She argues that the evasiveness and incongruites in the narrative exist since Spenser is facing issues that are not easily answered.
From the start, Britomart represents an authority figure, a power not found in any other knight in the Faerie Queene. Spenser says that Britomart literally cannot be beaten, since she carries a powerful magic spear, or phallic symbol (depending on the interpretation) that refers back to the theme of woman's chastity. Britomart easily knocks Sir Guyon off his horse at the beginning of Book 3. She then comes to a castle and once again pushes her authority, characterized as "masculine" with her armor and spear, and confronts six of Malecasta's knights at the Castle Joyous at the end of the first canto.
At last as nigh out of the wood she came,
A stately Castle farre away she spyde,
To which her steps directly she did frame.
That Castle was most goodly edifyde,
And plaste for pleasure nigh that forrest syde:
But faire before the gate a spatious plaine,
Mantled with greene, it selfe did spredden wyde,
On which she saw sixe knights, that did darraine
Fierce battell against one, with cruell might and maine
Ne did she stay, till three on ground she layd,
That none of them himselfe could reare againe;
The fourth was by that other knight dismayd,
All were he wearie of his former paine,
That now there do but two of six remaine;
Which two did yield, before she did them smight.
Ah (said she then) now may ye all see plaine,
That truth is strong, and trew loue most of might,
That for his trusty seruaunts doth so strongly fight
Spenser's confusion about female power is evident in this section of the Faerie Queene. His mixed feelings about women are seen in his depiction of Una, but his thoughts on female authority figures are obvious with his portrayal of Britomart. In Book 3, Spenser depicts
Britomart as a powerful and outstanding female/male. Yet, she becomes submissive and loving when considering her love of Artegall and speaks strongly for chastity and virtue.
Yet these, and all that els had puissaunce,
Cannot with noble Britomart compare,
Aswell for glorie of great valiaunce,
As for pure chastity and virtue rare (3.4.3).
Regardless of her mixed traits, Britomartore is more noteable than many of the other Faerie Queene characters. Unlike other females, she has the ability to defend herself and her virtue. She does not always need a male by her side, but can fight, on her own, for self-protection. Virtue, as demonstrated by the female who is fleeing from being raped, is not easy to defend. It can be read that when Britomart gives up her knighthood to be with Artegall that she is giving in to the patriarchial society. Yet, Britomart is doing this on her own accord and remains self-assured and in control of her own life. She sees her role as supporting the change of shame of Britomart, is dressed in women's clothing, and symbolically stripped of his masculinity, with his sword broken.
Be hang'd on high, that mote his shame bewray,
And broke his sword, for feare of further harmes,
With which he won't to stirre up battailous alarmes (5.5.21).
Britomart once again proves her prowess, demonstrating that love and acceptance of Artegall's rule has not ultimately changed her talents and the strength and self-confidence she has within. It is here that Spencer's mixed message on the women's role is confirmed. On the one hand, he presents Britomart as a powerful female knight who has proven herself much more than the man she loves and supports. In fact, it is she who beheads Radigund and frees Artegall. On the other hand, Britomart restores the patriarchal society when killing Radigund. In overthrowing Radigund, it appears that Britomart has agreed that the power must remain in the hands of the men. Yet Spencer concedes "But virtuous women wisely understand, That they were borne to base humilitie, Unless the heavens them lift to lawful soveraintie" (5.5.25). The question remains whether Spencer has developed such multidimensional women because this is the way he actually sees them or because a woman is on the thrown.
The Faerie Queene thus does not completely satisfy where Spencer stands on Britomart, showing his quandary as to the place of women. He is saying that it is necessary for the state to be patriarchal. However, Britomart's position is left nebulous. She appears to be sincere in her support of Artegall and male dominance. It is also understandable why she overthrew Radigund, since no group -- male or female -- should be unjust. Somehow, however, one is left rooting for Britomart. In word, she may be agreeing to her second-to-Artegall position. That does not mean, however, that her ultimate independent personality has changed or that she will not continue to assert her authority in other ways. The Britomart who has proven herself a political strength may work behind the scenes to make the society more just and supportive of the women's role.
Abate, Corinne S. Spenser's 'The Faerie Queen. The Explicator 55.1 (1996): 6+.
Heale, Elizabeth. The faerie queene: a reader's guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Spencer, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Gutenberg. 29 April 2010. http://www.gutenberg.org
Villeponteaux, Mary. Displacing…
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