George L. Craik: "Canto VI. (40 stanzas). — Some, the poet begins by observing, will, he knows, deem it great weakness in Artegal to have so yielded himself up 'to the insolent command of women's will;' but let the man who so judges take good heed that he himself stand steadfast; 'For never yet was wight so well aware, | But he at first or last was trapped in women's snare.' Yet Artegal amid all the temptations to which he was exposed still preserved his loyalty to his own love; 'Whose character in the adamantine mould | Of his true heart so firmly was engraved, | That no new love's impression ever could | Bereave it thence.'
"Not quite sure of this, however, does Britomart feel when, after she has been long expecting his return, the account of what has befallen him is brought to her by Talus — 'brought in untimely hour, ere it was sought.' She has been already tormenting herself with various apprehensions; sometimes she dreaded that he had been overtaken by some misfortune or treachery; 'But most she did her troubled mind molest, | And secretly afflict with jealous fear, | Lest some new love had loin from her possessed; | Yet loth she was, since she no ill did hear, | To think of him so ill; yet could she not forbear.' Hearing nothing of him long after the utmost date assigned for his return, she has at last almost determined to set out in quest of him: — 'Now she devised, amongst the warlike rout | Of errant knights, to seek her errant knight; | And then again resolved to hunt him out | Amongst loose ladies lapped in delight: | And then both knights envied, and ladies eke did spite.'
"At last one day as she is standing at a window that opens to the west, in which direction Artegal had gone, and sending 'her winged thoughts more swift than wind | To bear unto her love the message of her mind,' after looking long she at last espies one coming towards her in haste: — 'Well weened she then, ere she him plain descried, | That it was one sent from her love indeed.'
"When he approaches, she sees that it is Talus. With her heart filled with hope and dread, she runs forth. 'Even in the door him meeting, she begun; | And where is he thy lord, and how far hence? | Declare at once: and hath he lost or won?' Talus who, although without the sense of sorrow, yet with the consciousness of the ill tidings he brings, inly chills and quakes, stands silent. She desires him to be hold, and tell her what has happened, be it good or evil. Has his lord, she asks, been vanquished by his tyrant enemy? 'Not by that tyrant, his intended foe; | But by a tyranness,' he then replied, 'That him captived hath in hapless woe'.... And then she turns from him in rage, suffering him to say no more, and, shutting herself up in her chamber, she is there torn by a tempest of contending emotions. She blames and bitterly regrets her own facility in yielding herself so lightly to a stranger's love — one of whose life and manners she knew nothing. Sometimes in her rage she burns to blot out that stain upon her honour by compelling him to fight with her, and so finding for herself an honourable death.
"At length, however, she sends for Talus again, and asks him in what circumstances Artegal was, how he was employed, 'and whether he did woo, or whether he were wooed.' 'All wellaway!' replies the iron man; 'he is not the while in state to woo;' and then he explains to her that he 'lies in wretched thraldom, weak and wan,' although indeed compelled thereunto not by strong hand but by 'his own doom, that none can now undo.' Is not this, she rejoins, the very thing she has asserted? Talus is in a compact with his lord to hide the truth from her and to deceive her. On this Talus relates the whole story of Artegal's captivity, as it has already been told in the two last Cantos. Agitated with wrath and grief, we are told, she heard him to the end; then she lost not another moment, or answered a word; 'But straight herself did dight, and armour don, | And mounting to her steed bade Talus guide her on.'
"Forthwith, accordingly, they set out together: 'Sadly she rode and never word did say | Nor good nor bad, ne ever looked aside'.... Thus proceeding on her way, she meets toward the eventide 'A knight, that softly paced on the plain, | As if himself to solace he were fain: | Well shot in years he seemed, and rather bent | To peace than needless trouble to constrain'.... He gently salutes Britomart, whose sex, of course, he does not suspect; and, possessed as her mind is by one only thought, she is yet not so discourteous as to refuse to enter into talk with him. At length he invites her to take up her lodging with him for the night, which she agrees to do. 'Not far away, but little wide by west, | His dwelling was, to which he him addressed; | Where soon arriving they received were | In seemly wise, as them beseemed best; | For he their host them goodly well did cheer, | And talked of pleasant things the night away to wear.'
