Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 3, Canto 2

By Edmund Spenser

Book 3, Canto 2

  • Before we get back to Britomart, our narrator wants to praise women, whom he feels get neglected far too often.
  • In fact, women used to be warriors all the time until men got jealous and made women subservient to them.
  • So, Spenser wants to give props to Britomart and, especially, to his queen.
  • Meanwhile, Britomart and Redcrosse are traveling along. To pass the time Redcrosse asks her why she's come to Faerie Land and why, though she's a woman, she chooses to ride as a knight.
  • She takes a little while to answer. She's clearly quite emotional, but begins her story:
  • She was raised to be a knight ever since she was little, since she's never enjoyed domestic work.
  • She's originally from Britain and is here in Faerie Land to look for adventures and to seek praise and fame.
  • She says she's also here to find a knight named Arthegall, who, she claims, has dishonored her.
  • She hesitates for a moment, feeling bad she's lied (Arthegall has not actually dishonored her), but Redcrosse jumps in and says she must be confused since a knight a honorable as Arthegall could never have dishonored a lady.
  • He goes on to praise Arthegall further and to further doubt what Britomart claims.
  • Hearing all this, Britomart is secretly very pleased since she actually loves Arthegall and is happy to hear how respected he is.
  • But wanting to hear more about Arthegall, Britomart continues the deception and insists that Arthegall behaved quite un-chivalrously to her and that she's going to get her revenge.
  • Redcrosse cautions her against this, saying that wrath rarely leads to good things and that Arthegall will prove to be a pretty formidable opponent; not only is he a good fighter but he's hard to track down since he wanders all over the place doing good deeds.
  • Britomart is again happy to hear this, but still pretends otherwise.
  • She says she still wants to seek him out and asks what he looks like and what armor he wears so that she might recognize him.
  • Redcrosse describes him, but it's not really necessary, since Britomart memorized his appearance completely when she saw his face in a magic mirror.
  • The mirror has its own fascinating history.
  • It was crafted by the magician Merlin and it can show where anyone is, anytime, not matter what: no one can hide from this mirror and many ancient kings and figures have consulted it.
  • So this is the mirror Merlin gave king Rycene, Britomart's father, and one day Britomart finds the mirror.
  • At first, she is transfixed looking at herself and her beauty but soon she begins to wonder who her husband will be.
  • Suddenly, a handsome knight appears wearing majestic armor that apparently used to belong to Achilles, with a hound on his shield.
  • At first, Britomart isn't overly preoccupied with his image, but soon she begins to feel the pangs of love.
  • She's unsure of what she's feeling—she can't sleep—but one night her nurse, Glauce, notices her restlessness.
  • She asks her what's wrong, saying she's noticed her not only being distracted at night, but also during the day.
  • The nurse suspects that Britomart is in love and hopes the man she's in love with is worthy of her.
  • The nurse tells Britomart that she can tell her anything and embraces her to make her feel better.
  • Britomart says she doesn't think it's worth telling the nurse, since then they'll both suffer but Glauce insists that there's a remedy for everything.
  • Britomart in turn insists that her problem is unique and impossible to help and the two go back and forth until Britomart finally says that she doesn't love a real man at all, but the image of one she saw in her father's mirror.
  • Glauce tells her to relax, and that she was worried Britomart was in love with someone really inappropriate; this guy, whoever he is, is probably good.
  • Britomart isn't particularly comforted and worries she'll still live out her days pining for someone she doesn't even know.
  • But the nurse suggests that they can use magic to identify him and this does give Britomart some hope.
  • The next day the two of them head to church, but are both distracted. As soon as they get home the nurse makes a potion for Britomart.
  • But the potion doesn't help Britomart at all, and the nurse begins to become desperate.