Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion

Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion Study Guide

Edmund Spenser wrote the Amoretti (Italian for "Cupids") ostensibly to woo Elizabeth Boyle, a young lady whom he met during his tenure in Ireland. Spenser shared these poems with Elizabeth for over a year before she consented to marry him. The sonnets follow a progression from Spenser as desperate victim of infatuation, to frustrated lover, to blissful fiance, and end with him woefully missing his bride to be. While intensely personal, the Amoretti were also prepared for publication by Spenser, and so reflect his poetic ideologies, such as his love of Classicism and the Platonic underpinnings of his world view. Although written prior to his marriage, the sonnets of the Amoretti were published after his wedding song, Epithalamion.

Epithalamion was written in 1594 to celebrate Spenser's marriage to Elizabeth Boyle, and published the following year. Like Amoretti, Epithalamion is at first personal and intimate, but nonetheless clearly polished for the reading public. The ode concerns itself largely with the passage of time, and is itself an attempt on Spenser's part to immortalize the day of his wedding by setting it down in words which time cannot alter. The wedding day is described in accurate detail, down to the position of the sun, moon, and stars on that specific June day in 1594. Thus, many otherwise unknown biographical details of Spenser's wedding day come to light through this poem; in that sense at the very least it marks a success in Spenser's attempt to memorialize his wedding day as permanently as possible.

While Epithalamion is clearly a paean to Christian marriage, some critics have seen in it either a commentary on the behaviors Spenser expected of his bride, or a political statement prescribing the proper relationship between governing England and subject Ireland.