Biography of Edmund Spenser
I. Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) the Great English Poet.
A. Edmund Spenser began, intentionally and calculatingly, to become the master English poet of his age.
B. Unlike such poets as Wyatt, Surrey, and Sidney, born to advantage and upper-social class, Spenser was born of moderate means and class, in London, possibly in 1552.
C. He received a notable education, first at the Merchant Taylor’s School, then at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was registered as a “sizar” (meaning impoverished) scholar.
D. Spenser started as a poet by translating some poems for a volume of anti-Catholic propaganda.
E. He received a B.A. degree in 1573 and the M.A. in 1576
II. Influences and Vocations.
A. He began his friendship with Gabriel Harvey, an eccentric Cambridge don, humanist, and pamphleteer. Their correspondence shows that both men were passionately interested in theories of poetry and in experiments in quantitative versification in English.
B. Spenser served as personal secretary and aide to several prominent men, including Dr. John Young, bishop of Rochester; and the earl of Leicester, the queen’s principal favorite.
C. During his employment in Leicester’s household he came to know Sir Philip Sidney and his friend Sir Edward Dyer, courtiers who sought to promote a new English poetry.
III. Contributions to Poetry.
A. Spenser’s contribution to the movement was The Shepheardes Calender, published in 1 5 79 and dedicated to Sidney.
B. Spenser’s contribution to the movement was The Shepheardes Calender, published in 1 5 79 and dedicated to Sidney.
C. In The Shepheardes Calender Spenser used a deliberately archaic language, partly in homage to Chaucer, whose work he praised as a “well of English undefiled,” and partly to achieve a rustic effect, in keeping with the feigned simplicity of pastoral poetry’s shepherd singers.
D. Sidney did not approve; in his Defense of Poesy he wrote, “The Shepheardes Calender hath much poetry in his eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. (That same framing of his style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazzaro in Italian did affect it.)”
E. There are thirteen different meters in The Shepheardes Calender. Some of these Spenser invented, some adapted, but most of them were novel; only three or four were at all common in 1579.
F. Spenser a prolific experimenter made further innovations in his later poems. The special rhyme scheme of the Spenserian sonnet. The remarkably beautiful adaptation of the Italian canzone forms for the Epithalamion and Prothatamion and the nine-line stanza of The Faerie Queene, with its hexameter (six-stress) line at the end, are known best.
G. Spenser is sometimes called the “poet’s poet” because so many later English poets learned the art of versification from him. In the nineteenth century alone his influence may be seen in Shelley’s Revolt of Islam,...