The Age of Elizabeth


The Age of Elizabeth


The death of Henry VIII in 1547 was followed by a period of acute political uncertainties over the question of succession. The young King Edward VI was the titular head of the state. His premature death in 1553 unleashed a phase which saw untold violence and suffering for the people of England professing the Protestant faith, under the Catholic Mary Tudor. The accession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England in 1558, at the age of 25, marked the beginning of true nationalism and the gradual attainment of stability in all spheres. The first few years of Elizabeth’s reign were dominated by the twin issues of settling the theological disputes and solidifying her own position as Queen of England. By the time the Spanish Armada was defeated, in 1588, Elizabeth was able to demonstrate her invincible power as a leader of men. In addition, France and Spain no longer posed themselves as constant threats to England. Her charismatic presence was felt in every aspect of English life-not merely was she the head of state and Church, she was a dominating presence in all forms of the literary and artistic culture of the period.


The Elizabethan era lifted itself above political struggles and religious wars. The period was characterised by an unprecedented vitality; it became the nursery of art and adventure because of its healthy passion for experiment, its lust for exploration and its inherent flexibility. England adapted itself to rapid cultural changes and the country thrived equally upon the strength of the southern Renaissance and the northern Reformation. The English spirit was thus liberated for new concepts in literature and science, as well as for a revival in statecraft and religion. Freedom and spontaneity became the characteristics of a period, which within a quarter century, produced such immortals as Drake, Raleigh, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Campion, Jonson and Donne. Shakespeare was the central figure, but the Elizabethan age was also crowded with many other luminaries.


The glorious outburst of creativity that characterised the Elizabethan age as the golden age of literature was actually concentrated in the last fifteen years of Elizabeth’s reign. Although most of its supreme achievements in poetic drama and in prose argument came in the reign of her successor James I, this great age of literature is rightly called ‘Elizabethan’, for its greatness belongs, in spirit, to this indomitable queen. But the question arises as to why this literary surge arrived so late, when the queen herself had been reigning for thirty years, long after the Renaissance in Italy and France had come to an end. Also, when it did arrive, and the sixteenth century had only twelve more years to run, why should it suddenly break into that firework display of poetic genius? Both the questions may be easily answered. Great literature demands a powerful and flexible language, and English literary forms were, so far, either borrowed from Italy and France as in the case of verse, or as with prose, which was mainly confined to translation, often crudely experimenting with syntax. We must also remain aware of the fact that, until the onset of the Renaissance, England was never an integral part of the mainstream of European civilization. The Tudor rule transformed England into a new country: Henry VIII created a new social order which had to be confirmed and stabilised by Elizabeth. Hence, those first thirty years of her reign were years of effort, of solemn endeavour, of will and purpose, all reflected in the writing of the time, in the didactic prose work of Ascham and Elyot, in the splendid poetry of Sidney and the early poetry of the great Spenser. With the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabethan England came of age.


This sudden release of creative energy can also be explained by the electrifying presence of a remarkable pool of talent. There was astonishing variety within this new and still-growing nationalistic society. The multiplicity of the mind-sets of this motley crowd manifested itself in a literature which was diverse, novel and amazingly original. The Elizabethan world was made up of disparate elements: in religion, there were Anglicans, Catholics, Puritans, sceptics and atheists. It veered between extremes of brutality and refinement: a building that offered bear-baiting on one day would be playing Romeo and Juliet on the next. Life in London was an incredible medley of varied experiences, and in such a vibrant atmosphere, artistic endeavour was bound to flourish.


Poetry in the Age of Elizabeth


The Elizabethan age opened with the publication of a seminal text of great historical significance, if not of great poetic value. A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), written by William Baldwin, George Ferrers and others, was a collection of verse monologues inspired by John Lydgate’s The Fall of Princes (1494). The book included about 19 verse monologues spoken by historical figures ranging from the reign of Richard II to Edward IV (1377 to 1483) and, in the main, the intention of these accounts was to warn rulers and subjects alike, against tyranny and rebellion. This edition highlights the instability of fortune and the punishment of vice. The reader is constantly reminded that ‘the only thing which is purposed herein is by example other’s miseries to dissuade all men from all sins and vices’. The poems are connected by prose links, and many deal with characters later made familiar by Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s history plays—the Mortimers, Richard II, Henry VI, Edward IV, etc.


The second edition of A Mirror, in 1563, added eight more stories including that of Jane Shore by Thomas Churchyard and introduced a new young writer Thomas Sackville (1536-1608- Sackville’s two great poems, Induction and Buckingham’s Complaint, were published in The Mirror for Magistrates (1563). The two poems make Sackville one of the major English poets who outshone all the rest and handled the rhyme royale as few poets have done since Chaucer. Numerous editions appeared throughout the sixteenth century and well into the seventeenth. With each edition, the work expanded. Though A Mirror was perhaps not an artistically distinguished enterprise, it nevertheless exerted a considerable thematic influence on the writing of history plays in the period and on the conception of tragedy pursued by Elizabethan and Jacobean writers. It created a tradition of recording a sustained account of national history, of which the works of Spenser, Daniel and Drayton also became representatives. In his Apologie for Poetrie, Sidney recalls A Mirror ‘meetly furnished of beautiful parts’ and finds it the only poetry, apart from the work of Surrey, worth mentioning between Chaucer and Spenser’s The Shepheard’s Calendar.


The Elizabethan Lyric


The Elizabethan lyric manifested itself in a variety of ways, of which the sonnet form took precedence. It was an era of love poetry, of sonnets and of graceful lyricism. The Elizabethan poetic tradition was somewhat different from its immediate predecessors. While Tottel’s Miscellany (Book by Henry Howard, Nicholas Grimald, and Thomas Wyatt) revealed the overpowering influence of Petrarch, the Elizabethan sonneteers looked to France for poetic inspiration. French poets like Marot (1495-1544), Ronsard (1524-85) and Du Bellay (1525-60) were especially admired and imitated by the Elizabethans.


The Elizabethan lyricists also drew upon the courtly love tradition of medieval France, a conception of love which was first developed in the feudal court of the twelfth century. It became the chief theme of the French troubadours and was essentially aristocratic. The basic situation—of a humble lover, a haughty lady and talebearing slanderers—was modelled on the relation between vassals and their overlords in a feudal society. It was elegant and entertaining, and the love so described was a religious passion, ennobling and ever-increasing, yet unfulfilled and idealised. This tradition was splendidly exemplified in the works of Sidney, as also in Shakespeare, and later, in Ben Jonson.


As the sixteenth century progressed, literature grew more patrician, and poetry became the expression of the aristocracy. The aristocratic spirit was dominant almost for two centuries, and nowhere is it more palpable than in the works of Edmund Spenser. In the chronology of the Elizabethan lyric, however, it is George Gascoigne who precedes Spenser.




Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-99)


Edmund Spenser was born of middleclass parents. However, he was educated in Cambridge, from where he took his MA examination in 1576 and graduated into a circle of influential friends. While at Cambridge, Spenser was exposed to the principal ideas advocated by the university-Puritanism in religion and Platonism in philosophy. Spenser entered the service of the powerful Earl of Leicester and struck up a friendship with the latter’s nephew, Sir Philip Sidney. The two young men became the nucleus of a small literary group named ‘Areopagus’, through which they wished to experiment with and elevate English poetry. In 1579, Spenser published The Shepheard’s Calendar, a volume of 12 pastoral poems which he dedicated to Sidney.


In 1580, Spenser went to Ireland as secretary to the Lord Deputy. He remained in Ireland, except for two visits to London, until shortly before his death. He looked upon Ireland as a place of exile and never ceased to long for England. In his mid-thirties, Spenser acquired an Irish estate, and for the next fifteen years, he established himself as a successful administrator. In 1590, encouraged by Sir Walter Raleigh, Spenser came to London and his first three books of The Faerie Queene were published. He returned to Ireland after two years and recorded his experiences at court in Colin Clout’s Come Home Again. He celebrated his marriage with Elizabeth Boyle in 1594, with the sonnet sequence Amoretti and the marriage hymn Epithalamion. In 1596, Spenser published Prothalamion, a second edition of The Faerie Queene, with six books, and Four Hymns. In 1598, while he was planning an extension of his chief poem, a rebellion broke out and Spenser had to abandon his Irish home which was burnt down, and the manuscripts were lost. He came back to London a broken and destitute man and died on 16 January 1599. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to the tomb of Chaucer, to whom, so often, he had been compared.


Spenser’s place in English literature has, by tradition, been among the greatest, after Shakespeare, with Chaucer and Milton as his peers. He was acclaimed as the great English poet of the high Renaissance, until the mid-nineteenth century. Charles Lamb called him the ‘poet’s poet’, perhaps because he was the first major poet of the Elizabethan age, and it was he who signaled the dawn of English poetry saturated with melody and sweetness. The most unique quality of Spenser’s poetry is music. However, obsolete his poetry may appear to be today, it is still a source of delight because of its harmonies. His use of alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia were integral to the melody of his verse. Virgil had effectively used these figures of speech in Latin, and Spenser showed how they could be used in English. His word order and syntax were always simple and undistorted. Milton frequently echoed Spenser as language and his trick of using piled-up adjectives. As a poet-musician, Spenser remains unparalleled—his natural rhythmic sense and the majesty of his meter have a hypnotic effect on his readers.


Spenser’s language is full of Latin expressions and archaic words. Compared to Shakespeare, his language is clearly antiquated, but he chose this method of enrichment of English vocabulary in order to impart a medieval flavour to his poems. Spenser was conscious about style and since The Faerie Queene was an allegory in the medieval romance tradition, Spenser, an exquisite pictorial artist and musician, used all the lyrical splendour of high Elizabethan diction in the poem, to add to its authenticity.


Although recent criticism has been harsh on Spenser, as a pictorial artist, he defies even the most scathing of critics. In all the six books of The Faerie Queene, there are ample instances of his expertise as a painter in verse. Landscape, situations or character portraits-his pictorial and descriptive gifts could create vibrant lifelike pictures of all. Earlier critics equated Spenser’s word-pictures with the paintings of Titian, Reubens and Rembrandt. The Faerie Queene is a veritable picture gallery and Spenser’s desire for details is insatiable. The richness of his imagination, his vivid and concrete imagery, the daring flight of his fancy, to which his moral sense added greater depth, made Spenser the most sensuous of allegorical word painters. When he purports to draw a person or a scene from nature, Spenser was inspired by the painter’s method. Spenser was adept at the use of personification, in transforming abstract passions into concrete figures—Strife, Treason, Hatred, Jealousy, all became vividly alive in his hands. Hence, he inspired many later poets like Keats, whose The Eve of St Agnes is wholly Spenserian in its sensuousness. The Faerie Queene is morally edifying, and aesthetically satisfying, and above all, it celebrates the idea of beauty.


Spenser’s greatest contribution to English poetry is the Spenserian stanza, in which The Faerie Queene was written. The Spenserian stanza was his own invention. Chaucer had used a seven-line stanza (rhyme royal) and the Italians had used an eight-line stanza (ottava rima); Spenser added a ninth line and made this an ‘alexandrine’—i.e., it had two more syllables than the previous eight lines. His rhyme scheme was ababbcbcc. By the addition of the last line, the music of the stanza was completely transformed; its power increased; the rhythm and caesura were altered and the stanza itself became a new whole. The most wonderful quality of the Spenserian stanza was that it adapted itself readily to the varying demands of narrative, descriptive and moral poetry. It looked complex in its structure and yet it had flexibility in its stately swing to make it a favourite form with later poets. Lord Byron, in his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Keats in Eve of St Agnes, and Shelley in Adonais used this intricate stanza form.

Milton addressed Spenser as ‘sage and serious’ and considered him to be a better teacher than Thomas Aqumas or Duns Scotus. Spenser himself felt that teaching was his calling, and as he moved from pastoral to romance, he declared that the purpose of his masterpiece, The Faerie Queene, was ‘to fashion a gentleman or a noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline’. Hence, he chose King Arthur, the perfect knight, as his hero, rather than any person of his own time. Spenser has been called a ‘poet’s poet’, not merely because of his poetic qualities, but because he inspired more poets in their art than perhaps any other writer of verse in England. Bunyan was attracted by his allegorical vein. Even in the prosaic eighteenth century, Spenser’s poetry influenced Burns and Thomson, and the Romantic poets worked with varying skill on the Spenserian stanza, using this resourceful metrical instrument to enrich English poetry.


The Shepheard’s Calendar was published pseudonymously, as by Immerito (unworthy). The classical models for Spenser were the Idylls of Theocritus and Virgil’s Eclogues. More recent continental influences were provided by the French poet Marot and the Italian Mantuan. The poem expresses regret for the lost golden ages of purity in love, poetry, morality and religion, and it expresses the poet’s bitterness towards contemporary failings.


The Shepheard’s Calendar consists of twelve parts, one for each month of the year, beginning and ending in winter, with Colin Clout’s complaints in January and December. Spenser writes in verse dialogues, in a pastoral setting, and his characters have Latin, French and more often, English peasant names. He himself is Colin Clout and his friend Gabriel Harvey is Hobbinol. Four of the dialogues are complaints—January, June, November, December—January, for lost love, December for advancing age, etc. Three of them are cheerful—March, in praise of love; April, in praise of Elizabeth I and August for a shepherd’s song competition, again in praise of love. February, May, July, September, and October are moral eclogues on topics such as respect for age (February); a Protestant attack on Roman Catholicism (May); the profession and responsibilities of the poet (October), etc. The three main themes are love, poetry and religion.


The verse that Spenser uses in The Shepheard’s Calendar is sophisticated and varied. Spenser pays tribute to Chaucer as well as the free rhythms of medieval English poetry. The poem set a fashion for the pastoral in England and inaugurated the great lyrical period of the last twenty years of the sixteenth century. Spenser used as many as five different forms of stanzas in heroic or ten-syllable lines. The songs written in popular meters are the gems of the whole poem. The diction is a mixture of antiquity and rusticity, and Spenser showed a curious preference for obsolete or coined words. The Shepherd’s Calendar is a unique blend of artifice and simplicity, of nature and convention, of deep moral earnestness and tender decency of feelings.


The corpus of Spenser’s work is dominated by his dream project, the unfinished epic, The Faerie Queene (1589-96). It derives from the Italian romantic epic of Ariosto and Tasso, with its elaborate, interweaving stories. This poem is Spenser’s magnum opus, an allegorical romance which he had planned over a long period of time. The first three books appeared in 1590, with the poet’s epistle to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, offering hints for interpretation of the work and indicating a plan of twelve books in all. The plan was apparently never completed. Books IV-VI appeared in 1596, and m 1609 a first folio edition of the poem containing all the six books appeared, together with the two ‘Mutability’ cantos. This is all that survives of the work, and it is doubtful whether Spenser had written any more. The Faerie Queene is probably the most complicated narrative poem m the language, with its innumerable stories of love, pursuit, flight and betrayal.


Spenser’s general conception of what he wanted to achieve through the poem is recorded in his letter to Raleigh. The poem can be taken as a part of the Renaissance desire to create and sustain a personal identity. Spenser announced that the twelve books would represent the twelve moral virtues espoused by Aristotle. The work is also a legendary history —the quest of Arthur for Gloriaría. The emergent British state and its monarch Elizabeth I are eulogised, as ‘a most royal queen or empress’. The Queen also appears as Belphoebe, ‘a most virtuous and beautiful lady7, and in other guises. Book I consists of the adventures of Red Cross, the Knight of Holiness; in Book II, Sir Guyon, the Knight of Temperance, destroys evil; in Book HI, Britomart, the female Knight of Chastity quests for her future husband; Book IV is the Book of Friendship between Cambel and Triamand; Book V has Arthegall, the Knight of Justice destroying his enemies; Book VI recounts the mission of Calidore, the Knight of Courtesy. Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, is Elizabeth I and Arthur appears in each book exemplifying Magnificence, the complete man. In structure, the poem follows tire adventures of the six knights— all of whom represent Aristotelian virtues. But it is episodic and there are many lapses in the narrative structure. Spenser blends heroic poetry with allegory. The heroic models for the poem are the epics of Homer and Virgil as well as Spenser’s immediate Italian predecessors, Tasso and Ariosto, especially Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. He also owes much to Plato and the Arthurian romances. Spenser also took the decorative chivalry of the Elizabethan court festivals and reworked it through a constantly shifting veil of allegory so that the knight’s adventures and loves build into a complex portrayal of the moral fives of the times. Spenser’s stanzaic form varied from Ariosto’s ottava rima, and he created the unique Spenserian stanza in this work. The poetic techniques used include epic formulae, rhetorical devices an emblematic representations. The sources of his imagery range from medieval descriptions of virtues and vices, to court pageants and masques.


The Faerie Queene remains unassailable as a great poem because of its variety, complexity and richness. Many modern critics find its moralism distasteful, but the work is a ‘sustained example of speaking pictures intended to delight and instruct. Today, the poem is perhaps best thought of as a rich synthesis of Protestant and Humanist ideals. It is a celebration of the new-found Protestant nationalism, representing infidels and Papists as villains and King Arthur as a glorious hero, and it used chastity as its central theme. Its influence on later writers, particularly on Milton, was enormous.


Amoretti (little loves), Spenser’s contribution to the sonneteering tradition of the late sixteenth century, was published together with Epithalamion in l595. It consists of 88 sonnets, followed by four short lyrics. Amoretti is a record of a courtship which reflects Spenser’s wooing of Elizabeth Boyle. Spenser’s three ‘Elizabeth’s’—his mother, his queen and his love—are mentioned in 74 of the sonnets. The earlier sonnets follow typical Petrarchan conventions, depicting the conflicts in love. The sequence covers a period of just over two years and is remarkable among English Renaissance sonnet cycles for this chronological narrative, its comparatively unconventional portrayal of the mistress and its innovative rhyme scheme of linked quatrains (abab bcbc cdcd ee). In these sonnets, Spenser triumphs over all affectations and ‘fleshlessness’.


Epithalamion, Spenser’s marriage song, was published together with Amoretti, and may be regarded as the culmination of the sonnet sequence. Spenser had married Elizabeth Boyle in June 1594. The poem begins with the invocation of the Muses, before dawn, and describes the awakening of the bride, the progress to church, the wedding ceremony, the onset of night, and ends with a prayer in the bridal chamber for ‘fruitful progeny’. Blending classical formulae with Christian sentiment, it is a form of jubilant festivity, full of music and light. It is considered to be one of Spenser’s finest minor poems.


The word Prothalamion was coined by Spenser as the title for his poem, to celebrate the double-betrothal of Katherine and Elizabeth, daughters of the Earl of Worcester. Published in 1596, it is an espousal poem. It has ten stanzas modelled on Italian canzoni. The poem has been praised for its graceful movement and music. Its famous refrain, ‘Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my’ song‘, is echoed by T. S. Eliot in his The Waste Land. In the Four Hymns (1596) to Love and Beauty, Heavenly Love and Heavenly Beauty, Spenser showed the influence of Neo-Platonism. Also written in 1596 was the prose tract, View of the Present State of Ireland.


Philip Sidney (1554-86)


Poet, courtier and soldier, Sidney epitomised the attributes of the lettered courtier of the English Renaissance. Educated in both Oxford and Cambridge and widely travelled in Europe, Sidney became a scholar with a deep knowledge of the classical and several modern literatures. He was, in his time, and ever since, regarded as the paragon of courtly and gentlemanly virtues-brave, learned, courteous and intelligent. A brilliant member of Queen Elizabeth’s court, he was knighted in 1582. He was only 32 when he died attacking a Spanish army near Zutphen—he is said to have refused water, passing it on to another wounded soldier with the famous words, ‘Thy necessity is greater than mine’.


Sidney’s outstanding personality was more responsible for his myth, than were his contributions to literature, though these were important enough. His first meeting with Lady Penelope Devereux took place when he followed the queen and her court to the home of her father, the Earl of Essex. It is to open question as to whether Sidney became engaged to Penelope-history gives no reason why the union was not consummated but Penelope became the unhappy wife of Lord Rich in the autumn of 1581, and Sidney married Frances Walsingham two years later. There is little doubt that his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella was addressed to her, and there is still less dispute that this sequence or 108 sonnets and 11 songs became so popular that it was largely responsible for the flood of sonnet cycles which dominated English poetry towards the end of the sixteenth century.


As a sonneteer, Sidney was not wholly free from the elaborate conventions of the period; yet his poems are not only less artificial, but far more passionate and personal than the sonnets of his contemporaries. His sonnets also had clearer narrative threads and greater unity of purpose. Astrophel and Stella was published in 1591, and the autobiographical elements became immediately apparent. The punning use of the word ‘rich’, in sonnets 24,35 and 37, pointed to Penelope, who had become Lady Rich. A preface by Thomas Nashe introduced the sequence as ‘the tragi-comedy of love … performed by starlight . . . the argument, cruel chastity, the prologue, hope, the epilogue, despair . . .’ Sidney’s sonnets reveal not only the influence of the conventional Italian form, but also the impact of the French poet Ronsard. The legend of the mortal lover Astrophel or star-lover (Sidney himself) yearning for Stella, the unattainable star (Lady Penelope) became the symbol of idealistic romance and it continued well into the Romantic period and beyond. That Shakespeare appreciated Sidney is scarcely to be doubted; he echoed Sidney in the most unexpected places. Shakespeare seems to have been particularly indebted to the 47th sonnet in Astrophel and Stella, and the first quatrain finds its echo in Hamlet’s soliloquy beginning, ‘O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!’. Shelley, in Adonais, described Sidney as ‘sublimely mild, a spirit without spot’, and W. B. Yeats’s In Memory of Major Robert Gregory paid Gregory the ultimate compliment of comparison with Sidney: ‘Our Sidney and our perfect man’.


Astrophel and Stella should not, however, be taken as a simple, disguised autobiographical record. Instead, the sonnets are an investigation of an obsession, a complex depiction of a psychological impasse. Adopting many of the conventions of Petrarch’s poetry, they catalogue not only the cumulative progress of a love affair but raise important questions concerning the act of writing and recording a state of mind, while also questioning the conventions by which writer and reader are tied to one another. In Sonnet 6, he makes a concise list of sixteenth-century poetic conventions and styles. Astrophel is revealed as a person who loves poetry almost as much as he loves Stella. He details his passionate feeling for her, his struggles with his conflicting emotions and his final decision to abandon his pursuit of her in favour of a life of public service. In observance of contemporary poetic conventions, Sidney discourses in the sonnets on reason and passion, wit and will.


Sidney’s poetical output is great in variety as well as in quantity. They comprise nearly 150 sonnets (108 in Astrophel and Stella), many songs for musical setting, pastoral narratives, dialogues, epithalamia and other occasional verse, translations of French and Latin poetry and metrical versions of the Psalms of David, where he collaborated with his sister Mary Sidney Herbert. The spirit of the Renaissance, its idealisation of the beloved, its frank delight in physical beauty, and its blend of imagination with touches of homely realism, found exquisite expression in Sidney. He is the embodiment of grace, courtesy and heroic virtue—his contemporaries and successors idealised him, and Spenser paid tribute to his friend Sidney by writing the elegy Astrophel after his death in 1586.


Christopher Marlowe (1564-93)


It seems impossible to write about Christopher Marlowe, except in dramatic accents and headlong superlatives. Marlowe compels such treatment, for his life, setting a model for his style, was a burst of eloquence, a drama swiftly conceived and violently ended. So great is Marlowe’s impact on posterity, that the late Victorian poet Swinburne eulogistically spoke of him this way: ‘Crowned, girdled, garbed and shod with light and fire, / Son first-born of the morning, sovereign star!’ Marlowe’s contemporaries were almost as enthusiastic. Shakespeare praised him unreservedly; Ben Jonson spoke of his mighty line’; Drayton paid him fulsome tribute, saying that Marlowe had in him ‘brave, translunary things’.


Like Spenser, Marlowe was a true scholar; he loved learning deeply and hated ignorance. Few English poets, with the exception of perhaps Spenser, Milton and Browning, have put their knowledge to the service of their creative writing. Marlowe is never more the poet, when he is most the scholar: his scholarship gave him his remarkable sense of form, which was precisely. the rarest and the most needed of virtues in Elizabethan poetry. His circle of friends was small and select; it included his fellow-scholar Nash, the poet Watson, the grave and learned Chapman and Sir Walter Raleigh. To them, he was Kit Marlowe. Attacked in his time as a flagrant atheist and stigmatised as ‘Machiavellian’ (in the particularly derogatory Elizabethan sense of the word), Marlowe is the great English representative of the towering individualism that characterized the Renaissance.


Although Marlowe was pre-eminently a dramatist, his name would have been immortalised even if he had never written a play. His reputation could rest on ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ — incorporated in the anthology England s Helicon-a flawless lyric and one of the most melodic love songs ever written. The poem established itself as a favourite even in its own day. It was so popular that it elicited many sequels and replies, the best as well as the most reasonable being Sir Walter Raleigh’s ‘The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd’.


Marlowe’s greatest narrative poem, Hero and Leander (1598), is an epyllion, written in plague-ridden London, during the last months before his murder. The first two ‘sestiads’ of this poem were Marlowe’s, the last four being added by George Chapman. The word ‘sestiad’ was coined by Chapman by analogy with ‘Iliad’; it derives from Sestos, where the poem is set, and may also include Chapman’s six-fold division of the poem. All six sestiads appeared in 1598. It is no criticism of Chapman to point out how much warmer, more sensual, more glowingly alive and tender was Marlowe’s part of the poem. The subject of this fragment is one of the most beautifully sensuous stories in all the pagan literature of Greece and the treatment Marlowe gives it is one of the purest pieces in Elizabethan poetry. He raises eroticism to a new level and there is not a single obscene word or a degenerate suggestion; love is presented in the poem as a perfect balance of sensuality and innocence.


Marlowe’s poem derives from the story of Musaeus, an Alexandrian poet of the fifth century. No English version of the poem seems to have been available to Marlowe, but there were Latin, Italian and French translations. Marlowe’s version is Ovidian in tone and manner; the speaking voice of the narrator owes much to another Ovidian work, the Amores, which Marlowe translated. The poem relates the meeting, wooing and eventual sexual consummation of the love of Hero, priestess of Aphrodite, living at Sestos on the European shore of the Hellespont, and a youth called Leander who lived at Abydos, on the opposite shore. Having wooed Hero, Leander swims to her turret, naively rejecting the amorous advances of Neptune. It ends with the dawn breaking after a night of love and Leander is drowned in the storm. Chapman’s continuation abandons the narrative voice Marlowe had used to relate the passage of two lovers from innocence to experience. It introduces conceit, allegory and personified abstractions and is, in general, more concerned with morality and decorum. Hero and Leander helped to establish a fashion of erotic poems, founded on mythological themes—Lodge’s Glaucus and Scylla, Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Drayton’s Endymion and Phoebe and Marston’s Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image are later examples of this form.


Also credited to Marlowe is the translation of Ovid’s Elegies into heroic couplets. The work was published in 1595, but it most likely was started when he was a student. It reveals a careful apprenticeship in the classics.


Much of Marlowe’s poetry remains relatively inaccessible to modem readers because of the density of classical references. Since the bulk of his poetry is made up of his translations from Latin works, this is hardly surprising. However, there are some fascinating oddities and some good poetry in his early works, and to neglect them would be to miss a key component in the Marlowe canon. Furthermore, the translation of ancient Greek and Roman literatures into English was at the heart of the humanist movement, and it is enlightening to consider the ways in which Marlowe may have been contributing to that new tradition.


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


A number of details concerning Shakespeare’s life and career remain unclear, because the playwright was surprisingly reticent about it. As a result, scholars have had to piece together the story of his life from the available surviving evidence, and hence, there remains ample room for speculation. Friends like Ben Jonson bear witness to his qualities both as a man and as poet. His popularity remained constant during the reigns of three monarchs— Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I—as with the gallants and the groundlings.


The authentic history of Shakespeare the man can be quickly summarised, sifting through fact and fiction. The facts that we can ascertain are the following: Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon on or about 23 April 1564, and was certainly christened there on 26 April. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glover (dealer in hides) and a prominent citizen occupying a number of civic duties. His mother, Mary Arden, was a member of the most conspicuous Warwickshire family. Shakespeare must have attended the local grammar school. The Tudor grammar schools taught Latin, beginning with grammar, morals, fables and pastorals. Writers like Ovid and Virgil were taught; So were the Latin comedies of Plautus and Terence, and the tragedies of Seneca. That Shakespeare was clearly well-educated and well-read is obvious from his work, but there is no documented proof of it. His first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, recorded the tradition that Shakespeare was taken out from school early and apprenticed to a trade.


In November 1582, at the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer of Shottery. She was eight years his senior and their first child Susanna was born in 1583. The twins Judith and Hamnet were born in 1585. From this time onwards, till 1592, there is no definite information about his activities. This period is subject to much speculation and is sometimes referred to as ‘the lost years’. It is thought that during this time, he moved to London, and must have begun his theatrical career. In 1592, Robert Greene, a contemporary playwright referred to him as ‘an upstart crow’ and accused him of plagiarism. So Shakespeare must have been sufficiently well established as an actor and dramatist by then. Hence, it is from 1592 that his literary career can be traced.


In the metropolis, Shakespeare became an actor-manager, adapting plays by other dramatists, as well as creating drama of his own. In about twenty years of creative activity (1592-1612), he wrote over a dozen comedies, ten history plays, ten tragedies, four romances, two narrative poems, 154 sonnets and innumerable songs. His phenomenal and enduring success is ironic when the findings about his life reveal that Shakespeare was a ‘social climber’, a popular entertainer and a shrewd businessman, whose main aim in life was to become a gentleman landowner, which he did successfully. Before he was 50 and at the peak of his creative powers, he retired to his native town. He died in his 52nd year and was buried in the chancel of the Stratford church. The rest is speculation and controversy.


From 1592 to 1594, the London theatres were closed, owing to an epidemic of plague, and it was during this time that Shakespeare shifted his focus from drama to narrative poetry. Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) were both dedicated to his noble patron, Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. He was already a lover of language, a master of evocative and sensuous verse. Coleridge was to demonstrate that Shakespeare would have been considered a great poet even if none of his plays had survived; such is the quality of verse and structure in these poems. Both poems are long, rhymed, narrative poems inspired by episodes from classical myth and history, and as such, mirror the Renaissance fascination with the culture of ancient Greece and Rome.


Venus and Adonis went into seven editions by 1602, and fourteen by 1640— testimony enough of its popularity. In the dedication of the poem to the young Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare called it ‘the first heir of my invention’—ignoring the plays he had already written—and promised a ‘graver labour’: this must have been The Rape of Lucrece published in the following year. In both the poems, Shakespeare was laying claim to the status of a recognised ‘professional’ poet. Venus and Adonis is a sensuous and witty erotic epyllion, like Marlowe’s Hero and Leander. It retells a favorite Renaissance myth which Shakespeare took mainly from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the poem, Venus, the goddess of love, becomes infatuated with a beautiful but cold young huntsman, whom she pursues through an unmistakably English countryside. Shakespeare describes Venus’s repeated and arduous attempts to woo Adonis in a comic vein. She warns him against hunting the boar, but he goes off to the hunt; Venus, frightened by the ominous sounds, runs distracted through the woods in search of her beloved, she finds him dead, laments over the corpse and finds the anemone sprung from his blood.


As You Like It, like ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ and ‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind!’ as well as in the sombre elegy about golden lads and girls sung at the grave of the supposedly dead Imogen in Cymbeline, ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’, or the strongly feministic vein of ‘Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more’ in Much Ado About Nothing.


George Gascoigne (1539-77)


Poet, playwright and translator, Gascoigne was a colourful personality. His significance in Renaissance literature is that he did many things for the first time, or almost the first time, especially in the domestication of literary types and forms. The Steel Glass (1576) is a very early example of non-dramatic blank verse in English. Another of Gascoigne’s poems is The Grief of Joy. He used forms like the Poulter’s measure, the sonnet of three quatrains and couplet, the six-line stanza and rhyme royale, with commendable ease and accuracy. The series of poems which he called his Memories shows a high degree of virtuosity in exploiting these forms. The Complainte of Philomene, an Ovidian, narrative, reveals him as a social critic. ‘ When he was not politically motivated, Gascoigne was most charming and direct. In his best verse, genuine emotion lies beneath the wit on the surface.


Gascoigne was one of the most promising of the poets surrounding the young Queen Elizabeth, but he gained neither popularity nor preferment. Ironically enough, both Gascoigne and Spenser had Lord Grey of Wilton as their literary patron. In the two years between Gascoigne’s death (1577) and the appearance of The Shepheard’s Calendar (1579), English poetry passed over a mighty watershed, and Gascoigne’s work, so broadly representative of the early Elizabethan efforts, became only a landmark in the past.




Nicholas Breton (1545-1626)


Poet and miscellaneous writer, Breton’s early work was influenced by his stepfather, the poet George Gascoigne. His early poetry of the 1570s is laboured with poetic diction and excessive alliteration, but it improves by the 1590s. Some of his best poems appeared in the anthology, England’s Helicon (1600). This anthology contains some of the best pastoral lyrics written by the Elizabethan poets. Breton’s earliest work is A Small Handful of Fragrant Flowers (1575) and his last Strange News out of Divers Countries (1622). He specialised in the poetry of escape and his skillful songs have been repeated and put to music countless times. No one knew better than Breton how to mingle art and artificiality with an effect of simple spontaneity. Breton also wrote religious poetry and satires. Although at the end of the sixteenth century, he was accounted one of the best lyrical poets, he outlived his reputation. Today, Breton is best known for his descriptions of simple country pleasures, as in pastoral poems like The Passionate Shepherd (1604).


Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)


Poet, historian, courtier, explorer and colonist, Raleigh typifies the Renaissance ideal of the complete individual who excelled with an easy grace, in all forms of endeavour. In 1581, he suddenly gained the favour of Elizabeth I; perhaps the story of Raleigh giving his cloak to cover a puddle in the queen’s path was not apocryphal. He was knighted in 1584, but royal patronage was never consistent; after a turbulent life, he was beheaded at Westminster for treason in 1618.


In his poetry, Raleigh was distinguished by the simplicity of his vocabulary and the obviousness of his images; he was a plain man’s poet. Yet every poem was a skillfully constructed argument in which he dispensed traditional morality in didactic imperatives. His special theme was mutability. Raleigh’s poetry contributed to his romantic legend, tinged as it was with a melancholic awareness of the transitory nature of existence. Perhaps his most significant poetic achievement is the fragmentary Ocean’s Love to Cynthia, a brooding, obscure and allusive text about loss and longing. He turns light banter into sudden realism, as in his most quoted poem, The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd. Raleigh braves the opinion of the worldly in The Lie; mixes grimness and humour in The Wood, the Weed, the Wag; lifts bitterness into resignation in The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage which bore the subtitle, ‘Supposed to be written by one at the point of death’, which may well serve as Raleigh’s own elegy. Deserted by his king and betrayed by his friends, Raleigh was proud even in death. As Agnes M. C. Latham writes in her introduction to the collection of Raleigh’s Poems,


There is, and always has been, something legendary, something fantastic and hot quite credible about him. Even to his contemporaries, he seemed a man o ^ more than normal stature … He might have walked out of an Elizabethan play, a figment of the Renaissance imagination, compact of inordinate vices and virtues, and destined to strange ends, a lonely and enigmatic figure.


John Lyly (1554-1606)


Poet, writer of romances and dramatist, Lyly was a popular writer for the cultivated society of the court and university circles. Although his prose is marked by excessive exuberance and elegance, in his poetry Lyly was more restrained. The songs which enliven his plays are remarkable for their light wit and easy charm. Lyrics like Apelles’ Song (from Alexander and Campaspe) are an anthologist’s delight. His salutation to spring in Trico’s Song finds lasting echoes in a song in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and in ‘The Ravish’d nightingale’ that sings ‘Jug, jug to dirty ears’ in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, written more than 300 years after Lyly’s death.


Thomas Watson (c.1557-92)


Watson, a translator and poet, published The Hekatompathia: Or, Passionate Century of Love, in 1582—a collection of 18-line poems, which he called ‘sonnets’. They are mainly imitations of classical, Italian and French models, and also contain paraphrases from classical and continental authors. The Tears of Fancy, printed posthumously in 1593, contains 60 sonnets, largely inspired by Petrarch and Ronsard. The most important anthology published after Tottel’s Miscellany, Phoenix Nest (1593) printed three of Watson’s previously unpublished poems. England’s Helicon and A Poetical Rhapsody are two other anthologies which published Watson’s poems.


Immediately after the publication of Tottel’s Miscellany (1557) the sonnet form lost favour and its name was often transferred to other types of short lyrics. The true sonnet once again made its appearance in The Phoenix Nest, which contained 15 examples of the sonnet written mainly in the Elizabethan form. Watson is credited with recalling the sonnet form to the attention of the English readers in his Hekatompathia, as well as his three sonnets published in Phoenix Nest. With the publication of Astrophel and Stella in 1591, the great vogue of sonneteering began once again.


