1590
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Third Booke of the Faerie Queene. Contayning, the Legend of Britomartis, or of Chastitie.

The Faerie Queene. Disposed into Twelve Books, fashioning XII. Morall Vertues.

Edmund Spenser


George L. Craik: "The Third Book of the Fairy Queen contains the Legend of Britomartis, or of Chastity. Britomartis is one of the names of Diana; but it was no doubt selected by Spenser partly also on account of the sound, by which he designs to intimate that his heroine is a Britoness. As may be supposed, in celebrating 'that fairest virtue, far above the rest,' full advantage is taken by the poet of so fair an opportunity of complimenting his royal patroness, who was almost as vain of her virginity as of her beauty. In a prelude of five stanzas he asks himself what need he has to fetch foreign examples from Fairy Land of what shines forth with such liveliness and perfection in his sovereign, that ladies, ambitious of distinguishing themselves in a similar manner, have no occasion to look any farther — were it not, he ingeniously adds, that her portraiture can be truly expressed neither by 'life-resembling pencil,' nor artist's 'daedal hand,' 'all were it Zeuxis or Praxiteles,' — 'Ne poet's wit, that passeth painter far | In picturing the parts of beauty daint.' He then glides gracefully into a reference to his friend Raleigh's poem written in celebration of Elizabeth, which we have already found noticed in his letter explaining the plan and allegory of the Fairy Queen — 'that sweet verse, with nectar sprinkeled, | In which a gracious servant pictured | His Cynthia, his heaven's fairest light.' Only, he concludes, let 'that same delicious poet' permit a rustic muse for a little while to appropriate his high theme, and let the fairest Cynthia not refuse to view herself in more mirrors than one — 'But either Gloriana let her choose, | Or in Belphoebe fashioned to be; | In the one her rule, in the other her rare chastity.' These introductions to the several Books of the Fairy Queen, we may here observe, have all the appearance of having been written after the poem itself, and inserted, like the Dedicatory Sonnets, by the author when he was preparing it for the press.

"Canto I. (67 stanzas). — From what is said at the commencement of this Canto, Guyon and the Palmer must be supposed to have returned, after their capture of Acrasia, to the house of Alma, and there rejoined Prince Arthur. Soon after the Briton Prince and Fairy Knight take leave of their fair hostess and set out again on their way together, the enchantress being at the same time sent forward by another road, and under a strong guard, to Fairy Court. After long wandering and many adventures, they see in an open plain a knight advancing towards them, attended by an aged squire, crouching, as if overladen by the burthen of his years, under his three-square or triangular shield. This shield, 'bearing a lion passant in a golden field' (the legendary arms of the old British kings), the stranger knight assumes as soon as he sees the Prince and Guyon approaching, as was customary in such circumstances; but he manifests no hostile intent. Somewhat remarkably, nevertheless, Guyon at once proposes to attack him, beseeching 'the prince, of grace, to let him run that turn;' and upon his companion assenting he sharply spurs forward 'His foamy steed, whose fiery feet did burn | The verdant grass as he thereon did tread.' The issue, however, is that the Fairy Knight, much to his surprise as well as shame and vexation, is in an instant thrown from his saddle, and 'ere well he was aware, | Nigh a spear's length behind his crouper fell,' although without mischance to life or limb. It is the first time, 'sith warlike arms be bore, | And shivering spear in bloody field first shook,' that he has ever suffered such dishonour. But ah, exclaims the poet, 'All! gentlest knight, that ever armour bore, | Let not thee grieve dismounted to have been, | And brought to ground, that never wast before. | For not thy fault, but secret power unseen: | That spear enchanted was which laid thee on the green!'

"His grief and shame, in truth, would be much greater if he knew by whom it is that he has been thus discomfited — if he were aware that it is a woman with whom he has fought: for his successful opponent is indeed the famous Britomart, who has come on strange adventure all the way from Britain — 'To seek her lover (love far sought, alas!) | Whose image she had seen in Venus' looking-glass.' Upon all this Upton, the most learned of the commentators on the Fairy Queen, has a curious observation. The poem, he remarks, is full of allusions, either moral or historical. It is singular conduct in a courteous knight, like Guyon, to attack another by whom he has not been defied, and whom he has not himself defied. Some secret history is probably alluded to. 'In Britomart,' says Upton, 'I suppose imaged the Virgin Queen; in Sir Guyon the Earl of Essex. Sir Guyon is dismounted, presuming to match himself against Britomart. If Guyon historically and covertly (now and then) means the Earl of Essex, will it not bear an easy allusion to his presuming to match himself with Queen Elizabeth? And has not the poet with the finest art managed a very dangerous and secret piece of history?' Guyon, snatching his sword, is about to renew the combat, but the Palmer, knowing that 'Death sate on the point of that enchanted spear,' hastens to him and counsels him to desist; and, the Prince also joining in the same advice, and laying the blame, not on his own carriage, but on 'his starting steed that swarved aside,' and on 'the ill purveyance of his page,' he is at last pacified. On this they all agree to make friends, and to pursue their journey together....

"They travel on through many lands, till at last they enter a forest, in whose gloomy shades they ride a long while without seeing tract of any living thing, 'save bears, lions, and bulls, which them roamed around.' 'Up suddenly out of the thickest brush, | Upon a milk-white palfrey all alone, | A goodly lady did foreby them rush, | Whose face did seem as clear as crystal stone'.... They soon perceive that she is pursued by 'a griesly foster' or forester, mounted on a 'tireling jade,' which he fiercely urges on.... The two gentle knights, seeing this, we are told, instantly set forth together after the lady, 'in hope to win thereby | Most goodly raced, the fairest dame alive' — leaving the Prince's squire, Timias, to manage the foul foster. Meanwhile Britomart, 'whose constant mind | Would not so lightly follow beauty's chase,' after waiting for them a short time, sets forward on her way by herself.

"Having got nearly out of the wood, she perceives fronting her a stately castle, before the gate of which a spacious plain is wide outspread; and there six knights are fighting with one, who, though sore beset, is yet neither dismayed nor driven back, but, on the contrary, keeps them all at bay and forces them to recoil. Britomart immediately runs to his rescue, calling at the same time upon the six to forbear; but they do not heed her till she rushes amongst them and soon compels them to be at peace. The single knight then informs her that he loves a lady, 'the truest one on ground' — her name the Errant Damsel — and that the six would force him, 'by odds of might,' to fix his affections on another dame. Certes, says Britomart, ye six are to blame in thus attempting to accomplish by force a thing by no means to be so gone about: 'For knight to leave his lady were great shame | That faithful is; and better were to die'.... But the six now state their case by the mouth of one of their number. In the castle dwells 'a lady fair, | Whose sovereign beauty hath no living peer; | Thereto so bounteous and so debonnaire, | That never any mote with her compare:' and she has ordained a law, approved by them her servants, that every knight passing this way shall, 'in case he have no lady nor no love,' devote himself to her service; or, if he have another love, either give her up, or maintain in fight with them that she is fairer than the lady of the castle. 'Perdy, said Britomart, the choice is hard! | But what reward had he that overcame?'... After this she throws a third to the ground, and a fourth is disposed of in like manner by the single knight; upon which the two that remain yield themselves prisoners. They acknowledge that her's is the damsel, and they her liegemen, without however being aware that it is a woman to whom they thus surrender their swords, themselves, and their lady love.

"They now conduct Britomart into Castle Joyous, and passing through a long and spacious chamber soon bring her into the presence of its mistress, whom they call the Lady of Delight, but whose true name is Malecasta. 'But for to tell the sumptuous array | Of that great chamber should be labour lost; | For living wit, | I ween, cannot display | The royal riches and exceeding cost | Of every pillar and of every post'.... Britomart and the other knight, who now turn out to be our old acquaintance, the Knight of the Redcross — his Errant Damsel, therefore, being Una — loathe the loose demeanour of the wanton crew, but suffer themselves to be led up to the great lady, whom they find seated on a sumptuous bed, glistering all with gold and glorious show, as was the wont of the proud Persian queens. She is of rare beauty, although her wanton eyes roll somewhat lightly, and are, like Lesbia's in Moore's song, too fond of flashing their beams to right and left. By her order the two strangers are bounteously entertained, and, being taken into a bower to be disarmed, 'and cheered well with wine and spicery,' the Redcross Knight is soon stripped, but the brave maid will only vent, or lift up, her umbrier, that is the visor of her helmet, so as to allow her face to appear.... The 'fresh and lusty knight,' as Britomart seems, soon kindles a flame in the bosom of the very combustible lady of the castle, who manifests her passion by sufficiently intelligible signs; but Britomart takes no notice of her crafty glances.... At last she plainly intimates in words what she feels, and Britomart, who, 'by self-feeling of her feeble sex,' knows what love is, is not so hard-hearted as to receive her confession with discourtesy — though deeming her somewhat light in thus wooing a wandering guest....

"All now retire to rest, guided to their bowers by long waxen torches — the Britoness also now undressing, and committing herself to 'her soft-feathered nest,' where she soon falls sound asleep. Sometime after, however, she is awakened by finding some one stretched beside her; she starts from her bed, and runs to seize her sword; but Malecasta, for it is she, 'half dead | Through sudden fear and ghastly drearihead, | Did shriek aloud, that through the house it rong, | And the whole family therewith adread | Rashly out of their roused couches sprong, | And to the troubled chamber all in arms did throng.' The confusion that ensues may be imagined. Only the Redcross Knight openly stands by Britomart; the others, still remembering the event of their yesterday's encounter, are not disposed too rashly again to draw down her hostility.... 'Tho, whenas all were put to shameful flight, | The noble Britomartis her arrayed, | And her bright arms about her body dight; | For nothing would she lenger there be stayed...'" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 2:5-15.



It 'falls me here to write of Chastity,
That fairest Vertue, far above the rest;
For which what needs me fetch from Fairy,
Foreign Ensamples, it to have express'd?
Sith it is shrined in my Sovereign's Breast,
And form'd so lively in each perfect Part,
That to all Ladies, which have it profess'd,
Need but behold the Pourtraict of her Heart,
If pourtray'd it may be by any living Art.

But living Art may not least Part express,
Nor Life-resembling Pencil it can paint,
All were it Zeuxis or Praxiteles;
His Daedale Hand would fail, and greatly faint,
And her Perfections with his Error taint;
Ne Poet's Wit, that passeth Painter far
In picturing the Parts of Beauty daint,
So hard a Workmanship adventure dare,
For fear, thro want of Words, her Excellence to mar.

How then shall I, Apprentice of the Skill,
That whilom in divinest Wits did reign,
Presume so high to stretch mine humble Quill?
Yet now my luckless Lot doth me constrain
Hereto perforce. But O! dread Sovereign,
Thus far forth pardon, sith that choicest Wit
Cannot your glorious Pourtraict figure plain,
That I in colour'd Shows may shadow it,
And antique Praises unto present Persons fit.

But if in living Colours, and right Hue,
Your self you covet to see pictured,
Who can it do more lively, or more true,
Than that sweet Verse, with Nectar sprinkeled,
In which a gracious Servaunt pictured
His Cynthia, his Heaven's fairest Light?
That with his melting Sweetness ravished,
And with the Wonder of her Beamez bright,
My Senses lulled are in Slumber of Delight.

But let that same delicious Poet lend
A little leave unto a rustick Muse,
To sing his Mistress' Praise; and let him mend,
If ought amiss her Liking may abuse:
Ne let his fairest Cynthia refuse,
In Mirrours more than one her self to see;
But either Gloriana let her chuse,
Or in Belphoebe fashioned to be:
In th' one her Rule, in th' other her rare Chastity.

CANTO I.
Guyon encountreth Britomart,
Fair Florimel is chac'd:
Duessa's Trains and Malecas-
ta's Champions are defac'd.

The famous Briton Prince and Fairy Knight,
After long ways and per'lous Pains endur'd,
Having their weary Limbs to perfect plight
Restor'd, and very Wounds right well recur'd,
Of the fair Alma greatly were procur'd
To make there lenger Sojourn and Abode;
But when thereto they might not be allur'd,
From seeking Praise, and Deeds of Arms abroad,
They courteous Conge took, and forth together yode.

But the captiv'd Acrasia he sent,
Because of Travel long, a nigher way,
With a strong Guard, all Rescue to prevent,
And her to Fairy-Court safe to convey;
That her for witness of his hard Assay,
Unto his Fairy Queen he might present:
But he himself betook another way,
To make more trial of his Hardiment,
And seek Adventures, as he with Prince Arthur went.

Long so they travelled thro wasteful ways,
Where Dangers dwelt, and Perils most did won,
To hunt for Glory and renowned Praise;
Full many Countries they did over-run,
From the uprising to the setting Sun,
And many hard Adventures did atchieve;
Of all the which they Honour ever won,
Seeking the weak oppressed to relieve,
And to recover Right for such as Wrong did grieve.

At last, as thro an open Plain they yode,
They spy'd a Knight, that towards pricked fair,
And him beside an aged Squire there rode,
That seem'd to couch under his Shield three-square,
As if that Age bad him that Burden spare,
And yield it those that stouter could it wield:
He them espying, 'gan himself prepare,
And on his Arm address his goodly Shield,
That bore a Lion passant in a golden Field.

Which seeing good Sir Guyon, dear besought
The Prince of Grace, to let him run that turn.
He graunted: then the Fairy quickly raught
His poinant Spear, and sharply 'gan to spurn
His foamy Steed, whose fiery Feet did burn
The verdant Grass, as he thereon did tread;
Ne did the other back his Foot return,
But fiercely forward came withouten Dread,
And bent his dreadful Spear against the other's Head.

They been ymet, and both their Points arriv'd,
But Guyon drove so furious and fell,
That seem'd both Shield and Plate it would have riv'd;
Natheless, it bore his Foe not from his Sell,
But made him stagger, as he were not well:
But Guyon self, e'er well he was aware,
Nigh a Spear's length behind his Crouper fell,
Yet in his Fall so well himself he bare,
That mischievous Mischaunce his Life and Limbs did spare.

Great Shame and Sorrow of that Fall he took;
For never yet since warlike Arms he bore,
And shivering Spear in bloody Field first shook,
He sound himself dishonoured so sore.
Ah gentle Knight that ever Armour bore,
Let not thee grieve dismounted to have been,
And brought to ground, that never wast before;
For not thy fault, but secret Power unseen,
That Spear enchaunted was, which laid thee on the Green.

But weenedst thou what Wight thee overthrew,
Much greater Grief and shamefuller Regret
For thy hard Fortune then thou wouldst renew,
That of a single Damsel thou wert met
On equal Plain, and there so hard beset;
Even the famous Britomart it was,
Whom strange Adventure did from Britain set,
To seek her Lover (Love far sought alas!)
Whose Image she had seen in Venus' Looking-Glass.

Full of disdainful Wrath, he fierce up-rose,
For to revenge that foul reproachful Shame,
And snatching his bright Sword, began to close
With her on foot, and stoutly forward came;
Die rather would he than endure that fame.
Which when his Palmer saw, he 'gan to fear
His toward Peril, and untoward Blame,
Which by that new Rencounter he should rear:
For Death sate on the Point of that enchaunted Spear.

And hasting towards him, 'gan fair persuade
Not to provoke Misfortune, nor to ween
His Spear's Default to mend with cruel Blade;
For by his mighty Science he had seen
The secret Vertue of that Weapon keen,
That mortal Puissance mote not withstond:
Nothing on Earth mote always happy been.
Great Hazard were it, and Adventure fond,
To lose long-gotten Honour with one evil Hond.

By such good Means he him discounselled,
From prosecuting his revenging Rage;
And eke the Prince like Treaty handeled,
His wrathful Will with Reason to assuage,
And laid the Blame, not to his Carriage,
But to his-starting Steed, that swerv'd aside
And to the ill Purveyance of his Page,
That had his furnitures not firmly ty'd:
So is his angry Courage fairly pacify'd.

Thus Reconcilement was between them knit,
Thro goodly Temperance, and Affection chaste,
And either vow'd with all their Power and Wit,
To let not other's Honour be defac'd
Of Friend or Foe, who ever it embas'd,
Ne Arms to bear against the other's side:
In which Accord the Prince was also plac'd,
And with that golden Chain of Concord ty'd.
So goodly all agreed, they forth yfere did ride.

O goodly Usage of those antique Times!
In which the Sword was Servant into Right;
When not for Malice and contentious Crimes,
But all for Praise, and Proof of manly Might,
The martial Brood accustomed to fight;
Then Honour was the Meed of Victory,
And yet the vanquished had no Despight:
Let latter Age that noble Use envy,
Vile Rancour to avoid, and cruel Surquedry.

Long they thus travelled in friendly wise,
Thro Countries waste, and eke well edify'd,
Seeking Adventures hard, to exercise
Their Puissance, whilom full dernly try'd.
At length they came into a Forest wide,
Whose hideous Horrour and sad trembling Sound
Full griesly seem'd: Therein they long did ride,
Yet Track of living Creatures none they found,
Save Bears, Lions, and Bulls, which round them around.

All suddenly out of the thickest Brush,
Upon a milk-white Palfrey all alone,
A goodly Lady did foreby them rush,
Whose Face did seem as clear as crystal Stone,
And eke (thro fear) as white as Whalez Bone:
Her Garments all were wrought of beaten Gold,
And all her Steed with tinsel Trappings shone,
Which fled so fast, that nothing mote him hold,
And scarce them leisure gave, her passing to behold.

Still as she fled, her Eye she backward threw,
As fearing Evil, that pursu'd her fast;
And her fair yellow Locks behind her flew,
Loosely dispers'd with Puff of every Blast:
All as a blazing Star doth far out-cast
His hairy Beams, and flaming Locks disspred,
At sight whereof the People stand agast:
But the sage Wizard tells (as he has read)
That it importunes Death, and doleful Drerihead.

So, as they gazed after her awhile,
Lo! where a griesly Foster forth did rush,
Breathing out beastly Lust her to defile:
His tireling Jade he fiercely forth did push,
Thro thick and thin, both over Bank and Bush,
In hope her to attain by hook or crook,
That from his gory Sides the Blood did gush:
Large were his Limbs, and terrible his Look,
And in his clownish Hand a sharp Boar-Spear he shook.

Which Outrage, when those gentle Knights did see,
Full of great Envy and fell Jealousy,
They stay'd nor to avise who first should be,
But all spur'd after fast, as they mote fly,
To reskue her from shameful Villany.
The Prince and Guyon equally bylive
Her self pursu'd, in hope to win thereby
Most goodly Meed, the fairest Dame alive:
But after the foul Foster Timias did strive.

The whiles fair Britomart, whose constant Mind
Would not so lightly follow Beauty's Chace,
Ne reck'd of Ladies Love, did stay behind,
And them awaited there a certain space,
To weet if they would turn back to that place:
But when she saw them gone, she forward went,
As lay her Journey, thro that per'lous Pace,
With stedfast Courage and stout Hardiment;
Ne evil thing she fear'd, ne evil thing she meant.

At last, as nigh out of the Wood she came,
A stately Castle far away she spy'd,
To which her Steps directly she did frame.
That Castle was most goodly edify'd,
And plac'd for Pleasure nigh that Forest side:
But fair before the Gate a spacious Plain,
Mantled with Green, it self did spredden wide,
On which she saw six Knights, that did darrain
Fierce Battle against one, with cruel might and main.

Manly they all at once upon him laid,
And sore beset on every side around,
That nigh he breathless grew; yet nought dismay'd,
Ne ever to them yielded foot of ground,
All had he lost much Blood thro many a Wound;
But stoutly dealt his Blows, and every way,
To which he turned in his wrathful Stound,
Made them recoil, and fly from drad Decay,
That none of all the six before him durst assay.

Like dastard Curs, that having at a Bay
The salvage Beast emboss'd in weary Chace,
Dare not adventure on the stubborn Prey,
Ne bite before, but rome from place to place,
To get a Snatch, when turned is his Face.
In such Distress and doubtful Jeopardy,
When Britomart him saw, she ran apace
Unto his Rescue, and with earnest Cry,
Bade those same six forbear that single Enemy.

But to her cry they list not lenden Ear,
Ne ought the more their mighty Strokes surcease,
But gathering him round about more near,
Their direful Rancour rather did encrease;
Till that she rushing thro the thickest Preace:
Perforce disparted their compacted Gire,
And soon compel'd to hearken unto Peace:
Tho 'gan she mildly of them to enquire
The Cause of their Dissension and outrageous Ire.

Whereto that single Knight did Aunswer frame;
These six would me enforce by odds of Might,
To change my Liefe, and love another Dame,
That Death me liefer were than such Despight,
So unto Wrong to yield my wrested Right:
For I love one, the truest one on ground,
Ne list me change; she th' Errant Damsel hight,
For whose dear sake full many a bitter Stound
I have endur'd, and tasted many a bloody Wound.

Certes, said she, then been ye six to blame,
To ween your Wrong by Force to justify:
For Knight to leave his Lady were great shame
That faithful is, and better were to die.
All Loss is less, and less the Infamy,
Than Loss of Love, to him that loves but one:
Ne may Love be compel'd by Maistery;
For soon as Maist'ry comes, sweet Love anon
Taketh his nimble Wings, and soon away is gone.

Then spake one of those six: There dwelleth here
Within this Castle-Wall a Lady fair,
Whose sovereign Beauty hath no living Peer;
Thereto so bounteous and so debonair,
That never any mote with her compare.
She hath ordain'd this Law, which we approve,
That every Knight, which doth this way repair,
In case he have no Lady, nor no Love,
Shall do unto her Service never to remove.

But if he have a Lady, or a Love,
Then must he her forgo with foul Defame,
Or else with us by dint of Sword approve,
That she is fairer than our fairest Dame,
As did this Knight, before he hither came.
Perdy, said Britomart, the Choice is hard:
But what Regard had he that overcame?
He should advaunced be to high Regard,
Said they, and have our Lady's Love for his Reward.

Therefore aread Sir, if thou have a Love.
Love have I sure, quoth she, but Lady none;
Yet will I not from mine own Love remove,
Ne to your Lady will I Service done,
But wreak your Wrongs wrought to this Knight alone,
And prove his Cause. With that, her mortal Spear
She mightily aventred towards one,
And down him smote e'er well aware he were;
Then to the next she rode, and down the next did bear.

Ne did she stay, till three on ground she laid,
That none of them himself could rear again;
The fourth was by that other Knight dismay'd,
All were he weary of his former Pain,
That now there do but two of six remain;
Which two did yield before she did them smite.
Ah! said she then, now may ye all see plain,
That Truth is strong, and true Love most of might,
That for his trusty Servaunts doth so strongly fight.

Too well we see, say they, and prove too well
Our faulty Weakness, and your matchless Might:
For-thy, fair Sir, yours be the Damozel,
Which by her own Law to your Lot doth light,
And we your Liege-men Faith unto you plight.
So underneath her Feet their Swords they shar'd,
And after, her they sought, well as they might,
To enter in, and reap the due Reward:
She graunted, and then in they all together far'd.

Long were it to describe the goodly Frame,
And stately Port of Castle Joyeous,
(For so that Castle hight by common name)
Where they were entertain'd with curteous
And comely Glee of many gracious
Fair Ladies, and many a gentle Knight,
Who thro a Chamber long and spacious,
Eftsoons them brought unto their Lady's sight;
That of them cleeped was, the Lady of Delight.

But for to tell the sumptuous Array
Of that great Chamber, should be Labour lost:
For living Wit (I ween) cannot display
The royal Riches and exceeding Cost
Of every Pillour and of every Post;
Which all of purest Bullion framed were,
And with great Pearls and precious Stones emboss'd,
That the bright Glister of their Beamez clear
Did sparkle forth great Light, and glorious did appear.

These stranger Knights, thro passing, forth were led
Into an inner Room, whose Royalty
And rich Purveyance might uneath be read;
Mote Princes Place beseem so deck to be.
Which stately Manner when as they did see,
The Image of superfluous Riotise,
Exceeding much the State of mean degree,
They greatly wonder'd, whence so sumptuous Guise
Might be maintain'd, and each 'gan diversly devise.

The Walls were round about apparelled
With costly Clothes of Arras and of Tour;
In which, with cunning Hand was pourtrayed
The Love of Venus, and her Paramour
The fair Adonis, turned to a Flower,
A Work of rare Devise, and wondrous Wit.
First did it show the bitter baleful Stower,
Which her assay'd with many a fervent Fit,
When first her tender Heart was with his Beauty smit.

Then with what Sleights and sweet Allurements she
Entic'd the Boy (as well that Art she knew)
And wooed him her Paramour to be:
Now making Girlonds of each Flower that grew,
To crown his golden Locks with Honour due;
Now leading him into a secret Shade
From his Beauperes, and from bright Heaven's View,
Where him to sleep she gently would persuade,
Or bathe him in a Fountain by some Covert glade.

And whilst he slept, she over him would spread
Her Mantle, colour'd like the starry Skys,
And her soft Arm lay underneath his Head,
And with ambrosial Kisses bathe his Eyes;
And whilst he loath'd, with her two crafty Spys,
She secretly would search each dainty Limb,
And throw into the Well sweet Rosemaries,
And fragrant Violets, and Pances trim,
And ever with sweet Nectar she did sprinkle him.

So did she steal his heedless Heart away,
And 'joy'd his Love in Secret unespy'd.
But for the saw him bent to cruel Play,
To hunt the salvage Beast in Forest wide,
Dreadful of Danger that mote him betide;
She oft and oft advis'd him to refrain
From Chace of greater Beasts, whose brutish Pride
Mote breed him Scath unwares: but all in vain;
For who can shun the Chaunce that Dest'ny doth ordain?

Lo! where beyond he lieth languishing,
Deadly engored of a great wild Boar,
And by his Side the Goddess groveling,
Makes for him endless Moan, and evermore
With her soft Garment wipes away the Gore,
Which stains his snowy Skin with hateful Hue:
But when she saw no help might him restore,
Him to a dainty Flower she did transmew,
Which in that Cloth was wrought, as if it lively grew.

So was that Chamber clad in goodly wise,
And round about it many Beds were dight,
As whilome was the antique Worldez Guise,
Some for untimely Ease, some for Delight,
As pleased them to use, that use it might:
And all was full of Damzels, and of Squires
Dauncing and revelling both day and night,
And swimming deep in sensual Desires,
And Cupid still emongst them kindled lustful Fires.

And all the while sweet Musick did divide
Her looser Notes with Lydian Harmony;
And all the while sweet Birds thereto apply'd
Their dainty Lays and dulcet Melody,
Ay caroling of Love and Jollity,
That wonder was to hear their trim Consort:
Which when those Knights beheld, with scornful Eye,
They 'sdeigned such lascivious Disport,
And loath'd the loose Demeanure of that wanton sort.

Thence they were brought to that great Lady's View,
Whom they found sitting on a sumptuous Bed,
That glistred all with Gold and glorious Shew,
As the proud Persian Queens accustomed:
She seem'd a Woman of great Bountihed,
And of rare Beauty, saving that ascaunce
Her wanton Eyes, ill Signs of Womanhed,
Did roll too lightly, and too often glaunce,
Without regard of Grace, or comely Amenaunce.

Long Work it were, and needless to devize
Their goodly Entertainment and great Glee:
She caused them be led in curteous wize
Into a Bower, disarmed for to be,
And cheered well with Wine and Spiceree.
The Redcross Knight was soon disarmed there;
But the brave Maid would not disarmed be,
But only vented up her Umbriere,
And so did let her goodly Visage to appear.

As when fair Cynthia, in darksom Night,
Is in a noyous Cloud enveloped,
Where she may find the Substance thin and light,
Breaks forth her silver Beams, and her bright Head
Discovers to the World discomfited;
Of the poor Traveller that went astray,
With thousand Blessings she is heried:
Such was the Beauty and the shining Ray,
With which fair Britomart gave Light unto the Day.

And eke those six, which lately with her fought,
Now were disarm'd, and did themselves present
Unto her View, and Company unsought;
For they all seemed curteous and gent,
And all six Brethren, born of one Parent,
Which had them train'd in all Civility,
And goodly taught to tilt and turnament;
Now were they Liegemen to this Lady free,
And her Knights-Service ought to hold of her in Fee.

The first of them by name Gardante hight,
A jolly Person, and of comely View;
The second was Parlante, a bold Knight,
And next to him Jocante did ensue;
Basciante did himself most curteous shew;
But fierce Bacchante seem'd too fell and keen;
And yet in Arms Noctante greater grew:
All were fair Knights, and goodly well beseen;
But to fair Britomart they all but Shadows been.

For she was full of amiable Grace,
And manly Terrour mixed there-with-all,
That as the one stir'd up Affections base,
So th' other did Mens rash Desires appall,
And hold them back, that would in Error fall:
As he that hath espy'd a vermeil Rose,
To which sharp Thorns and Briers the way forestall,
Dare not for Dread his hardy Hand expose;
But wishing it far off, his idle Wish doth lose.

Whom when the Lady saw so fair a Wight,
All ignorant of her contrary Sex,
(For she her ween'd a fresh and lusty Knight)
She greatly 'gan enamoured to wex,
And with vain Thoughts her falsed Fancy vex:
Her fickle Heart conceived hasty Fire,
Like Sparks of Fire which fall in slender Flex,
That shortly brent into extreme Desire,
And ransack'd all her Veins with Passion entire.

Eftsoons she grew to great impatience,
And into Terms of open Outrage burst,
That plain discover'd her Incontinence,
Ne reck'd she, who her Meaning did mistrust;
For she was given all to fleshly Lust,
And poured forth in sensual Delight,
That all regard of Shame she had discuss'd,
And meet Respect of Honour put to flight:
So shameless Beauty soon becomes a loathy Sight.

Fair Ladies, that to Love captived are,
And chaste Desires do nourish in your Mind,
Let not her fault your sweet Affections marr,
Ne blot the Bounty of all Womankind,
'Mongst thousands good, one wanton Dame to find.
Emongst the Roses grow some wicked Weeds;
For this was not to Love, but Lust inclin'd;
For Love does always bring forth bounteous Deeds,
And in each gentle Heart Desire of Honour breeds.

Nought so of Love this looser Dame did skill,
But as a Coal to kindle fleshly Flame,
Giving the Bridle to her wanton Will,
And treading under foot her honest Name:
Such Love is Hate, and such Desire is Shame.
Still did she rove at her with crafty Glaunce
Of her false Eyes, that at her Heart did aim,
And told her Meaning in her Countenaunce;
But Britomart dissembled it with Ignoraunce.

Supper was shortly dight, and down they sat,
Where they were served with all sumptuous Fare,
Whiles fruitful Ceres, and Lyaeus fat
Pour'd out their Plenty, without spite or spare;
Nought wanted there, that dainty was and rare;
And ay the Cups their Banks did overflow,
And ay between the Cups she did prepare
Way to her Love, and secret Darts did throw;
But Britomart would not such guileful Message know.

So when they naked had the fervent Heat
Of Appetite with Meats of every sort,
The Lady did fair Britomart entreat
Her to disarm, and with delightful Sport
To loose her warlike Limbs and strong Effort:
But when she mote not thereunto be won,
(For she her Sex under that strange Purport
Did use to hide, and plain Appearaunce shun)
In plainer wise to tell her Grievaunce, she begun.

And all at once discover'd her Desire,
With Sighs and Sobs, and Plaints, and piteous Grief,
The outward Sparks of her in-burning Fire;
Which spent in vain, at last she told her brief,
That but if she did lend her short Relief,
And do her Comfort, she mote algates die.
But the chaste Damzel, that had never Prief
Of such Malengine and fine Forgery,
Did easily believe her strong Extremity.

Full easy was for her to have Belief,
Who, by self-feeling of her feeble Sex,
And by long trial of the inward Grief,
Wherewith imperious Love her Heart did vex,
Could judg what pains do loving Hearts perplex,
Who means no Guile, be guiled soonest shall,
And to fair Semblaunce doth light Faith annex;
The Bird, that knows not the false Fowler's Call,
Into his hidden Net full easily doth fall.

For-thy, she would not in discourteous wise,
Scorn the fair Offer of Good-will profess'd;
For great Rebuke it is, Love to despise,
Or rudely 'sdeign a gentle Heart's Request;
But with fair Countenaunce, as beseemed best,
Her entertain'd; nath'less, she inly deem'd
Her Love too light, to woo a wandring Guest:
Which she misconstruing thereby esteem'd
That from like inward Fire that outward Smoke had steem'd.

