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Analysis of Edmund Spenser's "Amoretti: Sonnet 54"

Analysis of Edmund Spenser's Amoretti #54


Edmund Spenser's Ammoretti is a collection of sonnets that he wrote about his courtship with Elizabeth Boyle. They married on June 11, 1594. Sonnet 54 explores the growing fascination with the Theatre. In the wake of the plagues of 1592-3, the theatres were closed. Theatre was once a huge part of the cultural experience across Europe, especially London. The Theatre offered a place for both entertainment, and an escape from the everyday drudgeries of life. Shakespeare was one of the prominent playwrights of his day, and he helped the Theatre to recover. After the plagues of 1592-3, Shakespeare had his own acting company, Lord Chamberlain's Men, who would put on his plays. He constructed the world famous Globe Theatre in London; it was the first playhouse to ever be owned by the actors. In this sonnet, Spenser takes on the role of an actor, and his beloved is the spectator. She watches him flit from character to character without showing the least bit of empathy. She is cold and callous, and Spenser does not understand why he cannot arise some sort of passion in her.

The first line of this stanza reminds me of the famous Shakespearean line: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-140). Spenser stands on the stage of the metaphorical Theatre of life, and performs for his beloved Spectator, Elizabeth Boyle. She sits quietly unmoving as he performs the dramatic scenes from a play; watching as he carefully disguises his troubled mind by taking on various characters.
He is adept at displaying a wide range of emotions. He pretends to be happy and gay when the script calls for it, and hides his true feelings with laughter, as if it were a Comedy. When the script changes and he must portray sorrow, he cries and turns his own grief and/or distress into a Tragedy.

All of his efforts to entertain her are of no use. His beloved sits and watches intently, but is not amused. She neither finds joy in his gaiety nor feels sorry for him when he is in pain. She makes fun of him when he laughs, and laughs when he cries. She hardens her heart forever by disrespecting him so.

His beloved is incapable of emotion. Nothing seems to be able to get through to her, and warm her heart. She is not a woman, merely a cold-hearted stone.




Sources

Spenser, Edmund. "Amoretti: Sonnet 54." The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th ed. Ed. Margaret Ferguson. New York: Norton, 2005. 140.

Published on January 9, 2011 by Sophia Brookshire © All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. The sonnets of Amoretti draw heavily on authors of the Petrarchan tradition, most obviously Torquato Tasso and Petrarch himself[5]. “In Amoretti, Spenser often uses the established topoi, for his sequence imitates in its own way the traditions of Petrarchan courtship and its associated Neo-Platonic conceits” [6]. Apart from the general neo-platonic conceit of spiritual love in opposition to physical love, he borrows specific images and metaphors, including those that portray the beloved or love itself as cruel tormenter. Many critics, in light of what they see as his overworking of old themes, view Spenser as being a less original and important sonneteer than contemporaries such as Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney.
    However, Spenser also revised the tradition that he was drawing from. Amoretti breaks with conventional love poetry in a number of ways. In most sonnet sequences in the Petrarchan tradition, the speaker yearns for a lover who is sexually unavailable. Not only is there a conflict between spiritual and physical love, but the love object is often already married; it is an adulterous love. “Spenser’s innovation was to dedicate an entire sequence to a woman he could honorably win” [7]. Elizabeth Boyle was an unmarried woman, and their love affair eventually ended in marriage.
    In addition, the Petrarchan tradition tends to be obsessed with the instability and discontinuity of the love situation. The speaker’s feelings, thoughts, and motives continually change and shift. The love situation is fraught with egotism, conflict, and continual transformations within the speaker. These conflicts are never resolved, but continue on endlessly as the poet is continually frustrated by the rejection of his beloved or his inability to reconcile spiritual and physical love.[8]. While Petrarch finds some semblance of resolution in rejection of physical love and the subsequent death of his beloved, and Renaissance Petrarchism tends to ignore resolution and glorify the state of indeterminacy, Spenser finds his own unique solution. He eventually moves away from the constant transformation and self-absorption of the Petrarchan love situation, and towards the “peace and rest Spenser finds in the sacred world of marriage” [9]. He represents the Protestant conception of marriage, celebrating it as a sanctuary in which two people can find peace and rest in a mutual love covenant, in which spiritual and physical love can exist in harmony rather than as contraries [10].

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