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Analysis of Edmund Spenser's Amoretti: Sonnet 71

Analysis of Edmund Spenser's Amoretti #71


Edmund Spenser's Amoretti: Sonnet 71 follows a hunting theme, which is a typical metaphor in 16th Century England. In this particular sonnet, the hunter is the spider (i.e. the seducer) and the bee is the seducer's beloved. This sonnet's hunting metaphor is the complete opposite of Spenser's other attempt at this particular conceit in Sonnet 67, where the doe (i.e. the beloved) had all of the power and allowed herself to be caught by the hunter. In this sonnet, the bee weaves (web) her own prison, but the cunning spider seems to have the upper hand.

The speaker delights in his beloved's "drawen work"-ornamental work done in textile fabrics by drawing out some of the threads so as to form patterns. The speaker of the poem likens himself to a spider and his beloved to a bee (aka his prey). The bee getting caught in the spider's sticky web is the extended metaphor of this sonnet. "In Chinese (as in European) fairy tales, bees help young men find the right bride" (35). Spiders often have negative associations, and are known as cunning tricksters. "In Christian symbolic tradition the spider is the 'evil' counterpart of the good bee; the spider generally stands for the sinful urges that suck the blood from humanity" (317). This definition of the spider as an evil trickster seems to go along with how the speaker describes the spider, it lurks in "close awayt" (secret ambush) to catch his pretty (the gentle bee). Spenser also puns the word "doe," which is supposed to be do. Sonnet 67 uses a common hunting metaphor, similar to the one found in this poem, but instead of a bee the female character is a doe.

The speaker says that his beloved is rightly caught in a cunning snare built by her beloved enemy, and "thralled" (enslaved) into love. He has caught her in his "streight" (tight) and sticky bonds (i.e. web) and held captive forever; she will never be able to escape his love no matter how hard she tries. She is his prey and lust for life, and there is nothing that she can do about it.

"As your worke is woven all about" insinuates that she created her own prison; she wanted to be caught that's why she wove in the sweet flowers honeysuckle ("woodbynd") and sweet briar ("enlantine"). He also says that in time she will learn to love her sweet prison with all of her the things that she loves.

And from this time on there will only be peace between the spider and the "gentle" bee. In all of Spenser's sonnets (in the Amoretti) he describes his beloved as being "gentle." Gentle has a lot of meanings: honorable, kind, docile, soft, and delicate. I believe these are all traits that he wants in a wife, and he is reinforcing the notion of a wife that will be submissive to her husband.


Sources


Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons & The Meanings Behind Them. New York: Meridian, 1989.

Spenser, Edmund. "Amoretti: Sonnet 71." The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th ed. Ed. Margaret Ferguson. New York: Norton, 2005. 141-2.

2 comments:

  1. I found your page very helpful but with regards to the doe being the beloved, I thought it was just an older way of writing do - correct me if I'm wrong but I feel 'Your selfe unto the Bee ye do(e) compare;' makes more sense 'the Bee ye doe compare.'

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    1. In this sonnet, yes "doe" does mean do; however, in sonnet 67, which also has a hunting theme, "deare" (line 7) is a pun on the words deer and dear (beloved). You have to remember that there is an overall theme of the Amoretti sonnets as well as the individual themes of each of the sonnets; it could be just a coincidence, but I think that he intentionally used the "doe" for do. Old English words tend to be written phonetically unless a writer wants to use a pun. Since Sir Philip Sidney, who wrote around the same time as Spenser, used the word "do" in his poetry, which allows me to assume that "doe" wasn't the accepted spelling of "do" and that Spenser was likely intentionally using "doe" as a pun throughout Amoretti. If I am wrong about this, please comment your source, so that I can check it out.

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