The main themes in Epithalamion are ceremony and tradition, the fusion of classical and Christian, and the joy of a new beginning.
- Ceremony and tradition: The poem centers around the ceremony of the wedding, viewing the tradition in favorable terms.
- The fusion of classical and Christian: Spenser uses classical allusions to emphasize the Christian virtues central to the wedding ceremony.
- The joy of a new beginning: The poem is an expression of Spenser's speaker's love for his betrothed, and his excitement to begin their lives together.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Ceremony and Tradition
In a work written to celebrate a wedding day (possibly even Edmund Spenser’s own), the marriage ceremony is, appropriately enough, the primary theme. More generally, the poem praises such ceremonies and traditions. The poet incorporates the thematic link between past and present with numerous allusions to classical antecedents, stressing numerous individual instances in which an ancient Greek character, whether deity or mortal, is invoked in comparison to a contemporary figure. It is clear that this ceremony is a major event for the speaker, and this is why he is calling on so many different traditional figures. From gods and nymphs to the strength of the sun and the essence of the landscape, the poem’s speaker wants to invoke as much help from mythological figures as he can muster. The ceremony itself is the main action of the poem, highly anticipated by the ecstatic speaker.
The Fusion of Classical and Christian
The speaker, who is the bridegroom, lavishly praises his bride’s beauty, both with many flattering metaphors and through such an ancient-modern comparison. The link between the classical and modern worlds, however, is not entirely unbroken. The descriptions of the marriage ceremony also emphasize their Christian elements. Thus, the theme of Christianity is also established and carried through the work. The two belief systems, both mythological and Christian, are not at odds. Instead, they work together to express the significance of the event for the speaker. The poem directly references saints as well as Greek and Roman figures. These are used in tandem with one another, not in competition. Spenser’s speaker combines the two with ease, perhaps reflecting a world that is open to such simultaneity of ideas. It could also be said that by combining the Greek and Roman figures with the ceremony of Christian marriage, the poet is championing the role of Christianity. When all is said and done, it is the ceremony that binds the couple together.
The Joy of a New Beginning
The speaker of the poem is very likely to be Spenser himself in anticipation of his marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. He is not confirmed to be the poem’s narrator, however. Spenser himself was remarried to Boyle, a much younger woman, after his first wife passed away. Like Spenser, the speaker seems to be extremely excited about the prospect of a new beginning. This marriage will open up a new phase of life for both bride and groom. The groom is evidently eager to make each aspect of the day perfect, even begging the sun to not burn too hot to spare his bride-to-be’s complexion. He is also willing the day to pass by quicker since it is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. He is waiting with special anticipation of nightfall for the ceremony to take place. Additionally, the poem’s narrator expresses hope that this union between him and his wife will bring them both children. In essence, the narrator views their union as a door to untold happiness and opportunity.