Character of Britomart in Spenser’s the Faerie Queene

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This thesis argues that Britomart is a site of conflicting ideas concerning chastity and passion, virtue and eroticism, and therefore synthesises the pertinent codes of Renaissance culture in Elizabethan England.


“Thompson’s thesis that Britomart is a site of conflicting ideas concerning chastity and passion, virtue and eroticism, usefully synthesizes the pertinent codes of Renaissance culture in Elizabethan England, but it also goes considerably beyond synthesis in arguing for the priority of passion in Britomart’s character – a priority that at once relates her sympathetically to figures of vice like Malecasta and accounts for her diminution through a subversive irrelevance in the politicized books of the 1596 installment. Both as an enlightening synthesis of existing views and as a boldly cohesive original hypothesis, Thompson’s thesis contributes significantly to an understanding of Spenser’s major female character.” – Judith Anderson

“Joanna Thompson has written an exciting and informative book. It provides a more comprehensive account of Britomart than any previous writer on The Faerie Queene has offered. Her approach, which is thoroughly grounded in contemporary theory, nevertheless manages to avoid the opacity of so much theoretically-based writing. Intellectually sophisticated but blessedly clear and unpretentious, Joanna Thompson’s study negotiates the complex issues of cultural confusion in Spenser’s representation of his most important female construct. This book is an indispensable addition to Spenser studies.” – Christopher Wortham

“Dr. Thompson moves around this large, difficult and detailed poem with confidence and a firm command of its details. Her study combines well close reading, traditional scholarship and a reading of a variety of early modern texts with modern critical theory and approaches gleaned from other disciplines, e.g. studies of cinema.” – Gareth Roberts

Table of Contents

Table of contents (main headings)
Preface; Foreword
Part 1: Britomart and Concepts of Chastity in The Faerie Queene: Representations of Magnanimous Love and Moral Virtue
1. ‘Chast Desire’ and “Affection Chaste’: Spenser’s Vision of Chaste Love and Its Relation to Protestant Thought
2. ‘And next to her sate sober Modestie’ : Aspects of the Double Standard in Spenser’s Construction of Chastity
Part 2: Spenser and the Fashioning of Courtly Love
3. ‘And him beside marcht amorous Desyre’: Spenser and the Problem of Courtly Love
4. ‘Of huge affection, did in pleasure melt’: Chaste Desire and the Rehabilitation of Courtly Love
Part 3: Eliminating Britomart: The Suppression of Poetic Voice in Books 4 and 5
5. ‘So loue of soule doth loue of bodie passe’: The Mitigation of Erotic Love in Book 4
6. ‘That part of Iustice, which is Equity’: The Function and Displacement of Britomart in Book 5
Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index

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