The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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The Role of Women Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Virtue, Allegory, and Symbolism Theme Icon
British Identity and Nationalism Theme Icon
Protestantism Theme Icon
Deception and Lies Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Faerie Queene, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Role of Women Theme Icon

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene has a complicated relationship with women. On the one hand, the poem reflects biases against women that were prevalent when it was written. Under coverture, a legal practice that was common in England in the 1500s and for centuries afterwards, women had no legal status, being “covered” by their husbands, and so they couldn’t own land in most cases unless they were widowed. The Amazon queen Radigund is an example in the poem of a woman who tries to place herself above men, and rather than celebrating her, Spenser portrays her as cruel, egotistical, and ultimately deserving of being beheaded, suggesting that Radigund was wrong to challenge women’s place in the status quo. Nevertheless, this situation is complicated by the fact that The Faerie Queene is dedicated to a woman (the real-life Queen Elizabeth) and the fact that one of the strongest, most heroic characters in the entire story is the lady knight Britomart, who represents the nation of Britain itself in the poem.

Despite Britomart’s immense physical strength, she shares one thing in common with the many honorable but helpless damsels that populate the poem—she is always chaste and faithful, unlike the evil women in the story who are lusty and tricky (traits that some of the evil men share as well). Though Britomart bests her future husband Arthegall in battle, she respects his authority and doesn’t challenge him when he leaves her to go off on his own to fulfill his duties to the Faerie Queene. Britomart’s virgin status seems to have been inspired in part by Queen Elizabeth, whose own unmarried state was controversial at the time, but which Spenser portrays as a positive aspect of Britomart. Like Elizabeth, Britomart is an exception among women, perhaps in part because her knight’s armor allows her to look like a man. The Faerie Queene features several powerful and virtuous women (in addition to Britomart, there’s the righteous queen Mercilla and of course the Faerie Queene herself), but rather than challenging the status quo, these women uphold it, deferring to men and stopping women like Radigund or Duessa who would disrupt the social order. Such portrayals of exceptional women could have helped lessen the fears of contemporary readers who worried about Queen Elizabeth’s unusual status as an unmarried woman on the throne.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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The Role of Women ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Role of Women appears in each book of The Faerie Queene. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Role of Women Quotes in The Faerie Queene

Below you will find the important quotes in The Faerie Queene related to the theme of The Role of Women.
Book I: Canto IV Quotes

Young knight, what ever that does armes professe,
And through long labours huntest after fame,
Beware of fraud, beware of ficklenesse,
In choice, and change of thy deare loved Dame

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Redcross Knight, Duessa, Una
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Book I: Canto IX Quotes

Come, come away, fraile, feeble, fleshly wight,
Ne let vaine words bewitch thy manly hart,
Ne divelish thoughts dismay thy constant spright.

Related Characters: Una (speaker), Redcross Knight, Despair
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Book II: Canto XII Quotes

Said Guyon, See the mind of beastly man,
That hath so soone forgot the excellence
Of his creation, when he life began,
That now he chooseth, with vile difference
To be a beast, and lack intelligence

Related Characters: Sir Guyon (speaker), Acrasia, The Palmer
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Proem Quotes

It falls me here to write of Chastity
That fairest virtue, farre above the rest;
For which what needs me fetch from Faery
Forreine ensamples, it to have exprest?
Sith it is shrined in my Soveraines brest

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Britomart
Page Number: 383
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto III Quotes

The man whom Heavens have ordaynd to bee
The spouse of Britomart, is Arthegall:
He wonneth in the land of Fayeree

Related Characters: Merlin (speaker), Britomart, Arthegall, Glauce
Page Number: 422
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto IV Quotes

Who through foresight of his eternall skill,
Bad her from womankind to keepe him well:
For of a woman he should have much ill,
A virgin strange and stout him should dismay, or kill.

Related Characters: Marinell, Proteus, Florimell, Britomart, Cymoent
Page Number: 438
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto VIII Quotes

Now when the Beast, which by her wicked art
Late forth she sent, she backe returning spyde,
Tyde with her broken girdle, it a part
Of her rich spoyles, whom he had earst destroyd,
She weend, and woundrous gladnesse to her hart applyde.

Related Characters: Florimell, Sir Satyrane, Marinell, Venus
Related Symbols: Florimell’s Gold Belt
Page Number: 492
Explanation and Analysis:
Book III: Canto XII Quotes

But Britomart uprearing her from ground,
Said, Gentle Dame, reward enough I weene
For many labours more, then I have found,
This, that in safety now I have you seen,
And meane of your deliverance have beene

Related Characters: Britomart (speaker), Sir Scudamore, Amoretta (Amoret)
Page Number: 560
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto I Quotes

Of lovers sad calamities of old,
Full many piteous stories doe remaine,
But none more piteous ever was ytold,
Then that of Amorets hart-binding chaine,
And this of Florimels unworthie paine

Page Number: 383
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto V Quotes

Then was that golden belt by doome of all
Graunted to her, as to the fairest Dame.
Which being brought, about her middle small
They thought to gird, as best it her became;
But by no meanes they could it thereto frame.

Related Characters: Florimell
Related Symbols: Florimell’s Gold Belt
Page Number: 624
Explanation and Analysis:
Book IV: Canto XII Quotes

Right so himself did Marinell upreare,
When he in place his dearst love did spy;
And though his limbs could not his bodie beare,
Ne former strength return so suddenly,
Yet chearefull signes he shewed outwardly.

Related Characters: Marinell, Florimell, Britomart, Proteus
Page Number: 721
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto I Quotes

And such was he, of whome I have to tell,
The Champion of true Justice Artegall.
Whom (as ye lately mote remember well)
An hard adventure, which did then befall,
Into redoubted perill forth did call.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Gloriana (The Faerie Queene), Arthegall, Britomart
Page Number: 727
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto IV Quotes

For eqaull right in equall things doth stand,
For what the mighty Sea hath once possest,
And plucked quite from all possessors hand,
Whether by rage of waves, that never rest,
Or else by wracke, that wretches hath distrest,
He may dispose by his imperial might.

Related Characters: Arthegall (speaker), Bracidas, Amidas, Lucy, Philtera
Page Number: 764
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto VII Quotes

Where being layd, the wrothfull Britonesse
Stayd not, till she came to her selfe againe,
But in revenge both of her loves distresse,
And her late vile reproach, though vaunted vaine,
And also of her wound, which sore did paine,
She with one stroke both head and helmet cleft.

Related Characters: Radigund, Britomart, Arthegall
Page Number: 807
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto X Quotes

When they had seene and heard her doome a rights
Against Duessa, damned by them all;
But by her tempred without griefe or gall,
Till strong constraint did her thereto enforce.

Related Characters: Duessa, Mercilla, Arthegall
Page Number: 838
Explanation and Analysis:
Book V: Canto XII Quotes

But ere he could reform it thoroughly,
He through occasion called was away,
To Faerie Court, that of necessity
His course of Justice he was forst to stay,
And Talus to revoke from the right way

Related Characters: Arthegall, Talus, Eirena, Grantorto
Related Symbols: Faerie Court
Page Number: 870
Explanation and Analysis:
Book VI: Canto IX Quotes

So there that night Sir Calidore did dwell,
And long while after, whilest him list remaine,
Dayly beholding the faire Pastorell,
And feeding on the bayt of his owne bane.
During which time he did her entertaine
With all kind courtesies, he could invent;
And every day, her companiee to gaine

Related Characters: Calidore, Pastorella, Coridon, Melibee, Colin Clout
Page Number: 984
Explanation and Analysis: