Edmund Spenser. From Shakespeare's England.

It is difficult to tell whether Shakespeare was influenced by figures such as Spenser, working as he did in literary genres very different from the drama. Nonetheless, The Faerie Queene in particular must have fascinated him, both in the fluency and lyricism of its language, and in its subtly plotted allegorical tales. The name Cordelia in King Lear is taken from the Faerie Queene.

Spenser was much admired by his fellow poets* of the time. The anonymous university writer of the Parnassus Plays (who satirized Shakespeare) wrote:

Only Ben Jonson, independent and curmudgeonly as usual, recorded a partially dissenting voice: "Spenser, in affecting the ancients, writ no language: yet I would have him read for his matter [i.e. content]." (From Timber.)

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Attentive was full many a dainty ear;
Nay hearers hung upon his melting tongue,
While sweetly of his Faerie Queene he sang,
While to the water's fall he tun'd her fame,
And in each bark engraved Eliza's name.

The writer's emphasis on Spenser's celebration of Elizabeth* is not misplaced: The Faerie Queene is set in the court of Gloriana, and several characters in different books figure the Queen. So well did Spenser record the patriotism of his time that he became a symbol* of it.

Invoking Gloriana (Elizabeth), Spenser writes:

. . . O Goddesse heavenly bright,
Mirrour of grace and Majestie divine,
Great Lady of the greatest Isle, whose light
Like Phoebus lampe throughout the world doth shine,
Shed thy faire beames into my feeble eyne,
And raise my thoughts too humble and too vile,
To thinke of that true glorious type of thine. . . .
(The Faerie Queene, 1. 28-34)

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Thomas Nashe wrote that Spenser could "bandy line by line . . . in the honour of England, against Spain, France, Italy, and all the world." (From the preface to Greene's Menaphon.)

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Footnotes

  1. One in every crowd. . .

    Only Ben Jonson, independent and curmudgeonly as usual, recorded a partially dissenting voice: "Spenser, in affecting the ancients, writ no language: yet I would have him read for his matter [i.e. content]." (From Timber.)

  2. The real Faerie Queene

    Invoking Gloriana (Elizabeth), Spenser writes:

    . . . O Goddesse heavenly bright,
    Mirrour of grace and Majestie divine,
    Great Lady of the greatest Isle, whose light
    Like Phoebus lampe throughout the world doth shine,
    Shed thy faire beames into my feeble eyne,
    And raise my thoughts too humble and too vile,
    To thinke of that true glorious type of thine. . . .
    (The Faerie Queene, 1. 28-34)

  3. England's poet

    Thomas Nashe wrote that Spenser could "bandy line by line . . . in the honour of England, against Spain, France, Italy, and all the world." (From the preface to Greene's Menaphon.)