Edmund Spenser was the outstanding nondramatic poet of the English Re­naissance and Reformation, the author of numerous poetical works, most notably the epic romance The Fairie Queene (1590-96). He was known as a "poet's poet"; his verse has influenced generations of later poets, who include the seventeenth-century Spenserians, John Keats, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among many others. The Fairie Queene undergoes parody in William Shakespeare's* Midsummer Night's Dream, and Spenser's poetic oeuvre affords rich antecedents to verse by John Milton, including Lycidas, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, and Paradise Lost, a masterwork that succeeds The Fairie Queene as a great English Protestant epic.
Born in London around 1552, Spenser studied at the Merchant Taylors' School under its humanistic headmaster, the militantly Protestant Richard Mul-caster. He received his bachelor of arts (1573) and master of arts (1576) at Cambridge University, where his friendship with Gabriel Harvey* led to exper­imentation with various theories of poetry and poetic versification. Mulcaster may have recommended Spenser to his first employer, John Young, bishop of Rochester, whom he served as secretary and from whose household he moved to that of his second patron, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. During services to Dudley, Spenser claimed intimacy with his nephew, Sir Philip Sidney,* and Sir Edward Dyer, courtiers who promoted reform of English verse. Under the pseudonymous guise of Immerito, Spenser dedicated The Shepheardes Calender (1579) to Sidney, but it failed to win unqualified approval in Sidney's Defense of Poesy. The collection includes satirical eclogues ("May," "July," and "Sep­tember") that defend Reformation religious principles. The dazzling stanzaic and metrical virtuosity of Spenser's collection of pastoral eclogues heralded inno­vations associated with the poet's name: the Spenserian sonnet with its distinc­tive ababbcbccdcdee rhyme scheme, used in Amoretti (invented by James VI* of Scotland); the adaptation of the Italian canzone in Epithalamion and Protha-lamion; and, of course, the Spenserian stanza employed in The Fairie Queene, in which a terminal line in iambic hexameter produces an eccentric couplet at the end of a Spenserian sonnet octet (ababbcbcc).
One year following publication of The Shepheardes Calender, Spenser went to Ireland as aide of Arthur Lord Grey de Wilton, the lord deputy of Ireland. Random visits to England notwithstanding, Spenser spent the remainder of his life as a functionary charged with imposing English Protestant overlordship upon Catholic Ireland. He published the first three books of The Fairie Queene in 1590 with a dedicatory letter to his patron, Sir Walter Raleigh,* whose tortuous involvement with Elizabeth I* undergoes allegorization in the episodes involving Timias and Belphoebe (Spenser's figure for the queen as a private person). In the years following, Spenser published Complaints: Containing Sundry Small Poems of the World's Vanity; Amoretti and Epithalamion, concerning his court­ship and marriage to Elizabeth Boyle; and Prothalamion, a wedding poem. Con­taining three more books out of a projected twelve, the expanded version of The Fairie Queene appeared in 1596, and again in 1609 with the addition of the "Mutability Cantos," a fragment of book 7. Following the sacking of Kilcolman Castle in 1598, Spenser returned to England and died in an impoverished state, according to tradition, on 13 January 1599. He underwent interment near Chau­cer, to whom he paid homage as the "well of English undefiled," at Westminster Abbey.
Spenser's complex and varied poetic oeuvre is notable for Neoplatonic spec­ulation; stern moral precepts; Reformation ideology, for which Puritans adopted him as one of their own after his death; moral allegory concerning the human quest to achieve "right" action; and fusion of classical, continental, and native British literary traditions. Those elements receive fullest expression in the com­plicated allegory of The Fairie Queene, whose purpose "is to fashion a gentle­man or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline," according to the letter to Raleigh. Each of the six books portrays the growth of a Christian Knight in six distinct virtues: the first three books deal with the private attributes of ho­liness, temperance, and chastity, whereas the latter three treat the more public virtues of friendship, justice, and courtesy. Book 1 constitutes a full-blown al­legory concerning the course of the English Reformation. The romantic epic is an outstanding example of the mixing of an encyclopedic array of genres and modes characteristic of Renaissance masterworks at their best. The work sustains multiple levels of reading, which may involve moral, philosophical, historical, and other allegorical modes. Readers may approach Spenser's often wildly fan­tastical characters, settings, or objects at one or more levels involving literalistic narrative concerning Faerieland, topical allusion to real personages, or abstract representation of conflict between virtue and vice.
D. J. Gless, Interpretation and Theology in Spenser, 1994.
A. C. Hamilton, D. Cheney, and W. Barke, eds., The Spenser Encyclopedia, 1990.
J. N. King, Spenser's Poetry and the Reformation Tradition, 1990.
John N. King and Mark Bayer

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Spenser, Edmund — born 1552/53, London, Eng. died Jan. 13, 1599, London English poet. Little is known for certain about his life before he entered the University of Cambridge. His first important publication, The Shepheardes Calender (1579), can be called the… …   Universalium

  • Spenser, Edmund — (ca. 1552 1599)    English poet. He is best known for his allegorical romance The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596). Born in London, he was educated at the Merchant Taylors School, an institution that emphasized the value of humanistic education to pre… …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

  • Spenser, Edmund — (?1552 1599)    Born in London and educated at the Merchant Taylors School, he graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge University, in 1576. He fought in Ireland and was awarded lands in Cork, including Kilkolman Castle Cork. His pamphlet View… …   British and Irish poets

  • Spenser, Edmund — ► (1552? 99) Poeta renacentista inglés. Autor del poema épico caballeresco La reina de las hadas (1590). * * * (1552/53, Londres, Inglaterra–13 ene. 1599, Londres). Poeta inglés. Poco se sabe con certeza de su vida previo a su ingreso a la… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Spenser,Edmund — Spen·ser (spĕnʹsər), Edmund. 1552? 1599. English poet known chiefly for his allegorical epic romance The Faerie Queene (1590 1596). His other works include the pastoral Shepeardes Calendar (1579) and the lyrical marriage poem Epithalamion (1595) …   Universalium

  • SPENSER, EDMUND —    author of the Faërie Queene, and one of England s greatest poets; details of his life are scanty and often hypothetical; born at London of poor but well connected parents; entered Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar in 1569, and during his… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Spenser, Edmund —  (1552–1599) English poet …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Spenser, Edmund — (1552? 1599)    Poet, was b. in East Smithfield, London, the s. of John S., described as gentleman and journeyman in the art of cloth making, who had come to London from Lancashire. In 1561 the poet was sent to Merchant Taylor s School, then… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • Spenser — Spenser, Edmund …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Edmund Spencer — Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser (* um 1552 in London; † 13. Januar 1599 in London) war ein englischer Dichter, älterer Zeitgenosse und eines der Vorbilder William Shakespeares. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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