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Pwning Spenser’s Faerie Queene

File:The Faerie Queene frontispiece.jpg

‘The Faerie Queene’ by Edmund Spenser  1590

Week five of the Coursera on-line course  Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative is already upon us. For this week we are readying first Canto of Book III of  Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

The discussion for the week was very varied. We talked about Spenser and his poems, their allegory, formation and what it was to be a poet to royalty in his day.  We related some of the work he did with other works we have studied on the course so far and, of course, to Lord of The Rings book and Film. We looked at art and representations of this and other works. Finally Jay showed us how his students had re-mediated some of this work into a game.


I hope that you enjoy my transcripts of this weeks lectures. Please remember that I change the texts slightly to make translation easier. I remove  repetitions, false starts and fillers. Any mistakes in the texts are my own. My spell check works in British English so there are some changes from the American English of the original text. Please let me know if you spot any errors or omissions.

Firstly a reminder of who the speakers are.

Jay Clayton, Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, our lecturer for the course.



The class members who participate in some very interesting discussions are:-













Introduction to Spenser

Jay Clayton:


Edmund Spenser oil painting [Wikipedia]

Today we start one of the more challenging weeks of the course. We’re going to be reading the first canto of book three from Spenser’s the Faerie Queene  Spenser’s poetry is often seen as very difficult for contemporary readers. He is an older-poet. He overlapped with Shakespeare. He did most of his writing only a little prior to Shakespeare’s main period, but his language is more archaic than Shakespeare’s language is. It’s not Middle English. Some people make the mistake of thinking Spenserian language is Middle English, like Chaucer. But no, it’s not Middle English, it’s renaissance English. Its orthography, that is its spelling and his diction, makes the work superficially seem more difficult. It’s intentionally archaic. Spenser used poetic language and lots of illusions to myth and contemporary references to the early modern political scene that present surface difficulties. I want to keep emphasizing that these are surface difficulties. If you stick with it, after two or three stanzas you’ll find it gets easier to read.

Let me give you some advice on how to read the poem. Listen to the videos first, if you like. Feel free to skip the proem, that’s the little introductory poem of about five stanzas long that is a dedicatory set of stanzas to Queen Elizabeth. Spenser is praising her with the most over the top flattery imaginable, and it has lots of interesting touches, but I want you to get straight to the plot of the poem. That brings me to another point. This is a narrative poem. It’s not like the lyrics by Keats and Browning that we read before. This is a great example of action narrative poetry. You should read it for the plot. Don’t worry about getting every word right, or understanding every single line, especially first time through. You’ll have a lot more fun if you just read this poem for what’s going on in the general sense. You might even want to read a summary of it. I certainly don’t object if you go online and read a summary of the action of the poem. It will give you a better sense of what you’re encountering, in this first encounter, for many people, with Spenserian English. I especially recommend listening to the audio version of the poem. It really helps to hear the words. Often they look odder than they are. When you hear someone pronounce it, you go, “oh! Now that’s what that means” because he has irregular spelling. Spelling had not been regularized completely in Spencer’s time.

You’re reading only one canto of one book. This canto itself is somewhere around 600 lines. This is one of six books, each book has multiple cantos. He published the first three in 1590, and then, six years later, he published the entire poem that we have today, books one through six. We know from a letter that he wrote to Lord Raleigh that his original plan for this book was 24 books. It’s already one of the longest poems in the entire English language, and he only managed to write six of a planned 24 books. Many scholars, and I agree with them, think that he’d basically said what he had to say. Though we have a fragment of a seventh book, in something called the Mutability Cantos that are very highly regarded as Spenserian poetry, I believe that he had basically made his central points.

The Red Cross Knight – John Singleton Copley

It’s a book that allegorizes the great virtues of the age. Each book covers a specific virtue. Book one is the virtue of holiness, and it’s incarnated by the Redcrosse Knight who’s questing in search of his love, Una. Book Two is Temperance, which features Guyon and you meet Guyon quite a bit in Book Three. You see Guyon initially in the first stanza of the poem of Book Three. Book Three is an allegory of chastity. The main character is of course the female heroine Britomart, whom you meet, disguised as a male knight. We’re reading this canto of this book because of Britomart. Britomart as you will see gives us an opportunity to discuss a part of the fantasy genre that we haven’t spent enough time on, which is the portrayal of female figures in fantasy literature.  Britomart is a great example of that. The other three books go on to cover less personal virtues. Friendship is book four. Book five is justice, and book six is courtesy, a great chivalric virtue.

So why are we reading Spenser? There are plenty of more important sources for Tolkien.  He drew directly on Beowulf, both the prose and the Poetic Eddas, on the Finnish epic the Kalevala. Spenser was not a major source for him. So why are we reading it? Well, he did write about Spenser in his scholarly work. He certainly knew Spenser really well. This is not a course about Tolkien’s sources. If this were a course about Tolkien sources, we’d be reading a lot of medieval literature. Rather, this is a course about how the romance legacy has come down to our entire culture. Spencer’s portrayal of knights and ladies was deeply influential on the Victorian period. We really see Keats in La Belle Dame Sans Merci drawing much more on Spenserian imagery, and Spenserian notions of knighthood and ladies and evil than we do real medievalism. Victorian, medievalism is really filtered through Spencer. Tolkien grew up with this kind of imagery of knights and ladies and chivalric code and honour and battles. Spencer’s Faerie Queene has it all. In the first book Redcrosse has to defeat a dragon. It’s just like “The Hobbit” really. It has ogres, it has trolls it has dwarves, knights, and castles, and rugged landscapes. It really has everything that fantasy literature has capitalized on and that Tolkien did so much to make really important. This is a tiny piece of it. I hope readers of the course find themselves charmed, magically charmed, by Spencer’s beauty and poetry and want to read more of it on their own. But you’ll get a good introduction to it just with this one canto.

Spenser, the man and the poet

Jay: Let’s find out a little about Spenser’s background. Killian, you specialize in earlier literature. So what can you tell us about Spenser?

Quartered arms of Sir Arthur Grey,

Killian:  Edmund Spenser was born around 1552 in London to parents of fairly modest means and social standing. He had an excellent education, and went on to graduate from Cambridge. While he was at Cambridge he became very interested in, not only writing poetry, but becoming the kind of preeminent English poet of his age. After Cambridge he became a personal secretary and aid to the Earl of Leicester. In this way he began to move into aristocratic circles. The following year, 1580, he went to Ireland as secretary and aide to Lord Grey of Wilton, who was the Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Killian: Anyone who knows anything about this period in Irish history will know this was an incredibly violent time. It was a time of extreme upheaval in Ireland, and in English and Irish relations. Spencer witnessed a lot of this first-hand.  In 1590, as Professor Clayton has told us he went back to England with the help of Sir Walter Raleigh and published the first three books of the Fairy Queene, in a bid to earn patronage from Queen Elizabeth. I know that Dianne is going to tell us a little bit more about that. Just to wrap things up; after a major uprising in Munster, which is the part of Ireland where Spencer was living in 1598, he returned to England in 1599, died and is now buried in Westminster Abbey next to his beloved Chaucer. So, there you have it.

Jay: Thank you. That’s just how an oral report might be done. Very well done! Thank you so much. So, he saw a lot of battle first hand.

Killian:  Right.

Jay: He managed, even though, from being fairly humble background, to move into court circles.

Killian:  Yes. Absolutely!  I mean really, he reached the upper echelons of that society.

Jay :  Yes, and that’s an amazing feat. That he did it basically via poetry. That poetry was his ticket to the highest realms of the English court. That’s pretty startling. You see the kind of reverence that educated poetry, learned poetry, could evoke in those times.  In fact, the Queen gave him a pension for life. I mean an annual… like what was it, was it fifty pounds?

Killian:  Fifty pounds a year.

Jay:  Fifty pounds a year which is an astronomical sum. I mean he ended up with a vast estate, 3000 acres in Ireland. He was pretty active in the imperial project in Ireland. When they had some unrest there, they had their revenge. Do you remember, do you happen to know what happened to his estate?

Killian:  Absolutely! Yes, I mentioned very briefly before in 1598 there was an uprising in Munster which the southernmost province in Ireland and a group of rebels burned Spencer’s estate to the ground.

Jay:  Burned it to the ground.

Killian:  That’s right and sent him packing to England.

Jay: You’re from Ireland.

Killian: I’m from Munster, in fact.

Jay: Munster, no way!

Killian:  Yes.

Jay: So did people celebrate Spenser in Munster.

Killian:  Well now we have a bit of distance.  But I think the wounds are still open.

Darnley stage 3.jpg

The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth [Wikipedia]

Jay: Oh, God, maybe. Maybe. Yes, okay. Yes. He wrote this poem, dedicated it to Queen Elizabeth. You know, what was he angling for, with that?

Deanne:  About 50 pounds a year!  That was the goal of the patronage system, whereby writers would write works to wealthy aristocratic persons, often royals, in the hope that they would receive payment, whether regular payment a one-time payment. It’s obvious that Spenser’s poem is not only dedicated to Queen Elizabeth; in dedicatory frontage piece or title page. But also from the poetry itself which, as you were saying, is very flattering in the proem at the beginning of the books to the Queen.

Jay:  Yes well, in fact, all of the knights are out on quest to win glory for Queen Gloriana, who is modelled on or incarnates Queen Elizabeth in all her virtues and (Spenser was a little daring here) some of her faults, as perceived at the time. He didn’t entirely gloss those over. It goes further than that. Gloriana never actually appears in the poem because she’s at the court of the Faerie Queene. All the knights errant are out on their quest to gain glory for her so we never see her. But she’s mentioned and talked about in every book. Each of the heroes of the six books is supposed to incarnate one aspect of Queen Elizabeth’s queenly virtue and being. The entire poem is wrapped up in this structure of praise.

That’s our introduction to Spencer. For the next video, we’re going to talk about the first 19 stanzas of this canto.

The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 1-7

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‘Bower of Bliss’-John Melhuish Strudwick

Jay: The first Canto of book three of The Faerie Queene begins where book two left off. Book two was about Guyon, the knight of temperance. Guyon incarnated the virtue of temperance which to Spencer was a much broader virtue than we associate with just temperance meaning not drinking today.  It really was about having a temperate life. The first stanza of the poem begins with Prince Arthur, the Briton prince, and the fairy knight Guyon, riding across a plain. Right before the canto as in every canto, there’s a four line or prefatory poem. These are often called ‘the argument’ because they try to give you the outline of the canto that follows. Let’s just, I’ll just read that, that argument to you.

Guyon encountreth Britomart,

faire Florimell is chaced:

Duessaes traines and, Malecastaes

champions are defaced.

Duessaes was the temptress that besieged Prince Arthur in book one.  Malecastaes is the character that we’re going to meet at the end of this canto that lives in Castle Joyeus, and that Britomart encounters toward the end. The opening stanzas are just Prince Arthur and Guyon questing after Book two. In stanza four they have their first encounter. Let me read it to you, and then I’m going to ask you Don to talk about the rhyming scheme in Spenser, and also the stanza form in Spenser, so that we can get a sense of what our poet is trying to accomplish with these stanzas. Let me read Stanza four.

At last as through an open plaine they yode*,

They spide a knight, that towards prickèd faire,

And him beside an aged Squire there rode

That seemed 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 himselfe prepare,

And on his arme addressee his goodly shield

That bore a Lion passant in a golden field.

(* by yode he means went, not rode, though it sounds like rode, which is an easy way to remember it.)

File:Washington Allston 002.jpg

The Flight of Florimell:Washington Allston

Jay: They encounter this knight, and they see this knight, across the field, getting ready for battle. The second he spies them, he starts getting ready for battle. I referred to him as ‘he’ we might have a surprise coming there. So Don, can you tell us about the rhyme scheme of this stanza and, indeed of all Spenserian stanzas?

Don: Sure. This, a typical Spenserian stanza, is nine lines long. The first eight lines of which are composed in iambic pentameter (five metrical feet per line), which is a common metrical line inverse in drama. This is followed by a ninth line in hexameter, which means, six beats, so there’s an additional foot added. The rhyme structure follows an a b a b b c b c c pattern. The final line is interesting there is an extra syllable which provides a sense of closure at the end of each stanza without sacrificing the sense of powerful forward momentum, which is particularly great for a narrative or action-based poem which the Fairy Queen is.

Jay: Yes. This is a really flexible stanza form. English doesn’t have nearly as many rhyme words as Romance languages do. Spencer took as his model, among other poets the, Italian romance poets Ariosto and Tasso and imitated their rhyming. He had to figure out a way that could give him more flexibility. He invented this stanza form and ever since it’s been called the Spenserian stanza. Many later poets in English have imitated it as it’s so flexible. It propels you forward as you read, yet each unit is end-stopped with that final c c rhyme which closes it. Each stanza is like a single piece of thought or a single image, and yet seems to flow onward into the next stanza. In four, they prepare for battle. In five and six the battle commences. Tell us about those stanzas, Chelsea.

Chelsea:  The battle begins. Guyon takes up his grabs spear and he’s going to defend himself. His horse is all lathered up. This horse is a little strange. It has some sort of supernatural powers that cause its feet to make sparks on the grass while it’s……..

Jay:  You know there are a lot of animations in Lord of the Rings online where feet just glow, or there is a little fire. It’s an image that goes way back, isn’t it? I think it’s an image from striking flint, striking rocks and the like, striking sparks, except… he says it’s grassy.

Chelsea:  Yes.

Jay:  So you know, it’s just a fiery state there. So wait….. why do these, these three knights see each other and suddenly, although not a word is exchanged they’re ready to fight. Does that seem funny to you?

Chelsea:  It’s a little pugnacious.

Jay:  Why is this? Why is this? Anybody? Can anyone speculate about why these knights, when they encounter each other in the wilderness, immediately take up arms?

Deanne: It follows the chivalric code.

Jay: Yes, so. Why, what does that mean?

Deanne: You’re supposed to fight for your honour.

Jay:  Yes. It’s just instant challenge. You fight for your honour. You prove your worthiness in battle whenever you encounter another knight. It’s really interesting shortly thereafter they have the encounter and what happens to Guyon?

Chelsea:  He doesn’t have a good time in this fight.  Basically he doesn’t quite get hit, but he does come off the worst and he did fall out of his saddle, off of his horse, but he didn’t break anything.

Jay:  So saddle, this odd word ‘sell’ is saddle. There is a lot difficult vocabulary in this stanza, like a lot of them. But, and I hope you won’t pause over those vocabulary words but just keep reading, but you know, verdant grass, green grass and So the saddle ‘crouper’ is a part of the saddle.  Guyon is sent flying isn’t he?   He sent flying and how does he react?

Blaine: Great shame and sorrow and he felt dishonoured.

Jay: Yes. Why?

Chelsea:  He just got pwned


Jay: Thank you. That, as most people I assume in this course know, that’s a common video gamer term “Pwown.” He just got pwned, humiliated on the field of battle. Any more?

Blaine: Maybe he, he doesn’t get pwned often?

Jay:   Yes. In fact he says he never lost. This is like the first time ever. There’s a little digression, in, that says, oh, don’t worry about it. She had a magic spear – your rival knight who, we still don’t know who this rival knight is, had a little advantage. It’s like a really advanced piece of epic gear that you’ve won. You’ve been in raid after raid and you’ve really buffed yourself up, you’re totally ‘uber’, and you have a sword that can’t be defeated. Well in this case a spear. That’s right.

Deanne: Can I just say that my favourite part is that he blames his horse and his page in order to save his pride?

Jay: That’s exactly right. It’s really important what you’ve just said, because it’s Prince Arthur that suggests that it wasn’t really his fault. That has always troubled me, that very passage. You’re supposed to be an honourable knight Prince Arthur, for heaven’s sakes. And you dissemble, you stretch the truth there, you say ‘oh don’t worry about it, your saddle is all loose, your page is a real bumbler’.

Deanne: But it’s all in the spirit of temperance, right? keeping him rational.

Jay: Yes. What happened to Guyon’s great temperance, by the way? What is he doing in stanza nine? He has been knocked off his horse. I’ve seen this in so many movies of chivalry. Ivanhoe was my favourite as a boy, the old Walt Disney version of Ivanhoe, where they had the tournaments and they would knock each other off, there are countless such movies. Guyon has been knocked of his horse, he grabs his sword and he’s going to go avenge himself against the mounted rider with a big spear. He is going to be killed. He’s not being very temperate. This, right away, shows you that these allegorical figures, (Guyon is allegorical for temperance) are not perfect beings. Temperance is always an aspiration for him, it’s something he has to struggle to obtain, and he, repeatedly does not give into temptation in book two. He repeatedly finds within himself the resources to be temperate. That’s part of what’s so modern about characterization in Spencer. Even though these are allegorical figures, they seem to have real inward struggles. As we’ve said before about Romance often various facets of their virtue are displayed in other characters as well. So you get very multi-layered accounts of temperance in book two and chastity in book three. Now   we should say a word about Chastity before we go any further. Because the second many of our viewers saw the word they thought that this was about chastity, and thought, “chastity? Really?”

Chelsea:  It’s boring now.

Jay: Do I want to read a poem about chastity? Chastity did not mean simply virginity the way it seems to in contemporary Western culture. In fact, our heroine Britomart is in love with a man that she saw. A man named Artegall that we learn more about in later cantos of book three. She’s in love with this man named Artegall that she’s never met. She saw him in a vision, and immediately conceived a lifelong passion for him. So she’s full of desire. Desire, for Spencer as we’ll see in some later scenes, is a richly sexual, emotion. It includes all aspects of erotic, as well as intellectual love. Her chastity will encompass, ultimately, marriage.

The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 8-19

Britomart Sample [wikimedia]

Jay: In stanza eight the reader learns that this knight who unhorsed Guyon is a woman. How would Guyon reacted had he known that?

Chelsea: He would have lost it.

Jay:  Yes. He really would have lost it.

…….the famous Britomart it was,

Whom strange adventure did from Britaine fet,

To seek her lover (love farre sought alas,)

Whose image she had seene in Venus looking glas.

Jay: A looking glass that belongs to Venus, goddess of erotic love, who appears later in this canto in quite salacious portrayal. She appears again in canto 11 in an even more salacious setting. What do we make of this female disguised as a knight unhorsing Guyon? It’s the reason I wanted us to encounter this poem.

Deanne: I think one of the reasons the character is so invested with power is indicated by her name, Britomart. It’s a combination of Britain and then Mart. They are going to marshal, as in marshal law, or you think about warfare. Another dimension of Venus also devotes the figure Venus Armada, the armed Venus, the Venus who is also the goddess of war. So yes, he’s getting beaten by woman but she’s a woman who represents the roots of Britain and adds that goddess-like powerful roots that we see in Queen Elizabeth.

Chelsea: Though it’s a little curious that her victory is ascribed to this weapon that she has as opposed to her own power by the people watching.

Jay: Yes, but at the end in the final battle, in her bed chamber, she proves she’s pretty good with a sword too. I mean she is one powerful character. You suggested Deanne that she stands for Queen Elizabeth as sovereign of the power of England. And I think it is really important to keep that in mind. She’s also a figure that of the warrior maiden that really becomes a staple of fantasy literature. Certainly lots of online games give you the option to roll a female character, regardless of your gender and to play through the game, as in Lord of the Rings, as a female character. You can pick a female human, in Lord of the Rings, and be……

Chelsea: Or elf.


Éowyn [http://nerdreactor.com/]

Jay:  Also elf or hobbit. Hobbit is not such a imposing and striking-looking knight. I always play a hobbit if I possibly can, so I’m not impugning hobbits; but they’re not the glorious knight-like figure that Britomart presents. You can play a barbarian warrior woman, you can play a huntress woman, a kind of chaste Diana appearance. In “The Two Towers” Tolkien’s novel, and especially in the movie “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” (neither of which I’ve asked you to watch) gives us the image of Eowyn. She’s denominated as shield maiden. She’s really a type of Britomart figure. She is to the horsemen of Rohan what Britomart is to Britain. She incarnates that kind of martial spirit. She too sneaks off to war disguised as a man and even takes on a man’s name. So right after their encounter, what happens then Blaine?

Blaine: They immediately reconcile and pledge to defend each other on.

Jay: I thought the scene weird too modernized?

Blaine:  Yes, it was pretty quick.

Jay: It’s part of the Courtly tradition. You know, “worthy opponents”, you respect a person that was just your foe. And, he pledged too, he just proved his;  in this case “her,” Guyon doesn’t know it yet;  her honour, and you know that you can be allies forever. It’s really an aspect of the courtly tradition that is very hard for us to assimilate. We know that knights on the crusade to liberate the holy land were actually quite admiring of this characteristic in some of the Saracens that they fought. The chivalry tradition here despite the barbarism, the terrible aspects of the crusade, this aspect of the chivalric code is a bit of a tribute to their admiration for the warrior code that they encountered in the Crusades.

Jay: You get Spencer’s admiration for this aspect of the chivalric code in stanza 13, particularly the last two lines. Deanne, would you read those to us?

Deanne: Sure. Spencer tells us,

Let later age that noble use envie,

Vile rancour to avoid, and cruell surquederie*.

*which means arrogance.

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Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen -Johann Heinrich Füssli [Wikimedia]

Jay: Yes, arrogance. The passage ends with them riding off together. We have some lines of them questing and they go riding through forests and wastes et cetera. In stanza 15, this thing occurs out of the forest bursts this fleeing figure identified as fair Florimell. Who’s fair Florimell? What’s going on here? Deanne?

Deanne: Florimell is representative of…… well she’s another figure much like some of the other figures we’ve seen in the poem. She has long flowing blonde hair and she is associated with the ocean, she’s trying to get back to her ocean home. But she’s being pursued by a forester.

Jay:  So what’s she running from. Killian?

Killian: Immediately after Guyon and Prince Arthur are dazzled by Florimell’s appearance-  bursts from the thicket, a grizzly foster, which I believe is a grizzly forester, right?

Jay:  What’s on his mind?

Killian: Apparently he’s represented as being lustful right? So he’s after Florimell for some kind of terribly un-chivalric……….

Jay:  He really is out to rape her.

Killian:  Right.

Jay: I mean this is explicit lust and violence.

Killian:  Violence, Yes.

Jay: It really contrasts with temperance. How do the knights react to this?

Killian:  Prince Arthur and Guyon get one look at this and set off after the grizzly foster in the pursuit of their own………

Jay:  …..glory? Are they out for glory to stop him?

Killian: They’re out for glory and to defend Florimell right, defend her virtue.

The Duchess of Devonshire as Cynthia from Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene’.- Maria Cosway

Jay: Why didn’t she defend her own virtue, Don?

Don: She’s the typical damsel in distress. She’s typecast as almost the antithesis of the Britomart.

Jay: Yes.

Don:  She needs protection from this circle of, uh…

Jay:  So true. So true. And so again you get a typology of character. She is virtuous, she’s chaste. Get the pun? Go back to that argument. Fair Florimell is chaced. She’s chaste.

Chelsea: laughs

Jay: Now she gets it. She is chaste.

Don: Yes.

Jay: And maidenly and virginal. But she’s also being chased by a mad rapist. This demonstrates a feature of the book that we won’t be able to explore in this course which is that over the course of all the cantos of book three multiple stories are interwoven. This Squire that you haven’t even met, Arthur’s squire Timias, he chases after her too. Later he has his own adventures that take up an entire canto. Arthur and Guyon chase after her and they have separate adventures. Britomart has many more adventures than just canto one. It’s a real tapestry of interwoven narratives that are just being hinted at. So they run off stage in stanzas 15 through 19 and turn up in later cantos still chasing the forester and catching up with him. You don’t want to be in his shoes when they do. So why didn’t Britomart go, Killian

Killian: As we read in stanza 19, her

….constant mind,

Would not so lightly follow beauties chace,

This all comes back around to the characterization of Britomart that we’ve been hearing so far, as single minded, strong willed and continues on her own quest. She hangs around for a while to see if they come back and they don’t and she does just that. She carries on, on her own quest.

Jay: Well then, let’s carry on in our next video with the next part of canto 1.

The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 20-40

File:GF Watts Una Red Cross Knight.jpg

Una and the Red Cross Knight-George F. Watts

Jay: We’re picking up Spenser’s narrative in stanza 20. Britomart has gone off, continued her quest and she emerges from the wood and she sees a stately castle. Now we’re later going to learn that this is called Castle Joyeus, an obviously, allegorical name, for this castle and we’re going to explore why it’s called Castle Joyeus in a minute. But outside it, she sees these six knights attacking this one lone figure, a knight. We learn soon that it’s the Redcrosse Knight, which was the, he was the hero of book one, which shows again, just as we saw in Guyon from book two, we see Red Cross from book one, none of the knights disappeared, even though the book can be principally devoted to a single knight there. They’re all out there; their paths are crossing on their quest. So, Don, why are these six knights attacking the Redcrosse knight?

Don: It’s really interesting, Malecasta, who is the sovereign of, of Castle Joyeus has essentially dispatched these knights to, make sure that any men who pass through or by, the Castle Joyeus, pledge their affection for Malecasta.

Jay:  That’s right.

Don: Redcrosse won’t do that because he has professed his love for Una  So, the knights are basically dispatched by Malecasta to take care of this guy.

Chelsea: They’re ganking him.

Jay:  They’re ganking him, exactly. Exactly, like in video games, six to one.  Have you ever been in PvP when six people ganked……

Chelsea: well, I’m not much of a ganker, but I have been known to pwon camp people occasionally.

Jay: Britomart immediately goes to Redcrosse’s aid. Why does she do this?

Don:  Because she’s virtuous and because this is an obviously unjust scene and Britomart isn’t going to let that stand.

Jay:  Why doesn’t she let the six knights get the PvP points and take them out?  That’s part of the chivalric code again; it just comes back to it. You’d never fight unfairly the way that it would be done properly. It’s fine for a knight to go riding out of the castle and say, my lady love is more beautiful than yours and if you don’t, agree with me, we’ll have to fight.  That’s part of the illogic of this chivalric, code that’s mythic; of course, I don’t think a lot of people did this in real life.

Deanne: I think she also has an interesting perspective on this, because she’s a woman in love, or trying to find her love. In stanza 25, the third line, she says that she’s coming to his aid because for knight to leave his Ladie were great shame. You shouldn’t have to profess your love to someone you don’t love. That’s false.

Jay:  No, you should die rather than leave your love. True. So she just goes dashing off, our errant damsel, our wandering female, shield-maiden, goes dashing off to his defence. So Killian, how does she do against the six?

Killian: As we’ve seen already, not only is Britomart exceptionally skilled and strong in battle but she also has a, a weapon, a magical weapon. So long story short, they have no chance against her.

Jay: She totally pwns them.

Jay:  Yes.

Killian: Exactly,

Jay:  That would be the word.   Takes them out!

Deanne:  I never understood this reading it on my own. So she kills three, she, I guess she kills three of them are on the ground.

Jay: No, she doesn’t kill them. No, they’re not on horses either.

Deanne: She, well, they, okay, she knocks….

Jay:…him down.

Chelsea: She incapacitates them.

Jay Right.

Deanne: ….and then, the other one, the other knight, kills the fourth, the other knight kills, and then there are two left, two….

Jay: No, she doesn’t kill any of them.

Deanne:  Okay, well.

Killian: Defeated, anyway.

Deanne: Three on the ground she laid and then where does it tell you, that they get up and go back to the castle?.

Jay:  You see them later.

Don:  No, they just re-spawn

Deanne: It’s really, no, I was thinking the same thing.

Don: Yes.

Deanne: They’re dead and then they …….

Don: Yes. I….

Deanne: Are they replaced by….., like, did they re-spawn?

Chelsea:  Because I’ve never heard anybody use ‘laid’ in that context without meaning that the person has been laid low, that they’re dead.

Jay:  They’re laid low but they’re not dead. She wounds each of them. The characters in this poem get wounded a lot, but they seem fine later.

Chelsea:  Like, ‘what’s-his-face’s’ horse takes that blow for him and nobody mentions it. It missed me, but it hit the horse, but no one cares.

Jay:  He’s a noble steed. It’s like, in some PvP, when you defeat your opponent, the opponent isn’t dead, just is incapacitated for a little and then gets up again. So after the encounter on the plain, they enter Castle Joyeus. So, Blaine tell us about this castle, it’s described really vividly.

Blaine: It’s described as sumptuous with gold and jewels encrusted everywhere and just a real sensual place, like a den of iniquity that’s just over the top with luxury, the opposite of chastity.

Jay:  Yes, it seems like all the visual splendour is appealing to the eyes. Later you hear the music, beautiful music which is appealing to the ear. Flowers, scents are perfumed around. It’s really just indulgence.  It’s a castle of joy in the sense of pleasure, illicit pleasure, sensual pleasure. It’s completely over the top. A prominent feature of it in stanzas 34 through 38 is the description of a tapestry. If you look at the beginning of stanza 34, the walls were round about apparelled with costly clothes; clothes being a word for tapestry; Of Arras and of Toure, which were famous locations for tapestry making. This is a tapestry that depicts the love of Venus and Adonis, the story of that. Killian talk to us about the Venus tapestries as I like to call them.

Killian:  Sure!  First of all, what we’re getting here is an example of ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a type of remediation. In this case we have a poetic description of piece of visual art. As you’ve been saying in this case tapestry. I think that here and elsewhere we see Spencer’s spectacular talent for vivid description of visual scenes. The tapestry depicts the story of Venus and Adonis, which we can get from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. There’s also a very famous poem by Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, a really famous story about temptation and seduction. Venus, the goddess of love, seduces Adonis. What we get here is a great deal of sensory and sensual description in stanza 36,

She secretly, would search each daintie lim,

And throw into well sweet Rosemaryes,

And fragrant violets, and Pances trim.

And ever with sweet Nectar, she did sprinkle him.

Killian:  We get this…, it’s almost as though we can reach out and touch this or smell this.

Jay:  so let’s look at that word, “daintie.”

Deanne: Adonis is usually a little effeminized in portrayals. Venus on the other hand, I mentioned the Venus Armada in another discussion on the fairy queen, Venus is often seen as very assertive, war-like even and so there’s a little room for movement in the gender portrayals here.

Jay:  Effeminacy of the Adonis is a common motif in art. Venus and Adonis from Ovid were portrayed again and again. Let me show you some slides that give us images of this famous love and you’ll see that in Venus is not always portrayed particularly in the Renaissance, in her warlike aspect, but often in a lush, sensual, sexuality and Adonis is a young boy.

Images from Wikimedia

Paolo Veronese, Venus and Adonis (ca. 1580), Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

File:Venus y Adonis (Veronese).jpg

Titian, Venus and Adonis (1554), Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

File:Venus and Adonis by Titian.jpg

Peter Paul Rubens, Venus and Adonis, Metropolitan Museum of Art

File:Peter Paul Rubens 116.jpg

Cornelis van Haarlem, Venus and Adonis (1614), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen

File:Cornelis van Haarlem - Venus en Adonis.jpg


Jay:  So finish the story, what happens to Adonis, in the myth and in the tapestry?

Killian  We’ve been talking about this idea that Adonis is in a submissive position to Venus. But Adonis begins to push back against this. He decides that he really wants to go hunting. Venus is very concerned about this. She’s worried about what’s going to happen to Adonis. Her fears are justified because the final scene in the tapestry is Adonis bleeding to death, deadly engorged as we see in in stanza 38 of a great wild boar.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Adonis (1614), The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

File:Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Adonis, ca. 1614. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.jpg


Killian: Venus saw that. When she recognizes that Adonis is beyond help she changes him into a flower which is as we here at the end of stanza 38. In that cloth was wrought, as if it lively grew. Pretty amazing turn of phrase.

Jay:  In The Two Towers, Tolkien and in the film, Theoden’s son is killed is buried. There’s a powerful scene where Gandalf is talking to Theoden about his son Théodred and his burial and the flowers that grow over his grave.

Jay:  It an aversion of that transmutation into a flower. Do you recall from Ovid where Adonis was gored?

Killian: I believe he’s gored in his groin?

Jay:  He certainly is, which has very sexual imagery. Going back to the kind of reversals of roles that we’re talking about, it’s the male figure that takes a wound in his groin that proves fatal, an obvious image of a sexual wound that proves fatal to Adonis, just as a sexual wound would prove fatal to Britomart’s chastity. She’s coming into this palace that is just over-the-top luxury and passing by this allegory of the very opposite of chastity, one of the more erotic tales out of Ovid, with a very unhappy ending as well.

Chelsea: It’s interesting that we’re talking about Britomart and all these role reversals. She specializes in fighting with a spear, which is pretty much the most phallic image you can come up with. It doesn’t stop with her merely pretending to be a man. She fights with a spear and stabs other men with it.

Jay:  So after the passages about the Venus and Adonis tapestry where we come into the banqueting hall what’s going on in the banqueting hall? These stanzas 39 and 40.

Deanne: They are, to quote Stanza 39, swimming deep in sensual desires.  There are beds placed around the banquet womb, oh, banquet womb was probably a Freudian slip, banquet room,  where there are lascivious activities going on.

Jay:   Yes, some are sleeping ‘out of time’, meaning taking naps. I suspect they’ve taken so much wine that they passed out, sleeping ‘out of time’. Others are making love. Beds probably means couches it’s orgiastic. In the next class we’ll take up, Britomart’s audience with Malecasta.

The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 41-67

Jay:   Deanne when Britomart meets Malecasta they form quite a contrast don’t they? This is a really different pair of women.

Deanne:  Absolutely. We know from her name. You hear the ‘Mal’, the Latin root ‘bad’. Readers of Harry Potter will recognize that from the Malfoys, Draco Malfoy. We know immediately that she’s going to be a villainous character. She’s described in ways that make her markedly different, visually from Britomart, who is wearing her armour. Then we see Malecasta in gold, in lush attire, We don’t know her name yet, and we’re not told her name until later, in stanza 57 when we find out her true nature, that it is an evil nature, that she’s, trying to lure Britomart into evil. If you contrast her to the description of Britomart given a little bit further ahead of where Malecasta is described on 41 through 43. In stanza 46, we find out that Britomart is

…..full of amiable grace,

And many tenour mixed therewithall,

That as the one stird up affections bace,

So th’ other did men’s rash desires apall.

Deanne:  Whereas Malecasta makes everyone lust after her, Britomart inspires love but a chaste kind of love.

Jay:  Malecasta says, she invites them all to take off their armour,

Deanne:   Bad news. Bad idea.

Jay:  But Britomart does.

Deanne:  Well, not yet.

Jay:  Yes.

Chelsea: I was going to say, I think that armour here has two meanings, both the literal armour that they’re wearing, but also their moral armour.

Jay:  That’s right. Yes. in stanza 44 we get names for the the knights that we have already met out there on the plain, in that battle. The six knights and we learn they are brothers. Don talk about their names.

Don: Yes. Their names are Gardante, which in the latinae or the Italian derivation would mean gazing or regarding. Parlante which refers to speaking; Jocante,  laughing; Basciante would be representative of kissing; Bacchante of revelling, and Noctante, night or night time.

Jay:  Yes. The dangerous time. In stanza 42, Britomart refuses to get, take her armour off, but she does lift her, visor up, and, Malacasta sees her face, is instantly smitten with love.

Chelsea: Well, it’s funny you said love, because I’m not sure that, that’s the accurate word here. The, the next couple stanzas is basically Malecasta of filling up with lust, like an overflowing beaker or something.

Jay:  Yes, that’s right. You’re so right, it is not love.  It is not, she fell in lust, as the saying goes.

Chelsea:  Yes, the next couple of stanzas are basically her getting very excited about Britomart’s presence, and trying to seduce her.

Jay:   Based on one glimpse. Of her face.

Chelsea:   ….of her face, and the knowledge that she bested her knights.

Jay:    So, this is, you know…….

Chelsea:  Shallow.

Jay:   It’s a female’s face,

Chelsea: Like Adonis there is a certain attraction in the beauty of these slightly effeminized male.

Jay:  That’s right. Do you think Spencer intends homoerotic nuance here or not?

Chelsea: He’s doing all kinds of things with gender. I don’t think that it’s necessarily clear here that he’s suggesting one specific thing, at the exclusion of others.   As we’ve seen in other places in the text, he loves the double entendre.

Jay:   Does it surprise you, the level of erotic explicitness in this canto?

Deanne: If you’re accustomed to reading work from this period, it’s not surprising at all.  And perhaps even less so if you’re accustomed to reading Ovid, one of the major sources for this, where pretty much every story is based on a ravishment or in other words, usually a rape. I think that this character Malecasta is especially lustful, but, these kinds of errant desires are almost as common as the errant knights in these stories.

Jay:   How does Britomart react to Malecasta’s efforts at seduction?

Blaine: She’s innocent, and thinks of it as friendship and then she starts to sympathize with her desires.

Jay:  Beginning of stanza 54.

Full easie was for her to haue beliefe,

Who by self-feeling of her feeble sexe,

And by long triall of the inward griefe,

Wherewith imperious loue her hart did vexe,

Could iudge what paines do louing harts perplexe.

Who meanes no guile, be guiled soonest shall,

And to faire semblaunce doth light faith annexe;

The bird, that knowes not the false fowlers call,

Into his hidden net full easily doth fall.

Jay: First of all. Why does she sympathize with Malecasta’s desire?

Blaine: Because she’s longing for her own…

Jay:  For her own love?

Blaine: Yes.

Jay: And so, she is longing for her own pure love. She just assumes another woman would be in love in the same way you’ve been longing for. It’s really her innocence that makes her vulnerable. I want us to think about this vulnerability again. The bird that knows not the false fowlers call. Into his hidden net full easily doth fall. What is Spencer saying about vulnerability here? Yes.

Killian: We’ve talked a bit it about how, one of the reasons that the Faerie Queene works for us as a story is because the ideas are complex. We’re not just dealing with abstractions, we’re dealing with characters. One of the things that makes Britomart’s experience here feel real, is the idea that we have an acknowledgement that innocence has it’s disadvantages as well.  And that when confronted with certain kinds of experience, innocence chastity may not be able to kind of read the situation.

Jay:  So in stanzas 56 and 57, things become riotous really, the night gets out of control. You have to wonder, from Britomart’s thinking about this, this chaste woman has been surrounded by a complete orgy scene really. Let’s look at 58 closely,

High time it seemed then for euery wight

Them to betake vnto their kindly rest;

Eftsoones long waxen torches weren light,

Vnto their bowres to guiden euery guest:

Tho when the Britonesse saw all the rest

Auoided quite, she gan her selfe despoile,

And safe commit to her soft fethered nest,

Where through long watch, & late dayes weary toile,

She soundly slept, & carefull thoughts did quite assoile

Jay:  The word, ‘despoil’, she’s just taking off her armour. Usually that word is used to mean to take away the armour of someone you’ve just defeated, and it doesn’t mean that here. She’s just undressing. “Avoided quiet” means she’s alone in her bedroom. I think that the emphasis, the oddity of that word ‘despoil’ continues the theme of vulnerability. It’s not that she has been literally defeated at all. She’s near a dangerous moment and ‘despoil’ registers that. Now we come to the crux of the canto. Britomart takes off her clothes; she’s wearing a shift, a kind of a nightgown, crawls into bed. What happens, Killian?

Killian: It’s worth stressing again and again this idea that we identify with Britomart in this scene, in her position of extreme vulnerability. Malecasta we’re told, is so overcome by lust for Britomart that Malecasta can’t sleep and gets up, creeps into Britomart’s bed chamber, lies down next to her, at first, in a pretty, this is not a very technical term, but a pretty creepy exchange. Britomart doesn’t seem to wake up, Malecasta lies next to her, and then Britomart does stir. She turns over, realizes what’s happening, and of course springs from her bed.

Jay:  Good, keep going, Killian  What happens next?

Killian:  After Britomart leaps out of bed, and arms herself, Malecasta raises the alarm. This then, causes a scene of total confusion. Knights arrive on the scene and the question is whose in the wrong in the situation.

Jay:  Yes, because, what’s happened to Malecasta, she’s swooned straight away, she’s lying on the floor.

Killian:  Right.

Jay:   And Britomart is standing over her with her sword drawn, and there are six knights. I find this a really comic scene. These six knights just hear Malecasta’s scream, come rushing into the room, they see Britomart standing over the sword they don’t immediately leap into battle. Why not? What holds them back initially from just jumping in and fighting?

Deanne: They’re two women. Who do you fight?

Jay:  Oh, you’re too charitable, that’s not true. One’s already faded away, and the other’s standing there with a sword. You know who to fight.

Deanne: Yes.

Jay:  What’s the problem? She’s just beaten the tar out of them earlier that afternoon, they’re scared of her!  Eventually in comes her companion, knight, and the Redcrosse comes in to her aid and suddenly they realize, well Okay and then all may mayhem breaks loose, a battle royale, six knights against the two. You get a great image of Britomart and Redcrosse fighting shoulder to shoulder. Just like Legolas and one of the other companions, shoulder to shoulder, fighting off one of them. Stanza 65; Gardante coward that he is instead of engaging in close combat pulls out a bow and arrow and shoots her.

Deanne:  And she’s grazed and she has a, in the side and she has a bloody wound that seeps through her lilly gown so this kind of evokes Adonis’s wound earlier.

Jay:  Yes.

Deanne:  And Yes.

Jay:  Yes

Deanne:  Where he is a fair young man who’s gored by the, the boar, and we see his scarlet blood pouring forth.

Jay:  So, would his, would it be reading too much into it to say that, her honour’s been stained?

Chelsea: I actually interpreted the staining of the smock to be more an indication that her naivety has been a little bit…

Jay:  Yes.

Chelsea: Stained, or updated, or…..

Jay:  Definitely. Yes.

Chelsea: She’s getting experience points here.

Jay:  Right. I think that’s so. So well put. It’s not that her virginity has been stained, that image of red stain on a white gown. This classic image of sexual de-floweration, but you’re right, it’s not that. She hasn’t been deflowered. She is still chaste. But she’s vulnerable and her honour has been besmirched. Spencer is really careful to indicate the sexual threat. Look at stanza 65.

But one of those sixe knights, Gardante hight,

Drew out a deadly bow and arrow keene,

Which forth he sent with felonous despight,

And fell intent against the virgin sheene:


Jay:  He wants to emphasize that, this, she is a virgin in her bedroom.


The mortall steele stayd not, till it was seene

To gore her side, yet was the wound not deepe,


Jay:  You already mentioned Adonis and the boar.  Again Spencer, who has put the Venus and Adonis story into the canto, could not be accidentally choosing the word gore there.


But lightly rased her soft silken skin,

That drops of purple bloud thereout did weepe,

Which did her lilly smock with staines of vermeil steepe.

The mortal steel stayd not, till it was seene to gore her side.

Chelsea: We’re talking about allusions to other works. One of the things that this gets to, for me, is that this is a very biblical, religious imagery. Normally we describe blood as being red, to call it purple is a stretch. Purple is a colour associated with Christ. She’s injured in her side, which is Christ’s wound, and you have another white lamb stained.

Jay:   Lily, as well.

Chelsea: Right.

Jay:  The emblem of Christ, the allegory, is multi-layered. It’s not merely sexual, in this scene, but religious, as well. In 66,

Wherewith enrag’d she fiercely at them flew,

And with her flaming sword about her layd,

That none of them foule mischiefe could eschew,

But with her dreadfull strokes were all dismayd:

Here, there, and euery where about her swayd

Her wrathfull steele, that none mote it abide;

And eke the Redcrosse knight gaue her good aid,

Ay ioyning foot to foot, and side to side,

Jay:  So they won the day. I hope that this taste of Spenserian poetry has whetted your appetite for more. I will tell you more about what we’ve done in the past with this poem in terms of game design in our next class.

 Gameplay: Faerie Queene Online

StudyJay: In this session, we’re going to discuss how you can use game design platforms to remediate stories of your own. I’m going to show you how some students of mine at Vanderbilt created a game based on book three of the Faerie Queen. You enter the game through a three dimensional model of our seminar room at Vanderbilt. Here you see my character, Jay Clayton, designed by one of the students, and Matt Hall, next to me. He’s my co-teacher and we’re both uninjured at the moment. The students populated the room with some of their own characters, David Cullens and Mikhail Taylor. They put medieval representations of the LCD display board and the white screen or smart board.As you can see, there are two doors. One’s an entrance to the game proper, the jousting plain, and the other is Edmund Spenser’s study.

StudyLet’s go take a look at Spenser’s study. This is a rather messy study; it was the student’s conceptions, of what a study might look like. On the desk you’ll see here, two cantos from Spenser’s Mutabilitie Cantos. Those of you that have read them will know that they are about the journey of the continuous circle between life and death. Mutability, all life is mutability. I hope you don’t ever come back to this room. This is the room where your character re-spawns, if you’ve been killed out in the game world. When you re-spawn in this room, you’re asked to read two stanzas from the Mutability cantos and then you can go through the other door in this room into the Garden of Adonis.

Jousing PlainThe Garden of Adonis, as Spenser experts know, is the place in Spenser’s mythology, where souls go to wait to be born or reborn. So, it’s a very fitting place for you to re-spawn from. Let’s go into the game itself by the front door. The first zone is called the jousting plain. It’s where your character has an encounter with Guyon the Knight. Britomart is not in evidence and as you can see the jousting plain is rather sparsely populated. The students haven’t done much work on this section other than to put Glauce in there. If you try to interact with Glauce, nothing much happens. This is not a fully-realized realm, zone yet. You can exit from it over here to the northeast. When you exit from the jousting plain, you find yourself on the edge of a forest.Let’s see how Spenser describes the forest.

At length they came into a forrest wyde,

Whose hideous horror and sad trembling sound

Full griesly seemed……

ForestAs you remember, that’s what happened to Britomart, Guyon, and the Redcrosse knight, when they left the jousting plain and went off looking for adventures. The first adventure they had, was the encounter with the forester, who was chasing fair Florimell. Spenser’s description prompted Washington Allston, the 19th century painter, to compose his own image of the flight of Florimell. Here is how Spenser himself described it.

All suddenly out of the thickest brush,

Upon a milk-white Palfrey all alone,

A goodly Ladie did foreby them rush,


her eye she backward threw,

As fearing evil that pursued her fast;

And her fair yellow locks behind her


 And as you come over here into the forest, you see ahead of you, a distraught, injured woman. And you can have a small interaction with her. “I hope you’ll excuse me, stranger, but I haven’t the time to speak. I have some pressing matters on my mind.” In a better version of this game, she would probably want to give you some quests, but there aren’t any at present.

RC Knight questSo we’re back in the game world. As you can see, there’s a porter here to the forester’s home where you can go visit the home where the forester came from, the rather malevolent character that’s chasing fair Florimell. I don’t think we’ll go there today. We come over here, and we find an entrance to our next realm. This is the realm of Castle Joyeus. You’ve been to Castle Joyeus in Spenser’s poem. Now let’s see how we’ve designed it in Faerie Queene Online. This turns out to be an immense area full of, plains, hills, giant trees. Look up ahead, there is the Redcrosse knight himself. Let’s see if he has a quest for us. He runs to me, “You there please help me those knights are threatening to attack me.” You have choice here you can say ”Of course those knaves have no honour” or, “I am sorry but I fear I am too weak to help”. Well, hopefully you’re not going to take number two, not if you’re a knight on a romance quest. Let’s fight the six knights. After you’ve wiped out the six knights which, I must say, does not exactly correspond to what happens in the Faerie Queene. But remember, we’re not interested in faithful and transparent. We are remediating this story for our own uses. But after you, killed them all, you get some treasure on the ground, and of course you want to pick up their treasure.

six knightsLet’s go back to Redcrosse Knight to see if he has anything else we can do. “Thank you for your help in dealing with those knights. I would surely have fallen if I were alone”.” I’m glad to have routed those honourless men. Is there anything else troubling you?”.” Well, to tell the truth, I have this gory wound that was inflicted in my fight with those six guards”.” Oh, is there anything I can do to help? I need some medicine to clean the wood, wound, if you could collect some schnozzberries found in the forest to the south, that’d be great. I can mix these berries with a special mix that I have, and it will help disinfect and heal my wound”.” Will do. Be right back. Don’t go dying on me, you hear?” You might think that’s not the most elegant dialog you’ve ever heard. Let me remind you that it was written by the students and it was their choice to write it that way. I happen to know that they thought it was pretty funny to ham up the dialogue, as if it was a really hokey medieval setting.

villageThe Redcrosse knight has in effect given us another quest. A side quest, if you will. You can see a road that leads off to some farms over there and I know from having explored this region, the schnozzberries are located over there. So I am going to run over and take a look. There is a farm over here to my left we have a barn, cattle. I don’t see any schnozzberries. Maybe they’re out in this field here. Over here you see there’s a village. What I’d like for you to notice about the size of this zone that they’ve built is how many houses they’ve been able to place in it, all the NPCs they have designed, the various interactions you can have with characters. I am just going to zip through this one. Each of these characters can give you another little side quest. Or sometimes they just give you information. But rather than doing any of these side quests, let’s go back to Castle Joyeus itself.

We know from having read the poem that some very interesting things could be going on inside that castle. Well, Castle Joyeus is surrounded by a moat, which of course is no surprise for a castle. It’s a large imposing structure. It’s a door that is conveniently labelled to Castle Joyeus. It’s very good of these medieval castle builders to put signs on their building so that you know where to go. Inside Castle Joyeus we find ourselves in the dining hall. Spenser’s spends a lot of time describing the castle but here is a short excerpt.

Long were it to describe the goodly frame,

And stately port of Castle Joyeus,


Where they were entertained with courteous

And comely glee of many gracious

Fair ladies, and of many a gentle knight.

You can see it’s full of characters, NPCs, wandering around rather aimlessly. Spenser describes the scene this way.

And all was full of Damzels, and of Squires,

Dauncing and reveling both day and night,

And swimming deepe in sensuall desires.

Inside the castleThere’s a head bar maid on the other side of this really long bar. My students clearly felt that the medieval castle needed a big, long bar for various characters to belly up to. There’s a break in the bar. Let’s go to this door and come inside to greet, the head barmaid. “Welcome to Castle Joyeus, can I get you a drink?”. “Hello my fair lady how are you this fine eve?”.” Don’t start with me, dearest. Let me know if you need anything but keep your hands to yourself”. I’m sorry.

Here we are back in the kitchen behind the dining hall. Oh look at those three big baking ovens and a nice fire pit, over here all kinds of things with multiple doors to other rooms. The fact is this Castle Joyeus is quite a maze. There’s room for many more modules including, I would think, a space for Malecasta’s bedroom, as well as the room Britomart goes to spend the night. As you know, some fairly dramatic events take place in Britomart’s bedroom. That seems like a logical candidate for someone to build to supplement this remediation of Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Int with KnightAfter we finished exploring Castle Joyeus and the surrounding farm lands, we zoned into a new area called Busirane’s Forest which is in a later canto of book three. You come to a forest and here you have a long interaction with a woodsman who will give you a quest. But I’m not going to take the quest. Instead, I’m going to move rapidly on through this forest, because I know what awaits me. The Castle Busirane, which several dramatic events  in canto 11 and 12, toward the end of book three take place. You can see this is a beautiful wooded area with a stream running through it that serves as a path to guide your route. Having fought off those beasts, I have an interaction with the knight I meet here. This knight turns out to be the lover of Amoret who is in cruel captivity and he asks us to go rescue his lover Amoret from the wicked sorcerer Busirane. We of course decide to do so and embark on our quest.

giant and fireIf there are any among us who have read the entirety of book three of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, you will remember that prior to reaching Castle Busirane, you have a run in with Oliphant, a giant, and in your capacity as Britomart, and you send that giant packing. Here you see that my character faces Oliphant. You also remember that castle Busirane was surrounded by a circle of fire and it turns out that this fire is magic fire. Only the purest and most chaste can go through it without being burned. After we deal with Oliphant, perhaps, if we’re still alive, we can just find out whether our character is pure enough to enter castle Busirane. Let’s go confront this terrifying-looking giant. I hit him with some of my own fire. And down he goes. Well, that wasn’t much of a giant, was he? There’s the ring of fire.  I’m going to risk it, I’m going to run through the fire and just see if I can get into the gate over there, to Castle Bisseran. Oh my gosh! my character must be a chaste knight and true. I’m inside Castle Busirane. Inside, many an adventurer awaits us. You can see some figures like Schutemor, and the mask that takes place in there.

Tapestry - Venus admonishing Cupid

Tapestry – Venus admonishing Cupid-from the V&A’s collections

I want to, end by showing the way the students have remediated the painting. In castle Busirane, there’s a tapestry described in detail by Spenser, we call it The Cupid Tapestry because it tells many of the tales about Cupid’s misadventures. The students chose to remediate it in a form of ekphrasis which is unique to a video game. You see they place on the wall here, a portrait of Cupid. But beneath, there is an entrance that allows you to zone into the tapestry. So, instead of having the ekphrastic moment be depicted statically on the wall, the way it is in a painting or in poetry that describes a painting with multiple panels, instead of that, you actually get to penetrate into the tapestry as if you were going into the story itself. Let’s go into the painting now ourselves. Once you’re inside the painting, you see a gorgeous wooded plain before you, with flower growing and a great circular building straight ahead. Inside, you’ll find all the wonders of Cupid’s paradise. I think this is a fitting place to end our walkthrough of Faerie Queene Online. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope it’s given you some ideas of how you could remediate your own favourite work of literature.

Thank you.

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  1. Jay Clayton says:

    Reblogged this on Syllabus – Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative and commented:
    Beautiful illustrations in this transcription of Week 5 lectures. Thanks!

  2. Thanks a lot for the transcripts and links! Really helpful. A small correction if I may: in the second video they probably mean this rebellion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Desmond_Rebellion, not the anabaptist rebellion in Münster, Germany

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Thank you for pointing this out. Yes it certainly would be Munster in Ireland and not in Germany. A case of rushing I think there.

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