Book III, Canto II
This is a flashback episode. Britomart and Redcross have a conversation about Britomart’s past. Britomart reveals that she grew up in Britain learning the arts of war, and has always disdained traditional feminine hobbies. She arrived in Faery to seek adventures and is currently searching for a knight named Arthegall, whom she blames for breaking her heart. Redcross defends Arthegall as a good knight who always helps out ladies and orphans. Britomart asks where Arthegall is, and Redcross answers that he does not stay in one place very long. Since Britomart has some difficulty telling her story, in stanza 17 Spenser’s voice takes over to tell it for her:
Sir knight…Tell me some markes, by which he may appeare…
What shape, what shield, what armes, what steed, what sted,
And what so else his person most may vaunt?
All which the Redcrosse knight to point ared,
And him in euery part before her fashioned.
Yet him in euery part before she knew.
How euer list her now her knowledge faine,
Sith him whilome in Britaine she did vew,
To her reuealed in a mirrhour plaine…
Merlin the wizard had given Britomart’s father King Ryence a magic mirror (it sounds like a crystal ball) so that he could always keep an eye on his kingdom. One day Britomart happened upon the mirror, and after checking herself out in it, decided to divine the appearance of her future husband. She saw the shape of a handsome knight and it was love at first sight. She fell into a deep depression. Her old nurse Glauce realized that something was wrong, and pried the secret out of her, promising to help Britomart find the knight. The nurse also tried a potion to make Britomart fall out of love, but it didn’t work.