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Teaching Assignment: Spenser, Amoretti 65

This assignment asks you to interpret Sonnet 65 in Spenser’s sequence Amoretti (1595) with the castle website in mind.  Please explore thoroughly the various facets of the website first, paying particular attention to the Castle Reconstruction as well to the following essays (found listed in the “Site Map”):  “Overview:  Spenser and his ‘New English’ community at Kilcolman”; “Kilcolman:  Kilcolman Castle History”; “Life at Kilcolman:  Uses of Buildings”; “Kilcolman:  The Munster Plantation”; “Conflict:  Desmond Rebellion (1579-83)” and “Conflict: Destruction of the Plantation.”  Also, under the header “Castle Reconstruction,” click on “Object Descriptions” and read the entry on “garden, bower and tower.”  


THE doubt which ye misdeeme, fayre loue, is vaine,
  That fondly feare to loose your liberty,
  when loosing one, two liberties ye gayne,
  and make him bond that bondage earst dyd fly.
Sweet be the bands, the which true loue doth tye,
  without constraynt or dread of any ill:
  the gentle birde feeles no captiuity
  within her cage, but singes and feeds her fill.
There pride dare not approch, nor discord spill
  the league twixt them, that loyal loue hath bound:
  but simple truth and mutuall good will,
  seekes with sweet peace to salue each others wound:
There fayth doth fearlesse dwell in brasen towre,
  and spotlesse pleasure builds her sacred bowre.

Some words here are difficult and/or archaic.  Here are glosses/translations:
misdeeme = “misjudge”
earst = “first”
salue = to “heal” or “cure”
brasen = “strong”, “bold”, and/or “brassy”

Sonnet 65 is best understood in the context of the entire sequence.  Amoretti was published in 1595 along with Epithalamion, Spenser’s wedding poem to his second wife, the Englishwoman Elizabeth Boyle.  In the sonnet sequence, Spenser charts the pleasures, pitfalls, ecstasies and anxieties of wooing his wife-to-be and (among other things) persuading her to come to Kilcolman to live with him.  She married him in 1594 in Munster and settled with the poet at Kilcolman, until they lost their home to rebellion in 1598.

Sonnet 65 occurs in the sequence just after (in #64) the speaker lists the many beautiful features of his beloved, comparing them to various colorful and sweet-smelling flowers:


COMMING to kisse her lyps, (such grace I found)
  Me seemd I smelt a gardin of sweet flowres:
  that dainty odours from them threw around
for damzels fit to decke their louers bowres.
Her lips did smell lyke vnto Gillyflowers,
  her ruddy cheekes lyke vnto Roses red:
  her snowy browes lyke budded Bellamoures
  her louely eyes lyke Pincks but newly spred,
Her goodly bosome lyke a Strawberry bed,
  her neck lyke to a bounch of Cullambynes:
  her brest lyke lillyes, ere theyr leaues be shed,
  her nipples lyke yong blossomd Iessemynes:
Such fragrant flowres doe giue most odorous smell,
  but her sweet odour did them all excell.

Sonnet 65 comes soon before #67, wherein his bride is finally “goodly wonne with her owne will beguiled” like a chased and tamed deer:


LYKE as a huntsman after weary chace,
  Seeing the game from him escapt away,
  sits downe to rest him in some shady place,
  with panting hounds beguiled of their pray:
So after long pursuit and vaine assay,
  when I all weary had the chace forsooke,
  the gentle deare returnd the selfe-same way,
  thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke.
There she beholding me with mylder looke,
  sought not to fly, but fearelesse still did bide:
  till I in hand her yet halfe trembling tooke,
  and with her owne goodwill hir fyrmely tyde.
Strange thing me seemd to see a beast so wyld,
  so goodly wonne with her owne will beguyld.

Then, in #68, the speaker celebrates Easter (including the sacrifice of Jesus Christ).  In #69, he celebrates the success of his “loves conquest… gotten at last with labour and long toyle”:


THE famous warriors of the anticke world,
  Vsed Trophees to erect in stately wize:
  in which they would the records haue enrold,
  of theyr great deeds and valarous emprize.
What trophee then shall I most fit deuize,
  in which I may record the memory
  of my loues conquest, peerelesse beauties prise,
  adorn’d with honour, loue, and chastity?
Euen this verse vowd to eternity,
  shall be thereof immortall moniment:
  and tell her prayse to all posterity,
  that may admire such worlds rare wonderment.
The happy purchase of my glorious spoile,
  gotten at last with labour and long toyle.

His “labour” in wooing Elizabeth Boyle has finally concluded in her “purchase,” or his attainment of her (the word has strong financial overtones).  He and she are simultaneously made “eternal” as subjects of the “immortal monument” that is the poem (the theme of poetic immortality is also explored in Sonnet 75, featured here). 

In Sonnet 65, however, the speaker is still trying to convince his bride to accept him and the “bond” of marriage, which is alluded to in the word “bands” (like a wedding band, or ring; note also the echo of the word banns, or an announcement of betrothal).  With these bonds, and ring, he tries to capture her and bind her to him.  Nonetheless, the meaning of line four is ambiguous:  is she or is he the person who is fleeing the “bondage” of marriage?  (Perhaps both of them are?)  Apparently, Elizabeth still “doubts” whether or not he should be her husband.

Study Questions for Sonnet 65:

1)  What is the central message of the poem?  (Does it have only one central message?)

2)  The first significant word of the poem is “doubt”:  how does it set the tone for what follows?

3) What formal features of the poem heighten a sense of hesitancy and doubt?  

4)  In what ways might Spenser be alluding to his castle complex at Kilcolman in this poem, and why?  Please list, and explain, specific images by line #.

5)  What sense do you get of Spenser’s social status from the website?  How might understanding his social status make a difference in our understanding the poem, and/or in the way that Elizabeth Boyle herself might have understood it? 

6) How does our understanding of this poem change once we better understand Spenser’s and Elizabeth’s position in Ireland as Protestant, “New English” newcomers? 

7)  If the “discord” and “peace” the speaker mentions in the poem (lines 9 and 12) include political discord and peace, and not only (or as well as) emotional upset, how might this change or enhance our understanding of the poem? 

8)  What other potentially political words do you see in this poem?

9) What sort of legal or financial language do you detect in the poem and what is it doing there?  (cf. the word “purchase” in Sonnet 69 as well)

10)  Why is the speaker worried about the adverse effect of “pride” in line 9?  What sort of “pride” does he mean?

11)  Is the image of the bird in a cage in the center of the poem a good or a bad, a dark or a bright one?  How/why?  What is the poet trying to tell his bride with this image? 

12) How attractive would this poem be to a potential bride today?  If not, why not? Would you find it attractive yourself?  Why/why not?

13)  Some critics might read the bride here as a metaphor for Ireland itself, that is, the country Spenser (and his bride to be) is currently colonizing.  If so, how might that change our understanding of the poem?

14) How else is metaphor used in the poem?

15)  Why put the adjective “spotlesse” in the last line?

16)  What does this poem have to do with “fayth” (line 13), and why?

17)  The final couplet sounds almost like a saying or adage.  What gives it this effect, what does it mean, and why does Spenser conclude the poem with this message?