The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
Britomart heads for the temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis (who is powerful and just, as well as being the wife of the god Osiris). Talus isn’t allowed into the temple. Britomart goes deeper into the temple and finds an idol of Isis with a crocodile at its feet. There, near the crocodile, Britomart falls asleep.
This strange detour might seem out of place and somewhat “pagan” for such a Christian poem, but the section is full of both Christian and British symbolism, even as it incorporates elements of polytheistic ancient Egyptian religions.
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
In her dream, Britomart sees a priest of Isis offering a sacrifice. Then a storm whips up, and the whole temple almost catches on fire. But then the crocodile wakes up and eats both the storm and the fire. It then threatens to eat Britomart. Isis, however, calms the crocodile, and it becomes humble toward Britomart. It woos her and impregnates her, and she gives birth to a great lion. Then Britomart wakes up.
There is some ambiguity to this dream sequence, but it seems safe to conclude that, as a priest explains in the next section, Arthegall is the crocodile, and the lion that Britomart gives birth to is a glorious future for Britain. The imagery of the lion and the strength it represents could suggest that Queen Elizabeth is a strong leader, although lions also have other important symbolic roles in British history and are associated in particular with Richard I, a Christian king who waged war against Muslims in the Crusades.
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
Awake, Britomart heads over to some priests of Isis and tells them about her strange dream. One priest explains that the crocodile actually represents Britomart’s love, Arthegall, and that the lion represents their eventual child, who will rule over all the land. This eases Britomart’s troubled mind a little bit, so she leaves and continues on to the land of the Amazons.
In keeping with the poem’s focus on allegory and on clearly instructing readers on how to live virtuous lives, the priest here explains the dream from the previous section in order to remove some of the ambiguity from what might otherwise be a bizarre passage.
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
When Radigund hears of Britomart’s arrival, she is confused, but she is courageous and always eager to fight a new knight. Britomart waits outside the gate until a trumpet sounds, indicating that a fight will begin soon. The two run at each other and begin striking hard at each other with their swords.
Radigund’s eagerness to start fights once again suggests that she is too passionate to truly act according to the code of chivalry as Britomart does.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
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Radigund, seeing a chance to get an advantage, inflicts a serious wound on Britomart’s shoulder. Britomart, however, responds by hitting Radigund so hard on the helmet that it makes her kneel. She then proceeds to chop off Radigund’s head.
By forcing Radigund to kneel, Britomart humbles her as revenge for her humbling of Arthegall. Beheading was a form of execution for criminals in Spenser’s Britain, and so characters who have committed crimes often get beheaded as their punishment.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Quotes
Radigund’s death angers the Amazons, but Talus starts killing any of the warriors that attack him. Britomart goes into the prison and finds Arthegall there. She asks why he’s wearing women’s clothes and has him change back into typical knight’s armor.
By dressing Arthegall in women’s clothes, Radigund tries to reverse the normal balance of power between knights and ladies. While Britomart doesn’t act like most ladies, she nevertheless respects the typical roles that knights and ladies play.
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
Britomart needs time to heal, so she stays in the Amazon city. While there, she repeals women’s liberty restoring them to “men’s subjection,” which is “true Justice.” She frees the other imprisoned knights and makes them magistrates, who pledge an oath to Arthegall. Arthegall returns to his original quest, which saddens Britomart, but she understands and so holds back her complaints.
This section is one of the most explicit in the poem in showing how chivalry involved women acting in a subservient manner toward men. Britomart’s dedication to this social order seems to be part of why she’s allowed to otherwise be an exception to this rule, just like the real Queen Elizabeth.
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