The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
Early in the morning, Sir Guyon and the Palmer set out to continue their adventure. They make it to a river where Alma has told them a ferryman waits. While Sir Guyon gets on the boat, a new swarm of enemies attacks Alma’s castle. The vast numbers of enemies split up into different troops, each trying to attack a different part of the castle. The castle has five bulwarks, each named for a different sense: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, and Touch.
The swarms of enemies attack each of the five senses, as represented by the five bulwarks of the castle. Alma’s castle is a place of knowledge and learning, so the swarms of enemies could be seen as symbolizing ignorance and other obstacles to learning.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Though the castle walls stay strong at first, Alma is worried. Arthur pledges that he’ll do whatever he can to help with defending the castle. He rides out the gate in glittering armor with his squire, and immediately the enemies start firing arrows at him. Arthur blocks them with his shield and uses his sword to disperse the swarms of enemies around him.
Arthur goes into battle against the vulgar ignorance of the crowds outside. Throughout The Faerie Queene there is a clear bias toward enlightened rule by monarchs (Arthur will one day be king) instead of populist rule of the masses.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
In response to Arthur’s offense, the captain of the enemies, Maleger, rides out on his tiger. He is followed by two hags, Impotence and Impatience. Maleger and the hags engage Arthur in a fierce battle. Arthur is knocked to the ground and nearly killed, but his squire manages to rescue him just in time.
Impotence and Impatience are both vices that can keep people in ignorance. Impatience in particular is a clear opposite of temperance, the theme of this book. Maleger nevertheless manages to knock Arthur over, showing how even ignorance is capable of blunt force.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Arthur rouses himself off the ground and starts fighting like a bear that just woke up. Maleger gets off his tiger to fight. At one point, Maleger seems to be injured and pleads for mercy, but it’s only a trick, and Maleger uses the chance to lash out and start the battle again.
Maleger uses dirty tactics and tricks, aligning him with other trickster characters like Duessa and Archimago. He doesn’t follow the rules of chivalry as Arthur does.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
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The next time Arthur defeats Maleger, he slices him through the chest with his sword. Surprisingly, no blood comes out of the wound, even though you can see straight through the captain’s body. The captain doesn’t fall, and Arthur is afraid, fearing he is fighting a ghost. Arthur puts aside his weapons and crushes the captain’s body with his bare hands against his chest. Arthur is sure the captain is dead this time, but Maleger rises up and keeps fighting.
Arthur’s many attempts to kill Maleger show just how durable ignorance can be. Like the swarm of enemies themselves, which seem to regenerate every time some of them are killed, Maleger keeps getting up no matter how many times he’s seemingly killed.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Finally, Arthur realizes that the earth is what keeps healing Maleger, so he carries him to a lake and throws him in. Maleger stops moving for good. The hags see this and run over. One drowns herself and the other stabs herself through the heart. Arthur, having lost some blood, is finally the victor, and he’s taken back to Alma’s castle for his wounds to be treated.
Many noble characters in the poem have a connection to nature, but Malegar’s connection to the earth seems perhaps to invoke his commonness instead. This is why his weakness is water, when a nobler knight like Redcross is actually purified by water.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon