Spenser and pastoral poetry

Essay by mebbekkewA+, November 2004

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Pastoral poetry as a genre is a proving ground for poets preparing to launch themselves into the world of epics. Also it is used as a platform to comment on contemporary politics and issues. In Spenser's the Shepheardes Calender these two facets of pastoral poetry are bound inexorably together. By mere definition an epic is about the nation and the nation about politics. In the period of the publication of the Shepheardes Calender Spenser's nation was under threat. The much loved and revered Queen Elizabeth was about to do the unthinkable and marry a French duke, Aleςon. Spenser's very literary career was under threat by the possibility of this marriage as he believed the union would cause England to dissolve into the empire of France and thereby result in the end of his inspiration and his epic. As a result Spenser has no choice but to combines the traditional twin concerns of pastoral in his piece the Shepheardes Calender.

One of the first ways that Spenser combines poetry and politics is his use of an archaic form of English which he insists is "good and natural English words" (1) and that the words of Chaucer should be "the Loadestarre of our Language" (2). He believes that the English language has been patched up "with peces and rags of other languages" (3) to become a "hodgepodge of al other speeches" (4). Here language is being defined in a very political way (5). His desire to have a pure and untainted English language can be see as a comment on his wish to have England itself untainted by foreign influence, namely that of Aleςon. His wish to have a pure English language is suggestive almost of racial purity; that the English should be faithful to "their owne country and natural speech" (6)...