Biography of Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599)
Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 – January 13, 1599) was an English poet, and a contemporary of William Shakespeare.
The first poem to earn him notability was a collection of eclogues called The Shepheardes Calender, written from the point of view of various shepherds throughout the months of the year. It has been suggested that the poem is an allegory, or at least is meant to symbolize the state of humanity at large in a universal sense, as implied by the its cyclical structure. The diversity of forms and meters, ranging from accentual-syllabic to purely accentual, and including such departures as the sestina in “August,” gave Spenser’s contemporaries a clue to the range of his powers and won him a good deal of praise in his day.
The Faerie Queene is his major contribution to English poetry. It is mostly a poem seeking (successfully) the favour of Queen Elizabeth I. The poem is a long allegory of Christian virtues, tied into England’s mythology of King Arthur. In form, the poem is an epic.
The language of his poetry is purposely antique. As such, it is supposed to remind readers of such earlier works as The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, whom Spenser greatly admired. It also says much about Spenser’s attitude towards the degeneration of the world in time and the moral superiority of England’s past compared with its present time. It should be noted, however, that Spenser’s language seems much more antique to us than it did to the Elizabethans, for whom standardization was not yet in strict practice.
Faerie Queene. Book v. Proem. St. 3.
- Let none then blame me, if in discipline
- Of vertue and of civill uses lore,
- I doe not forme them to the common line
- Of present dayes, which are corrupted sore,
- But to the antique use which was of yore,
- When good was onely for it selfe desyred,
- And all men sought their owne, and none no more;
- When Justice was not for most meed out-hyred,
- But simple Truth did rayne, and was of all admyred.
Spenser’s Epithalamion is the most admired of its type in the English language. It was written on the occasion of his wedding to his young bride, Elizabeth Boyle.
Spenser’s effort to match the epic proportions of the Aeneid earned his place in English literature. He devised a verse form for The Faerie Queene that has come to be known as the “Spenserian stanza,” and which has since been applied in poetry by the likes of William Wordsworth, John Keats and Alfred Lord Tennyson, to name a few.
The number of english poets influencced by Spenser are manifest, but he is often overshadowed by his immediate succesor, William Shakespeare. For a revitalizing look at Spenser, look to Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae.
Faerie Queene. Book iii. Canto xi. St. 54.
- And as she lookt about, she did behold,
- How over that same dore was likewise writ,
- Be bold, be bold, and every where Be bold,
That much she muz’d, yet could not construe it
- By any ridling skill, or commune wit.
- At last she spyde at that roomes upper end,
- Another yron dore, on which was writ,
- Be not too bold; whereto though she did bend
- Her earnest mind, yet wist not what it might intend.
Biography By: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Edmund Spenser.