Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 3, Canto 1

By Edmund Spenser

Book 3, Canto 1

  • Having rested at the house of Alma after many exhausting adventures, and having sent Acrasia to the court of the Faerie Queene, Arthur and Guyon are now refreshed and ready for more excitement.
  • They travel a long time and have many adventures until one day they see a knight riding with a lion on his shield accompanied by an old man acting as his squire.
  • Guyon charges the knight with his spear but is in for a surprise, since this knight knocks Guyon completely off his horse.
  • Guyon is mortified since this is the first time this has ever happened, although Guyon doesn't realize that the other knight's spear is enchanted.
  • We also learn, although Guyon doesn't, that the other knight is a woman named Britomart who is in Faerie Land looking for her love (whose face she saw in Merlin's looking glass).
  • Now, Guyon, furious at being unseated, wants his revenge but the Palmer calms him down and advises him against it.
  • So the knights instead reconcile themselves to one another and all of them head off together in an admirable show of honor and restraint.
  • Soon, they come to a spooky-looking forest filled with dangerous beasts.
  • As they ride through the forest, a woman dressed in gold riding a bright white horse charges out fleeing; behind her follows a kind of mountain man, bleeding, trying to catch her.
  • The knights are appalled to see this and Guyon and Arthur at once rush after the man.
  • But Britomart, unaffected by the allure of a beautiful woman, instead follows on her own way until she comes to a great castle.
  • In front of the castle she sees six knights fighting against one, and the one, thought badly wounded, is still holding his ground.
  • Britomart rushes to his defense, telling the other knights to cease, but they ignore her and continue to attack.
  • Britomart then directly intervenes, forcing the knights to stop and demanding an explanation.
  • The knight being attacked explains that these knights are trying to force him to love someone other than his lady, who it becomes clear, is Una. This makes the knight our man Redcrosse.
  • Britomart responds that forcing something like that is completely unacceptable, to which one of the six knights responds that the lady of the castle is incredibly beautiful and has a rule that whatever knight comes to the castle must serve her forever or, if he already has a lady, prove his lady is better than the lady of the castle by fighting.
  • Britomart says she has a love, but not a lady, and then attacks the other knights not for the sake of her love but out of anger at what's been done to Redcrosse.
  • Sure enough, Britomart knocks over three of them, Redcrosse knocks over one more, and the remaining two beg for mercy.
  • Britomart explains to them that truth has won and that Redcrosse should be left to love his lady in peace.
  • They agree and everyone heads into the castle, called the Castle Joyous, to celebrate and relax.
  • The castle is incredibly richly decorated, and they're taken to an inner chamber covered in tapestries that tell the story of Venus and Adonis.
  • In general, the whole place has a kind of romantic, even sexual, vibe.
  • Soon, they come to the Lady of Delight, who runs the castle, lying in a great bed looking a bit immodest and she sends them all off to have a good time.
  • Redcrosse and the other six knights disarm, but Britomart refuses, lifting only her helmet and revealing her gender and her great beauty.
  • The six knights, it turns out, are all brothers and are particularly trained in showing ladies a good time: Gardante, Parlante, Iocante, Basciante, Bacchante, and Noctante.
  • And while they all think Britomart is very attractive, her abilities with a sword keep them from trying anything.
  • Meanwhile, the Lady of Delight has developed quite a crush on Britomart, unaware, for some reason, that she's a woman.
  • The Lady of Delight is, in fact, quite taken over by these feelings of lust and the narrator warns other young ladies to avoid becoming like her.
  • The Lady threw a sumptuous dinner, the whole time making eyes at Britomart, trying to get her alone, and finally trying to get her to take off her armor.
  • When these tactics failed, she fell to the ground begging Britomart to have pity on her but that she is just so totally in love with her.
  • Britomart, who is inexperienced in the realm of love, feels bad for the Lady and plays along, making conversation so as not to be rude.
  • Finally, everyone heads off to bed (most of them with someone else), and Britomart and Malecasta (we finally learns the Lady of Delight's name) go their separate ways.
  • But Malecasta, who can't stand it anymore, sneaks into Britomart's room and bed.
  • However, as soon as Britomart wakes up and feels someone next to her she jumps out of bed and grabs her sword.
  • Malecasta screamed in fright and then faints, waking up the whole house.
  • Her knights are wary of taking Britomart on after what happened that day. But one, Gardante, shoots her with a bow and arrow, only lightly grazing her.
  • She then angrily attacks them and is soon joined by Redcrosse and the two of them scare off everyone quickly.
  • Britomart then puts on her armor and heads out of there pronto.