Term of Award

Summer 2020

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature

Committee Chair

Julia Griffin

Committee Member 1

Mary Villeponteaux

Committee Member 2

Lindsey Chappell


My thesis argues that Edmund Spenser uses radically different representations of Ancient Egypt to explore complex ideas about gender roles in the Faerie Queene. Book III emphasizes the negative view of Egypt perpetuated through the Book of Exodus and Greek understanding of the mythological king Busiris. Book V emphasizes the positive view of Egypt through the many benevolent myths surrounding the goddess Isis. Spenser uses images of good and evil Egypt to discuss the abolition of normative gender roles.

The introductory section will introduce the mythology surrounding Isis followed by a discussion of the literature referenced throughout. The first chapter centers on Book III of the Faerie Queene as well as the allegorical use of evil Egyptian imagery to illustrate the oppressive dangers of courtly love. Chapter two will focus on positive images of Isis in the Faerie Queene and demonstrate an ideal of female power. I summarize the major allegory of Book V; this is followed by a discussion of the Cult of Isis, the benevolent imagery of the goddess in various works of literature, and the iconography of Isis Church. The primary icons I will focus on are the Crocodile, the Lion, and Isis herself ,with discussion of their relevance to Spenser and his use of them to symbolize the complexities of justice in the public sphere and, in the private sphere, between the sexes. I will also explore the abolition of normative gender roles through Britomart’s triumph over Radigund.

Many Spenserian scholars have discussed Egypt, and most have discussed gender relations, but little has been done to unite them. This paper will discuss the imagery itself and how Spenser's employment of Egyptian iconography and myth leads to the revelation that androgyny had a virtuous and dangerous side which complicated popular gender assumptions of the 16th century.

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