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Chapter Five Spenser's Customs of Courtesy
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Prince Arthur offers an ambiguous solution to the problem of the uncivil social other when he confronts Turpine in the middle of the legend of courtesy. The ambiguity arises because, if Turpine represents society's judgment of others, Arthur is not only judged but discriminates too. The narrative raises the question of Arthur's opinion in a subtle way, by sending him to Turpine's castle not by chance but to "avenge th'abuses" that Serena complains of (FQ 6.5.34). Elsewhere in Arthurian romance, knights errant do not usually witness foul customs in operation before personally confronting them. In Spenser's poem, however, Calidor finds a squire tied to a tree and sees Maleffort tearing the hair from a maiden's head before he takes action. Serena suffers from Turpine's discourteous custom and then tells her story to Prince Arthur. The pattern continues when the narrator of The Faerie Oueene mentions that Calidor once met Turpine ("that proud Knight, the which whileare /Wrought to Sir Calidore so foule despight," FQ 6.6.17). Since we only see Calepine and Arthur, not Calidor, meet Turpine, this reference may be a misprint or a mistake. If "Calidor" is correct, however, it underscores the structural principle of the scene of Turpine's confrontation with Prince Arthur, who, it turns out, has heard yet another story about Turpine before he reaches his castle.

For Arthur accuses Turpine of despoiling knights and ladies of their arms or upper garments (FQ 6.6.34), although this practice is mentioned nowhere else in the poem. Turpine's counterpart in the Morte Darthur on this matter is Sir Turquin, or Tarquin, who beats his prisoners "with thorns all naked" (MD 6.1) as he goes about capturing King Arthur's knights during his search for Lancelot. Prince Arthur has such an act of public shaming in mind when he accuses Turpine of stripping


his victims (also the practice of Ariosto's Marganorre, who short skirts ladies, and Malory's King Ryence, who collects beards and serves as a model for Sir Crudor). The public aspect that connects Turpine to Malory's Turquin is slightly roundabout, because we must consider the entire context of Turquin's story, but clear enough if we remember that the Turquin episode represents Lancelot's first appearance in the Morte Darthut and that Lancelot's reputation instantly becomes an issue. Because Lancelot rejects the sexual favors of four queens (Morgan, the queen of Northgales, the queen of Eastland, and the queen of the Out Isles, 6.3), public speculation becomes so intense that "it is noised" (MD 6.10) that Lancelot loves Queen Guenevere. Lancelot denies the allegation but at the same time recognizes the logic of public infamy—"I may not warn people to speak of me what it pleaseth them" (MD 6.10). Public gossip makes it difficult for characters like Calepine, Serena, or Timias to alter the way of the world that Turpine represents.

Spenser added the motif of public opinion to the traditional topos of the custom of the caste to make Arthur's encounter with Turpine not a confrontation between right and wrong but a conflict between different opinions. That Arthur's own reputation may also be at stake at Turpine's castle helps explain his strange behavior there, for the strategy Arthur employs in attacking Turpine owes something to a trick Lancelot uses to defeat Sir Peris de Forest Savage, someone closely associated with Turquin in Malory's story ("For like as Sir Turquin watched to destroy knights, so did this knight attend to destroy and distress ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen," MD 6.10). In an unusual and seemingly ungallant maneuver, Lancelot sends a damsel before him while he keeps himself "in covert." When Sir Peris knocks the damsel from her horse, Lancelot rebukes him and cuts his throat. In The Faerie Queene , Prince Arthur easily passes through Turpine's gates, then, like Lancelot, he dissimulates. Arthur feigns distress to give Turpine's porter an opportunity to deny him hospitality, the usual foul custom of romance (FQ 6.6.21), just as Lancelot exposes Sir Peris by hiding while Sir Peris makes a damsel his victim.


Arthur's reformation of Turpine is inconclusive, as was Calidor's victory over Sir Crudor's custom early in Book VI, because in both cases the violence of the heroes distorts their intent. The savage man who accompanies Arthur tears Turpine's porter to pieces, while his attack on a biblical quantity of "forty" yeomen causes Turpine, like Briana, to blame Arthur for killing his people (FQ 6.6.25). Even though Turpine then attacks Arthur from behind and flees from room to room through his castle, he survives because he has used the issue of violence to cloud the moral certainty of Arthur's position. Arthur's sword twists in his hands, as happens in romances whenever the author wants to spare someone from the overwhelming force of a hero ("Yet whether thwart or flatly it did lyte, / The tempted steele did not into his braynepan byte," FQ 6.6.30), while Arthur refrains from a second stroke because Blandina shrieks, shrouds Turpine, and entreats Arthur on her knees to spare him. Arthur calls Turpine a "vile cowheard dogge" (FQ 6.6.33), then lectures him on social courtesy instead of killing him.

The prince of magnificence finds himself in a strangely unsettling situation—such as a foreign culture might offer—where he must abandon traditional notions of right and wrong as he instructs this allegorical figure of social detraction. Arthur accuses Turpine of cowardice, but at the same time, he oddly voices respect for Turpine's right to live as he pleases. We hardly believe Arthur when he informs Turpine that bravery in a bad cause is no vice ("for oft it falles, that strong / And valiant knights doe rashly enterprize, / Either for fame, or else for exercize / A wrongfull quarrell to maintaine by fight," FQ 6.6.35). Turpine need not provide lodging for the wounded, Arthur says, as long as he does not attack secretly or from the back, since, even when defending bad causes, knights have "through prowesse and their brave emprize / Gotten great worship in this worldes sight. / For greater force there needs to maintaine wrong, then right" (FQ 6.6.35; my emphasis). Arthur means to persuade Turpine that it takes little pain to maintain what is right and that Arthur's own violent entry to the castle was of small moment compared to what it might have been had Arthur been in the wrong. Yet his mes-


sage seems overly casuistic, ironically not forceful enough, since Arthur seems to praise the "greater force" needed to maintain wrong while he also he gives Turpine a choice how to behave. He seems to be saying, "your country, right or wrong," as long as you are strong. It is the colonizer's creed.

We recognize what is happening to Arthur from other examples of foul customs in chivalric romances. Normally a knight errant is trapped into upholding local law by the pressure of the population, a provision of the custom itself, or a double bind. Arthur succumbs to this literary tradition by agreeing to Turpine's practice of keeping people out. He ceases to reform the local inhabitants, an act figured by his calling off the savage, who kills yeomen downstairs while Arthur spares Turpine upstairs. Finally he settles down to a "goodly feast" and entertainment provided by Blandina, Turpine's wife, who hides her true aversion to his reform. At Malory's Weeping Castle, Tristram and Galahalt find a way to "fordo" the foul custom when they submit to each other under the guise of sparing one another the shame of defeat (MD 8.27). Arthur spends the night at Turpine's castle after seeming to achieve a similar resolution.

But it is not clear that Arthur makes the correct choice when he yields to Blandina's persuasions and spends the night, although two examples of the custom of the castle topos in Malory's Morte Darthur show that a knight may ignore the behavior of others and depart without fully reforming their foul ways: Sir Dinadan refuses to lodge where the custom of the castle is to joust for bed space (MD 9.23), and Galahad rightly forsakes to kill the seven brothers who maintain the foul custom of the Castle of Maidens (MD 13.16). Here, however, Arthur's reformation proves useless because it depends on a sense of shame that Turpine does not feel. The next morning Arthur leaves Turpine's castle intact, and Turpine continues his attacks.

According to the narrator, Turpine's problem lies in his "vile donghill mind" (FQ 6.7.1). Using his wits, he convinces two knights to kill Arthur by telling them that Arthur ravished his lady, which distorts but


does not totally falsify Arthur's sojourn with Blandina. Arthur's response depends on both prowess and deception. He kills one knight and forces the other, Sir Enias, to bring Sir Turpine to him. Then, in a ploy that seems designed to attack not just Turpine's practice but his mental attitude, Arthur falls asleep—and his savage page wanders off in the woods (FQ 6.7.19)—as Sir Enias, whose name recalls the medieval reputation of Aeneas as the betrayer of Troy, fetches Turpine by tricking him into thinking Prince Arthur is dead. The ruse works, and when the prince wakes and grabs his sword, Turpine falls on the ground and holds up his hands for mercy (FQ 6.7.25).

All values need to be examined. Nothing Arthur does eliminates the social power that Turpine represents and that finds its cause in Turpine's intractable attitude. Arthur sets his foot on Turpine's neck "in signe / Of servile yoke, that nobler harts repine," but since Turpine's heart is not noble, he cannot "repine" or feel shame (FQ 6.7.26). The gesture is lost on him and once again Arthur fails to reform his ways. Arthur calls Turpine names and strips him of his "knightly bannerall," but he did essentially the same thing earlier in the castle, when he forbade him to bear arms and call himself a knight (FQ 6.6.36). Arthur's final act is to hang Turpine by his heels as a warning to others, but what warning can counter detraction? Puttenham translates what the Greeks called asteismus into English as the "merry scoff" or the "civil jest." He gives the example of one who knocked Cato on the head with a long piece of timber, then bade him beware. "What (quoth Cato) wilt thou strike me again?" The humor, Puttenham explains, arises because a warning should be given before, not after. Turpine's punishment is always too late because it comes after the fact: after his slander is already circulating.[34] The "civil jest" reminds us that detraction is not just a court foible, but a deeply rooted confrontation with the Other, because reputations depend on someone else's point of view. Arthur's encounter with Turpine shows a poet concerned about reforming society for a better future but in no sense an idealistic dreamer of utopias.


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Chapter Five Spenser's Customs of Courtesy
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