Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Faerie Queene: Book IV, Cambell and Triamond

Britomart and Amoret ride out in search of their loves: Amoret’s husband Sir Scudamour, who thanks to the shrill hag Discord now believes that the strange knight who went to rescue his bride did so out of basely personal motives and now can’t wait to see the colour of Britomart’s insides. And Britomart’s destined love Sir Artegall, who having been unhorsed by the armoured Britomart at a tournament he was attending incognito, has been stewing over the injustice of it all and is right in line behind Sir Scudamour, ready to mash the stranger into a fine paste.

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.
In Ate, the hag Discord, Spenser gives a confronting picture of the opposite of Friendship. As the mortal enemy of Concord, Discord has sparked massacres and defeated magnificent empires. She is murderous and double-tongued, containing all discordant opposites within herself. Fittingly, she travels about with the double-minded Blandamour and Paridell.

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.
Spenser’s conception of Friendship is therefore closely related to Love, both in this episode and in the book as a whole, which is a close continuation of Book III. In this book Sir Scudamour tells the story of how he and Amoret met, in the Temple of Venus after he’d defeated twenty knights. This tale, coming near the end of the book, contains one of the contrasts that Spenser is so fond of—he balances the House of Pride with the House of Holiness in Book I, the Bower of Bliss of Book II with the Garden of Adonis of Book III, and the fearful Discord of Book IV with the sweet Concord that keeps the door of the Temple of Venus. Outside we find not just lovers but also friends—Damon and Pythias, David and Jonathan, and others. On the steps of the Temple sits Concord with her two sons Love and Hate whom she somehow keeps in friendship (notice the motif of woman as peacemaker again). Concord is what binds creation together, we are reminded; meanwhile within the Temple of Venus itself, we find grave Womanhood, goodly Shamefastness, sweet Cheerfulness, sober Modesty, comely Courtesy, soft Silence and submissive Obedience. The statue of Venus in the midst of the temple is veiled; why no-one knows for sure, although Sir Scudamour suggests that it is because she is Hermaphrodite, both sexes in one flesh.

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

Librivox recording


Lady Bibliophile said...

I would be interested to know Spencer's reasoning for the goddess Venus/Temple of Venus in his literature. It seems rather strange to me that a Christian writer would include pagan deities as part of his illustration, when Scripture so clearly speaks against gods and idols. What are your thoughts on it, and am I missing something? :)



Suzannah said...

That's certainly something I'm going to talk about later :). I already touched on it lightly in my review of Book III.

For now, the best thing you could do is go and read my review of The City of God, the section (scroll down) labelled "Cosmology in Augustine".

Your question is actually one that's interested me for years, especially with CS Lewis's Narnia books and the Cosmic Trilogy. I eventually realised that Lewis was, in a lot of ways, simply copy-catting Spenser on this subject. Planet Narnia explained half the answer (that the gods, as symbols, could be redeemed). The City of God filled in the last missing piece in the puzzle: how they were redeemed, even consistently with Scripture.

Lady Bibliophile said...

Ah, many thanks. I have just had a pleasant afternoon finishing your Spenser series and reading your City of God review. That was a very helpful explanation, and an interesting one. :)

Suzannah said...

Glad it helped. One really needs to understand the history behind why they thought they could do that. I'm not sure if, as a writer who hopes to lay some of the stones for Christendom 2, I'd want to use the same kind of approach. But CS Lewis had a good point when he argued that we need to understand this old system of symbolism in order to appreciate the insights of the old authors. Spenser's veiled Venus is an incredibly rich symbol communicating a very complex set of ideas about the Trinity, marriage, friendship, concord, and the universe. It would be a shame to lose the ability to understand and appreciate symbols like it.


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