Summary of the 6 books of The Faerie Queene
Book 1, dedicated to the virtue of holiness, follows the adventure of the Redcross Knight, who represents the virtue of holiness. He encounters the deceptive Duessa, Archimago, and the House of Pride. The virginal Una, who represents Truth, initially aids the Redcross Knight in his journey; however, after his encounter with the monstrous Errour and her cannibalistic offspring, the Redcross Knight wanders away from his guiding light and proceeds into an illicit relationship with the deceptive Duessa, whose very name means 'duplicity'.
The Redcross Knight only learns the virtue of holiness after his fall from grace. Duessa leads him into the House of Pride, where the Knight meets Lucifera, the female representation of Satan, and her court of sin: Idleness followed by Gluttony, Lechery, Avarice, Envy, and Wrath. The Knight's ignorance causes him to consummate with Duessa, leaving him too weak to fight the giant Ogoglio. When Una and Prince Arthur come to rescue the Knight, Una reveals Duessa's true form and redeems the Redcross Knight by taking him to the House of Holiness after his triumphant battle over the monster Despair. With renewed strength, the Redcross Knight defeats the dragon that held Una's parents imprisoned.
Book 2 shifts the point of view to Sir Guyon, who represents the virtue of temperance. His major heroic act is destroying the Bower of Bliss controlled by Acrasia, an evil witch who lures men to her bower with sexual appeal but then magically transforms them into beasts. Sir Guyon devotes himself to destroying the witch and her bower.
Accompanied by Knight Palmer and Prince Arthur, Guyon encounters many beasts and adventures on the journey to the island. He gets into skirmishes with characters like the evil knight brothers Pyrochles and Cymochles, the beast Mamon, and a group of violent men attacking a castle. Additionally, he must forge through the dangerous waters and confront the monsters of the Gulf of Greediness, fight off the wild beasts on the island, and ignore the seductive women of the island. Eventually, they find Acrasia. Binding Acrasia with nets, Sir Guyon ultimately destroys the Bower of Bliss.
Book 3 introduces the reader to the lady knight Britomart, who represents the virtue of chastity and is on a quest to find her beloved Artegall. Unlike Book 1 and Book 2, Book 3 is set up as a collection of separate love stories that are interwoven into a pattern of relationships representing both chaste and unchaste love affairs.
The first love affair is Britomart's, whose love for Artegall occurs after she sees him in a magic mirror. Meeting previous characters such as Sir Guyon, Prince Arthur, and the Redcross Knight, Britomart must confront foes such as the seductress Malecasta, who is the very representation of unchaste lust. Compared to other chaste characters like Florimell, Britomart's chastity does not need to be tested because her chastity is embedded within her very nature. After she meets the knight Scudamore and helps him rescue his betrothed, Amoretta, Britomart continues her journey to find Artegall by the end of Book 3.
Book 4, in its elaboration on the virtue of friendship, is also a collection of stories. From Britomart's rescue of the fair Amoretta to the false friendship between Blandamour and the envious Paridell, Book 4 explores friendship as a social and public virtue that contrasts the private virtues of Books I-III.
When Britomart proves to be Amoretta's knightly champion in a battle to preserve Amoretta's chastity, the two women express their true friendship through their devotional commitment. On the other hand, characters like Blandamour and Paridell become the illustration of a destructive friendship ruled by jealousy and exploitation. Such representations of true and false friendships become interwoven in a book that continues the exploits of the chaste characters introduced in Book 3.
Book 5 returns to Artegall's adventure as he travels with Talus to rescue Eirena from her captor Grantorto. Representing the virtue of justice, Artegall's adventure begins after he receives his quest from the Faerie Queene. After encountering a squire and a knight named Sanglier fighting over a lady, Artegall acts as a benevolent and mindful judge, testing his subjects to see who truly loves the lady in question.
By defeating various foes, Artegall extends his just hand across the kingdom into Mercilla's court, where Prince Arthur and Artegall help maid Samient in defeating the evil king and queen, Souldan and Adicia. After watching Duessa's trial and execution over her many crimes, Artegall finishes his quest, rescuing Eirena from the monstrous Grantorto and driving the hags Distraction and Envy away along with their Blatant Beast, a representation of scandal and dishonor.
Book 6 follows Calidore as he spreads the social virtue of courtesy. Book 6 starts with Calidore defeating Crudor and his wife Briana, then teaching them the virtue of courtesy. Calidore continues his adventure, eventually meeting Knight Calepine and his lady Serena, who was bitten and poisoned by the Blatant Beast.
The narrative diverges into separate adventures, with Serena and Calepine meeting Prince Arthur to find a cure for the Blatant Beast's poison, and Calidore encountering the beautiful Pastorella who helps him in his journey. While Serena and friend Timias learn that the cure to the Blatant Beast's poison is the combination of virtue, self-control, and forthrightness, Calidore rescues his rival Coridon from a brigand and defeats the Blatant Beast's scandalous mouth by binding it together. Courtesy, which is contrasted to the personification of Disdain and Scorn, is able to beat the Blatant Beast, but it is also suggested that it cannot kill the Beast for good.