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Scholarly Horizons: University of Minnesota, Morris Undergraduate Journal

Abstract

Queen Elizabeth I defied the societal and political expectations of her time by remaining an unmarried, female monarch for the entirety of her rule. She was glorified by many, including Edmund Spenser, who dedicated his epic poem The Faerie Queene to her. Yet tensions surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s unmarried, powerful status infiltrate Spenser’s work through the repeated loss of female power, which seems in conflict with Spenser’s supposed idealization of his monarch. Curiously, various female figures in The Faerie Queene can be linked to Irish sovereignty goddesses, female figures who have power over Irish land and transfer this power to men through marriage. As such, these sovereignty goddesses establish an Irish-feminine link, allowing the loss of female power in Book Five of The Faerie Queene to be read in a new light. Spenser’s “Letter to Raleigh” and the proem to Book Five outline a vision of justice that excludes female and Irish power; then, the repeated triumph of various male figures - the Knight Artegall and Lord Grey - as well as the subversion of female figures - Britomart, Irena, and Radigund - fulfills this vision. Ultimately, this suggests a protest against Queen Elizabeth’s own power. Hence, I argue that Spenser purposefully invokes the presence of Irish sovereignty goddesses to imply that because of her connection to Irishness, as well as her femininity, Queen Elizabeth is not truly fit for rule.

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