In Edmund Spenser’s epic romance titled, The Faerie Queene, the author takes the reader on a journey with the naive Red Crosse Knight on his route to finding holiness. On the Red Crosse Knights journey to holiness, he encounters two very different women that affect his travels to becoming a virtuous man. The first woman the Red Crosse encounters is Una, a woman that represents innocents, purity, and truth. Una is beautiful and graceful yet appears to be the strong force that leads the Red Crosse Knight to a more virtuous life. To oppose the truth in Una, Spenser creates Duessa a juxtaposition to Una’s personality. The Red Crosse encounters trouble when he is deceived by the wicked Duessa who represents duplicity, falsehood and deceitfulness. Duessa, like Una appears to be very beautiful but her looks, like her personality is deceiving. Unlike Una, Duessa’s beauty is only skin-deep, a detail that the Red Cross Knight learns the hard way. Throughout the epic romance, Spenser depicts the representation of the women of the sixteenth century through a variety of female figures. While women like Una and later Caelia and her daughters represent the grace and faithfulness in women, other figures like Duessa and Errour represent the falsehood and evil of women. While Spenser created two very different types of women in The Faerie Queene: Book One, the two types of women are similar in the sense that they appear to be very strong at times and very weak at others.
Because a woman was in reign during the sixteenth century, women, for the first time, had power within society. While many authors of the sixteenth century depicted women as simply damsels in distress, Spenser portrays the two main women in the piece as potentially strong women. Author Dashini Ann Jeyathura states that female power, “is precisely the enigma of the female body that lends itself to being the site where power dynamics between the male and the female play out” (Jeyathura 1).
Duessa is depicted as powerful in a variety of relationships with men. The reader is first introduced to her character by Spenser stating,
“A goodly lady clad in scarlot red,
Ourfled with gold and pearle of rich assay
And like a Persian mitre on her hed
She wore, with crownes and owches garnshed,
The which her lavish lovers gave.” (Canto II.13).
Her outer appearance is beautiful yet evil and ultimately powerful. She wears the color scarlet which represents royalty or power. She appears to have power due to the royal color and headdress she wears but in reality; Duessa is not royal and therefore possesses no given power. The outer appearance of Duessa is very misleading, hiding her power obsessed motives. She also wears a variety of crowns and brooches that were given to her from a variety of lovers. Her outer beauty and conniving ways gives Duessa the power to dominate the many lovers that she seduces. It is suggested that her lovers gave her these lavish gifts because of her dominance and power and the...