The Role of Nurse Glauce in the Faerie Queene

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In Book Three of The Faerie Queene, the character of Glauce plays an important role in aiding Britomart, the main character, to set off on her journey. Britomart, who represents Spenser's idea of ideal Christian chastity, confronts some challenging and poignant issues before she heads off on her adventure; namely, she sees a vision of her future husband in an enchanted looking glass, and does not quite know how to handle the feelings of all-encompassing love that arise in her. The terror, doubt and confusion she experiences are similar to what is felt by any young girl embarking on the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence, but with the added factor of the spectral figure she sees in the mirror. In Cantos Two and Three of Book Three, the sections that deal with Britomart's background, the only member of her natural family that is mentioned is her father. Therefore, in the absence of a natural mother, it is Glauce, Britomart's nurse, who steps in to fill the role. Glauce, whose name ‘associates her with the mother of the goddess Diana and … with the owl, companion of Minerva' (Spenser notes 807), works to help Britomart through her time of intense change, behaving towards the young girl as a mother would to her own duaghter. Although a seemingly secondary character in the scheme of Book Three of The Faerie Queen, as she only appears in the two cantos mentioned above, Glauce's role as a mother figure to Britomart - a role she fulfills to the utmost degree - is a vital component behind setting the story in motion.

Glauce exemplifies the role of motherhood in many different ways in her treatment of Britomart. First of all, she is immediately aware of Britomart's change in attitude after viewing the image of Artegall in the enchanted mirror. Britomart becomes sullen and withdrawn after the vision, but does not know why; she is described as becoming ‘sad, solemne, sowre, and full of fancies fraile … yet thought it was not love, but some melancholy' (Spenser 3.2.239-43). Glauce attempts to comfort Britomart in her despair, and is seemingly the only person to whom Britomart can turn. She is affectionate to Britomart, and refers to Britomart as her ‘deare daughter' (Spenser 3.2.267). Like a mother, Glauce worries about the cause of Britomart's depression and, while knowing with an apparent mother's instinct that the cause must be a man, she thinks the circumstances behind it to be much worse than they actually turn out to be. Glauce is relieved when she finds out the true origin of Britomart's despondency, saying, "of much more uncouth thing I was affrayd; / of filthy lust, contrarie unto kind: / but this affection nothing straunge I find" (Spenser 3.2.354-56), and then proceeds to give a long list of all the worse-case scenarios she had envisioned for Britomart's torment. She finishes her speech by vowing to help Britomart find Artegall (Spenser 3.2.406-14), thereby providing the utmost of support to the young girl. Glauce's words do give hope and encouragement to Britomart, if only temporarily, and she is finally able to sleep after several days of insomnia. The scene in which Glauce reaches out to Britomart in her despair and tries to find its cause is reminiscent of a young girl's coming of age into womanhood. Going further than a young woman dealing with the first unrecognizable pangs of love, the scene also makes references, of a subtle nature, to puberty. When Britomart describes how this new feeling of love affects her, she refers to her ‘bleeding bowels' (Spenser 3.2.344) and says "that all [her] entrailes flow with poysonous gore" (Spenser 3.2.346). These lines have a double meaning; they give a dramatized description of the way love makes Britomart feel, but they also allude to what is physically happening to her body as she becomes a woman. And Glauce fulfills the role of the mother figure, by trying to help Britomart through the changes she is experiencing and providing the support she needs....
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