Both Britomart in Spenser’s Book 3, Canto 1 of Faerie Queene and Belinda in Pope’s The Rape of The Lock wear their clothes and (in Belinda’s case) makeup as their armor, both literally and figuratively. Both suffer unwanted advances, their image publicly besmirched as a result. Even though Belinda dresses to show off her beauty and Britomart dresses to conceal it, both women use their array as protection from cruel male world around them. Both feel safe, and both women have this safety violated and attack to defend their honor.
For Spenser, Chastity is a virtue to be held in a very high regard. Britomart is praised for her “masculine” virtues of steadfastness and being warlike. Since women in Spenser are seen as seductive and evil, Britomart’s masculinity is respectable. Spenser seems to be encouraging women to be innocent yet always on guard. Pope seems to have the same advice for Belinda, however in a more humorous tone. For Belinda and Britomart, their weapons do not prove safe enough. Both Pope and Spenser point out the unfortunate fact that in a society where a woman’s chastity is valued above any other quality, her safety is reliant on chivalry. Malecasta’s sexual bedroom and clothes serve as a foil to those of Britomart. Unlike Malecasta, Belinda flirts to survive. Just as losing a lock of hair ruins Belinda’s night, the stain on Britomart’s nightgown cannot be undone. Spenser shows how easily one can fall into shame. Pope makes a similar point for laughs instead of somber moralizing. Like an 18th century woman’s gown, both texts include layers upon layers of meaning around what a woman wears or how she chooses to present herself and what that reveals about society as a whole. Both authors believe the best course of action is for women to weaponize themselves.
Wilks, Patrick D.
"Petticoats and Spurs: Female Armor in Spenser's "Faerie Queene" and Pope's "The Rape of the Lock","
The Criterion: Vol. 2018
, Article 10.
Available at: https://crossworks.holycross.edu/criterion/vol2018/iss1/10