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Book I, Canto IV

October 19, 2009

We begin this canto with some moral advice:

“For vnto knight there is no greater shame, Then lightnesse and inconstancie in loue; That doth this Redcrosse knights ensample plainly proue.”

The Knight and Duessa ride along until they come to a “goodly building” at the end of a broad road. Massive crowds of people are always traveling toward the palace (Matthew 7:13), but very few are going the other direction – and those who are have become beggars or bums. But since it is getting late, Duessa pushes the Knight onward to the palace. It is a flimsy building covered in gold foil and built on a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:26). The lady of this place is a proud, “blazing” beautiful woman that Spenser compares to Phaeton. Though we read that she is the child of the Underworld deities (Pluto and Proserpine), she claims to be the daughter of Jove (Zeus), the most important god. When the Knight and Duessa come before her throne, she barely gives them notice. Although Duessa joins in on the court activity, the Knight wonders at the pride of the Queen. Her name too is suspicious – Lucifera.

When morning comes Lucifera calls her “six sage Counsellours”, the policy-makers for her kingdom, to ride with her. This procession is described in wonderful and obvious allegorical detail. The Counsellours are six deadly sins:

Idleness: rides on a donkey. He is dressed in religious attire. He shuns the world, purportedly for the sake of contemplation, but it is really just sloth. He is plagued by fever.

Gluttony: rides on a swine. He is horrifically fat and sweaty. He carries with him food to eat and is plagued by dropsy.

Lechery: rides on a goat. He is dark and dirty, but ladies love him. He wears green and his seduction strategies are briefly described. He is plagued by some type of venereal disease.

Avarice: rides on a camel (Matthew 19:24). He is dressed in rags but has enormous wealth stashed around him. He is plagued by gout.

Envy: rides on a wolf. He chews on a toad (ew) and carries a snake. His clothes are painted with eyes. He appears to have leprosy.

Wrath: rides on a lion. He waves around a burning brand and has his hand on his dagger. He is plagued by many diseases including a swollen spleen and palsy.

After these six rides Satan himself, stepping on the bones of past damned travelers.

When they return to the palace who do they meet but Sansioy? Not surprisingly, he is hellbent on vengeance. When he sees the shield of Sansfoy he starts a fight with the Red Cross Knight. The Queen bades them wait til the next day to fight in an organized manner. During the night, Duessa comes to Sansioy and tells him how she loved Sansfoy and of her captivity with the Red Cross Knight. She promises to be his if he can win the duel, and warns him of the Red Cross enchanted armor. Sansioy dismisses her fears and sends her off.

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