Irony in Malecasta’s Castle

By Mtrain

Book III of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene is all about chastity.  The different kinds of chastity discussed in the book range from unbreakable chastity where sex of any kind is unheard of to perfect-Christian chastity where one strives to find their soul mate at all costs so they can give themselves to each other.

Then why are the chaste character’s lives substantially less enjoyable than all the rest.  Britomart spends all her time trying to find her true love (and in the end fails), Florimell is always running from something, and Chrysogonee retreats to seclusion when she finds herself impregnated by the rays of the sun.

Now think of the glutton that takes place in Malecasta’s Castle Joyeous.  Lavish feasts and fanciful displays await the eight knights upon entering, all a gift from the gracious lady of the castle Malecasta.  Malecasta lives the life of a Queen.  Such possessions in a book based on chastity, one might expect Malecasta to be one of unheard of chastity, a perfect example of what a chaste female should be.  After all, what is the moral of the story about chastity if the unchaste are the ones who lead such extravagant lives?

Yet we find out that Malecasta is quite the opposite of chaste when, during the knights’ first night residing in the castle, she makes a pass at Britomart, who Malecasta does not know is female.  Britomart is forced to again defend her chastity against this most unlikely attacker. After sitting confused for a while, I came to realize why Spenser makes Malecasta so rich without being chaste.  The point is that chastity is akin to “taking the high road.”  It’s the harder path, the one of most resistance.  The chaste in the story are always working to defend their chastity.  People can chose to live unchaste and still get what they want, but chastity is the ultimate possession.  Spenser believes that the things most important in life are the ones that we need to fight for, not the one’s obtain by taking the easy way out.

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