The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
While Sir Guyon has been in Hell, the Palmer has been wandering around. Suddenly, he comes across Guyon himself lying in a trance. Next to Guyon is a fair young man who looks as beautiful as the god Cupid. When the Palmer approaches the two of them, the strange young man gets up and says he has been sent by God to protect Guyon. He then flies away on his wings.
The fair young man who suddenly appears here seems to represent something like Sir Guyon’s guardian angel. This retroactively explains how Sir Guyon was able to remain strong against all the various temptations he faced, even without the guidance of the wise Palmer.
Themes
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Quotes
The Palmer is stunned at apparently seeing an angel. He confirms that Sir Guyon is alive, and then he happens to notice that Pyrochles and Cymochles are on their way over, with Archimago and Atin as well. Pyrochles and Cymochles confront the Palmer about Guyon and all the bad things he supposedly did. They believe that Guyon is dead because he’s just lying there, so they want to steal his armor. The Palmer urges them to give up their revenge, which is directed at the wrong person anyway.
Several plot threads from earlier in the book all begin to converge here. This scene sets up a clash between the forces of temperance and reason (Sir Guyon and his Palmer) vs. the forces of passion and rashness (Pyrochles, Cymochles, Atin, and Archimago). Stealing a knight’s armor is dishonorable, particularly since Sir Guyon isn’t dead, just in a trance.
Themes
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Pyrochles and Cymochles take Sir Guyon’s shield and helmet. Just then, they see the proudest and noblest knight in the world is coming: Arthur. Pyrochles doesn’t have his own sword, since he has been using Arthur’s (which Archimago procured for him), and Archimago warns him that the sword might not work against its owner. But Pyrochles seems intent on fighting Arthur with the sword anyway.
Just as he did in Book I, Arthur happens to ride in at just the moment when he’s needed most. In this case, it seems as if the villains are finally paying the consequences for their rash actions, since if Archimago hadn’t stolen Arthur’s sword, the knight might not have come chasing them.
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Arthur salutes the knights, but they don’t return the greeting. The Palmer explains to Arthur how Sir Guyon isn’t dead, just in a deep daze. He goes on to say how Pyrochles and Cymochles took advantage of the situation by stealing Guyon’s armor. Arthur is indignant about what the two of them have done, but they only reply to Arthur by getting even angrier.
Arthur is a righteous knight, and so he is a good judge of character. Here, he isn’t swayed by Pyrochles or Cymochles but instead by the wise Palmer who speaks the truth.
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Pyrochles and Arthur get into a fight. Pyrochles does indeed succeed in knocking Arthur around with his own blade, but he doesn’t kill him, and Arthur responds by stabbing Pyrochles in the chest with a spear and wounding him. Cymochles, struck with grief, lashes out at Arthur, knocking him off his horse. Unhorsed without a sword (just his spear), Arthur is in a dangerous situation.
Outnumbered, lacking his sword, and facing some very determined opponents, Arthur seems to be in trouble. Though he fights well and lands a strong blow on Pyrochles, at first the outcome of the fight seems to be up in the air.
Themes
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Pyrochles and Cymochles both charge Arthur from opposite sides. Though they strike fiercely, Arthur’s shield stays strong. Arthur manages to strike back with his spear and stab Cymochles through the thigh. This angers Cymochles, who strikes back, wounding Arthur in the side and giving him hope that Arthur might be defeated yet.
Arthur’s shield, like the shield of the Redcross Knight before him, represents his steady faith and determination, and so it is what protects him from danger when times are tough. He needs this faith because the fight still seems in danger of going either way.
Themes
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Arthur’s spear breaks, putting him at even more of a disadvantage. The Palmer sees this and gives him the sword of Sir Guyon. Arthur begins attacking again in a rage, like a bull that’s being baited in two different directions. Cymochles and Pyrochles keep getting angrier. Cymochles decides to make an attack so reckless that it will either strike Arthur down or allow Cymochles himself to die with honor. Cymochles is unable to kill Arthur, however, so Arthur uses Guyon’s blade to strike Cymochles’s head, piercing his brain. Cymochles dies and his soul goes to Hell.
Although Arthur has to fight fiercely to keep up with his two opponents, he does not give in to the sort of recklessness they do. This recklessness is Cymochles’s undoing as he blows their numerical advantage over Arthur by over-committing to an attack that leaves him vulnerable to a fatal blow. Cymochles’s soul’s descent to Hell shows that he was not a good knight who got misled but a rotten knight to the core.
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Pyrochles is aghast to see Cymochles fall, but he continues the fight. He ends up defeated by Arthur. Arthur says he doesn’t want to slay Pyrochles and offers him a chance to stop and give up his evil ways. But Pyrochles rejects this offer, and so Arthur cuts his head off.
Arthur gives Pyrochles a chance to repent, perhaps seeing potential in Pyrochles that he didn’t in Cymochles. But when Pyrochles rejects that offer, he reveals himself to be just as hopelessly reckless as Cymochles and so worthy of the same fate.
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Just then, Sir Guyon wakes up from his trance. He looks for his missing equipment. The Palmer informs him of all that happened, and how Arthur slew the two pagans who were trying to steal Guyon’s things. Guyon is very grateful for Arthur’s help. Meanwhile, Archimago and Atin flee the scene quickly.
Although Archimago is capable of causing some very serious trouble for the heroes in the poem, he is helpless when left alone without a disguise, and so he has no choice but to flee.
Themes
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