Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 4, Canto 1

By Edmund Spenser

Book 4, Canto 1

  • While a lot of stories have been written about the fate of lovers, there's none sadder than the stories of Amoret and Florimell.
  • In fact, our narrator sometimes wishes they'd had never been written about (!).
  • Scudamore won the heart of Amoret by fighting twenty knights.
  • But even though they soon were married, Busirane steals her away on the very night of her wedding and keeps her captive for seven months.
  • But, luckily, in the last book, Britomart came to the rescue and now the two of them are traveling together, which causes Amoret a bit of discomfort because she doesn't want Britomart, who is disguised as a man, to try anything romantic or sexual with her.
  • She knows that it's her duty to be faithful to Scudamore alone, which she proved she understands pretty clearly by enduring torture at the hands of Busirane for refusing to sleep with him.
  • But, Britomart, unsurprisingly, doesn't make any moves and soon they come to a castle where the tradition is that any knight unattached to a lady can compete for her company.
  • One knight, seeing how beautiful Amoret is, decides he wants to compete for her.
  • Britomart is not happy about this and says that Amoret belongs to her and so he must defeat her first.
  • Britomart easily unseats the young knight, but feels bad that because he lost to her, he must now sleep outside the castle doors (another odd tradition).
  • So, Britomart proposes that she "won" the knight in the same way that he would have won Amoret, and Britomart wants him to stay inside.
  • After this, Britomart takes off her helmet and reveals her gender and beauty to everyone.
  • The knight is amazed and overwhelmed by her and her generosity while Amoret is relieved.
  • Feeling safe, Amoret joins Britomart in bed and the two become very close, possibly even in a sexual way.
  • As soon as it's morning, the two head out searching for knowledge of their former companions and finally come across two knights each with what looked like beautiful ladies.
  • One of the ladies is Duessa, a witch who is famously able to change her appearance, and other is named Ate.
  • Ate, called the "mother of debate" (IV.i.19), is the source of disagreement and conflict between people.
  • She lives next to Hell, in a cave that is easy to enter but not to exit, and it is decorated with many historical objects commemorating discord, some famous, some not.
  • Outside her house is covered with weeds, literally grown from the "seeds of discord," that she planted.
  • These seeds also indirectly nourish her, since they cause people to fight and allow her (it's unclear exactly how) to drink their blood.
  • She's extremely ugly, with a tongue divided in two, deformed ears, and unequal feet and hands.
  • She's so invested in being evil that she challenges God himself and his desire for peace on earth.
  • Anyway, this is the other lady riding with Duessa and the two knights, and she's been able to disguise herself as beautiful in order to work her mischief.
  • The knights who travel with them are Blandamour, an impressive knight but a flirt, and Paridell, also a flirt and who we've met before.
  • When they catch sight of Britomart riding with Amoret, Blandamour jokes that Paridell should go after the beautiful Amoret.
  • At first, Paridell thinks this is a great idea, but when he recognizes Britomart, who defeated him earlier, he becomes much more hesitant and claims that it would be foolish to put himself in danger again for something as flighty as love.
  • Blandamour decides that he'll go after Amoret then, but only ends up being knocked off his horse while Britomart and Amoret ride off.
  • He rallies, but deep down he still loves and wants Amoret, which makes the appearance of Scudamore, her husband, coming toward them a very unwelcome sight (though it's not entirely clear why Blandamour knows that Scudamore and Amoret are together).
  • Blandamour asks Paridell to fight with him against the knight, and Paridell agrees.
  • Paridell and Scudamore rush at each other with such force that they are both knocked off their horses.
  • Scudamore quickly recovers but Paridell is seriously injured, causing Blandamour to swear that he'll take vengeance on Scudamore.
  • But Duessa here intervenes, asking the knights to stop fighting over love and telling Scudamore that his love, Amoret, has run off with another knight.
  • Here, the narrator briefly interjects to let us know how silly these knights are who are fooled by Duessa and Ate and who fall in and out of love so quickly.
  • Now that that's established, we return to Scudamore is understandably upset to hear what Duessa is saying about Amoret.
  • But Duessa swears she saw this infidelity with her own eyes and describes a knight with spears broken in his shield kiss, embrace, and sleep with Amoret for many nights.
  • Scudamore looks completely heartbroken, which makes Glauce quite concerned and Blandamour quite pleased.
  • He taunts Scudamore who becomes so enraged he almost kills Glauce and insults her and Britomart for their untrustworthiness.
  • Glauce tries to calm him down, but to no avail.