Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 3, Canto 3

By Edmund Spenser

Book 3, Canto 3

  • Our narrator first begins by praising the God of love. Not base, sexual love, but pure, virtuous love.
  • He praises how love can make knights do good deeds and he especially praises the power of love in Britomart, who searches the wide world for Arthegall.
  • The narrator then calls on his muse, Clio, to help him sing about the ancestors of his queen.
  • Meanwhile, Glauce is searching for a way to help Britomart and finally decides they should go to the man who built the mirror, Merlin.
  • So the two of them disguise themselves as lowly servants and sneak off to Merlin's cave.
  • Merlin's cave is not the most pleasant place since lots of little demons are constantly screeching and making noise.
  • The reason they do this, so they say, is that Merlin ordered them to build a wall but was in the meantime summoned by the Lady of the Lake, who he loved, and then tricked and trapped.
  • Because of his magic, however, these little demons have to continue building for the rest of eternity. How Merlin escaped being trapped is unclear.
  • Regardless, Merlin is probably the most powerful wizard who ever lived and might not even have mortal parents.
  • Anyway, they get to Merlin's cave and are at first nervous to enter, since it's a little creepy, but Britomart finally enters in.
  • Merlin, who knew they were coming, is busy writing magical things and asks them what they need.
  • Glauce apologizes for bothering him and explains that Britomart is seriously ill and Glauce just doesn't know how to help her.
  • Merlin knows she isn't revealing the full extent of Britomart's situation so he tells her she should just take Britomart to a doctor.
  • The nurse responds that they've tried that and it's just not enough to help with Britomart's exact problem.
  • Merlin finally reveals that he knows why they've come and the nurse begs him then to help.
  • Merlin then turns to Britomart and tells her not to worry, that even though it's painful now, it is the beginning of something good.
  • He explains that she's going to begin a great and renowned line of kings and heroes and that the mirror didn't just show her just "some guy" but her husband destined by God, who is a great and worthy knight.
  • But the nurse reminds Merlin that they still need to find this guy.
  • Merlin understands and says that his name is Arthegall and that he was stolen away to Faerie Land when he was a baby and was raised there but he's actually from Earth.
  • Britomart will bring Arthegall back to his home where they will both defend it from attacking Muslims and they will then have a child, although Arthegall will be killed before the child is born. Bummer.
  • Their nephew, Constantius, will reign followed by their grandson, Vortipore, who will lose his kingdom but his son Malgo will get it back, who Merlin describes as being extremely handsome.
  • His son, Careticus, will reign for a bit but will then be defeated by Gormond, who will temporarily drive out Christianity.
  • He will be followed by the brutal Etheldred who will finally be defeated by Cadwan.
  • He will be followed by Cadwallin, who definitely ends the line of Etheldred by killing his children and grandchildren.
  • However, he encounters a major rebuff by "the good king Oswald" (III.iii.38), known for bringing crosses onto the battlefield.
  • Eventually, Cadwallin defeats him, but after his death, Britain is no longer ruled by other Britons but under the control of foreign leaders: the Saxons.
  • Britomart is concerned to hear this and asks Merlin if Britain will always be ruled by foreigners.
  • Merlin assures her that it is only temporary and that even during this dark time, there were great Briton men.
  • Besides, the Saxons don't have it that easy since they're eventually defeated by the Normans (this would be William the Conqueror) and finally, Briton regains control of the throne (this would be Henry VII).
  • Henry the VII will bring peace and unity to Britain, creating what we now call the United Kingdom, and later a great queen will rule Britain, who will reign in glory and in peace (and this is Queen Elizabeth I).
  • Merlin looks a bit strange after delivering this triple shot of history and needs a moment to calm down, which he does.
  • The two women than head out, feeling much better, and the nurse begins to plan their next move.
  • She thinks they ought to dress up as knights to avoid being seen sneaking away. Since there's a war going on, they'd blend right in.
  • She tells Britomart about a Virgin Knight she heard about recently, called Angela who, though defeated by Britomart's father, fought valiantly.
  • Britomart is inspired by this example and decides to takes her nurse's advice.
  • By extraordinary good luck, Britomart is able to snag Angela's armor and a magic spear, both on their way to the castle's hall to be hung up.
  • The nurse dresses up as her squire and the two go off and head straight for Faerie Land.