edmund spenser (1552 – 1559)


Edmund Spenser, born in London in 1552, was educated in Cambridge where he studied the classics and .read Tasso and Ariosto. He became friend of Sidney who introduced him to courtly life and to the subject of America.
In 1579 he published his first poetical work, The Shepherd’s Calendar, a set of twelve eclogues one for each month of the year, modelled on the ancient pastoral poems of Virgil and Theocritus; the work was dedicated to Sidney.
In 1580 he went to Ireland as secretary to the Viceroy of that country, and remained there for many years.
Here he wrote A Amoretti (1595), a cycle of 88 petrarchan love sonnets on his courtship of Elisabeth Boyle, his future wife and View of the Present State of Ireland (1596), his only prose work in which he suggests violent measures to” pacify” the rebel country.
In 1598 a rebellion broke out; Kilcolman Castle, where Spenser lived, was sacked and burned, and Spenser’ s new-born child perished in the flames . Spenser escaped with difficulty. Broken both in fortune and in spirit, he crossed over to England, and reached in London, where he died on the 16th of January 1559.
The Faerie Queen, Spenser’s masterpiece, is an allegorical poem. Spenser undertook to represent in it «all the moral virtues , assigning to every virtue a knight to be patron and defender of the same». Since the purpose of the poem was “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtue and gentle discipline». Only 6 books were completed, and these relate the adventures of the knights who stand for Holiness., Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. The Faerie Queen is called Gloraina, and represents Glory in general, and Queen Elisabeth in particular. Spenser borrowed the Ariosto’s ottava rima which he modified and transformed into what is now called Spenserian stanza.

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