Thomas Lodge (1557-1625)


Lodge wrote lyrics which are spiced with humour. Though their rusticity at times seems artificial, poems like Phyllis are never stilted and show abundant sweetness. George Peele (1558-97) brought the same smoothness seen in his theatrical diction, into his fewer lyrics. Thomas Nashe (1567-1601) and Robert Greene (1558-92) occasionally produced lyrics of beauty and grace.


George Chapman (1559-1634)


Chapman wrote two poetical hymns that appeared in The Shadow of Night (1594). Of the three-level allegory—philosophical, political and poetic—the second is particularly complex. Ovid’s Banquet of Sense (1595) advocates true Platonism as a counter to Ovidian eroticism. The same year saw the publication of Chapman’s metaphysical sonnet sequence, A Coronet for His Mistress, Philosophy. Chapman also wrote a continuation of Christopher Marlowe’s unfinished Hero and Leander (1598) and strengthened the poem’s moral seriousness. In his 17 Tears of Peace, Chapman uses the medieval dream vision form as a vehicle for Platonic, Stoic and Catholic speculation.


Of Chapman’s translations, the most famous are Homeric Seven Books of the Iliad (1598) and Achilles’ Shield (1598) announced the beginning of what Chapman called ‘the worke that I was borne to doe’. The complete Iliad (1611) and Homer’s Odyssey (1614-15) are translations not only from one language to another, but also from one age and culture to another. Chapman interprets the ethical and philosophical views which he believed to be inherent in the Homeric originals. Such monumental labour inevitably eclipsed the shorter translations from Petrarch (1612), Musaeus (1616), Hesiod (1618) and Juvenal (1629).


Samuel Daniel (1562-1619)


Daniel was a poet, translator, literary critic, historian, playwright, and proficient sonneteer. Twenty-eight of his sonnets appeared, without his authority, at the end of the 1591 edition of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. In 1592, Daniel published the sonnet-sequence Delia, dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke—a collection of 55 sonnets showing the influence of Desportes and Tasso. In the same year, he also published The Complaint of Rosamond in the manner of the poems in The Mirror for Magistrates. Civil Wars, an epic poem about the Wars of the Roses, was printed in 1595, but never completed. Written partly under the influence of Lucan, it, in turn, influenced Shakespeare’s Richard II and Henry IV. In 1599, Daniel published Poetical Essays which included two new works—Musophilus, a verse colloquium, and Octavia, a verse epistle.


Daniel was admired by his contemporaries for his poetical skill and his choice of language. Spenser lauded his ‘well-tuned song’. He assessed his own work in a modestly confident manner, I know I shall be read among the rest / So long as men speak English’. He uses, almost exclusively, the easy Shakespearean form, and he is a smooth writer; at times, too placid and given to the use of strange words. Daniel was praised not only by his contemporaries (though criticised by Ben Jonson), but by the nineteenth-century commentators as well. Coleridge, seeing in Daniel a forerunner, applauded his style— a style which, as the neutral ground of prose and verse, is common to both’—and wrote that his language was ‘such as any pure and manly writer of the present day, Wordsworth, for example, would use’.


Michael Drayton (1563-1631)


Poet and playwright, Drayton was indebted to Sir Henry Goodere for his education, and he joined the latter’s service. It is supposed that Anne, the younger daughter of Goodere, was the ‘idea’ who prompted Drayton’s cycle of sonnets. He wrote in nearly all forms of poetry available in his time, and was open to influences from a great diversity of sources. He constantly revised and reissued poems, often giving them different titles. The Harmony of the Church (1591) is a dull metrical version, marred by excessive alliteration, of some songs and prayers from the Old Testament. Idea: The Shepherd’s Garland (1593) has nine eclogues showing the strong influence of Spenser’s The Shepheard’s Calendar. Idea’s Mirror (1594) is his contribution to the sonnet vogue. The volume contained many splendid and brilliantly phrased sonnets, mainly in the Petrarchan mode. Drayton’s most memorable sonnet is ‘The Parting’, with its famous first line, ‘Since there is no help, come let us kiss and part’. There are 52 sonnets with varying rhyme schemes and these pieces are warm and lively; his versatility and vigour added colour to his verse. He lacks Sidney’s depth as a sonneteer, but he has something of Sidney’s directness. Passion smoulders throughout the cycle and if Idea is unified by its poet’s intensity of utterance, it reaches a fiery climax in the masterpiece— The Parting, by which Drayton has won immortality. He attempted historical poetry with two poems, both in 1594, Piers Gaveston and Matilda using Holinshed as a source. Endymion and Phoebe (1595) is an epyllion (a minor epic), a fashionable form used by Marlowe in Hero and Leander and Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis. With characteristic energy, Drayton experimented with another form in England’s Heroical Epistles (1597-1602). In the Epistles, twelve pairs of famous English lovers-beginning with Henry n and Rosamond and concluding with Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley—write long letters to each other in couplet rhyme. This work was extremely popular and went into six editions.


Drayton’s output was great and varied. He seemed equally at home in odes and sonnets, in legends and plays. His patriotic ballads of Agincourt and To the Virginian Voyage, a tribute to the explorers who went with Raleigh, are proofs of his patriotism and are contained in the volume named Poems Lyric and Pastoral (1606). Tike Spenser and Daniel, Drayton was alert to the importance of celebrating the idea of the nation-state. Poly-Olbion Parts I (1612) and II (1622) celebrate, in alexandrine verse, the geographical features, the customs and histories of all the counties of the kingdom.



Thomas Campion (1567-1620)


Campion, poet and musician, may be taken to be the last of the great Elizabethan lyricists. A ‘doctor in physics’, he is, however, known as one of the most prolific of Elizabethan song writers. He wrote airs (a succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence), madrigals (unaccompanied part songs for two or three voices, which follow a strict poetic form) and masques. In his early thirties, he collaborated with Philip Rosseter (c.1567-1623) in the publication of A Book of Airs, which was immediately successful. Many of the favourite songs of the day were his—including the very popular ‘There is a garden in her face’.


A vogue in his day, Campion was forgotten until the end of the nineteenth century, when the researcher A. H. Butler established his extraordinary variety. His nimble rhymes made his poetry unusually flexible and delicate, and he had a trained musician’s knowledge of music. However, Campion’s reputation received a setback in the twentieth century, with the resurrection of the metaphysical poets by critics such as T. S. Eliot.


