Role of Women in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene
Edmund Spenser in his epic romance, The Faerie Queene, invents and depicts a wide array of female figures. Some of these women, such as Una and Caelia, are generally shown as faithful, virtuous and overall lovely creatures. Other feminine characters, such as Errour, Pride, and Duessa are false, lecherous and evil. This might seem to be the end of Spenser's categorization of women; that they are either good or bad. Yet upon closer examination one finds that Spenser seems to be struggling to portray women more honestly, to depict the "complex reality of woman" (Berger, 92). Spenser does not simply "idealize women or the feminine viewpoint" as he could easily do via characters like Una, but instead attempts to "revise and complicate the traditional male view" of women (Berger, 92, 111). Spenser endeavors to show various female characters, in both powerful and weak roles, and also to emphasize the importance of women in his society. Despite his intentions to give a fair representation, however, it is still obvious that Spenser was influenced by a society with a culture “whose images of woman and love, and whose institutions affecting women and love, were products of the male imagination” (Berger, 91). Throughout The Faerie Queene, Spenser reveals his anxiety about women and their power.
Una, one of the most crucial figures of the first book, is a perfect expression of Spenser's hesitance towards depicting women in a single confining manner. At times Una seems strong and confident, at other times she is shown as weak and helpless. Before their separation, and after their rapprochement, Una is the one who often rescues Redcrosse (Abate, 7). During Redcrosse's very first battle on their journey together Una gives instructions on how to properly fight. Upon seeing Redcrosse being strangled by Errour's vile tail, Una provides directions saying “’Now now Sir knight, shew what ye bee, / Add faith unto your force, and be not faint: / Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee” (1.19.164-66). With Una’s encouragement and guidance Redcrosse is able to free himself from Errour’s grasp and slay the snake creature. Again in the third canto, Spenser describes Una as a brave and powerful creature, “She of nought affrayd, / Through woods and wastnesse wide” travels alone (3.3.25-6). It seems that Una is perfectly in control of her various situations, and that Spenser is depicting women as being capable of being both beautiful and chaste as well as strong and confident.
Una is also portrayed with a religious power as she is a spiritual guide for Redcrosse. Redcrosse's chief faults are “a weak faith and a corresponding excessive confidence in his own virtue” (Broaddus, 9). Redcrosse in turn relies almost completely on Una to guide him on the righteous path. As Una and Redcrosse begin their journey together,...