Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion Suggested Essays
Suggested Essay Questions
What is the effect of Spenser's repeated use of predator and prey imagery?
By comparing his relationship to his beloved with that of a predatory animal to its prey, he first casts his beloved in a negative light; she is a dangerous creature taking pleasure in hurting her prey to suit her own ravenous appetite. The prey image for the speaker places him in a passive position, reversing the real-world relationship between himself as suitor and his beloved as recipient of his amorous attentions. By casting himself as the prey, the speaker simultaneously takes on the innocence and helplessness of a prey animal, thus gaining the reader's sympathy, and jars the reader with an unexpected description of the woman's beauty as being both dangerous and harmful to those who behold it.
Why does the speaker compare his beloved to marble, rock, and other similar substances?
The speaker is frustrated that his efforts seem to be having no effect on his beloved's attitude. He fears she is harder even than stone, but holds on the the faint hope that, as erosion eventually wears down the rocks, so too his own persistence will wear down her resistance. He also encourages himself with the belief that those things which are hardest won are most worthy of the effort, just as a sculptor toils for a long time in marble to create an image of permanent beauty.
What personal strengths does the speaker attribute to himself?
The speaker's primary positive self-identification is that of poet. Despite his waning self-confidence in light of his beloved's repeated rejections, he often returns to his faith that he is a skilled enough writer of verse to properly immortalize his beloved. Other arts cannot capture what his words can describe, and even his beloved's physical form will undergo decay--but the speaker's ability to record her virtues for posterity give him a special strength to offer his beloved and the world at large.
What is the effect of the battle and war motifs used in Amoretti?
By depicting his courtship of the beloved in terms of combat, the speaker evokes the violence and pain inherent in such conflicts. He usually places his beloved in the role of attacker and victor, and himself as the defencer and captive. Through these images, the suitor conveys the overpowering beauty of his beloved, as well as his own helplessness in the face of her majesty.
There is irony here as well, since the battle images refer to the beloved as the aggressor, while in reality the suitor is the one subjecting his beloved to a barrage of romantic overtures. By turning the reality on its head, the speaker manages to gain the reader's sympathy as well as depict how awe-inspiring his beloved truly is--he has no choice but to constantly appeal to her to accept his proposal, for her loveliness and strength of character make him helpless to resist.
What mixed attitude toward love does Spenser express in Amoretti?
While he is overwhelmed by his love for the woman, he finds the power her merest glance has over him disturbing at times. He sees her charms as an active, agressive force drawing him to her, yet her rejection of his amorous overtures as a possible sign of perverse cruelty on her part. He gives no indication that he would rather not be in love with the woman, nor does he falter in his dedication solely to her, but he does often believe (if not hope) that his unrequited love will end in his own death.
How is the passage of time prominent in Epithalamion?
The ode begins before dawn and traces the passage of the bride and groom's wedding day through to their joyous union that night. The sun, moon, and other celestial bodies are addressed, alluded to, or invoked to signal the time of day; similarly, the detailed progression of the wedding ceremony from calling the bride forth through the groomsmen leading the groom to the bridal chamber detail the progression through the religious and civil ceremonies that mark the couples' progression from individuals to "one flesh." Time is also referred to as subjective, such as when the groom asks that the long-seeming daytime would speed by while the night hours would lengthen for the happy newlyweds.
How does Spenser mix pagan, Christian, and local lore in Epithalamion?
Pagan images dominate Epithalamion, from the initial invocation of the Muses to the final prayer to all the gods of the heavens. The wedding is couched almost entirely in classical Greek terms, with the pre-eminent divinity being Hymen, the ancient Greek god of marriage. Christian imagery enters in briefly, twice with the mention of "angels" and once--at the precise moment of the wedding ceremony proper--when the couple kneels at the altar of the "almighty Lord." A priest (presumably Christian) gives the blessing upon the couple, and it is after this stanza that the groom considers his bride to be his wife. The Irish countryside, along with lending itself to the setting of the ode, also provides several instances of local folklore to color the day: the wolves in the woods and the witches and hobgoblins haunting the night, for example.
How does the groom's goals seem to change over the course of Epithalamion?
At first, the groom wants his bride to awaken to enjoy this beautiful day set for their wedding. He dwells upon Phoebus, the sun-god, even going so far as to ask the god to sanctify this day to the groom himself (while keeping all the other days sacred to Phoebus). Soon it is clear, however, that the groom wants the day to pass so he may get to his wedding night and enjoy the conjugal bliss it will bring. Once night falls, however, and the groom has his bride upon their marriage bed, his focus shifts to making their union fruitful and her womb fertile.
How does the passage of time in Epithalamion parallel the stages of human life?
The ode begins before morning, with the speaker welcoming the day in childlike anticipation of a beautiful day better than any other. The speaker later becomes impatient with the day, longing for night to come and cover the couple as they love one another as man and wife. Once night has fallen, the speaker shifts to a longer view, imploring various gods to make this first union a fruitful one and the first of a long line of descendants. He has moved through the stages of life: childlike exuberance welcoming life simply to be lived, youthful ardor eager for martial bliss, and older wisdom seeking to secure its legacy in future generations.
What qualities make Epithalamion an ode?
An ode is a serious poem addressing a subject of great importance to the speaker. In Epithalamion, Spenser discusses his wedding day as a sacred time, significant not just to himself and his bride, but also to the cosmos. The intertwining of the progression of morning to night, the invocation of classical deities, and the intimate yet public nature of the wedding lend the poem an air of importance even when revelry is called for by the groom. That the poem ends with the groom's desire for descendants who will ascend to heaven serves to give the wedding an almost apocalyptic significance, as it is part of the longer story of mankind's destiny and relationship with the powers of the universe.
Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion Essays and Related Content
- Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion: Major Themes
- Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion: Essays
- Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion: Questions
- Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Edmund Spenser: Biography
- Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion Summary
- About Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Amoretti Sonnets 1 through 16
- Summary and Analysis of Amoretti Sonnets 17 through 43
- Summary and Analysis of Amoretti Sonnets 44 through 57
- Summary and Analysis of Amoretti Sonnets 58 through 85
- Summary and Analysis of Amoretti Sonnets 86 through Final Stanzas
- Summary and Analysis of Epithalamion Stanzas 1 through 12
- Summary and Analysis of Epithalamion Stanzas 13 through 24
- Spenser and Ireland
- Related Links on Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources