A Summary of Book II of Spenser's Faerie Queene

The Legend of Sir Guyon, or of Temperance


Copyright Thad Curtz, Ph.D

Member of the Faculty

The Evergreen State College



This summary may be freely used or reproduced by students or teachers, but may not be reproduced or used for commercial purposes of any sort without the author's permission.


Canto 1

Archimago escapes from the dungeon; Una's now beyond his reach, and he can no longer trick Redcrosse. However, he meets Sir Guyon, who is accompanied by the Palmer, and tells him Redcrosse has raped a virgin. Duessa pretends to be the virgin and identifies Redcrosse as her attacker. Sir Guyon attacks Redcrosse, but recognizes him at the last minute. The Palmer and Sir Guyon continue on their way and come upon a woman grieving next to her dead husband, who has been enchanted and then cleverly poisoned by the sorceress Acrasia. The woman stabs herself, revives briefly to tell Guyon her story, and dies, leaving her baby with bloody hands. Sir Guyon makes an oath to revenge their death.


Canto 2

Guyon tries to wash the orphan's blood stained hands in a fountain, but he can't clean them. He's amazed, until the Palmer tells him the story of its origin -  a nymph fleeing the lust of Faunus became a fountain to escape him, and her waters still cannot be made impure. Guyon's horse disappears during this episode, so he walks until they get to a castle three sisters share. Medina, the middle sister welcomes him. Her quarrelsome older and younger sisters are angry about her new guest and the two knights who are wooing them (our old friend SansLoi and Hudibras) attack Guyon (and each other). The sisters encourage the battle, but Medina runs into the fight and her appeals establish a truce. They have a banquet, at which Medina gets Guyon to tell about Gloriana and his quest.


Canto 3


Guyon leaves the baby with Medina and hikes on. Meanwhile, Braggadocchio, who has stolen Guyonıs horse and spear, attacks Trompart. a scheming flatterer who becomes his servant. They meet Archimago, who tells him lies about how Guyon and Red Crosse have killed a knight and his lady.  Though Braggadocio claims he can deal with them barehanded, Archimago goes off to steal Prince Arthur's sword to help him. Braggadochio and Trompart meet Belphoebe, a beautiful armed virgin. She frightens them and attracts them, but she defends herself from Braggadochio's efforts to court her or embrace her, and rides away.


Canto 4

Meanwhile, Sir Guyon meets Furor, dragging a squire along the ground while a hag named Occasion follows him provoking his anger. Guyon is about to attack Furor, but the Palmer warns him he has to begin with Occasion, and he binds them both up. The squire tells Guyon how he was about to marry a lady when his friend Philemon told him she'd been unfaithful and then staged a little scene that led the squire to believe he'd seen his love betraying him, leading him to murder the lady, poison his friend and get captured by Furor. While the Palmer and Guyon are giving the squire advice, a servant named Atin runs up. He warns them to look out for his master, a knight named Pyrochles, who's sent him to get Occasion. He criticizes them for having tied her up, says Pyrochles will make them pay for it, and hurls a dart at Guyon, who stops it with his shield.


Canto 5


Pyrochles rides up and Guyon defeats him, but lets him live. Pyrochles says he's come to free the old lady Guyon tied up and gets him to release Occasion, but she immediately gets Furor to attack Pyrochles and start battering him. The Palmer stops Guyon from rescuing him. Meanwhile, Atin has gone off, found Pyrochles's brother Cymochles (who is one of Acrasia's lovers) lounging in luxurious ease, and summoned him to help fight Guyon.


Canto 6

On their way back, they try to cross a lake on Phedria's (aka Merth's) boat, but she leaves Atin on the shore, flirts with Cymochles, takes him out to an island, lulls him asleep in her lap and leaves him. Back on the shore, she picks up Guyon, leaving the Palmer behind, and takes him out to the island. He resists her attractions, but Cymochles wakes up, meets them, and attacks Guyon. Guyon smashes his helmet, but Phedria rushes between them and persuades them to stop. Guyon gets her to take him back to land, where Atin, who's still waiting, rails at him. Guyon rides off, and Atin's master Pyrocles rushes up, burning from Furor's flames, and tries to drown himself in the lake. Atin's struggling to save him when Archimago shows up with a sword and heals the wounds.


Canto 7


Guyon keeps going, without the Palmer, and meets Mammon in a glade counting his riches. He offers to reward the knight if he'll serve him. They exchange views about wealth, and Mammon takes Guyon underground to see his realm, hoping that he'll take something, which would let Mammon kill him. He offers him a series of temptations, including marriage with Philotime his daughter, but Guyon keeps refusing. They then visit the Garden of Proserpina and Guyon sees various figures tormented in the river Cocytus before his strength gives out and he makes Mammon take him back to the world.


Canto 8

The Palmer finds Guyon unconscious and barely alive, attended by some sort of angel, who vanishes when he arrives. Pyrochles, Cymochles and Archimago ride up; they think Guyon's dead, take his shield, and are about to take his armor when Prince Arthur shows up. Pyrocles doesn't have his own sword. and wants to use Arthur's, which Archimago has stolen, even though the magician tells him its enchantments will make it useless in fighting Arthur. He grabs it, and after an argument with Arthur about whether they can despoil what they still think is Guyon's dead body, they attack him. Arthur's lance breaks and Cymochles wounds him, but the Palmer gives Guyon's sword to him. Arthur kills Cymochles, Pyrochles gives up on Arthur's enchanted sword and tries to wrestle him to the ground, but Arthur overcomes him and beheads him when he refuses to renounce his misdeeds and become Arthur's follower. Guyon regains consciousness and offers to become Arthur's follower out of gratitude, but Arthur says he's merely done his duty as a knight and declines.


Canto 9

Having recovered their own weapons, Guyon and Arthur talk about the Faerie Queene, and Arthur's desire to reach her court and become one of her knights. They come to Alma's castle and ask to stay the night, but are warned to flee by somebody in a tower and immediately attacked by a swarm of ragged wretches who have been besieging the castle. They drive them off, and Alma welcomes them and shows them all the parts of the building. At dinner, Arthur talks with Praysedesire and Guyon talks with Shamefastness. Then Alma takes them on a second tour, of the castle's tower and the rooms occupied by three sages - Phantastes, and two others who aren't explicitly named. (In case you haven't guessed, this whole building is symbolic...) In the library, Arthur finds a chronicle of British history and Guyon finds a similar book about Faery, which they eagerly go off to read.


Canto 10

The narrator calls for new inspiration to recount British history, and traces it from its earliest mythic beginnings up to Elizabeth...


Canto 11

As soon as Guyon and the Palmer leave on a boat to go fight Acrasia, the villeins who were besieging the castle reappear in vastly increased numbers. and attack the five gates. Prince Arthur rides out to fight them, and battles their leader Maleager and the two hags that attend him - Impotence and Impatience. They nearly overcome him, but his squire comes to his aid and keeps the hags away while Arthur fights Maleager. To his dismay, his enemy seems to be one of the living dead and hence unkillable, until he separates him from the Earth, his mother (which restores his strength whenever he touches it) and drowns him. The hags destroy themselves, and the squire carries the wounded Arthur back to Alma's castle to recover from his wounds.


Canto 12

On their third day at sea, the Palmer steers them through various dangers. The boatmen warns them away from floating islands; they resist Phedria's attempts to attract them; they avoid quicksand and a great whirlpool. As they pass the sandy edge of the quicksand, the sea casts up a flood of monsters, but the Palmer tells Guyon they are just the witch Acrasia's creations and calms the sea with his staff. With the Palmer's ongoing advice, Guyon passes by the mermaids' appeals, and they reach finally reach the shore, where they're plunged into fog and darkness, attacked by clouds of birds, and then threatened by wild beasts which the Palmer subdues with his staff. Finally arrived, they make their way through the wonders and delights of the Bower of Bliss and surprise Acrasia with one of her lovers on a bed of roses. They throw a net over them, then release her lover Verdant, smash and deface every bit of the Bower, and lead Acrasia away in chains. As they return, the Palmer turns the beasts back into men, who have different responses to their return to human life.