The Faerie Queene

The Chaste Chase

The Chaste Chase: Britomart's Naivety in The Faerie Queen

Juliette Tang

June 1, 2005

For a text of Elizabethan literature, Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene is unique in its portrayal of chastity-a virtue generally associated with the domestic sphere-in the figure of Britomart the female warrior. Similarly unique is Britomart's representation as an almost hermaphroditic figure: she dresses in a full suit of armor, fights like a male knight, and presents herself as a man in social settings. The notion that chastity can be embodied in an androgynous figure is puzzling and counterintuitive to commonly accepted notions of feminine virtue, but Spenser has a purpose in using Britomart as his heroine. Britomart must simultaneously embody both feminine and masculine traits, because if she were solely feminine, like Florimell or Amoret, her chastity would have long been compromised by the time she finds Artegall. In short, Britomart must be ignorant of her latent femininity in order to be wholly chaste. "In order to uphold the version of chastity lauded in The Faerie Queene, Britomart cannot acquire insight or understanding. Titular chastity demands tough, yet beautiful naivety...Although male knights are similarly blind...

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