Reflections: Spenser, Elizabeth I, and Mirror Literature

Reflections: Spenser, Elizabeth I, and Mirror Literature

Dark, Rebecca

Early English Studies, vol. 1 (2007)


In Book Three of Spenser’s Faerie Queen frequently, the magical mirror in which Britomart first sees the image of her beloved–and object of her quest–is the most prominent of the many mirrors found throughout the text. It functions as a crucial intersection of the conventional courtly mirror of love and the hortatory mirror of religious and political discourse. This mirror transforms Britomart into both a completely appropriate avatar of Elizabeth and a completely legible message to the poem’s most prominent audience member, the Queen. This paper argues that Spenser’s message of admiration and instruction to his queen can be read most clearly when Britomart and her mirror are contextualized by an understanding of the courtly and hortatory mirror traditions.

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