The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Book II: Canto IX Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Pyrochles and Cymochles are dead, Arthur recovers his stolen sword and returns Sir Guyon’s stolen shield back to him. Arthur asks Guyon why he has an image of the Faerie Queene on his shield and Guyon explains how he’s in her service. Arthur mentions how he himself has been wandering in search of the queen, so that he can better serve her. Sir Guyon tells Arthur about the evil sorceress Acrasia and how he is planning to get revenge on her.
Sir Guyon is similar to the Redcross Knight in many ways, particularly in his devotion to serving the Faerie Queene. His friendship with Arthur confirms the righteousness of both knights and shows how the pursuit of common values can bond people together, particularly knights following a code of chivalry.
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
Sir Guyon and Arthur make their way to a castle where the gate is locked. Arthur’s squire (Timias) blows a horn, and a watchman comes, warning the knights to go away at once if they value their lives, because many enemies have been laying siege to the castle for a long time. Just then, a thousand enemies come toward the castle.
The blowing of a horn outside a castle gate recalls the Biblical story of the fall of Jericho, where the Israelites blow a horn outside the fortified city and the walls all fall down.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Sir Guyon and Arthur beat the enemies away, scattering them like sheep. The enemies flee but return with a cruel captain, only to be driven off again. Alma, the beautiful virgin lady of the castle, comes down to greet the two noble knights and entertain them in the castle. It’s a grand castle with many rooms. She leads them to a hall where an old steward named Diet and a jolly marshal named Appetite work. They give the guests many good things to eat.
The contrast between the noble inhabitants of the castle and the raging swarms of enemies outside shows the challenges of maintaining a virtuous life. It perhaps also illustrates a difference between the elevated nobility and the rude swarms of common people. Most of the heroic characters in the poem are of noble birth.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Alma’s palace contains even more incredible sights, including a room of courting ladies where Cupid likes to play mischief. The ladies are intrigued by the knights, and Arthur begins talking to one of them who wears a long purple dress. Her name is Praise-desire, and she is pensive because she wants glory but hasn’t achieved it yet. Meanwhile, Sir Guyon entertains a different damsel, who is also fair and so modest that she blushes all the time. Her name is Shamefastness because she’s shamefast (which means “shy”).
The room of the castle with courting ladies further establishes that the castle represents high society and that the swarms of enemies outside represent common vulgarity. Although Sir Guyon is temperate and not prone to passion, this passage shows that perhaps there is nothing wrong with some moderate courting when conducted in a chaste manner. “Shamefast” is possibly the origin of the word “shame-faced.”
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
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Eventually, Arthur and Sir Guyon leave the ladies as Alma leads them to the wondrous upper parts of the castle, where turrets look down on the lands around them. The craftsmanship of the rooms up there is so amazing that the narrator can’t even describe it. The most important rooms hold three sages.
Although the narrator doesn’t usually draw attention to himself after the introduction to a canto, occasionally, he interrupts to comment on the action.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Alma leads Arthur and Sir Guyon through the sages’ rooms. One room is filled with flies that buzz around like idle thoughts and opinions. Another’s walls are painted with images of famous leaders and people from the arts and sciences. In yet another room is an extremely old man who has a perfect memory of everything, even the ancient past. The knights view all this in awe before finally arriving at a library, where Arthur takes a book about the history of Britain and Guyon takes a book about the history of faerie land. They leave Alma to read.
The three sages all represent different kinds of knowledge. They foreshadow the next canto, which is set in a library and is all about the type of knowledge that can be gained from reading a book. As with the house of the holy section in Book I, this new knowledge will leave the knights Sir Guyon and Arthur better prepared to face the challenges that await them at the climax to this book.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon