Canto V. (46 stanzas). — The contest of the ladies for Florimel's girdle, which forms the main incident in the first part of this Canto, is founded on the same favourite fiction with the story of King Arthur's drinking horn in the Lai du Corn, and the Morte d'Arthur, or that of the drinking horn in the romances of Tristan and of Percival, the fabliau called Le Court Mantel (translated by Way under the title of the Mantle Made Amiss), the ballad of The Boy and the Mantle in Percy's Reliques, the tale of the enchanted cup in the second Canto of the Orlando Furioso, and Fontaine's La Coupe Enchantee.
"The Canto opens with these lines; — 'It hath been through all ages ever seen, | That with the praise of arms and chivalry | The prize of beauty still hath joined been'.... The girdle of fair Florimel, the poet proceeds to state, which many of the ladies were eager to win not so much for virtuous use, as for glory vain — 'gave the virtue of chaste love | And wivehood true to all that it did bear; | But whosoever contrary doth prove, | Might not the same about her middle wear'.... It is said to have been formerly the girdle of Venus, and to have been greatly valued by her as long as 'she used to live in wively sort:' — 'Her husband Vulcan whilome for her sake, | When first he loved her with heart entire, | This precious ornament, they say, did make'.... By Florimel this belt, the name of which is the Cestus, was held dear as her life; no wonder, then, that many ladies are now anxious to win it; 'For peerless she was thought that did it bear.'
"As soon as the feast is ended the selected judges descend 'into the Martian field' (meaning, apparently, the Campus Martius). And, first, it is declared, that Satyrane, Triamond, and the Knight of the Ebon Spear, as Britomart is called, have been the victors in the three days' fighting and Britomart, as the last, the chief: — 'to her, therefore, | The fairest lady was adjudged for paramour.' It is now, then, to be determined which best deserves to be accounted that paragon of beauty. First, Cambel brings forward his Cambina; next, Triamond his Canace; after her, Paridel, his false Duessa (Blandamour must have made over Duessa to Paridel, we suppose, upon coming into possession of the snowy lady); then Sir Ferramont, his Lucida; and after these a hundred other ladies appear 'all which,' says the poet, 'whoso dare think for to enchase, | Him needeth sure a golden pen I ween | To tell the feature of each goodly face'.... At last Britomart exhibits her Amoret, and all think that she shall 'surely bear the bell away,' till Blandamour who imagines he has 'the true and very Florimel,' produces his snowy lady, 'The sight of whom once seen did all the rest dismay.' But, when by universal assent it is agreed that she shall have the girdle, and it is brought to be put about her waist, by no management can it be made to fit her: as soon as it is fastened it loosens itself and drops off, 'as feeling secret blame.' Of the very much astonished spectators each has his own thoughts on the subject; she herself thinks it is done in spite: — 'Then many other ladies likewise tried | About their tender loins to knit the same; | But it would not on none of them abide, | But, when they thought it fast, eftsoons it was untied.'
"At this 'all knights gan laugh, and ladies lour;' till at last the gentle Amoret comes forward to prove the power of the girdle, and having put it round her finds it fit 'withouten breach or let.' Florimel, however, still urges her claim, and, although on a further trial the belt proves in her hands as unmanageable as before, it is nevertheless adjudged to her, and she herself is assigned to the Knight of the Ebon Spear. But Britomart will not so lightly forego her Amoret for this strange dame. Upon this it is decided by the judges that the Salvage Knight (or Arthegal), as having been the second best of the combatants, shall have her; but he is found to have already gone away, 'in great displeasure that he could not get her.' She is then offered to Triamond; but he loves Canace, 'and other none.' So at last she is adjudged to Satyrane. But Blandamour, Paridel, and a crowd of other knights, stirred up by Ate, will by no means submit to this arrangement; among the rest Braggadoccio puts in his claim, calling upon the lady herself to testify to his right; and she on being questioned confesses that all he affirms is true. 'Thereat exceeding wroth was Satyrane; | And wroth with Satyrane was Blandamour; | And wroth with Blandamour was Erivane; | And at then' both Sir Paridel did lour.'
"Satyrane, considerably perplexed, and feeling that 'sweet is alone the love that comes with willingness,' proposes that the fair lady shall be set in the midst of them, and allowed to choose for herself. They all accordingly encircle her, gazing, wishing, vowng, praying, and calling upon the Queen of Beauty, or Venus, for her aid; when, after looking long at each, as if she wished she could please them all, she at last walks up to Braggadoccio. Frantic with mortification and rage, the others are some of them for taking her from him by main force, some for making him maintain his right in lair fight to the fair lady. He little minds their angry words, but yet deems it prudent to make off with his prize during the night. The rest then set out after him — and in that pursuit the story for the present leaves them.
"Britomart, however, taking with her the lovely Amoret, proceeds upon her own proper adventure, the quest of her Arthegal — 'Unlucky maid, to seek her enemy! | Unlucky maid, to seek him far and wide, | Whom, when he was unto herself most nigh, | She through his late disguisement could him not descry!' Meanwhile Amoret's lover, Scudamore, has been travelling on, enduring all the pangs of jealousy and unsatisfied thirst of revenge — feelings which will not be allayed by all that his companion, old Glauce, can say or do. It is now nightfall, and the aspect of the heavens portends the coming on of a fearful storm, when not far off they spy a little cottage, 'like some poor man's nest'.... 'There entering in, they found the goodman self | Full busily unto his work ybent; | Who was to weet a wretched wearish elf, | With hollow eyes and rawbone cheeks forspent, | As if he had in prison long been pent | Full black and grisly did his face appear'.... Seeing all this, the warrior attempts no more speech, but lays him down to rest in his armour on the floor; and so does 'that old aged dame, his faithful squire.'
"Gentle sleep, however, will not come to close his heavy eyes; he tosses from side to side, and often, in his mental fever, rises and lies down again; 'And evermore, when he to sleep did think, | The hammers' sound his senses did molest; | And evermore, when he began to wink, | The bellows' noise disturbed his quiet rest, | Ne suffered sleep to settle in his breast'.... And, if he at any time chances to drop asleep for a moment, presently, one of the villains raps him upon his headpiece with his iron mail. At last, however, completely worn out he sinks into a repose, from which even all this commotion and torment cannot awaken him. But then the one master-thought that fills his heart — the thought of the disloyalty of Amoret and Britomart — assails his idle brain in the form of a dream. 'With that the wicked carle, the maister smith, | A pair of red-hot iron tongs did take | Out of the burning cinders, and therewith | Under his side him nipt; that, forced to wake'.... In this disquiet and wretchedness he passes all the night — 'that too long night' — till morning comes, when he rises 'like heavy lump of lead,' and, climbing his lofty steed, pursues his journey, accompanied by Glauce, as before" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 2:110-17.
The Ladies for the Girdle strive
Of famous Florimel.
Scudamore, coming to Care's House,
Doth Sleep from him expel.
It hath been thro all Ages ever seen,
That with the Prize of Arms and Chevalry,
The Prize of Beauty still hath joined been;
And that for Reasons special Privity:
For either doth on other much rely.
For he meseems most fit the Fair to serve,
That can her best defend from Villany;
And she most fit his Service doth deserve,
That fairest is, and from her Faith will never swerve.
So fitly now here cometh next in place,
After the Proof of Prowess ended well,
The Controverse of Beauty's sovereign Grace;
In which to her that doth the most excel,
Shall fall the Girdle of fair Florimel:
That many wish to win for Glory vain,
And not for vertuous Use, which some do tell
That glorious Belt did in it self contain,
Which Ladies ought to love, and seek for to obtain.
That Girdle gave the Vertue of chaste Love,
And Wivehood true, to all that did it bear;
But whosoever contrary doth prove,
Might not the same about her Middle wear,
But it would loose, or else asunder tear.
Whilom it was (as Fairies wont report)
Dame Venus' Girdle, by her 'steemed dear,
What time she us'd to live in wively sort;
But laid aside, when so she us'd her looser Sport.
Her Husband Vulcan, whilom for her sake,
When first he loved her with Heart entire,
This precious Ornament they say did make,
And wrought in Lemno with unquenched Fire:
And afterwards did for her Love's first Hire,
Give it to her for ever to remain,
Therewith to bind lascivious Desire,
And loose Affections streightly to restrain;
Which Vertue it for ever after did retain.
The same one day, when she her self dispos'd
To visit her beloved Paramour,
The God of War, she from her Middle loos'd,
And left behind her in her secret Bower,
On Acidalian Mount, where many an hour
She with the pleasant Graces wont to play.
There Florimel, in her first Age's Flower,
Was foster'd by those Graces (as they say)
And brought with her from thence that goodly Belt away.
That goodly Belt was Cestas hight by Name,
And as her Life by her esteemed dear.
No wonder then, if that to win the same
So many Ladies fought, as shall appear;
For peerless she was thought, that did it bear.
And now by this, their Feast all being ended,
The Judges, which thereto selected were,
Into the Martian Field adown descended,
To deem this doubtful Case, for which they all contended.
But first was question made, which of those Knights
That lately turney'd, had the Wager won:
There was it judged by those worthy Wights,
That Satyrane the first day best had done:
For he last ended, having first begun.
The second was to Triamond behight,
For that he sav'd the Victor from fordone:
For Cambel Victor was in all Mens sight,
Till by mishap he in his Foe-mens hand did light.
The third Day's Prize unto the Stranger Knight,
Whom all Men term'd Knight of the Hebene Spear,
To Britomart was given by good right;
For that with puissant Stroke she down did bear
The salvage Knight, that Victor was whileare,
And all the rest, which had the best afore
And to the last unconquer'd did appear;
For last is deemed best. To her therefore
The fairest Lady was adjudg'd for Paramour.
But thereat greatly grudged Arthegal,
And much repin'd, that both of Victor's Meed
And eke of Honour she did him forestal.
Yet mote he not withstand what was decreed;
But inly thought of that despightful Deed
Fit time t' await avenged for to be.
This being ended thus, and all agreed,
The next ensu'd the paragon to see
Of Beauty's Praise, and yield the Fairest her due Fee.
Then first Cambello brought unto their View
His fair Cambina, cover'd with a Veil;
Which being once withdrawn, most perfect Hue
And passing Beauty did eftsoons reveal,
That able was weak Hearts away to steal.
Next did Sir Triamond, unto their sight,
The Face of his dear Canacee unheal;
Whose Beauty's Beam eftsoons did shine so bright,
That daz'd the Eyes of all, as with exceeding Light.
And after her did Paridell produce
His false Duessa, that she might be seen;
Who with her forged Beauty did seduce
The Hearts of some, that fairest her did ween;
As diverse Wits affected diverse been.
Then did Sir Ferramont unto them shew
His Lucida, that was full fair and sheen:
And after these an hundred Ladies moe
Appear'd in place, the which each other did out-go.
All which who-so dare think for to enchace,
Him needeth sure a golden Pen, I ween,
To tell the Feature of each goodly Face.
For since the Day that they created been,
So many heavenly Faces were not seen
Assembled in one Place: ne he that thought
For Chian Folk to pourtraict Beauty's Queen,
By View of all the fairest to him brought,
So many fair did see, as here he might have sought.
At last, the most redoubled Britoness,
Her lovely Amoret did open shew;
Whose Face discover'd, plainly did express
The heavenly Pourtraict of bright Angels Hue.
Well weened all, which her that time did view,
That she should surely bear the Bell away,
Till Blandamore, who thought he had the true
And very Florimel, did her display
The Sight of whom once seen, did all the rest dismay.
For all afore that seemed fair and bright,
Now base and contemptible did appear,
Compar'd to her, that shone as Phebe's Light
Amongst the lesser Stars in Evening clear.
All that her saw with Wonder ravish'd were,
And ween'd no mortal Creature she should be,
But some celestial Shape, that Flesh did bear;
Yet all were glad there Florimel to see;
Yet thought that Florimel was not so fair as she.
As guileful Goldsmith, that by secret skill,
With golden Foil doth finely o'er-spred
Some baser Metal, which commend he will
Unto the Vulgar for good Gold insted,
He much more goodly Gloss thereon doth shed,
To hide his Falshood, than if it were true:
So hard this Idol was to be ared,
That Florimel her self, in all Mens View,
She seem'd to pass; so forged things do fairest shew.
Then was the golden Belt, by doom of all,
Graunted to her, as to the fairest Dame.
Which being brought, about her Middle small
They thought to gird, as best it her became;
But by no means they could it thereto frame.
For ever as they fastned it, it loos'd
And fell away, as feeling secret blame.
Full oft about her Waste she it enclos'd;
And it as oft was from about her Waste disclos'd.
That all Men wondred at the uncouth sight,
And each one thought, as to their Fancies came.
But she herself did think it done for spight,
And touched was with secret Wrath and Shame
Therewith, as thing devis'd her to defame.
Then many other Ladies likewise try'd,
About their tender Loins to knit the same;
But it would not on none of them abide,
But when they thought it fast, eftsoons it was unty'd.
Which when that scornful Squire of Dames did view,
He loudly 'gan to laugh and thus to jest;
Alas! for pity that so fair a Crew,
As like cannot be seen from East to West,
Cannot find one this Girdle to invest!
Fie on the Man, that did it first invent,
To shame us all with this, ungirt, unblest:
Let never Lady to his Love assent,
That hath this day so many so unmanly shent.
Thereat all Knights 'gan laugh, and Ladies loure;
Till that at last the gentle Amoret
Likewise assay'd, to prove that Girdle's Power;
And having it about her Middle set,
Did find it fit, withouten Breach or Let.
Whereat the rest 'gan greatly to envy:
But Florimel exceedingly did fret,
And snatching from her Hand half angrily
The Belt again, about her Body 'gan it tie.
Yet nathemore would it her Body fit;
Yet natheless to her, as her due Right,
It yielded was by them, that judged it:
And she her self adjudged to the Knight,
That bore the Hebene Spear, as won in Fight.
But Britomart would not thereto assent,
Ne her own Amoret forgo so light
For that strange Dame, whose Beauty's Wonderment
She less esteem'd, than th' other's vertuous Government.
Whom when the rest did see her to refuse,
They were full glad, in hopes themselves to get her:
Yet at her Choice they all did greatly muse.
But after that, the Judges did arret her
Unto the second best, that lov'd her better;
That was the salvage Knight: but he was gone
In great Displeasure, that he could not get her.
Then was she judged Triamond his own;
But Triamond loved Canacee, and other none.
Tho unto Satyrane she was adjudg'd,
Who was right glad to gain so goodly Meed:
But Blandamore thereat full greatly grudg'd,
And little prais'd his Labours evil speed,
That for to win the Saddle, lost the Steed.
Ne less thereat did Paridel complain,
And thought t' appear from that which was decreed,
To single Combat with Sir Satyrane:
Thereto him Ate stir'd, new Discord to maintain.
And eke with these, full many other Knights
She thro her wicked Working did incense,
Her to demaund, and challenge as their Rights,
Deserved for their Perils Recompence.
Amongst the rest, with boastful vain Pretence,
Stept Braggadochio forth, and as his Thrall
Her claim'd, by him in Battel won long since:
Thereto her self he did to witness call;
Who being ask'd accordingly, confessed all.
Thereat exceeding wroth was Satyrane;
And wroth with Satyrane was Blandamore;
And wroth with Blandamore was Erivan;
And at them both Sir Paridel did lour.
So all together stir'd up strifeful Stour,
And ready were new Battel to darrain.
Each one profess'd to be her Paramour,
And vow'd with Spear and Shield it to maintain;
Ne Judge's Power, ne Reason's Rule mote them restrain.
Which troublous Stir, when Satyrane aviz'd,
He 'gan to cast how so appease the same;
And to accord them all, this means deviz'd:
First in the midst to set that fairest Dame,
To whom each one his Challenge should disclaim,
And he himself his Right would eke release:
Then look to whom she voluntary came,
He should without Disturbance her profess:
Sweet is the Love that comes alone with Willingness.
