Spenser’s bawdy; or, Red Crosse’s problem with desire
in Comic Spenser
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This chapter challenges two traditional assumptions about the story of Red Crosse’s infidelity to Una in Spenser’s ‘Legend of Holiness’: first, that this infidelity has, allegorically speaking, little to do with sexuality, and, second, that the book’s sexual satire (such as it is) is directed at lust and infidelity. Rejecting both these premises, this chapter contends that what the book really satirises is Red Crosse’s bodily shame. Its core argument is that, as an allegory of idolatry, the knight’s affair with Duessa in part represents a misled and hypocritical commitment to celibacy. This counterintuitive play on Spenser’s part is underscored by bawdy symbolism, wordplay, and innuendo. More than a vehicle for talking about something else – something elevated and spiritual – sexuality emerges as a touchstone for the very condition of embodiment that ‘holiness’ must negotiate.

Comic Spenser

Faith, folly, and ‘The Faerie Queene’

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