Book V, Canto I
THE FIFTH BOOKE
THE LEGEND OF ARTEGALL
Spenser prefaces this book with some woe about the state of the world. Things are tough in the 16th century, what with all the political and religious instability. The virtue of Justice is needed to save the day.
This book is about Arthegall, whom we first met in III.II as Britomart’s mirror crush. Arthegall is now on a quest to save the lady Irena from persecution by the evil Grantorto. Gloriana chose him as the paragon of Justice.
We learn some of Arthegall’s backstory – he was raised by Astraea, the constellation Virgo. She taught him
to weight both right and wrong
In equall ballance with due recompence,
And equitie to measure out along,
According to the line of conscience…
She also gave him Chrysaor, the invincible sword of Jove (which he wasn’t apparently using). Eventually Astraea got tired of the wicked earth and went back to the heavens, leaving behind the “iron man” Talus to help Arthegall mete out justice.
As Arthegall and Talus ride along, they come across a squire and a decapitated woman. The distraught squire claims that he was just hanging out with his lady, until a knight arrived with his own lady and proposed that they switch their girls. The squire and both ladies declined. The knight forcibly took the squire’s lady and began to ride away. The knight’s forsaken lady begged him not to leave her and claimed she would rather die, so he obliged her.
Arthegall asks the knight’s markings and sends Talus after him. He is named Sir Sanglier, his heraldry a broken sword on a bloody field. The immovable Talus successfully brings Sanglier back to Arthegall, who asks him his version of the story. Sanglier denies having killed the lady and accuses the squire of the dirty deed.
Arthegall knows that squire is innocent. He pulls a Solomon and declares that he will cut in half both ladies so each knight may have his share, and if anyone disagrees he will have to wear the dead lady’s head as punishment. The gentle squire volunteers to wear the head rather than see the living lady die, so Arthegall knows he’s innocent. Sanglier is forced to wear the head.