The Elizabethan age, thus, provided fertile ground for lyric poetry to flourish. Nowhere else in the history of English poetry is there a greater sense of joyful artlessness, of happy spontaneity, than in Elizabethan songs and lyrics. During this age, English verse was completely revitalised and it reached its zenith.





After a lapse of almost two centuries we reach the first English major poet since Chaucer. Edmund Spenser (1552-99) was born in London and was related to the great family of his name. At Cambridge he not only wrote his earliest sonnets but came under three profound influences. The first was his friendship with Gabriel Harvey, a powerful and controversial scholar, to whom justice has yet to be done. The second was the refined and cultured “Puritanism”, which, like that of Milton, was a revolt from coarseness and materialism in life and in religion. The third was the study of Platonic philosophy— not the Christianized Neo-Platonism of the first Reformers, but the pure Platonism of the Timaeus and the Symposium. To the imagination of Spenser this proved exceedingly congenial and confirmed him in his allegorical habit of conception and expression. His early Hymnes, the first in honour of Love, die second in honour of ‘Beautie’, though not published till 1596 (Foure Hymnes made by Eden Spenser), were inspired by his first experience of love, and written in the spirit of Plato.


He was brought by Harvey into the service of the Earl of Leicester, and met Philip Sidney, whose ardent imagination and lofty spirit greatly stimulated him. After toying, under Harvey s influence, with the possibilities of using in English a system of quantitative prosody he began to consider the forms in which he could express himself most naturally, and he turned instinctively to the pastoral and the romance, with their stock figures, the shepherd and the knight. The pastoral, as we have seen, was a popular form, offering an abundance of models. The extent of Spenser’s debt to any of these is not really important. All that matters in a poem is what it is, not what it may have come from. Upon the “XII Aeglogues proportioned to…the XII monethes” forming The Shepheards Calendar (1579) the impress of a creative, originating poetic genius is clearly discernible. The book was dedicated to Sidney, who praised it highly, but objected, rather pedantically, to one of its greatest charms, namely “the olde rusticke language”. Sidney, a typical figure of the Renascence, disliked Spenser’s archaism, not in itself, but because it was unwarranted by classical originals. This kind of criticism was to have a long run. A more serious objection would have been that the pastoral, as Spenser wrote it, was a literary exercise with little hold on life. Spenser uses all varieties of the form, amatory,’ moral, religious, courtly, rustic, lyric, elegiac, and shows himself at once master of an old convention and herald of a new spirit in poetry. His language was deliberately archaic. Ben Jonson said that Spenser, in affecting the obsolete, “writ no language”. The answer is that Spenser used the language in which Spenser could write. Every true poet creates bis own idiom. What The Shepheards Calendar clearly reveals is the arrival of a great poet-musician, who excelled all his predecessors in a sense of the capacity of the English language for harmonious combinations of sound. To turn from the flatness of The Steele Glas to The Shepheards Calendar is to pass from honest and well-meant effort into a new world of absolute mastery.


From the pastoral Spenser proceeded naturally to romance. In 1580 he went to Ireland as secretary to the Lord Deputy, and there at Kilcolman Castle he continued his Faerie Queene, the first three books of which were published in 1590 on his return to England. As, in any creative sense, the poem shows no progress, but is at the end what it was in the beginning, some consideration of it may be given at once. The poem, as planned in twelve books, was never completed. Spenser himself has clearly stated his own intentions in the prefatory letter addressed to Ralegh, and to this the reader is referred. Like all great poets he felt himself called to teach; and desiring to set forth a picture of a perfect knight, he chose King Arthur as hero, rather than any person of his own time. Further, he desired to glorify his own dear country and its most royal Queen”. In much of his intention, he was successful, but he was not completely successful. Spenser failed because he refused to follow his natural instinct for allegory and romance, the forms that most readily released his creative powers, but turned aside to be instructive, and, in seeking to make the allegory edifying, forgot to tell the story. But if an allegory does not survive as a story, it does not survive as an allegory. The Pilgrims Progress is, first of all, a capital story; The Faerie Queene is not. Like every great poem, The Faerie Queene is entitled to its own imaginative life; but it must continue to be true to that life. Spenser, to use a common phrase, lets us down, when we are left wondering whether the false Duessa is a poetical character, or Theological Falsehood; or Mary Queen of Scots. He tried to do too many things at once; and, in elaborating intellectually the allegorical plot he has confused the imaginative substance of the poetic narrative. Homer, says Aristotle, tells lies as he ought; that is, he makes us believe his stories. Spenser tried to tell his lies while clinging to a disabling kind of truth; and so he does not convince his readers. Thus, it is neither as an allegorist nor as a narrator that the author of The Faerie Queene holds his place. He fives as an exquisite word-painter of widely differing scenes, and as supreme poet-musician using with unrivalled skill a noble stanza of his own invention, unparalleled in any other language.


As the years advanced, Spenser seems to have felt that his conception of chivalry had little correspondence with the facts of life. Sidney was dead, and his own hopes of preferment were frustrated. In 1591 a volume of his collected poems was published with the significant title Complaints, including such works as The Ruines of Time, The Teares of the Muses, Prosopopoia or Mother Hubberd’s Tale, in which the Ape and the Fox serve to satirize the customs of the court. In 1591 he returned to his exile in Ireland, and there, in the form of an allegorical pastoral, called Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1595), he gave expression to his views about the general state of manners and poetry. In his Prothalamion, and still more, in his Epithalamion, he carries the lyrical style, first attempted in The Shepheard’s Calendar, to an unequalled height of harmony, splendour and enthusiasm. In 1595, he again came over to England, bringing with’ him the second part of The Faerie’ Queene, which was licensed for publication in January 1595-6. Finding still no place at court, he returned to Ireland in 1597; but, in a rising, Kilcolman Castle was taken and burned, and Spenser barely escaped with his life. His spirit was broken, and after suffering the afflictions of poverty, he died in January 1599. His posthumous prose dialogue, A View of the Present State of Ireland, written in 1596, is discussed in a later chapter. Spenser is the poets’ poet, and his greatness cannot be diminished by the jeers of the tough-minded who find his poetic music and his poetic virtue too delicate for their manly taste.



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