ISABEL G. MACCAFFREY
in "The Shepheardes Calender"
To read the large-scale masterpieces of Elizabethan literature with something of the agility they assume and demand is an art which must be self-consciously cultivated by us today. The Shepheardes Calender, an early, relatively brief essay in a complex mode, provides exercise for our wit in smaller compass. We ought, I believe, to bring to it something of the same resources that we bring to Spenser's larger work. As Ernest de Selincourt wrote, "It lies along the high-road that leads him to Faery land." It is the product of the same sensibility, and in it we can discern the special proclivities of the poet's imagination: the preference for radical allegory and "iconographical ambiguity"; the search for a form that will contain variety and unify it without violating its subtle life-patterns; the exploitation of a setting that can also serve as a complex controlling metaphor. The great invention of Faerie Land is anticipated by Spenser's evocation of the archetypal hills, valleys, woods, and pastures of the Calender.
Early critics tended to read the work as a kind of anthology, a series of experiments in various verse-forms; Spenser's themes, conceived as subordinate to his forms, could be subsumed under E. K.'s categories, plaintive, moral, and recreative. The poem's reputation has taken an upward turn in the past few years, accompanied by a critical tendency to stress the unifying power of its metaphors, and there have been several attempts to reduce its pattern to a single thematic statement. The reconstruction of the poem's composition by Paul McLane suggests the difficul____________________