Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 1, Canto 9

By Edmund Spenser

Book 1, Canto 9

  • It's a sign of the world's universal harmony that Arthur was so willing to help Redcrosse out.
  • Now that they've rested, they decide that they need to press on, but before they set out, Una asks Arthur to tell them who he is and where he comes from.
  • He replies that he can't, since he doesn't know who his true parents are, but that he was first raised by a man named Timon, who teaches him virtue and manners, and by the wizard Merlin, who tutored him but refuses to disclose his identity, only saying he's of royal birth.
  • Una then asks him why he is in Faerieland, and also calls him Arthur, the first time he has been named (it's unclear how she knows that is his name).
  • Arthur says he doesn't know that either, since it's hard to know God's will, but reveals that he has a special secret wound that constantly bleeds, and that he imagines must be somehow connected to his purpose here.
  • Una asks about this wound. Arthur says she's raising a painful topic, but he'll tell her anyway.
  • Arthur describes how, as a young man, he wasn't at all interested in love and thought it was a big waste of time.
  • But one day when he stopped to take a nap in the forest, he dreamed of a beautiful woman lying near him.
  • They have a wonderful conversation and even though he isn't sure about how much you can trust a dream, he'll never forget that woman, who called herself the Queen of Faeries, and he's been looking for her ever since.
  • He becomes sad talking about her so Una jumps in to say how lucky the Queen is to have such a great knight.
  • Redcrosse then speaks in praise of Una and says his love for her will match's Arthur's love for the queen.
  • Since the day is beginning, it's time for everyone to go their separate ways, but first, Redcrosse and Arthur pledge their friendship to one another through an exchange of gifts: Arthur gives Redcrosse a potion that can heal any wound and Redcrosse gives Arthur a beautiful book that can save the reader's soul.
  • So the two part, Arthur to find the Queen and Redcrosse to fight the dragon.
  • But before Redcrosse and Una go too far, Una wants to make sure he is able to rest and regain his strength.
  • As they're traveling, they come across a knight on a winged horse clearly running away from something; he's disheveled, missing some of his armor, and has a noose around his neck. Yiiikes.
  • Redcrosse goes up to the terrified knight and tries to find out what's going on but the knight says nothing and stares at him in horror until finally he croaks out that Redcrosse should leave immediately since something is following him.
  • The mysterious knight tries to run, but Redcrosse stops him and demands to know more.
  • Finally, the knight pulls himself together, makes sure he really is out of harm's way, and tells his story.
  • He was traveling with another knight named Sir Terwin, who has the bad luck of being in love with a haughty lady who loved to lead him on.
  • One day, as the two knights were traveling, they came across a horrible villain named Despair (hint: don't trust anyone named Despair), who, once he learned of their broken hearts, told them such depressing things that they lost all hope entirely.
  • Despair then encouraged them to kill themselves, giving Sir Terwin a knife and our narrator a rope. Poor Sir Terwin did kill himself. Our narrator knight simply ran away in fear.
  • Redcrosse can't understand how someone could do so much damage just by speaking, but the knight—named Sir Trevisan—explains that he has magical abilities.
  • Redcrosse therefore vows to find this villain, test his own strength, and kill him; Sir Trevisan agrees to take him back to the place where they met him, but is not going to be sticking around.
  • They finally arrive at the place where Despair inhabits, a terrible, dark cave around which nothing grows.
  • They enter the cave and find that man there, looking disheveled and dirty, sitting in the blood of the recently dead Sir Terwin.
  • Disgusted, Redcrosse charges over and accuses Despair of being a villain.
  • Despair isn't particularly concerned, but begins to ask Redcrosse why he's so upset when Sir Terwin is really in better place? He describes to Redcrosse how long and hard and painful life is and that it really would be better to die sooner rather than wait around and die later.
  • Wouldn't it be better, he goes on, to make sure you don't sin anymore than you already have *cough cough Duessa*?
  • As Redcrosse listens to Despair and is reminded of all his faults and mistakes, he becomes increasingly convinced that Despair is right.
  • Despair then shows him horrible depressing pictures of ghosts being tormented in the underworld and Redcrosse resolves to kill himself.
  • Despair brings him a knife and just before Redcrosse actually does the deed, Una comes rushing to his rescue, grabbing the knife out of his hand and yelling at him for being so weak and silly.
  • Despair, seeing he's failed to persuade Redcrosse, hangs himself, even though he can't actually die until the end of the world.