What are the major themes of Spenser's Amoretti sequence?

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One of the major themes of Spenser's Amoretti sequence is the frustration of unrequited love. This was a common theme in Elizabethan poetry and Spenser exploits it to the full. Later on in the sequence, however, he will depart from the prevailing norm and present us with a celebration of love both human and divine.

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In the early sonnets of the Amoretti sequence, Spenser concentrates mainly on the frustrations of unrequited love. He is in good company here because this particular theme was quite common in Elizabethan poetry.

In Sonnet 34, we see Spenser make his own contribution to the theme of unrequited love. His earnest overtures to Elizabeth Boyle, the woman who would eventually become his wife, are unsuccessful.

Instead of responding positively to his wooing, she is displeased with the speaker, which causes him “to wander now, in darkness and dismay”. A man accustomed to being directed by the “bright ray” of her sun, the speaker finds himself at a loose end now that his beloved has failed to reciprocate his love. He has no direction in life, no purpose.

In Sonnet 32, the speaker complains of how hard it is to melt his beloved's heart with his love. It's easier for a blacksmith to soften the hardest iron. Frozen in her “willful pride,” the beloved's heart grows harder still, leaving the speaker with the terrible prospect of turning to ash.

From Sonnet 67 onwards, however, we can detect a notable change in Spenser's attitude towards. The general tone is now much more positive as Spenser celebrates the love between himself and Elizabeth Boyle that will eventually lead to marriage.

This isn't just earthly love, though; it also partakes of divine love, which the Platonist Spenser believes to be the highest kind of love there is and to which loving human relationships should always aspire.

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