Edmund Spenser

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In what ways was Edmund Spenser a typical Renaissance poet?

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Edmund Spenser was an exemplary Renaissance poet because he made fine use of Renaissance characteristics, like the adaptation and appreciation of Greek and Roman classics, the focus on beauty and the individual, and the use of adapted allegory to address the concerns of humanism and the Protestant Reformation.

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Let's begin by reviewing some of the characteristics of Renaissance literature. Then we'll look at how Edmund Spenser exhibits these characteristics in his poetry.

Renaissance literature is known especially for its appreciation, imitation, and adaptation of the Greek and Roman classics. It is also concentrated on beauty, especially physical beauty. Further, Renaissance writers explored the world from the point of view of individuals and with the strong sense of human value and dignity (a trend called humanism).

Renaissance writers, especially in England, also examined religious themes, trying to approach them through a new lens and not through the medieval view. Some Renaissance pieces even exhibit a strong allegorical leaning as they look at religion, society, and morality.

Edmund Spenser bridges the medieval and the Renaissance worlds, but he exhibits many Renaissance characteristics. He generously employs the motifs, themes, and characters of Greek and Roman mythology, for instance (see The Shepheardes Calender for plenty of examples). Spenser is also enchanted by beauty, emphasizing it in characters like Una in The Faerie Queene and in his sonnets.

The Faerie Queene is a fine example of Renaissance religious allegory, influenced by both humanism and the Protestant Reformation. Individuals (although they are symbols as well) stand at the heart of this work, which focuses on human dignity through faith, love, and a strong sense of morality. The Faerie Queene is also filled with allusions to classical works.

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