The Faerie Queene

The Man in the Mirror: The Influence of Reflections on Allegory and Chastity

The role of the magic mirror in Britomart's encounter with Arthegall extends beyond the fact that it drives her quest to find him. It is also the center point of Spenser's theme of reflection and representation and its influence on his use of allegory and chastity. By identifying mirrors as a symbol for allegory, and then underscoring the misleading qualities of reflections, Spencer hints that allegory, though directly reflective of one main theme, can be simultaneously interpreted multiple ways. This suggests that the allegory of Chastity has several meanings other than that of an entirely non-sexualized, virginal woman.

Unlike in Book I, Spenser's writing in Book III is not meant as a tool for blatant moralizing. Here, he is much more interested in the abilities of his verse to create a "lively... pourtraict" of Queen Elizabeth, a "mirrour [for] her selfe to see", a reflection made of words (231-2). Spenser's mirrors reveal his quest to find the true identities of his characters and muses by examining their reflections, using tools like Merlin's magic mirror, which "like to the world it self, and seemed a world of glas" (254). It serves the same purpose of allegory, creating an...

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