Edmund Spenser oil painting

Portrait of a gentleman, said to be Edmund Spenser: the Kinnouil Portrait 1590s. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edmund Spenser
Born c.1552
London, England
Died Template:BirthDeathAge
London, England
Occupation Poet,

Signature File:Edmund Spenser Signature.svg

Edmund Spenser (?1552 - 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating Elizabeth I. He is recognized as 1 of the greatest poets in the English language.


Edmund Spenser (A Poet)

Edmund Spenser (A Poet)


Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London, the son of John Spenser, described as gentleman and journeyman in the art of cloth-making, who had come to London from Lancashire. In 1561 the poet was sent to Merchant Taylor's School, then newly opened, and in 1569 he proceeded to Cambridge, taking his degree in 1576. Among his friends there were Edward Kirke, who edoted the Shepheard's Calendar, and Gabriel Harvey, the critic. While still at school, he contributed 14 sonnet-visions to Van de Noot's Theatre for Worldlings (1569). On leaving the universoty, Spenser went north, probably to visit his relations in Lancashire, and in 1578, through his friend Harvey, he became known to Leicester and his brother-in-law, Philip Sidney. The next year, 1579, saw the publication of The Shepheard's Calendar in 12 eclogues. It was dedicated to Sidney, who had become his friend and patron, and was received with acclamation, all who had ears for poetry perceiving that a new and great singer had arisen. The following year Spenser was appointed sec. to Lord Grey of Wilton, Deputy for Ireland, a strict Puritan, and accompanied him to Ireland. At the same time he appears to have begun the Faerie Queene. In 1581 he was appointed Registrar of Chancery, and received a grant of the Abbey and Castle of Enniscorthy, which was followed in 1586 by a grant of the Castle of Kilcolman in County Cork, a former possession of the Earls of Desmond with 3,000 acres attached. Simultaneously, however, a heavy blow fell upon him in the death of Sidney at the Battle of Zutphen. The loss of this dear friend he commemorated in his lament of Astrophel. In 1590 he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, who persuaded him to come to England, and presented him to the Queen, from whom he received a pension of £50 – which does not, however, appear to have been regularly paid – and on the whole his experiences of the Court did not yield him much satisfaction. In the same year his reputation as a poet was vastly augmented by the publication of the 1st 3 books of the Faerie Queene, dedicated to Elizabeth. The enthusiasm with which they were received led the publisher to bring out a collection of other writings of Spenser under the general title of Complaints, and including "Mother Hubbard's Tale" (a satire on the Court and on the conflict then being waged between the old faith and the new), "Teares of the Muses," and "The Ruins of Time." Having seen these ventures launched, Spenser returned to Kilcolman and wrote Colin Clout's come Home Again, one of the brightest and most vigorous of his poems, not, however, pub. until 1595. In the following year appeared his Four Hymns, 2 on Love and Beauty and 2 on Heavenly Love and Beauty, and the "Prothalamion" on the marriage of 2 daughters of the Earl of Worcester. He also published in prose his View of Ireland, a work full of shrewd observation and practical statesmanship. In 1594 he was married to Elizabeth Boyle, whom he had courted in Amoretti, and his union with whom he now celebrated in the magnificent Epithalamion, by many regarded as his most perfect poem. In 1595 he returned to England, taking with him the 2nd part of the Faerie Queene, published in 1596. In 1598 he was made Sheriff of Cork, and in the same year his fortunes suffered a final eclipse. The rebellion of Tyrone broke out, his castle was burned, and in the conflagration his youngest child, an infant, perished, he himself with his wife and remaining children escaping with difficulty. He joined the president, Sir T. Norris, who sent him with despatches to London, where he suddenly died on January 16, 1599, as was long believed in extreme destitution. This, however, happily appears to be at least doubtful. He was buried in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer, and a monument was erected to his memory in 1620 by the Countess of Dorset.[1]

Youth and educationEdit

Spenser was born in London about the year 1552. The received date of his birth rests on a passage in sonnet IX. of the Amoretti, where he speaks of having lived 41 years; the Amoretti was published in 1595, and described on the title-page as "written not long since "; this would make the year of his birth 1552 or 1553. We know from the Prothalamion that London was his birthplace. This at least seems the most natural interpretation of the words —

"Merry London, my most kindly nurse,
"That to me gave this life's first native source."[2]

In the same poem he speaks of himself as taking his name from "an house of ancient fame." Several of his pieces are addressed to the daughters of Sir John Spencer, head of the Althorp family; and in Colin Clout's Come Home Again he describes 3 of the ladies as —

"The honour of the noble family
Of which I meanest boast myself to be."[2]

R.B. Knowles, however, is of the opinion (see the Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell, privately printed, 1877) that the poet's kinsmen must be sought among the humbler Spencers of north-east Lancashire. Robert Nowell, a London citizen, left a sum of money to be distributed in various charities, and in the account-books of his executors among the names of other beneficiaries has been discovered that of "Edmund Spensore, scholar of the Merchant Taylor School, at his going to Pembroke Hall in Cambridge." The date of this benefaction is 28 April 1569. As the poet is known to have been a sizar of Pembroke, the identification is beyond dispute. Till Knowles's discovery it was not known where Spenser received his school education.[2]

The speculations as to the poet's parentage, started by the Nowell MS., are naturally more uncertain. Knowles found 3 Spensers in the books of the Merchant Taylors, and concluded that the poorest of them, John Spenser, a "free journeyman" in the "art or mystery of clothmaking," might have been the poet's father, but he afterwards abandoned this theory. Dr. Grosart, however, adhered to it, and it is now pretty generally accepted. The connection of Spenser with Lancashire is also supported by the Nowell MS. — several Spensers of that county appear among the "poor kinsfolk " who profited by Nowell's bounty. The name of the poet's mother was Elisabeth, and he notes as a happy coincidence that it was borne by the 3 women of most consequence to him — wife, queen and mother {Amoretti, Ixxiv.).[2]

Little is known of Spenser's Cambridge career, except that he was a sizar of Pembroke Hall, earned a B.A. in 1572 and an M.A. in 1576, and left Cambridge without having obtained a fellowship. Grosart's inquiries have elicited the fact that his health was not good — college allowances while he was in residence being often paid "Spenser aegrotanti."[3]

A fellow of Pembroke strongly influenced his destiny. This was Gabriel Harvey, a prominent figure in the university life of the time, an enthusiastic educationist, vigorous, versatile, not a little vain of his own culture and literary powers, which had gained him a certain standing in London society. The revival and advancement of English literature was a passion of the time, and Harvey was fully possessed by it. His fancy for reforming English verse by discarding rhyme and substituting unrhymed classical meter, and the tone of his controversy with Thomas Nashe, have caused him to be regarded as merely an obstreperous and pragmatic pedant; but it is clear that Spenser, who had sense enough not to be led astray by his eccentricities, received active and generous help from him and probably not a little literary stimulus.[3]

Harvey's letters to Spenser[4] throw a very kindly light on his character. During his residence at the university the poet acquired a knowledge of Greek, and at a later period offered to impart that language to a friend in Ireland (see Ludowick Bryskett, Discourse of Civil Life, London, 1606, written twenty years previously). Spenser's affinity with Plato is most marked, and he probably read him in the original.[3]

Shepheardes CalendarEdit

In 1579, 3 years after leaving Cambridge, Spenser issued his 1st volume of poetry, the Shepheardes Calendar. Where and how he spent the interval have formed subjects for speculation. That most of it was spent in the study of his art we may take for granted. Grosart conjectures with considerable plausibility that he was in Ireland in 1577. The words "for long time far estranged" in E.K.'s preface to the Shepheardes Calendar point that way. Spenser undoubtedly entered the service of the earl of Leicester either in 1578 or a year earlier (Carew Papers).[3]

Ascertained facts in Spenser's personal history.of the time are: He lived for a time in the "north parts" of England. There or elsewhere he fell in love with a lady whom he celebrates under the anagram of "Rosalind," and who was most likely Rose, a daughter of a yeoman named Dyneley, near Clitheroe. His friend Harvey urged him to return south, and introduced him to Sir Philip Sidney. Sidney took to him, discussed poetry with him, introduced him at court, put him in the way of preferment.[3]

The Shepheardes Calendar was published at Gabriel Harvey's instance, and was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney. It was 1 out of many poetical schemes on which the young poet was busy in the flush of conscious power and high hopes excited by the admiration of the literary authorities whose approval was then most to be coveted. His letters to Harvey and Harvey's letters to him furnish hints for a very engaging fancy picture of Spenser at this stage of his life — looking at the world through rose-colored spectacles, high in favor with Sidney and Leicester, dating his letters from Leicester House, gaily and energetically discussing the technicalities of his art, with some provision from his powerful friends — certain, but the form of it delightfully uncertain; going to court in the train of Leicester, growing pointed beard and mustachios of fashionable shape, and frightening his ever-vigilant friend and mentor Harvey by the light courtier-like tone of his references to women. The studious pastoral poet from "north parts" had blossomed with surprising rapidity in the image of the gay fortune-seeking adventurers who crowded the court of the virgin queen in those stirring times.[3]

Some of the poems which he mentions to Harvey as then completed or on the "anvile” — his "Dreams, his "Nine Comedies," his "Dying Pelican," and his Stemmata dudleiana (singing the praises of the noble family, which was befriending him) — have not been preserved, at least in any form that can be certainly identified. Among the lost works was his English Poet, a contribution to literary criticism.[3]

He had sent Harvey a portion of the Faerie Queene, which he was eager to continue; but Harvey did not think much of it — a judgment for which Harvey is often ridiculed as a dull pedant, as if we knew for certain that what was submitted to him was identical with what was published 10 years later.[3]

Spencer and IrelandEdit

Spenser was appointed secretary to the lord-deputy of Ireland in 1580. and was among the band of adventurers who, with mixed motives of love of excitement, patriotism, piety and hopes of forfeited estates, accompanied Lord Arthur Grey of Wilton to Ireland to aid in the suppression of Desmond's rebellion. Regret is sometimes expressed that the author of the Faerie Queene, who ought to have been dreamy, meditative, gentle and refined, should have been found in such company, and should have taken part in the violent and bloody scenes of Lord Grey's 2 years' attempt at "pacification." But such things must be judged with reference to the circumstances and the spirit of the time, and it must be remembered that England was then engaged in a fierce struggle for existence against the Catholic powers of the Continent.[5]

Of Lord Grey's character his secretary was an enthusiastic admirer, exhibiting him in the Faerie Queene as Arthegal, the personification of justice; and we know exactly what were his own views of Irish policy, and how strongly he deplored that Lord Grey was not permitted to carry them out. Spenser's View of the State of Ireland, drawn up after 14 years' experience, but 1st printed in 1633 by Sir James Ware (who complains of Spenser's harshness and inadequate knowledge: History of Ireland, appendix), is not the work of a gentle dreamer, but of an energetic and shrewd public official.[5]

The View is not a descriptive work; there is nothing in the style to indicate that it was written by a poet; it js an elaborate state paper, the exposition in the form of a dialogue of a minutely considered plan for the pacification of Ireland, written out of zeal for the public service for the eyes of the government of the day.[5]

A very thoroughgoing plan it is. After passing in review the history and character of the Irish, their laws, customs, religion, habits of life, armour, dress, social institutions and finding "evil usages" in every department, he propounds his plan of "reformation." Reformation can be effected only by the sword, by the strong hand. The interlocutor in the dialogue holds up his hands in horror. Does he propose extermination? By no means; but he would give the Irish a choice between submission and extermination.[5]

The government had vacillated too long, and, fearing the cost of a thorough operation, had spent twice as much without in any way mending matters. Let them send into Ireland 10,000 foot and 1,000 horse, disperse them in garrisons — a complete scheme of localities is submitted — give the Irish 20 days to come in; if they did not come in then, give no quarter afterwards, but hunt them down like wild beasts in the winter time when the covert is thin; "if they be well followed one winter, ye shall have little work to do with them the next summer "; famine would complete the work of the sword; and in 18 months' time peace would be restored and the ground cleared for plantation by English colonists.[5]

There must be no flinching in the execution of this plan — "no remorse or drawing back for the sight of any such rueful object as must thereupon follow, nor for compassion of their calamities, seeing that by no other means it is possible to recover them, and that these are not of will but of very urgent necessity." The government had out of foolish compassion drawn back before when Lord Grey had brought the recalcitrant Irish to the necessary extremity of famine; the gentle poet warns them earnestly against a repetition of the blunder.[5]

Early modern Irish historians Ciaran Brady and Nicholas Canny differed in their view of Spenser's View of the State of Ireland. Brady's essential proposition is that Spenser wished the English government to undertake the extermination of most of the Irish population. He writes that Spenser preferred to write in dialogue form so that the crudity of his proposals would be masked. Canny undermines Brady's conclusion that Spenser opted for "a holocaust or a 'blood-bath'," because despite Brady's claims Spenser did not choose the sword as his preferred instrument of policy.[6]

Canny argues that Spenser instead chose not the extermination of the Irish race but rather a policy of "social reform pursued by drastic means". Canny's ultimate assertion was that Brady was over-reacting and that Spenser did not propose a policy to exterminate the Irish race. However, within a page he moves on to argue that no "English writer of the early modern period ever proposed such a drastic programme in social engineering for England, and it was even more dramatic than Brady allows for because all elements of the Irish population including the Old English of the towns, whom Brady seems to think were exempt, were subject to some element of this scheme of dispersal, reintegration and re-education"[6]

Here, Canny argues that this policy was more "dramatic than Brady allows", in that Brady's description was one of "bloodshed", "extermination" and "holocaust" only of the native Irish but Canny's was one of dispersal, reintegration and re-education of both the native Irish and the settler English. Even though Canny writes that "substantial loss of life, including loss of civilian life, was considered by Spenser", he considers that that falls short of Brady's conclusion.[6]

Such was Spenser's plan for the pacification of Ireland, propounded not on his own authority, but as having support in "the consultations and actions of very wise governors and counsellors whom he had sometimes heard treat thereof." He knew that it was "bloody and cruel "; but he contended passionately that it was necessary for the maintenance of English power and the Protestant religion. The method was repugnant to the kindly nature of average Englishmen; from the time of Lord Grey no English authority had the heart to go through with it till another remorseless zealot appeared in the person of Cromwell.[5]

That Cromwell knew the treatise of "the sage and serious Spenser," perhaps through Milton, is probable from the fact that the poet's Irish estates were secured to his grandson by the Protector's intervention in 1657. These estates had been granted to Spenser as his share in the redistribution of Munster — 3,000 acres of land and Kilcolman Castle, an ancient seat of the Desmonds, in the north of the county of Cork. The elaborate and business-like character of the View shows that the poet was no sinecurist, but received his reward for substantial political services. He ceased to be secretary to the lord-deputy when Lord Grey was recalled in 1582; but he continued in the public service, and in 1586 was promoted to the onerous position of clerk to the council of Munster.[5]

Amidst all the distractions of his public life in Ireland Spenser kept up his interest in literature, and among proper subjects for reforn included Irish poetry, of which he could judge only through the medium of translations. He allows it some merit — "sweet wit," "good invention," " some pretty flowers" — but laments that it is "abused to the gracing of wickedness and vice."[5]

Faerie QueeneEdit

Meanwhile Spenser seems to have proceeded steadily with the composition of the Faerie Queene, translating his varied experience of men and affairs into the picturesque forms of his allegory, and expressing through them his conception of the immutable principles that ought to regulate human conduct. He had, as we have seen, conceived a work of the kind and made a beginning before he left England. The conception must have been very much deepened and widened and in every way enriched by his intimate daily contact with the actual struggle of conflicting individuals and interests and policies in a great crisis.[5]

Some years later, when Spenser was settled at Kilcolman Castle, Sir Walter Raleigh found him with 3 books of the Faerie Queene completed, and urged him to come with them to London. London accordingly he revisited in 1589, after 9 years' absence. There is a very pretty record of this visit in Colin Clout's Come Home Again, published in 1595, but written in 1591, immediately after his return to Kilcolman. The incidents of the visit, by that time matters of wistful memory, are imaged as a shepherd's excursion from his quiet pastoral life into the great world. Colin Clout calls round him once again the masked figures of the Shephesrdrs Calendar, and describes to them what he saw, how he fared, and whom he met at the court of Cynthia, and how, through the influence of "the Shepherd of the Ocean," he was admitted at timely hours to play on his oaten pipe in the great queen's presence.[5]

How much is pure fiction and how much veiled fact in this picture cannot now be distinguished, but it is undoubted that Spenser, though his chief patrons Leicester and Sidney were now dead, was very graciously received by the great world on his return to London. Not only did the queen grant him an audience, but many ladies of the court, several of whom he afterwards honoured with dedications, honoured him with their patronage. The first three books of the Faery Queen, which were entered at Stationers' Hall on the 1st of December 1589, were published in 1590, and he was proclaimed at once with remarkable unanimity by all the writers of the time as the 1st of living poets.[5]

After the publication of the Faerie Queene, Spenser seems to have remained in London for more than a year, to enjoy his triumph. It might be supposed, from what he makes the Shepherd of the Ocean say in urging Colin Clout to quit his banishment in Ireland, that Raleigh had encouraged him to expect some permanent provision in London. If he had any such hopes, they were disappointed. The thrifty queen granted him a pension of £50, which was paid in February 1591, but nothing further was done for him. Colin Clout's explanation that the selfish scrambling and intriguing of court life were not suited to a lowly shepherd swain, and that he returned to country life with relief, may be pastoral convention, or it may have been an expression of the poet's real feelings on his return to Kilcolman, although as a matter of fact there seems to have been as much scrambling for good things in Munster as in London.[7]

Certain it is that he did return to Kilcolman in the course of the year 1591, having probably 1st arranged for the publication of Daphnaida and Complaints.[7]

Final yearsEdit

Spenser returned to London probably in 1595. He had married in the interval a lady whose Christian name was Elizabeth — Dr Grosart says Elizabeth Boyle. The marriage, celebrated on the nth of June 1594, was followed by a rapid succession of publications. The first was a volume (entered at Stationers' Hall, on the 19th of November 1594; published 1595) containing the Amoretti, a series of exquisite sonnets commemorative of the moods and incidents of his courtship, and the magnificent "Epithalamion," incomparably the finest of his minor poems. As in the case of the Complaints, the publisher for obvious reasons issued this volume nominally without his authority.[7]

Colin Clout's Come Home Again was published in the same year, with a dedication to Sir Walter Raleigh, dated 1591. Early in 1596 the 2ond three books of the Faerie Queene were entered in the register of Stationers' Hall, and in the course of the same year were published his Four Hymns, his Prothalamion, and his Astrophel, a pastoral lament for Sir Philip Sidney, which he dedicated to the countess of Essex.[7]

That Spenser wrote more of the Faerie Queene during the last 2 years of his life, and that the MS. perished in the sack of Kilcolman Castle by the rebels, may plausibly be conjectured, but cannot be ascertained. During those years he would seem to have been largely occupied with political and personal cares. He describes himself in the Prothalamion as a disappointed suitor at court. He drew up his View of Ireland in 1596 when he was in London, and from various circumstances it is evident that he had hopes of some kind from the favor of Essex. The View, with its urgent entreaty that Essex should be sent to Ireland, was entered at Stationers' Hall in April 1598, — but he did not obtain leave to publish it.[7]

Burghley, who had long stood in his way, died in August of that year, and next month Spenser, who seems to have returned to Ireland in 1597, was appointed sheriff of Cork. In October Tyrone's rebellion broke out, and Spenser's house was sacked and burned. The poet himself escaped, and in December was sent to London with despatches. Again he ventured to urge,[7] upon the queen, his plan for the thorough "reformation" of Ireland.[8]

But his own end was near. On 16 January 1599 he died at Westminster, ruined in fortune, if not heart-broken, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, near his master Chaucer. Ben Jonson asserted that he perished for lack of bread, and that when the earl of Essex, hearing of his distress, sent him "20 pieces," the poet declined, saying that he had no time to spend them.[9] This report of his end is mentioned also by the author of The Return from Parnassus, but, having regard to Spenser's position in the world, it is inherently improbable. Still there is an ugly possibility of its truth.[8]

The poet left 3 sons and a daughter. A pedigree of the family appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for August 1842.[8]


Early translationsEdit

It is natural that a poet so steeped in poetry as Spenser should show his faculty at a very early age; and there is strong reason to believe that verses from his pen were published just as he left school at the age of 16 or 17. Certain pieces, translations from Du Bellay and Petrarch, afterwards included in a volume of poems by Spenser published in 1591, are found in a miscellany, Theatre for Worldings, issued by a Flemish Protestant refugee, John van der Noodt, on 25 May 1569. The translations from Du Bellay appear in blank verse in the miscellany, and are rhymed in sonnet form in the later publication, but the diction is substantially the same; the translations from Petrarch are republished with slight variations. Poets were so careless of their rights in those days and publishers took such liberties that we cannot draw for certain the conclusion that would be inevitable if the facts were of more modern date; but the probabilities are that these passages in Van der Noodt's Theatre, although the editor makes no acknowledgment, were contributed by the schoolboy Spenser.[10] As the exercises of a schoolboy writing before our poetic diction was enriched by the great Elizabethans, they are remarkable for a sustained command of expression which many schoolboys might exhibit in translation now, but which was a rarer and more significant accomplishment when Surrey and Sackville were the highest models in post-Chaucerian English.[11]

The Shepheardes CalendarEdit

The interest of the Shepheardes Calendar is mainly personal to Spenser. Its 12 poems continue to be read chiefly because they were the 1st published essays of the author of the Faerie Queene. They mark no stage in the history of pastoral poetry. The title, borrowed from a French almanack of the year 1496, which was translated into English in 1503 and frequently reprinted, is attractive but hardly tallies with the subject. It may have been an afterthought.[3]

Spenser had too strong a genius not to make his own individuality felt in any form that he attempted, and his buoyant dexterity in handling various schemes of verse must always afford delight to the connoisseur in such things. But a reader not already interested in Spenser, or not already familiar with the artificial eclogue, would find little to attract him in the Calendar. The poems need a special education; given this, they are felt to be full of charm and power, a fresh and vivid spring to the splendid summer of the Faerie Queene.[3]

The diction is a studiously archaic artificial compound, partly Chaucerian, partly North Anglian, partly factitious; and the pastoral scenery is such as may be found in any country where there are sheep, hills! trees, shrubs, toadstools and running streams. That Spenser, having been in the north of England, should have introduced here and there a touch of north country color is natural enough! but it is not sufficient to give a character to the poems as pastoral poems. As Such they follow continuously, and do not violently break away from, Latin, Italian and French predecessors, and George Saintsbury is undoubtedly right in indicating Marot as the most immediate model.[3]

At the same time it is quite understandable on historical grounds why the Shepheardes Calendar was hailed with enthusiasm as the advent of a "new poet." Not only was it a complete work in a form then new to English literature, but the execution showed the hand of a master. There had been nothing so finished, so sustained, so masterful in grasp, so brilliant in meter and phrase, since Chaucer, ft was felt at once that the poet for whom the age had been waiting had come.[3]

The little coterie of friends whose admiration the young poet had won in private were evidently concerned lest the wider public should be bewildered and repelled by the unfamiliar pastoral form and rustic diction. To put the public at the right point of view the poems were published with a commentary by "E.K." — supposed to be one Edward Kirke, who was an undergraduate with Spenser at Pembroke;. This so-called "glosse " explained the archaic words, revealed the poet's intentions, and boasted that, as in the case of Virgil, the pastoral poetry of the " ew poet " was but "a proving of the wings for higher and wider flights." The "new poet's " name was withheld; and the identification of the various "shepherds" — of Cuddie and Boffy and Diggon Davie, and the beauteous golden-haired "widow's daughter of the glen" — was fortunately reserved to yield delight to the ingenious curiosity of a later age.[12] [3]

On the subject of Spenser's obligations the "glosse" is very misleading. An eclogue drawn almost entirely from Virgil is represented as jointly inspired by Virgil and Theocritus and chiefly by the latter. Marot is belittled and his claim to be a poet called in question. As regards the 12th eclogue suggested by and in part translated from his poetry, his influence is ignored. The stanzas Prof. Hales cites as autobiographical are actually taken from Marot's eclogue, Au Roi sous les noms de Pan el Robin. Grosart falls into the same error.[3]

The Fairie QueeneEdit

Main article: The Faerie Queene

From the 1st week of its publication the literary world has continued unanimous about the Faerie Queene, except on minor points. When romanticism was at its lowest ebb Pope read Spenser in his old age with as much delight as in his boyhood. Spenser speaks himself of having had his detractors, of having suffered from the venomous tooth of the Blatant Feast, and he seems to have had in more than ordinary share the poet's sensitiveness to criticism; but the detraction or indifference have generally been found among men who, like the lord high treasurer Burghley, have no liking for poetry of any kind. The secret of Spenser s enduring popularity with poets and lovers of poetry lies specially in this, that he excels in the poet's peculiar gift, the instinct for verbal music. Richard Barnfield felt and expressed this when he drew the parallel between "music and sweet poetry " —

" Thou lovest to hear the sweet melodious sound
That Phoebus' lute, the queen of music, makes;
And I in deep delight am chiefly drowned
Whenas himself to singing he betakes."[5]

This is an early word in criticism of Spenser, and it is the last word about his prime and unquestionable excellence — a word in which all critics must agree. Whether he had imagination in the highest degree or only luxuriant fancy, and whether he could tell a story in the highest epic manner or only put together a richly varied series of picturesque incidents, are disputable points; but about the enchantment of his verse there can be no difference of opinion. It matters not in the least that he gains his melody often by archaic affectations and licences of diction; there, however purchased, the marvelously rich music is.[5]

In judging of the structure of the Faerie Queene we must always remember that, long and diffuse as it is, what we have is but a fragment of the poet's design, and that the narrative is regulated by an allegorical purpose; but, however intricate, however confused, the reader may feel the succession of incidents to be, when he studies the succession of incidents, it is only at the call of duty that he is likely to occupy himself with such a study in reading Spenser.[5]

The ethical value of the allegory hag been very variously estimated. The world would probably never have divined that there was any allegory if he had not himself drawn attention to it in a prose dedication and in doggerel headings to the cantos. It was apparently at his friend Raleigh's suggestion that the poet con- descended to explain his ethical purpose in "A Letter of the Author's" addressed to Sir Walter and dated 23 January 1589=1590; otherwise it would have been as problematical as the similar intention in the case of the Idylls of the King before that intention was expressly declared. It is almost to be regretted, as far as the allegory is concerned, that the friendly "E.K." was not employed to furnish a "glosse " to the Faerie Queene as he had done to the Shepheardes Calendar.[7]

Undoubtedly the peculiar "poetic luxury" of the Faerie Queene can be enjoyed without any reference to the allegory; even Lord Byron Notwithstanding its immense range, the Faerie Queene is profoundly national and Elizabethan, containing many more or less cryptic allusions to contemporary persons and interests: It has never been popular abroad, as is proved by the fact that there is no complete translation of it in any of the Continental languages. This is doubtless on account of a certain monotony in the subject-matter, which is only partially relieved by subtle variations.[7]

The same objection applies to the famous "Spenserian stanza" with its concluding Alexandrine. It was by no means a happy invention, but its infelicity is disguised by its author's marvelous skill in rhythm, and thus recommended it was adopted by Byron and Keats.[7]

Later poemsEdit

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica calls Spenser's "Epithalamion" "magnificent" "incomparably the finest of his minor poems."[7] A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, also uses "magnificent", and says that the poem is "by many regarded as his most perfect poem."[1] It was written for his wedding to his young bride, Elizabeth Boyle. The poem consists of 365 long lines, corresponding to the days of the year; 68 short lines, representing the sum of the 52 weeks, 12 months, and 4 seasons of the annual cycle; and 24 stanzas, corresponding to the diurnal and sidereal hours.

Daphnaida is a pastoral elegy on the death of the niece of the mistress of the robes. The fact implied in the dedication that he was not personally known to the lady has more than once provoked the solemn remark that the poet's grief was assumed. Of course it was assumed; and it is hardly less obvious that sincerity of personal emotion, so far from being a merit in the artificial forms of pastoral poetry, the essence of which lies in its dreamy remoteness from real life, would be a blemish and a discord. Any suggestion of the poet's real personality breaks the charm; once raise the question of the poet's personal sincerity, and the pastoral poem may at once be thrown aside. The remark applies to all Spenser's minor poetry, including his love-sonnets; the reader who raises the question whether Spenser really loved his mistress may have a talent for disputation, but none for the full enjoyment of hyperbolical poetry.[7]

Complaints, also published in 1591, is a miscellaneous collection of poems written at different periods. The volume contained "The Ruins of Time"; "The Tears of the Muses"; "Virgil's Gnat"; "Mother Hubbard's Tale"; "The Ruins of Rome"; "Muiopotmos"; "Visions of the World's Vanit"y; "Bellay's Visions"; "Petrarch's Visions". Some of these pieces are translations already alluded to and interesting only as the exercises of one of our greatest masters of melodious verse; but 2 of them, "The Tears of the Muses" and "Mother Hubbard's Tales", have greater intrinsic interest. The first is the complaint of the decay of learning alluded to in Midsummer Night's Dream, v. i. 52 —

" The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning late deceased in beggary."[7]

The Lament, at a time when the Elizabethan drama was "mewing its mighty youth," was not so happy as some of Spenser's political prophecies in his View of Ireland; but it is idle work to try to trace the undercurrents and personal allusions in such an occasional pamphlet. "Mother Hubbard's Tale," a fable in Chaucerian couplets, shows a keenness of satiric force not to be paralleled in any other of Spenser's writings, and suggests that he left the court in a mood very different from Colin Clout's.[7]

File:Fowre Hymnes by Edmund Spenser 1596.jpg

Spenserian stanza and sonnetEdit

Main article: Spenserian stanza
Main article: Spenserian sonnet

Spenser used a distinctive verse form, called the Spenserian stanza, in several works, including The Faerie Queene. The stanza consists of 8 line of iambic pentameter with a final line in iambic hexameter (having six feet or stresses, known as an Alexandrine), with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCC.

The Spenserian Sonnet is based on a fusion of elements of both the Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearean sonnet. It is similar to the Shakespearan sonnet in the sense that its set up is based more on the 3 quatrains and a couplet, a system set up by Shakespeare; however it is more like the Petrarchan tradition in the fact that the conclusion follows from the argument or issue set up in the earlier quatrains. Like the Petrarchan, it uses only 5 rhymes (as opposed to the Shakespearean 7), but like the Shakesepearean uses cross rhyme plus a concluding couplet.

There is also a great use of the parody of the blason and the idealization or praise of the mistress, a literary device used by many poets. It is a way to look at a woman through the appraisal of her features in comparison to other things. In this description, the mistress's body is described part by part, i.e., much more of a scientific way of seeing one. As William Johnson states in his article "Gender Fashioning and Dynamics of Mutuality in Spenser's Amoretti," the poet-love in the scenes of Spenser's sonnets in Amoretti, is able to see his lover in an objectified manner by moving her to another, or more clearly, an item. The purpose of Spenser doing this is to bring the woman from the "transcendental ideal" to a woman in everyday life. "Through his use of metonymy and metaphor, by describing the lady not as a whole being but as bodily parts, by alluding to centuries of topoi which remove her in time as well as space, the poet transforms the woman into a text, the living 'other' into an inanimate object" (503). The opposite of this also occurs in The Faerie Queen. The counter-blason, or the opposition of appraisal, is used to describe Duessa. She is not objectified, but instead all of her flaws are highlighted. In this context it should be noted that in Amoretti Spenser actually names his loved one as "Elizabeth" and that he puns humorously and often on her surname "Boyle". Similarly, Petrarch punned on the Christian name "Laura" in his Rime. This disguised use of names has been identified by Fred Blick in his article "Spenser's Amoretti and Elizabeth Boyle, Her Names Immortalized", Spenser Studies Vol. 23, 2008. (309-315)

Critical introductionEdit

by Richard William Church

Spenser was the first who in the literature of England since the Reformation made himself a name as a poet which could be compared with that of Chaucer, or of the famous Italians who then stood at the head of poetical composition. National energy had revived under the reign of Elizabeth, and with it had come a burst of poetical enthusiasm. Many persons tried their hand at poetry. Versification became a fashion. It was encouraged in the Court circles.... Sir Philip Sidney, one of the most accomplished and most rising of the young men about the Court, encouraged an interest in poetry in his circle of friends, and some of them, Edward Dyer and Fulke Greville, have, like Sidney himself, left poems of merit. But while there was much poetical writing, and not a little poetical power even among men engaged in the business and wars of the time, such as Walter Ralegh, no successful attempt had been made to produce a great poetical work which might challenge comparison with the Canterbury Tales at home, or the Orlando Furioso abroad.

Spenser was the first who had the ambition and also the power for such an enterprise. His earliest work, The Shepherd’s Calendar, a series of what were called pastoral poems, after the fashion of the Italian models and some English imitators, partly original, partly translated or paraphrased, though very immature and very unequal in its composition, was at once felt to be something more considerable as a poetical achievement than anything which the sixteenth century had yet seen in England. The "new poet" became almost a recognised title for the man who had shown, not merely by a few spirited fugitive stanzas, but in a sustained work, that he could write so sweetly and so well. The fame and the associations of The Shepherd’s Calendar clung to him even to the end of his career. To the end he had a predilection for its pastoral colouring and scenery; to the end he liked to give himself the rustic name by which he had represented himself in its dialogues, and called himself Colin Clout.

But The Faery Queen was something beyond the expectations raised by The Shepherd’s Calendar. In its plan, its invention, and its execution, it took the world of its day by surprise. It opened a new road to English poetry, and new kingdoms to be won by it. The name of Spenser stands in point of time even before that of Shakespeare in the roll of modern English poets. A discoverer of something new to be done, he first did what all were trying to do, and broke down the difficulties of a great and magnificent art.

But the first are not always the greatest in poetry, any more than in painting, in music, in science, in geographical discovery: they lead the way and make it possible to greater men and greater things. Spenser delighted Shakespeare: he was the poetical master of Cowley and then of Milton, and, in a sense, of Dryden and even Pope. None but a man of strength, of originality, of rare sense of beauty and power of imagination and music, could have been this. But he was the great predecessor of yet greater successors. The Faery Queen is a noble and splendid work. When we think that it was the first of its kind, and that Spenser had no master of English, except in antiquity, to show him how to write, it is an astonishing one. But it has the imperfections and shortcomings of most original attempts to do what is new and hard, and what none have yet succeeded in; and it has the imperfections which actually belonged to the genius, the mind and character of the writer.

The Faerie Queene is, as all know, an allegorical poem; and in this it differs from the Italian models then talked of and famous, from the works of Ariosto and Tasso, as well as from Chaucer. The idea and framework was taken from them; the machinery, like theirs, was borrowed from the days, or rather the literature, of chivalry; and like theirs, the story rolled on in stanzas, and Spenser invented for his purpose a new form of stanza, one of nine lines, instead of the eight-line one of the Italians. But, unlike them, Spenser avowedly designed to himself a moral purpose and meaning in his poem. It was not merely a brilliant and entertaining series of adventures, like the Orlando. It was not merely a poetical celebration of a great historical legend, a religious epic, like the Gerusalemme. It professed to be a veiled exposition of moral philosophy. It was planned, and all its imaginative wealth unfolded, in order to portray and recommend the virtues, and to exhibit philosophical speculations. It was intended to be a book, not for delight merely, but for instruction. Such a view of poetry was characteristically in harmony with the serious spirit of the time in England, which welcomed heartily all intellectual efforts, but which expected in them a purpose to do more than amuse, and had fashion on its side in putting the note of frivolity on what did not bear this purpose distinctly in view.

Spenser thought it right to declare to his friends, and to set down in writing, the aim and intention of his poem. He described it as a work which "is in heroical verse under the title of a Faery Queen to represent all the moral virtues, assigning to every virtue a knight as the patron and defender of the same, in whose actions and feats of arms and chivalry the operations of that virtue, whereof he is the protector, are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites that oppose themselves against the same, to be beaten down or overcome." And in a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, written to give the key to the poem, he says that the general end of his "Allegory or dark conceit," and of all his book, is "to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline." He indeed sees this purpose and intention in the "antique poets historical." Homer meant to represent "a good governor and virtuous man" in Agamemnon and Ulysses, Virgil meant the same in Aeneas, Ariosto in Orlando. Tasso dissevered them, representing the Ethical part of Moral Philosophy, or the virtues of a private man, in Rinaldo; the other, "named Politicé," the public virtues of a governor in Goffredo. In King Arthur, Spenser meant once more to join both. "By example of which excellent poets," he says, "I labour to pourtray in Arthur, before he was king, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the XII private moral virtues, as Aristotle hath devised; the which is the purpose of these first twelve books; which if I find to be well accepted, I may be perhaps encouraged to frame the other part of politick virtues in his person, after that he came to be king."

Of this large design of 24 books, each of 12 cantos, little more than a 4th part was accomplished, or at any rate has survived. The first 3 books were published in 1590; 3 more, books iv, v, vi, were added to them in a 2nd edition in 1596. 2 cantos, with a couple of stray stanzas, were published after his death. The political part of the design does not seem to have even come into sight of the poet.

The poem was designed in England, but it was mostly written in Ireland, amid scenes of disorder and wretchedness, which sorely tested not only the courage, but the justice, the wisdom, and the humanity of the Englishmen who had any share in the government of the most unfortunate of the Queen’s dominions. It needed indeed to be a knight as perfect in strength and goodness as the ideal Arthur, to deal with the evils of Ireland. Spenser, as men do in trying times, thought he saw the virtues partially realized in the friends engaged in the difficult tasks round him: we, at our point of view, are obliged to see how far the best and noblest of them was from the poet’s ideal. But the presence and actual sight of all this energy, struggle, danger, courage, doubtless gave life to Spenser’s conception of the life of warfare which he proposed to portray. It was before him on the spot; and The Faerie Queene is the reflection of it, tempered and sobered by the poet’s purpose, to make it represent his conception of all that makes a man great and true in his resistance to the vices and evils of the world.

The Faerie Queene purports to be a story, and the outline of the story, which was to bind it together, is given in the poet’s explanatory letter to Sir Walter Ralegh, now prefixed to the poem. He imagines the Faerie Queen,e by whom he shadows forth Elizabeth, holding a great festival, on occasion of which 12 of her knights, each the example and champion of some particular virtue, undertake separate enterprises at her appointment and in her honor; while Prince Arthur, in whom is represented the comprehensive Aristotelic virtue of magnificence, or greatness of soul, is to fall in with them 1 by 1 in his quest of his fated bride the Faerie Queene, helping and saving them by the superior power of his virtue and his knightly skill. The adventures of the 12 knights were to furnish the "Legends" of the 12 books of the 1st portion of his design, the "ethical" portion. He thought it inartificial for a poet to begin from the occasion and starting-point of these various adventures: "A Poet," he said, "thrusteth himself into the middest, even when it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the things forepast, and divining of things to come, maketh a pleasant analysis of all." So he starts in the middle of an adventure, reserving his poetical account of the origin of them all, till he should have brought all his Knights back again to the Faerie Queene’s Court in the last book. The arrangement was an awkward one, and the Twelfth Book was never reached. Though we know the framework of the story, we do not know it from the poem itself. And as he went on with his work, the main story is soon lost in the separate ones, and the poem becomes a succession of adventures, stories, pictures, and allegories, with little attempt to keep them together.

In the First Book, the story and the allegory,— the dangers, the combats, the defeats, the final victory of the Red Cross Knight of Holiness, the champion of the Virgin Una with her milk-white lamb,— and that which all this shadowed, the struggle of true religion and godliness with its foes, its vicissitudes, and its triumph, both in the visible scene of the world’s history, and in the heart of man, are both carried on clearly and consecutively. The Second Book, which takes the Knight of Temperance through his contest with violence, with the falsehood of extremes, with the madness of uncontrolled temper, with the temptations of Mammon, of riches and ambition, to the closing achievement, the conquest over all that Pleasure could present to allure and fascinate him, is straightforward and distinct in its construction. But after this the poet’s hold over his story relaxes. The legend of Chastity in the next book presents the same idea as that of the 2nd, but exhibited in the persons of the lady knight Britomart, and the virgin huntress Belphœbe, both of them in various aspects imaging the ‘sacred saint’ of the poet’s worship.

In the 3 later books, the legend of Justice is marked by its strong and definite representations of some great historical events of Spenser’s age, the administration of Lord Grey of Wilton in Ireland, the blows dealt at the Spanish power in the Channel and in the Netherlands, the fate of Mary Queen of Scots. The legends of "Friendship" and "Courtesy" certainly exhibit examples of friendship and courtesy. But when we think of what friendship is, we wonder that Spenser has so little to say about it, and that his imagination found nothing more to work upon than the companionship in love or war, sometimes loyal, sometimes false, of men-at-arms: and so many other interests and incidents come in besides, that it seems rather arbitrary to assign the legends specially to these virtues. And then, with the exception of the fragment on "Mutability," which is part of a projected legend of ‘Constancy,’ the poem stops, and with it all our knowledge of the way in which it was to be carried forward.

The interest in The Faerie Queene is 2-fold. There is the interest of the moral picture which it presents, and there is the interest of it as a work of poetical art.

The moral picture is of the ideal of noble manliness in Elizabeth’s time. Besides the writers and the thinkers, the statesmen and the plotters, the traders and the commons, of that fruitful and vigorous age, there were the men of action: the men who fought in France and the Netherlands and Ireland, the men who created the English navy, and showed how it could be used: the men who tried for the north-west passage with Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and sailed round the world with Sir Francis Drake, and planted colonies in America with Sir Walter Ralegh: the men who chased the Armada to destruction, and dealt the return buffet to Spanish pride in the harbor of Cadiz; men who treated the sea as the rightful dominion of their mistress, and seeking adventures on it far and near, with or without her leave, reaped its rich harvests of plunder, from Spanish treasure ships and West Indian islands, or from the exposed towns and churches of the Spanish coast. They were at once men of daring enterprise and sometimes very rough execution; and yet men with all the cultivation and refinement of the time, courtiers, scholars, penmen, poets.

These are the men whom Spenser had before his eyes in drawing his knights — their ideas of loyalty, of gallantry, of the worth and use of life,— their aims, their enthusiasm, their temptations, their foes, their defeats, their triumphs. In his tales of perpetual warfare, of perpetual resistance to evil, of the snares and desperate dangers through which they have to fight their way, there is a picture of the conditions which affect the whole life of man. The allegory may be applied, and was intended to be applied generally, to the difficulties which beset his course and the qualities necessary to overcome them. But it specially exhibits the ideals and standards and aspirations — the characteristic virtues and the characteristic imperfections, the simple loyalty and the frank selfishness, of the brilliant and high-tempered generation, who are represented by men like Philip Sidney and Walter Ralegh, and Howard of Effingham and Richard Grenville, or by families like those of Vere and Norreys and Carew.

As a work of art The Faer1e Queene at once astonishes us by the wonderful fertility and richness of the writer’s invention and imagination, by the facility with which he finds or makes language for his needs, and above all, by the singular music and sweetness of his verse. The main theme seldom varies: it is a noble knight, fighting, overcoming, tempted, delivered; or a beautiful lady, plotted against, distressed, in danger, rescued. The poet’s affluence of fancy and speech gives a new turn and colour to each adventure.

But besides that under these conditions there must be monotony, the poet’s art, admirable as it is, gives room for objections. Spenser’s style is an imitation of the antique; and an imitation, however good, must want the master charm of naturalness, reality, simple truth. And in his system of work, with his brightness and quickness and fluency, he wanted self-restraint — the power of holding himself in, and of judging soundly of fitness and proportion. There was a looseness and carelessness, partly belonging to his age, partly his own. In the use of materials, nothing comes amiss to him. He had no scruples as a copyist. He took without ceremony any piece of old metal,— word, or story, or image — which came to his hand, and threw it into the melting-pot of his imagination, to come out fused with his own materials, often transformed, but often unchanged. The effect was sometimes happy, but not always so.

With respect to his diction, it must ever be remembered that the language was still in such an uncertain and unfixed state as naturally to invite attempts to extend its powers, and to enrich, supple, and colour it. Spenser avowedly set himself to do this. The editor of his 1st work, The Shepheardes Calendar, takes credit on his behalf for attempting "to restore, as to their rightful heritage, such good and natural English words, as have been long time out of use, and almost clean disherited." Spenser draws largely on Chaucer, both for his vocabulary and his grammar: and his authority and popularity have probably saved us a good many words which we could ill afford to lose. And some of his words we certainly have forgotten to our loss — such words as "ingate" (like "insight,") "glooming," "fool-happy," "overgone," and his many combinations with en-— "empeopled," "engrieved,’ "enrace."

But it is not to enrich a language but to confuse and spoil it, when a writer forces on it words which are not in keeping with its existing usages and spirit, and much more when he arbitrarily deals with words to make them suit the necessities of metre and rime: and there is much of this in Spenser. He overdoes, especially in his earlier books, the old English expedient of alliteration, or "hunting the letter," as it was called, which properly belongs to a much earlier method of versification, and which the ear of his own generation had already learned to shrink from in excess. He not only revives old words, but he is licentious — as far as we are able to trace the usages of the time — in inventing new ones. He is unscrupulous in using inferior forms for better and more natural ones, not for the sake of the word, but for the convenience of the verse.

The transfer of words — adjectives and verbs — from their strict use to a looser one,— the passage from an active to a neuter sense,— the investing a word with new associations,— the interchange of attributes between 2 objects, with the feelings or phrase which really belong to one reflected back upon the other — are, within limits, part of the recognized means by which language, and especially poetical language, extends its range. But Spenser was inclined to make all limits give way to his convenience, and the rapidity of his work. It is not only to us that his language is both strange and affectedly antique; it looked the same to the men of his own time. It is a drawback to the value of Spenser as a monument of the English of his day, that it is often uncertain whether a form or a meaning of word may not be due simply to his own wayward and arbitrary use of it.

The Faerie Queene has eclipsed all Spenser’s other writings: but his other writings alone would be enough to place him, as his contemporaries placed him, at the head of all who had yet attempted English poetry. The Shepheard’s Calendar, as has been said, with all its defects and affectations, showed force, skill, command of language and music as yet unknown. In it were shown the beginnings of 2 powers characteristic of Spenser: the power of telling a story, as in the fables of The Oak and Briar, and The Fox and Kid; and the power of satire, a power which he used both there and afterwards in "Mother Hubberd’s Tale", to lash the Church abuses of the time and the manners of the Court, and in using which he is in strong contrast, in his sobriety and self-restraint, to the coarse extravagance of such writing in his time. The Fox and Ape of "Mother Hubberd’s Tale" is much nearer to the satire of Dryden and Pope, than it is to such writers as Donne and Hall.

He did his necessary share of work in writing poems of salutation or congratulation for the great, or of lamentation for their misfortunes and sorrows. The Prothalamion celebrates the marriage of 2 ladies of the Worcester family; and he bewailed the death of Sir Philip Sidney and the Earl of Leicester. Much of this poetry was conventional. But in it appear fine and beautiful passages. The Prothalamion has great sweetness and grace. The Dirges never fail to show his deep and characteristic feeling for the vicissitudes of our human state.

Finally, his own love and courtship inspired a series of Sonnets, and a Wedding Hymn. The Sonnets on the whole are disappointing. There is warmth and sincerity in them; but they want the individual stamp which makes such things precious. On the other hand, the Wedding Hymn, the Epithalamion, is one of the richest and most magnificent compositions of the kind in any language.[13]

Critical reputationEdit

In his own day Spenser was criticized by Sidney, Ben Jonson, Daniel, and others for the artificiality of his language, his "aged accents and untimely words," but Ben Jonson went further — "Spenser's stanza pleased him not, nor his matter."[7]

Milton, on the other hand, duly appreciated "our sage and serious poet," and he has been followed by a long line of distinguished judges. It was Charles Lamb who named Spenser " the poet's poet."[7] Spenser was admired by William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Byron and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among others.[14]


Without rhyme or reasonEdit

Spenser is the man believed to have crafted the phrase "without rhyme or reason". According to Thomas Fuller, he was promised payment from the Queen of one hundred pounds, a so called, "reason for the rhyme". The Lord High Treasurer William Cecil, however, considered the sum too much; and due to other business, sent Spenser nothing. After a long while without receiving his payment, he sent the Queen this quatrain:

    I was promis'd on a time,
    To have a reason for my rhyme:
    But from that time unto this season,
    I had neither rhyme or reason.

She immediately ordered Cecil to send Spenser his due sum.[15] This story was refuted more than a century later when Edmond Malone discovered the record of Spenser's pension, although of course it continued to be told.[16]


Spenser was buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his grave reads: ""Heare lies (expecting the second comeing of our Saviour Christ Jesus) the body of Edmund Spencer, the Prince of Poets of his tyme; whose divine spirit needs no other witnesse then the workes which he left behind him. He was borne in London, in the yeare 1510, and dyed in the yeare 1596."[17]

6 of his poems ("Whilst it is prime," "A Ditty," "Prothalamion," "Epithalamion," "Daphnaïda" (excerpt), and "Easter") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[18]



  • The Shepheardes Calender: Conteyning twelue Æglogues proportionable to the twelue monethes. London: Hugh Singleton, 1579.
  • The Faerie Qveene: Disposed into twelue books, fashioning XII morall vertues. London: for William Ponsonby, 1590. (contains Books I-III).
  • Complaints: Containing sundrie small poemes of the worlds vanitie.... By Ed. Sp. London: for William Ponsonby, 1591. (includes The Rvines of Time, The Teares of the Mvses, Virgils Gnat, Prosopopoia: or Mother Hubberds Tale, Rvines of Rome: by Bellay, Mvoipotmos: or The Fate of the Bvtterflie, Visions of the Worlds Vanitie, The Visions of Bellay, and The Visions of Petrarch).
  • Daphnaïda: An elegie vpon the death of the noble and vertuous Douglas Howard, daughter and heire of Henry Lord Howard, Viscount Byndon, and wife of Arthure Gorges esquier. Dedicated to the Right Honorable the Lady Helena, Marquesse of Northampton. By Ed. Sp. London: for William Ponsonby, 1591.
  • Colin Clovts Come Home Againe. (London: for William Ponsonby, 1595. (includes Astrophell. A Pastorall Elegie vpon the Death of the Most Noble and Valorovs Knight, Sir Philip Sidney).
  • Amoretti and Epithalamion: Written not long since. London: for William Ponsonby, 1595;
  • The Faerie Qveene: Disposed into twelue bookes, fashioning XII morall vertues [Books I-VI, with revised ending to III]. London: for William Ponsonby, 1596.
  • Fowre Hymnes. London:William Ponsonby, 1596.
  • Prothalamion; or, A spousall verse made by Edm. Spenser. in honovr of the double mariage of the Two honorable & vertuous ladies, the Ladie Elizabeth and the Ladie Katherine Somerset, daughters to the Right Honourable the Earle of Worcester and espoused to the two worthie gentlemen M. Henry Gilford, and M. William Peter Esquyers. London: for William Ponsonby, 1596.
  • The Faerie Queene: Disposed into XII bookes, fashioning twelue morall vertues [Books I-VI and "Two Cantos of Mutabilitie" from Book VII]. (2 volumes), London: Henry Lownes for Mathew Lownes, 1609-1613.
  • The Poetical Works. (5 volumes), London: William Pickering, 1825.[20] Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V
  • Poetical Works (edited by John Payne Collier). (5 volumes), London: Bell & Daldy, 1862.[21]
  • Sonnets and Poems London: John Long, 1906.[22]
  • Spenser's "Faerie Queene," (edited by J.C. Smith). (2 volumes), Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1909. Volume I
  • Spenser's Minor Poems (edited by Ernest de Selincourt). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1910.
  • Poetical Works (edited by J.C. Smith & Ernest de Selincourt). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1912.


  • Three Proper and Wittie Familiar Letters: Lately Passed between Two Vniversity Men: Touching the Earthquake in April Last, and Our English Refourmed Versifying and Two Other Very Commendable Letters of the Same Mens Writing: Both Touching the Foresaid Artificial Versifying, and certain Other Particulars. London: H. Bynneman, 1580.
  • "A Vewe of the Present State of Ireland", in The Historie of Ireland: Collected by three learned authors, viz. Meredith Hanmer ... Edmund Campion ... and Edmund Spenser, Esq. (edited by Sir James Ware). Dublin: Printed by the Society of Stationers, 1633.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Complete Works (edited by William Trent). New York: T.Y. Crowell, 1903.[23]
  • The Works of Edmund Spenser: A variorum edition (edited by Edwin Greenlaw, Charles Grosvenor Osgood, Frederick Morgan Padelford, & Ray Heffner). (11 volumes), Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932-1957.
  • Books I and II of the Faerie Queene, The Mutability Cantos, and Selections from The Minor Poetry (edited by Robert Kellogg and Oliver Steele). Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.
  • The Mutabilitie Cantos (edited by S.P. Zitner). London: Nelson, 1968.
  • "The Faerie Queene" (1596) (edited by Graham Hough). (2 volumes), Menston, Yorkshire, UK: Scolar, 1976.
  • The Faerie Queene (edited by A.C. Hamilton). London & New York: Longmans, 1977.
  • The Faerie Queene (edited by Thomas P. Roche Jr.) Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1978.
  • Edmund Spenser: The Illustrated "Faerie Queene": A Modern Prose Adaptation (edited by Douglas Hill). New York: Newsweek, 1980.
  • The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser (edited by William A. Oram, Elinar Bjorvand, Ronald Bond, Thomas H. Cain, Alexander Dunlop, and Richard Schell). New Haven, CT, & London: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Edmund Spenser's Poetry, third edition (edited by Hugh Maclean and Anne Lake Prescott). New York: Norton (Norton Critical Edition Series), 1993.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[24]

I Wrote Her Name Upon The Strand by Edmund Spenser - Poetry Reading-1452472976

I Wrote Her Name Upon The Strand by Edmund Spenser - Poetry Reading-1452472976

Poems by Edmund SpenserEdit

  1. My love is like to ice, and I to fire
  2. One day I wrote her name upon the strand

See alsoEdit

Preceded by:
John Skelton
English Poet Laureate Succeeded by:
Samuel Daniel

Prothalamion by Edmund Spenser

Prothalamion by Edmund Spenser


  • Johnson, William. "The struggle between good and evil in the first book of "The Faerie Queene". English Studies, 74:6 (December 1993), 507-519.
  • PD-icon.svg Minto, William, & Frederick John Snell (1911). "Spenser, Edmund". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 639-643. 
  • Rust, Jennifer. "Spenser's The Faerie Queen." Saint Louis University, St. Louis. 10 October 2007.


  1. 1.0 1.1 John William Cousin, "Spenser, Edmund," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 353-354. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 21, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Minto & Snell, 639.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 Minto & Snell, 640.
  4. Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey (Camden Society)
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 Minto & Snell, 641.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 >See: Brady's "Spenser's Irish Crisis: Humanism and Experience in the 1590s"; and Canny, Nicholas, "Spenser's Irish Crisis: Humanism and Experience in the 1590s, a response to the claims of Brady".
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 Minto & Snell, 641.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Minto & Snell, 643.
  9. See Conversations with Drummond, Shakespeare Society, 7, 12.
  10. The first versions of the Visions of Petrarch and Du Bellay are reproduced by Dr Grosart in his Complete Works of Spenser, vol. iv. (London, 1882). The translations of Petrarch are imitated from Marot. Koeppel (Englische Studien, vol. xv.), questions whether they are by Spenser (see also J. B. Fletcher, Modern Language Notes, vol. xxii.).
  11. Minto & Snell, 640.
  12. See Grosart's Complete Works of Spenser, vol. i.
  13. from Richard William Church, "Critical Introduction: Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Apr. 4, 2016.
  14. Michael Schmidt, The Lives of the Poets, Phoenix, AZ: 1998 ISBN 978-0-7538-0745-3
  15. Thomas Fuller, "Edmund Spenser", The History of the Worthies of England, 1662. English Poetry, 1579-1830, Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanities, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State Univerity. Web, June 23, 2016.
  16. Notes to Fuller, 1662
  17. John Aubrey, "Edmund Spenser," in Thomas Warton, The Life and Remains of Ralph Bathurst. English Poetry, 1579-1830, Web, Apr. 21, 2016.
  18. Alphabetical list of authors: Shelley, Percy Bysshe to Yeats, William Butler Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 19, 2012.
  19. Amoretti, Internet Archive. Web, Feb. 14, 2016.
  20. The poetical works of Edmund Spenser in five volumes, Internet Archive. Web, Jan. 10, 2015.
  21. Search results = au:John Payne Collier, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, May 13, 2016.
  22. Sonnets and poems : (selected), Internet Archive. Web, Jan. 10, 2016.
  23. The Complete Works of Edmund Spenser, Internet Archive. Web, Jan. 10, 2015.
  24. Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), Poetry Foundation, Web, Dec. 6, 2012.

External linksEdit

Audio / video

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.. Original article is at " Spenser, Edmund"

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.