"When the time of rest arrives Britomart is conducted to a chamber, where grooms are awaiting to undress her; but she declines to doff either garments or armour, excusing herself by a vow she has made never to do so till she has achieved her revenge on her foe. All night she lies, 'Restless, recomfortless, with heart deep grieved, | Not suffering the least twinkling sleep to start | Into her eye, which the heart mote have relieved; | But if the least appeared, her eyes she straight reprieved.' And thus she spends the weary hours, sometimes sitting up, sometimes walking softly about the room, while Talus also, watching without the door, never suffers sleep 'to seize his eyelids sad.' Suddenly, however, 'What time the native bellman of the night, | The bird that warned Peter of his fall, | First rings his silver bell to each sleepy wight, | That should their minds up to devotion call,' she hears a noise below, and all at once the bed on which it was intended she should lie is let down through a trap-door into a lower apartment, after which the opening is again closed.
"Alarmed by this treachery she nevertheless stirs not nor calls out. Soon after she hears the sound of armed men approaching, on which she quickly seizes her sword and shield. Two knights all ready for fight now present themselves at the chamber door, and at their heels many more, 'a rascal rout, with weapons rudely dight.' As soon as Talus sees them by the glimmering light (his ear does not appear to have been so acute as that of his mistress, or indeed to have been of ordinary sharpness), he starts up, with his 'thresher' ready for action in his hand; they press about him and let drive at him from all sides; 'But, soon as he began to lay about | With his rude iron flail, they gan to fly, | Both armed knights, and eke unarmed rout.' Yet he pursues them, and knocks them down wherever he can find them in the dark, so that they lie in all directions like scattered sheep.
"The meaning of all this is now explained. The 'goodman of the house' is named Dolon — 'a man of subtile wit and wicked mind,' who in his youth had been a knight and borne arms, but, never valorous, had worked always by sly shifts and wiles, and brought many noble knights to shame by treason and treachery. He had three sons, all of dispositions like his own, of whom the eldest was that Guizor, the groom or porter of the Saracen Pollente, lord of the perilous bridge, who had been put out of existence with so little ceremony by Artegal, when he came up and made his demand for the customary passage penny, as related in the Second Canto of this Book. [Upton, we may here mention by the bye, hazards a conjecture that Pollente with his trapfalls may be designed for Charles IX. of France, infamous for the treacherous massacre of the Protestants on the day of St. Bartholomew, and that Guizor, his 'groom of evil guise,' may be the great head of the Popish party, the Duke of Guise]. Ever since the loss of his son, Dolon has been devising how to be avenged; and Britomart owes the danger she has just encountered to her having been mistaken by him for Artegal, principally from her being accompanied by 'that iron page.' As soon as the day breaks she leaves her chamber with the intention of punishing Dolon as he deserves; but both sire and sons have fled. The sons, it is to be supposed, were the two armed knights, who headed the 'rascal rout' dispersed by Talus.
"So, taking her steed 'and thereon mounting light,' she proceeds on her journey. But she has not 'rid the mountenance of a flight,' that is, the amount or length of an arrow-flight, when she sees the two brothers before her occupying the same long narrow bridge on which Artegal had fought with Pollente. They receive her with insult and defiance, accusing her of the murder of Guizor by guile, and affirming that she is no knight, but a recreant false traitor, that with loan of arms had knighthood stolen. Their words are strange and unintelligible to her, but, heeding them not, she continues to tide forward. Talus wishes to go before her to prepare the way, and scare those two losels; but that she will not allow in her wrath at the proposal, we are told, 'The glancing sparkles through her beaver glared, | And from her eyes did flash out fiery light, | Like coals that through a silver censer sparkled bright.' Spurring on, she bears one of the brothers on her spear before her to the further end of the bridge; the other, as she passes, she brushes over the side into the river, where he drinks his deadly last" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 2:215-21.
Talus brings News to Britomart
Of Arthegal's Mishap:
She goes to seek him, Dolon meets,
Who seeks her to entrap.
Some Men, I wote, will deem in Arthegal
Great Weakness, and report of him much Ill,
For yielding so himself a wretched Thrall,
To th' insolent Command of Womens Will;
That all his former Praise doth foully spill.
But he the Man, that say or do or dare,
Be well advis'd, that he stand stedfast still:
For never yet was Wight so well aware,
But he at first or last was trapt in Womens Snare.
Yet in the Straightness of that captive State,
This gentle Knight himself so well behav'd,
That notwithstanding all the subtil Bait,
With which those Amazons his Love still crav'd,
To his own Love his Loyalty he sav'd:
Whose Character in th' Adamantine Mould
Of his true Heart so firmly was engrav'd,
That no new Love's Impression ever could
Bereave it thence: such Blot his Honour blemish should.
Yet his own Love, the noble Britomart,
Scarce so conceived in her jealous Thought,
What time sad Tidings of his baleful Smart
In Woman's Bondage, Talus to her brought;
Brought in untimely Hour, e'er it was sought.
For after that the utmost Date, assign'd
For his Return, she waited had for nought,
She 'gan to cast in her misdoubtful Mind
A thousand Fears, that Love-sick Fancies feign to find.
Sometime she feared, lest some hard Mishap
Had him misfal'n in his adventrous Quest;
Sometimes lest his false Foe did him entrap
In trait'rous Train, or had unwares oppress'd:
But most she did her troubled Mind molest,
And secretly afflict with jealous Fear,
Lest some new Love had him for her possess'd;
Yet loth she was, since she no Ill did hear,
To think of him so ill: yet could she not forbear.
One while she blam'd her self; another while
She him condemn'd, as trustless and untrue:
And then, her Grief with Error to beguile,
She feign'd to count the Time again anew,
As if before she had not counted true.
For Hours, but Days; for Weeks that passed were,
She told but Months, to make them seem more few:
Yet when she reckon'd them, still drawing near.
Each Hour did seem a Month, and every Month a Year.
But when as yet she saw him not return,
She thought to send some one to seek him out;
But none she found so fit to serve that turn,
As her own self, to ease her self of Doubt.
Now she deviz'd amongst the warlike Rout
Of errant Knights, to seek her errant Knight;
And then again resolv'd to hunt him out
Amongst loose Ladies, lapped in Delight:
And then both Knights envy'd, and Ladies eke did spite.
One Day, whenas she long hid sought for Ease
In every place, and every place thought best,
Yet found no place, that could her Liking please,
She to a Window came, that open'd West,
Towards which Coast her Love his way address'd.
There looking forth, she in her Heart did find
Many vain Fancies, working her Unrest;
And sent her winged Thoughts, more swift than Wind,
To bear unto her Love the Message of her Mind.
There as she looked long, at last she spy'd
One coming towards her with hasty Speed:
Well ween'd she then, e'er him the plain descry'd,
That it was one sent from her Love indeed.
Who when he nigh approach'd, she mote aread
That it was Talus, Arthegal his Groom;
Whereat her Heart was fill'd with Hope and Dread;
Ne would she Stay, till he in place could come,
But ran to meet him forth, to know his Tidings some.
E'en in the Door him meeting, she begun;
And where is he thy Lord, and how far hence
Declare at once; and hath he lost or won?
The yron Man, albe he wanted Sense
And Sorrows feeling, yet with Conscience
Of his ill News, did inly chill and quake,
And stood still mute, as one in great Suspence,
As if that by his Silence he would make
Her rather read his Meaning, than himself it spake.
Till she again thus said; Talus be bold;
And tell whatever it be, good or bad,
That from thy Tongue thy Heart's Intent doth hold.
To whom he thus at length; The Tidings sad,
That I would hide, will needs I see be rad.
