I think what struck me most about Faerie Queene is the unique way in which Spenser decided to portray chastity. The idea that a spear, a phallic object, could be enchanted with the power of chastity tickled me I must say. I suppose just the divergence from the normalcy of chastity as a stalwart shield made it seem extremely clever, and the gender bending added some humor.
Spenser’s chastity is very different from the generally written about chastity partly because doesn’t stop at enchanting a spear. It also allows Britomart to stride through a wall of flame completely unscathed, a wall that stopped Scudamare dead in his tracks. Both offense and defense are covered by chastity. What interests me about this is that Britomart’s chastity doesn’t make her better at only healing or orating or fighting, it makes her AWESOME in all dimensions. I find this interesting because Spenser seems to be saying that Chastity isn’t simply a virtue, it’s the virtue. Possessing it improves one as a person in almost every way (a little naivety aside of course).
Not only does such a virtue provide the bearer with much more power than generally is recognized, but it is also a very different creature than normal. In most texts, it seems chastity is a close synonym to abstinence, but Spenser makes it so much more. Britomart is courageous and strong. She doesn’t run from lust and gluttony, but rather walks into its midst and emerges unphased. She quests after a love (orange zone in abstinence class!), but only the best kind (Arthegall seems pretty perfect) and with the best of intentions. Some might say it is her inward purity that gives her these abilities, but I would say that Spenser sees these things as prerequisites for chastity. To him, chastity is not something that is simply there or that can be easily taken from someone. Chastity is the epitome of greatness, and it is something that must be striven after with all ones might.
This greatness was not at all marred by castle joyous. Indulgence is alright once and a while as long as Britomart keeps her head straight and kept her true goals intact. She holds true love and honor above all else and does not begrudge a few mishaps and adventures as long as they are handled responsibly.
I’d say such an ideal beats the hell out of “slow and steady wins the race.”