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        Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, was originally intended to be a conduct book, constructing ideas of desirable behavior for men and women of Renaissance England. It has widely been examined as an allegory, a set of social mores communicated through narrative, and an epic poem presenting religious and societal ideals through stories of knights and ladies; many of its characters are viewed as embodiments of a particular virtue, or a reflection of the queen. A number of scholars, including Richard A. Levin, D. Douglas Waters, Lauren Silberman, and Dorothy Stephens, consider female Faerie Queene characters as representations of good or evil, or examine the Biblical, historical, or literary allegories they present. While these ladies, especially Una, are frequently explored, often in contrast to one another, the witch Duessa is important in her own right as a type of feminist force and representation of the threat posed by women to the patriarchal system. Duessa in Book I of The Faerie Queene, both in comparison to other female characters and on her own, can be viewed as more than just an exemplar of evil behavior, a foil for Una, and a temptation for Redcrosse. Duessa acts as an antagonist to male characters and those who adhere to the patriarchal system followed in the world of The Faerie Queene. By examining Duessa’s behavior in relation to the Queen, Elizabethan laws, and the behavior of other female characters in The Faerie Queene, this paper argues that Duessa shows the limits of agency for Elizabethan women and points out the anxieties of the England of Spenser’s time.

        The Faerie Queene, initially published in 1590 with Books I through III and subsequently republished to include Books IV and V in 1596, is a conduct book in the form of an epic poem, the writing of which Edmund Spenser undertook in the late sixteenth century. It is made up of five books, each composed of twelve cantos, which function similarly to chapters, and each canto is composed of poetic stanzas. Several incomplete and unpublished books of The Faerie Queene also exist, as this work was never finished by its author. For the purposes of this essay, Book I will serve as a focal point, and a few scenes from Book III and Book V concentrating on Duessa or other relevant female characters will also be touched upon. This first book follows, “The Patron of true Holinesse,” a knight known as Redcrosse and eventually to become St. George (1.0.1). Redcrosse sets out on a quest with Una, a lady whose parents and kingdom are currently besieged by a dragon. The two face a multitude of obstacles on their journey, including the sorcerer Archimago and the witch Duessa, who utilize deception and shapeshifting, among other powers at their disposal. Both of these antagonists, in addition to monsters like the dragon and Errour, attempt to trick Redcrosse and Una to separate them, cause chaos, and prevent them from completing their quest. Eventually, Redcrosse and Una unite with Arthur, another knight and a future king, in order to defeat Duessa and, later, the dragon who threatens Una’s kingdom. The two are betrothed at the end of Book I, and plan to marry after Redcrosse serves the Faerie Queene for six more years.

        Monsters like Duessa were a marked change from earlier ideas of the monstrous, such as Beowulf’s Grendel, and signified a shift in the anxieties of the British populace. Grendel exists as an obvious outsider, a physical aberration who is clearly not a part of the society the Danes participate in; indeed, he is unable to enter Heorot Hall until he is dismembered and brought in by Beowulf as a trophy of the otherness he has defeated. His only form is monstrous, and he is marked as an outsider from the beginning of Beowulf; meanwhile, Duessa herself appears in multiple forms throughout The Faerie Queene, most of them taken with the intent of deceiving others to achieve her own goals. This shift signals a corresponding shift in the anxieties of the English populace, moving from nervousness about physical threats to a different kind of trepidation, aimed towards threats more concealed and able to work from within society. Duessa embodies this new kind of threat, and her forms vary from that of a beautiful lady in need of a knightly companion to the scarlet whore of Babylon to her natural form, described at length in Canto VIII as “A loathly, wrinckled hag, ill favoured, old,/ Whose secret filth good manners biddeth not be told” (8.46.13-14).

        Even when Duessa appears as a beautiful lady, seen as desirable and in need of protection from Redcrosse, her appearance includes some notable differences from that of Una, a lady who is frequently lauded for her chastity and holiness. Una is always associated with white, for purity, or black, for solemnity and mourning, and never clothes herself in an ostentatious way, while Duessa does just the opposite. When Spenser first introduces Duessa, in the guise of Fidessa, she wears both colors and jewels, including those on her own person and on the livery of her “wanton palfrey,” and is described as,

A goodly Lady clad in scarlot red,

Purfled with gold and pearle of rich assay,

And like a Persian mitre on her hed

She wore, with crowns and owches garnished,

The which her lavish lovers to her gave (1.13.10-15)