Therewith awhile she her flit Fancy fed,
Till she mote win fit time for her Desire:
But yet her Wound still inward freshly bled,
And thro her Bones the false instilled Fire
Did spread it self, and Venom close inspire.
Tho, were the Tables taken all away,
And every Knight, and every gentle Squire
'Gan chuse his Dame with Bascio-mani gay,
With whom he meant to make his Sport and courtly Play.

Some fell to daunce, some fell to hazardry,
Some to make love, some to make merriment
As diverse wits to diverse things apply;
And all the while fair Malecasta bent
Her crafty Engins to her close Intent.
By this th' eternal Lamps, wherewith high Jove
Doth light the lower World, were half yspent,
And the moist Daughters of huge Atlas strove
Into the Ocean deep to drive their weary Drove.

High time it seemed then for every Wight
Them to betake unto their kindly Rest;
Eftsoons long waxen Torches weren light,
Unto their Bowers to guiden every Guest:
Tho when the Britoness saw all the rest
Avoided quite, she 'gan her self despoil,
And safe commit to her soft-feathered Nest;
Where, thro long watch, and late day's weary Toil,
She soundly slept, and careful Thoughts did quite assoil.

Now, when-as an the World in Silence deep
Yshrouded was, and every mortal Wight
Was drowned in the Depth of deadly Sleep,
Fair Malecasta, whose engrieved Spright
Could find no rest in such perplexed Plight,
Lightly arose out of her weary Bed,
And under the black Veil of guilty Night,
Her with a scarlet Mantle covered,
That was with Gold and Ermines fair enveloped.

Then panting soft, and trembling every Joint,
Her fearful Feet towards the Bower she moved;
Where she for secret Purpose did appoint
To lodg the warlike Maid unwisely loved,
And to her Bed approaching first she proved,
Whether she slept or wak'd, with her soft Hand
She softly felt, if any Member moved,
And lent her wary Ear to understand,
If any Puff of Breath, or Sign of Sense she fand.

Which, when-as none she found, with easy shift,
For fear lest her unwares she should abrayd,
Th' embroider'd Quilt she lightly up did lift,
And by her side her self she softly laid,
Of every finest Finger's Touch affraid;
Ne any noise she made, ne word she spake,
But inly sigh'd. At last, the royal Maid
Out of her quiet Slumber did awake,
And chang'd her weary Side, the better ease to take.

Where, feeling one close couched by her side,
She lightly leap'd out of her filed Bed,
And to her Weapon ran, in mind to gride
The loathed Leachour. But the Dame, half dead
Thro suddain Fear, and gastly Drerihed,
Did shriek aloud, that thro the House it rong,
And the whole Family therewith adred,
Rashly out of their rouzed Couches sprong,
And to the troubled Chamber all in Arms did throng.

And those six Knights, that Lady's Champions,
And eke the Redcross Knight ran to the Stound,
Half arm'd, and half unarm'd, with them attons;
Where, when confusedly they came, they found
Their Lady lying on the sensless Ground;
On th' other side, they saw the warlike Maid
All in her snow-white Smock, with Locks unbound,
Threatning the Point of her avenging Blade,
That with so troublous Terror they were all dismay'd.

About their Lady first they flock'd around:
Whom having laid in comfortable Couch,
Shortly they rear'd out of her frozen Swound;
And afterwards they 'gan with foul Reproach
To stir up Strife, and troublous Contest broach:
But by Ensample of the last day's Loss,
None of them rashly durst to her approach,
Ne in so glorious Spoil themselves emboss;
Her succour'd eke the Champion of the bloody Cross.

But one of those six Knights, Gardante hight,
Drew out a deadly Bow and Arrow keen,
Which forth be sent with felonous Despight,
And fell Intent against the Virgin sheen:
The mortal Steel staid not, till it was seen
To gore her Side; yet was the Wound not deep,
But lightly rased her soft silken Skin,
That Drops of purple Blood there-out did weep,
Which did her lilly Smock with Stains of Vermeil steep.

Wherewith, enrag'd, she fiercely at them flew,
And with her flaming Sword about her laid,
That none of them foul Mischief could eschew,
But with her dreadful Strokes were all dismay'd:
Here, there, and every where about her sway'd
Her wrathful Steel, that none mote it abide;
And eke the Redcross Knight gave her good aid,
Ay joining foot to foot, and side to side,
That in short space their Foes they have quite terrify'd.

Tho, when-as all were put to shameful Flight,
The noble Britomartis her array'd,
And her bright Arms about her Body dight;
For nothing would she lenger there be staid,
Where so loose Life, and so ungentle Trade
Was us'd of Knights, and Ladies seeming gent.
So early, e'er the gross Earth's grysie Shade,
Was all dispers'd out of the Firmament,
They took their Steeds and forth upon their Journey went.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 2:365-83]

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