Edmund Spenser: A Life

Andrew Hadfield. Oxford Univ., $45 (420p) ISBN 978-0-19-959102-2
The last biography of Edmund Spenser (1554–1599), author of The Faerie Queene, was issued in 1945. It is probable that no one will have to write another after this one from Hadfield (Shakespeare and Republicanism), a professor of English at the University of Sussex, who includes a whopping 2,500 endnotes in addition to 60-plus pages of bibliography as part of his record. Considering the skimpiness of documentary evidence, such levels of scholarship are impressive. The most visual of Elizabethan poets, Spenser is a highly stylized innovator whose ornate versification and influence have been left largely behind by modernist and postmodernist sensibilities. Hadfield, who previously has published on Spenser’s crucial years in Ireland, makes a case for the centrality of Spenser’s work while setting the record straight on his colonialist ambitions. Meticulous and slow to publish in an era in which life expectancy was only 35 years, and 10 years Shakespeare’s senior, Spenser bent the course of English literature by establishing pentameter versification. Although marred slightly by a sprinkling of odd repetitions, even the most serious readers will learn more than they might imagine about a colorful, seminal era. Illus. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
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