My Lord (your Love) by hard mishap doth lie
In wretched Bondage, wofully bestad.
Ay me, quoth she, what wicked Destiny?
And is he vanquis'd by his Tyrant Enemy?
Not by that Tyrant, his intended Foe;
But by a Tyranness, he then reply'd,
That him captived hath in hapless Woe.
Cease thou, bad News-man: badly dost thou hide
Thy Master's Shame, in Harlot's Bondage ty'd;
The rest my self too readily can spell.
With that, in Rage she turn'd from him aside
(Forcing in vain the rest to her to tell)
And to her Chamber went like solitary Cell.
There she began to make her moanful Plaint
Against her Knight, for being so untrue;
And him to touch with Falshood's foul Attaint,
That all his other Honour overthrew.
Oft did she blame her self, and often rue,
For yielding to a Stranger's Love so light,
Whose Life and Manners strange she never knew;
And evermore she did him sharply twight
For Breach of Faith to her, which he had firmly plight.
And then she in her wrathful Will did cast,
How to revenge that Blot of Honour blent;
To fight with him, and goodly die her last:
And then again she did her self torment,
Inflicting on her self his Punishment.
Awhile she walk'd and chauf'd; awhile she threw
Her self upon her Bed, and did lament:
Yet did she not lament with loud Alew,
As Women wont, but with deep Sighs and Singults few.
Like as a wayward Child, whose sounder Sleep
Is broken with some fearful Dream's Affright,
With froward Will doth set himself to weep;
Ne can be still'd for all his Nurse's Might,
But kicks, and squalls, and shrieks for fell Despight:
Now scratching her, and her loose Locks misusing;
Now seeking Darkness, and now seeking Light;
Then craving Suck, and then the Suck refusing:
Such was this Lady's Fit, in her Love's fond accusing.
But when she had with such unquiet Fits
Her self there close afflicted long in vain,
Yet found no Easement in her troubled Wits,
She unto Talus forth return'd again,
By change of Place seeking to ease her Pain:
And 'gan enquire of him' with milder Mood,
The certain Cause of Arthegal's Detain;
And what he did, and in what State he stood,
And whether he did woo, or whether he were woo'd.
Ah weal-away! said then the iron Man,
That he is not the while in state to woo;
But lies in wretched Thraldom, weak and wan,
Not by strong Hand compelled thereunto,
But his own Doom, that none can now undo.
Said I not then, quoth she, e'er-while aright,
That this is things compact betwixt you two,
Me to deceive of Faith unto me plight,
Since that he was not forc'd, nor overcome in Fight?
With that, he 'gan at large to her dilate
The whole Discourse of his Captivance sad,
In sort as ye have heard the same of late.
All which, when she with hard Endurance had
Heard to the end, she was right sore bestad,
With sudden Stounds of Wrath and Grief attone:
Ne would abide, till she had Aunswer made;
But straight her self did dight, and Armour donne;
And mounting to her Steed, bad Talus guide her on.
So forth she rode upon her ready way,
To seek her Knight, as Talus her did guide:
Sadly she rode, and never word did say,
Nor good nor bad, ne ever look'd aside,
But still right down, and in her Thought did hide
The Felness of her Heart, right fully bent
To fierce Avengement of that Woman's Pride,
Which had her Lord in her base Prison pent,
And so great Honour with so foul Reproach had blent.
So as she thus melancholick did ride,
Chawing the Cud of Grief and inward Pain,
She chaunc'd to meet, toward the Even-tide
A Knight, that softly paced on the Plain,
As if himself to solace he were feign.
Well shot in Years he seem'd, and rather bent
To Peace, than needless Trouble to constrain,
As well by view of that his Vestiment,
As by his modest Semblant, that no Evil ment.
He, coming near, 'gan gently her salute
With courteous Words, in the most comely wize;
Who though desirous rather to rest mute,
Than Terms to entertain of common Guize,
Yet rather than she Kindness would despise,
She would her self displease, so him requite.
