Chaste Directions: Mapping Book 3's Landscape

in Spenser's Faerie Queene

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)


People reading Spenser's Faerie Queene for the first time almost inevitably find themselves well and truly lost within a canto or two. Indeed, I think Spenser actually wants to lose you. Early in the poem's first canto Spenser describes how Red Crosse and Una wander through the Wandering Wood, admiring first one tree then another, so "led with delight" that they end up completely lost. It's a good description of the couple's general confusion, but it suggests something of the reader's position as well:

Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
Vntil the blustering storm is ouerblowne;
When weening to returne, whence they did stray,
They cannot find that path, which first was showne,
But wander too and fro in wayes vnknowne,
Furthest from end then, when they nearest ween,
That makes them doubt, their wits be not their own:
So many pathes, so many turnings seene,
That which of them to take, in diuerse doubt they beene. (1.1.10)

I'm convinced that that's very like most readers' first encounter with this poem: here's a nice sight, there's another--where every stanza is a tree in the forest of the poem as a whole. But while single trees may have their interest, the sheer size of the poem makes it very hard to see the large-scale forest for the proliferation of stanza-trees.

Moreover, even if there weren't a bewildering variety of stanzas, new readers also have to deal with the poem's bizarre narrative logic. Though this poem may not be "hard" in the same way James Joyce or Virginia Woolf can be hard, neither is it easy. For Spenser's rules for reading are different from those that apply for most literature. His characters do the most unlikely things, plots spring up and grow with all the vigor of early April dandelions, connections between events seem few and far between. How can people find their way in a world as strange as this? Contrast the reading of Spenser to the reading of Shakespeare. With Shakespeare, as complicated or strange as his language may be, you are still always at home with the way you make meaning: by analogy to your own sense of how people act. When you see Kent and Gloucester talking about Edmund in the opening scene of King Lear, for example, you may not even quite understand the English in a line like "neither can make choice in either's moity." But nevertheless, when Gloucester disparages his bastard son Edmund, who just happens to be standing right next to him, most of us pretty quickly figure out that something's very wrong in this family, and we can see that precisely because we know that people don't ordinarily disparage people who are right in front of them. Shakespeare's characters thus may use words we don't know, but their motives and feelings follow the ordinary rules of behavior in the world around us.

In The Faerie Queene, by contrast, some of what happens fits our sense of "what people are likely to do," but much also doesn't. When the Comet-lady comes flying through the first canto of Book 3, for example, we can understand why the men take off to save her because we know the Damsel-in-distress motif: all good knights are supposed to respond helpfully when they see a damsel in distress. But then Britomart doesn't do what our normal sense of narrative logic would predict. She is completely unmoved by the terrified Florimell's plight. If this were a novel, that couldn't happen. It just isn't realistic that a character would more or less ignore such an extraordinary event. From a realistic or dramatic point of view, then, Britomart's action is at best a puzzle. Yet by the unrealistic, "undramatic" logic of The Faerie Queene, that strange turn doesn't mean that the episode doesn't make sense. Rather, for a skilled Spenserian reader the narrative's oddness becomes an occasion to think allegorically about how the narrative can be seen as itself a way of representing something--in this case a question about why males might respond to "beauty's chase" and the Griesly Foster's outrageous boar spear in one way, and females (or at least THIS female) in quite another.

So the general point here is that Britomart's remaining behind and unmoved by Florimell's plight at the opening of Book 3 makes sense not dramatically or characterologically, but conceptually and allegorically. But that kind of conceptual and allegorical move to interpretation is not a move most modern readers find easy to make. Trained as we are on novels and films, we generally see the sort of dramatic inconsistency that suffuses The Faerie Queene as, well, just that: inconsistency, an indication of inferior story-telling. So new readers of Spenser have to learn a method for reading this poem from scratch. If they don't learn to change their expectations about what ought to happen in a story, then there will seem to be nothing intelligible going on in The Faerie Queene at all--only chaos.

But how does one find sense in all this narrative chaos? Spenser actually gives you a couple non-narrative ways of organizing The Faerie Queene's otherwise chaotically interwoven stories. One is through what I call "rubric" lines and stanzas. These are comments from the narrator, often opening a canto, which actually define the conceptual framework-- the thematic "ballpark," as it were--within which any one stretch of the poem is working. ("Rubric," from the Latin for "red," is the name for those big, illustrated letters in fancy books that begin chapters or key paragraphs--an ornamental way to emphasize an important point in the text.)

Spenser's rubric lines often enough come only AFTER the episode they comment on: the opening of Book 3, Canto 2, for example, talks about how the culture no longer respects warlike femininity--and thereby effectively comments upon the narrative tableau with which Canto 1 ends: there we had seen Malecasta, the Lady of Castle Joyous, hysterically, passively, and stereotypically grabbing attention by collapsing in a dead faint, and over her we see Britomart, active and warlike, her sword in her hand, ready to defend herself against anyone who would attack her. We thus get as Canto 1 ends two views of "feminine" behavior--one (Malecasta's hysterical passive-aggressiveness) embraced by the knights who surround her, the other (Britomart's active and powerful self-defense) seen as threatening and dangerous.

When as readers we first come to that tableau, however, it is likely to seem pretty mysterious. We may not know what to make of them. But then those first stanzas of Canto 2 come along, and in them Spenser reflects quite openly on "warlike maids," and on why we no longer recognize them as acceptable and even idealizable models for human behavior. How has it come about, these stanzas ask, that warrior women now seem so strange and threatening?

Here haue I cause, in men iust blame to find,
That in their proper prayse too partiall bee,
And not indifferent to* woman kind, *i.e., they are prejudiced against
To whom no share in armes and cheualrie
They do impart, ne maken memorie
Of their braue gestes and prowesse martiall;
Scarse do they spare to one or two or three,
Rowme in their writs; yet the same writing small
Does all their deeds deface, and dims their glories all.

But by record of antique times I find,
That women wont in warres to beare most sway,
And to all great exploits them selues inclind:
Of which they still the girlond bore away,
Till enuious Men fearing their rules decay,
Gan coyne streight lawes to curb their liberty. . . . (3.2.1-2)

With these two stanzas, then, Spenser looks back at Canto 1 to offer a way to think about the very vivid but confusing narrative he has just delivered. Only now does Spenser specifically gender his argument: this narrative is about the different ways in which men and women see the world, and about how men have re-written the culture's texts both to exclude women from their just fame, and to "curb their liberty." And Britomart in these "rubric" lines is identified as the re-embodiment of that "antique" concept of woman, not subordinate to men--as women actually very much were in sixteenth-century England--but equal to them, or, indeed (the first few lines of stanza 2 seem to suggest) even superior to them.

Beyond those rubric moments Spenser also imposes a kind of conceptual coherence upon his narratives by including within them certain kinds of thematic repetition. In Book 3 perhaps the most obviously repeated motif is that of Venus, Adonis, and the Boar. Spenser introduces the motif in Canto1's wall tapestry, and if we think of the Venus and Adonis myth as a way of thematizing issues of gender, power, sexuality, and transformation, we can also see how the narratives of Book 3 repeat versions of that myth's three figures: the narcissistic Adonis, the seductive Venus, and the destructive Boar. Thus in the Malecasta canto (Canto 1) we can see how Britomart, especially in the last stanzas, becomes an Adonis-like figure, refusing Malecasta's love (the way in the myth Adonis refused Venus' love), choosing a militant anti-Malecasta stance instead, even being wounded by Gardante's arrow much as Adonis was wounded by the Boar's tusk.

Now, of course, whatever similarity Britomart has to Adonis, she's also not Adonis. Though she, like Adonis, is wounded, she doesn't die. At the same time though, while she does not die and is not (in Adonis-like fashion) transformed to a flower, nevertheless (as canto 2 will explain) Britomart has in fact been transformed. Before she was the active, warlike woman we see in Canto 1, Canto 2 tells us the story of how she came to be that way--a story of transformation by means of love, imagination, and art.

Later (in canto 4), the Marinell story enacts the Venus-Adonis story in a quite different configuration. There it is not Britomart but Marinell who is the Adonis figure, hunting not boars, but any knight who might venture on "his" shore. He, too, is narcissistic, using his spear to assert now a masculine sort of dominating power, just as Adonis used his to hunt and kill wild game. And Britomart responds to that assertion. But instead of seeming Adonis-like here, as she did in Canto 1, now she is the boar--a (tusk-like) spear-wielding power who (in Spenser's punning word) "bore" Marinell from his saddle, leaving him (as Adonis is left in the myth) mortally wounded, gored and bleeding his life away.

And then in canto 5 we have yet another version of the Adonis story, when Arthur's squire Timias, having been wounded by the Foster's friends, becomes a figure of the wounded Adonis, left to die after having been gored by beastly spears. But then, in still another twist on the motif, when Belphoebe (Diana's foster-daughter, actually--so related to Venus) becomes his rescuer, Timias is now transformed instead to a frustrated version of Venus and Belphoebe becomes a type of Adonis: just as in Ovid's myth Adonis refuses to respond to Venus' love, so here Belphoebe refuses to respond to Timias' love. The situation for the Squire thus now runs parallel to that of Venus in the myth: he is in love with the unreachably chaste, Adonis-like Belphoebe.

Now, the point of sketching out these parallels is only to show that if one sees first how the Venus and Adonis myth can itself be read as a thematizing of the competitive dynamics of erotic power, one can use it also as a way to map an otherwise wandering and dilatory narrative into a series of reflections on love, gender, sexuality, and desire. "Chastity," which for most modern readers seems a quite simple and even unattractive concept, is thus refracted through a complicated set of narratives to become the means by which Spenser involves us in an extended conversation on the disciplinary subjects of eros and control.



So far, so good. We have a complicated poem which we must approach allegorically, not dramatically. But just how, exactly, does one do that? My experience is that new readers of Spenser do best if they can think of reading The Faerie Queene as what is essentially a two step method: location, and exploration. For the first, the task is essentially conceptual: you look for ways to identify the thematic ballpark within which Spenser's stanzas will be playing. Here in Canto 1 of Book 3 Spenser offers in Malecasta and Britomart two commonplace notions of chaste womanhood, one very obviously good, one very obviously bad. Spenser has a number of devices to help you locate his thematic ballpark. Rubric lines and stanzas help a great deal; so do the names of characters and places and (obviously--so obvious one might overlook them) the poem's books. Book 3 is the book of Chastity; somehow, it then follows, and in some way,

everything in the book is going to be in the big ballpark of a conversation about chastity: what it is, what it isn't, the different forms it takes, what attacks it, how it defends itself, and so on.

But once having established the thematic ballpark, the problem then becomes one of seeing how the poem offers ways to explore the questions raised there. For The Faerie Queene, like many powerful literary works, can be thought of as a continuing and complicating conversation about a series of culturally important ideas, and the trick with Spenser as elsewhere is to figure out how and where the poem supplies ways in which that talk can be carried out. Here that conversation unfolds both through word play and syntactic ambiguity (what I call "looseness"), and by the way Spenser links ideas and thematic lines by overlaying one upon another, like the Venus and Adonis motif overlaid upon the Malecasta narrative.

Thus in Canto 1, once we have located in Britomart and Malecasta two competing models of "chastity" (step one), we are then in position to watch the language create ways to reflect on (ask questions about) how those models are alike, and how they differ (step two). One of these figures (the language suggests) is courtly, flirting, sexual, yet also cold and afraid of feeling, paradoxically chaste and libidinal at the same time, derived from a courtly love of teasing, but dependent as well on a kind of stereotypically feminine passivity. In contrast to that retrograde version of "chastity" (a bad chasteness--which is what the word "Malecasta" actually means) is Britomart's: martial, "masculine" even (think of her standing, sword in hand), active, non-libidinal, yet also "hot." Britomart's chastity is represented as bold, powerful and self-assertive, concerned not with public "courtly" convention as is Malecasta's but with a private sense of goal and identity.

To be sure, the reasons for Britomart's power are not immediately evident, but those reasons do become a major discussion point in canto 2: what is the basis for such an extraordinary notion of feminine power? There the answers will begin with a sense both that Britomart (unlike Malecasta) is one who knows who she is and what she wants, and that she organizes her action in the terms of a quest for that goal (and that, of course, is also rendered as a perfectly natural consequence of her falling in love, which itself is rendered in terms of the natural processes of puberty on one hand, and idealization and imagination on the other). Malecasta, by contrast, seems to occupy a goal-less, ideal-less world of libidinous indolence, chaste by frustration, a negative sexuality. Both models are sexual, feminine, and chaste--but that's about as far as the likeness goes.

Readers can make more connections than this here--putting all these issues against the thematics of Venus and Adonis introduces questions of dominance, power and gender, for example. But (I repeat) all of these moves illustrate the poem's general mode of procedure: first to offer one or more commonplace ideas, to establish what I'm calling a thematic or conceptual ballpark, but then, second, at the same time to represent them in such language and narrative detail as can best invite us to more complex reflection about them.


I've now outlined a method for reading Spenser, and I've pointed to a few features of the landscape that can help locate its thematic paths. But now what do we do with them all? How do these become an extended conversation about Chastity instead of merely isolated reflections? Let's begin by returning again to the book's opening canto, this time to the dilemma Spenser poses through the episode of the Griesly Foster. Spenser introduces the Foster (a Spenserian spelling for "Forester," by the way) in a stanza of technicolor imagery, Florimell having just rushed past, leaving the amazed knights agape in her wake:

So as they gazed after her a while,
Lo where a griesly Foster forth did rush,
Breathing out beastly lust her to defile:
His tyreling iade he fiercely forth did push,
Through thicke and thin, both ouer banke and bush
In hope her to attaine by hooke or crooke,
That from his gorie sides the bloud did gush:
Large were his limbes, and terrible his looke,
And in his clownish hand a sharp bore speare he shooke.

Which outrage, when those gentle knights did see,
Full of great enuie and fell gealosy,
They stayd not to auise, who first should bee,
But all spurd after fast, as they mote fly,
To reskew her from shamefull villany.

