Faerie Queene

Spenser, Edmund

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© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Faerie Queene: Selected full-text books and articles

Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene: A Reading Guide By Andrew Zurcher Edinburgh University Press, 2011
Mirror and Veil: The Historical Dimension of Spenser's Faerie Queene By Michael O'Connell University of North Carolina Press, 1977
FREE! The Complete Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser By Edmund Spenser Houghton Mifflin, 1908
Librarian’s tip: Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" begins on p. 144
The Allegory of the Faerie Queene By M. Pauline Parker Clarendon Press, 1960
Spenser's Faerie Queene and the Reading of Women By Caroline McManus University of Delaware Press, 2002
Edmund Spenser By Harold Bloom Chelsea House, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of The Faerie Queene in multiple chapters
Spenser's Life and the Subject of Biography By Judith H. Anderson; Donald Cheney; David A. Richardson University of Massachusetts Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Disenchanted Elves: Biography in the Text of Faerie Queene V" begins on p. 18
Contemporary Thought on Edmund Spenser By Richard C. Frushell; Bernard J. Vondersmith Southern Illinois University Press, 1975
Librarian’s tip: Chap. I "Foster Provost Treatments of Theme and Allegory in Twentieth-Century Criticism of The Faerie Queene"
Spenser and the Poetics of Pastoral: A Study of the World of Colin Clout By David R. Shore McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "Pastoral and the End of Epic in The Faerie Queene"
The Invention of the Renaissance Woman: The Challenge of Female Independence in the Literature and Thought of Italy and England By Pamela Joseph Benson Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Praise and Defense of Woman in The Faerie Queene" and Chap. 11 "Praise and Defense of the Queen in The Faerie Queene"
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