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Book V, Canto V

July 14, 2011

This canto is great. 

At daybreak the fighters enter the lists. Arthegall vs. Radigund begins as a normal fight, but Radigund is knocked out by stanza 11. When Arthegall unlaces her helm he sees a beautiful face and can’t bring himself to kill her. He just stands there until she gets up and starts beating on him. Even then he just deflects her blows and will not fight back. Finally she allows him to yield. Turpine is hanged for real this time. Talus respects Arthegall’s decision so much that only kills one pile of people instead of everyone.

Arthegall has voluntarily given up his freedom and his dignity. Radigund dresses him in women’s robes and gives him a job spinning cloth.

Spenser clearly sees this genderbending as a horrible thing for society, an abomination against the order of the universe in which man rules woman (just as reason and judgement should rule wild and base passions). This could be tricky ground to tread on* when writing to an extremely powerful queen, who obviously did not find it necessary to submit herself to any man. I love that he covers himself in stanza 25:

Such is the cruelty of womenkynd,
When they haue shaken off the shamefast band,
With which wise Nature did them strongly bynd,
T’obay the heasts of mans well ruling hand,
That then all rule and reason they withstand,
To purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand,
That they were borne to base humilitie,
Vnlesse the heauens them lift to lawfull souerantie.

Then the real drama starts! Radigund falls in love with her slave Arthegall. She is too ashamed at first, but finally admits to her maid Clarinda that she wants Arthegall. She suggests that Clarinda be her middle(wo)man, and with sweet speech try to win Arthegall over and convince him to love her. Clarinda goes to Arthegall and subtly suggests that it might be good for him to win favor with Radigund. He is willing to do so (but has no intention of cheating on Britomart, we are told).

As it turns out, after awhile Clarinda herself begins to fall in love with Arthegall. She knows she is between a rock and a hard place so she just screws everyone over. She tells Radigund that Arthegall is unwilling to ever be friends. Radigund rages, then calms down and makes the rational plan to increase his workload while decreasing his food, in hopes that hardship will put him in a better place to love her.

Clarinda tells Arthegall that Radigund is unwilling to ever be friends, despite all her entreaties. She promises to find a way to free him (but has no intention of letting him go).

*The women of The Faerie Queene are an interesting bunch. Most are helpless and spend all their time worrying about getting raped. Then you have Belphoebe, Britomart, Radigund, and even the baddies like Duessa who are powerful and fun to read about. I don’t think Spenser hated women at all. I’d like to study this in more depth in the future.

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