Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Paul J. Voss

Second Advisor

Beth Burmester

Third Advisor

Wayne Erickson


The practice of courtesy was of the utmost importance in Renaissance England; courtesy was tied to social standing, virtue, and civility. Spenser joins in a rich tradition of courtesy literature by including the Book of Courtesy in The Faerie Queene. His presentation of courtesy goes far beyond the limited discussion of the concept by his predecessors and peers; instead of limiting his depiction of courtesy to “courteous” behavior, Spenser includes every aspect of courtesy, including courteous and completely discourteous behavior and effective and ineffective expressions of courtliness.

Spenser’s courtesy involves layers of complexity that exist in various social spheres throughout The Faerie Queene. The wide-ranging nature of the poem enables Spenser to explore virtue in varied physical and allegorical contexts, thus allowing the reader to view courtesy in multiple contexts.

Spenser’s conception of courtesy may be viewed in four discreet types of characters: moral courtiers, unrhetorical but inwardly courteous individuals, artful courtiers, and discourteous individuals. A close analysis of each type of courteous or discourteous character leads to a more nuanced and fuller understanding of Spenser’s portrayal of courtesy. This study reaches outside the Legend of Courtesy and views the virtue of courtesy throughout the entirety of The Faerie Queene. Focal characters include, but are not limited to, Arthur, Britomart, Florimell, Redcrosse, Salvage Man, Satyrs, the Salvage Nation and Brigands, Duessa, Archimago, and Malecasta. An analysis of each of these widely differing characters contributes to the reader’s understanding of courtesy and the relationship between courtesy and rhetoric in Spenser’s work.