Monday, May 19, 2014

Despair! But the Lady Rescues - Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto 9

In a way, canto 9 was somewhat appropriate for me today. I was feeling a depressed. Various things aren't going well in my life. My hopes of an increasing blog readership are being met with really sorry blog stats. In this canto, we meet Despair, who furnishes the means to kill yourself and then convinces you to do so.

Before we do so, Arthur (not yet king) tells his background, as much as he knows it, since Merlin would only tell him that he "was sonne and heire unto a king." What Una wants to know is
what adventure. or what high intent,
Hath brought you hither into Faery land,
We've been told a few times that the Redcrosse Knight is an elf, but despite the sorcerers, monsters, and allegorical personages that have been wandering about, I think this is our first confirmation that we are not in the everyday world. Moreover, it's clear that Arthur belongs to our world, not to Faery land, as comfortable as he may be in the world of the poem.

But Arthur isn't there for the scenery. He's come there for a purpose. He has a
fresh bleeding wound, which day and night
Whilome doth rancle in my riven brest.
A wound that does not heal. Even as a pre-existing condition, that should be covered under the Affordable Care Act. But this is a wound that my training in Medieval Studies has prepared me for. Wound at the heart = love wound. That's an easy one. Arthur went from someone who scorned love to one who loved someone he couldn't have. He met and fell in love with a beautiful maiden who was actually the Queen of Faeries. She returned his love,
She to me made, and badd me love her deare;
For dearely sure her love was to me bent, 
but there was a problem, because
 When I awoke, and found her place devoyd,
And nought but pressed gras where she had lyen,
I sorrowed all so much as earst I joyd,
And washed all her place with watry eyen.
The Queen of the Faeries is definitely a "love 'em and leave 'em" type. And worse, Arthur's love has left him with the physical manifestation of a bleeding wound on his chest. After, Arthur and the Redcrosse Knight exchange gifts.
Prince Arthur gave a boxe of Diamond sure,
Embowd with old and gorgeous ornament,
Wherein were closd few drops of liquor pure,
Of wondrous worth, and vertue excellent,
That any wownd could heale incontinent.
Wow. That is one incredible gift, though it does seem that the potion either can't heal the wound on Arthur's chest or that he's saving it for some really serious wound. The problem with having the personification of Holiness as a friend is that the Redcross Knight gives Arthur a Bible. Okay, it was gold letters, but still…

After Arthur leaves them, they encounter Sir Trevisan, who is still "trembling every joynt" from a prior encounter with Despair. Despair has managed to fell Trevisan's companion, Sir Terwin. They go to Despair's cave and find him there, surrounded by the corpses of those he has driven to their deaths. Next to him, is the still bleeding corpse of Sir Terwin.

The battle with Despair is (no surprise) completely verbal. Despair simply tries to talk the Redcross Knight to death. Finally, with the knight weakening, Despair hands him a dagger. The knight is ready to kill himself. The Redcross Knight (that is, Holiness) isn't sufficient to combat Despair, without the help of Truth.

This, finally, is an interesting reversal of the chivalric tale. The lady, who has done nothing through these cantos but get herself into peril which someone else must get her out of, is now the rescuer. As with the knight's struggle with Despair, this is verbal, and she wins.

At the end, Despair, having failed in his task,
He chose an halter from among the rest,
And with it hong him selfe, unbid, unblest.
But it doesn't work that way for Despair; he can't actually commit suicide himself.
But death he could not worke himselfe thereby
For thousand times he so him selfe had drest
Yet nathelesse it could not doe him die,
Till he should die his last, that is, eternally.

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