Date of Award
Benjamin G. Lockerd
Kathleen M. Blumreich
In modern usage, “love” and “justice” are terms used to describe universal standards of behavior even though the modern materialist worldview cannot account for such universal, abstract entities. Spenser’s Faerie Queene dramatizes the conceptual origin of these and similar terms in human experience; for, as C.S. Lewis has noted, Spenser’s poetry “Consists in giving an imagined body to the immaterial” (AL 322). Posing an answer to the question of whether these “imagined bodies” reflect an order of being transcending human experience, the romance narrative of Book III argues in the affirmative by demonstrating that universal standards such as love and justice become unintelligible when understood as private expressions of desire. For, if love and justice are conventional expressions of human desire, the drama of Book III is largely concerned with illustrating the ways convention inevitably distorts, restricts, and ultimately destroys human nature. Conversely, Spenser’s knight of chastity represents the indomitable power of nature unleashed in the service of a higher order of love—a standard for which the subjective experience of desire simply cannot account. Beginning with the desiring look in Merlin’s mirror, the alienation Britomart experiences in response to her reflection invokes the perceptual tension existing between self and other. Spenser’s allusion to Narcissus indicates that such subjective dislocation represents a divide insuperable to fallen intellects, yet the legend of chastity establishes love’s transcendent basis upon this very paradox, in the conjunction of opposites reflecting in their complementarity a figuration of universal, providential, order.
Muri, Brandon J., "“The Mirror of Desire”: Britomart and Spenserian Perception in The Faerie Queene" (2016). Masters Theses. 788.