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The Faerie Queene: Book Three


How then shall I, Apprentice of the skill,

That whilome1 in divinest wits did rayne,

Presume so high to stretch mine humble quill?2

Yet now my luckelesse lott doth me constrayne

Hereto perforce. But O dredd3 Soverayne

Thus far forth pardon, sith that choicest witt

Cannot your glorious pourtraict figure playne,

That I in colourd showes may shadow itt,4

And antique5 praises unto present persons fitt.


But if in living colours, and right hew,6

Thy selfe thou covet to see pictured,7

Who can it doe more lively, or more trew,

Then that sweete verse, with Nectar sprinckeled,

In which a gracious servaunt pictured

His Cynthia, his heavens fayrest light?8

That with his melting sweetnes ravished,

And with the wonder of her beames bright,

My sences lulled are in slomber of delight.


But let that same delitious Poet lend

A little leave unto a rusticke Muse

To sing his mistresse prayse, and let him mend,

If ought amis her liking may abuse:9


whilome: formerly.

The fact that it was standard practice for

an author to claim his own inadequacy does

not mean we should take Spenser’s self-deprecation lightly. He had no assurance that

the Queen would approve of his poem,

which allegorized her failings as well as her

virtues, and he knew he was undertaking a

project that could seem presumptuous: to

write England’s first national epic.

3 I.e., yet my duty is to do precisely this (to

dare to write about Elizabeth); dredd:

dreaded. Monarchs were praised for inspiring a combination of fear, admiration, and

love in their subjects.

4 I.e., that I may hint at your glory through

the beauties of allegory. See “The Letter to

Raleigh” (p. 451) for Spenser’s discussion of

his conception of allegory.



antique: pun on “antic,” meaning “absurdly fantastic.” Spenser’s admiration for

the medieval Chaucer prompted him to

adopt some of Chaucer’s antiquated English

vocabulary and phrasing, which caused

some ribbing from fellow authors.

6 hew: form; condition.

7 pictured: three syllables. Reading

Spenser aloud with attention to the meter

will give a feel for the times when he expects normally silent endings to be pronounced.

8 Spenser’s friend Sir Walter Raleigh had

composed “Cynthia, the Lady of the Sea,”

an elegy to Elizabeth.

9 I.e., let him correct my poem if she dislikes any of it.



Ne let his fayrest Cynthia refuse,

In mirrours more then one her selfe to see,

But either Gloriana let her chuse,

Or in Belphœbe fashioned to bee:

In th’one her rule, in th’other her rare chastitee.1


Spenser invites Elizabeth to see herself allegorized in two of the characters in his

epic: the queen Gloriana (who never actually appears, though she is often mentioned)

and Belphoebe (modeled on the Greek

Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt and the

moon). “Belle” means “beautiful” in Italian;

“phoebe” means “pure” or “radiant” in

Greek and is a name for Diana in her role as

moon goddess. Belphoebe will enter in

Canto Five.

Canto One

Guyon encountreth Britomart,

Faire Florimell is chaced:1

Duessaes traines2 and Malecastaes

champions are defaced.3


The famous Briton Prince and Faery knight,4

After long wayes and perilous paines endur’d,

Having their weary limbes to perfect plight5

Restord, and sory wounds right well recur’d,6

Of the faire Alma greatly were procur’d,7

To make there lenger sojourne and abode;

But when thereto they might not be allur’d,

From seeking praise, and deeds of armes abrode,8

They courteous conge tooke, and forth together yode.9


But the captiv’d Acrasia he10 sent,

Because of traveill long, a nigher11 way,

With a strong gard, all reskew to prevent,

And her to Faery court safe to convay,

That her for witnes of his hard assay,12

Unto his Faery Queene he might present:

But he him selfe betooke another way,

To make more triall of his hardiment,13

And seeke adventures, as he with Prince Arthure went.



chaced: pun on “chaste” and “chased.”

traines: entrapments.


The italicized four lines of alternating

tetrameter and trimeter at the first of each

canto are called an Argument; they briefly

summarize the canto’s plot.


I.e., Prince Arthur and Sir Guyon. See Introduction, 4.


plight: condition.


recur’d: cured.


procur’d: urged.

abrode: abroad, far and wide. In the early

medieval world about which Spenser

writes, a knight was supposed to seek glory,

fame, and praise. It is useful to compare attitudes toward ambition in this poem with

those in Beowulf, in Sir Gawain and the Green

Knight, and in Utopia.


conge: farewell; yode: went.


Acrasia: the seductress (see Introduction,

4); he: Sir Guyon.


nigher: nearer.


assay: effort.


hardiment: courage and hardihood.



Canto One


Long so they traveiled through wastefull1 wayes,

Where daungers dwelt, and perils most did wonne,2

To hunt for glory and renowmed prayse;

Full many Countreyes they did overronne,

From the uprising to the setting Sunne,

And many hard adventures did atchieve;

Of all the which they honour ever wonne,

Seeking the weake oppressed to relieve,

And to recover right for such, as wrong did grieve.


At last as through an open plaine they yode,3

They spide a knight, that towards pricked4 fayre,

And him beside an aged Squire there rode,

That seemd to couch5 under his shield three-square,

As if that age badd6 him that burden spare,

And yield it those,7 that stouter could it wield:

He them espying, gan him selfe prepare,

And on his arme addresse8 his goodly shield

That bore a Lion passant in a golden field.9


Which seeing good Sir Guyon, deare besought

The Prince of grace, to let him ronne that turne.10

He graunted: then the Faery quickly raught11

His poynant speare, and sharply gan to spurne12

His fomy steed, whose fiery feete did burne

The verdant gras, as he thereon did tread;

Ne13 did the other backe his foot returne,

But fiercely forward came withouten dread,

And bent14 his dreadful speare against the others head.


wastefull: deserted.

wonne: abide.


yode: went.


pricked: spurred his horse toward them.


couch: crouch.


badd: bade.


yield it those: yield it to those.


addresse: prepare.


passant in a golden field: a description

of a coat of arms depicting a lion walking,



with its right forepaw raised, against a

golden background.

10 I.e., when good Sir Guyon saw this, he

fervently asked Prince Arthur, as a favor, to

let him take the challenge. Prince Arthur

often brings, or mediates, grace of one sort

or another in the poem.

11 Faery: Guyon; raught: reached for.

12 poynant: piercing (lit. poignant); to

spurne: to spur.

13 Ne: nor.

14 bent: turned, aimed.


The Faerie Queene: Book Three


They beene ymett, and both theyr points arriv’d,

But Guyon drove so furious and fell,1

That seemd both shield and plate it would have riv’d;

Nathelesse it bore his foe not from his sell,2

But made him stagger, as3 he were not well:

But Guyon selfe, ere well he was aware,

Nigh a speares length behind his crouper4 fell,

Yet in his fall so well him selfe he bare,5

That mischievous mischaunce his life and limbs did spare.


Great shame and sorrow of that fall he tooke;

For never yet, sith warlike armes he bore,

And shivering6 speare in bloody field first shooke,

He fownd him selfe dishonored so sore.

Ah gentlest7 knight, that ever armor bore,

Let not thee grieve dismounted to have beene,

And brought to grownd, that never wast before;

For not thy fault, but secret powre unseene,

That speare enchaunted was, which layd thee on the greene.8


But weenedst thou,9 what wight thee overthrew,

Much greater griefe and shamefuller regrett

For thy hard fortune then thou wouldst renew,

That of a single damzell thou wert mett

On equall plaine, and there so hard besett;

Even the famous Britomart10 it was,

Whom straunge adventure did from Britayne fett,11

To seeke her lover (love far sought alas,)

Whose image shee had seene in Venus looking glas.12





fell: cruel, dire (cf. “felon”).

sell: saddle.


as: as if.


crouper: crupper.


bare: bore.


shivering: prone to shattering other

spears; quivering with energy.


gentlest: most noble. The poem’s speaker

addresses Guyon directly.


In Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the virgin

warrior Bradamante uses an enchanted

spear that can defeat all knights (23.15).

weenedst thou: if you knew.

Britomart: her name allies British pride

with martial prowess. Compare her fierce

brand of chastity with other sorts of

chastity and unchastity in the book.


adventure: chance; quest; fett: fetch.


We can think of meetings such as the one

between Guyon and Britomart as allegorically representing relationships among the

political, moral, or other concepts embodied in the two characters. In psychological

terms, two characters meet because they

need to meet each other, in order to work

Canto One


Full of disdainefull wrath, he fierce uprose,

For to revenge that fowle reprochefull shame,

And snatching his bright sword began to close

With her on foot, and stoutly forward came;

Dye rather would he, then endure that same.

Which when his Palmer1 saw, he gan to feare

His2 toward perill and untoward blame,

Which by that new rencounter he should reare:3

For death sate on the point of that enchaunted speare.


And hasting towards him gan fayre perswade,

Not to provoke misfortune, nor to weene4

His speares default5 to mend with cruell blade;

For by his mightie Science he had seene

The secrete vertue of that weapon keene,

That mortall puissaunce mote not withstond:

Nothing on earth mote6 alwaies happy beene.

Great hazard were it, and adventure fond,7

To loose long gotten honour with one evill hond.


By such good meanes he him discounselled,

From prosecuting his revenging rage;

And eke the Prince like treaty handeled,8

His9 wrathfull will with reason to asswage,

And laid the blame, not to his carriage,10

But to his starting steed, that swarv’d asyde,

out something about their self-image or

way of living in the world. Here, one could

say that Chastity triumphs over mere Temperance, but that the two virtues work best

together. Such an interpretation is oversimplified, however, given that Britomart is

learning how to be chaste rather than flatly

representing a static notion of chastity. We

must also consider the tone of this episode,

which is humorous not only at Guyon’s expense, but also at Britomart’s: she comes

into view spoiling for a fight with someone,

anyone; Venus looking glas: see ii.18.8.n.


Palmer: a pilgrim, especially one who

has been to Jerusalem. Through all of his


travels, Guyon is accompanied by the

Palmer, who gives him moral guidance.


His: Guyon’s.


reare: cause.


weene: believe.


default: fault.


mote: might.

fond: foolish.


I.e., and also the Prince made use of a

similar entreaty.


His: Guyon’s.


his carriage: the way Guyon had carried himself.



The Faerie Queene: Book Three

And to the ill purveyance of his page,

That had his furnitures1 not firmely tyde:

So is his angry corage2 fayrely pacifyde.


Thus reconcilement was betweene them knitt,

Through goodly temperaunce, and affection chaste,

And either3 vowd with all their power and witt,

To let not others honour be defaste,

Of friend or foe, who ever it embaste,4

Ne armes to beare against the others syde:

In which accord the Prince was also plaste,

And with that golden chaine of concord tyde.

So goodly all agreed, they forth yfere5 did ryde.


O goodly usage of those antique tymes,6

In which the sword was servant unto right;

When not for malice and contentious crymes,

But all for prayse, and proofe of manly7 might,

The martiall brood accustomed to fight:

Then honour was the meed8 of victory,

And yet the vanquished had no despight:9

Let later age that noble use envy,10

Vyle rancor to avoid, and cruel surquedry.11


Long they thus traveiled12 in friendly wise,

Through countreyes waste, and eke well edifyde,13

Seeking adventures hard, to exercise

Their puissance, whylome full dernly14 tryde:

At length they came into a forrest wyde,

Whose hideous horror and sad trembling sownd


furnitures: saddlery and armor.

corage: heart as the seat of emotion and



either: each.


embaste: declared base.


yfere: companionably.


