The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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

Summary
Analysis
Geryoneo is enraged at Arthur for defeating all his guards, so he puts on his armor in preparation for battle. Though Arthur attacks forcefully, Geryoneo has an advantage because of his three sets of arms. Arthur strategizes carefully and sees an opening to lop off one of Geryoneo’s arms. His next strike decapitates Geryoneo’s horse. Geryoneo is furious and strikes back, but Arthur responds by chopping off two more of his arms.
Geryoneo’s many limbs perhaps reflect the many different ways he tries to control his subjects as a tyrant. Arthur lands many powerful blows on Geryoneo that barely seem to faze him, showing what a durable force tyranny can be.
Themes
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At last, Arthur manages to land a strike that goes through all three of Geryoneo’s bodies at once, killing him. Belgae and her sons bow in gratitude toward Arthur. They all go to the chapel nearby where Geryoneo left his false idol, and Arthur slashes it three times. When he does this, a great beast rises up. The creature has the face of a woman but the body of a dog, the claws of a lion, the tail of a dragon, and the wings of an eagle. When she sees Arthur’s shining shield, she attacks.
Despite Geryoneo’s incredible durability, ultimately, he is no match for Arthur, who as a future king of England is the epitome of just rule and so the perfect hero to defeat the tyrant Geryoneo. The beast that Arthur faces is yet another evil creature that instinctively lashes out when it sees light.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
The monster tries to pry away Arthur’s shield, shouting curses as it goes. The two struggle, until eventually Arthur strikes the monster in the stomach and rips its guts out, killing it. As the monster dies, it breathes out clouds of poison. Belgae is so overjoyed that she holds a feast. Arthur stays around long enough to make sure all is well, then he takes his leave and heads back.
The beast’s inability to steal Arthur’s shield represents the strength of his own faith and what a firm grasp he has on it. Ultimately, it is by trying to attack Arthur’s shield that the beast leaves itself open to being killed. The poison it breathes out as it dies represents how evil it was to the core.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Arthegall has just left Mercilla and is on his own adventure. He is still trying to save Eirena from Grantorto (which he has been doing since Canto I of Book V). He runs into an old but true knight named Sir Sergis. He tells Arthegall about how he heard where Grantorto was taking Eirena as a prisoner. Furthermore, he says that Grantorto issued a challenge: if a champion doesn’t appear by a certain day, Eirena will be put to death. Arthegall asks how to get to the location where Grantorto has made his challenge, and Sir Sergis tells him. He warns him, however, that he only has 10 days left.
As Arthegall finally begins to focus on his original quest of saving Eirena from the tyrant Grantorto, Book V heads toward its climax. Though it might seem that the events of the previous few cantos are unrelated to Arthegall’s main quest, the stories about Mercilla and Geryoneo were both stories about legitimate vs. illegitimate rule, and the story of Eirena and Grantorto will continue that theme.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
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Arthegall continues on until he comes to a knight who is being bothered by an insistent lady in a crowd. It turns out the knight’s name has been blotted by shame and his shield is gone. Nevertheless, Arthegall sends Talus to disperse the crowd and free the knight from the lady. The knight thanks Arthegall and says his name is Burbon.
The fact that Burbon parted with his shield—one of the most important symbols of his knighthood—suggests that he has fallen on hard times and needs redemption if he ever wants to become a reputable knight again.
Themes
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Burbon explains he used to have a lady named Flourdelis until she was enticed away by golden gifts from Grantorto. He then sent a crowd to fetch her (the same crowd that attacked Arthegall when he tried to free Burbon).
Although Burbon has made mistakes, this section suggests that he has also fallen on bad luck and been victimized by the  tyrant Grantorto.
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Arthegall asks about Burbon’s broken shield. Burbon responds that he was originally dubbed a knight by the Redcross Knight himself and received his own shield embossed with a cross. Many envied Burbon’s shield, and so to avoid enemies, Burbon put his shield aside. Though Arthegall doesn’t approve of this, he agrees to help Burbon when Burbon asks for his aid in fighting the peasants Grantorto has sent to take Flourdelis.
Burbon is not like the worst knights in the story, but his decision to put aside his shield nevertheless represents a moment of cowardice. In his role as judge, Arthegall still sees potential in Burbon, however, so he tells him that he will fight on his side.
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The peasants crowd around Arthegall and Burbon like flies, but they’re no match for Talus’s iron flail. Arthegall and Burbon themselves defeat the captains of the mob, then continue on to where Flourdelis lives. Arthegall shames her for trying to hide her natural beauty with the golden gifts of Grantorto. She is ashamed and allows herself to be carried off by Burbon. Arthegall and Talus continue toward Grantorto.
The description of the peasants as a swarm of flies once again reflects the poem’s bias against populism (which is the opposite of enlightened rule by monarchs). Just as Burbon is a good knight who temporarily loses his way, his lady Flourdelis is a good woman who got tempted, and so like Burbon, she has an opportunity to redeem herself.
Themes
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British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon