The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Book V: Canto I Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Arthegall (who appeared at the tournament in the previous book and who is Britomart’s love) is a champion of justice and a knight in service of the Faerie Queene. He has been tasked with saving a lady named Eirena from a tyrant named Grantorto who is unjustly holding her captive.
Arthegall is an important character in the poem, but until this point, he has mostly been a secondary figure in Britomart’s story. Book V provides an opportunity to explore his character in greater depth.
Themes
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Quotes
Arthegall has been trained in the ways of justice from a young age by Astraea. He also learned swordsmanship and has a blade made of perfect metal that matches his exceptional skill in battle. This sword is called Chrysaor. Eventually, the world became so full of sin that Astraea couldn’t stand it anymore and had to go back to the heavens. She left behind a man made of iron called Talus who will execute Arthegall’s commands.
Arthegall’s connection to a mythical sword suggests that his version of justice is based more on strength than mercy. His quasi-robot sidekick Talus suggests an equally harsh idea of justice, one that isn’t swayed by emotions or sentiment.
Themes
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Arthegall and Talus go to find Eirena. Along the way, they run into a crying squire next to a headless lady. The squire tells what happened: A so-called knight (Sir Sanglier) came by with his own lady but decided he liked the squire’s lady better. He snatched the squire’s lady up, then when his former lady tried to chase after him, he cut her head off. Arthegall asks which direction the knight was riding in.
As with most books in the poem, Arthegall’s quest to find Eirena provides a basic framework for the story, but along the way Arthegall’s adventure will feature many self-contained episodes that relate to the central story thematically but not always in terms of the plot of the main quest.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
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The squire says the knight is long gone but points in the direction of a plain. Arthegall immediately sends Talus out in that direction. Talus soon catches up with the knight, whose name is Sir Sanglier, and tells him to stop. Sanglier is angered and charges at Talus, but his attack isn’t very effective. Talus grabs Sanglier in his iron hand, while Arthegall catches up.
Arthegall’s encounter with Sir Sanglier provides an early demonstration of how efficiently Arthegall deals with injustice. The iron man Talus often provides the means for Arthegall to enact his version of justice on his enemies.
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When Arthegall arrives, Sir Sanglier says he wasn’t the one who killed the headless lady. Arthegall can easily see, however, that it wasn’t the squire who killed the lady. Arthegall proposes that since neither of them will admit to killing the dead lady, they can split the living lady in half to share her. Anyone who disagrees with his plan will accept responsibility for killing the headless lady and spend 12 months doing penance.
Arthegall’s judgment in this section deliberately references (and perhaps parodies) the judgment of King Solomon, who once suggested cutting a baby in half. Most interpret Solomon’s judgment as not a literal command to cut a baby in half but just a trick to discover the identity of the true mother, and so here Arthegall suggests cutting the lady in half in hopes of creating a similar outcome.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
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Deception and Lies Theme Icon
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Sir Sanglier agrees to Arthegall’s proposal, but the squire disagrees and says he’d rather his lady not be cut in twain, even if that means she has to stay with Sanglier and he has to accept responsibility for killing the dead woman. Arthegall then reveals his true intentions, saying that the squire has proved himself worthy of the living lady. He then condemns Sanglier to bear the dead lady’s head with him as a reminder of his shame.
The outcome of Sir Sanglier’s disagreement follows the story of Solomon’s judgment exactly. The real lover of the lady would rather see her alive, even if he doesn’t get to keep her, which is why he says Sir Sanglier should get her. Arthegall uses this knowledge to confirm that Sir Sanglier is the imposter who doesn’t actually care about the lady.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Sir Sanglier resists his punishment, but Talus forces him to take the head. The squire praises Arthegall’s sense of justice and offers to serve him, but Arthegall turns him down, saying that Talus is all he needs.
Arthegall’s successful judgment in this first small case establishes him as a judge-like character who will continue to play this role on a larger scale as Book V continues.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon