Write a critical note on Edmund Spenser's sonnets of his Amoretti.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In his Amoretti Spenser develops a unique sonnet form. The sonnet came to England primarily through the sonnets of Italian poet, Petrarch, the premier sonnet writer of Italy. Petrarch's sonnets were structured in two parts, an opening octet and an ending sestet without ending couplet. The volta, or "turn" in the logic of the subject of the sonnet occurs at the 9th line, the first line of the sestet. At the volta, Petrarch introduced--in the sestet--the sonnet's second but closely related idea leading from the problem introduced in the opening octet. An octet, also called octave, has eight lines while a sestet has six lines. Petrarch's sonnets have a rhyme scheme of abbaabba cdccdc (with rgyme scheme variations possible for the sestet), with the middle couplets (aa and cc) forming a concatenated link between rhyme schemes.

Spenser varied this structure by adopting three quatrains and an end couplet, with rhyme scheme of linking concatenation at the 4th and 5th and 8th and 9th lines. This linking concatenation (repetition of a rhyme in a couplet) allows a link between rhyme schemes and, even more importantly, between the ideas in the sonnet. Petrarch presented two related ideas in sonnets, the first in the octet and the second in the sestet, whereas Spenser can present three related ideas, one in each quatrain, with the couplet posing the dramatic solution to the problem introduced in the first quatrain. Spenser's rhyme scheme is ababbcbccdcd ee, with an ending couplet.

The concatenated lines are the spots at which Spenser introduces the second and third closely related ideas. Spenser's structure allows for either an evolution of the logic introduced in the first quatrain or, dramatically, a reversal of the logic begun in the first quatrain. Sonnet 1 demonstrates a sonnet in which the logic follows in an evolution of an idea:

Sonnet 1
Happy ye leaves when as those lily hands,
Which hold my life in their dead-doing might,
Shall handle you and hold in love's soft bands,
Like captives trembling at the victor's sight.
And happy lines, on which with starry light,
Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look
And read the sorrows of my dying sprite,
Written with tears in heart's close-bleeding book.
And happy rhymes bath'd in the sacred brook,
Of Helicon whence she derived is,
When ye behold that Angel's blessed look,
My soul's long-lacked food, my heaven's bliss.
Leaves, lines, and rhymes, seek her to please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

In contrast, Sonnet 54 shows a logical reversal that occurs at concatenated line 9:

Sonnet 54    
Of this World's theatre in which we stay,
My love like the Spectator idly sits,
Beholding me, that all the pageants play,
Disguising diversely my troubled wits.
Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,
And mask in mirth like to a Comedy;
Soon after when my joy to sorrow flits,
I wail and make my woes a Tragedy.
Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,
Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart;
But when I laugh, she mocks: and when I cry
She laughs and hardens evermore her heart.
What then can move her? If nor mirth nor moan,
She is no woman, but a senseless stone.

Sonnet 75 is another one that shows a reversal of logic, but at concatenated line 5.

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