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‘Lost Works’, Suppositious Pieces, and Continuations

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on Spenser's lost works. Spenser was a highly self-conscious poet determined to shape his literary career in the public eye. Taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by print publication, Spenser, his friends, and his publisher employ paratextual apparatus (such as prefaces and glosses) in his poetry and the prose genre of the ‘familiar’ letter to situate his achievements so far and announce his ambitions for the future. In the process, they mention many writings that never made their way into print and appear not to have survived. These ‘lost’ works have been the subject of much speculation over the years. Did they exist in the first place? If so, why were they not published, and what happened to them? Like those of his classical predecessors, Spenser's lost works, attributed writings, and literary afterlives are interpretable. Some help us trace the evolution of his surviving writings, his creative aspirations, or even his personal connections. Others illuminate the career path that Spenser and his contemporaries imagined as appropriate for the new poet they were presenting to the reading public, or show the ways Spenser was read and appropriated by the following generation of writers. Most evidence for Spenser's lost works appears in three sources, all printed in his lifetime: The Shepheardes Calender (1579), the Spenser-Harvey Letters (1580), and the preface by publisher William Ponsonby to Spenser's Complaints (1591).

Keywords: poets, poetry, lost works, The Shepheardes Calender, Letters, Complaints

The lost works of classical writers haunted the Renaissance imagination. While many writings had of course been rediscovered, they remained tantalizingly in dialogue with works no longer or only partially extant. Consequently, the stray title, the orphaned fragment, and the rumoured book that may never in fact have existed were familiar and interpretable presences in the sixteenth century. Lost works suggested creative directions contemplated but abandoned, or taken but superseded, supplementary or alternative possibilities of genre, form, subject, approach, or audience. They also provided opportunities for attribution and reattribution as new evidence came available—or was supplied to fill the need. Textual absences inspired creative imagination, and throughout the Renaissance lost and incomplete works generated completions and continuations alongside the imitations and appropriations inspired by those that did survive.

A Renaissance poet aware of literary tradition may very well have encouraged a similar web of teasingly suggestive and generative possibilities around his own work. As several chapters of this Handbook make clear, Edmund Spenser was a highly self‐conscious poet determined to shape his literary career in the public eye. Taking (p. 350) full advantage of the opportunities offered by print publication, Spenser, his friends, and his publisher employ paratextual apparatus (such as prefaces and glosses) in his poetry and the prose genre of the ‘familiar’ letter to situate his achievements so far and announce his ambitions for the future. In the process, they mention many writings that never made their way into print and appear not to have survived. These ‘lost’ works have been the subject of much speculation over the years. Did they exist in the first place? If so, why were they not published, and what happened to them? Moreover, like other writers thought to have written more than was publicly available, Spenser had additional works attributed to him both during his life and after his death, and his writings, apparently incomplete, furthermore inspired not only imitations but continuations. Like those of his classical predecessors, Spenser's lost works, attributed writings, and literary afterlives are interpretable. Some help us trace the evolution of his surviving writings, his creative aspirations, or even his personal connections. Others illuminate the career path that Spenser and his contemporaries imagined as appropriate for the new poet they were presenting to the reading public, or show the ways Spenser was read and appropriated by the following generation of writers. Even if his lost works never existed, the titles, references, and quotations left by Spenser and his circle reveal a writer in dialogue with his peers, his patrons, and his literary ancestors, ambitiously creating an identity for Spenser as the heir and overgoer simultaneously of classical, Continental, and English literary traditions.

