UNIT 10 SPENSER'S POETRY - I
10.0 10.1 10.2 Objectives Introductioil 10.1.1 The Sonnet 10.1.2 The Courtly Love Tradition and Poetry The Alnoretti Sonnets 10.2.1 Sonnet 34 10.2.2 Sonnet 67 10.2.3 Sonnet 77 Let's Sum Up Questions for Review Additional Reading
10.3 10.4 10.5
The intent of this unit is to:
Provide the student with a brief idea about the Amoretti sonnets in general. Familiarize the student with a select few of Spenser's sonnets, specifically from the Amoretti sonnets. Indicate seine ways of analysing the sonnets that the student may want to take further, through a combination of formal and substantial elements. Explore the relations between the formal and the substantial elements in a poem.
Read in conjunction with the poems, this unit should provide the student with some ways of opening them out analytically, and with a sense of the importance of the formal dimensions of a poem to the overall meanings it generates.
1 0 . INTRODUCTION
This unit will attempt to offer an overview of Spenser's well known sonnet sequence, the Alnoretti sonnets, Gcusing primarily on formal elements and literary influences. It will offer analyses of three sonnets fiom the Amoretti. The influence in particular of Italian court poets like Petrarch, and the reworking of the sonnet will be explored. The earlier mentioned conflict between the Christian and Platonic visions especially of love and eroticism will be touched upon. To begin with, in what follows immediately, we will examine some aspects of the sonnet and of the courtly love tradition, which Spenser was part of.
10.1.1 The Sonnet
An important point to remember while reading the poems and the following notes is that the sonnet is fundamentally a short lyric, a stylised fourteen line poem that developed in Italy in the Middle Ages. There are broadly three styles of sonnets: the -Petrarchan, which is the most common, consisting of an octave and a sestet; the Spenserian, which has four quatrains and a couplet, rhyming abab bcbc cdcd ee; and the Shakespearian, which follows the Spenserian line scheme of four quatrains and a couplet, but differs in its rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg). The sonnet became
popular in Italian poetry primarily as a vehicle for the expression of love and sensuality, a heritage that it canied with it into its English versions. Petrarch was the Italian poet most well-known for'this practice, and his Conzoniere - a collection of love sonnets - is a sort of literary c o ~ n ~ e n d i u nthe passions of the lover. The of ~ sonnet is in many ways the most appropriate foim forthe articulation and expression ofthe ltind of sentiments that came to be characterised as courtly love. Its brevity prevents excessive sentiment from becoining sententious,,and forcing such sentiment to be articulated through intense imagery and condensed rhytllin. At the same time its internal organisation allows the poet a degree of flexibility and innovativeness in terms of constructing the poem as a dramatic movement or series of movements that mirrored the inovements of his own passions and feelings. One of the ittlpoi-tant vii-tues of any courtier (as we earlier noted in Unit 8), according to the influential Italian writer Castiglione in Tlze Roolc of TIE Courtier (which served as a conduct Book of sorts for many Elizabethan courtiers) was iuoderation (or sprezzatura). We can see how iinportant the sonnet was as a fonn of the lyric that held in moderation even as it IGnted at - the ovenvl~elining passions of the courtly lover. Perhaps inost significantly, it allowed the poet to represent love as an intense yet elusive, allnost ephemeral and trans-worldly feeling - an ideology of love that characterised the poetry of the courtly love tradition. In this sense, the sonnet was the ideal f o i ~ n the for articulation ofthis doininant conception of love in the Renaissance. Let us briefly exanline this phenomenon....
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