The Faerie Queene 25: Pastorella captured and the Beast subdued

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Fayre Pastorella by great hap (1895-97), print, 'Spenser's Faerie Queene', ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

In the last episode, Sir Calidore had taken a break from his pursuit of the Blatant Beast, and fell in love with a beautiful shepherdess, Pastorella. Unfortunately, Coridon, a young shepherd, whose advances she had already rejected, continued to vie for her attention, but Calidore has been careful not to shut him out.

Canto 10

Calidore sees the Graces daunce,
To Colins melody;
The whiles his Pastorell is led,
Into captivity.

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

When he’s wandering the fields one day, Calidore comes across an idyllic spot, a grassy hill on which a hundred beautiful women are dancing naked, to the tune of a shepherd’s pipe. But as he approaches them all the women vanish, and the piper throws down his pipe so forcefully that it breaks. The shepherd tells the knight that they were the handmaidens of Venus, and at their centre had been the three Graces together with Calidore’s own true love, who had been brought in as a fourth Grace.

Coridon continues to strive unsuccessfully for Pastorella’s affection until the day that the three of them are out together to gather strawberries in the woods, when a tiger springs out of the bushes and charges at Pastorella. Coridon immediately panics and runs away, but armed with only a shepherd’s crook, Calidore fells the beast, cuts its head off, and presents it to his love. That cements their love and ends Coridon’s aspirations.

A few days later, Calidore is hunting alone in the woods when the shepherds are attacked by a band of ruthless brigands. Among the survivors they abduct are Coridon, Pastorella and her step-father.

Canto 11

The theeves fall out for Pastorell,
Whilst Melibee is slaine;
Her Calidore from them redeemes,
And bringeth backe againe.

The brigands intend selling most of their captives into slavery, but their leader takes a fancy to the beautiful Pastorella, so tries to win her over to his desires. She fights back at first, but then decides to play his game, eventually feigning illness to keep him at bay. When passing traders stop to buy their slaves, they insist on including Pastorella despite the leader of the brigands wanting to keep her. The brigands fight over this, killing Pastorella’s step-father in the brawl, but Coridon seizes the opportunity to escape to freedom.

Pastorella, who is wounded, is left buried in a pile of bodies including that of the leader of the brigands. She’s handed to one of the cruellest of the survivors, who neither feeds her nor cares for her wound.

Calidore has been searching in vain for the missing shepherds until he comes across the bedraggled Coridon, who explains what has happened. The knight rises in fury and swears to avenge Pastorella’s presumed death, or die himself, and sets off to find the brigands with the shepherd as his guide. Calidore wears his armour and arms underneath his shepherd’s clothes. When they near the caves in which the brigands are living, Calidore learns that Pastorella still lives. Later that night, he leaves to attack the brigands single-handed.

Once Calidore has battered down the door to the cave and killed its guard, he’s reunited with his love. The remaining brigands counter-attack, but the knight soon ensures the doorway is blocked with their dead bodies. He then rests until morning, when he cuts through the corpses and kills the few remaining brigands who haven’t fled. He gives Pastorella the looted treasure he finds in the caves, entrusts Coridon with their stolen flocks of sheep, and rescues Pastorella.

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Walter Crane (1845–1915), The theeves fall out for Pastorell (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Canto 12

Fayre Pastorella by great hap
her parents understands,
Calidore doth the Blatant beast
subdew, and bynd in bands.

Sir Calidore and Pastorella travel to Lord Bellamour’s castle. When he was younger, Bellamour had fallen in love with Claribell, daughter of the Lord of Many Islands, but she had already been promised to the Prince of Pictland. Claribell loved Bellamour too, so the couple married in secret. They were thrown into separate cells by her father, but she was already pregnant; when she gave birth to a daughter, she entrusted the infant to her maid Melissa so that she could be brought up in safety.

Melissa abandoned the baby, who had a distinctive birthmark on her breast, in fields, where she was discovered and adopted by a local shepherd. When Claribell’s father died, the couple were freed and lived together normally, while Bellamour became a celebrated knight.

Bellamour welcomes the couple and sees that Pastorella is properly cared for at last. This enables Calidore to resume his search for the Blatant Beast, his mission from the Faerie Queene. While he’s away, Melissa, now an old lady, looks after Pastorella, and can’t help noticing the birthmark on the breast of the shepherdess, which is just like that on the baby she had left in a field all those years before. The old maid tells her mistress Claribell, and they recognise that Pastorella is their long-lost daughter, to the delight of everyone.

Calidore is following the trail of destruction left by the Blatant Beast, which leads him to a monastery, where it’s putting the monks to flight and wreaking destruction of everything that’s sacred.

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

When the Beast sees Calidore approaching, it flees, but the knight overtakes it and holds it at bay. The monster charges open-mouthed at him, but Calidore strikes back at it, flinging it onto its back. He then pins it down, enduring its venomous spit until the Beast’s struggling begins to weaken.

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Arthur George Walker (1861-1939), Putting his puissance forth, pursued so hard (1900), engraving, ‘Stories from the Faerie Queene’, Mary MacLeod, Gardner, Darton, London, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

He takes a large iron muzzle and secures it around the Beast’s mouth to silence its torrent of vile lies, then binds it with a long chain. Subdued, it then follows Calidore like a pet dog, as he leads it throughout the Land of Faerie. Much later, though, it escapes its chains and once again roams free pouring forth its poison, no other knight being able to subdue the Beast again. All are now prey to its wicked spite, even the author of this poem.

This completes the sixth book of The Faerie Queene.

Principal Characters

Bellamour, a great lord, and distinguished knight when he was younger. He married Claribell in secret, and spent time in her father’s dungeon as a result.

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

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.

References

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.)
AC Hamilton (ed) (2007) Spenser, the Faerie Queene, 2nd edn, Routledge. ISBN 978 1 4058 3281 6. (Critical edition.)
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.