Spenser’s bed was the focus of much mental and physical activity. He fathered at least 3 children, two of them (a son and a daughter) perhaps conceived in Ireland. A possible fourth child, a baby, was rumored to have died in the flames when Kilcolman was sacked in 1598.
Seen here is a four-poster with embroidered curtains. On it lies a small book (perhaps Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion).
“To sleep, perchance to dream…” says Hamlet in his famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Spenser’s own dreams must have factored somehow into his deeply visionary poetry.
In his published correspondence (1580) with his Cambridge tutor Gabriel Harvey, Spenser refers to his work, Dreams, which is now lost if not incorporated under a different name in his works. He translates (and re-translates) the fifteen dream-poems or Songe of the French poet, Joachim Du Bellay, and publishes them as his Visions of Bellay along with other Visions in the Complaints volume (1591). These poems are deeply enigmatic with both political and apocalyptic strains in them.
His poetry sometimes focuses on dreams as the spur to the imagination: in The Faerie Queene, evil spirits visit “Morpheus house” (Morpheus is the god of sleep) in search of a “fit false dreame” to torment the hero Red Crosse Knight with (FQ I.i.39 ff.) In the description of the “heauenly towre” that allegorizes the mind in the House of Temperance episode in Book II, we encounter the character Phantastes, who represents the fantastic imagination (see also Tower House Study: Desk). He has “a sharpe foresight, and working wit,/ That neuer idle was, ne once would rest a whit” (FQ II.ix.49.8-9). He imagines all sorts of
...idle thoughtes and fantasies,
Deuices, dreames, opinions vnsound,
Shewes, visions, sooth-sayes, and prophesies;
And all that fained is, as leasings, tales, and lies. (FQ II.ix.51.6-9).
In his wedding poem, “Epithalamion”, the bed is a framing device: the action begins and ends in bed, as his bride is awoken from her “bowre” with the rising of the sun (23) and returns to bed with her new husband that night. At the conclusion of his poem, Spenser invokes the “Genius” of the land (a guardian spirit) to protect the couple and send them children:
And thou glad Genius, in whose gentle hand,
The bridale bowre and geniall bed remaine,
Without blemish or staine,
And the sweet pleasures of theyr loues delight
With secret ayde doest succour and supply,
Till they bring forth the fruitfull progeny,
Send vs the timely fruit of this same night. (398-404)
He also imagines cupids fluttering around his bride’s body as she lies in her (their?) bed:
The whiles an hundred little winged loues,
Like diuers fethered doues,
Shall fly and flutter round about your bed,
And in the secret darke, that none reproues,
Their prety stealthes shal worke, and snares shal spread
To filch away sweet snatches of delight,
Conceald through couert night. (357-63)
The cupids resemble scattered leaves of his own love poetry, including the sonnet sequence he used to woo his wife. The sequence is entitled “Amoretti,” from Italian amoretti, meaning “little loves,” i.e., cupids. Cupids resemble children, who like poems are the fruit of his own invention, or “Genius,” that allow him to grab “sweet snatches of delight” at Kilcolman. Thanks to his genius and “geniall bed,” he will create children, or “fruitfull progeny” with Elizabeth Boyle. Without genius, wife or a bed, no children; without children and a strong house to put them in, no hold on the land, and no place to dream or write his poetry.
Camille Paglia, “sex.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1990), 638-41.
Carol Schreier Rupprecht, “dreams.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1990), 226-7.
Lars-Håkan Svensson, “Morpheus.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1990), 480.
https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/To_Sleep,_Perchance_to_Dream [accessed 1/30/18]