Elizabeth and the Women of The Faerie Queene Open Access

Attorri, Ellen Elizabeth (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/j96021167?locale=en


In Book III of The Faerie Queene Spenser discusses chastity as the primary female virtue, since it is one exemplified by Queen Elizabeth I, and he struggles to reconcile the male-dominant social hierarchy of Renaissance England with the reality of a female monarch. The connection between Elizabeth and Book III of The Faerie Queene is especially relevant given that Merlin has prophesied that Britomart--the central female heroine of Book III--will marry Artegall and produce a line of heirs that culminates in Elizabeth, who ends this line due to her failure to marry and produce an heir to the throne. Throughout the text, Spenser makes references to female sexuality not merely from a morality standpoint but as a way of discussing the methods women use to harness their sexuality and use it as a weapon. Elizabeth used her alleged virginity as a way to control the men of court and maintain her authority, but the women of The Faerie Queene deal with their sexuality in different ways. Gloriana, who obviously represents Elizabeth due to their shared name, never physically appears in the poem and this absence is powerful because of the relationship between The Faerie Queene and Elizabeth. Britomart is the powerful female knight who goes on a quest to find and rescue Artegall, the man whom Merlin foresaw to be her husband; she represents unmarried chastity, a much more aggressive form of chastity since she does not wait for Artegall but instead searches and fights for him. Amoret represents married chastity since she has been claimed by Scudamour, yet when she and Britomart are united in the House of Busirane Spenser introduces the hermaphrodite image in the canceled ending of Book III. In 1590 Spenser published Books I-III of The Faerie Queene with this ending, but in 1596 he published Books I-VI with a different conclusion to Book III and the hermaphrodite image removed. The epic poem blends classical and modern styles to create something quintessentially English, something that captures a moment in history when the authority of women confronted the male-dominant hierarchy upon which the stability of Renaissance society depended.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Page 1

The Elusive Gloriana and the Issue of Women's Rule: Page 8

The Aggressive Britomart and the Issue of Women's Unmarried Chastity: Page 16

The Passive Amoret and the Issue of Women's Unmarried Chastity: Page 33

Conclusion: Page 50

Works Cited: Page 55

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