A stormy wind blows through the castle, but Britomart remains steadfast. The wind opens the door in front of her, showing a theater. A man whose robe says “Ease” in golden letters is acting as if he’s in a play. Other musicians and bards surround Ease, and they begin to play strange, sweet music.
The wind that tries to blow Britomart in a certain direction is a personification of temptation, which is why Britomart tries so hard to resist it.
A show begins. The performers include Fancy, Desire, Doubt, Danger, Fear, Hope, Dissemblance, Suspect, Grief, Fury, Displeasure, Pleasance, Despight, and Cruelty. Cruelty’s bare chest has a knife sticking out of it. After Cruelty, the winged god Cupid himself comes riding in on a lion. He is followed by a mob of monsters.
This relatively long section is a chance to display poetic technique. The show is intentionally strange and gruesome, mixing potentially positive attributes with ones that are unquestionably sinful, just as Cupid himself mixes pure love and lust.
Britomart tries to flee from the monster, but the doors are locked. They haven’t seen her yet, so she decides to wait a day and see what happens. She decides to come out the next night. She is surprised to find the place deserted except for one woman who is chained to a pillar with an evil enchanter in front of her. It turns out the woman is Cruelty, who is actually Amoretta, and the enchanter tormenting her is Busirane.
The sudden disappearance of all the fanfare from before gives this section a dreamlike quality. It suggests that perhaps Cupid’s influence is not as substantial as it seems, if it can go away so fast. The discovery of Amoretta brings the canto toward the climax of the book.
Busirane sees Britomart and goes to stab Amoretta, but Britomart stops him. They fight and she smites him down half-dead. Britomart tells Busirane that if he wants to live, he has to return Amoretta to her former state. Busirane agrees, and as he undoes his magic, the whole house shakes. The chains fall from around Amoretta, and the knife that was stuck in her breast comes out.
The knife sticking in Amoretta’s chest is a cruel mockery of what real love (or perhaps heartbreak) can feel like. As an enchanter, Busirane is no match for a fighter like Amoretta and pleads for mercy almost immediately.
Amoretta praises Britomart for saving her and tries to thank her, but Britomart says she needs no reward. She binds Busirane so that he won’t cause more trouble. They leave the castle, and it turns out the flames that used to be by the gate have died down.
As a knight, Britomart believes that helping people is a reward in itself and that knights who are only in it for glory or reward aren’t very chivalrous.
In the 1596 revised version of Book XII’s ending, Britomart goes outside with Amoretta and finds that Scudamore and his squire have left to go find their own way to help Amoretta, not realizing that Britomart would be successful. But in the version Spenser first published in 1590, Scudamore is still there, and he and Amoretta are joyfully reunited.
The revised version of the ending is slightly less happy than the original version, although both versions ultimately suggest that good knights like Britomart will triumph over evil opponents. In any case, the start of the next book makes the different endings of this book functionally the same.