The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
Arthegall happens to meet a dwarf on the road who tells him that Florimell is going to marry Marinell. It turns out he’s Florimell’s dwarf, Dony. Dony wants to get to the wedding himself, but he faces an obstacle. He tells Arthegall about a cruel Saracen on a nearby bridge who has defeated many wandering knights who tried to pass. The Saracen, named Pollente, charges a toll and fights those who don’t pay it. His bridge is long and narrow, with many traps.
Pollente is yet another example in the poem of a Muslim character being portrayed as a cartoonish villain. Pollente’s focus on taking a toll establishes him as greedy, and his narrow bridge full of traps suggests the many ways that paganism can ensnare faithful Christians.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
At the end of the day, Pollente takes his ill-gotten wealth to his daughter Munera, who is richer than many princes. Arthegall goes to the bridge and finds another Saracen there asking him for a toll. Arthegall kills the man, which Pollente witnesses, and soon the two rush at each other with spears. Because of a trap, they both end up falling into the water of the river below.
Although Arthegall allowed the murderer Sir Sanglier to live, the Saracens here represent an even lower moral category because they aren’t Christian. For villains that Arthegall believes have no hope of reform, he has no problem handing out swift and deadly justice.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Pollente is skilled at fighting in water and seems to have an advantage. Arthegall gets off his horse and fights Pollente while swimming. Eventually, he sees an opportunity and smites Pollente’s head off. The head falls on dry land, but the body is carried downstream, so Arthegall impales the head on a pole as a sign for other men who pass that way.
The fact that Pollente’s body just gets washed away downstream to disappear indicates how insubstantial he was. This is the second time in the poem that Arthegall uses a severed head as a warning sign, perhaps suggesting the power that symbolism plays in carrying out justice.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Arthegall goes to the castle where Pollente’s daughter Munera lives. With Talus’s help, Arthegall breaks into the fortified castle. Munera tries to stop him with stones and magic spells, but it doesn’t work, so she hides. After breaking in, however, Talus is able to find Munera lying on a heap of gold.
Arthegall takes an active role in making sure that justice is carried out. This means directly seeking out evil-doers like Munera, even before they attack him.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
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Munera has hands of gold and feet of silver. Though she pleads for mercy, Arthegall chops off her hands and feet, then nails them up so that everyone can see, then he throws her body over the castle wall where she drowns in the mud. Arthegall then burns her possessions and has Talus destroy the castle from the foundations so that it can’t be repaired.
While Arthegall’s use of violence here is perhaps shocking here for a character supposedly so linked to justice, the extremity of his violence is supposed to indicate the extremity of Munera’s sins and how bad it was that she stole so much wealth from good knights.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Arthegall and Talus set out again, and they soon come across a giant. The giant has a scale and is talking to a crowd about how he wants to use his scale to balance the whole world. The giant says everyone in the world is unequal, but he can make things equal again. Arthegall says the giant is wrong and God made everything perfect, but the giant says things would be better if mountains were razed to make everything flat and level.
The giant with a scale is a clear representative of the political idea of populism (a broad ideology that typically favors “common people” over monarchs, aristocrats, or other elites). Since the poem is dedicated to the monarch Queen Elizabeth, populism clearly is not a political stance that would be portrayed favorably in it.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Arthegall argues that the world is already balanced and that things that die and return to the earth eventually blossom, and things that blossom eventually die and become dust again. The giant still disagrees and the two of them argue about the various ways to measure wrong against right.
Arthegall argues that the giant is heretical for trying to change the world as God made it. Many monarchs throughout history, including Queen Elizabeth, claimed they had a divine right from God to rule, and so opposing this right was sacrilegious.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
It turns out the giant isn’t interested in justice; he’s only interested in extreme positions and misleading people. When Talus realizes this, he knocks the giant off his rock, and he falls into the sea and drowns.
Because populism can’t be portrayed positively in a poem that glorifies the British monarchy, it turns out the giant is a selfish trickster who deserves death.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
The giant’s followers see this and raise their weapons against Arthegall and Talus. Arthegall is dismayed, because he doesn’t want to get his noble hands dirty with the blood of such common people. He sends Talus to broker a truce, but the crowd refuses, and so Talus kills them like flies. When there are no more people in the crowd left to fight, Talus and Arthegall leave to continue on their journey.
Talus’s violence here against the mob is perhaps even more shocking than the violence carried out against Munera. While it is possible to read this section as a criticism of the extreme justice of men like Arthegall, it is also possible to read it as a defense of violent justice, suggesting that certain situations require harsh measures of justice.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon