Earl's Court

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

Cupid looked with pleasure at the poor damsel Amoretta and at her heart lying in a bowl.

Britomatis enters a richly-furnished room. The walls all around are covered with paintings of the gods who have fallen to Cupid’s arrows – the Roman god Jupiter in all his various disguises, mating with mortals, Apollo, Neptune, Saturn and Ares, all smitten by love and descending to the Earth to satisfy their lust. In the room is an altar on which there is an image of the god Cupid, blindfolded and holding a bow and arrow while treading a dragon beneath his feet, with both its eyes shot through.

Britomatis moves into another room, which is just as lavishly furnished. It has 'be bold' inscribed over the door. There are statues and figurines of pure gold, of ancient people and monsters, leaders and conquerors whose broken armour testify to their capture by cruel love. And over another door is written 'be not too bold'. But strangest of all, the place is entirely devoid of any living thing. It is deserted. Night begins to fall, and Britomatis sits in a corner, reluctant to remove any of her armour – for she is a damsel dressed as a knight.

In the darkness, trumpets sound and a terrific wind springs up, vibrations like an earthquake; and through a locked door comes a man dressed in theatrical costume, like the narrator in a tragedy. He gives his piece and leaves through the same door. Whereupon there enters a rout of minstrels and singers, bards and musicians, playing and dancing; and behind them a procession of the moods and emotions of love – fancy, desire, doubt, fear, hope, suspicion, deceit, grief, fury, pleasure, cruelty. Cruelty leads a maiden upon whose bared chest is a fearful wound. From this wound her heart is drawn out and laid in a silver bowl. Cruelty and spite hold her up, when her weake feete could scarcely her sustaine.

Cupid himself enters and asking that his blindfold be removed, looks with pleasure at the poor damsel Amoretta and at her heart lying in a bowl; then, putting back his blindfold, he makes his exit. At his departure, and that of all the players, including Amoretta, the door is slammed tightly shut and Britomatis can find no way of opening it again.

Having earlier learned from the distraught knight Sir Scudamore that things have been going on like this every night for the last seven months, and knowing that this same performance will be enacted the following night, Britomatis spends another day in the room by herself, waiting beside the door.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book III, Cantos XI and XII.

See for yourself

Edmund Spenser – Wikipedia

The Faerie Queene – Wikipedia

Cupid – Wikipedia

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