Spenser, Edmund (1552?-1599), great English poet, who bridged the medieval and Elizabethan periods, and who is most famous for his long allegorical romance, The Faerie Queene. II. Life and Works
Spenser was born in London, where he attended the Merchant Tailor's School. He then went on to Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, where he took a degree in 1576. In 1579 he entered the service of the English courtier Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and met the English poet Sir Philip Sidney, to whom he dedicated his first major poem, The Shepheardes Calendar (1579). This work demonstrates the great poetic flexibility of the English language. It is a series of 12 pastoral poems written in a variety of meters and employing a vocabulary of obsolete words and coined expressions to give a suggestion of antiquity. While residing with the earl of Leicester in London, Spenser began to write The Faerie Queene, and in 1580 he was appointed secretary to Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, the new lord deputy of Ireland. Thereafter, Spenser lived mostly in Ireland, near Cork, where he completed his great allegory. In 1589 he was visited by the English poet, courtier, and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, who recognized the merit of the poem and brought Spenser to England to publish it and to make the poet known to Queen Elizabeth I. Spenser received an enthusiastic reception, and his poem was hailed on the publication of its first three books in 1590. Unable to secure further patronage, however, he remained in England for about a year and published a collection of short poems entitled Complaints (1591) before returning to Ireland. On his return, in the same year, he wrote Colin Clouts Come Home Againe. This work, published in 1595, was dedicated to Raleigh; in the pastoral mode, it recounts Spenser's experiences at the English court and concludes with praises of the simple country life. In 1594 Spenser married and celebrated the event in his “Epithalamion,” a wedding song, considered the most beautiful example of this genre in English literature. It was printed in 1595 in the same volume as a group of love sonnets, the Amoretti. In 1596 Spenser took three more books of The Faerie Queene to London for publication. While in England he completed a prose work, Veue of the Present State of Ireland, which was not issued until long after his death in 1633. He did publish at this time Fowre Hymnes (1596), poems in honor of love and beauty. For a double wedding of two daughters of the nobility in 1596, Spenser composed the “Prothalamion,” one of his loveliest shorter lyrical poems. Again disappointed of royal patronage, he returned to Ireland. In October 1598 his castle was sacked and burned by Irish rebels, and Spenser fled to London, where he died on January 13, 1599. A. The Faerie Queene
Spenser's reputation rests mainly on his skillful blending of religious and historical allegory with chivalric romance in The Faerie Queene. As originally planned, according to his introductory letter addressed to Raleigh, the work was to consist of 12 books, each made up of 12 cantos. Only 6 books were completed, however, in addition to 2 cantos entitled "Mutabilitie" that appeared in 1609, when the 6 books were published together for the first time. As outlined in the introduction, Gloriana, the queen of Fairyland, represents both glory and Queen Elizabeth I, in whose honor 12 knights, who represented the qualities of the chivalric virtues, engage in a series of adventures. Throughout the narrative, the figure of Arthur, the perfect knight, also appears. The six completed books relate the adventures of the knights who represented the qualities of holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy. The fragment on mutability was to have been devoted to the theme of constancy. For The Faerie Queene, Spenser originated a nine-line verse stanza, now known as the Spenserian stanza—the first eight...