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Book I, Canto V

November 5, 2009

My apologies for not posting more regularly, I have had extra work commitments the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow I am going out of town for a bit so posting may be sporadic until my routine gets back to normal 🙂

In this canto we continue with Redcross, who is waiting for the dawn of his one-on-one tournament day with Sansioy. As soon as the sun rises he gets dressed in his armor and goes forth to meet the Saracen in the Queen’s hall. They are served spiced wine and swear an oath that they will follow the rules, the “sacred lawes of armes”. Then it seems that the action moves outdoors – the Queen sits under a canopy, Duessa watched from the sidelines, and the shield of Sansfoy – the dead brother of Sansioy that he seeks vengeance for – hangs on a nearby tree for the victor to claim.

The battle begins, and in true medieval fantasy fashion they hew and cleave and smite each other. The poet compares it to a fight between a Dragon and a Gryphon. The turning point is when Sansioy looks upon the shield and redoubles his efforts, hitting Redcross so hard that the crowd is sure he will fall. Duessa prematurely begins to congratulate Sansioy. The voice of Duessa brings Redcross back to his senses and he swings so hard at Sansioy that he surely would have cloven him if Sansioy had not ducked.

After his brief victory speech he moves to slay the kneeling Saracen, but as he does so Sansioy disappears in a cloud of dark mist. Duessa runs to Redcross and says that although he has won, his enemy has been carried off to the Underworld. The Knight does not believe her at first but cannot find his foe. He is hailed as the winner by the court and receives the shield.

He is brought back to the palace and laid in bed to have his wounds healed. Duessa, meanwhile, weeps like a crocodile. At evening she finds Sansioy and flies to where Night is preparing to ride across the sky to beg his case of her. Night is personified as a dark old hag with a dark chariot and dark horses. She is stunned to see the bright Duessa. Duessa gives a speech reminding Night of her kinship to the Sans brothers (she calls them Night’s nephews – they are the sons of Aveugles). She urges her to not let the deaths of two nephews go unavenged. Night’s response is that it is futile to strive with the destinies Jove creates, but she wants to avenge Sansfoy. She asks Duessa, “who are you?” and Duessa reveals herself. Though Night was also her ancestor, her disguise is so good that even Night could barely detect any deception in her face.

They ride in Night’s chariot to pick up Sansioy. They bring him to hell and go underground, passing its famous rivers, its generic ghosts, and its famous residents – an interesting list, notably including Theseus. Their goal is to bring Sansioy to Aesculapius. Spenser gives us a brief background of this most famous doctor: he healed Hippolytus, who had been torn apart on a cliff face by his father after his stepmother falsely accused him (revenge for him resisting her advances). After realizing the truth, his father brought him to Aesculapius, who was able to put him back together and bring him back to life. For this Aesculapius was thrown into hell by Jove.

At first he is reluctant to heal Sansioy, but at the pleading of Night and Duessa he agrees . They leave Sanioy there. Night returns to her sky chariot and Duessa to the prideful palace. She finds Redcross gone.

His wounds had healed quickly, but what prompted him to leave was the (overdue) observation by the Dwarf that there were an awful lot of captives in the palace. They were prideful human beings – again we hear a famous list of sinners, among them Cleopatra. Their greed and pride had led them to the dungeons of this Queen, where they were chained (presumably forever).

This spooked the Knight and the Dwarf, so they hastened off in secrecy. Finally, on their way out, they notice all the corpses piled on the ground. Pride is a nasty mistress.

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  1. Book I, Canto VII « The Faerie Queene

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