Women's Role Edmund Spencer Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2486 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

Women's Role Edmund Spencer

The term "women's rights" or "women's power" for females living in the Renaissance is an oxymoron. During this historic period of time, women were considered second-class citizens with no political rights. Single women were controlled by their parents, and married women were dominated by their husbands. A few women who came from wealthy and politically powerful families were able to exert some societal authority, but this occurred only in rare cases. Given the ineffectual standing of women during the 16th century, how could poets and authors go against the grain and show a more rounded vision of this supposedly inferior gender, without engendering negative political feedback? How could a writer depict another view of women besides that which was acceptable by the then current society values? Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene is often critiqued on his relationship with Queen Elizabeth and the strength and power that he lends to her being. Yet, Faerie Queene also includes two other women, Una and Britomart, who go beyond the expected female standards of the day and demonstrate Spenser's mixed views on the women's role.

If Spenser envisioned women as one dimensional without substance, Una in the Faerie Queene would be painted as a shy and unpresuming character. However, Spenser establishes her as an individual with both strengths and weaknesses, as any fully developed male character. Una is immediately described as an elaborate entity in detailed and rich language complete with illustrative and symbolic importance.

louely Ladie rode him faire beside,

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Vpon a lowly Asse more white then snow,

Yet she much whiter, but the same did hide

Vnder a vele, that wimpled was full low,

And ouer all a blacke stole she did throw,

As one that inly mournd: so was she sad,

And heauie sat vpon her palfrey slow:

Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,

And by her in a line a milke white lambe she lad.

So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,

Research Paper on Women's Role Edmund Spencer the Term Women's Assignment

She was in life and euery vertuous lore,

And by descent from Royall lynage came

Of ancient Kings and Queenes, that had of yore

Their scepters stretcht from East to Westerne shore,

And all the world in their subiection held;

Till that infernall feend with foule vprore

Forwasted all their land, and them expeld:

Whom to auenge, she had this Knight from far co[m]peld. (I 4-5).

Here, Una is described as humble ("upon a lowly Asse) and innocent ("more white than snow"). If Spenser would have stopped the description at this point, Una would be a stereotype of what a typical English woman of that day was supposed to be. However, he goes on in greater complexity. Una may be innocent like a lamb, but it is suggested that she is much more: The lamb links her to Christ, the sacrificial lamb. She personifies the crucified Christ who must save others. She is "Una" meaning "One" or "Truth" in the real Church of God.

In her essay about the Faerie Queene, Corrine Abate lends credance to Una's multidimensional persona when discussing the time Una is once again separated from the Redcrosse Knight and desperately searches to find him in Canto 7. Instead, she meets Prince Arthur and tells him about the situation surrounding her separation from Redcrosse. While relating the story, Arthur asks "O heavy record of the good Redcrosse, Where have you left your lord that could so well you toss?" (xlviii.8-9). Arthur is actually asking Una where she could have "tossed" Redcrosse. This role reversal makes Una into the person who is controlling Redcrosse -- a female controlling a man -- which is contrary as to what is normally the case. This is only one of many times when this crossover of roles occurs between Una and Redcrosse. While they are together, Una is frequently the active leader, the traditional male character, and Redcrosse thus becomes the passive follower, a trait that is normally ascribed to the female. It is Una, in her role as the Christ figure and real Church, who is frequently saving Redcrosse.

Redcrosse, like many males, succumbs to human weaknesses. Because he is not loyal to Una, he falls prey of great danger and adversity. Redcrosse's first error is making quick and subjective decisions, such as immediately blaiming Una of malvolence and leaving her alone and disillusioned. He also is readily enticed by the fake church of the pretentious Duessa. His other human transgression is pride, which makes him blind to his human weaknesses of jealousy, temptation and lust for Archimago and Duessa. His dreams of greatness and success mask reality. He will need to visit the House of Pride and the House of Holiness to once again find his inner strengths and become a respected man.

For example, in one situation, Redcrosse is eager to exact revenge upon Despair, who has already taken a life. However, an old man wearily asks Redcrosse what problem he has with death, which simply brings an end to a life of sin and, thus, is not possible to come too soon. This man even knows of Redcrosse's sinful weaknesses and almost encourages this knight to also commit suicide.

The lenger life, I wote the greater sin,

The greater sin, the greater punishment:

All those great battels, which thou boasts to win,

Through strife, and blood-shed, and avengement,

Now praysd, hereafter deare thou shalt repent:

For life must life, and blood must blood repay.

Is not enough thy evill life forespent?

For he that once hath missed the right way,

The further he doth goe, the further he doth stray. (ix 43)

Once again, Una saves Redcrosse, pulling him from the hands of Despair. It is at this time, when Despair confronts Redcrosse, that Una's religious "power" shines the most. Redcrosse is nearly giving up his quest and even on himself. It is Una who must coax him out of his depressive bonds.

The connection of Despair to Satan is noted by Elizbeth Heale. In order to confuse Redcrosse by misusing the Bible, Despair quotes God's judgment on the reprobate under the Old Covenant without reminding him of the promise of salvation offered to the elect under the New Covenant. "Is not his law, Let every sinner die:/Die shall all flesh?" (ix 47). Deceptively, Despair omits the second part of St. Paul's promise to the Romans (Romans 6.23) that "the wages of sinne is death: but the gift of God is eternall life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

It is the true Church, Una, who arouses in Redcrosse a faith in God's goodness by reminding him of the biblical promises that Despair omits:

Come, come away, fraile, seely, fleshly wight,

Ne let vaine words bewitch thy manly hart,

Ne divelish thoughts dismay thy constant spright.

In heavenly mercies hast thou not a part?

Why shouldst thou then despeire, that chosen art?

Where justice growes, there grows eke greater grace,

The which doth quench the brond of hellish smart,

And that accurst hand-writing doth deface.

Arise, Sir knight, arise, and leave this cursed place. (ix53)

Whereas the fake church of Duessa brings Redcrosse to the House of Pride, Una, the true Church, brings a shattered and weak knight to the House of Holiness where he can begin to regain his spiritual life. Because Redcrosse faces his inner self and finds his internal strengths, he is able to transform and become successful. However, it is the support of God's grace and forgiveness that frees him. Redcrosse's growth of knowledge and commitment culminates in a vision of Jerusalem and the promise of his own place. He realizes the imperfections of everything in the human world, whether it be "great Cleopolis," (ix 58) the city of the Faerie Queene or "deeds of armes" (ix 62) and Una's love. It is only when Redcrosse is able to build his inner strength that Una can enjoy her female side, as well. Only when Redcrosse truly knows what it means to personify the highest quality of holiness can he let go of Una's support and stand on his own merits. Now that the Una and Redcrosse are both independent, they are able to enjoy both sides of their inner selves and their opposite genders.

Britomart is another multidimensional character in Faerie Queene; in fact, she is a woman of completely conflicting characteristics. As a young girl, she is an innocent and sheltered maiden; as an adult, she is able to be "manly" in a knight's armor and make both men and women believe that she is a male. She is a strong woman with martial prowess, yet is driven by love and, according to Merlin, will have a child who will be the first in a long line of English monarchs ending with Elizabeth I. According to Mary Villeponteaux, some critics insist that despite Spenser's inconsistencies about women in Faerie Queene, the text is a reliable reflection of a coherent authorial ideology. In contrast, Villeponteaux concludes that these contradictions in Spenser's stance are written on purpose. They… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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