In Epithalamion, Spenser celebrates not just his wedding but the aspirations of an entirely new class of people. Discuss.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Edmund Spenser's poem, Epithalamion is a poem about his wedding. As has been the custom of poets for many years long before Spenser's time, love and marriage have been popular topics.

Spenser was well aware of this tradition and intentionally followed many of its conventions in this poem.

In this poem, Spenser celebrates his own wedding, taking the reader through the twenty-four hours of his nuptial day.

The title of Spenser's poem (Epithalamion) "means, literally, "at the nuptial chamber" in Greek. It is 443 lines long...but its length is not Spenser's crowning achievement; it is the way that Spenser appeals to what his audience knows, threading two worlds together as one by the poem's end.

One eNotes source points out that Spenser appealed first to what he knew his audience was familiar with. In this way, his allusions were deeply effective—to make comparisons by speaking of something that is known and noting similar characteristics found in the topic of his poem. This is what similes and metaphors do: they compare similar characteristics in two very different things.

His audience would have recognized Spenser's allusions to the Muses and mythological characters; so Spenser uses these references to relate his ideas not just on marriage, but also those of Christianity!

Spenser describes a great deal of singing, not unusual for a wedding. Spenser first speaks to the Muses and their skill at inspiring him, as well as their ability to use music to affect even nature:

Your string could soone to sadder tenor turne

And teach the woods and waters to lament…

Referring to Orpheus, Spenser compares a mythological character who could also sing with great power, and says that he will try to do the same for his bride:

Help me mine own loves praises to resound,

Ne let the fame of any be envied,

So Orpheus did for his own bride,

So I unto my self alone will sing...

Spenser's intent was to fuse the old with the new.

Spenser had to find a way to utilize the conventional gods and goddesses of mythology in a poem about Christian marriage.

The poet alludes to angels:

Spread thy broad wing over my love and me,

That no man may us see...

Spenser weaves mythology and Christianity—till the Christianity abounds at the poem's end:

May heavenly tabernacles there inherit,

Of blessed Saints for to increase the count...

Spenser leads the audience with its beliefs in mythology to a marriage celebration founded in Christian tenants. "Temple gates" would not refer to Christian churches—temples were tied inexorably to mythology and the gods and goddesses worshipped in those places, but...

...once past the gates the poet describes the roaring organs, the choristers, the holy priest, and the angels flying above the service and singing “Alleluya.”

There can be no doubt that ultimately Spenser has led his audience to the Christian church, desiring to see them to understand this new religion as he saw it—connecting it with similarities of myths.

Spenser was not alone in this; other authors also drew comparisons to the "Greek and Roman traditions..." use them to show the continuity and universality of the Christian world.


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