The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
Timias continues to live in penance for his unfaithfulness to Belphoebe. One day, a turtle dove happens to visit him. The bird sings and seems to be carrying its own sorrows. Timias ties a ruby that he got from Belphoebe around the bird with a ribbon. The turtle dove then flies away, upsetting Timias at first, but the bird travels to Belphoebe.
The dove has a lot of symbolic significance in Christianity. Maybe the most notable appearance of a dove is in the Biblical story of Noah’s ark, where Noah sends out a dove and it comes back with an olive branch. The olive branch was a sign that the flood was about to stop and God was no longer angry with humanity, and so the dove here is Timias’s way of sending out a message to see if Belphoebe’s anger with him will soon end.
Themes
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Belphoebe recognizes the ruby and the ribbon around the turtle dove. She tries to get the jewel back and ends up following the bird all the way back to Timias. She doesn’t recognize him, but he kneels down to kiss the ground she walks on. Belphoebe asks what has made the man so wretched. Timias informs her that actually it’s her fault. Belphoebe says she regrets her quick judgment earlier and welcomes Timias back. They live happily together for a long time.
Again, the wretchedness of Timias’s condition may seem excessive—Belphoebe doesn’t even recognize him. His extreme contrition maybe isn’t a literal guide for what all good Christians should do, but rather a metaphorical way to show what great lengths a Christian should be willing to go to in order to repent of past sins.
Themes
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Protestantism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Arthur, however, is still adventuring in the forest and doesn’t hear the good news about his former squire Timias. He happens to come to a place in the woods where Aemylia and Amoretta are staying. He is moved because both of them seem seriously injured after escaping the carle’s den. He gives them a liquor to cure them. They explain how they were saved by a virgin (Belphoebe) who killed the carle but then left before they could discover her identity.
Characters in the poem are often just missing each other or not recognizing each other. At the same time, other characters show up to the rescue at exactly the moment when they’re needed. In ancient stories, like the epic poems that inspired The Faerie Queene, this could be viewed as the work of the gods or the Fates, although in a Christian poem, it more likely represents the mysterious workings of one God.
Themes
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Arthur wants to find the virgin, so he, Amoretta, and Aemylia go looking. They come to a cottage where a foul-looking old woman named Sclaunder lives. She lives to abuse good people with poison words (“slandering” them, similar to her name). Arthur and the others stay with Sclaunder that evening, but she is a bad host who yells at them for staying without her consent.
Slander is a topic that comes up on several occasions, always associated with evil characters. Knights in the poem are very concerned with their reputations, and slander is particularly dangerous because it means even good knights can end up with bad reputations.
Themes
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The narrator interrupts to note how, on the surface, it might seem improper for Arthur to be alone with two gentle ladies. But he says it’s like ancient times, when the lion would lie down peacefully next to the lamb.
There are several Biblical passages that mention a peaceful future where a predator animal will lie down next to a prey animal without eating it. Like the Biblical imagery, Arthur’s self-control contrasts with the carle’s libido.
Themes
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Protestantism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
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The next morning, Arthur, Amoretta, and Aemylia leave, but Sclaunder follows after them, shouting insults, until at last she has to turn around. The three of them come across a squire (Placidas) riding with a dwarf. The squire is calling for help because they are being chased by a big man riding a dromedary camel. The man (Corflambo) has evil eyes like a Basilisk that can kill from a distance.
Sclaunder follows after Arthur trying to slander him because he was sleeping alone with two supposedly chaste women. The implication is that she is trying to slander him and ruin his reputation by saying he had sex, which is why in the previous section, the narrator made sure to clarify that there was nothing improper about what Arthur did.
Themes
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Arthur goes to fight the man with the evil eyes. After a short battle, he ends up chopping the man’s head off. The man’s tongue continues to say blasphemies for a little while even after the head has been removed. The squire is amazed, saying that this giant man was named Corflambo and had conquered nations with his deadly gaze, never having been defeated before.
As with many other evil characters, the head is often the root of their sinfulness, and so the hero wins by beheading the villain. For Corflambo, his deadly eyes were the source of his power, which is why he got beheaded. Even after the beheading, he keeps blaspheming, suggesting that evil runs deep and its effects are hard to control.
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The squire explains that Corflambo has a daughter named Poeana who seems fair but isn’t as virtuous as she is beautiful. He then tells about a squire who loved a woman above him named Aemylia and how he went to meet her one day but was instead taken prisoner by the giant Corflambo.
Poeana is yet another woman who seems fair on the surface but is really just trying to trick men. The sheer number of deceptive women in the poem helps to emphasize the virtue of the women capable of true chaste love.
Themes
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The squire, whose name is Placidas, continues his story about the other squire, whose name is Amyas: While in captivity, Amyas was often visited by Poeana. He pretended to love her as a way to get out but secretly remained faithful to his Aemylia. Placidas and Amyas look similar, so one day when he is sneakily visiting Amyas, he gets caught and thrown in prison, too. With them both in prison, Placidas pretends to be his friend so that he can woo Poeana (who likes Amyas), and Amyas doesn’t have to feel guilty about betraying Aemylia.
There are a couple self-contained stories like the one here about Placidas and Amyas that often involve trickery and mistaken identity. Such stories have ancient roots, but for Spenser, one of the biggest influences would have been Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which is full of short, self-contained stories involving deception and impersonation.
Themes
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Placidas, because he is favored by Poeana (who still believes he’s Amyas), has enough freedom to eventually make his own escape, grabbing the dwarf (who served Corflambo) and riding out. He was soon chased by Corflambo himself, however, which is what was happening when Arthur found them. Aemylia comes over and recognizes Placidas, asking if Amyas is still alive. Placidas confirms that he is, although he's still imprisoned. He tells her everything.
Placidas shows great ingenuity in how he managed to escape the prison of the giant Corflambo. This, combined with his dedication to helping his friend, suggest that he is a virtuous character. Book IIII focuses on friendship, and Placidas is the perfect demonstration of this virtue.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon