Reading Gender into the Virtue of Courtesy in Book 6 of The Faerie Queene*1)
That Spenser's virtues in The Faerie Queene are gender-differentiated, few modern gender-conscious readers would deny. >From the perspective of gender as a matter of nurture, Spenser intends to fashion a champion knight's moral identity into either masculine or feminine. In the case of courtesy, the virtue appears to be a masculine virtue for the knightly courtier who leads a life in the public realm, primarily because its champion knight is a male. In its fundamental conception and in its illustrations, courtesy is a chivalric virtue that is based on predominantly male experiences. Readers also have tended to define the virtue in male terms, basically considering the virtue as the one for courtiers in the Tudor court, or have taken it as the embodiment of universal human courtesy.
However, such a gender-biased or transcendent characterization of courtesy overlooks an important fact that courtesy is in its essence very feminine, as it is embodied in the vision of the Graces in Mt. Acidale and in the landscape of pastoral romance whose potential qualities are inherently feminine. Nevertheless, the femininity of courtesy or courtesy's gendered qualities have not been explored. Only recently a few readers have noticed courtesy's association with the feminine. Susanne Woods noted that the center and source of true courtesy is a marginalized woman (Woods 103), pointing out the importance of female experience in Book 6. George E. Rowe's article "Privacy, Vision, and Gender in Spenser's Legend of Courtesy" has a more extensive discussion of gender in Book 6, relating the ubiquitous spaces of privacy in Book 6 to the femininity or the feminization of courtesy. But he is reluctant to see this femininity as the positive aspect of courtesy, considering the feminine spaces in courtesy as "a male appropriation and reinterpretation of what had been a negative space associated primarily with women" (Rowe 318).
This article aims to explore the masculine as well as the feminine attributes of courtesy in Book 6 of The Faerie Queene, and thereby to reveal how Spenser renders femininity crucially important for the education of courtesy and incorporates it into the perfection of courtesy. By "masculine" and "feminine" here, I do not mean the assumed natures of traditional gender polarities but the gendered natures that are designated in the modern feminist studies of the gender difference in morality and ethics.2) To illuminate the gendered attributes of courtesy, I will use the modern feminist studies of male and female difference in moral choice and their critique of the Western moral philosophy. Shirley F. Staton once attempted to use Carol Gilligan's study in her reading of the five books of The Faerie Queene from a feminist point of view, excluding Book 6 (Staton 145-62). I am going to extend Gilligan and other feminist insights to the analysis of Book 6.
Countless figures of The Faerie Queene may be grouped into two kinds: types and humans. Types represent absolute moral states. In their representations, they are depicted as male or female but their sexual or gender identities are not always easily discernable, as in the case of Blatant Beast. However, human figures are definitely portrayed as either male or female, and the nature of the virtues that they allegorize cannot be separated from their sexual and gender identities. In his portraying of allegorical human figures and their moral natures, Spenser inherited traditional Western conceptions of gender in which men are associated with the public realm, and women the private realm. The discussions of morality from the beginning of the Western tradition ever since Plato have defined rationality and universality, which belong to male distinctions, as the key attributes of the moral sphere, and have relegated their opposites, emotion, irrationality and particularity to the feminine sphere as the failure of moral reasoning. Spenser's virtues embodied through human figures are basically framed within this traditional paradigm of the hierarchically gendered morality.
As the widespread popularity of courtesy books like The Book of Courtier, Civile Conversation, or Boke Named the Governour suggests, courtesy in Spenser's time was a social code that maintained the relationships among members of a highly hierarchical society, a guiding theory for ambitious courtiers and new elites who wanted to arise from obscurity to the newly central Tudor court. Spenser's Legend of Courtesy shares with these 'how to behave' books some didactic aims to improve readers' morals and conducts. But it departs from them in terms that courtesy for Spenser is a far more serious moral concern than a prescription for the outward etiquette. Spenser's sixth book is apparently about those courtiers in the public realm, and its masculine nature is primarily represented by the gender of the champion knight, Calidore who has the mission of defeating the Blatant Beast in the public arena. So the masculine rationality and universality can be assumed to be the basis of Calidore's moral disposition.
Besides, epic genre adds another characteristic of masculinity to the virtue. The epic quest, a peculiarly masculine activity, requires "a great aduenture, which did [a knight] from [others] deuide (6.30.9)."3) James Nohrnberg noticed the prominent presence of autonomous separation in the epic narrative of Book 6, which has "a variety of separate individuals, set apart from one another throughout a common landscape in which each occupies his own 'discreet' space. . . " (Nohrnberg 660). Autonomous or independent separation from intimate involvement with others, an important male distinction in moral behaviors, is a necessary step for an epic hero's growth into adulthood, a measure of his moral maturity. Calidore continuously separates himself from others to accomplish his quest, and independently chooses courteous principles to obey, even to the extent that he completely disappears from the narrative line from canto 4 through canto 8. The heroic quest shapes his moral subject into the norm of traditional universal human self, primarily masculine, autonomous, and separated from the relationships and connectedness of everyday human life.
Calidore's education in rhetoric also strengthens the masculinity of courtesy. The rhetorical education in which Calidore as a courtly courtier must have been steeped in contributes to the construction of his masculine moral self. Education about the good use of language was a serious concern for virtuous conduct and further for the preservation of a culture in the early modern England, as the Elizabethan educator Roger Ascham expresses.
Ye know not what hurt ye do to learning that care not for words but for matter and so make a divorce betwixt the tongue and the heart. For mark all ages . . . and ye shall surely find that when apt and good words began to be neglected . . . then also began ill deeds to spring, strange manners to oppress good orders, new and fond opinions to strive with old and true doctrine, first in philosophy and after in religion, right judgment of all things to be perverted, and so virtue with learning is contemned and study left off. Of ill thoughts cometh perverse judgment; of ill deeds springeth lewd talk (Roger Ascham II. Imitatio, 115).
As is explicitly shown in Ascham's argument, rhetorical education was considered to be inseparably related to moral, philosophical, or religious disciplines, namely, to the cultural bases of a society. That words can move men to virtuous action and to perfection was "the single, overriding idea" of Tudor humanists (Kinney 5).
The good use of language and its accompanying virtuous manners were also a concern of Spenser's, which is clearly indicated in his definition of courtesy as a sustaining power of a culture: courtesy "of all goodly manners is the ground, / and roote of ciuil conversation" (22.214.171.124-6). Language is certainly an essential element in civilized human associations and intercourse in a courtly culture which Calidore is involved in.
But mongst them all was none more courteous Knight,
Then Calidore, beloued ouer all,
In whom it seemes, that gentlenesse of spright
And manners mylde were planted naturall;
To which he adding comely guize withall,
And gracious speach, did steale mens hearts away.
Calidore's courtesy is both a disposition and a practice. His kind, caring and gentle behavior toward to others is his disposition, and his good use of language is more likely to be an acquired habit. As courtesy books in the Elizabethan period advise, rhetorical practice is a major constituent of his courtesy. To acquire the "gracious speech" that comforts, cheers, counsels, encourages and steals the listener's heart away, Calidore as a courtier was supposedly educated by male masters of eloquence, especially in Latin. Training in Latin, whose symbolic system is completely masculine, shapes Calidore's moral self into the male culture of classical narratives and strengthens his masculinity (Kerrigan 277-90). Calidore's linguistic ego, constructed in a culture that considers eloquence its ideal for moral, civic, and political actions, becomes inseparable from his moral ego which endeavors to be the perfect knight of courtesy.
These masculine attributes of courtesy are counterpointed by its feminine attributes. The definition that courtesy is the ground of all good manners and civilized intercourse indicates that courtesy is a sociocentric virtue, a virtue of human interdependence. This socio-centeredness of courtesy requires what the modern feminist studies of male and female aspects in morality have found typically feminine in their case studies: "attention to particular historical situations, responsiveness to others that dictates providing care and love, preventing harm, maintaining relationships, and emphasizing a web of relationship that is sustained by a process of communication" (Kittay 2). From the viewpoint of moral subjectivity, courtesy needs a relational self whose moral judgment is contextual, circumstantial, namely a feminine self. Even though in Book 6 women's courteous voice is silenced and female figures are negative foils to Calidore's or Calepine's courteous conducts and words, female experience in moral choice and its relational self are fundamental to the nature of courtesy. Spenser's courtesy encompasses both the masculine and feminine experiences in morality. The relational self of courtesy achieves what justice fails in Book 5. Artegall's merciless executions of the universal justice cannot sustain the order and harmony of a world that coheres through systems of human relationships, rather than systems of rules and laws. Courtesy, especially its relational aspect, becomes indispensable to complement justice and to uphold social bonds and obligations.
The relational aspect of courtesy seems to cause the stylistic characteristics of Book 6. Josephine W. Bennet noted that the scenes, especially conversations are more elaborated in Book 6 than other books in The Faerie Queene and that there are many of the general observations of the character or situation under discussion (Bennet 207). The contextuality, narrativity, and specificity that are generated by these stylistic characteristics can be related to the feminine mode of thinking in moral decision, which "is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract" (Gilligan, In a Different Voice 19).
Book 6 has the ample illustrations of the aid and help to those in trouble and need, manifestations of the relational aspect of courtesy. Courtesy is a virtue that engages one into caring4) - meeting others' needs that have been traditionally associated with women. Care and its moral and social implications have been marginalized and degraded because of its association with the private, the emotional, and the weak and needy. Certainly caring has been entrusted exclusively to slaves, servants and women in human history, even though caring about human relationship also has been central to male domain of public activities. The modern feminist scholars of morality extend the domain of care beyond just the concerns of the tasks of women and the underprivileged, and make caring crucial for human survival and moral society. For care is "a measure of how well that society is able to adhere to other virtues" (Tronto 154) and to "care well involves engagement in an ethical practice of complex moral judgments (Tronto 157).
Caring is the starting point for courteous actions in Book 6. Spenser's idea of courtesy and the modern feminist concept of care as an ethic share some common characteristics, in terms that they focus on human interaction with others and take the concerns and needs of the other as the basis for action. Courtesy and care are both a practice and a character trait and grow maturer in an ongoing process of living. The central concepts of care also help to clarify the nature of Spenser's courtesy. Caring has been associated mostly with the underprivileged, the lowly like women or servants, though Spenser treats the moral issue of how we treat others as related to both men and women. This status of caring in human society well fits into Spenser's initial stress on courtesy's lowliness, its humble origin: "though it on a lowly stalke doe bowre, / Yet brancheth forth in braue nobilitie, / And spreds it self through all ciuilitie:" (6.Proem.4.3-5). Furthermore, for Spenser, a morally perfect person is one that, among other things, strives to meet the demands of caring in his or her life. A morally admirable society must, among other things, properly provide care for its members. It is this reason why Spenser calls courtesy the most beautiful flower of virtues (6.Proem.4.1-5), which culminates and sums up the other virtues of the poem.
Separation and interdependent caring, namely the masculine and the feminine aspects of courtesy, are reiterated in the education of courtesy, until the virtue gets to the point of perfection in the champion knight. An autonomous knightly quest is counterpoised with compassionate involvement in the assisting or rescuing of those in afflictions and hardships. In the beginning of his quest, Calidore shows some relational aspects of courtesy. His rhetorical education as a courtier has ironically contributed to his cultivation of the femininity of courtesy. The outward manifestations of courteous distinction consist in good speech and well-mannered behavior. The way this stylish speech and behavior of courtesy as a public virtue are enacted is very much similar to some rhetorical devices in essential ways. Speech is a relational act, and one of the important strategies of rhetoricians is to change their styles and characters in order to persuade their audiences. This credibility of the speaker's is an important element in rhetorical practice. In the Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle strongly recommends that rhetoricians achieve the skill to create a semblance at least of moral character (ethos), in order to make their speeches more convincing and persuasive, since "moral character . . . constitutes the most effective means of proof" (Aristotle 1856a). This rhetorical adaptability finds its moral counterpart in courtesy, in Calidore's bearing himself aright in each situation and the persuasive use of his moral credibility in expedient situations as in his helping Priscilla getting out of her predicament (6.2.1-18).
Priscilla, a noble lady, is in love with Aladine, who comes from the lower class, and their secret rendezvous in a wood can impair her honor as a noble lady. To protect the image of her noble honor and chastity from scandalous defamation, Priscilla and Aladine ask help from Calidore, since "[Calidore] they did deem, as sure to them he seemed, / A courteous Knight, and full of faithful trust" (126.96.36.199-2). Calidore's lie for Priscilla is a device of "counter-cast of slight, / To giue faire colour to that Ladies cause in sight" (188.8.131.52-9). It is, as Tonkin suggests, a "manoeuvre designed to thwart some previous manoeuvre" (Tonkin 47) by Priscilla's parents' disfavor of Aladine. Calidore chooses what is expedient for the couple's plight, though the circumstance is at odds with his professed virtue, honesty. To achieve what is the most effective to succor Priscilla and Aladine, Calidore uses his "seeming" integrity in his words and appearance, which assures Priscila's father of his trust.
Calidore's handling of Priscila's father resembles that of one who carefully controls the judgment of his audience through the creation of a mutually esteemed moral perspective (ethos). He uses his courtesy and trust to produce an appealing sense of personal reliability hereby controlling Priscilla's father's judgment and interpretation of his daughter's behavior. This pragmatic adaptability is emphasized in courtesy, when Spenser describes courtesy, "[g]reat skill it is such duties timely to bestow" (184.108.40.206).
Rhetorical choice of what is proper or expedient in a given situation needs the attention to a particular context. Attention to a specific situation is a feminine characteristic in moral choice, as "[women] pay more attention to what goes on around them and modify their behavior accordingly" (McClelland 84). Spenser's courtesy integrally includes a rhetorical and mannerly flexibility in situations, in spite of its potential moral ambivalence, especially when this kind of expediency is taken for virtuous end. In his operation of courtesy, Calidore partly illustrates the feminine aspect, which he has cultivated, though not intentionally, with the inculcation of the rhetorical education.
Although Calidore displays some mature aspects of courtesy in words and deeds from the beginning of his quest, he has not attained the sufficient moral strength with which he is able to defend his society against the chaotic forces of the Blatant Beast. The immaturity of his courtesy is well demonstrated in one of his early episodes, in his interruption of Serena and Calepine's delightful pleasure.5) After his intrusion into their quiet rest, Calidore seems to escape from his predicament through his courteous behavior "like enchantment, that through both the eares / And both the eyes did steale the hart away" (6.3.3-4). The two representative knights of courtesy indulge in the conversation of manly adventures without caring about Serena's feelings, her lack of interest in the tales of martial prowess. Calidore's courteous engagement with the couple is soon overtaken by his male behavioral tendency, as McClelland describes, being "often deaf, dumb and blind to what is going on around them because they are so busy assertively concentrating on a task" (McClelland 86). The two knights' masculine discourse soon alienates her from them, and leaves her lonely wandering and finally injured by the Beast. Heroic adventure or quest itself always has a risk of falling into the violent display of physical force and shrewd wiles. Quest is an archtype of "the traditional male's single-minded, specialized assertive life style" (McClelland 93). This knightly single-mindedness on quest and its concomitant tendency of violence and carelessness to a particular context will later bring about another interruption of Calidore into Colin's vision.
Calidore completely disappears from the narrative line from canto 4 through 8, pursuing the Blatant Beast who has attacked Serena. When Calidore has come back in canto 9, readers finds him apparently exhausted with his tedious and lonely quest of the Beast. He reveals to the shepherd Meliboe his inner state of mind "which hath bene beaten late / In seas of troubles and of toylesome paine" (220.127.116.11-6). Ravished by Meliboe's speech about simple life in the country and his daughter Pastorella, Calidore decides to "fashion his owne lyfes estate" (18.104.22.168) in the pastoral community.
Calling his stay in the pastoral community a truancy or a "most notorious failure" (Miller 128) would be a good example of measuring his growth in courtesy from the male point of view, in terms of his linear progress toward the promised achievement. The poet‘s judgment of Calidore's stay with shepherds is subtly ambivalent. At first, he rhetorically questions who would follow the Blatant Beast (6.10.1-2), and then soon refers to his stay as another quest (22.214.171.124), a continuation of his first quest insofar as he shows "the courtesie by him profest, / Euen vnto the lowest and the least" (126.96.36.199-5). My contention is that Calidore's pastoral experiences are intrinsically important for the perfection of his courtesy. Another quest of Calidore in the pastoral world involves him in a network of relations with other fellow human beings. For his final mission, Calidore needs to develop the relational self of courtesy that orders and harmonizes society and whose moral deliberation aims to maintain human relations.
Calidore's involvement with shepherds, particularly with Pastorella helps him to grow mature in courtesy. His pastoral experience shows that "intimacy is the transformative experience for men through which adolescent identity turns into the generativity of adult love and work" (Gilligan, In a Different Voice 164-65). In the beginning of Book 6, he has sporadic relationships with other people, in which he leads people to commit themselves to moral life, as in the episodes of Briana and Crudor, and Aladine and Priscilla. However, those relationships are relatively subordinate to his single-minded devotion to the final task of defeating the Blatant Beast. Ever since canto 4.26, he has been completely isolated from the scenes and readers, so that other male figures substitute for his place. As an autonomous, detached, moral actor, he must have arduously but with much loneliness struggled toward individual achievement of his quest, "so full of toile and paine" (188.8.131.52). The pastoral interlude brings him from separation back to interdependence, and the temporary withdrawal from his masculine quest gives him an opportunity for intimate relationships.
Caring about others requires a constant state of moral engagement rather than a condition of detachment. Adapting himself to a new environment of intimacy demands Calidore of arduous reshaping of his self. After finding his efforts to woo her love in vain, he actively refashions himself to court Pastorella and adapts himself to a new situation.
Which Calidore perceiuing, thought it best
To chaunge the manner of his loftie looke;
And doffing his bright armes, himselfe addrest
In shepheards weed, and in his hand he tooke,
In stead of steelehead speare, a shepheards hooke;
Courtesy, as a social virtue in the world of fortunes, necessarily presupposes a flexible adaptability to situation, and so embraces that flexibility as the social grace of decorum. To Calidore, the pastoral world is a contingency in which he needs to adjust himself with readiness. As in the episode of Priscilla, Calidore deftly observes how to change himself in order to gain Pastorella's favor, and transforms himself into the persona of rustic shepherd in a new situation. His disarmament becomes a way of testing the integrity of his courteous conducts that had been fashioned in court. Furthermore, in his wooing efforts, he cultivates the capacity for empathy or the ability to listen to the lowly and learn their language or take their point of view in order to relate himself to the people in the pastoral community.
The reshaping of Calidore's moral self among the shepherds is concurrent with his disciplining in "meek humilitie" (184.108.40.206), a prevalent virtue in courteous behaviors throughout Book 6. Calidore's stooping from the high status of courtly courtier to the lowliness of a shepherd highlights the importance of humility in courtesy, which is repeatedly emphasized ever since Crudor has to subject himself to be a courteous knight in the first episode of book six. As the feminine has long been relegated to an inferior status of the private realm in Western tradition, it would require courageous humility for Calidore to acquire Pastorella's love or develop those inferior feminine qualities of courtesy. If a man's passionate love for a woman would be a mark of his effeminacy according to Renaissance gender ideology, as Phyllis Rackin explains (Rackin 41-42, 47), then Calidore suffers a double degradation by sojourning among the shepherds, the enslavement of his higher reason to his lower passion and his social stooping. He risks the loss of his male and noble identity for his love of Pastorella, for the intimate relationship.
Among the shepherds Calidore becomes so humble and low in terms of gender and class as to have an intimate contact with the vision of the Graces, the revelation of the feminine essence of courtesy.
A hundred naked maidens lilly white,
All raunged in a ring, and dauncing in delight.
All they without were raunged in a ring,
And daunced round ; but in the midst of them
Three other Ladies did both daunce and sing,
The whilest the rest them round about did hemme,
And like a girlond did in compasse stemme:
And in the middest of those same three, was placed
Another Damzell, as a precious gemme,
Amidst a ring most richly well enchaced,
That with her goodly presence all the rest much graced.
According to Colin, the maidens' dance represents and teaches how to be courteous in human relationship, and the three graces are the source of civility. The circular dance in the vision emphasizes the relational aspect of courtesy, and thus Spenser attributes to the feminine the essential power of courtesy, the harmonizing power that derives from responsible care and sensitivity to other members of society. This vision suggests that Spenser's moral imagination penetrates into the importance of the relational self in courtesy, whose nature is different from that of masculine heroic self.
However, Calidore's experience of the vision is too evanescent to equip him with the moral strength with which he can conquer the Blatant Beast. Moreover, on the Mount of Acidale, Calidore makes the same mistake that he does in the episode of Calepine and Serena, the intrusion of the extremely private vision of Colin. This behavior of his at this moment alludes that his courtesy still has the potentiality of violence.
Although his courteous disposition gets maturer with his understanding of the feminine essence of courtesy, the mature understanding needs to be enacted in his courteous actions. In his rescuing of Pastorella, Calidore fully incorporates the feminine quality of courtesy into his masculine moral self. Several influential readings of Book 6 have pointed out the allegorical importance of Pastorella's story, and related it to the Demeter-Persephone story (Hamilton; Williams 166; Blitch, Tonkin 143-50). Demeter's loss of her daughter by Hades for the three months and Persephone's return to her mother has been interpreted as a mythical explanation of the seasonal cycle in nature. The myth has two important implications from the viewpoint of gender. David C. McClelland in his study of power and the feminine role cites the myth of Demeter and Persephone as one of the dramatic illustrations of the traditional female role model and life cycle, the counterpart of the Oedipus story as the model of the traditional male role (McClelland 96-102). The myth suggests, "women are the source of life and going without brings increase" (McClelland 97). Persephone's ritual death, her going down to the underworld results in the increased life and fertility, and Demeter's sorrow is changed into joy by the return of her long-lost daughter. Moreover, Persephone's kidnapping and rape by Hades contains the trace of the oppression of female goddesses by male gods in the early Greek culture and thus the marginalization and exploitation by the patriarchal culture of the female relationship and experience in the human life cycle (Keller 41-51).
Interestingly, Patorella's relation to Persephone underpins the importance of the feminine attributes of courtesy, the importance of the intimate and generative feminine experience for the perfect courtesy. Pastorella is related to Persephone in her going out/down and renewed life and joy. In Spenser's revision of the Demeter-Persephone story, Pastorella's real parents take Demeter's place. Calidore is an instrument to restore life to her in the cycle of her mythical death and rebirth. Separation characterizes Pastorella's ordeals: her initial separation from her real parents, from the peaceful pastoral home and Calidore, her tragic losing of her stepparents by the brigands, and her imprisonment in a most alienated place, in the cave of the island that is isolated from the land. Persephonian separation threatens Pastorella's interdependent relationship and feminine identity.
The feminine attributes of courtesy in Book 6 are ever threatened to be marginalized or destroyed by its counterparts, as is clearly evidenced in Calidore's (though not deliberate) alienation of Serena who is also associated with Persephone (see Hamilton's note on Serena), in his encroaching into the dances of the Graces, and in the brigands' breaking into the pastoral world. When the thieves invade the community, Calidore has been separating himself from Pastorella. His act of breaking out from the intimate involvement may be a typically necessary step for closer approach to the realization of masculine success (Gilligan In a Different Voice 152-53), namely for his brief contact with the essential nature of courtesy.
Through his rescuing of Pastorella, Calidore returns from his isolated quest to the caring attachment to others. Calidore's descent to the cave is the nadir of the gradual descent into the feminine world of romance. He participates in Pastorella's mythic cycle as a preserver or rescuer of the feminine experience in the life cycle, not as an oppressor or a destroyer. His training alternated in the masculine and feminine attributes of courtesy completes its cycle in his restoring of the genuine identity and rights to Pastorella as the daughter of Claribell and Bellamour. Calidore's masculine inclination to autonomous separation is maturely harmonized with or complemented by the feminine inclination to interdependent attachment and care.
Now he is mature enough to bind the monster with "a muzzel strong / Of surest yron, made with many a lincke" (220.127.116.11-3), which looks like a symbol of harmony. The Blatatant Beast is opposed to both masculine and feminine attributes of courtesy. The monster makes havoc of the human relationships wherever it goes. Its errant course is "a parody of the quest itself" (Nohrnberg 693). As far as courtesy is essentially concerned with rhetoric, the monster with its slanderous antisocial speech is definitely opposed to Calidore, "a patron of fair speech" (Nohrnberg 680). The Blatant Beast as the antagonist in the Legend of Courtesy has hundreds of venomous tongues that speaks "reprochfully, not caring where nor when" (18.104.22.168). It totally ignores particular contexts, and violates the courteous decorum, which teaches us "how to each degree and kynde / We should our selues demeane, to low, to hie . . ." (22.214.171.124-8). The Beast's slander ruins not only an individual's reputation that locates its security in audience's legitimation but also a society's order and peace that is sustained by harmonious communication. To the extent that the Beast invades into the privacy of intimate relationship and recreation, it is the culmination of evil in The Faerie Queene that attacks "vertues seat [which] is deepe within the mynd, / And not in outward shows, but inward thoughts defynd" (6.Proem.5.8-9).
Calidore's victory is temporary and soon damaged by the release of the Beast into the world again. The Beast's returning to the world seems to signify not the ultimate failure of Calidore's achievement but what courtesy is. The socialization of one's personality, one's commitment to responsible human relationship as a member of society is an ongoing process, a lifelong one. As long as speech is a means of human communication, the Beast with its vile tongues will always be alive either enchained or loosened. Male members of society, for whom Spenser's courtesy is mainly designed, need to cultivate the relational feminine self in the solitary quest for the continuous bindings of the Blatant Beast and for the preservation of their rhetorical culture.
From the modern feminist viewpoint of gender difference in moral conflicts, the feminine and masculine aspects of morality inhabit each other in Spenser's vision of courtesy, however fragile the vision may be. Spenser's moral vision reflects his fundamental idea of human beings, that humans are not fully autonomous, and should be understood in a condition of interdependence. Colin's breaking of his pipe at the disappearance of the vision by Calidore's careless interruption may express the poet's disappointment that he can not fully realize his moral insights within the traditional frame of gender polarities and hierarchical society. Spenser's courtesy disrupts the boundaries between public and private life, between the masculine and the feminine in morality, and between the privileged and the underprivileged, as in the instances of Calepine's taking care of a deserted baby and Calidore's staying in the pastoral world. Spenser elevates caring activities as a central concern of moral thought in the early modern period. In terms that Spenser chooses courtesy which is especially concerned with caring as an important moral virtue, he may be entitled to be a modern feminist moral thinker, since except for some feminist thinkers, "few moral philosophers have considered questions of care . . . " (Tronto 125). If Spenser's courtesy as an ethic of care were to be translated into the practices of morality in modern society, it might transform modern morality from the viewpoint of gender.
