Richard A. McCabe

in The Oxford Handbook of Edmund Spenser

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199227365
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature


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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)



This introductory article discusses the poetry of Edmund Spenser. It argues that a poet's utility inheres in his craft. It is not just that he conveys an improving or ‘useful’ message, but that the medium through which he does so lends any such message a peculiar efficacy. What Spenser cultivated was not the crudely simplistic moral didacticism that does indeed tend to reduce the useful to the utilitarian, but the broader didacticism that recognizes in the literary arts the potential for a deep disquieting of all that is complacent and received. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Spenserian poetics is the extraordinary fusion of allegory and parody that is so perfectly calculated to capture both the glory and futility of empire, the element of Sir Thopas in Prince Arthur, the savage in the chivalrous, the disquieting similarity between grand vision and grand folly.

Keywords: poetry; poets; didacticism; allegory; parody

Article.  5038 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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