The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Book VI: Canto VIII Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mirabella sees Timias taken captive by Disdain and Scorn, and she feels pity. They keep traveling and run into Arthur, along with a knight named Enias. Timias is embarrassed to be seen in such a wretched state. Enias thinks it’s shameful how Disdain is treating Mirabella and Timias, so he warns him to either let his captives go or face death. He fights Disdain and draws blood, but gets knocked down just like Timias and Scorn goes to tie him up.
Mirabella’s pity for Timias shows that she has good inside her and is not as scornful and disdainful as she’s been accused of being. Enias is a minor character—his name perhaps resembles Aeneas, a character who, like Arthur, has significance in the mythological history of Britain.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Arthur sees Enias getting captured and flies toward Disdain. He tries to strike a powerful blow, but Scorn sneaks under and strikes Arthur’s knee. While Arthur recovers, Mirabella calls out to Arthur, saying that even though Disdain deserves to die, Arthur shouldn’t kill him because her life depends on him. She explains to Arthur the penance that Cupid has inflicted on her.
Despite Mirabella’s past as someone who was perhaps too proud, she has graciously accepted the punishment that Cupid inflicted upon her. She wants to put aside her disdainful ways, and so she allows her horrible jailer Disdain to live.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Mirabella has a bottle that she fills with tears that she keeps in a bag, and when the bottle is full, she’ll be forgiven. But the bottle leaks, and the bag has holes. As she’s saying this, Arthur looks at Disdain’s captive and is surprised to recognize his squire Timias. Meanwhile, the “savage” man has been watching and takes that moment to ambush Scorn, but Arthur and Mirabella convince him to stop attacking. Arthur wants to help Mirabella, but she chooses to continue living out her punishment. And so, the two part ways.
Mirabella realizes that she may be trapped in an eternal punishment, but she tries to accept her situation with grace. While her situation inspires pity, perhaps it is also supposed to inspire admiration that Mirabella has become so humble that she is even willing to accept a punishment she may not fully deserve. Particularly in a poem where ideal women are often depicted as subservient, she seems to represent a model of good behavior.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Serena is fleeing for her life from Disdain and Scorn, after seeing how they captured Timias. She blames her knight Sir Calepine for leaving her in such a piteous state. Eventually she gets tired and falls asleep, not realizing that she’s right near a tribe of cannibals. They can’t believe their good luck when they see her.
Fair women like Serena are always in danger when they’re alone—particularly in the wilderness—and her lack of awareness about the cannibals shows just how much she needs Sir Calepine’s protection.
Themes
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Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
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Serena wakes up, but she can’t escape in time, and the cannibals grab her. They consider raping her until one of their priests advises against it, saying she must be a pure sacrifice. They take her to an altar where the priest is holding a knife. They blow their bagpipes for the ceremony, and just by chance, Sir Calepine happens to be nearby, searching for Serena. He heads toward the source of the noise.
Again, cannibalism could be symbolic for Catholicism (given that Protestants accused Catholics of being cannibals for their belief that they eat Christ’s body during the Eucharist). The altar and particularly the bagpipes similarly suggest the heavily Catholic Ireland (where Spenser himself fought for the British against the Irish). This passage presents Catholicism as little more than a pagan ritual.
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
Sir Calepine makes his way to the ceremony and sees a captured woman, not knowing yet that it’s Serena. He begins slaying swarms of the cannibals around him with his sword. He makes it to Serena and unties her. She is ashamed of being seen without any clothes on, and Calepine doesn’t realize her identity until the next day.
Sir Calepine is such a good knight that he rescues a helpless woman without even realizing until the next day that it’s his beloved Serena. The moral is that helping people can often have unexpected benefits, because you never know who the person you’re helping will turn out to be.
Themes
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon