What would be the most successful sonnet by Spenser in terms of his handling of conventional themes?
For me, I would want to turn to Sonnet 30, which is also called "Fire and Ice." In a sense, all of Spenser's sonnets present us with a treatment of conventional themes in terms of the love between the speaker and the object of his affection and how this love is often unrequited. What I like about this sonnet is the way in which Spenser treats this conventional themes unconventionally, creating an analogy that points towards a central paradox of love. Let us note how this analogy is created:
My love is like to ice, and I to fire:
how comes it then that this her cold so great
is not dissolv'd through my so hot desire,
but harder grows, the more I her entreat?
Likening his beloved to a block of ice, and the speaker to a raging fire thus presents us and the speaker himself with an interesting conundrum. Why is it that ice is not melted by the ardent fire of the lover, but only grows hader? As the poem continues, we see the reverse is also true. Ice does not put out the smouldering passion of the lover, but only serves to increase its intensity, making its flames burn all the harder. The poem concludes in its final couplet with the truth that this points towards:
Such is the pow'r of love in gentle mind
that it can alter all the course of kind.
Thus this poem takes the conventional theme of unrequited love and presents it in such a novel way that helps explore the way that love, in the way it overrules us, also can "alter" the normal rules of nature through presenting us with this paradox.