What are some special features of the Amoretti sonnets by Edmund Spenser?

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One of the most intriguing aspects of Edmund Spenser’s sonnet sequence known as Amoretti is that the male lover is actually successful in winning the affection of the female beloved. In many other sonnets of the Renaissance, self-absorbed males try to win the affections of reluctant females and are usually unsuccessful. The women seem to sense that the men are selfishly motivated, desiring the women mainly as sexual objects. In other words, the women seem to intuit that the men do not truly love them but instead feel mere lust for them. The men treat the women as simple objects of self-centered desire. It is not surprising, then, that the males usually do not win the women.

In Spenser’s sonnet sequence, however, true love – in the deepest senses of that term – actually does win out. By the final third of the sequence, the male lover has come to love the truly valuable aspects of his beloved: her character, her mind, her spirit, her soul. In other words, he comes to love her in a deeply Christian sense of the word “love.” This change is especially obvious in sonnet 68, in which the speaker reveals that he has his priorities right (at least from a Renaissance Christian perspective): first asks for God’s love; then he expresses love of God; then he suggests that all humans should love another as God has taught them to love; and then, finally, he expresses love for his own beloved. In other words, the poem suggests that we should first love God, then love others in a godly way, and then love one particular person as God would want us to love that person.

Precisely because the female beloved realizes that the male is now offering her true, genuine love, she gives him such love in return. In fact, because he values her fully as a beautiful human being (not merely as a woman with a beautiful body), the female beloved in this series of poems is actually allowed to speak, as we see, for example, in sonnet 75. Women rarely get to speak for themselves in other Renaissance sonnets. We also see her spiritual beauty – especially her humility – in that same poem. Meanwhile, in sonnet 79, the male speaker shows that he understands that the truly beautiful aspect of his beloved is her mind, her reason, her soul (the qualities that link her most intimately with God). For once, a male speaker in Renaissance sonnets seems to express genuine love, not mere lust. No wonder, then, that he is successful in winning the woman he has been pursuing.