CS Lewis said to read Spenser was to grow in mental health. I think I have figured out why. If you read Spenser with pencil and notes, you will become smarter. Spenser is a brilliant poet, but he makes quite a few narratival mistakes. If you can keep track of what is going on, you will become a sharper reader.
Friendship is a stronger theme among the ancients and Renaissance than it is today. Friendship was essential for establishing a stable social order. Perhaps it is no accident that the theme of Justice in Book V follows logically from the social implications of Friendship in Book IV.
While Book III of the Faerie Queene was magnificent, it’s fairly obvious that Spenser had lost control of the narrative. We moved from False Duessa to various damsels in distress. Duessa, who had figured so prominently in every other book, was absent from Book III. We see her immediately in Book IV.
Britomart has just rescued Aromet from Busirane’s Castle at the end of Book III. This narrative begins with them horseback. The danger is that Britomart is still dressed like a male knight with an (unwed) damsel riding along. This opens them to gossip, something Duessa and Ate will exploit.
The Fay’s three sons challenge Campbell for the hand of his sister Canace (Canto III). In this Canto Campbell marries Cambice, following Canace’s mediation of the battle between Campbell and Triamond, the latter whom she weds. Spenser took an interesting scene from mythology on the fates and Triamond’s family. It seems the betrothals at the end of the canto, though, were quite forced. They are believable, to be sure, but some of the characters appear out of nowhere.
By the time of Canto 5, the ladies (and maybe some of the knights) are fighting for Florimell’s girdle (you need to think back to an early scene in Book 3). This girdle represents what virtue gives to chaste love (V.3.1).
Cantos 7 and 8 describe what happened to Aromet. Britomart was supposed to be watching her but fell asleep or something. In any case, Sir Scudamore tells the story of how he found her at the Temple of Venus. It’s interesting to note that the past few books have ended in some major Castle or Temple.
Remember Florimell? Probably not. Well, she’s back. The book ends with the marriage of the rivers. I’m not really sure what that was about.
Notes on some characters:
Sir Paridell is enslaved (unwittingly) to False Duessa.