Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser, 1552?–1599, English poet, b. London. He was the friend of men eminent in literature and at court, including Gabriel Harvey, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester. After serving as secretary to the Bishop of Rochester, Spenser was appointed in 1580 secretary to Lord Grey, lord deputy of Ireland. Afterward Spenser lived in Ireland, holding minor civil offices and receiving the lands and castle of Kilcolman, Co. Cork. In 1589, under Raleigh's sponsorship, Spenser went to London, where he apparently sought court preferment and publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene. After the Tyrone rebellion of 1598, in which Kilcolman Castle was burned, he returned to London, where he died in 1599. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Recognized by his contemporaries as the foremost poet of his time, Spenser was not only a master of meter and language but a profound moral poet as well. Patterning his literary career after that of Vergil, Spenser first published 12 pastoral eclogues of The Shepheardes Calender (1579), which treat the shepherd as rustic priest and poet. His Complaints and Daphnaida, the latter an elegy on Douglas Howard, both appeared in 1591. In 1595 Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, a pastoral allegory dealing with Spenser's first London journey and the vices inherent in court life, and Astrophel, an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, were published. In the same year Amoretti, Spenser's sonnet sequence commemorating his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle, and Epithalamion, a beautiful and complex wedding poem in honor of his marriage in 1594, were also published. Fowre Hymnes, which explains Spenser's Platonic and Christian views of love and beauty, and Prothalamion appeared in 1596. Also in 1596 the first six books of The Faerie Queene, Spenser's unfinished masterpiece, appeared. Although the poem is an epic, his method was to treat the moral virtues allegorically. The excellence of The Faerie Queene lies in the complexity and depth of Spenser's moral vision and in the Spenserian stanza (nine lines, eight of iambic pentameter followed by one of iambic hexameter, rhyming ababbcbcc), which Spenser invented for his masterpiece. Spenser's only extended prose work, A View of the Present State of Ireland, was first printed in 1633.

See variorum edition of his works (ed. by E. Greenlaw et al., 1932–49), the three-volume edition of the poetical works (J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt, 1909–10), and the four-volume edition of the minor works (W. L. Renwick, 1928–34). See biographies by A. C. Judson (1945) and A. Hadfield (2012); studies by W. Nelson (1963), W. L. Renwick (1925, repr. 1965), D. Cheney (1966), P. Bayley (1971), A. L. DeNeef (1983), and H. Berger, Jr. (1988); C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936, repr. 1958) and F. Kermode, Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne (1971).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Edmund Spenser: Selected full-text books and articles

Edmund Spenser By Harold Bloom Chelsea House, 1986
Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study By B. E. C. Davis Cambridge University Press, 1933
Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene: A Reading Guide By Andrew Zurcher Edinburgh University Press, 2011
The Poetry of Edmund Spenser: A Study By William Nelson Columbia University Press, 1963
Spenser's Life and the Subject of Biography By Judith H. Anderson; Donald Cheney; David A. Richardson University of Massachusetts Press, 1996
Contemporary Thought on Edmund Spenser By Richard C. Frushell; Bernard J. Vondersmith Southern Illinois University Press, 1975
The New Poet: Novelty and Tradition in Spenser's Complaints By Richard Danson Brown Liverpool University Press, 1999
Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation By Susan Frye Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Engendered Violence: Elizabeth, Spenser, and the Definitions of Chastity (1590)"
Making Ireland British, 1580-1650 By Nicholas Canny Oxford University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. One "Spenser Sets the Agenda," and Chap. Two "The English Presence in Spenser's Ireland"
Spenser and Biblical Poetics By Carol V. Kaske Cornell University Press, 1999
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