        Spenser’s narrator’s description of Duessa’s excess hints at the fact that she is, perhaps, not the lady she pretends to be, but that she adheres to the role she is expected to play, as many religious men of the time thought that, “such decking and colouring maketh wise men to think, that all is not well underneath” (Pilkington quoted in Greaves 504).  Both the narrator and readers know that the finery Duessa-as-Fidessa wears was gifted to her by “lavish lovers,” but Redcrosse, so deeply invested in the patriarchal system that he is used to its assigned roles, sees only the beautiful, virtuous lady he expects. Redcrosse’s inability to separate the reality of Duessa from the role she plays is made even more apparent when he comes across Fradubio, a tree with the ability to speak, in Canto II.

        Fradubio implores Redcrosse to listen as he informs him of his past with Duessa, describing how she tricked him into abandoning his lady, Fraelissa, for her, and how she ended up transforming him into a tree, proving that Duessa’s roleplaying deception is extremely effective on those entrenched in a system of established gender roles. Fradubio states,

The divelish hag by chaunges of my cheare

Perceiv'd my thought, and drownd in sleepie night,

With wicked herbs and ointments did besmeare

My body all, through charms and magicke might,

That all my senses were bereaved quight:

Then brought she me into this desert waste,

And by my wretched lovers side me pight,

Where now enclosd in wooden wals full faste,

Banisht from living wights, our wearie dayes we waste. (1.42.370-378)

        He then proceeds to decry Duessa-as-Fidessa as a “forged beauty” who only appears, “Lyke a faire Lady, but did fowle Duessa hyde” (1.35-36.314-316). Even Fradubio’s testimony, though, cannot sway Redcrosse when presented with someone so convincingly playing her part. Redcrosse either does not even grasp that Fidessa is or could be Duessa, or cannot separate Duessa from her assigned role, even when another man offers him proof. Gender roles are so deeply impressed upon him that the reality constructed by said roles becomes more real than the truth that Fradubio attempts to impart to him.

        In the late sixteenth century when Spenser was writing, a strict set of social mores for women were in place, especially in regards to sexuality and marriage, and were frequently concerned with controlling female desire and agency. The influence of such principles shows through in The Faerie Queene, especially through the actions of characters like Una, who are presented as models for the behavior of Spenser’s female contemporaries. Renaissance England was still a strongly Christian country, led by Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, the reigning monarch. Women were expected to remain virgins until they entered into chaste marriages. Chastity was defined as not sexual abstinence but, “the suppression of sexual lust, unnatural sexual desires (i.e. homosexuality, sodomy, and incest) and sexual affections for someone other than one’s spouse,” and a chaste marriage was a marriage wherein women were expected to have sexual relations in order to produce heirs for their husbands and, “involved the use of wedlock as God ordained” (Greaves 123). Marital laws and expectations, then, were not focused on totally eliminating sexuality, but about suppressing sexual desire and freedom of women. Virginity and chastity were ideal states for women before and after marriage, and promiscuity was not an acceptable part of this picture.

        The doctrine of coverture also contributes to ideas about men, women, and the marital state, stating, as Lauren Silberman describes, “Man and wife are one person under the law, and that person is the man” (Silberman 260). In essence, a man and woman united in marriage created one body, and the man was the head, depriving women of their own agency. Additionally, male primogeniture was the rule when it came to inheritance of property. A family’s eldest son inherited all property, except in rare cases where a title or some property could be passed to the eldest daughter. Hence, both in marriage and in family life, women had to rely on male relatives to provide for them, which made them dependent on men, who held dominant, patriarchal roles within society. Even widows, while entitled to at least part of their husbands’ estates, were expected to remarry, as their signatures might not be seen as legally binding, as they were still seen as subordinate and less authoritative than men, and they would possibly not be able to take care of any children they might have on their own (Greaves).

        Ideas related to both coverture and chaste marriage appear frequently in The Faerie Queene, and greatly affect relationships between men and women. Such ideas notably show up in the “hermaphroditic motif” created by the union of a male and female character, discussed by Dorothy Stephens in her article “Into Other Arms: Amoret’s Evasion in The Faerie Queene,” in which Stephens examines the motif and the sorcerer Busirane’s use of it, in addition to relationships between male and female characters in the poem. The hermaphroditic motif is composed of a male and female character united to create one whole, suggesting that unmarried women or those whose husbands were absent, such as Una, Britomart, and Amoret, were deficient on their own. Indeed, Stephens remarks upon how Scudamour “fills” Amoret upon their reunion, stating that Amoret, because of this, can be read as “the Amoret whose meaning depends upon Scudamour at the same time that it validates him” (Stephens 197). Coverture and other related laws and the appropriation and erasure of femininity through attachment to the masculine, “had the effect of securing the heterosexual social contract by which all sexualities, all bodies, and all others are bonded to an ideal/ideological hierarchy of males” (De Lauretis quoted in Stephens 195). Both Stephens’ mention of a male-dependent reading of Amoret and DeLauretis’ ideas focused on erasure of femininity and female agency echo the ideas of English law: a man is necessary for a woman, both to make her whole and to become the head of their joint body.

        Female characters other than Duessa, such as Una, Britomart, and Amoret, seem to be models for different facets of behavior of Elizabethan ladies. They are generally praised by Spenser’s narrator for their beauty, virtue, fairness, and chastity, and Britomart is also lauded for her knightly abilities and combat skills. The values these ladies are viewed favorably for their alignment with patriarchal ideals and goals during Spenser’s era, but the apparently foul, loathsome Duessa is also able to conform to these ideals when she so chooses. While Duessa is not naturally beautiful or fair, as evidenced by the cantos describing her unmasking and description of her true appearance as “monstrous” and “the shame of all her kind,” something that “good Manners biddeth not be told”, she makes herself appear that way in order to win the pity and admiration of men like Redcrosse and the Sarazins, Sansfoy, Sansjoy, and Sansloy (1.48.406-410; 1.46.396). Duessa’s conscious choice of a particular form for her Fidessa disguise shows that she both recognizes the ideals of the patriarchal system and knows how to conform to them successfully.

        Duessa’s first and most obvious foil is Una, the first female character introduced in Book I, presented as a role model and part of a body with Redcrosse at the head. Una, “the chastest flowre, that ay did spring,” is described as beautiful, chaste, and pure, and virtuous, and is incredibly loyal to her companion, the Redcrosse knight (1.48.427). Una rides into The Faerie Queene alongside Redcrosse, “Upon a lowly Asse more white then snow,” flanked by a spotless white lamb, which, “by her in a line...she lad” (1.4.29-36). The lamb serves as a symbol of Una’s pure holiness and also a mirror image of her. She is led on by Redcrosse, loyal and obedient, held on a metaphorical lead, and sticks to his side until he himself abandons her; subsequently, Una still attempts to follow him. Setting off on this quest of her own could be read as a female character taking initiative, but Una does not show much actual agency over the course of this quest; indeed, she is still being pulled along by Redcrosse and is driven by her desire to be reunited with him. According to Richard A. Levin, “Una’s devotion to Redcrosse is notably stronger than his devotion to her” (3). Una places Redcrosse and his whereabouts ahead of herself and her own needs and cannot seem to make any moves to save her kingdom or rescue her dragon-besieged parents without him, while Duessa uses Redcrosse but does not necessarily need him, lessening his importance as a patriarchal male figure.

        Amoret, the lady rescued by Britomart, is another female character frequently tied to a male, or, at least, to a symbol of manhood. While her husband Scudamour and each of the knights who rescue and escort her are among the males with whom Amoret is associated with, the most powerful image of Amoret’s linkage to men comes at Busirane’s palace, when Amoret is chained to a large bronze pillar, which described by Kimberly Ann Coles as, “an all too apparent symbol of the phallus--in an image that implies bondage rather than union” (59).  Even after her eventual rescue and reunion with Scudamour, “the image of Amoret melting into his welcoming arms oddly echoes a previous image of Amoret welded to Busyrane’s cruelly phallic pillar of brass” (Stephens 194). Amoret, shackled literally to the pillar and both literally and figuratively to Scudamour, serves as a representation of the metaphorical condition of Una, Britomart, and other females in The Faerie Queene. Amoret is unable to free herself from the ties of the patriarchy, a dependent lady struggling for release from a bond which Duessa seems to be able to move quite independently from.

        Another Faerie Queene female who seemingly shows more agency than Una but still operates differently than Duessa is Britomart, the lady knight of Book III. Britomart, clad in a helmeted suit of armor that is “coded as male in Spenser’s culture,” and capable in deadly combat, is seen fighting, rescuing ladies, and dispatching male knights, and is frequently mistaken as a man herself (Anderson 76). While Britomart’s donning of armor and her quest to find Artegall may appear to be a sign of her agency, as suggested by scholars like Anderson and Silberman, and it must be acknowledged that she defeats male foes and rescues the captive Amoret, she is still tied to her beloved future husband, like Una to Redcrosse, “a figure of female power written within patriarchal scripts” (Coles 45). Britomart’s main quest is a love quest, and fulfilment of her destiny as predicted by Merlin is contingent upon her marriage to Artegall and becoming the mother of the British royal dynasty. She follows Artegall so that she may complete the hermaphroditic motif created by man and woman united in marriage and become whole (Silberman 260). Additionally, while the prophecy Britomart follows may be much grander than the fate of many everyday women, it was still similar to the futures many of them could expect.

        Duessa, in contrast to Una, Britomart, and Amoret, is not shackled to a phallus, but moves independently and according to her own motives, allowing her to become a threat to men, rather than a submissive subordinate. Rather than conforming to patriarchal ideas of love, like chaste marriage and devotion to one man, the witch works within the system that surrounds her to be disruptive, attaching herself to knight after knight and cutting ties with her paramours as soon as a particular man no longer serves her needs, described by past paramour Fradubio as, “a false sorceresse,/ That many errant knights hath brought to wretchednesse” (1.34.305-306). In fact, the hero Redcrosse first comes across Duessa, disguised as the lady Fidessa and travelling with another man, Sansfoy, in Book I. Redcrosse kills Sansfoy and takes his place as “Fidessa’s” companion. He seems to view himself as a protector for her, but in reality, he just proves how replaceable men are to her, eliminating the patriarchal system’s ideas about the necessity of chaste marriage for women. The idea of replaceability of men is reinforced when Redcrosse engages in a duel with the knight Sansjoy, the brother of Sansfoy. Duessa meets clandestinely with Sansjoy before the battle and during the battle, “lowd to him gan call/ The false Duessa, Thine the shield, and I, and all” (5.11.98-99). It is not specified which “him” Duessa encourages, but Redcrosse believes Duessa’s shouts are for himself, and when he, “heard his Ladie speake,” he is roused and able to defeat his opponent (5.12.1). Duessa re-attaches herself to Redcrosse after his victory as, evidently, whichever man wins will work just fine for her purposes.

        Appearing as a lady and playing the part is enough to convince Redcrosse that Duessa adheres to all other standards to which ladies are expected to adhere to, and it is from here that Duessa draws her real power-- the ability to deceive men by working within the patriarchal system. The aftermath of Redcrosse’s battle with Sansjoy is especially significant as it reinforces Redcrosse’s belief in Duessa’s fidelity, and Duessa’s ability to exchange one man for another without attaching herself permanently or definitely to either. Indeed, when Redcrosse meets Duessa, she acts upset, weeps, and “Her humblesse low/ In so ritch weedes and seeming glorious show” (1.21.184-5). Redcrosse is not inclined to doubt Duessa’s professions, as she is beautiful and acts the role of a damsel in distress, but it is made clear to readers that the witch, as the narrator affirms, is only putting on a “seeming glorious show”. Using his expectations, drawn from ideas for and about Renaissance ladies’ behavior, Redcrosse deceives himself almost as much as Duessa deceives him. Assuming the form of a lady and adopting behaviors that fit in with Redcrosse’s schema of what a lady should be is enough to earn his trust and become his travelling companion.

        While no man in particular seems to be necessary for Duessa to continue causing chaos, she displays more genuine sentiment towards the Sarazins, Sansfoy, Sansjoy, and Sansloy, than she does towards Redcrosse or Fradubio, as these three represent divergence from the values of the church and the law, two institutions responsible for oppressing Elizabethan women. Fradubio, transformed into a tree, and Redcrosse, abandoned in favor of the giant Orgoglio, do not seem to harbor any special sentimental attachment for Duessa, but after Sansjoy is killed in battle with Redcrosse, Duessa displays what appears to be actual concern for him, displayed when she,  “To wayle his woefull case she would not stay,/ But to the easterne coast of heaven makes speedy way,” mourning his loss and taking his body to Hell to plead for his resurrection (1.19.170-171). Duessa’s bond with the Sarazin knights becomes more important to understanding her motivations upon examining the etymology of their names, and the meaning of the title “Sarazin”. Sarazin was a label commonly applied to Muslims, but also could be used to describe anyone who was un-Christian, any “pagan or infidel” (Spenser 1080). Sansloy, Sansfoy, and Sansjoy, then, represent the opposite of Christianity.  The names Sansfoy, Sansjoy, and Sansloy are both derived from French, sans meaning “without” and foi, joie, and loi, respectively, meaning “faith,” “joy,” and “law”. Duessa, then, links herself with a lack of faith, joy, and law, ties which really involve breaking with the ideals and oppressive forces of two of the most powerful forces in controlling women. Equally important to note is that Duessa is confirmed to shared a physical relationship with two of these brothers, Sansfoy and Sansjoy, but not the third, Sansloy, pointing out that perhaps, the law was the most difficult tenet of both the Church and society to escape for Elizabethan women.

        In Spenser’s England, the Church and the legal system were among the institutions perhaps the most complicit in upholding patriarchal ideals, the Church through principles of faith, and the law through doctrines such as coverture. In the Church, men were still usually considered to be congregational leaders, and standards of virginity until entering into a chaste marriage were expected to be followed (Greaves). The law, by considering the man as the head of the single body made up by a married couple, also afforded women little power, and considered them subordinate to men. Duessa breaks with faith and law through promiscuity, adhering herself to a lack of both, embodied in Sansfoy and Sansloy; thus, she also breaks with ideas of male dominance over women and patrilineal society. Only after Sansfoy and, later, Sansloy are both defeated does Duessa link herself to Redcrosse, knight of holiness.

        Duessa is not only free from the whims and powers of men, but she also dominates male characters throughout Spenser’s narrative using what could be referred to as her womanly wiles. This points out the threat that Duessa’s embrace of her sexuality and willingness to engage in promiscuous behavior pose to men who derive their power from a system where women were expected to cover up their sexual natures and cede their authority to men, whether that was in a chaste marriage or in church. The hazards of female promiscuity to male characters become especially perceptible in two scenes featuring Redcrosse. The first occurs early in Book I, at the beginning of Canto II, when the sorcerer Archimago creates a sprite in Una’s likeness in order to deceive the Redcrosse knight. Initially, sprite-Una comes after Redcrosse, attempting to seduce him, and he reacts to this temptation in a violent manner, “halfe enraged at her shamelesse guise/ He thought haue slaine her in his fierce despight,” when Una breaks away from the pure, virtuous image she is expected to uphold (1.50.2-3). As Levin perceptively states, “The chaste woman, for whom the man had been ready to make any sacrifice, can become...the fallen woman, an object of lust or loathing” (10). Redcrosse values Una’s chastity while simultaneously harboring sexual desire towards her- he wishes to have a physical relationship with her, but her value, in his eyes, would be diminished, her image tarnished, were she to allow him to do as he wishes. Her promiscuous behavior becomes a threat to Redcrosse because it shows that Una does have some power over him- of the pair, she seems the one more responsible for preserving their purity, and if Una permits and encourages Redcrosse to be sexual with her, they will both become unchaste.

        Another concrete visualization of the strong, negative effects of female promiscuity on male characters comes later in Book I, long after Redcrosse is driven to abandon Una due to her perceived sexual looseness, while Recrosse is travelling with Duessa-as-Fidessa as his companion. When the two decide to stop and take a rest from their journey, their relationship enters a more sexual domain. Solely through this sexual intimacy with Redcrosse, Duessa weakens him. Indeed, soon after the two sexualize their relationship,

Eftsoones his manly forces gan to faile,

And mightie strong was turned to feeble fraile.

His chaunged powres at first them selves not felt,

Till crudled cold his corage gan assaile,

And cheareful bloud in faintnesse chill did melt,

Which like a fever fit through all his body swelt. (1.6.50-55)

        Unlike Una, Duessa does not hold herself responsible for the purity of herself and her knight and uphold ideals of virginity leading to chaste marriage. Instead, Duessa’s sexual freedom takes away power from the patriarchy, and the powerful male figures within it. This leaves Redcrosse vulnerable, while Duessa is not weakened at all- in fact, she is able to upgrade to her next partner and ally, Orgoglio, partially because Redcrosse is unable to fight back when he attacks.

        Duessa’s sexuality also weakens men or allows her to gain some form of power over them when she interacts with the Sarazins and Orgoglio, who are usually convinced that she is at their mercy, while the opposite is actually true. Duessa offers herself up sexually to the giant Orgoglio and when he comes upon herself and Redcrosse and threatens to kill the knight, and she subsequently forms an alliance with him to cause chaos. Orgoglio, “And her endowd with royall majestye:/ Then for to make her dreaded more of men,” increasing Duessa’s power over males as a seeming reward for the sexual offering of herself (1.36.135-136). Orgoglio also presents Duessa with a large beast to ride, turning her fully into a reflection of the biblical Whore of Babylon, as D. Douglas Waters asserts, and making her a powerful symbol of falsehood, idolatry, and sin, able to corrupt mankind (211). Thus, sexual relations with Orgoglio enable Duessa to both become a visual representation of the scarlet whore and to gain more power, suggesting that this power gain is at least in part due to her “willing” sexual promiscuity (Spenser 1.16.135-6). Una, Britomart, and Amoret, while they may be strong in other ways, do not display strengths that directly threaten the patriarchy as much as Duessa’s unrestrained sexuality- they keep their sexuality covered up appropriately, and only desire a chaste relationship with one man.

        The Faerie Queene is prefaced with a dedication to “THE MOST HIGH, MIGHTIE, AND MAGNIFICENT EMPERESSE/ RENOWNED FOR PIETIE, VERTVE, AND ALL GRATIOVS GOVERNMENT/ ELIZABETH/ BY THE GRACE OF GOD,” which might lead readers to believe that powerful female characters within the poem would be glorified and held up as examples; however, Duessa appears to be both a reflection and a cautionary tale for reigning British monarch Queen Elizabeth I and other women of the time (0.1.2-5). Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, came to power in 1558, in a country where a patriarchal system upheld through ideas of marriage and laws like coverture existed, as successor to Mary I, who reigned for just five years after the death of Edward VI (Neale 28). She ruled for 44 years as a single queen when many other monarchs did not stay on the throne for half of that duration, and helped her country to fend off threats from France, quelled rebellions in both England and Ireland, and dealt with religious turmoil throughout her time on the throne (Neale 404-408). Queen Elizabeth I worked to position herself as a powerful and legitimate ruler of England, successfully maintaining diplomatic relationships with English aristocrats and foreigners and entertaining several powerful suitors to help achieve her aims. Among Elizabeth I’s suitors were lords, dukes, and even multiple kings. While these men proposed marriage to the queen, Elizabeth I never ended up accepting a marriage proposal and entering into a union with any of these men. This gave Elizabeth I, and England, an advantage- suitors were willing to work to please a queen who they thought they might have a chance with.

        Elizabeth I’s manipulation of men is notably similar to Duessa’s behavior in Book I of The Faerie Queene, and shows an understanding and ability to work within the patriarchal system, marking Duessa as another possible reflection of the Queen. J.E. Neale states, “Elizabeth was far and away the best marriage to be had in Europe, a fact of which every eligible bachelor and widower was aware” (69). Among her most notable suitors were Philip II of Spain, Eric XIV of Sweden, and Francois, Duke of Anjou, connections with whom helped Elizabeth I to gain advantages for herself and her country using her status as an unmarried queen (Neale 69-84). According to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, she, “was the wisest woman that ever was, for she understood the interests and dispositions of all the princes in her time,” and used this to her benefit (Burghley quoted in Neale 404). Were she married, it is not likely that these men would have worked quite so hard to get into the queen’s good graces. In a manner similar to Elizabeth I’s, Duessa never permanently connects herself with one man, but switches from suitor to suitor at her convenience in order to benefit herself. Even when Duessa seems to feel a greater connection with one man than others, as she appears to with the Sarazins, she does not allow her emotions to overpower her rationality, and reattaches herself to Redcrosse when Sansjoy is defeated. This brings to mind the one proposal Elizabeth I’s relationship with Robert Dudley, a close friend and rumored romantic relationship of the queen, who she never married or acknowledged a romantic relationship with, although it is believed she felt actual affection for him (Neale 77-83).

        Additionally, both Queen Elizabeth I and Duessa play self-created roles quite expertly, demonstrating that both women were capable of using the very gender roles meant to suppress them in order to rise and function within the framework surrounding them. Elizabeth I styled herself as the Virgin Queen, married to her country and whole on her own, and Duessa disguises herself as Fidessa, a role she creates to fit into the patriarchal system and manipulate participants. Both roles necessitate careful image curation, engaged in by the witch and the queen in a political and performative level. Duessa transfigures herself from her original form, “A loathly, wrinckled hag,” into “A goodly Lady clad in scarlot red,” and mirrors behavior expected of ladies in order to play her role (1.46.13; 1.13.10). Queen Elizabeth I embraced both her womanhood, as the bride of England, and her power as a monarch, projecting both in declarations of her ability to rule without a husband and in images like her Armada Portrait, where she is clad in a lavish gown but also rests her hand on a globe and appears between two windowlike images depicting a fleet of ships, bringing to mind the British navy, prioritized by the queen and known for its impressive defeat of the Spanish armada during Elizabeth I’s reign (Coles 61).

        Although Duessa does reflect Elizabeth I to an extent, Elizabeth I only toed a line that Duessa crosses completely by engaging in outright promiscuous behavior and never entering into a married state. Elizabeth I, though never engaged or married to a male suitor, proclaimed that she was married to her country, “a mother, wife, and sister to England” (Coles 32). Thus, it becomes apparent that in Spenser’s England, some form of chaste marriage is necessary, even if only metaphorical. Elizabeth I’s entry into a “marriage” with England makes her an acceptable participant in the patriarchal system; indeed, under the laws of coverture, the country of England would be the head of the body created by itself and its queen in this marriage, still placing Elizabeth I as a wife and a subordinate to the body politic in some way. Rather than proclaim herself to be a single woman, ruling on her own, Elizabeth I described herself as, “a devout daughter of God, a virgin bride to her subjects, and a ‘mother of [her] Contreye,” and used, “gendered constructions to authorize her own rewriting of recognized female categories,” adhering more to patriarchal policy than Duessa does (Coles 38). Elizabeth I also allowed misogynistic laws like coverture to remain in place, making her at least a partial participant in the system, not quite to the extent of Una, but also not as deviant as Duessa.

        Eventually, Duessa’s reign must come to an end, as, unlike Queen Elizabeth I, she oversteps her boundaries and is unmasked, showing that her actions and amount of agency were still unacceptable for ladies in Spenser’s time. Duessa, after duping Redcrosse for a large portion of Book I, is unmasked by Una, and her fate shows that, at least in the system she exists under, chastity and purity win out over promiscuity, lack of chasteness, and manipulation of and dominance over men. Una’s unmasking of Duessa is especially significant because it exemplifies the way both women and men have to participate in a patriarchal system to allow its ideals to be perpetuated; indeed, Una acts as the enforcer and doles out punishment to Duessa for flouting guidelines for women set by chaste, pious exemplars like herself. Additionally, Una even speaks up to denounce her rival, when,

Such then (said Una) as she seemeth here,

Such is the face of falshood, such the sight

Of fowle Duessa, when her borrowed light

Is laid away, and counterfesaunce knowne.

Thus when they had the witch disrobed quight,

And all her filthy feature open showne,

They let her goe at will, and wander wayes unknowne. (1.49.417-423)

        Duessa’s unmasking could serve as a reminder for the queen and other women of Renaissance England not to cross the patriarchy and cross a line, and a hint that both men and other women who adhere to the system would put them in their place.

        While The Faerie Queene certainly contains more than one powerful female character and its women are capable of showing strength and virtue in many different ways, Duessa is still markedly different from other Faerie Queene women in her relationships with men and patriarchal society. Duessa represents more than just an exemplar of evil behavior, a foil for Una, and a temptress determined to corrupt men. She can also be seen as a reflection of the queen, an adversary of restrictive laws and religious ideas, and an antagonist towards, not just Redcrosse, knight of Holinesse, but the entire patriarchal system. Duessa’s abilities to manipulate Redcrosse, the Sarazin knights, Fradubio, Orgoglio, and her likely numerous more unmentioned male conquests would be an apparent threat and source of anxiety even to an author as progressive as Spenser, who shows unchaste women like Duessa in positions of power over men and depicts what Duessa is capable of when not beholden to a single husband or lover. Additionally, Spenser’s final treatment of Duessa points out that a woman who behaves in ways that do not, ultimately, conform to patriarchal ideas is dangerous to a system founded on patriarchal principles, and must inevitably be “unmasked” and defeated by participants in the system to protect their own ideals and beliefs, showing the limits of agency for Elizabethan women who chose to break with gender roles and attempt to work around the system they existed within. While deviant women past and present may be cast as threats, they are ultimately threatening because of the power they wield due to their deviancy; indeed, women like Duessa show what women who embrace their own power and manipulate ideas of the feminine can do.

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