A number of things are set in motion by these lines, but the one I find most interesting is how the loose reference of the "Which" that opens stanza 18 raises a question about what exactly moves these knights to action in the first place. If the outrage is the whole situation they have just had revealed to them, of a vile and beastly fellow chasing a defenseless fleeing maiden, then their response easily fits the conventional "knights-go-off-to-save-damsel-in-distress" motif. But two things about Spenser's description here complicate that idea. First is the curious narrative pause in the action. Florimell has just zipped across the landscape, in obvious distress, yet that seems not to have moved anyone here to action. Instead they merely gaze "after her a while." Of course, they do take off in chase in a moment, but if it isn't Florimell that moves them, then just exactly what does?

The second problem arises in that loose "Which." For the rules of reference in English normally require that such a pronoun refer not to a whole situation, but to the immediately preceding noun--in this case the Foster's "sharp bore speare." The syntax is thus at the very least ambiguous, and the question thus necessarily arises: what does it mean that the "outrage" of the Foster's spear is a source of the adventurers' envy and jealousy? Is it in fact only the noble urge to save a damsel- in-distress that transforms them from "gentle knights" into excited chasers? Or is it rather the envy and jealousy engendered in them by the sight of another male in a state of symbolic arousal? Are all such chasings, even those with ostensibly noble motives, really only disguised and envious forms of Griesly-Foster-dom? At some level are all knightly quests and joustings only transformed versions of a deep-seated erotic desire?

Given such a line of thought, this transformation of gentle knights into excited chasers not only starts a series of narrative lines, but it also effectively advances a principle that will drive action from this point all the way to the Britomart-Artegall meeting in Book 4: the world is awash in erotic energies which are always transforming, always chasing, and always potentially dangerous. Indeed, that principle is so constant in this book that it deserves special emphasis as something like the central psychic question of the book:

Given that the human psyche is characterized by deep-seated and potentially destructive energies that express themselves as erotic desires, how, the book of Chastity would ask, can any mind chasten forces so insidiously situated, so beautifully disguised?

One important strand of the book, then, starts with the sight of the Foster's "outrage." But a second thing that matters back in those book-opening lines is what does NOT happen. For though Spenser says "all spurd after fast," that's not exactly true:

The whiles faire Britomart, whose constant mind,
Would not so lightly follow beauties chace,
Ne reckt of Ladies Loue, did stay behind,
And them awayted there a certain space,
To weet if they would turne backe to that place:
But when she saw them gone, she forward went,
As lay her iourney, through that perlous Pace,
With stedfast courage and stout hardiment;
Ne euill thing she fear'd, ne euill thing she ment. (3.1.19)

So Britomart, "whose constant mind,/ Would not so lightly follow beauties chace," stays behind, and with that the book's conceptual scheme divides, and the first possibility for the disciplining of the outrageous energies which the Foster represents and which so excite the canto's male knights appears. "Beauties chace" seems very clearly a masculine issue here; that's what men do. Whatever Britomart's erotic interests are, they find nothing moving about either Florimell or the Foster.

Spenser's word in this stanza for Britomart's mind is "constant"; set as it is in opposition to "beauties chace" it announces a second, and opposing, motive principle in the poem, what in Canto 2 particularly will be explored as a "constant" sense of purpose lying behind her quest, the vision of Artegall. Of course, this too is a transformed version of erotic energy, but its means of transformation is quite unlike the rather straightforwardly visceral responses men have to Florimell. For Britomart's transformation of desire, to which we are introduced in Canto 2, is routed through the idealizing glass of her father's closet, created via a kind of synthesis of narcissism, Oedipal attraction, and artful imagination. And thus while other figures in the poem are represented as responding to objects in Beauty's chase, Britomart has no interest in beauty's objects at all. She already knows what she wants: "Artegall."

But where are we in this? Just like Arthur, Timias and Guyon, we, too, can all see the Foster as "griesly" and outrageous. But the real challenge is to see that that same griesly assertion of power which we all can see here also recurs again and again elsewhere, only in distinctly more disguised forms. One such form is in the courtly game of King of the Hill that Britomart encounters outside Malecasta's castle--a game Britomart's chaste discipline quickly dismantles. Another is in Malecasta herself, for she, too, can be seen as a transformed version of the outrageous Foster. To be sure, she is well disguised by her courtly hostess-ship: what sense does it make to suggest that such a Lady could also represent a serious threat to Britomart's virtue? Yet there she is--the catalyst for Gardante's arrow, the only wound Britomart will receive in the entire poem.

Indeed, erotic energies are so pervasively distributed in the world of this poem that it is practically impossible to tell legitimate interests from the illegitimate. I think that's the point of Florimell's decision in Canto 4 not to heed Prince Arthur's frantic calls to stop. Readers who have read Books 1 and 2 will know that Arthur is above reproach. But Florimell is new here, and her experience in Book 3 has been scary enough that,

though looking backward, well she vewd,
Her selfe freed from that foster insolent,
And that it was a knight, which now her sewd,
Yet she no lesse that knight feard, then that villein rude. (3.4.50)

Yes, she can tell the two figures apart, but yes, they also somehow still very much look the same. How in fact would a stranger know that Arthur's motives are truly pure? Sure, we know how pure Arthur really is, and so we also know that Florimell could stop without any risk at all of Griesly behavior. But that's not the point. In a stanza like this Spenser asks us to take her fear seriously, for until one has thought through the conceptual issues that surround the transformations of erotic desire, even the most harmless-seeming figures can turn out to be threatening.

Indeed, just in case we don't get it here, Spenser replays the issue yet again in Canto 7 when the Witch's son diverts his "lustful" desire for Florimell into the rituals of romantic courtship. For on the surface, it's again hard to see that his actual behavior--as opposed to what we readers know he really thinks--is "lustful" at all:

Closely the wicked flame his bowels brent,
And shortly grew into outrageous fire;
Yet had he not the hart, nor hardiment,
As vnto her to vtter his desire;
His caytiue thought durst not so high aspire,
But with soft sighes, and louely semblaunces,
He ween'd that his affection entire
She should aread; many resemblaunces
To her he made, and many kind remembraunces. (3.7.16)

Surprisingly, given the "wicked flame" and "outrageous fire" described in the stanza's first two lines, the Son's behavior turns out to look, in fact, quite "soft," "louely," and "kind." Of course, Spenser assures us that appearances are deceiving; the seven lines devoted to the Son's restrained, "kind" courting may even remind us of Malecasta way back in Canto 1, who also pursues her erotic desires with this sort of seemingly passive "soft"-ness (see 3.1.60-1: "panting soft," "soft hand," "softly felt," "softly layd"). But the point here as there, again, is that these "louely semblaunces" are just that: they resemble love, but, somehow, are not love in fact. Rather (and even though the Son lacks "hardiment"[!] at this particular moment), they once again only mask those same boar-ishly destructive erotic energies we saw so clearly in the Foster.



So erotic desire as Spenser sees it in Book 3 is pervasive, endlessly transformative, and--short of some sort of Britomart-like intervention--enslaving and destroying. And that all leads to the obvious next question: "What, then, to do about it?" The simple answer--and the right one in Spenser's vocabulary--is "Chastity." But as one might have learned to expect in a poem so given to analytic reflection as The Faerie Queene, that answer only leads to yet another question: "All right, but what, then, is Chastity?" For despite the simplifying logic of commonplace instructions like "Just say no," mere abstinence (a definition we might first offer for Chastity) is merely one option (and even abstinence here is not simple: Spenser offers at least eight distinctly different versions: Britomart's, Belphoebe's, Malecasta's, Florimell's, Marinell's, Timias', Malbecco's [yes, even his!], Amoret's).

Of course, Spenser's favored response finally will be represented by Britomart's chaste power, what I call her "erotic discipline": chastity as an active and erotic virtue, a taking on of the forces arrayed against it, and a "chastening" of them by the installation of control over them, a capturing which is represented throughout Britomart's story as the placing of a ring around their energies, holding them within not simply to suppress them (that's what Satyrane tries with the Witch's monster in Canto 7--it doesn't work) but in order to harness their strength, and to multiply it as well. When Artegall finally courts Britomart in Book 4, he sees immediately that his erotic interest must be packaged with a certain amount of finesse. Yet paradoxically, as he curbs "his ranging fancie," his passion also grows "more fierce and faine"--a nutshell explanation for the incredible power of Chastity, Britomart's "secret powre vnseene":

her modest countenance he saw
So goodly graue, and full of princely aw,
That it his ranging fancie did refraine,
And looser thoughts to lawfull bounds withdraw;
Whereby the passion grew more fierce and faine,
Like to a stubborne steede whom strong hand would restraine. (4.6.33)

That's the idea we are headed for: a steed under rein, power in control. But that's not really developed as a solution until Book 4, Canto 6. Before Spenser gets to that he first tours other "chaste" solutions, and that tour constitutes Book 3's second organizing principle, an inventory of various strategies the culture has developed to counter the destructive powers of Eros. Thus there's Marinell's narcissistic chastity in Canto 4, and Timias' honorable yet deeply erotic commitment to the goddess of chastity herself in Canto 5. There is the fecund, endlessly sexual chastity of The Garden of Adonis--paradoxically perfectly chaste and purely erotic. There is the "chased" chasteness of Florimell--whose response to erotic aggression is to flee. There is the parodic chasteness of the Snowy Florimell--who, though she'll only flirt, is an essence of bad chastity, and thus no true chastity at all. Indeed, there is even Malecasta's particularly peculiar, impotently sexual chastity. Her name, remember, doesn't mean "Not chaste," but "Badly chaste." And so she is, as she climbs into Britomart's bed so secretly as not to betray her presence. "Trembling euery ioynt," she moves "Her fearfull feete" in a pathetic and frustrated embodiment of chastity-in-spite-of-itself:

Th'embroderd quilt she lightly vp did lift,
And by her side her selfe she softly layd,
Of euery finest fingers touch affrayd;
Ne any noise she made, ne word she spake,
But inly sigh'd. (3.1.61)

And then there is the special case of married love, which Spenser (cynically, one might say) begins with the narrative of Malbecco and Helenore. "It is better to marry than to burn," St Paul wrote. But not always. For if Malbecco is surely the more "chaste" of this pair in purely sexual terms, he is nevertheless as unchaste as any figure in the poem. And Helenore is just as surely as sexually profligate as any figure in the poem--as her name "Helen-whore" would suggest. Yet by the bizarre logic of Cantos 9 and 10, she also seems far less culpable in her rejection of the marriage than is her jealous husband in his vain attempt to maintain it. These are the first of the poem's marriage cantos--and they are followed by two more depicting the newly married Amoret imprisoned in the House of Busyrane, where Britomart's chaste discipline is both brought to bear upon Busyrane's sadistic eroticism, and itself introduced to constraint. "Be bold, be bold, and euery where Be bold, the first inscription reads, but second rewrites it: "Be not too bold"--a message of restraint reiterated when Amoret later intervenes to prevent Britomart from a "too bold" slaying--rather than a mere chastening--of Busyrane.



So (returning now to the problem from which all this began: Spenser's chaotic narrative practice) as multiple and as indirectly connected to each other as the narrative strands of Book 3 are, the logical relations between them are clear enough that we can establish something like a conceptual map of the Book's large-scale allegorical terrain: sites of erotic energies, and sites of "chaste/chased" responses. But if we think of the Book's varied versions of erotic and chaste behavior as locations on a kind of conceptual map, we can also imagine what we might call the poem's "motive principles": those forces which set the Book's narrative figures into motion among its different behavioral possibilities. Of these forces, two run in different ways throughout all of Book 3 and on through the first 6 cantos of Book 4: Beauty, and "Egallity."

The person most closely representing Beauty is Florimell. She is an object of erotic desire wherever she goes, and as such is the very thing which starts the action of the whole book. As we've already seen, the proposition that ("chaste") beauty is chased by desire is offered as a given in Canto 1: Florimell flies through the landscape like a comet through the heavens, the Griesly Foster pursuing fiercely, while "in his clownish hand a sharp bore speare he shooke." That picture can be something of an icon for knightly motive from here all the way up to Book 4, Canto 6.

"Egallity" (a sixteenth-century way of spelling "equality") is something else, and something that serves as motive for the other force of the Book: Britomart's quest. In Canto 2 of Book 3 the poem recounts how Britomart's transformation of desire is routed through the idealizing glass of her father's closet; this synthesis of narcissism, Oedipal attraction, and imagination has made her different from the questing males. She has no interest in beauty's objects at all. She already knows what she wants: "Artegall," and all that the idea of "egall-ity" would imply: a dignity of self such that she never be dominated by her partner, but respected and loved instead. Indeed, it is exactly that notion of domination, of "mastery," that Britomart herself condemns as the enemy of love way back in 3.1:

Ne may loue be compeld by maisterie;
For soone as maisterie comes, sweet loue anone
Taketh his nimble wings, and soone away is gone. (3.1.25)

Just as important as seeing the pun in Artegall's name, however, is to realize that this ideal towards which she has set her "constant mind" doesn't as yet exist. For though there is a figure named Artegall in the world out there somewhere, he is (we later learn) in no way yet anything like the ideal she has envisioned. He is a project still under construction, incomplete until Britomart overcomes him. Before that point he is merely the Salvage Knight, covered with leaves and moss, and bedecked with a motto on his shield that ties him much more closely to the Griesly Foster (again!) than to Britomart: "Salvagesse sans finesse." Precisely. He is in fact something like the sum of all those knights of Maidenhead whom he himself meets and defeats in 4.4. And like them, he is much in need of that thing his motto declares him to be without: finesse, "refinement." And that refinement, arguably, is just exactly what Britomart's hand--and face, and, most of all, martial stance--imposes upon him. And in that imposition comes the real creation--or perhaps better, realization via transformation--of the Salvage Knight into the Artegall of Britomart's vision.

For Britomart's victory over Artegall in Book 4 certainly represents a change. Before that point Artegall is as savage as Satyrane; his transformation comes precisely when he sees what for him was until now unimaginable: a knight who is both his match and his opposite. He sees her in a stanza of stunning sexuality: martially excited, roused, powerful, but also denuded, in a roseate, sexual glow:

With that her angels face, vnseene afore,
Like to the ruddie morne appeard in sight,
Deawed with siluer drops, through sweating sore,
But somewhat redder, then beseem'd aright,
Through toylesome heate and labour of her weary fight.

To be sure, to see that as a sexual metaphor is a bold reading. But what is this Canto's female-male encounter anyway? Surely even without suggestive imagery like this the whole episode echoes sexual jousting; and just as surely the bizarre impotence Artegall suddenly here undergoes corresponds quite exactly to the point at which gender enters his understanding of the battle. Up to this point the contest was merely one of martial (read "manly") might. But then he finds himself one on one with a she, and (wonder of wonders again in this poem, where the sight of beauty has until this moment been a virtually formulaic opportunity for any masculine character to start an Adonis-like, peacock-strutting series of phallically transformative moves, like Jove, or Proteus, or that "Father of all forms," "Transformed oft, and chaunged diuersely," the phallic Adonis in Venus' garden) finds himself dismade. Spenser is wonderfully vague about the cause of Artegall's submission: the sword fell from his hand,

as if the steele had sence,
And felt some ruth, or sence his hand did lacke,
Or both of them did thinke, obedience
To doe to so diuine a beauties excellence. (4.6.21)

Time stands still as The Saluage Knight processes, but cannot quite grasp, what he sees, and then in submission falls to his knee:

And he himself long gazing thereupon,
At last fell humbly downe vpon his knee,
And of his wonder made religion,
Weening some heauenly goddesse he did see,
Or else unweeting, what it else might be;... (4.6.22)

In the alchemists' trade this would be the moment of projection. Having worked and cooked, boiled and mixed, this is the moment when lead will turn to gold. It is quite obviously a moment of transformation, and it proceeds through energies which are both erotic and disciplinary. Britomart has chastened Artegall's will, has disciplined his heroic-erotic energy. And his "wonder" is in the vision he sees: the martial maid, the active, sexually provocative and physically threatening maid. The vision creates "wonder" because it's been gone from the world so long that it no longer even seems possible. Spenser himself has already told us that in the stanzas I quoted above from 3.2:

Here have I cause, in men just blame to find
That in their proper prayse too partiall bee, And not indifferent to* woman kind, i.e., they are prejudiced against

... ne maken memorie
Of their braue gestes and prowesse martiall..." (3.2.1)

Britomart disciplines Artegall's salvagesse, adds some finesse, by giving him a lesson, "showing" him something ("teaching" in its etymologically precise form). She shows him the vision she has had for a future England, a notion of gender relations he could not imagine for himself, and in so doing also educates him, instructs him "by ensample" (as Spenser's wording in the letter to Raleigh would have it) that there are more things in the world than his and all his kind's quite narrow views have seen. It's as if after all these encounters of male with female, canto after canto, we finally have a kind of summative aporeia, an epiphany in which the error of this mindless thrusting on, this outrage against "so diuine a beauties excellence" finally soaks in--and only, first, because of the complete surprise with which the idea strikes him: this is a she, a powerful she, an angry she, a she who can defend herself, demand power in return, be a force to equal his own. And second because she will indeed not let herself be taken.

But though Artegall is chastened in these stanzas, Britomart's rage is not done. Rather, it continues for six more stanzas, even after she sees his "louely face." It finally leaves her only at her hearing "the name of Artegall." To see his face was moving, but not transforming. What really seems to make the difference is the valorizing his name gives to the ideal with which her quest began: "Soone as she heard the name of Artegall, Her hart did leape, and all her hart-strings tremble." Though Artegall does not say it to Britomart himself, his paranomasiac name says it for him: "Thou Art egall." And by this point in the poem, having sampled the many, many ways the culture has developed to subordinate erotic partners--Malecasta's passive aggression, Malbecco's object-oriented jealousy, Marinell's narcissism, the Witch's Son's poetic semblances, Satyrane's idolatry, Busyrane's sexual sadism--Spenser has truly established a basis for embracing that idealized alternative. (Not that the logical and romantic notion of "egality" is unproblematic either in The Faerie Queene or in our own time. It is one thing to idealize "egall" lives, quite another to live them.)

All of this transformation by discipline takes place at both a psychic and an interpersonal level; one way to read this disciplining is entirely internally, of course. We are all of us both masculine and feminine; Britomart is not just a figure of a martial maid, she is also a figure of the psychic energies of imagination and discipline. This is an allegory of mind as well as an allegory of our gender culture. But the poem functions in another dimension as well--for what Britomart does to Artegall via erotic discipline is also, I take it, a figure for what Spenser as poet would do to England--and more specifically to Lord Burleigh, Elizabeth's right-hand man and a reader reputed to have dismissed the Faerie Queene's first three books as unworthy of serious attention, and even to Elizabeth herself. Spenser is in fact quite explicit about his political and educational agendas. "[W]ith drops of melting loue, Deawd with ambrosiall kisses," the proem to Book 4 asks of Cupid, "Sprinckle her heart, and haughtie courage soften, That she may hearke to loue, and reade this lesson often." Malbecco-like "Rugged forheads" may not acknowledge the centrality of "louers deare debate," that it "of honor and all vertue is / The roote, and brings forth glorious flowres of fame," but one can imagine that they could be brought to acknowledgement if only they will but "hearke" and accept the "lesson" these books provide of Spenser's own version of erotic discipline.

Nor is the problem just at the top. If Elizabeth and her counselors need some educational discipline, the tournament scenes of Cantos 4 and 5 extend this vision of value-blindness immensely by offering an entire world in which Artegall's wildness merely represents the sum of a savage social landscape, a world barren of any real understanding of honor or fame, a world which stupidly fights in vain for values they falsely impute to Florimell's girdle. There are many moments of bitter attack on false values in these cantos, but none is stronger than the epic simile with which Spenser closes Canto 4 of Book 4, rendering Britomart's near comic victory over every knight in this profane and wretched rout:

Like as in sommers day when raging heat
Doth burne the earth, and boyled riuers drie,
That all brute beasts forst to refraine fro meat,
Doe hunt for shade, where shrowded they may lie,
And missing it, faine from themselues to flie;
All trauellers tormented are with paine:
A watry cloud doth ouercast the skie,
And poureth forth a sudden shoure of raine,
That all the wretched world recomforteth againe. (4.4.47)

Absent Britomart's purifying, restorative, fertility suggesting "shoure," the inhabitants of this world are "raging," "brute," in flight from their very selves, "tormented" and "wretched." By this logic, then, one can see the poem conferring upon Elizabeth a task parallel to Britomart's: to chasten a social order whose values have reduced its members to brutish wanderers in a wasteland of torment.

So Britomart's action upon Artegall can also be seen as an image of poetry itself--The Faerie Queene itself--in its own disciplinary mode, educating its reader through the "perfit sight" of its reflections, offering a lesson, teaching by ensample. And this, too, is thematized in Book 4's proem. After the 1st 3 stanzas describe the failure of his poetry to move the likes of Burleigh, in stanzas 4 and 5 Spenser shifts the object of the poem's teachings to Elizabeth herself:

To her this song most fitly is addrest,
The Queene of loue, and Prince of peace from heauen blest. (4.Pr.4)

Elizabeth loves best, and thus is Spenser's "most fit" audience. But audiences are there to listen, not to speak, and Spenser closes the proem by representing Elizabeth as needing to learn more, and by proposing himself as her teacher: "[W]ith drops of melting loue, Deawd with ambrosiall kisses," the proem's last stanza asks of Cupid, "Sprinckle her heart, and haughtie courage soften, That she may hearke to loue, and reade this lesson often."

The very conception of The Faerie Queene, then, finally implies the poet's own power to re-write and transform the less-than-fully-civil state into a more informed republic. Elizabeth, as the passive audience for Spenser's poem, is as much subordinate to him as he was to her; certainly any poem that could imagine itself as educative necessarily also imagines itself as capable both of proposing an ideal better than the current situation, and of inducing action towards it. Both entail as a condition for success the politically extraordinary idea that Elizabeth be listening, subjecting herself to advice from her commoner poet.

In the end, then, Spenser's agenda in these books is surprisingly varied. He provides an anatomy of chastity and its relation to friendship, exploring both the psychic foundations of erotic interactions and the kinds of civilizing discipline required to harness them. But he pursues as well a political project, offering first a critique of the culture that surrounds him, a culture of masculine domination, of griesly motives that lead to senseless displays of violence harnessed to vain and godless goals of empty glamour and thinly disguised celebrations of raw power, and then an educative process to be used in reforming that culture. And even as he pursues those projects, he offers as well an analysis of the poetic mind, of the power that a disciplined and informed intelligence can wield against the false forms of unchastity that surround it.

To be sure, Spenser's treatments of these projects are not always either clear or simple; any of our readings are always partial, loose ends abound. But that is what happens when one's argument works--as most literary discourse does--by the logic of likeness. It is the difference Spenser himself describes in the Letter to Raleigh as that between "good discipline deliuered plainly in way of precepts" and that same good discipline "clowdily enwrapped in Allegoricall deuises." It is the nature of clouds to obscure things; it is the cover of that obscurity that allows Spenser to both praise his monarch, and, even if by romance and rime, to school her in, and with, goodly discipline.