Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 1: Canto 4

By Edmund Spenser

Book 1: Canto 4

  • Meanwhile, the real Redcrosse hasn't been a very loyal knight himself, since he so easily gave up Una and has now taken up with the sorceress Duessa (who he thinks is a princess named Fidessa).
  • The two finally come upon an amazing building, packed with crowds of people. It seems to be beautifully built and magnificent, but when you look closely it's a little unstable and even cheap, hiding old material with new paint.
  • They come into the main entry hall, where they pass a useless doorman named Malvenu, who lets everyone in.
  • In this hall is another huge crowd of people waiting to see the lady who owns this incredible building.
  • All around the hall they see riches beyond anything they've seen before and sitting on an incredible throne is a beautiful woman, who shines so brightly she looks like the sun.
  • She always looks up toward heaven, never down at earth, and at her feet is a terrifying dragon. In her hand is a mirror that she is constantly looking at herself in.
  • Her name is Lucifera, and she's the daughter of Pluto, god of the underworld, and his wife Proserpina, although she likes to tell everyone she's the daughter of Jove a.k.a. Jupiter, 'cause she thinks that sounds fancy.
  • She's made herself a queen, even though she isn't royal by birth and doesn't actually own any territory.
  • Instead, she just steals it from other people and rules with cunning and takes advice from six shady wizards.
  • Since Redcrosse and Duessa appear to be nobility, Lucifera's servant, named Vanity, takes them to the front of the line where they kneel at the foot of the throne and explain that they've come to see her awesome kingdom.
  • Lucifera disdainfully acknowledges their presence, while the rest of her court come up to them flatteringly; it turns out that they all know Duessa already, but say nothing yet.
  • Redcrosse isn't very impressed, since everyone seems way too into themselves.
  • Lucifera suddenly decides to go for a ride in her carriage, which is no ordinary carriage.
  • In addition to being beautiful and covered and gold, it is pulled by six strange beasts on which her six advisors ride:
  • Idleness, who rides a donkey, carries a lot of religious-looking objects, but he can't be bothered to actually use them because he's stricken with a constant high fever.
  • Gluttony, who rides a pig and is extremely fat, is constantly eating and drinking, is totally useless, and suffers from edema.
  • Lechery, who rides a goat, is gross and dirty but is always running after different women. He tricks people into thinking he's a catch because he knows how to flirt and he suffers from some kind of sexually transmitted disease.
  • Avarice, who rides a camel, has tons of gold with him but is dressed very poorly and is very thin from not eating. He suffers from gout, i.e. inflammatory arthritis.
  • Envy, who rides a wolf, hides a horrible serpent in his stomach and spends all of time wanting what other people have and being happy when bad things happen to them. He spews poison and is constantly badmouthing poets and their writing (we're guessing this is a touchy subject for Spenser...).
  • Wrath, who rides a lion, is constantly angry, is covered in blood, and carries all kinds of weapons with him. Wherever he goes, violence follows.
  • So, this is Lucifera's lovely team, who were all watched-over by Satan, who whips them constantly.
  • The carriage goes around for a little bit outside, with Duessa right up near Lucifera, but Redcrosse stays back, and then returns to the palace.
  • When everyone returns, they see a knight has arrived, Sansjoy, the other brother of Sansloy. As you've probably guessed, he's not a happy camper.
  • When he sees that Redcrosse has his brother's shield, he goes ballistic, and the two start fighting until Lucifera orders them to stop and wait until tomorrow.
  • Sansjoy explains to Lucifera how Redcrosse killed his brother and stole his lady, so the two agree to fight the next day.
  • The whole court feasts that night and once everyone is in bed, Duessa secretly goes to Sansjoy and tells him that she's been traveling with Redcrosse against her will and pledges her loyalty to Sansjoy.
  • She cautions him not to fight with Redcrosse until the next day, since, she claims, his armor is magical, but Sansjoy doesn't care and tells her to wait until tomorrow when he'll kill Redcrosse and then marry her.