Edmund Spenser’s longest and most important work, The Faerie Queene (1590,1596), has until recently most often been read as a work fulsomely praising Elizabeth.1 Indeed, Karl Marx was moved to label Spenser, ‘Elizabeth’s arse-kissing poet’.2 Commentators have often assumed that Spenser, like his fellow subjects, worshipped the Virgin Queen and wrote his epic romance in celebration of her rule. After all, the knights within the poem are supposedly pursuing a series of quests that will lead to the court of the mysterious virgin queen, Gloriana, a transparent allegorical figure of Elizabeth. Many of the virtuous ladies in the poem, from the woman warrior Britomart, to the chaste/chased damsel, Florimell, from the huntress Belphoebe, to the virginal nun Una, can be read as figures of Elizabeth.3 To the unwary reader, The Faerie Queene appears to be a celebration of Elizabeth’s Protestant rule and its triumph over the forces of Catholicism.
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