Then 'gan the other further to devize
Of things abroad, as next to hand did light,
And many things demand, to which she answer'd light.
For little Lust had she to talk of ought,
Or ought to hear, that mote delightful be;
Her Mind was whole possessed of one Thought,
That gave none other place. Which whenas he
By outward Signs (as well he might) did see,
He list no lenger to use loathful Speech,
But her besought, to take it well in gree,
Sith shady Damp had dim'd the Heaven's Reach,
To lodge with him that Night, unless good Cause impeach.
The Championess, now seeing Night at door,
Was glad to yield unto his good Request:
And with him went without gainsaying more.
Not far away, but little wide by Well,
His Dwelling was, to which he him address'd;
Where soon arriving, they received were
In seemly wise, as them beseemed best:
For he their Host them goodly well did cheer,
And talk'd of pleasant things, the Night away to wear.
Thus passing th' evening well, till time of Rest,
Then Britomart unto a Bow'r was brought;
Where Grooms awaited her to have undress'd.
But she ne would undressed be for ought,
Ne doff her Arms, though he her much besought.
For she had vow'd, she said, not to forgo
Those warlike Weeds, till the Revenge had wrought
Of a late Wrong upon a mortal Foe;
Which she would sure perform, betide her Weal or Woe.
Which when her Host perceiv'd, right discontent
In Mind he grew, for fear lest by that Art
He should his Purpose miss, which close he ment:
Yet taking leave of her, he did depart.
There all that Night remained Britomart,
Restless, recomfortless, with Heart deep griev'd,
Not suffring the least twinkling Sleep to start
Into her Eye, which th' Heart mote have reliev'd;
But if the least appear'd, her Eyes she straight repriev'd.
Ye guilty Eyes, said she, the which with Guile
My Heart at first betray'd, will ye betray
My Life now too, for which a little while
Ye will not watch? false Watches, weal-away!
I wote when ye did watch both night and day
Unto your Loss: and now needs will ye sleep?
Now ye have made my Heart to wake alway,
Now will ye sleep? ah! wake, and rather weep,
To think of your Night's Want, that should ye waking keep.
Thus did she watch, and wear the weary Night
In wailful Plaints, that none was to appease;
Now walking soft, now sitting still upright,
As sundry Change her seemed best to ease.
Ne less did Talus suffer Sleep to seize
His Eyelids sad, but watch'd continually,
Lying without her door in great Disease;
Like to a Spaniel waiting carefully,
Lest any should betray his Lady treacherously.
What time the native Bell-man of the Night,
The Bird that warned Peter of his Fall,
First rings his Silver Bell t' each sleepy Wight,
That should their Minds up to Devotion call,
She heard a wondrous Noise below the Hall.
All suddenly the Bed, where she should lie,
By a false Trap was let adown to fall
Into a lower Room, and by and by
The Loft was rais'd again, that no Man could it spy.
With sight whereof she was dismay'd right sore,
Perceiving well the Treason which was meant:
Yet stirred not at all for doubt of more,
But kept her Place with Courage confident,
Waiting what would ensue of that Event.
It was not long, before she heard the Sound
Of armed Men, coming with close Intent
Towards her Chamber; at which dreadful Stound
She quickly caught her Sword, and Shield about her bound.
With that, there came unto her chamber-Door
Two Knights, all armed ready for to fight;
And after them full many other more,
A rascal Rout, with Weapons rudely dight.
Whom soon as Talus spy'd by Glimpse of Night,
He started up, there where on ground he lay,
And in his Hand his Thresher ready keight.
They, seeing that, let drive at him straightway,
And round about him press in riotous Array.
But soon as he began to lay about
With his rude iron Flail, they 'gan to fly,
Both armed Knights, and eke unarmed Rout:
Yet Talus after them apace did ply,
Wherever in the Dark he could them spy;
That here and there like scatter'd Sheep they lay.
Then back returning, where his Dame did lie,
He to her told the Story of that Fray,
And all that Treason there intended did bewray.
