The Faerie Queene was the first sustained poetic creation after that of Geoffrey Chaucer, and its beauty and power made for it a secure place in English literature as soon as it was given to the world. At present it is generally accorded a high place in the history of English literary art. Combined with Edmund Spenser’s poetic power was his high moral purpose.
Only six books of the twelve planned by Spenser were completed. The fragmentary seventh book was published in 1609, ten years after his death. What he did finish is so great that The Faerie Queene is, sad to say, generally more honored than read. The grand conception and execution of the poem reflect both the life of the poet and his participation in the life and ideals of his age. Spenser was committed to public service in the expansive period of Elizabethan efflorescence. A gentleman poet and friend of the great, Spenser never received the preferment he hoped for, but he remained devoted to Elizabeth, to England, and to late sixteenth century optimism. Even during his lifetime, Spenser was honored as a poet by the court and by other men of letters. Spenser’s allegorical imagination and his masterful control of language have earned him a reputation as “the poet’s poet.”
Like other Elizabethan poets, Spenser produced eclogues and a sonnet sequence, but The Faerie Queene is his great accomplishment. In a famous letter to Sir Walter Ralegh, Spenser...
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