Edmund Spenser was born in London. His date of birth is uncertain, it’s either 1552 or 1553. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and then at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where he acquired an excellent training in classical scholarship. After taking a degree, he tried to make a career in London, first as secretary to the Bishop of Rochester and then as a member in the Earl of Leicester’s household. In London he met Sir Philip Sidney, and, together with him and other friends, he formed a literary club called Areopagus. In 1580 he was appointed secretary to Lord Grey de Wilton, who was the new Lord Deputy of Ireland. He left for Ireland with Lord Grey and lived there for almost the rest of his life. He died in London in 1599.
His most famous works are a collection of sonnets called Amoretti and The Faerie Queene.
Amoretti is a collection of 89 sonnets about Spenser’s courtship of his wife. The main themes are
those of the beauty, cruelty and inaccessibility of the lady and the suffering of her faithful lover.
The Faerie Queene is an epic poem. According to Spenser’s original plan it was to consist of 12 books but only six and fragments of a seventh book are now extant.
Spenser borrowed his idea of an epic poem from Ariosto and Tasso. The Faerie Queene, however, is very different from Orlando Furioso and Gerusalemme Liberata because it is an allegorical poem: it celebrates the main virtues described by Aristotle in his Ethics. The first Book celebrates Holiness, the second Temperance, the third Chastity, the fourth Friendship, the fifth Justice, and the sixth Courtesy. The seventh Book was to celebrate Constancy.
The Faerie Queene signifies Glory, but she also represents Queen Elizabeth.