Meanwhile the fickle Sir Blandamour and the vapid Sir Paridell with their ladies Duessa (Falsehood) and Ate (Discord) make their way to the tournament given by Sir Satyrane. On the way they encounter the two knights of Friendship, Cambell and Triamond, with their gentle ladies and epic backstory.
I thoroughly enjoyed this instalment of The Faerie Queene. It truly contains some of the most melodramatic and epic moments since Book I, including Britomart and Artegall’s first meeting, Florimell’s rescue, and the amusing cowardice and vapidity of Blandamour and Paridell—to say nothing of the backstory of Cambell and Triamond, which begins with Cambell killing Triamond’s eldest brother by pulling a spear out of the wound in his head and flinging it right back at his opponent, and ends with Triamond’s sister arriving by lion-drawn chariot, as one does.
Oddly, however, although this book is named after Cambell and Triamond, they only appear in a few cantos; meanwhile, this is the first book in which there is no quest achieved at the end, although Britomart does achieve her personal quest of finding Artegall.
This book reads more like the sequel to Book III and the bridge to Book V, Artegall’s book, than anything else. Here the stories of Belphoebe and the Squire, of Amoret and Scudamour, and of Florimell and Marinell are wrapped up. But this book deals with a different, though related theme. Book III’s theme was Chastity, especially in Love (mere lust was dealt with in Book II, Temperance). Book IV is also about Love, though of a slightly different sort: it is about Friendship.
Friendship was not something that seemed very epic or melodramatic to me when I flipped the page over to The Legend of Cambell and Triamond. It seemed to me the substance not so much of classic epic as of stained-glass platitudes and motivational posters. Within the very first canto, however, Spenser had completely changed my mind, and as the sensational story of Book IV wound to its end, I found myself amazed by his rich and profound definition of the virtue.
The first half of the book discusses friendship simpliciter—the friendships of Britomart and Amoret, of Cambell and Triamond, and of Blandamour and Paridell. Spenser repeatedly states that true friendship must be founded upon a mutual pursuit of virtue, which enables the first two friendships. On the other hand, as the “friendship” of Blandamour and Paridell shows, an alliance built on vice and self-gratification will last only as long as it’s in the interest of the parties, and is under constant danger of devolving into treachery and petty backbiting. True friendship is literally impossible without moral goodness.
|Britomart claims the girdle of Florimell for Amoret at the tournament.|
Most chillingly of all, Discord’s malice is such “That even th’Almighty self she did malign…For all this world’s fair workmanship she tried Unto his last confusion to bring.” Concord holds not just friendship but the very fabric of creation together. And Discord lives to unmake the bonds of Love, Friendship, civilisation, and creation itself.
By contrast, Cambell and Triamond embody the grace (Spenser’s word) of concord, which (fittingly) was given to them without their intention or assent in the midst of a duel to the death. In the cantos in which they appear, these two wonderfully demonstrate the selflessness and love of Friendship, each preferring the other before than himself.
Their wives Cambina and Canacee are also contrasted with Blandamour and Paridell’s ladies, Ate and Duessa. While those villainous vamps take every opportunity to stir up strife and discord, Cambina and Canacee demonstrate what Spenser describes as women’s special duty to make peace and smooth over discord. Even early on, during the duel between Cambell and the three brothers of whom Triamond is the last, Cambell was protected by his sister’s ring; the three brothers by their mother’s deal with the Fates. The love and friendship of Cambina, Canacee, and Triamond’s mother protects and makes peace.
In the second half of the book Spenser discusses the matter of friendships between the sexes. As I mentioned in my last review, Chastity is important to Friendship because without it there can be no edifying relationships between the sexes. We see this when Prince Arthur spends some time caring for Amoret, despite the shrill ravings of Slander. We see it when Scudamour’s suspicions of Britomart are conquered by his discovery that she is a woman and thus cannot possibly have designs on Amoret—and then also when Artegall meets Britomart:
Yet durst he not make love so suddenly
Nor think th’affection of her heart to draw
From one to other so quite contrary:
So goodly grave, and full of princely awe,
That it his raging fancy did refrain,
And looser thoughts to lawful bounds withdraw.
Spenser suggests that the concord and affection of Friendship is basic to a marriage. Britomart’s awful chastity enables her and Artegall to build a real relationship rather than rushing into an engagement on first sight. Spenser also typically demonstrates the ability of virtue to beat vice at its own game: this restraint causes Artegall’s passion to grow “more fierce and fain.”
|They spend about fifteen minutes goggling at each other like this.|
In this image comes together all the imagery of chastity, friendship, concord, and discord. The statue is veiled because what the medievals knew as the “act of Venus” is private. But consider the implications. Friendship is Concord. Concord is the reconciling of opposites: the love of the different, even the love of what naturally seems to us unlovable. Concord binds creation together; it is, in fact, the creative and generative force. In some ways, the most profound image we have of Concord and thus of Friendship comes within marriage, which itself symbolises the love binding the Trinity together (CS Lewis points out another reason for the statue to be veiled: it’s a symbol of God). Meanwhile the impliedly sweet and harmonious reconciling of opposites within the statue mirrors and contrasts with the harsh and discordant opposites seething within Ate, with her double tongue, twy-facing feet, and so on.
Just as Chastity was discovered to be a greater virtue than Temperance in Book III, so Friendship is discovered to be greater than Chastity in Book IV, since it encompasses the very power that binds creation together—the harmonious love between differing and even opposing principles (think of Artegall’s first meeting with Britomart). In Book III, we discovered the importance of True Love; but in Book IV, we discovered something more all-encompassing, which Spenser calls Friendship.
Renascence Editions etext