They all agreed: and then that snow Maid
Was in the middest plac'd among them all;
All on her gazing wish'd, and vow'd, and pray'd,
And to the Queen of Beauty close did call,
That she unto their Portion might befal.
Then when she long had look'd upon each one,
As tho she wished to have pleas'd them all,
At last to Braggadochio' self alone
She came of her accord, in spight of all his Fone.
Which when they all beheld, they chas'd and rag'd,
And wox nigh mad for very Heart's Despight,
That from Revenge their Wills they scarce assuag'd;
Some thought from him her to have reft by Might;
Some Proffer made with him for her to fight.
But he nought car'd for all that they could say:
For he their Words as Wind esteemed light.
Yet not fit place he thought it there to stay,
But secretly from thence that Night her bore away.
They which remain'd, so soon as they perceiv'd
That she was gone, departed thence with Speed,
And follow'd them, in mind her to have reav'd
From Wight unworthy of so noble Meed
In which Pursuit how each one did succeed,
Shall else be told in order, as it fell.
But now of Britomart it here doth need
The held Adventures and strange Haps to tell;
Since with the rest she went not after Florimel.
For soon as she them saw to Discord set,
Her list no longer in that place abide;
But taking with her lovely Amoret,
Upon her first Adventure forth did ride,
To seek her Love, making blind Love her Guide.
Unlucky Maid, to seek her Enemy!
Unlucky Maid, to seek him far and wide,
Whom, when he was unto her self most nigh,
She thro his late Disguisement could him not descry.
So much the more her Grief, the more her Toil:
Yet neither Toil nor Grief she once did spare,
In seeking him, that should her Pain assoil;
Whereto great Comfort in her sad Misfare
Was Amoret, Companion of her Care:
Who likewise sought her Lover long mis-went,
The gentle Scudamore, whose Heart whileare
That strifeful Hag with jealous Discontent
Had fill'd, that he to fell Revenge was fully bent.
Bent to revenge on blameless Britomart
The Crime, which cursed Ate kindled earst,
The which like Thorns did prick his jealous Heart,
And thro his Soul like poisoned Arrow pierc'd,
That by no Reason it might be revers'd,
For ought that Glauce could, or do, or say.
For ay, the more that she the same rehears'd,
The more it gaul'd, and griev'd him Night and Day,
That nought but dire Revenge his Anger mote defray.
So as they travelled, the drooping Night,
Cover'd with cloudy Storm and bitter Shower,
That dreadful seem'd to every living Wight,
Upon them fell, before her timely Hour;
That forced them to seek some covert Bower,
Where they might hide their Heads in quiet Rest,
And shroud their Persons from that stormy Stour.
Not far away, not meet for any Guest,
They spy'd a little Cottage, like some poor Man's Nest.
Under a steep Hill's Side it placed was,
There where the moulder'd Earth had cav'd the Bank;
And fast beside a little Brook did pass
Of muddy Water, that like puddle stank;
By which few crooked Sallows grew in rank:
Whereto approaching nigh, they heard the Sound
Of many iron Hammers beating rank,
And answering their weary Turns around,
That seemed some Blacksmith dwelt in that desert Ground.
There entring in, they found the good Man self,
Full busily unto his Work ybent;
Who was to weet, a wretched wearish Elf,
With hollow Eyes and raw-bone Cheeks forspent,
As if he had in Prison long been pent:
Full black and griesly did his Face appear,
Besmear'd with Smoke that nigh his Eye-sight blent;
With rugged Beard, and hoary shagged Hair,
The which he never wont to comb, or comely shear.
Rude was his Garment, and to Rags all rent,
Ne better had he, ne for better car'd:
With blister'd Hands emongst the Cinders brent,
And Fingers filthy, with long Nails unpar'd,
Right fit to rend the Food, on which he far'd.
His Name was Care; a Blacksmith by his Trade,
That neither Day nor Night from working spar'd,
But to small purpose iron Wedges made;
Those be unquiet Thoughts, that careful Minds invade.
In which his Work he had six Servants press'd,
About the Anvil standing evermore,
With huge great Hammers, that did never reft
From heaping Strokes, which thereon soused sore:
All six, strong Grooms, but one than other more;
For by degrees they all were disagreed;
So likewise did the Hammers which they bore,
Like Bells in Greatness orderly succeed,
That he which was the last, the first did far exceed.
