Epithalamion Questions and Answers
by Edmund Spenser

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An epithalamion is a type of poem that has its origin in Greek nuptial day celebration poetry. Spenser wrote his Epithalamion to celebrate his wedding day although it was written three years after he had to flee Ireland with Elizabeth in the midst of an enraged Irish uprising that resulted in, among other things, his house being burned to the ground and the death by fire of his newborn baby. Some critics see the Epithalamion as a symbolic appeal for the unification of the English and Irish factions, which is depicted by the presence of the Greek god Hymen, who reconciles the humanity in the village wedding procession with nature, as Spenser weaves it into his wedding poem, and who stands for the symbolic hope of similarly reconciling the warring social and political factions of England and Ireland.

Epithalamion is intricately wrought in the use of archaic Middle English language that would have been used by Chaucer, in the majestically repeating and building imagery, and in the incorporation of astronomical and calendrical elements into the verse and structure of the poem. The 24 stanzas (23 stanzas and one envoi) correspond to the 24 hours of a day, while the 365 long lines correspond to days of the year, and the 68 short lines represent 52 weeks, 12 months, and 4 seasons (52 + 12 + 4 = 68). In addition to which, Spenser makes calendrical allusion to the summer solstice in mentioning St. Barnabas's day, an allusion which brings in the import of the solar cycle.

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Epithalamion is an ode written to commemorate the nuptials of the speaker and his bride. The song begins before dawn and progresses through the wedding ceremony and into the consummation night of the newlywed couple. Throughout Epithalamion, the speaker marks time by referencing the physical movements of the wedding party, the positions of the sun and other celestial bodies, and the light and darkness that fill the day.

Although firmly within the classical tradition, Epithalamion takes its setting and several of its images from Ireland, where 's wedding to Elizabeth Boyle actually took place. Some critics have seen in this Irish connection a commentary within the poem of the proper relationship between ruling England (the groom) and subject Ireland (the bride). Spenser's love for the Irish countryside is clear through his vivid descriptions of the natural world surrounding the couple, while his political views regarding English supremacy is hinted at in the relationship between the bride and groom themselves.

Other critics have seen Spenser's gift to his bride not simply as a celebration of their wedding day, but a poetic argument for the kind of husband-wife relationship he expects the two of them to have.




refer to spark notes . 

kc7092 | Student

Amoretti is a sonnet-cycle tracing the suitor's long courtship and eventual wooing of his beloved. The work begins with two sonnets in which the speaker addresses his own poetry, attempting to invest his words with the power to achieve his goal (the wooing of Elizabeth Boyle). From the third sonnet through the sixty-second sonnet, the speaker is in an slmost constant state of emotional turmoil and frustrated hopes. His beloved refuses to look favorably upon his suit, so his reaction ranges from desparing self-deprecation to angry tirade against her stubbornness. Most often the speaker dwells upon his beloved's beauty, both inner and outer, and the overpowering effects this beauty has upon him. He uses a variety of motifs to explicate his feelings and thoughts toward the subject of his ardor: predator and prey, wartime victor and captive, fire and ice, and hard substances that eventually soften over long periods of time. Each of these is intended to convey some aspect of his beloved's character or his own fears and apprehensions.


In Sonnet 63, the Amoretti undergoes a drastic change in tone. The long-sought beloved has acceded to the speaker's request, making her his fiancee. Several sonnets of rejoicing occur, followed by several expressing the speaker's impatience at the lengthy engagement prior to the wedding day. Here, too, the speaker turns his attention from his earlier aspects of the beloved's physical beauty--her eyes and her hair in particular--and begins to be more familiar with her, to the point of describing in detail the scent of her breasts. From Sonnet 63 through Sonnet 85, the speaker revisits many of his earlier motifs, changing them to suit the new relationship between himself and his beloved. Now he is the hunter and she is the game; he is the victor, and she the vanquished. His earlier criticisms of her pride and stubbornness also change to become admiration for her constancy and strength of mind.