Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Josephine A. Roberts
Spenser has difficulty expressing an acceptable version of his queen's authority in The Faerie Queene. He must valorize her monarchy and its power, but his uneasiness about female political authority emerges throughout the text. Like the Petrarchan poet who fictionalizes his abject devotion to his lady while he also creates and so controls her through the same fiction, Spenser praises the queen's authority while at the same time he attempts to control it and contain it in the poem. This uneasy process is exemplified in the figure of Britomart: Spenser initially presents her as the near-perfect champion of Elizabeth's signature virtue; yet he eventually criticizes her assumption of the very authority which exemplifies her virtue and makes her a potent compliment to Elizabeth. Spenser moves beyond the Petrarchan dynamic of fictionalized subjection and aggression to explore its implications. In the story of Amoret and Scudamour, he examines the nature of courtly love and, in Amoret, the results of the total lack of feminine authority, a lack which patriarchy demands. The Petrarchan exchange which characterized Queen Elizabeth as the "cruel fair," the beloved lady whose favors the court pursues, is then undercut by Spenser's portrait of the obdurate Belphoebe. She enters into a Petrarchan relationship with Timias--she is the unobtainable object of desire, he her adoring slave who "calls it praise to suffer tyranny" (Astrophil and Stella, 2)--but neither noble deeds nor ennobling spiritual love appears to be forthcoming for Timias, and Spenser's final word on the squire emphasizes his abandonment of his lord, Arthur. Britomart is the most fully-drawn figure in The Faerie Queen, but her complexity still fails to bridge the gap between the forceful Belphoebe and the formless Amoret. When the virgin knight must prepare to cast off the armor which has signaled her authority and take up her womb's burden, the transition seems untenable: the ideal, the "excellence" of femininity within the patriarchal system is marred by the monstrosity of feminine authority and becomes inexpressible for the poet who desires to praise his queen and yet explore the implications of her power.
Villeponteaux, Mary Antonia, ""Her Excellence to Marre": The Problem of Feminine Authority in Spenser's "Faerie Queene"." (1990). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 4957.