These paired Arthurian legends suggest that erotic desire and the desire for companionship undergird national politics. The maiden Britomart, Queen Elizabeth's fictional ancestor, dons armor to search for a man whom she has seen in a crystal ball. While on this quest, she seeks to understand how one can be chaste while pursuing a sexual goal, in love with a man while passionately attached to a woman, a warrior princess yet a wife. As Spenser's most sensitively developed character, Britomart is capable of heroic deeds but also of teenage self-pity. Her experience is anatomized in the stories of other characters, where versions of love and friendship include physical gratification, torture, mutual aid, competition, spiritual ecstasy, self-sacrifice, genial teasing, jealousy, abduction, wise government, sedition, and the valiant defense of a pig shed.
More than three hundred years ago there lived in England a poet named Edmund Spenser. He was brave and true and gentle, and he loved all that was beautiful and good. Edmund Spenser wrote many poems, and the most beautiful of all is the one called ‘The Faerie Queen.’ He loved so dearly all things that are beautiful and all things that are good, that his eyes could see Fairyland more clearly than the eyes of other men ever could. There are many, many stories in ‘The Faerie Queen,’ and out of them all I have told you only eight. Some day you will read the others for yourself.
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