Just this morning I finished the third book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, the Legend of Britomartis. While the story line took different twists and turns, and chased a rabbit here and there, it comes to a climactic end as Britomart enters the castle of an evil enchanter, attempting to rescue Sir Scudamore’s beloved Amoret who is imprisoned there. Before discussing the ending, however, I want to tell of something else I found interesting.
In Canto X, the demise of Malbecco is told. Malbecco was by no means a savory character, but one may pity him for his misfortune. First his wife was carried off by Sir Paridell, and she ended up living with the satyrs, whose company she was loth to leave. After realizing the futility of getting her back, Malbecco ended up crawling into a cave, where he started eating nasty things and eventually forgot that he was a man. Sound familiar?
Nor ever is he wont on ought to feed,
But toads and frogs, his pasture poisonous,
Which in his cold complexion do breed
A filthy blood, or humor rancorous,
Matter of doubt and dread suspicious,
That doth with cureless care consume the heart,
Corrupts the stomach with gall vicious,
Crosscuts the liver with internal smart,
And doth transfix the soul with death’s eternal dart.
But back to the ending. Sir Scudamour would have surely followed Britomart into the castle, but the enchanted flames that guarded the entrance did not allow him. So he was forced to remain without, waiting for Britomart’s return. Meanwhile the lady knight went through the castle, beholding wondrous sights, and hiding herself waiting for the right moment to attack. When she finally did overpower the enchanter who was trying to make Amoret love him, she had already been in the castle several days. When the two women emerged leading the bound enchanter, they were dismayed to find Sir Scudamour absent. The last stanza of the book reads thus:
But he sad man, when he had long in dread
Awaited there for Britomart’s return,
Yet saw her not nor sign of her good speed,
His expectation to despair did turn,
Misdeeming sure that her those flames did burn;
And therefore ‘gan advise with her old squire,
Who her dear nursling’s loss no less did mourn,
Thence to depart for further aid t’ inquire:
Where let them wend at will, whilst here I do respire.
“Whilst here I do respire”? O thou great poet Spenser, why leavest thou us hanging so? Indeed, this was not the original ending found in the first edition of the book. In that version, Scudamour was certainly in despair, but he did not leave and was overjoyed when he and his beloved embraced in sweet reunion after she was rescued from her horrible plight by Britomart. But apparently Spenser didn’t like this rosy termination to his tale, so he let Scudamour wander in ignorance with Britomart’s squire while Britomart and Amoret’s joy is lessened by their absence.
Any ideas why Spenser might have done this?