Book III, Canto I
THE THIRD BOOKE
THE LEGEND OF BRITOMARTIS.
What better way to introduce the book of chastity than with some good ol’ flattery of the Virgin Queen herself? We then resume the story just where Book II left off. Guyon & crew have made it back to the castle, and everyone is fully recovered from the adventures of the last book. Acrasia is sent with a heavy guard to the Faery court, and it’s time for Arthur, Guyon, the Palmer, and Arthur’s squire Timias to leave the castle. They wander for a while until they encounter a knight with a squire* bearing a shield emblazoned with a lion on a golden field.
Guyon jousts with this stranger and is unhorsed on the first pass. He is of course bitterly ashamed at his defeat, but the Palmer knows that the other knight has an enchanted spear. In fact the other knight is Britomart, our hero for the whole book. She’s cheating with her spear. Guyon wants to fight on foot, but the Palmer and Arthur make excuses for his loss, saying that it was his horse’s fault, or the page’s fault, and thus calm him down.
Then all the knights become friends and ride together.
Suddenly a lady on a white palfrey comes flying out of the forest. She is pursued by a lecherous “Foster” (forester). All the men ride after her except Timias, who chases the forester instead. Britomart is too intelligent to chase random women, so she continues on her quest, arriving at a castle nearby. On the castle lawn are six knights fighting just one knight. Her sense of justice overcomes her and she stops to see what is going on. The single knights claims that the six are compelling him to forswear his lady-love in favor of another. The six affirm this, adding that the lady in the castle demands that all knights who pass by must either server her as their lady or prove by fighting that their current lady is more beautiful.
Of course Britomart thinks this is all ridiculous bunk so she knocks four of the six knights over with her magic spear and is hailed as victor. She enters the castle, called Castle Joyous, and everyone marvels at its richness. Spenser seizes this opportunity to tell us the story of Venus and Adonis, which should clue you in that this castle has a lot of amorous things happening. OH! And guess who is inside the lady of the castle’s chamber? The lady herself, who is named Malecasta in stanza 57, plus THE REDCROSS KNIGHT!**
Anyway, Britomart lifts her helmet’s visor at this point, but continues to wear her full armor. The six fighting knights are named as Gardante, Parlante, Iocante, Basciante, Bacchante, and Nocante. My book’s notes inform me that these names mean, in order: Looking, Speaking, Joking, Kissing, Revelry, and Late Nights.
It wouldn’t be a book about a warrior heroine without a little lesbian action. Malecasta doesn’t realize that Britomart is a girl (presumably because of the “manly terror” in her face) and she falls in love with her. All evening she flirts and gets nowhere. At bedtime she sneaks into Britomart’s room and lays down next to her. Britomart wakes up, jumps out of bed, and brandishes her sword at Malecasta, causing her to shriek loudly enough to wake the whole castle. Britomart is surrounded and shot by Gardante’s arrow. Redcross sides with her and together they beat down their enemies. Then they leave.
* Isn’t it interesting how squires fade in and out of the narrative? I think it’s because if were always around some of the hijinks might not happen. Knights need to be alone to facilitate certain hijinks.
** What is he doing here? I thought he married Una! To tell you the truth I am a little confused, but I think Spenser was too, because he calls Redcross “Guyon” in Canto II. So I don’t feel so dumb.