Scudamore begins his tale by saying that love and suffering are often intertwined, but he will gladly endure any trials he must for the sake of his love and hopes that others can learn from his story. He tells of how he went abroad seeking glory, ending up at a temple of Venus on an island. The temple holds the great shield of Love, but it’s guarded in a castle by 20 knights.
Stories within stories have been a literary trope since the time of the Greek poet Homer, who is a major influence on Spenser, and were also popular with one of Spenser’s more recent influences, Geoffrey Chaucer.
The shield of Love hangs on a marble column, and written in gold near it is the message that whoever possesses the shield will also possess fair Amoretta. Scudamore is eager to get the shield, so he challenges one of the knights on guard and knocks him off his horse. Eventually the rest of the 20 knights spring up, but Scudamore defeats them, too.
The focus on a shield in this story represents how Scudamore is focused not just on fighting for Amoretta but ultimately on taking up the responsibility of acting as a protector for her.
Scudamore claims the shield, then continues to a gate where the porter at the door is a man named Doubt, who has a double face—one looking forward and one looking backward, like the god Janus. With him is a woman named Delay. Doubt lets Scudamore in, but Delay tries to stop him. Scudamore, however, ignores her and heads deeper into the castle.
Scudamore’s ability to claim the shield means that he has proven himself worthy of becoming Amoretta’s protector in love. Nevertheless, the aptly named Doubt and Delay represent obstacles that he still has to face before Amoretta is finally his.
The next gate is guarded by a hideous giant named Danger. Most warriors turn back when they see Danger, but Scudamore decides that instead of retreating or trying to sneak between the giant’s legs, he’ll face Danger head on. Seeing the magic shield of Love, Danger lets Scudamore go in without a fight.
This section praises the virtue of bravery. While Danger is enough to scare most knights off, Scudamore doesn’t flinch, and he soon finds out that Danger isn’t nearly so dangerous as it appears to be.
The inside of the island is an idyllic paradise where lots of fresh plants grow. Scudamore sees places for lovers to walk but also places for a different sort of “lovers” who are bound by true friendship. Eventually he reaches a woman in front of Venus’s temple named Concord, who is the mother of the twins Peace and Friendship. Concord is flanked on each side by two brothers: the elder brother, Hate, and the younger brother, Love.
Concord was mentioned briefly earlier as the enemy of Ate (the old hag who tried to stir up arguments between good knights). Everything about Venus’s temple suggests a sense of harmony, and the presence of Peace and Friendship makes it clear that this version of Venus represents much more than just romantic love.
Concord invites Scudamore to come into the inner temple. There are many altars in the temple, but the most incredible thing is a statue of Venus, which has at its feet a shiny precious stone worth more than gold or any other object known to man. The statue is covered in a veil, for reasons that have been lost to history, though it might be to hide the fact that she’s both a woman and a man, a father and a mother at the same time.
While The Faerie Queene is famous for being very literal with its themes, there are still strange and mysterious elements to the poem such as the unexplained veil that covers Venus. The possible androgyny of Venus suggests the totality of the love she represents, which is not just for women but for all humanity.
Around the statue are many lovers, either complaining of their problems or offering thanks for their good fortune. Scudamore begins murmuring a soft prayer to Venus. He notices some women nearby. Womanhood is their leader, and Shamefastness, Cheerfulness, Modesty, Courtesy, Silence, and Obedience are also there. Sitting on Womanhood’s lap is Amoretta herself.
The solemn nature of the rituals conducted in Venus’s temple demonstrate how sacred a place it is. Large parts of this poem are dedicated to faithful women and chaste love, and this temple is a sort of inner sanctum dedicated to chaste love. The womanly virtues listed here suggest a view of gender where the “ideal” woman is one who is meek and subservient.
As soon as Scudamore sees Amoretta, his heart begins to throb. While it seems sacrilegious to him to interrupt, he goes to touch her hand. Womanhood rebukes him for being too bold. He shows her, however, that he wields the shield of Love, which appeases Womanhood.
As is often the case, Scudamore is a noble knight but he sometimes gets too eager in his passion. The shield, which can be seen as his pledge to protect Amoretta, helps prove to Womanhood that he is worthy of Amoretta’s love.
Amoretta asks for Scudamore to let go of her hand, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling, but he doesn’t. He leads her out of the temple and ends his story.
The story ends with Scudamore claiming Amoretta as his own, again reflecting a view of gender where men were often expected to be very possessive of ladies.