WOMEN BEHAVING BADLY: THE PROBLEM OF FEMININE DISSENT IN BOOK V OF THE FAERIE QUEENE
Shoemake, Talon Christian
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The canonical poem, The Faerie Queene, investigates the nature of six virtues through the adventures of individual titular heroes. The fifth book, “The Legend of Justice,” seems to be where Spenser’s allegory begins to break down. Two critical interpretations of how best to approach Book V have risen to prominence: first, as a strict historical allegory and the other, as a moral investigation of Spenser’s fashioning of justice. This thesis melds the two readings—historical and moral—through a gendered lens, arguing that the critical rifts of Book V are primarily as a result of pity. Specifically, pity evoked by feminine characters, who perplex and hinder male justicers during their quests of virtue. With male justicers sidelined, Spenser utilizes feminine enactors of the virtue to enact justice which must be governed by equity and stymied by mercy to restore natural order and remedy early modern anxieties regarding dissenting women.