The Faerie Queene

Disgust, Lust, and Beasts with Breasts: The Portrayal of Females in Early Modern Literature College

The literature of the English Renaissance demonstrates a remarkable range of attitudes towards women. While there are significant proclamations of chivalric attitudes towards women such as Walter Raleigh's devotion to Queen Elizabeth I, nearly divine descriptions of love and fidelity such as John Donne's poetry, and even rails against negative portrayals of women such as Rachel Speght's “A Muzzle for Melastomus” much of the literature is steeped in warped attitudes that border on misogyny. Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, and John Milton's Paradise Lost tend to equate women with sin, evil, and lust and portray such attitudes by presenting monstrous entities and beasts as female.

While acknowledging that Early Modern England was a patriarchal society, it is perhaps simplistic to say that the portrayal of women as monsters, beasts, and devils is based on misogyny grown out of such a society. As critic Tim Reinke-Williams observes, “equating misogyny with patriarchy is misleading, not least because the latter term carries such diffuse meanings” (325). There are other possible explanations for the anti-female bent present in Early Modern...

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