Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 – 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognized as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English language.
Edmund Spenser was a strikingly innovative and experimental writer and, until the eighteenth century, was far more influential than Shakespeare in defining the course of English literature. His magisterial work, <i>The Faerie Queene</i>, is one of the most widely read English poems, but it should not overshadow the range and brilliance of his work in <i>The Shepheardes Calender</i>, <i>The Complaints</i>, and <i>The Amoretti and Epithalamion</i>.
<i>The Faerie Queene</i>, one of the great long poems in the English language, written in the 16th century by Edmund Spenser. As originally conceived, the poem was to have been a religious-moral-political allegory in 12 books, each consisting of the adventures of a knight representing a particular moral virtue; Book I, for example, recounts the legend of the Red Cross Knight, or Holiness. The knights serve the Faerie Queene, who represents Glory and Queen Elizabeth I.
The poem derives its form from the Italian romance—for example, in the division into books and cantos and the inventive energy of the entrelacement (the continually bifurcating and infolded narrative). The poem is written in what came to be known as the Spenserian stanza: eight lines of 10 syllables followed by one 12-syllable line, rhyming ababbcbcc.
In a letter addressed to his neighbor Sir Walter Ralegh, Spenser sets out to explain the "general intention and meaning" of his richly elaborated epic. It is "an historicall fiction," written to glorify Queen Elizabeth and "to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline." In pursuing this latter aim, the poet explains that he has followed the example of the greatest epic writers of the ancient and the modern worlds: Homer and Virgil, Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso.
Spenser was a master of compression and deep implication who recognized the multiplicity of meanings inherent in certain primal concepts and images, such as oneness and duality, and it is that multiplicity that lies at the heart of the fascination that <i>The Faerie Queene</i> has exerted over many of its readers. Rather than interpret the poet's "darke conceit" simply as an extended metaphor, one does better, particularly in analyzing the plots of the poem, to take it more broadly as a governing thought or form.
"Spenser's view of nature in the <i>Faerie Queene</i> is usually thought to involve contradiction. This has been noted specifically as between the Garden of Adonis passage and the Mutability Cantos."
"We know this is a narration because we sense the presence of a narrator; nevertheless, we cannot assume that he is a dramatically consistent figure."
It is in Ireland that Spenser wrote most of his masterwork, <i>The Faerie Queene</i>, a multi-part epic poem which glorifies England and its language. The poem pleased Queen Elizabeth I, who gave Spenser a small pension for life.
Nothing is known of Edmund’s family except that his mother’s name was Elizabeth. He attended Cambridge University and on 27 October 1579 married Maccabaeus Childe at St Margaret’s Westminster. They had two children, Sylvanus (d.1638) and Katherine. His second wife was Elizabeth Boyle and they had a son named Peregrine. For a short time Spenser was private secretary to Lord Grey, lord deputy of Ireland, and continued to live in Ireland for much of his life until rebels burnt down his house in 1598.
"Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am no enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithful loues shall moralize my song.