In Canto V we meet the greatest young knight in all of Italy and his name is Ariodante. And, boom, like that Ariosto drops an author self-insert character! Truly this is a work of fan fiction. I might start doing this myself.
Which sounds the most modest: Justemingway, Justespeare, F. Scott Justgerald? But I get ahead of myself.
Last canto we ended with Rinaldo rescuing a damsel from some ruffians while on his way to rescue a different damsel. In this Canto, the rescued damsel tells her story and how it relates to that other damsel that needs rescuing. That damsel’s name is Ginerva. This damsel’s name is Dalinda. And this is her story. But first Ariosto gives us a bit of digression on how weird it is that animals have sex without any problems, but for humans it’s a battlefield between the participants. Ariosto even takes the radical stance of saying it’s a bad thing to kill your lover. All this should clue us readers in for what’s to come.
Dalinda is Ginevra’s maid, and the two had a very close relationship, so much so that Ginerva gave Dalinda access to her old clothes and chambers. Dalinda was very pleased, and turned the spare rooms into her personal rendezvous spot to meet with her lover Polinesso , the Duke of Albany. There no “no amorous game was left untried”, but, of course, Polinesso’s love was not true. He’s using Dalinda to get access to Ginevra. She is the real person he wants to wed. But Ginevra loves another man: Ariodante, the GREATEST KNIGHT ITALY EVER HAD. Machinations ensue. Polinesso convinces Dalinda to go along with him, telling her he’s only feigning love for Ginevra in order to gain social position. He has Dalinda dress up as Ginevra one night in their love nest, but not before telling Ariodante how his love is untrue to him. Ariodante expects some shady dealings and brings a bodyguard with him (Lurcanio, greatest knight in Scotland and yadda yadda yadda). Polinesso then dons a disguise and climbs up the tower where he and Dalinda do the pornhub. Ariodante sees all and flips out. Dalinda realizes what Polinesso’s up to, and Lurcanio thinks someone’s trying to kill Ariodante. He goes to save Ariodante and spies the whole thing. At first, he tries to tell Ariodante that all woman are evil and should die. But Ariodante chooses instead to disappear. Ginevra has no idea what’s happened, only that this guy she loves now flees from her. A bit later word comes back that Ariodante threw himself off a cliff and is now dead. (I doubt it.) When Lurcanio hears this he denounces Ginerva to the king. It would usually be her brother (Prince Zerbino) who would defend her honor, but he’s momentarily absent from the kingdom.
But what about Dalinda and the ruffians?
Well, Polinesso true to douchebro-form realizes one person can keep a secret better than two and hires a couple of thugs to abduct Dalinda and kill her out in the wilderness somewhere. He doesn’t want anyone to ask her any questions. What he didn’t count on was Rinaldo showing up.
Rinaldo rescues Dalinda and gets the whole story from her. He decides he’ll fight as Ginevra’s champion and sets off to where she’s imprisoned. But when he gets there he finds another knight has already become her champion. This knight doesn’t give a name and keeps their visor down. It’s this knight Lurcanio’s fighting when Rinaldo arrives. Rinaldo promptly goes to the king and tells him to stop the fight, because the whole thing’s a mistake. Rinaldo then tells everyone about Polinesso’s plot and challenges him to a duel. They fight and Polinesso gets run threw. He confesses before dying. Ginevra’s name gets cleared. Everyone then turns to the unknown knight.
“How the flip do you fit in this?” they ask.
And the knight says, “I’ll tell you in the next canto.”