The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Faerie Queene can help.

The Faerie Queene: Book I: Canto V Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At night, before his big battle with Sansjoy, the Redcross Knight is restless as he thinks of tactics to use against his opponent. At last, the sun rises, and the knight gets ready to face his foe.
Then as now, restless sleep is often a sign of a character who has concerns on their mind.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
As the Redcross Knight comes to the palace’s common hall, he finds many bards, minstrels, and chroniclers singing songs. Soon, Sansjoy appears in full armor. Finally, Lucifera herself makes a stately procession into the hall, with Duessa at her side.
The conflict between Redcross and Sansjoy isn’t just a personal grudge but in fact a grand spectacle that will involve everyone in the house.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Duessa hangs Sansfoy’s shield from a tree—both she and the shield will go to the victor of the fight. A trumpet sounds, and the battle begins. At first, Sansjoy is strong, giving fierce blows, but the Redcross Knight is also strong. It’s a deadlock. At one point, Sansjoy happens to glance his dead brother’s shield, and this causes him to become even more ferocious.
For a knight, losing one’s shield is a sign of being humbled. By reclaiming his dead brother’s shield, then, Sansjoy would also reclaim some of his dead brother’s honor. This is why seeing the shield motivates Sansjoy to fight even harder.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Duessa shouts to encourage Sansjoy, but the Redcross Knight believes she’s encouraging him. He begins to attack more furiously and is about to strike a mortal blow against Sansjoy when suddenly Sansjoy seems to disappear. Duessa asks the Redcross Knight to put aside his vengeance, saying that he has won her and the shield.
Although Sansjoy is strong, the Redcross Knight is clearly stronger, again fortified by his holiness. Sansjoy’s sudden disappearance is clearly the work of Duessa, showing how when evil is losing, it will cheat to avoid consequences.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Get the entire The Faerie Queene LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Faerie Queene PDF
The Redcross Knight, however, isn’t satisfied and still wants to kill Sansjoy. Trumpets greet his victory, and the knight is presented with Sansfoy’s shield. He gives the shield as a gift to Lucifera. There is a celebration for the Redcross Knight’s victory, and he goes back to his room in the palace to have his wounds treated.
Although mercy is generally regarded as a virtue, pagans like Sansfoy are treated as undeserving of mercy, worthy only of death to a holy knight like Redcross.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Meanwhile Duessa weeps until the evening. When it’s dark, however, she ventures out to see Night, a woman in black who is in a chariot pulled by all-black horses. Duessa asks Night why she allowed Sansfoy to fall to the Redcross Knight’s sword. Night admits that she is saddened by their loss but says she is powerless to change the course of destiny.
Even concepts as big as night are portrayed as characters in the poem. Night’s all-black clothes evoke the nighttime’s darkness, and she continues a motif of dark being associated with evil while light is associated with virtue.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Though Night cannot change destiny, she promises that the Redcross Knight will pay a price in his own blood for slaying Sansfoy. Night asks who Duessa is, and she replies that she’s the daughter of Deceit and Shame. Night says that she is perhaps one of Duessa’s ancestors and promises to stay with her.
Despite Night’s power, she is unable to intervene. Both in the poem and in mythology in general it is common for powerful characters to have restrictions on their powers, perhaps to explain why they don’t always get their way.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Together, Night and Duessa ride to the place where Sansjoy is laying on the ground. They take him away on their chariot to heal his serious wounds, driving towards a hole to the underworld and entering it.
Duessa, a master of illusion, didn’t teleport or shield Sansjoy, she simply made him impossible to see.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
In the smoke- and sulfur-filled underworld, where the god Pluto reigns, Night and Duessa continue to ride their chariot with the wounded Sansjoy. Along the way, they see many horrific sights, such as the many-headed dog Cerberus and the fiery punishment of damned souls. They see famous figures from Greek and Roman mythology, like Sisyphus (who is cursed to always push a stone up a hill but never reach the top) and Tantalus (who is cursed to always be thirsty). At last, they reach Æsculapius, a god of medicine who was killed and sent to the underworld at one point for being too good at stopping death.
Trips to the underworld are relatively common in mythological stories, and this won’t be the last one in this poem. The characters who appear in this section are familiar to people who know Greek and Roman stories about the underworld. Spenser often combines new elements of his poem with references to past epic poems with which his readership would have been broadly familiar, thereby placing himself within the same literary tradition.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Æsculapius is kept imprisoned in chains. When he lived in the mortal world, Æsculapius helped heal a handsome huntsman named Hippolytus. This healing was so miraculous that Jupiter deemed Æsculapius too powerful and struck him down with a thunderbolt.
The fate of Æsculapius is a little ironic, since he was trying to be a good doctor but got punished for being too good. Perhaps it is fitting that he appears in this section about pride, since he showed pride by not respecting the authority of Jupiter.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Night and Duessa present Sansjoy to Æsculapius for treatment. At first, Æsculapius is reluctant to help because he’s afraid of angering Jupiter again. Night argues that she could hurt Æsculapius even worse than Jupiter, and this convinces him to help. Duessa leaves them to work and returns to Lucifera’s palace.
Æsculapius’s willingness to work with Night and Duessa suggests that his work as a doctor is more about proving his own skill than about exercising virtue, implying that perhaps he deserves to be in the underworld after all.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
When Duessa gets back to the palace, she finds the Redcross Knight and the dwarf visiting the dungeon. They witness many people who were imprisoned by their own pride, such as an old king of Babylon and the famously wealthy king Croesus. The wide range of captives includes many figures from Roman times, such as Julius Caesar, the general Hannibal, and Cleopatra, with thousands of others who are all consumed by pride.
This section provides a parallel to the earlier section listing all the various residents of the underworld. What links all these historical figures is that they were all undone by their own pride. Seeing them helps the Redcross Knight realize the true nature of the house he’s staying in—the House of Pride.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
The dungeon helps the Redcross Knight and the dwarf realize the true nature of Lucifera’s palace of pride. They decide to flee.
Having seen the consequences of pride in the House of Pride’s dungeon, Redcross decides he doesn’t want to be a part of it.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon