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Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser (ca. 1552-1599) ranks as the fore most English poet of the 16th century. Famous as the author of the unfinished epic poem The Faerie Queene, he is the poet of an ordered yet passionate Elizabethan world.

Edmund Spenser was a man of his times, and his work reflects the religious and humanistic ideals as well as the intense but critical patriotism of Elizabethan England. His contributions to English literature—in the form of a heightened and enlarged poetic vocabulary, a charming and flexible verse style, and a rich fusing of the philosophic and literary currents of the English Renaissance—entitle him to a rank not far removed from that of William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Spenser was the son of a London tailor, but his family seems to have had its origins in Lancashire. The poet was admitted to the newly founded Merchant Taylors' School about 1561 as a "poor scholar." There his headmaster was the patriotic and scholarly Richard Mulcaster, author of several books on the improvement of the English language. The curriculum at Mulcaster's school included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; music and drama were stressed; and the English language was also a subject of study—then a novelty.

In 1569 Spenser went to Cambridge, where he entered Pembroke College as a sizar (a student who earns his tuition by acting as a servant to wealthy students). He spent 7 years at the university, gaining his bachelor of arts degree in 1572 and his master of arts degree in 1576. Records of the period reveal that Spenser's health was poor but that he had an excellent reputation as a student. He studied Italian, French, Latin, and Greek; read widely in classical literature and in the poetry of the modern languages; and authored some Latin verse. At Cambridge, Spenser came to know Gabriel Harvey, lecturer in rhetoric and man of letters, who proved to be a faithful and long-term friend and adviser. Among his fellow students were Lancelot Andrewes, later a learned theologian and bishop, and Edward Kirke, a future member of Spenser's poetic circle.

Diplomatic Activities

After completing his studies, Spenser seems to have spent some time in Lancashire, possibly with his relatives. This sojourn in the north increased his familiarity with the northern dialect, which later exerted a considerable influence on the language of The Shepherd's Calendar. Shortly after leaving the university, Spenser also spent time in the service of the powerful Earl of Leicester, regarded as the head of the Puritan faction in the government. Some hints in Spenser's correspondence and in his published works suggest that he may have traveled as an envoy for Leicester to Ireland, Spain, France, and Italy. In any case, in 1578 Spenser was named secretary to the former master of his college, John Young, now bishop of Rochester. Spenser probably composed the major part of The Shepherd's Calendar at Rochester.

By Easter 1579, Spenser was back in London, in daily contact with Gabriel Harvey and Edward Kirke, and much involved in literary discussions, especially those about Harvey's project of introducing classical Latin and Greek nonrhyming meters into English verse. Probably at this time Spenser made the acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney, the poet and courtier.

The Shepherd's Calendar

By now Spenser had written a considerable quantity of poetry, but he had published nothing. Upon the advice of his friends he decided to make his literary debut with The Shepherd's Calendar (1579), which he dedicated to Sidney. This work, consisting of 12 pastoral eclogues, uses the pastoral conventions as vehicles of allegorical and satirical allusions to contemporary political and religious problems, as well as to the poet's own life and loves. Spenser in this work shows the influence of such classical and foreign models as Virgil, Jacopo Sannazaro, and Clément Marot, but he also acknowledges a considerable debt to Geoffrey Chaucer and to other English sources. The work is especially important for its naturalization in English of a variety of poetic forms—dirges, complaints, paeans—and for its attempt to enrich the English poetic vocabulary through foreign borrowings and through the use of archaic and dialect words.

Allusions and letters from this period of Spenser's life show that he was busy with a variety of literary projects. Spenser was already at work on The Faerie Queene and on a number of the poems eventually collected in his Complaints. Meanwhile, he was also studying law and hoping for a place in diplomacy or civil service. His efforts were rewarded in 1580, when, through the influence of the Earl of Leicester, he was named secretary to Lord Grey, the new lord deputy of Ireland. That same year Spenser accompanied Grey to Dublin.

Ireland was to remain Spenser's home for the rest of his life. Grey was recalled in 1582, but Spenser remained, holding a variety of government posts and participating at first in the cultivated life of Dublin Anglo-Irish society. Increasingly, however, the poet's financial interests and administrative duties took him to Munster (southern Ireland). In 1586 he leased Kilcolman Castle in County Cork, and he lived there after 1588.

The Faerie Queene

For some years Spenser had been working on The Faerie Queene. By 1589 three books were complete. When Sir Walter Raleigh visited the poet in the early autumn of that year, Raleigh was so impressed with this work that he took Spenser with him back to England. In November 1589 they arrived in London; and early in the following year the first three books of Spenser's most famous work were published, with an elaborate dedication to Queen Elizabeth I. Spenser's ambition was to write the great English epic. His plan was to compose 12 books, each concerned with one of the 12 moral virtues as classified by Aristotle. Each of these virtues was to be embodied in a knight. Thus the poem would combine elements of the romance of chivalry, the handbook of manners and morals, and the national epic.

The Faerie Queene can be read on various levels: as an allegory of the eternal struggle between good and evil in every form; as a poetic statement of an ethical system; and as a historical allegory portraying the struggle between the pure Protestant traditions of England and the manifold threats of England's Roman Catholic neighbors. Allusions to contemporary political and religious controversies are numerous. The philosophy underlying Spenser's epic combines three strands. Platonism, which (as seen through the eyes of Renaissance commentators) stressed the harmony between love and beauty on the human and divine levels, is blended with the less imaginative and more concrete Aristotelianism of the scholastic tradition, with its disciplined analysis and careful reflection on the moral life, which Spenser had probably learned in school. These two elements are penetrated by a strong Calvinistic Christianity, stressing man's weakness, his need for a strict moral life, and the total dependence of humanity on the atonement of Christ. Thus the work itself is a fine example of an attempted synthesis between the traditions of Christianity and those of classical antiquity that characterizes all the best productions of the Renaissance.

Spenser's style is distinctively his own: he attempted to create a remote, old-fashioned atmosphere through the use of archaic diction, strange neologisms, and forgotten terms of chivalry. Yet, because of his clear and straightforward syntax, few of his passages are obscure, even to a modern reader. For his verse form, Spenser created a new stanza which has since been often imitated in English literature. It consists of nine lines, eight lines of iambic pentameter concluding with an Alexandrine (iambic hexameter), arranged in the rhyme scheme ababbcbcc. The harmonious and orderly movement of this Spenserian stanza fits the slow, ample, and cumulative pace of the whole work.

The publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene met with much acclaim. Spenser remained in London for more than a year, enjoying fame and making many friends; but he did not succeed in attaining a sufficiently lucrative post in the home government. Spenser was now by no means a poor man, and his wealth was increased by the substantial annual pension that was the reward for his poem. But in courtly circles he was a decidedly minor figure. In 1591, probably in the spring, Spenser returned to Ireland, famous but disappointed.

The Complaints

Before leaving London, Spenser prepared for publication a collection of minor poems under the title of Complaints. A hint of Spenser's mood at this time might have been expressed in this volume's subtitle: Sundry Small Poems of the World's Vanity. However, most of its contents had been composed years before. The most important of the poems in this volume is "Mother Hubberd's Tale," a satire that had gained notoriety a decade earlier. This poem satirizes Queen Elizabeth's projected marriage to the French Catholic Duke of Alençon—a prospect that had greatly alarmed the Puritan faction at court. The work is important not only because of its political implications but also because of its express and able use of medieval English sources and conventions. Its plot is drawn from William Caxton's translation of the French beast allegory Renard the Fox, and its verse and narrative style betray clear Chaucerian influences.

Also included in the Complaints were revised and enlarged versions of Spenser's youthful translations from Joachim du Bellay and Petrarch; a poem entitled "The Ruins of Time" celebrating the family of the Earl of Leicester and Sir Philip Sidney; and another called "Tears of the Muses," which lamented the poverty and neglect suffered by poets. Somewhat lighter in tone is "Virgil's Gnat," a free translation of the Culex, a humorous ancient poem attributed to Virgil. In this work Spenser tells allegorically of his discomfiture resulting from the adverse political reactions to "Mother Hubberd's Tale." "Muiopotmus; or, The Fate of the Butterfly" was probably an entirely new work written during Spenser's stay in London.

Other Works

Late in 1591, after returning to Ireland, Spenser wrote the greater part of "Colin Clout's Come Home Again," an idealized poetic autobiography dedicated to Raleigh. It ranks as one of Spenser's most charming poems, narrating in the allegorical terms of the then popular pastoral convention the story of his reception in London and his impressions (mostly negative) of court life. Shortly afterward Spenser compiled a collection of poems dedicated to the memory of Sir Philip Sidney. To this collection he contributed the first elegy, "Astrophel." This collection was published together with "Colin Clout's Come Home Again" in 1595.

Meanwhile, Spenser was courting Elizabeth Boyle, an Anglo-Irish woman of a well-connected family. They were married on June 11, 1594. His sonnet sequence "Amoretti" and his "Epithalamion" together form an imaginatively enhanced poetic chronicle of his courtship and marriage. Some of the "Amoretti" sonnets were probably written earlier, but Spenser intended this collection to represent the fluctuations and the emotions of his love for his wife. Written in frequent imitation of such French and Italian sonneteers as Philippe Desportes and Torquato Tasso, Spenser's sonnets, representing one of the most popular poetic forms of his period, are graceful if not great. However, his "Epithalamion" is generally acknowledged to rank among the greatest love poems in English. In this poem a lover's passion blends with a deeply religious sensibility, calling upon both classical myth and medieval legend to create an intricate pattern of allusions and evocations.

Late in 1595 Spenser returned to London, again staying for more than a year. He published during this visit to the capital three more books of The Faerie Queene; the "Prothalamion," written to celebrate the double wedding of two daughters of the Earl of Worcester; and the "Four Hymns," poems that concern his Platonic conceptions of love and beauty. During this stay he seems also to have composed or at least to have revised his View of the Present State of Ireland, a prose tract in which he defended the policies of his earlier patron, Lord Grey, in dealing with rebellious Irish subjects and in which he proposed a program for first subjugating the Irish people and then reforming their government on the model of the English administrative system. Surprisingly, this pamphlet, so in tune with much of governmental opinion, did not receive permission for publication during Spenser's lifetime and was first published in 1633.

Final Period

Spenser seems to have returned to Ireland sometime in 1597 and to have resumed his work on The Faerie Queene. Two more cantos of a succeeding book were published posthumously in 1609, but most of what he wrote in these years has been lost. Spenser was temporarily without political office, but in September 1598 he was named sheriff of Cork. He had hardly taken control of that office before, in October of the same year, the Earl of Tyrone's rebellion, a generalized revolt of the Irish people, broke out in Munster. Spenser's castle was burned, and the poet was forced to flee with his family, which now included four young children.

In December the provincial governor sent Spenser as a messenger to Queen Elizabeth. He arrived in the capital at the end of 1598, much weakened by the hardships of the preceding months. Spenser presented his messages to the Queen, together with a personal statement reiterating his position on the Irish question. Soon after his arrival he became seriously ill, and he died in London on Jan. 16, 1599. Spenser was buried near other poets in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition was edited by Edwin Greenlaw and others (9 vols., 1932-1949). A smaller edition of the Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser was edited by J. C. Smith and Ernest de Sélincourt (3 vols., 1909-1910). H. S. V. Jones, A Spenser Handbook (1930), is still useful as a general introduction to the works. A thorough biographical study by Alexander C. Judson, The Life of Edmund Spenser (1945), was published as volume 3 of the Variorum Edition.

Important critical studies include Leicester Bradner, Edmund Spenser and the Faerie Queene (1948); William Nelson, The Poetry of Edmund Spenser (1963); and C. S. Lewis, Spenser's Images of Life, edited by Alastair Fowler (1967). Helpful studies of particular aspects of Spenser's work are Edwin Greenlaw, Studies in Spenser's Historical Allegory (1932); C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936); Ruth Mohl, Studies in Spenser, Milton, and the Theory of Monarchy (1949); and E. M. W. Tillyard, The English Epic and Its Background (1954). A work on Spenser's reputation through the centuries is William R. Mueller, ed., Spenser's Critics (1959). Waldo F. McNeir and Foster Provost compiled an Annotated Bibliography of Edmund Spenser, 1937-1960 (1962).

For general background see S. T. Bindoff, Tudor England (1951);Hallet Smith, Elizabethan Poetry (1952); and C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century: Excluding Drama (1954).

Additional Sources

Rambuss, Richard, Spenser's secret career, Cambridge England;New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Shire, Helena Mennie, A preface to Spenser, London; New York:Longman, 1978.

Spenser and Ireland: an interdisciplinary perspective, Cork: Cork University Press, 1989.

Spenser's life and the subject of biography, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

Tuckwell, William, Spenser, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1975.

Waller, Gary F. (Gary Fredric), Edmund Spenser: a literary life, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. □

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Spenser, Edmund (1552 or 1553–1599)

SPENSER, EDMUND (1552 or 15531599)

SPENSER, EDMUND (1552 or 15531599), English poet and author. Born in London, perhaps at East Smithfield, Spenser was educated at the newly founded Merchant Taylors' School and at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. His family may have been related to the Spencers of Althorp. As both politically engaged author and dutiful state servant, he first came to public notice in 1569. In that year, he translated verses by Petrarch (13041374) and Joachim Du Bellay (c. 15221560) for A Theatre for Worldlings, an English version of a work by the Dutch Calvinist Jan van der Noot (c. 1540c. 1595)a key text for the reforming tradition of militant Protestantism to which Spenser belongedand was paid on 16 October for bearing letters from Tours in France for Sir Henry Norris, English ambassador there, to Queen Elizabeththe beginning of a long secretarial career.

At Cambridge he began a long-lasting friendship with fellow scholar Gabriel Harvey. He received his B.A. in 1573 and his M.A. in 1576. After a few years in which little is known of his activities or whereabouts, Spenser exploded onto the literary scene in 1579 with The Shepheardes Calender, a pastoral poem in the form of a collection of "eclogues," or conversations among shepherds. Much more than a publication, it was a literary event. The Shepheardes Calender founded the myth of Gloriana, contributing to the cult of Elizabeth at the very moment when Spenser, frustrated in his efforts to secure preference at court, was seeking his fortune abroad. Despite its panegyric to the queen in the April Eclogue, it contains a covert critique of church and state. Like his later work, it contests the very authority to which it apparently commends itself.

Published anonymously, but carefully timed to coincide with correspondence with Harvey containing clues to its authorship, The Shepheardes Calender came complete with the kind of editorial apparatus associated with classical texts by canonical authors, yet was illustrated with woodcuts, and contained dialogue written in the language of ordinary country folk. This mix of playfulness and purposefulness, with its inventive and often subversive borrowing from high and low culture, is characteristically Spenserian. The Shepheardes Calender was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, earning Spenser a mention in Sidney's Apology for Poetry (1595).

In 1580 Spenser became secretary to the new lord deputy of Ireland, Arthur, Lord Grey de Wilton. Ireland remained Spenser's home until his death. Having presented himself as the most promising poet of his generation with The Shepheardes Calender, Spenser failed to publish for a decade, busy both with the writing of his epic poem, The Faerie Queene, and with his role as secretary. From 1588, he occupied an estate of three thousand acres at Kilcolman, County Cork, one of many parcels of land seized from the late earl of Desmond as part of a government plan to settle lands in Munster with English tenants. This earned him the title of gentleman and provided a base from which to pursue his literary projects. He associated with Sir Walter Raleigh (15541618), who was a neighbor.

In September 1598 Spenser was appointed sheriff of Cork. Weeks later, Kilcolman was razed as part of a popular uprising. Spenser fled to Cork City, and from there to London, carrying a letter from the provincial president, Sir Thomas Norris, to the Privy Council, outlining the plight of the settlers. This last commission came thirty years after the performance of a similar duty for Norris's father. Spenser died in London on 13 January 1599.


The first three books of The Faerie Queene appeared in 1590. A heady brew of Italianate romance, classical epic, and indigenous idioms inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, William Langland, John Lydgate, and John Skelton, its verbal density and formal difficulty marked a radical break with English poetic form, impacting later developments in poetry. Its sheer ambition coupled with an intimate attachment to landscape inspired poets from John Milton, John Dryden, and Alexander Pope, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Seamus Heaney. Its greatest innovation was the Spenserian stanza, a nine-line fusion of French "rhyme royal" and Italian "ottava rima," eight pentameters ending on an alexandrine, with a rhyme scheme of ababbcbcc. The second part of The Faerie Queene, books 46, appeared in 1596. Critics detect a darkening of purpose in the later books, as the allegory becomes more historical and political, especially in book 5, "The Legend of Justice." The "darke conceit" of The Faerie Queene shadowsand shares inthe dark doings of the English in Ireland, from martial law to massacres. Cowardice was not part of Spenser's makeup. Those who condemn his role in the government's violent suppression of resistance to colonization in Ireland respect a writer who had the courage of his convictions.

Spenser's work retained its critical edge right to the end, whether published in his own lifetime or in posthumous parting shots, from the anticourtly sentiments of The Shepheardes Calender and Colin Clout's Come Home Againe (1595) to the sharp criticisms of government that litter the prose dialogue A View of the State of Ireland (1596; published 1633), and, in The Faerie Queene itself, from the provocative account of the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (15421587), in canto 9 of book 5which so enraged her son, James VI (ruled 15671625), that he asked for the poem to be destroyed and the poet punishedto the sniping from the margins in the "Mutabilitie Cantoes" that form a fragment of book 7 (unpublished until 1609).

Spenser lacked the meansperhaps even the museto write in England the national epic he was able to forge freely in Ireland. Born and buried in England, his career and corpus were made in Ireland. Spenser's colonial status both empowered and impaled him. His Irish experiences continue to engage and enrage critics in equal measure. For some, Spenser's astonishingly varied and vibrant literary output remains unbound by any context, historical or political. For others, the poetry, like the prose, is tainted by the world of violence from which it sprang. But where Ireland was once associated with the burden of history in Spenser studies, it has recently opened up his work to new readerships and new readings. Given his location between two cultures, as an imperial servant who became increasingly attached to his adopted country, it is no surprise that Spenser has received attention from postcolonial critics. His fusion of forms has attracted others who see him as an early postmodernist. One thing is clear: studying Spenser is, like his writing itself, an endless work.

See also Elizabeth I (England) ; English Literature and Language ; Ireland ; Patronage ; Sidney, Philip .


Primary Sources

Spenser, Edmund. The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser. Edited by J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt. London, 1912. Reprinted 1985.

. A View of the State of Ireland (1633): From the First Printed Edition. Edited by Andrew Hatfield and Willy Maley. Oxford, 1997.

. The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition. Edited by E. A. Greenlaw, et al. 11 vols. Baltimore, 19321949.

Secondary Sources

Burrow, Colin. Edmund Spenser. Plymouth, U.K., 1996.

Hadfield, Andrew. Spenser's Irish Experience: Wilde Fruit and Savage Soyl. Oxford, 1997.

Hamilton, A. C., ed. The Spenser Encyclopedia. Toronto, 1990.

Maley, Willy. A Spenser Chronology. New York, 1994.

Shire, Helena. A Preface to Spenser. London, 1978.

Willy Maley

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Spenser, Edmund (1552–1599)

Spenser, Edmund (15521599)

English poet and essayist who was an important figure in the founding of a new English poetic tradition during the Renaissance. The son of a tailor, Spenser was born in London, where he attended the Merchant Taylors' School. He enrolled at Cambridge, where he studied classical Latin and Greek writing, worked as a servant to wealthier students, and translated poetry of the medieval Italian poet Petrarch. After earning a master's degree in 1576, he became secretary to John Young, the bishop of Rochester, in 1578, and joined a literary circle led by Sir Philip Sidney. In Rochester he began work on his first major poem, The Shepherd's Calendar, which was published in 1579. A series of twelve poems that imitated the allegorical Latin poetry of Virgil, The Shepherd's Calendar disguised praise of Queen Elizabeth and the Tudor dynasty, and biting commentaries on current events in England, with the form of pastoral poetry and imagined conversations among shepherds. The success of this volume encouraged Spenser in the laborious endeavor of writing a much larger and more difficult epic poem, The Faerie Queene, which would be his major work of poetry.

On considering the meager prospects for poets, Spenser sought to win a secure position in government service, and took up the study of law. In 1580 he gained an appointment as the secretary to Lord Grey, England's lord deputy of Ireland. He spent much of the rest of his life in Ireland where, after helping to put down a rebellion by the Irish natives, he was rewarded with a three thousandacre country estate in Kilcolman, County Cork, which he intended as a center of English settlement and colonization. In early 1590, the first three books of The Faerie Queene appeared in London. Dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, the poem was a celebration of the rise of the English nation and England's identity as a Protestant land that stood in proud independence from the Catholic Church and its medieval institutions. Spenser took as his model the twelve books of Virgil's Aeneid, the national epic of ancient Rome. Each of the twelve books of The Faerie Queene was to consider one of the twelve moral virtues of Aristotle, as seen through the life and acts of a chivalric knight modeled on the heroes of Arthurian legend. The poem would become a national epic of England, but also a grand allegory that combined Christian morality with ancient philosophies of Aristotle and Plato. For this work Spenser developed a new poetic form, the nine-line Spenserian stanza, which was taken up by major English poets in the following centuries. Although written in archaic language and relying on the medieval traditions of chivalry, Spenser's inspiration by classical pagan philosophies made his poem a truly Renaissance work.

The Faerie Queene was considered a great work when it was published, but Spenser failed in his efforts to win a lucrative position at court. Having received fame and a substantial income from sales of the work, he returned to Ireland from London in 1591. He published a collection of shorter poems under the title Complaints. He also wrote an autobiographical poem entitled Colin Clout's Come Home Again, describing his life and fame in London and his attempts to fit in to the life of the royal court. Readers and critics praised his Amoretti, love sonnets in the style of the Italian poet Torquato Tasso, and his Epithalamion, an ode to love and marriage that he wrote on the occasion of his wedding to Elizabeth Boyle. His bestknown essay, View of the Present State of Ireland, supported the policies of Lord Grey and suggested a new program for English administration of Ireland, in which the Irish language and culture would be suppressed and replaced with what was in his view the superior moral and cultural life of the English. As the work was critical of England's policy, it was not published until well after the author's death.

Spenser published three more books of The Faerie Queene in 1595, but his ambition to create an epic in twelve books was not accomplished. In 1598 he became the sheriff of Cork. Soon after this a rebellion broke out and he was forced to flee his home, which was destroyed by the rebels. After returning to London and giving a report to the queen on his experience in Ireland, he became ill and died. By this time regarded as one of the finest poets in England, he was buried with honors in Westminster Abbey. The Faerie Queene became one of the most influential poetic works in English, and inspired later poets from John Milton to William Wordsworth.

See Also: Elizabeth I; England; Milton, John; Shakespeare, William

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Spenser, Edmund

Edmund Spenser, 1552?–1599, English poet, b. London. He was the friend of men eminent in literature and at court, including Gabriel Harvey, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester. After serving as secretary to the Bishop of Rochester, Spenser was appointed in 1580 secretary to Lord Grey, lord deputy of Ireland. Afterward Spenser lived in Ireland, holding minor civil offices and receiving the lands and castle of Kilcolman, Co. Cork. In 1589, under Raleigh's sponsorship, Spenser went to London, where he apparently sought court preferment and publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene. After the Tyrone rebellion of 1598, in which Kilcolman Castle was burned, he returned to London, where he died in 1599. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Recognized by his contemporaries as the foremost poet of his time, Spenser was not only a master of meter and language but a profound moral poet as well. Patterning his literary career after that of Vergil, Spenser first published 12 pastoral eclogues of The Shepheardes Calender (1579), which treat the shepherd as rustic priest and poet. His Complaints and Daphnaida, the latter an elegy on Douglas Howard, both appeared in 1591. In 1595 Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, a pastoral allegory dealing with Spenser's first London journey and the vices inherent in court life, and Astrophel, an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, were published. In the same year Amoretti, Spenser's sonnet sequence commemorating his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle, and Epithalamion, a beautiful and complex wedding poem in honor of his marriage in 1594, were also published. Fowre Hymnes, which explains Spenser's Platonic and Christian views of love and beauty, and Prothalamion appeared in 1596. Also in 1596 the first six books of The Faerie Queene, Spenser's unfinished masterpiece, appeared. Although the poem is an epic, his method was to treat the moral virtues allegorically. The excellence of The Faerie Queene lies in the complexity and depth of Spenser's moral vision and in the Spenserian stanza (nine lines, eight of iambic pentameter followed by one of iambic hexameter, rhyming ababbcbcc), which Spenser invented for his masterpiece. Spenser's only extended prose work, A View of the Present State of Ireland, was first printed in 1633.

See variorum edition of his works (ed. by E. Greenlaw et al., 1932–49), the three-volume edition of the poetical works (J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt, 1909–10), and the four-volume edition of the minor works (W. L. Renwick, 1928–34). See biographies by A. C. Judson (1945) and A. Hadfield (2012); studies by W. Nelson (1963), W. L. Renwick (1925, repr. 1965), D. Cheney (1966), P. Bayley (1971), A. L. DeNeef (1983), and H. Berger, Jr. (1988); C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936, repr. 1958) and F. Kermode, Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne (1971).

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Spenser, Edmund

Spenser, Edmund (1552–99). Elizabethan poet, mythographer, and colonial administrator. Educated at Merchant Taylors' School and Cambridge, Spenser briefly belonged to the household of the earl of Leicester, and his political affiliations remained those of the Sidney/Leicester circle. His pastoral, The Shepheardes Calender, effectively marks the beginning of the Elizabethan ‘golden age’ of poetry; his masterpiece, The Faerie Queene (Books 1–3, 1590)—a vast, consciously archaic chivalric allegory—is the finest example both of the ‘cult of Elizabeth’ and of the project for a ‘reformation’ in English poetics. He published the sonnet sequence Amoretti (culminating in ‘Epithalamion’) and Colin Clouts Come Home Agayne in 1595, and a year later Fowre Hymnes and Prothalamion. His last published work, A View of the Present State of Ireland, advocated harsh colonial measures. His estate at Kilcolman was, perhaps fittingly, destroyed during the Tyrone uprising, and he fled to England in 1598 where he died a year later.

Gordon Macmullan

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Spenser, Edmund

Spenser, Edmund (1552–99) English poet. Spenser's debut volume was the pastoral The Shepheardes Calender (1579), dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney. His sonnet sequence Amoretti was published with Epithalamion in 1595. Spenser's masterpiece is The Faerie Queene (1589–96), a heroic romance and moral allegory.

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"Spenser, Edmund." World Encyclopedia. . (December 11, 2017).

"Spenser, Edmund." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from