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Last Updated January 2, 2024.

Amoretti is an autobiographical sonnet sequence written by Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser. First published in 1595, Amoretti is often considered one of Spenser's most significant works. The sequence consists of 89 sonnets and is dedicated to Spenser's second wife, Elizabeth Boyle. The title is an Italian term meaning "little loves" or "little cupids," gesturing to the primary theme of the work. One distinctive feature of Amoretti is its continuous and chronological retelling of the poet's romantic pursuit of Elizabeth, opening during their tumultuous courtship and culminating in their eventual union.

From Sonnet 1 to Sonnet 57, Spencer vividly portrays the emotional pain his unrequited (and often spurned) love for Elizabeth causes. He alternates between pining for her, endlessly praising her ethereal beauty, and criticizing her for what he perceives as her pride and cruelty in not reciprocating his feelings.

The poet makes the strength of his feeling clear quite early; in the first sonnet, he declares he "cares for other none." In Sonnet 7, he describes Elizabeth’s eyes, calling them captivating and inspiring. In the same breath, he acknowledges the pain her eyes inflict when she looks at him "askew."

He shifts from praise to criticism in Sonnet 10, branding her a "tyrannesse" with a "proud hart." Later, in Sonnet 41, Spenser returns to this feeling of resentment, reflecting on whether the cruelty she shows him is simply in her "nature" or is instead a deliberate choice to hurt his feelings.

Through these endless comparisons and questions, Spenser conveys his suffering and expresses a desire for it to come to an end. He affectionately refers to Elizabeth as a "sweet warrior" in Sonnet 57, expressing his resolute longing for his emotional tumult to cease so he can finally "have peace" with her.

Sonnets 58 through 77 mark a thematic shift in the collection, as Spenser records the gradual resolution of his turmoil and implies Elizabeth has finally agreed to marry him. Repeatedly, he expresses how immensely happy he is at the prospect of finally having her in his arms and, in Sonnet 64, begins to share the thrill he feels at their kisses and the eagerness with which he anticipates their upcoming marriage.

Sonnet 71 introduces a curious new theme, one with an insidious undertone at odds with the previous sonnets. Spenser describes Elizabeth drawing herself as a bee and him as a spider, implying she feels trapped in his web. Though he acknowledges she was "caught in a cunning snare," Spenser is quick to reassure his anxious beloved that their union will be a "sweet prison." He promises peace between the spider and the bee, though his soothing words bear the weight of his obsessive love.

Sonnet 74 shifts focus from Elizabeth Boyle to discuss the three significant Elizabeths in Spenser's life: his mother; Queen Elizabeth; and his beloved—all whom he loves dearly. Spenser reveals the depth of his emotions for his beloved and, in Sonnet 77, even wonders if he is instead living in a dream, as he cannot believe his luck at having won Elizabeth’s love. 

While earlier sonnets predominantly celebrate Elizabeth’s outer beauty—particularly her eyes—Sonnets 78 through 89 turn away from physical praise to celebrate her personality and virtues. In Sonnet 79, Spenser highlights the importance of her "gentle wit" and "virtuous mind," both of which he elevates over her physical appearance.

The poet continues to compliment Elizabeth, praising her heavenly perfection and, in Sonnet 82, promises to immortalize her through his poetry. Sonnet 83 is basically the same as Sonnet 35, emphasizing that his love for Elizabeth is still just as strong as when he...

(This entire section contains 738 words.)

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was deeply longing for her.

The tone again takes on a somber note in Sonnet 86, as the poet curses the "venomous tongue" that deceived Elizabeth and made her leave. The readers discover that Elizabeth's departure has left him devastated, as if life itself has dimmed with the loss of her "fayre light." However, subsequent sonnets assure readers—and, perhaps, himself—that her absence is only temporary, expressing a firm belief in their eventual reunion.

Amoretti ends with three sets of stanzas relating stories about Cupid—the god of love and son of Venus—after whom the sonnet sequence is named. The verses describe moments of deception, playful interactions with Cupid, and the consequences of underestimating the power of love. This sequence closes the poet’s detailed description of a lifetime of love’s joys and sorrows, capping off the collection with an abstract discussion of love as both embodied and experienced.

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