In the disguise of Fidessa again, Duessa comes in search of the Redcross Knight. She finds him without his armor on near a fountain. Duessa knows that this particular fountain is enchanted and that whoever drinks from it will suddenly grow feeble, so she tricks the Redcross Knight into drinking from it. He becomes weak.
Water is typically a purifying and strengthening element, but here it actually makes the Redcross Knight weaker. Duessa, who is capable of disguising herself as a fair maiden, seems to spread corruption wherever she goes, even to something as pure as a fountain of water.
All of a sudden, a giant named Orgoglio shows up and challenges the Redcross Knight. Being weakened, the Redcross Knight can’t get to his enchanted shield. Orgoglio strikes many times with his mace and knocks the knight down but doesn’t slay him after Duessa asks him to stop at the last moment.
The Redcross Knight’s shield is the source of his power. With its red cross on it, the shield is a clear symbol of his faith, and without the holy power that the shield represents, the Redcross Knight can’t defeat an opponent like Orgoglio.
Duessa suggests that instead, Orgoglio can claim the Redcross Knight as a prisoner and force him into service. Orgoglio agrees and takes the defeated knight to a dungeon. In the dungeon is a great scaly monster with seven heads, which the giant sets Duessa atop so she can ride it as a mount.
Evil characters like Duessa don’t just want to defeat virtuous characters but to humble them as well. In a way, many of them are evangelists for evil, trying to convert other characters to being evil as well.
Meanwhile, the dwarf, who wasn’t noticed by Orgoglio but who saw what happened to the Redcross Knight, gathers up the knight’s scattered possessions and goes off to relay the news of what happened. He travels far and happens to meet Una as she’s fleeing from the pagans with Satyrane.
Messages had to be relayed on foot in medieval times, and so minor characters like Una’s dwarf often play a key role in connecting characters in different locations.
Una is distressed to hear the dwarf’s news about the Redcross Knight and she faints three times. The dwarf tells her about how the knight was misled by Duessa and Archimago and how he was captured and taken away by Orgoglio the giant.
Una’s excessive fainting emphasizes how despite all her virtue, she is very frail without the protection of the Redcross Knight.
Though the dwarf doesn’t know if the Redcross Knight is still alive, Una remains faithful in her love and wants to find him. As she rides to search for him, she eventually meets a noble knight and his squire. This knight is Prince Arthur (who will eventually become the famous King Arthur). On his breast, he wears the likeness of a lady’s head, with many shining stones and jewels on his clothes. His shield, meanwhile, is covered in perfect diamonds.
While Greek and Roman myths are perhaps the greatest source of inspiration in The Faerie Queene, both the legends and the history of Britain are also central to the poem. Spenser freely uses characters like Arthur who originated in other epics, as did many other writers from his time, like Shakespeare.
Prince Arthur is immune to evil magic and enchantments. When he approaches Una, he can tell that she is carrying a secret sorrow with her, so he asks her what’s wrong. Una describes the grief she feels related to the Redcross Knight. Arthur assures her that he can understand the depth of her sadness.
Unsurprisingly, Spenser often portrays Britain in a positive light, and so a character as connected to British identity as Arthur will always be among the strongest and most virtuous characters in the story.
Una describes more about her situation to Prince Arthur, including how she is the daughter of a King and Queen who ruled in the area near the Phison, Euphrates, and Gehons rivers. A horrible dragon attacked the kingdom, however, laying waste to the countryside and forcing the king and queen to flee the castle. Many knights fought to force the dragon out of the capital, but they were unsuccessful. Eventually, news of the dragon reached the court of Gloriana the Faerie Queene. From this court rode the Redcross Knight, who will hopefully be able to slay the dragon.
The rivers mentioned in this passage are three of the four rivers that flowed through the Biblical Eden, suggesting that Una’s homeland is literally a paradise. Dragons, which show up in mythology around the world, often acted as a stand-in for evil or particularly for paganism in British mythology, notably in the legend of the British St. George the dragon slayer. Gloriana’s interest in slaying a distant dragon suggests that she is a benevolent ruler, once again portraying Queen Elizabeth in a positive light.
From then on, Una loved the Redcross Knight, but she was separated from him due to the tricks of Archimago, who made the knight doubt her faithfulness and ride off. Having finished her tale, Una collapses, and Prince Arthur promises to comfort her and help her find her knight again.
The plot of the poem often hinges on coincidences of characters being in the right place at the right time, such as how Arthur suddenly showed up here. Perhaps, however, instead of coincidences, these events could be viewed as the intervention of a benevolent but mysterious God.