In book 2 of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, Archimago and Duessa accuse the Redcross Knight of rape. Although both Spenser and his critics have long treated their accusation as false, this essay argues that it has three layers of truth: Duessa's stripping in book 1 is a literal sexual assault; it is a metaphorical rape; and, due to the accusation's use of metaphor and ellipsis, it mirrors Spenser's own narration with surprising accuracy. This third sense of the accusation's truth illustrates the representational challenges of rape and the fissures between literal and figurative meanings—hermeneutic concerns violently at issue in the Reformation. Duessa's stripping and dismissed rape accusation illuminate the complex interrelation of three things: shifting early modern attitudes toward rape, the Protestant turn to inwardness both hermeneutically and soteriologically, and the interpretive and moral problems of allegory after the Reformation. Thus, the disturbingly gendered interpretive violence of Faerie Queene reflects not only the grim misogyny of the sixteenth century but also a broader hermeneutic and epistemological crisis.


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pp. 285-312
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