Edmund Spenser

Biographical Information

Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599) was born in London in the year 1552. Very little is known concerning his family life, and his exact date of birth is unknown. His age can, however, be gleaned from sonnet 60 in Amoretti where he refers to himself as being forty-one years in age. He studied and graduated with his bachelor’s then master’s degrees from Pembroke Hall in Cambridge University from 1568 to 1576. It is likely that his interest in London society and the progress of English Literature were influenced by one of his peers in the university, Gabriel Harvey. During his studies he acquired a knowledge of Greek, which let to his affinity for the works of Plato. His first volume of poetry was The Shepherds Calendar, which he published three years out of college in 1579. He spent a portion of time in Ireland under the service of the lord deputy, Arthur Grey. He is most well known for his authorship of the Faerie Queene. He is regarded as the first modern poet.

Literary works

The Faerie Queene: Spenser is best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic in verse and allegory for the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth the I. It was published in 1590 then republished six years later along with books IV and VI. Spenser only completed half of what he intended for this work.

Amoretti and Epithalamion: Another well known work, Epithalamion is an ode to Spenser’s second wife, Elisabeth Boyle, and was written as a wedding gift for her. It is the continuation of Amoretti, which describes his experiences in courting her. The two were first printed together in one volume entitled Amoretti and Epithalamion. An element of numerology is present in Epithalamion. It contains 365 long lines that correspond to the days of the year, 68 short lines that correspond to the 52 weeks, twelve months and four seasons of the year, and 24 stanzas representing the hours of the day. The word "Epithalamion" itself refers to a form of poetry describing a bride’s journey to her marital chamber. Spenser’s work is the most admired of its type written in the English language. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet series is ABABCCBCBDDEFFEEGG and the sonnets have nineteen lines.

The series contains several references to Hymen, the god of marriage ceremonies in Greek Mythology. Such references include sonnet 2 where the bridegroom is bidding his Elisabeth awake because Hymen is awake and prepared to move forth with the day’s festivities. She does not awaken until sonnet five once the sun has risen. He also calls upon the Muses, the “sisters” in sonnet one to aid him in writing the love poem. He mentions Hesperus, the god of the evening star, in sonnet six, comparing the brightness of his eyes to his radiance. This is reminiscent of the eye imagery found in sonnets seven, eight, and nine in Amoretti. These Greek references undoubtedly sprung from Spenser’s study of Greek and Plato in his university years.

Spenser’s continuing refrain of “The woods shall to me answer and my Eccho ring” gives the reader a sense of his echoing joy throughout the entire wedding experience. Spenser’s love for the Irish countryside is evident in his vivid descriptions of nature in the poem and his reference to woods at the end of each sonnet.

Up to sonnet five, the bridegroom is trying to awaken his beloved and preparing/asking the mythological creatures to prepare the world and bride chamber for her. Sonnets seven through thirteen describe her approach. Sonnet ten contains an anaphora or repetition of words or phrases. The speaker praises his wife-to-be by repetitively comparing different parts of the woman’s face to objects. This poetic style is called a blazon.


1. Image: http://digital.wustl.edu/secondary_images/revision.jpg
2. "Edmund Spenser." Wikipedia. 14 Apr 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Spenser>.
3. Jokinen , Anniina. "The Life of Edmund Spenser." Luminarium. 2010. Web. <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/spensbio.htm>.
4. Owens, Judith. "The Poetics of Accommodation in Spenser's "Epithalamion"." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 40. (2000): Web.
5. Petty , Tyler . "Literary analysis: Epithalamion, by Gerard Manley Hopkins." Helium . 10 Apr 2007. Web. <http://www.helium.com/items/265098-literary-analysis-epithalamion-by-gerard-manley-hopkins>.
6. Maley, Willy. "The Edmund Spenser Home Page."Spenser Chronology (2011): n. pag. Web. 17 Apr 2011. <http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/spenser/biography.htm>.
7. Poems from: Luminarium.org

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