The Faerie Queen: The Shepheards Calendar

Chrzanowski 1611sEdmund Spenser (1552–1599) and Philip Sidney rose to become the first important poets during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and with the publication of the first part of The Faerie Queen in 1590, Spenser was widely regarded by his contemporaries as England’s finest non-dramatic poet. There are traces of Spenser’s works in several of Shakespeare’s plays, including Much Ado About Nothing, Two Gentlemen of Verona, As You Like It, and Cymbeline. John Milton declared that Spenser was his “poetical father.”

Spenser’s first major work, The Shepheardes Calendar, was published in 1579 and reprinted several times during the author’s lifetime. Building on Montemayor’s use of a pastoral setting for Diana, Spenser imaginatively constructed a calendar of allegorical ecologues treating the issues of love, morality, and religion over the twelve months. About that time, he also started work on The Faerie Queen, an immense project in ways modeled after Orlando Furioso and planned to comprise twenty-four books. Spenser might have completed Book I and half of Book II before he departed for Ireland in 1580.

In Ireland Spenser served with the English forces to put down a rebellion. After victory he was awarded lands near those similarly given to fellow colonist Sir Walter Raleigh. The letter that he sent to Raleigh on “The Author’s Intention” in writing The Faerie Queen precedes the poem in the first edition of Spenser’s collected works. Faerie Queen Gloriana and Fairy Land, a mythical King Arthur-like setting, represent England. The allegorical figures and stories reflect societal issues, individuals, and the complicated politics of the time as well as eternal human virtues and vices. Spenser’s plan was to write twelve books about twelve knights, each exemplifying a “private” virtue and perhaps more books featuring “public” virtues. Only the first six books on holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy were completed. The first three were printed in 1590 to great acclaim; three more were completed and published in 1596.

The present copy is an example of the second issue of first collected edition of Spenser’s works. The Faerie Queene was printed sometime after 1612, when the 1609 sheets apparently ran out. Also, at this time, the death of Robert Cecil cleared the way for the inclusion of “Mother Hubberd’s Tale,” a satire attacking Cecil’s father, Lord Burghley. The second part of The Faerie Queene is dated 1613, though the colophon of the poem bears the date 1612. All of the other parts are in the first state and dated 1611.

Chrzanowski 1611s *

STC 23084

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675