Book II, Canto I
THE SECOND BOOKE
THE LEGEND OF SIR GVYON.
The introduction to the second book is a wonderful reminder to keep our sense of wonder. Spenser reminds his readers that mystery in the world yet exists. Not until the sixteenth century did Magellan circumnavigate our planet. This poem may be a fairy tale, but even in such a grand age of discovery (and do we not still live in an age of discovery?) there is always more to marvel at.
We return to the story with the character of Archimago the villain. He has escaped his bonds of the previous book and pursued St. George, scheming against him. But George, now wary of temptation and deceit after his adventures, is not so easily tricked as he once was.
We are introduced to our current protagonist, Sir Guyon. He is a comely knight, full “temperate”, accompanied by an old Palmer. Once Archimago spots this pair he comes up with a plan. Approaching them in the guise of a squire, he tells a sad tale of a lady who was attacked and raped by a renegade knight.
Of course this story inflames the good Sir Guyon, who rides off to exact revenge for the lady’s sake. He comes across the lady, her appearance ransacked, who after some prodding repeats the sob story of her rape and gives a description of her attacker that happens to match that of St. George.
Guyon has heard of the Redcross knight’s virtue and seems to question her story, nonetheless he will avenge her. Of course you will have guessed by now that the so-called rape victim is in fact our favorite villainess Duessa in yet another disguise.
Eventually they come across the Redcross knight sitting by a stream. At first Guyon approaches him to fight, then sees his mistake. As they recognize each other, Guyon realizes he has been lied to. They exchange pleasantries and the Palmer praises St. George highly. George wishes them good luck and they depart.
One day Guyon and the Palmer are travelling and hear crying from a wood as they rode by. The voice cries for several stanzas about death, she is compared to a dying deer. Guyon comes upon a gory and tragic scene – a fountain, a dead knight, a woman on the ground with a dagger through her chest, and her baby playing in the blood. Naturally he is in shock for a moment. He helps the woman, pulling the knife out from her chest. She appears to recover somewhat and he asks her what has happened. She is in bad shape, cannot stand, and is about to die. Yet she ends up telling him her tale.
The dead knight’s name is Sir Mordant and he was previously her lover. One day, he left her pregnant and went on an adventure that he never returned from. She heard that he had come unto Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss, a cursed place where Acrasia the sorceress enthralls knights with pleasure and leisure. The poor abandoned pregnant woman goes in search of him, delivering her baby in the process, but once she finds him he does not recognize her. She restores him to normal, but once Acrasia finds out that one of her knights is gone, she curses the fountain in the wood. When Sir Mordant drank he died immediately.
After telling that far, the stabbed woman dies.
A grieved Guyon addresses the Palmer with some thoughts on the destructive nature of Passion, Temperance, and Death. Then they bury the stabbed lady, Guyon swearing vengeance for her death.