The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
Sir Guyon has been sailing for two days with the Palmer when he hears from his boatman that they’re about to pass through the Gulf of Greediness. The gulf has heavy waves and dangerous rocks that can eat sailors up. The most dangerous rock is called the Rock of Reproach. Fortunately, Guyon’s boat makes it through unscathed.
The dangerous gulf and rocks that Sir Guyon encounters at sea recall the various temptations he faced when he was separated from the Palmer.
Themes
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The boatman then tells Sir Guyon about the Wandering Islands, which have Greek names and travel in different directions through the water. The islands seem pleasant and tempt men to land on them. As Guyon’s boat passes through the Wandering Islands, he spots Phaedria on one of them. He stays wary, however, and the boat makes it past the islands.
The final book begins with something like a victory lap for Sir Guyon, who is now barely even moved by Phaedria and her island, which originally separated him from the Palmer and almost trapped him for good.
Themes
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Deception and Lies Theme Icon
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The next obstacles at sea are the quicksands of Unthriftiness and the Whirlpool of Decay, but the boatman maneuvers around them. Unfortunately, however, the boat is soon surrounded by thousands of ugly sea monsters. The Palmer manages to calm these monsters by striking the sea with his staff.
Both the boatman’s skilled navigation and the Palmer’s intervention with the sea monster show how Sir Guyon has not only fortified his own virtue but also surrounded himself with people who make him better.
Themes
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Next the boat comes to an island, where a fair, weeping maiden seems to call to them. Sir Guyon wants to turn the boat towards her, but the Palmer warns him that she is false. They also pass some singing mermaids, but taking the Palmer’s advice, Guyon ignores their calls.
This section was likely inspired by the sirens made famous in The Odyssey, which sang beautifully in order to lure sailors to their doom. Once again, the Palmer protects Guyon.
Themes
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Protestantism Theme Icon
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Soon after, during bad weather, the boat is surrounded by fearsome winged creatures, like birds, bats, and harpies. But at last, the weather improves and Sir Guyon and the Palmer disembark. As they walk on land, the Palmer keeps evil fiends away with his staff. At last, they make it to the Bower of Bliss, where Acrasia dwells. 
The Palmer’s spiritual strength becomes something physical, driving away wild beasts that would stand in his way. The arrival at Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss marks the end of Sir Guyon’s long journey that began with meeting Amavia.
Themes
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Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
The gate to the bower is intricate, decorated with precious ivory and illustrating stories from mythology. Near the entrance is a man called Genius, who is decked in flowers and seems wise, but who secretly wants to make men fall. He welcomes Sir Guyon, but Guyon sees through him and breaks his staff.
Minor figures in the poem often have very straightforward names, but there can also be deceptive layers to them. The quality of “genius,” for example, is often thought of as a good thing, but here it’s portrayed as a quality that can make men vulnerable to Acrasia’s tricks.
Themes
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The inside of the bower is as amazing as the gate, with perfect weather and sweet smells everywhere. Sir Guyon is in awe of the place but takes no delight from it. A woman in fair clothes named Excess is holding a cup of gold that she offers to Guyon to taste. Guyon takes her cup, then he throws it on the ground.
Excess represents how the pleasures in Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss go well beyond what a temperate man should accept. Sir Guyon isn’t even tempted for a moment, showing a total rejection of Excess and all she represents.
Themes
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In the middle of the bower is a fountain that is pure and shiny because it’s made of the richest stuff on earth. Infinite streams seem to come out of it. In the middle of the fountain, two naked damsels are wrestling with each other. When the maidens see Sir Guyon, they laugh and blush and invite him to join them. The Palmer, however, warns Guyon not to.
Even at his most virtuous, Sir Guyon seems to still be tempted by some of the pleasures offered in the garden, but with the Palmer at his side, he is only ever distracted for a moment.
Themes
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Deception and Lies Theme Icon
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At last, Sir Guyon and the Palmer make it to the part of the Bower of Bliss where Acrasia resides. Birds, voices, instruments, and all of nature seem to sing out together. Acrasia is lying with a lover, who seems to be enchanted with her witchcraft. It looks like her young lover comes from nobility, and he is strong like a warrior.
Acrasia’s evil garden bears a superficial resemblance to some of the more virtuous gardens referenced in the poem, such as Eden and the garden of Venus. It is only Guyon’s previous knowledge about the bower that helps Guyon know its true nature.
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Sir Guyon and the Palmer sneak up on Acrasia and her lover. Then, all of a sudden, they rush forward and throw a net over Acrasia. They chain her up, but allow her lover, Verdant, to be untied. Guyon then begins totally destroying the bower. They lead Acrasia and Verdant out, with the Palmer again having to use his skills to pacify the raging beasts around them. The Palmer explains that these beasts were actually men who used to be Acrasia’s lovers but who were transformed.
Although Sir Guyon represents temperance, he nevertheless takes aggressive and decisive action to destroy the Bower of Bliss. Acrasia has tempted and enslaved countless men, and Guyon destroys the bower to prevent future men from falling into a state of intemperance.
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One beast, a hog named Grill, is returned to human form by the Palmer’s staff. But Grill still chooses to act like a beast, causing Sir Guyon and the Palmer to lament how some men prefer to remain in filth. They depart.
Although some of the previous sections have depicted the men in Acrasia’s thrall as victims, this final section complicates the story by showing that some men prefer to be beasts, even when given the option.
Themes
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Deception and Lies Theme Icon
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