The narrator calls again on his Muse to make sure he does justice to the glory of Britomart’s story. Glauce looks for ways to comfort Britomart, but she remains troubled by her love. She has heard that the great wizard Merlin might be able to show her where her love is located, so they journey to find him.
This canto provides greater detail about Britomart’s change from a normal young woman into the powerful knight she eventually becomes, as was hinted in the previous canto.
Merlin is so powerful that he can make the sun and moon obey him. Glauce and Britomart arrive and find Merlin deep in his work, writing strange symbols into the ground. Because of his ability to see the future, he already knew they would be coming.
This section builds up Merlin’s power and influence, which also has the effect of showing how important Britomart herself will eventually become.
Glauce tells Merlin that the maid with her (Britomart) has an affliction so serious that even leeches can’t cure it. Though Britomart is disguised as a servant, Merlin can tell who she is. Britomart is embarrassed at being discovered, but Merlin assures her it was destiny that brought her to him, and soon destiny will bring her to find her love, an exceptional knight named Arthegall, who is from faerie land but not a faerie himself (having been stolen by faeries as a baby).
Many characters throughout the poem experience some form of love as a disease. The connection between love and physical conditions is similar to how a character’s physical condition is often connected to their spiritual condition, with virtuous characters being the bravest and the strongest.
Merlin goes on to tell Arthegall’s future and how he will wage glorious war against the pagans and give birth to a noble lineage. His descendants will achieve triumphs but also face setbacks as they establish Britain’s place in the world. Britomart is swept up in these stories of the future, which feel so vivid.
Merlin’s description of the future suggests a glorious future Britain, tying into the poem’s themes about British national identity and national pride.
Merlin continues his story of Arthegall’s descendants, telling of the next 800 years. At last, Merlin has exhausted his power, and his story stops. When he recovers, Glauce suggests that they should disguise Britomart as a knight so that nobody bothers her on her journey to find Arthegall.
Merlin’s figure of 800 years could be interpreted as stretching all the way to the time of Queen Elizabeth or perhaps even beyond it, suggesting that her reign was destined by events that were set in motion centuries ago.
Britomart is eager to start her journey. She and Glauce sneak into an armory where they get equipment for Britomart, including a shield and a spear that happens to be enchanted. Britomart begins her quest to faerie land with Glauce as her squire, where she eventually reaches her present state, in which she runs into the Redcross Knight and he tells her about Arthegall.
Obtaining equipment is Britomart’s first step in becoming a knight. The shield represents the defensive, protector role of a knight, while the enchanted lance represents the glory of battle.