(Hankuk University of Foreign Studies)
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Reading Gender into the Virtue of Courtesy
in Book 6 of The Faerie Queene
The purpose of this article is to explore from the modern feminist viewpoint of ethics and subjectivity how Spenser renders courtesy a gendered virtue, revealing its masculine as well as feminine aspects.
Courtesy as the root of human relationships in a civilized society is necessary both for men and women, and yet is represented by male moral agents whose realm is the public realm of culture, rationality, and universality. Spenser scholars and critics have not questioned the genderedness of courtesy, generally defining the virtue in male terms.
Although courtesy appears to be a public and thus masculine virtue, it is in its essence very feminine, as it is embodied in the vision of the Graces in Mt. Acidale. Courtesy contains characteristics which the feminist critique of ethics has found feminine in gender-differentiated morality: attention to particular historical situation, responsiveness to others that dictates providing care and love, preventing harm, maintaining relationships, emphasizing a network of connection, a web of relationship that is sustained by a process of communication. Courtesy as 'the roote of civil conversation' requires a relational self whose moral judgment is contextual, circumstantial, namely feminine.
From the beginning of his quest, Calidore displays some mature aspects of courtesy in words and deeds. However, his moral subject has not attained the completeness with which he is able to defend his civilization against the forces of chaos. Calidore's moral subject is inherently masculine, autonomous, and removed from the relationships and connectedness of everyday life. He is separate from others, and independently chooses courteous principles to obey. The imperfectness of his moral self is illustrated in his interruption into Serena and Calepine's delightful pleasure, which leads to Serena's wounding and his first encounter with the Blatant Beast. At this stage, Calidore is bound to chivalric courtesy, peculiarly masculine. Only by abandoning his chivalric quest and staying in the pastoral community, his moral self is fully able to develop its masculine as well as feminine aspects.
The pastoral interlude in cantos 9-11 is not Calidore's truancy from responsibility; but rather, it is crucial to his education in the operation of courtesy. During his stay in the pastoral world, he develops a self which is involved in a network of relations to others and whose moral deliberation aims to maintain these relations, the relational feminine self of courtesy which orders and harmonizes society. Since the feminine has long been relegated to the inferior status of the private realm in the traditional history of Western moral philosophy, it would require courageous humility for Calidore to acquire or develop those inferior feminine qualities of courtesy. Among the shepherds he becomes so humble and low as to contact with the Graces who are the culmination of these qualities.
Spenser's moral insight penetrates into the imperfectness of male-oriented courtesy and reveals, through Colin's vision, the essential role of feminine qualities in the construction of Calidore's moral subject, disrupting the hierarchy of moral discourse. Though the disappearance of the vision by the intrusion of Calidore indicates that the feminine in morality is ever encroached by the masculine, both feminine and masculine aspects of morality inhabit each other in the poet's vision of courtesy.
Key words: gender, courtesy, Emjund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Renaissance epic, feminist ethics.
1)*This work was supported by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund of 2003.
2) Carol Gilligan‘s In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993) and Nel Nodding's Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (Berkeley: U of California P, 1984) are the ground-breaking works that have been influential in the studies of the modern feminist ethics. With the assumption that women's experiences can be equally ethical as men's, these two scholars challenge the biased views on women's morality that have been judged as inferior by male standards and experiences. For modern feminist views on morality, see also Heckman; Mannning; Kittay; Tronto; Larrabee; Cole; Freeland; Gilligan; Pearsall.
3) All references to The Faerie Queene are from Spenser: The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (London: Longman), 1977.
4) Care as an important feminist ethic or an ethic inclusive of women's moral experiences has been an important topic in modern feminist discussions of morality. See Tronto 102-52; Larrabee; Noddings.
5) Private rest is frequently invaded not only by the Blatant Beast but also by Calidore and other courteous characters, which instances are well observed by Harry Berger, See 6.2.16-18; 6.3.20-21, 23-24; 6.4.17; 6.5.10-11, 15; 6.7.6-7, 18-19; 6.8.34; 6.10,18, 34, 39; 6.12.40-41 (Berger 40, note 14).