Edmund Spenser

Andrew Hadfield

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Edmund Spenser


Edmund Spenser (b. 1554?–d. 1599) is one of the most significant poets writing in English, probably the most important writer of verse after William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Milton. Yet he remains among the most neglected. In part this is due to the length of his work, especially The Faerie Queene, but also because he is usually regarded as a worthy writer who wrote complex allegories praising Queen Elizabeth and because he was a colonist in Ireland who espoused brutal attitudes to the Irish. While there is much truth in this last claim, one that has been substantiated and explored by a number of critics since the late 20th century, there is rather less substance to the notion that Spenser was a sycophantic royalist. Indeed, a great deal of more recent work on Spenser has uncovered a much more complicated, fractured, and divided writer, one who had a complicated, often hostile, relationship to mighty patrons and who valued his friendship with other writers, publishers, soldiers, and military men. While Spenser has been largely the preserve of specialists, it is also true that, as C. S. Lewis once claimed, hardly any reader ever claims that they used to like Spenser. A great deal of work on his poetry since the late 20th century has concentrated on how stimulating and challenging his works are and how he forces readers to think through difficult problems even if they do not agree with his solutions to problems. In many respects Spenser has become a major critical issue in literary studies, once again. There has been a great deal of work on his representation of gender and sexuality, his verse forms and his experimental style, his political views, and his religion.

Article.  9500 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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