Mirabella's crime and the laws of love in the Faerie Queene 6.7-8

Danila Sokolov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In an often-neglected episode from book 6 of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, the beautiful courtly lady Mirabella rejects the love of numerous suitors and thereby causes their death. For her transgression, she is tried and sentenced at the court of Cupid. This essay considers the historical and poetic meaning of the law that determines the judgment of Mirabella. On the one hand, the episode revives several aspects of the medieval poetic tradition of amorous jurisprudence, imagining her crime as a violation of the laws of love (a distinct legal sphere outside of the reach of positive law where desire can claim a jurisdictional autonomy). At the same time, Spenser's text suggests that Mirabella's actions can be also construed as murder, which translates her transgression into the language of the common law of felony. As the essay demonstrates, The Faerie Queene intertwines the poetic laws of love with the mechanisms of the common law, creating a powerful legal resonance that both curbs the oppressive ambitions of Elizabethan positive law and reshapes medieval erotic law to answer the demands of modernity. As a result, the episode imagines a heterogeneous and more successful legality that reconciles the past and the present and the juridical and the poetic, in the process asserting the unrivaled power of poetry to articulate a vision of justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-98
Number of pages26
JournalStudies in Philology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

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© 2018 Studies in Philology, Incorporated.


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