He like a monstrous Giant seem'd in sight,
Far passing Bronteus, or Pyracmon great,
The which in Lipari do day and night
Frame Thunderbolts for Jove's avengeful Threat.
So dreadfully he did the Anvil beat,
That seem'd to Dust he shortly would it drive:
So huge his Hammer, and so fierce his Heat,
That seem'd a Rock of Diamond it could rive,
And rend asunder quite, if he thereto list strive.
Sir Scudamore there entring, much admir'd
The Manner of their Work and weary Pain;
And having long beheld, at last enquir'd
The Cause and End thereof: but all in vain;
For they for nought would from their Work refrain,
He let his Speeches come unto their ear.
And eke the breathful Bellows blew amain,
Like to the Northern Wind, that none could hear:
Those Pensiveness did move; and Sighs the Bellows were.
Which when that Warrior saw, he said no more,
But in his Armour laid him down to rest:
To rest, he laid him down upon the Floor,
(Whilom for ventrous Knights the Bedding best)
And thought his weary Limbs to have redress'd.
And that old aged Dame, his faithful Squire,
Her feeble Joints laid eke adown to rest;
That needed much her weak Age to desire,
After so long a Travel, which them both did tire.
There lay Sir Scudamore, long while expecting
When gentle Sleep his heavy Eyes would close;
Oft changing sides, and oft new place electing,
Where better seem'd he mote himself repose;
And oft in Wrath he thence again uprose;
And oft in Wrath he laid him down again.
But wheresoever he did himself dispose,
He by no means could wished Ease obtain:
So every Place seem'd painful, and each Changing vain.
And evermore, when he to sleep did think,
The Hammer's sound his Senses did molest;
And evermore, when he began to wink,
The Bellows Noise disturb'd his quiet Rest,
Ne suffred Sleep to settle in his Breast:
And all the Night the Dogs did bark and howl
About the House, at scent of Stranger Guest:
And now the crowing Cock, and now the Owl
Loud shrieking, him afflicted to the very Soul.
And if by Fortune any little Nap
Upon his heavy Eye-lids chaunc'd to fall,
Eftsoons one of those Villains him did rap
Upon his Head-piece with his yron Mall;
That he was soon awaked therewithall,
And lightly started up as one afraid;
Or as if one him suddenly did call.
So oftentimes he out of Sleep abray'd,
And then lay musing long, on that him ill apay'd.
So long he mused, and so long he lay,
That at the last his weary Sprite oppress'd
With fleshly Weakness, which no Creature may
Long time resist, gave place to kindly Rest,
That all his Senses did full soon arrest:
Yet in his soundest Sleep, his daily Fear
His idle Brain 'gan busily molest,
And made him dream those two disloyal were:
The things that Day most minds, at Night do most appear.
With that, the wicked Carle, the Master Smith,
A Pair of red-hot iron Tongs did take
Out of the burning Cinders, and therewith
Under his Side him nips; that forc'd to wake,
He felt his Heart for very Pain to quake,
And started up avenged for to be
On him, the which his quiet Slumber brake:
Yet looking round about him none could see;
Yet did the Smart remain, tho he himself did flee.
In such Disquiet and heart-fretting Pain,
He all that Night, that too long Night did pass.
And now the Day out of the Ocean Main
Began to peep above this earthly Mass,
With pearly Dew sprinkling the morning Grass:
Then up he rose like heavy Lump of Lead;
That in his face, as in a Looking-glass,
The Signs of Anguish one mote plainly read,
And guess the Man to be dismay'd with jealous Dread.
Unto his lofty Steed he clombe anone,
And forth upon his former Voyage far'd,
And with him eke that aged Squire attone;
Who, whatsoever Peril was prepar'd,
Both equal Pains, and equal Peril shar'd:
The End whereof and dangerous Event
Shall for another Canticle be spar'd.
But here my weary Teem nigh over-spent,
Shall breathe it self awhile, after so long a went.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 3:603-14]