Wherewith, though wondrous wroth, and inly burning
To be avenged for so foul a Deed,
Yet being forc'd t' abide the Day's returning,
She there remain'd, but with right wary Heed,
Lest any more such Practice should proceed.
Now mote ye know (that which to Britomart
Unknownen was) whence all this did proceed:
And for what Cause so great mischievous Smart
Was meant to her, that never Evil meant in Heart.
The Good-Man of this House was Dolon hight,
A Man of subtil Wit and wicked Mind,
That whilom in his Youth had been a Knight,
And Arms had borne, but little Good could find,
And much less Honour by that warlike kind
Of Life: for he was nothing valorous,
But with sly Shifts and Wiles did undermine
All noble Knights, which were adventurous,
And many brought to Shame by Treason treacherous.
He had three Sons, all three like Father's Sons,
Like treacherous, like full of Fraud and Guile,
Of all that on this earthly Compass wonnes:
The eldest of the which was slain e'erwhile
By Arthegal, through his own guilty Wile;
His Name was Guizor: whose untimely Fate
For to avenge, full many Treasons vile
His Father Dolon had deviz'd of late
With these his wicked Sons, and shew'd his canker'd Hate.
For sure he ween'd, that this his present Guest
Was Arthegal, by many Tokens plain;
But chiefly by that yron Page he guess'd,
Which still was wont with Arthegal remain;
And therefore meant him surely to have slain.
But by God's Grace, and her good Heedliness,
She was preserved from that trait'rous Train.
Thus she all night wore out in Watchfulness,
Ne suffer'd slothful Sleep her Eyelids to oppress.
The morrow next, so soon as dawning Hour
Discover'd had the Light to living Eye,
She forth issu'd out of her loathed Bow'r,
With full Intent t' avenge that Villany
On that vile Man, and all his Family.
And coming down to seek them, where they wond,
Nor Sire, nor Sons, nor any could she spy:
Each Room she sought, but them all empty fond;
They all were fled for Fear, but whither, neither kond.
She saw it vain to make there longer Stay,
But took her Steed; and thereon mounting light,
'Gan her address unto her former way.
She had not rid the Mount'nance of a Flight,
But that she saw there present in her sight
Those two false Brethren, on that per'lous Bridge,
On which Pollente with Arthegal did fight.
Straight was the Passage like a ploughed Ridge,
That if two met, the one mote needs fall o'er the Lidge.
There they did think themselves on her to wreak:
Who as she nigh unto them drew, the one
These vile Reproaches 'gan unto her speak;
Thou recreant false Traitor, that with lone
Of Arms hast Knighthood stol'n, yet Knight art none,
No more shall now the Darkness of the Night
Defend thee from the Vengeance of thy Fone;
But with thy Blood thou shalt appease the Spright
Of Guizor, by thee slain, and murder'd by thy Slight.
Strange were the Words in Britomartis' Ear;
Yet stay'd she not for them, but forward far'd,
Till to the per'lous Bridge she came: and there
Talus desir'd, that he might have prepar'd
The way to her, and those two Losels scar'd.
But she thereat was wroth, that for Despight
The glauncing Sparkles through her Bever glar'd,
And from her Eyes did flash out fiery Light,
Like Coals, that through a silver Censer sparkle bright.
She stay'd not to advize which way to take;
But putting Spurs unto her fiery Beast,
Thorough the midst of them she way did make.
The one of them, which most her Wrath increas'd,
Upon her Spear she bore before her Breast,
Till to the Bridge's further end she past;
Where falling down, his Challenge he releas'd:
The other over side the Bridge she cast
Into the River, where he drunk his deadly last.
As when the flashing Levin haps to light
Upon two stubborn Oaks, which stand so near,
That way betwixt them none appears in sight;
The Engin, fiercely flying forth, doth tear
Th' one from the Earth, and through the Air doth bear;
The other it with Force doth overthrow,
Upon one side, and from his Roots doth rear:
So did the Championess those two there strow,
And to their Sire their Carcasses left to bestow.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 3:769-79]