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Critical interpretations and analyses of selected sonnets from Edmund Spenser's "Amoretti."


Critical interpretations of selected sonnets from Edmund Spenser's "Amoretti" often focus on themes such as idealized love, the passage of time, and the poet's personal experiences. Analysts frequently explore Spenser’s use of classical allusions, intricate metaphors, and the Petrarchan sonnet form to convey complex emotional and intellectual states, reflecting the poet’s journey towards spiritual and romantic fulfillment.

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What is your critical analysis of Edmund Spenser's sonnets in Amoretti?

In his Amoretti Spenser develops a unique sonnet form. The sonnet came to England primarily through the sonnets of Italian poet, Petrarch, the premier sonnet writer of Italy. Petrarch's sonnets were structured in two parts, an opening octet and an ending sestet without ending couplet. The volta, or "turn" in the logic of the subject of the sonnet occurs at the 9th line, the first line of the sestet. At the volta, Petrarch introduced--in the sestet--the sonnet's second but closely related idea leading from the problem introduced in the opening octet. An octet, also called octave, has eight lines while a sestet has six lines. Petrarch's sonnets have a rhyme scheme of abbaabba cdccdc (with rgyme scheme variations possible for the sestet), with the middle couplets (aa and cc) forming a concatenated link between rhyme schemes.

Spenser varied this structure by adopting three quatrains and an end couplet, with rhyme scheme of linking concatenation at the 4th and 5th and 8th and 9th lines. This linking concatenation (repetition of a rhyme in a couplet) allows a link between rhyme schemes and, even more importantly, between the ideas in the sonnet. Petrarch presented two related ideas in sonnets, the first in the octet and the second in the sestet, whereas Spenser can present three related ideas, one in each quatrain, with the couplet posing the dramatic solution to the problem introduced in the first quatrain. Spenser's rhyme scheme is ababbcbccdcd ee, with an ending couplet.

The concatenated lines are the spots at which Spenser introduces the second and third closely related ideas. Spenser's structure allows for either an evolution of the logic introduced in the first quatrain or, dramatically, a reversal of the logic begun in the first quatrain. Sonnet 1 demonstrates a sonnet in which the logic follows in an evolution of an idea:

Sonnet 1
Happy ye leaves when as those lily hands,
Which hold my life in their dead-doing might,
Shall handle you and hold in love's soft bands,
Like captives trembling at the victor's sight.
And happy lines, on which with starry light,
Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look
And read the sorrows of my dying sprite,
Written with tears in heart's close-bleeding book.
And happy rhymes bath'd in the sacred brook,
Of Helicon whence she derived is,
When ye behold that Angel's blessed look,
My soul's long-lacked food, my heaven's bliss.
Leaves, lines, and rhymes, seek her to please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

In contrast, Sonnet 54 shows a logical reversal that occurs at concatenated line 9:

Sonnet 54    
Of this World's theatre in which we stay,
My love like the Spectator idly sits,
Beholding me, that all the pageants play,
Disguising diversely my troubled wits.
Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,
And mask in mirth like to a Comedy;
Soon after when my joy to sorrow flits,
I wail and make my woes a Tragedy.
Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,
Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart;
But when I laugh, she mocks: and when I cry
She laughs and hardens evermore her heart.
What then can move her? If nor mirth nor moan,
She is no woman, but a senseless stone.

Sonnet 75 is another one that shows a reversal of logic, but at concatenated line 5.

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What is your critical analysis of Edmund Spenser's sonnets in Amoretti?

Spenser wrote his sonnet sequence (also called sonnet cycle), Amoretti, when he was unsuccessfully courting Elisabeth Boyle in Ireland where he had been granted land holdings. At this time, Spenser was a widower and Elisabeth was just a young woman who had no interest in an older, widowed man. The Amoretti tell of her rejection, his heartbreak, his growing love, and her growing tolerance. In the end, the Amoretti tell how she finally yielded to love herself, then accepted his offer of love and marriage. While critics at one time saw his Epithalamion and the Amoretti as separate entities with no connection between them, critics now agree that the Epithalamion is the grand conclusion of the sonnet cycle and a celebration of his marriage to Elisabeth.

In Amoretti I, Spenser celebrates his first meetings with Elisabeth. He says in a personification that the pages, "leaves," his poems are written are will be happy because they will be handled by her "lily hands." He beseeches the "Leaves, lines, and rhymes" to please her so he might win her love. He is sadly and immediately unsuccessful, though, because in Amoretti II he speaks of "th' inward bale of my love-pined heart: ...."

Leaves, lines, and rhymes, seek her to please alone,
    Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (I)

The rest of the Amoretti chronicle the course of his friendship and courtship. For example, in XII he speaks of a betrayal and a treason against him that she believes is the truth. He seeks "To make a truce" with Elisabeth so she will stop believing the slander.

Who me captiving straight with rigorous wrong,
    Have ever since me kept in cruel bands.
So Lady, now to you I do complain
    Against your eyes that justice I may gain.

Finally, the Amoretti record Spenser's success and tell of his triumph in winning Elisabeth's love. An example is Amoretti LXIX (69). He speaks of his "loves conquest" and of immortalizing her love. In a slightly later one, he also speaks of taking time out from writing The Faerie Queene to "rest me being halfe fordonne, / and gather to my selfe new breath awhile" as he focuses his attention on Elisabeth for a while.

I may record the memory
of my loues conquest, peerelesse beauties prise,
adorn'd with honour, loue, and chastity.
Euen this verse vowd to eternity,
shall be thereof immortall moniment: (LXIX)

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Can you explain "Sonnet 1" in Edmund Spenser's Amoretti?

This sonnet in Amoretti is a description of the speaker's own work: meaning the leaves (pages), lines of verse, and rhymes that constitute his verse. The poet's love is pictured holding the book, reading it, and appreciating the declaration of love contained in it.

Essentially the sonnet expresses an identity between the poet and his work. The man's verse itself becomes "happy" and is glorified by his love's touching and reading it, just as the man himself is gladdened and exalted through her. She ennobles the leaves, lines, and rhymes; she holds them in love's "soft bands" and makes a captive of them. She illuminates them with a "starry light," and they are bathed in the "sacred brooke":

Of Helicon, whence she derived is.

We thus see a reciprocity or symbiosis between the poet, represented by his work, and the woman loved by him. He has produced this work for her, but by itself it has no meaning. She grants significance and power to it, and at the same time, she possesses it. So, because an identity exists between poet and poem, in her taking possession of the latter, she is also confirming her captivation of the man and her ennobling of him.

The sonnet altogether is a chain of personifications of the inanimate writing created by the speaker. In linking himself to his poetry, the poet is also saying that his love is dependent on how the object of it, his mistress, receives and understands that poetry. Therefore his love is seemingly not unconditional:

Leaves, lines and rymes seeke her to please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

In a more literal sense, the speaker simply wishes her to appreciate his work. But metaphorically speaking, he is his poetry, and her love of it confers that love on him as well.

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What is a critical interpretation of Edmund Spenser's "Sonnet 10" from Amoretti?

One thing to note about Spenser's Amoretti is that the sonnets address and praise a potential lover in a realistic rather than an overly idealized way. Sonnet 10 is part of the first section of Spenser's sonnet cycle (Amoretti) in which the speaker is pursuing his beloved. He is madly in love with her but is frustrated that she has not yet returned that love. 

Unlike Shakespeare's sonnets which tend to have a progressive rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg, Spenser's rhyme scheme flows together in a more interconnected way because each quatrain begins by rhyming with the previous line: abab bcbc cdcd ee. This interconnection, purposeful or not, exemplifies the interconnection of all the sonnets in Amoretti

In the first quatrain, the speaker vents his frustration to the personified Love and laments the fact that the woman he loves is remote, perhaps even making love with someone else, "The whiles she lordeth in licentious blisse". This rhetorical device of addressing an abstract idea (Love) is called apostrophe. The fourth and fifth lines, which continue the rhyme, both express the speaker's frustration (to Love) that his would-be lover is (voluntarily or involuntarily, unknowingly) teasing him. 

Of her freewill, scorning both thee and me?
See! how the Tyrannesse doth ioy to see
The huge massacres which her eyes do make, 

("ioy" is joy and huge is sometimes spelled "hugh" in older translations) 

In the next lines, the speaker suggests that Love captures humble (needy) hearts, lured by things such as the woman's beautiful eyes. If the woman does not return that love, or if she is remote, it is as if Love is taking vengeance on those who would be so humble as to express their love in the first place. This is the feeling of rejection. 

However, the speaker supposes or hopes that Love (his love or "Love" in general) will humble this woman and shake her proud heart. As much as the speaker pines for her, he does not idolize her or idealize her to a position superior to himself. In fact, he wants their love to be real and for that to happen, they must be equals. He hopes that, despite her "high look" (beauty and pride in her beauty), she will be humbled by love and will bow to a "baser mate" (someone basic, realistic, someone like the speaker). Thereby, she will be humbled as he was by her beauty; then they will be equals. 

That I may laugh at her in equall sort
As she doth laugh at me, and makes my pain her sport. 

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What is a critical interpretation of Edmund Spenser's "Sonnet 54" in Amoretti?

Sonnet 54 is from Spenser's Amoretti sonnet cycle (also called sonnet sequence). The conceit of the cycle is Spenser's unrequited love for Elizabeth Boyle, who being much younger, scorns the idea of accepting the courtship of a widowed man. The end of the Amoretti, though, shows that Spenser was ultimately successful in his suit for her love. The Amoretti is followed by the Epithalamion, which is the triumphal celebration of their wedding day and night.

Sonnet 54 in the cycle follows one Spenserian sonnet structure, which has several differences from Petrarch's original Italian sonnet form. It has the fourteen sonnet lines with an octave and a sestet, and the last two lines form a couplet: two lines that rhyme.

There is no line 5 volta, or turn in the subject of the topic (the topic is Elizabeth's rejection of his courtship). The first four lines of the initial octave introduce the metaphor of Elizabeth as a spectator at the play Spenser is performing in desperate desire to win her. Line 4 says that in this pageant he disguises his "troubled wits" of unrequited love.

There is no volta after line 4 because Spenser's innovation to the sonnet is devising a way to employ the rhyme scheme to carry on the logic of the first four line into the logic of the second four lines. This is in contrast to introducing a Petrarchan (or Shakespearean) paradox (or seemingly untrue contradiction) at line 5. Thus this sonnet is an example of how Spenser's ababbcbc rhyme scheme in the first octave allows the continuance of a logical thought through concatenation of the "linked" bb couplet at 4 and 5:

Disguising diversely my troubled wits.
Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,

The concluding sestet turns on a volta at line 9 that introduces the reactions of Elizabeth to Spenser's efforts to procure her love.

when I laugh, she mocks; and, when I cry,
She laughs, and hardens evermore her heart.

The resolution to his problem that comes in the ending couplet is to denounce her (for the moment ...) as "no woman, but a senseless stone" because he cannot "move her" to love with any ploy: "What then can move her?"

  • 14 line sonnet
    octave + sestet
    one volta "turn" at line 9
    continuing logic, no paradox
    rhyming resolution in ending couplet
    resolution is a conclusion from the foregoing logic
    rhyme scheme ababbcbc cdcdee
    concatenation at couplet lines 4/5 and 8/9: bb and cc
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What is the inner meaning of "Sonnet 75" in Edmund Spenser's The Amoretti?

The nature of a sonnet is that the problem raised in the first part (the first quatrain in a Spenserian sonnet) is resolved in the last part (the third quatrain in a Spenserian sonnet) and strongly restated in the ending couplet. Therefore, to find the "inner meaning" of a Spenserian sonnet, look to the third quatrain and the final couplet. A quatrain is four related lines and a couplet is two related lines; a sonnet is fourteen lines in total.

Spenserian sonnets have been confirmed as the poet, Edmund Spenser, chronicling the difficult courtship of his lady love, Elizabeth Boyle. So it is correct to say that in the first quatrain, the poet (instead of "the speaker" who may not represent the poet) lays out a problem (the tide washing away his words), while in the second quatrain, his lady love introduces a reversal in logic by contradicting his concern. The third quatrain has another reversal of logic with Spenser correcting her assertion and establishing the solution to the problem presented in the first quatrain. This solution is then elegantly and strongly stated anew in the ending couplet.

From this we can say that the inner meaning of the poem is that when all the others in the world are dead and gone ("subdued") their "love shall live." Why? As the third quatrain explains, it will live because he will immortalize ("eternize") her "virtues rare" and instead of writing her name in sand by the tidal flow, he will write her "glorious name" "in the heavens."

Spenser constructed such intricately laced stories that give logical reversal (e.g., "Sonnet 75") or, at other times, logical accord because he "links" his rhyme together with three couplets that introduce both a rhyme change and idea change. Spenser's sonnet rhyme scheme is ababbcbccdcd ee. The couplets occur at the 4th and 5th lines (bb) and the 8th and 9th lines (cc) and at the 13th and 14th lines (ee). At these couplets, Spenser introduces new ideas that are closely related and either logically oppose each other for logic that reverses on itself or logically support each other for logic that evolves through the quatrains to the final solution in the ending couplet.

[For more, see Edmund Spenser, Amoretti and "Epithalamion", Arnie Sanders, Goucher College.]

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What is the summary and critical analysis of Edmund Spenser's sonnet "Amoretti 53"?

This is a poem in which Spenser talks in disparaging terms about a woman who uses her beauty to tempt him close to her so that she can prey on him. The poem begins by pointing out that the panther, finding that his body is beautiful but that his face scares animals away, hides his face to allure animals to come close to him so he can them kill and eat them. In the same way, Spenser argues, this woman uses exactly the same strategy:

For with the goodly semblance of her hew
She doth allure me to mine owne decay,
And then no mercy will unto me shew.

He is clearly describing a woman who is using her beauty to exploit and destroy the speaker's character, and who, when she has him entranced and subject to her beauty, shows him no mercy as she leads him on to his "decay." The speaker deplores the way that what is so beautiful has been made to draw in and ruin others, but ends with the consoling thought that beauty finds its true union with mercy, and remembering that God is the author of both helps us cope with such situations.

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How is love portrayed in Edmund Spenser's "Amoretti", Sonnet 75?

Edmund Spenser's Sonnet 75, from the sequence "Amoretti", is often compared to Shakespeare's Sonnet 55, "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments ..." but is actually more somber and reflective and less boastful in tone.

The first four lines portray the male lover writing and rewriting his beloved's name in the strand, but the  waves, lapping against the shore, wash his efforts away. This notion of the evanescence of human lives and loves is reinforced when the beloved points out that it is useless to try to immortalize a mortal person such as herself or a mortal emotion such as love. 

When the poet reassures her that the verses about this moment shall live on eternally, the tone is not the pure egoism and boasting of most monument poems (such as Shakespeare's) but rather expresses a pious Neoplatonic Christian point of view. According to this theological viewpoint, humans are not fully mortal; while the body dies, the soul lives on. The love which lives eternally in the poem corresponds in an earthly fashion to the eternal form of divine love, and within this hierarchy, the immortality of the poem, as verbal artifact, imitates the divine Logos, making a bridge between the mortal and immortal, human and divine, impermanent and eternal, material and spiritual, and human love and divine love. 

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