Poet, was born in East Smithfield, London, the son of John Spenser, 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 newly opened, and in 1569 he proceeded to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar, taking his degree in 1576. Among his friends there were Edward Kirke, who ed. the Shepheard’s Calendar, and Gabriel Harvey, the critic. While still at school he had contributed 14 sonnet-visions to Van de Noot's Theater for Worldlings . On leaving the University Spenser went to the north, probably to visit his relations in Lancashire, and in 1578, through his friend Harvey, he became known to Leicester and his brother-inlaw, Philip Sidney. The next year, 1579, saw the publication of The Shepheard's Calendar in 12 eclogues. It was dedicated to Sidney, who had become his friend and patron, and was received with acclamation, all who had ears for poetry perceiving that a new and great singer had arisen. The following year Spenser was appointed secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton, Deputy for Ireland, a strict Puritan, and accompanied him to Ireland. At the same time he appears to have begun the Faerie Queen. In 1581 he was appointed Registrar of Chancery, and received a grant of the Abbey and Castle of Enniscorthy, which was followed in 1586 by a grant of the Castle of Kilcolman in County Cork, a former possession of the Earls of Desmond with 3000 acres attached. Simultaneously, however, a heavy blow fell upon him in the death of Sidney at the Battle of Zutphen. The loss of this dear friend he commemorated in his lament of Astrophel. In 1590 he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, who persuaded him to come to England, and presented him to the Queen, from whom he received a pension of £50, which does not, however, appear to have been regularly paid, and on the whole his experiences of the Court did not yield him much satisfaction. In the same year his reputation as a poet was vastly augmented by the publication of the first three books of the Faerie Queen, dedicated to Elizabeth.
The Faerie Queene [ By: Edmund Spenser ]by Edmund Spenser
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The poem celebrates and memorializes the Tudor dynasty (of which Elizabeth was a part), much in the tradition of Virgil's Aeneid's celebration of Augustus Caesar's Rome. Like the Aeneid, which states that Augustus descended from the noble sons of Troy, The Faerie Queene suggests that the Tudor lineage can be connected to King Arthur. The poem is deeply allegorical and allusive: many prominent Elizabethans could have found themselves—or one another—partially represented by one or more of Spenser's figures. Elizabeth herself is the most prominent example: she appears most prominently in her guise as Gloriana, the Faerie Queene herself; but also in Books III and IV as the virgin Belphoebe, daughter of Chrysogonee and twin to Amoret, the embodiment of womanly married love; and perhaps also, more critically, in Book I as Lucifera, the "maiden queen" whose brightly-lit Court of Pride masks a dungeon full of prisoners.
The poem also displays Spenser's thorough familiarity with literary history. Although the world of The Faerie Queene is based on English Arthurian legend, much of the language, spirit, and style of the piece draw more on Italian epic, particularly Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered.
The fifth Book of The Faerie Queene, the Book of Justice, is Spenser's most direct discussion of political theory. In it, Spenser both attempts to tackle the problem of policy toward Ireland and recreates the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots.
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