Transgressing terms of gender in the The Faerie Queene : Britomart, Radigund and Artegall

Santowski, Britta (1995) Transgressing terms of gender in the The Faerie Queene : Britomart, Radigund and Artegall. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene is designed, in part, to "fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline . . . the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for variety of matter, then for profite of the ensample."¹ To profit from the ensample, the reader learns vicariously through the adventures of each hero. The hero captivates the reader's gaze, and to stay in focus, nature's periphery harmonizes around the hero: shadows cast suspicion, light foreshadows sight, beauty unveils truth. Just as nature's ideals form around the allegorical needs of the hero, so does the ideal Woman. In my thesis, I argue that the feminine-ideal, presented in part through Britomart, Radigund and Artegall, solely reflects patriarchal order. To be "ideal," as we see through Britomart, means to cease to exist as woman. Woman's refusal to submit to this feminine-ideal, as we see through Radigund, results in obliteration. The only Woman resurrected from her diminished self is the one who began as, and is returned to, man: Artegall. -- To move from the periphery to the centre of existence, the male-inscribed feminine-ideal can only be presented to the reader by writing the man into woman. Britomart needs the guise of masculinity to see and be seen. When Britomart cross-dresses, she transcends her lesser, feminine nature and becomes like man in order to perfect her patriarchally-prized chastity. Once perfected as "Woman," she spins herself into oblivion. Radigund, on the other hand, refuses to be defined as man's extension. Her refusal results in her death. Finally, when Artegall submits to Radigund's world, he becomes Woman (Woman as defined by the traditions of patriarchy) by donning woman's clothing. Once dressed in this feminine garb, the feminine soul invades and usurps his masculine body. As Woman, Artegall can neither act nor react. Nor can he be seen. It is not until he is re-dressed by Britomart that he re-enters the narrative as a central figure. The only good Woman, as scripted in The Faerie Queene, is an absent woman. -- ¹Edmund Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, from the Hamilton edition of the Faerie Queene, Appendix A, 737.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5468
Item ID: 5468
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [105]-110.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1995
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Spenser, Edmund, 1552?-1599. Faerie Queene; Spenser, Edmund, 1552?-1599--Characters--Women; Gender identity in literature; Sex role in literature

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