The fact that Spenser so often praises the

past raises the question of what he is saying

about Elizabeth’s reign in the present.


Note the layers of praise and irony for the

female, yet manly, Britomart.



meed: reward.

despight: resentment.


envy: admire, with overtones of being

mortified at being less admirable oneself.


surquedry: arrogance.


Note the pun on “travail.”


I.e., through wastelands and also through

built-up areas.


whylome: while; dernly: dismally.


Canto One


Full griesly seemd: therein they long did ryde,

Yet tract1 of living creature none they fownd,

Save Beares, Lyons, and Buls, which romed them arownd.


All suddenly out of the thickest brush,

Upon a milkwhite Palfrey all alone,

A goodly Lady did foreby2 them rush,

Whose face did seeme as cleare as Christall stone,

And eke through feare as white as whales bone:

Her garments all were wrought of beaten gold,

And all her steed with tinsell trappings shone,

Which fledd so fast, that nothing mote him hold,

And scarse them leasure gave, her passing to behold.


Still as she fledd, her eye she backward threw,

As fearing evill, that poursewd her fast;

And her faire yellow locks behind her flew,

Loosely disperst with puff of every blast:

All as a blazing starre doth farre outcast

His hearie beames, and flaming lockes dispredd,3

At sight whereof the people stand aghast:

But the sage wisard telles, as he has redd,4

That it importunes death and dolefull dreryhedd.5


So as they gazed after her a whyle,

Lo where a griesly Foster6 forth did rush,

Breathing out beastly lust her to defyle:

His tyreling Jade7 he fiersly forth did push,

Through thicke and thin, both over banck and bush

In hope her to attaine by hooke or crooke,

That from his8 gory sydes the blood did gush:

Large were his limbes, and terrible his looke,

And in his clownish hand a sharp bore speare9 he shooke.





tract: trace, track.

foreby: nearby.


dispredd: spread widely.


redd: discerned, interpreted, predicted.

The Lady’s streaming hair makes her look

like a comet, and her horrified gaze in the

direction of whatever pursues her expands

the simile to that of a wizard who interprets

the comet as an omen of future disaster.

dreryhedd: dreariness.

griesly Foster: grisly forester.


tyreling Jade: tired nag.


his: the nag’s.


clownish: rustic; bore speare: cf. the

stories of Adonis and the boar in stanza 38

and in vi.48. The boar spear may either

fight lust or act as its tool.


The Faerie Queene: Book Three


Which outrage when those gentle1 knights did see,

Full of great envy and fell gealosy,2

They stayd not to avise,3 who first should bee,

But all spurd after fast, as they mote fly,

To reskew her from shamefull villany.

The Prince and Guyon equally bylive4

Her selfe pursewd, in hope to win thereby

Most goodly meede, the fairest Dame alive:

But after the foule foster Timias5 did strive.


The whiles faire Britomart, whose constant6 mind,

Would not so lightly follow beauties chace,

Ne reckt of Ladies Love, did stay behynd,

And them awayted there a certaine space,

To weet7 if they would turne backe to that place:

But when she saw them gone, she forward went,

As lay her journey, through that perlous Pace,8

With stedfast corage and stout9 hardiment;

Ne evil thing she feard, ne evill thing she ment.


At last as nigh out of the wood she came,

A stately Castle far away she spyde,

To which her steps directly she did frame.10

That Castle was most goodly edifyde,11

And plaste for pleasure nigh that forrest syde:

But faire before the gate a spatious playne,

Mantled with greene, it selfe did spredden wyde,

On which she saw six knights, that did darrayne12

Fiers battaill against one, with cruel might and mayne.

1 gentle: with the virtues of

gentlemen and

gentlewomen. See Glossary for a fuller


2 gealosy: with righteous indignation, but

the word also hints that they might like to

be in the forester’s place.


avise: consult about.

bylive: forthwith, quickly.

5 Timias: Arthur’s squire, whose name

means “honored,” from the Greek τιµη´εις.

Although Timias has appeared many times


in Books One and Two, defending and aiding his master, this is the first time that he is


6 See Introduction, 5d.

7 weet: discover.

8 perlous Pace: perilous path.

9 stout: proud; brave; hardy.

10 frame: direct.

11 edifyde: erected.

12 darrayne: wage.

Canto One


Mainely1 they all attonce upon him laid,

And sore beset on every side arownd,

That nigh he breathlesse grew, yet nought dismaid,2

Ne ever to them yielded foot of grownd

All had he lost much blood3 through many a wownd,

But stoutly dealt his blowes, and every way

To which he turned in his wrathfull stownd,4

Made them recoile, and fly from dredd decay,5

That none of all the six before, him durst assay.6


Like dastard Curres, that having at a bay7

The salvage beast embost8 in wearie chace,

Dare not adventure on the stubborne pray,

Ne byte before,9 but rome from place to place,

To get a snatch, when turned is his face.

In such distresse and doubtfull jeopardy,

When Britomart him saw, she ran apace

Unto his reskew, and with earnest cry,

Badd10 those same six forbeare that single enimy.


But to her cry they list11 not lenden eare,

Ne ought the more their mightie strokes surceasse,12

But gathering him rownd about more neare,

Their direfull rancour rather did encreasse;

Till that she rushing through the thickest preasse,13

Perforce disparted their compacted gyre,14


Mainely: mightily.

dismaid: having lost all moral courage;

defeated; appalled; discouraged. In addition, especially in this book about chastity,

this word usually hints at a pun on “dismaid” (made no longer a maid; deflowered). Virgins of either sex could be

referred to as maids.


All had he: even though he had; blood:

as Quitslund points out, it is worth noticing

that throughout the poem, blood has associations with violence, vitality, love, desire,

nourishment, fecundity, kinship, race, and

holy communion (2006, online discussion).




stownd: attack.

decay: death.


assay: put to the test, attack.


at a bay: at bay.


embost: exhausted and foaming at the



before: to his face.


Badd: bade.


list: wished.


surceasse: cease.


preasse: press, crowd.


Perforce: by force; compacted gyre:

circling mass.



The Faerie Queene: Book Three

And soone compeld to hearken unto peace:

Tho gan she myldly of them to inquyre

The cause of their dissention and outrageous yre.


Whereto that single knight did answere frame;

“These six would me enforce by oddes1 of might,

To chaunge my liefe,2 and love another Dame,

That death me liefer were, then such despight,3

So unto wrong to yield my wrested right:

For I love one, the truest one on grownd,4

Ne list me chaunge; she th’Errant damzell 5 hight,

For whose deare sake full many a bitter stownd,

I have endurd, and tasted many a bloody wownd.”


“Certes”6 (said she) “then beene ye sixe to blame,

To weene your wrong by force to justify:

For knight to leave his Lady were great shame,

That faithful is,7 and better were to dy.

All losse is lesse, and lesse the infamy,

Then losse of love to him, that loves but one;

Ne may love be compeld by maistery;8

For soone as maistery comes, sweet love anone9

Taketh his nimble winges, and soone away is gone.”


Then spake one of those six, “There dwelleth here

Within this castle wall a Lady fayre,

Whose soveraine beautie hath no living pere,10

Thereto so bounteous and so debonayre,11

That never any mote with her compayre.

She hath ordaind this law, which we approve,12


oddes: statistical advantage.

liefe: preference for a particular woman.


liefer: preferable; despight: contempt.


on grownd: in the world.


Una, who has appeared in Book One,

embodies religious truth. She errs literally

rather than morally, wandering in search of

her beloved. So does Britomart, of course.


Certes: certainly.



Refers to the Lady, but the meaning spills

over to the knight.


Despite her self-assured tone here, Britomart spends much of Book Three trying to

figure out what the relationship between

mastery and love is or should be.


anone: anon, right away.


pere: peer.


debonayre: gracious.


approve: enforce.

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