her adoptive father who invites Calidore to stay with them for the night.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Calidore hostes with Meliboe (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.
Arthur George Walker (1861-1939), Upon a little hillocke she was placed (1900), engraving, ‘Stories from the Faerie Queene’, Mary MacLeod, Gardner, Darton, London, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

That evening, Pastorella’s step-father extols the virtues of the bucolic life, and rejects all attempts by the knight to reward him for his hospitality. Calidore appeases his hosts by swapping his arms and armour for the rough garb of a shepherd, and accompanies Pastorella with her flock. This fuels jealousy in Coridon’s heart. When the shepherds make merry by dancing to pipes, Calidore defers the offer of partnership with Pastorella to the young Coridon. Another time, the two men wrestle in competition; although Calidore throws the young shepherd with great force and wins the garland of victory, he puts it on the younger man’s head.

Sir Calidore not only restores himself physically during this break from his pursuit of the Blatant Beast, but it deepens his insight into the virtues of the simple life.

Principal Characters

Prince Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, bearer of a magic shield which blinds his enemies and turns them to stone, and future king.

The Blatant Beast, the object of Calidore’s quest. It has a thousand tongues and appears dragon-like. At the end of Sir Artegall’s quest in Book 5, he met the Beast, but passed by it with calm resolution

Calepine, a courteous knight, whose lady is Serena.

Sir Calidore, the most courteous and mild-mannered knight at the court of the Faerie Queene, he is despatched to deal with the Blatant Beast, but told that he must do so alone. The hero of Book 6.

Pastorella, a young shepherdess, who is much wooed by shepherds, including the unsuccessful Coridon. Calidore falls in love with her. Originally a foundling who was brought up by an adoptive father.

Serena, Calepine’s lady, who is carried off and badly wounded by the Blatant Beast.

Timias, Prince Arthur’s squire, a young man who falls in love with Belphoebe.

Sir Turpine, the most discourteous knight imaginable, he refuses to provide hospitality to other knights even when they’re in distress, and hurls abuse at them. Lives in a grand castle with his sickly lady.


Wikipedia on The Faerie Queene, with a partial summary
Wikipedia on Edmund Spenser

Richard Danson Brown (2019) The Art of the Faerie Queene, Manchester UP. ISBN 978 0 7190 8732 5. (Note: this isn’t about visual art, but literary art and poetics.)
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Elizabeth Heale (1999) The Faerie Queene, A Reader’s Guide, 2nd edn, Cambridge UP. ISBN 978 0 521 65468 5.
Douglas Hill (1980) Edmund Spenser, The Illustrated Faerie Queene, Newsweek Books. No ISBN.
Richard A McCabe (ed) (2010) The Oxford Handbook of Edmund Spenser, Oxford UP. ISBN 978 0 1987 0967 1.