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A epithalamion is a poem written for a bride that is usually presented on her wedding night. It is of Greek deviration. The word prothalamion was coined by Edmund Spencer and was the title of a poem he wrote for the weddings of Katherine and Elizabeth Somerset in 1596. Prothalamion is derived from epithalamion.
Spenser's Prothalamion (1596) is occasioned by betrothals. It also mediates, as critics have noted, metaphysical, vocational, aesthetic, and political matters. Among these we should continue to include Spenser's assessment of the Earl of Essex's role--widely, albeit not uniformly, acclaimed as heroic--in the Cadiz expedition of 1596. We should also think carefully about issues that emerge when we take fuller account of the London setting, specifically its commercial aspects. Prothalamion is deeply interested, I contend, in the relationship between heroic and commercial ethoi. Evidence from The Faerie Queene (Mammon's rejoinders to Guyon come immediately to mind) and from Spenser's patronage connections indicate that Spenser understood perfectly well that heroic enterprises must be financed, whether those enterprises are directed toward developing trade routes, conquering or defending territory, planting colonies or religion, acquiring commodities or precious metals. But through its refrain, imagery, epideictic purposes, and evocation of the Templar Knights, Prothalamion furnishes evidence to suggest that for Spenser, at levels of understanding unconditioned by pragmatism, commercial and heroic values remain fundamentally incompatible.
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