Lost Works: The Sources

Most evidence for Spenser's lost works appears in three sources, all printed in his lifetime: The Shepheardes Calender (1579), the Spenser–Harvey Letters (1580), and the preface by publisher William Ponsonby to Spenser's Complaints (1591).1 Various ambiguities make it difficult to count precisely the number of works these sources collectively name or quote from. They total at least sixteen, and possibly up to twenty, not to mention various ‘sondry others’, ‘other Pamphlets’, and unnamed experiments in quantitative verse.2 One of the named works comprises nine comedies and another seven psalms, which for some scholars raises the total to over thirty. However counted, the lost works constitute an exceptionally large group, even when compared with the records of other Renaissance English poets and keeping in mind the natural losses expected for any writer working four centuries ago. Nevertheless, these three sources all carry the authority of Spenser's direct involvement or at least his probable complicity, suggesting that these works did exist or that Spenser and his associates wanted readers to think they existed.

(p. 351) The earliest references appear in The Shepheardes Calender. Their presence here helps to inaugurate a strategy employed by Spenser and his circle throughout his career—that of packaging his writings as components of larger, more ambitious literary and cultural projects. In his prefatory Epistle to Gabriel Harvey, E. K., the Calender's possibly fictitious commentator, hopes that his editorial efforts will encourage Master Immerito ‘to put forth divers other excellent works of his, which slepe in silence, as his Dreames, his Legendes, his Court of Cupide, and sondry others’ (Spenser 1989: 19–20). Whether or not these poems were indeed ready to be awakened for public viewing, they link the ‘new Poete’ Immerito with the established master Chaucer. E. K. had opened the dedicatory epistle to Harvey with praise for Chaucer's ‘excellencie and wonderfull skil in making’, and Chaucer's works included, or were thought at the time to include, dream visions, legends, and a poem called The Court of Love. In a gloss to November 195, E. K. claims furthermore to have written a full commentary on Dreames. The gloss indicates that Dreames treats mythological subjects and may have included a story about Hebe (goddess of youth) staining the heavens with a cup of spilt nectar. More generally, E. K. suggests here that Dreames, like The Shepheardes Calender, is an accomplishment both worthy of and requiring explication. To write a commentary on a text not yet published was to argue for its status as instant classic. Dreames, E. K. promises, is both innovatively new and learnedly traditional, a fit companion for the ancient and medieval texts that had long enjoyed the prestige of commentary.

Spenser himself mentions Dreames in his correspondence with Harvey: along with Dying Pellican, another lost work, Dreames is now ‘fully finished’ and ‘presentlye to bee imprinted’. In a postscript, Spenser adds that Dreames perhaps should ‘come forth alone’ because it has grown to the size of the Calender as a result of glosses added by E. K., ‘running continually in manner of a Paraphrase’. In addition, the poem's ‘Pictures’ have been ‘so singularly set forth, and purtrayed’ that if ‘Michel Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the best, nor reprehende the worst’ (Prose, 17–18). These ‘Pictures’ may refer to actual illustrations, like those that accompanied the Calender, or to visual elements in the poem itself. In either case, Harvey in response reiterates Spenser's implicit desire to situate the work in an Italian as well as classical cultural context. At first, Harvey simply fans the flames of reader expectation: he will leave off dreaming of Dreames and the Dying Pellican until ‘with these eyes [he sees] them forth indeed’ (Prose, 459). In a later letter he continues his advance marketing by anticipating the poem's successful reception. Colin Clout, Harvey jokes, will be able to ‘purchase great landes, and Lordshippes’ with the money the Calender has already earned and that Dreames will bring him. But Harvey also whets public appetite for Immerito's promised work by praising Dreames for its ‘singular extraordinarie veine and invention’ and comparing his friend's achievement with the works of Lucian, Petrarch, Aretino, Pasquill, and ‘all the most delicate, and fine conceited Grecians and Italians’. Spenser will be well satisfied, Harvey concludes, if ‘Dreames be but as well esteemed of in Englande, as Petrarches Visions be in Italy’ (Prose, 471).

(p. 352) References to other lost works in The Shepheardes Calender likewise supplement Immerito's Chaucerian genealogy with his classical and Italian affiliations. In a gloss to a story about Cupid in the March eclogue, E. K. directs readers who would like to see more of ‘Cupids colours and furniture’ to read either Propertius (referring to Elegy 2.12) or ‘Moschus his Idyllion of wandring love, being now most excellently translated into Latine by the singuler learned man Angelus Politianus: whych worke [E. K. has] seene amongst other of thys Poets [i.e., Spenser's] doings, very wel translated also into Englishe Rymes’ (March (79)). This reference to a translation of the first Idyll of the ancient Greek lyricist Moschus, apparently based on the Latin version by Angelo Poliziano (first published in 1512), may be the Court of Cupide E. K. mentions in the dedication. But more likely it suggests a different work: Moschus's original poem says nothing about a ‘court’ and consists of a speech in which Venus describes her runaway son. The elegy by the Latin lyricist Propertius—an ‘ekphrastic’ description of an image of Cupid—is a similarly visual poem. Read in one light, the gloss exemplifies E. K.'s habits of pedantic allusion‐hunting and name‐dropping. But his references to Propertius and Moschus also emphasize Immerito's interest in classical traditions of iconographic or emblematic verse. A gloss in the June eclogue adds another lost work apparently written with these traditions in mind. Explaining a reference to the classical Graces, E. K. notes that ‘thys same Poete [i.e., Spenser] in his Pageaunts sayth[:] An hundred Graces on her eyeledde satte’ (June (25)). The line, E. K. adds, imitates one in a late classical poem by Musaeus about Hero and Leander; Spenser would later incorporate a revised version in Amoretti 40: ‘when on each eyelid sweetly doe appeare | an hundred Graces as in shade to sit’ (3–4). In its original context, though, the quoted line serves primarily to advertise Pageaunts, a title likely designed to remind E. K.'s readers of Petrarch's immensely popular and emblematic Triumphs.

The Shepheardes Calender is the source for two other lost works. In the October eclogue, E. K. glosses a reference to the swan's sweet song by quoting from a sonnet Immerito has elsewhere written: ‘The silver swanne doth sing before her dying day | As shee that feeles the deepe delight that is in death’ (October (90)). Finally, in that eclogue's prefatory argument, E. K. expresses his hope to publish the English Poete, a book that had ‘lately come to [his] hands’ and in which the author ‘at large discourseth’ on the sources of poetic inspiration. This work, he writes, complements the October eclogue, in that both depict poetry as ‘no arte, but a divine gift and heavenly instinct not to bee gotten by laboure and learning, but adorned with both’. If it existed, English Poete would have been written shortly before (or possibly at about the same time as) Philip Sidney's Defence of Poetry, with which it apparently bears affinities. But if Spenser knew of Sidney's plans for the Defence, the reference may instead signal affiliation with the Calender's dedicatee, suggesting that this ‘new’ English poet [i.e., Spenser] agrees with Sidney's ideas about the renovation of English poetry. The English Poete may even be a playfully oblique reference to Sidney's text, with Spenser and/or Harvey letting readers know (via the sometimes unreliable E. K.) that a contemporary has indeed written, or is in the process of writing, an English treatise on poetics.3 In his A Discourse of English Poetrie (1586), William Webbe wishes (p. 353) he could have a sight of English Poete, presumably because he was pursuing a similar project without the benefit of a contemporary model (Sidney's Defence was not published until 1595). Webbe also pleads for the publication of Immerito's Dreames, Legendes, and Court of Cupide to ‘satisfye the thirsty desires of many which desire nothing more’ (D1r). Webbe most likely reiterates E. K.'s references. However, if these other works had circulated in manuscript, Webbe may have known about them from other sources: he graduated from Cambridge the same year as Spenser, and was enough of a literary insider to name the Calender's anonymous author as ‘Master Sp.’.

The correspondence between Spenser and Harvey adds several lost works to those mentioned in the Calender. Spenser suggests that he may dedicate ‘My Slomber, and the other Pamphlets’ to Edward Dyer, because these works may not suit the ‘inclination and qualitie’ of an unnamed alternative candidate, either Sidney or the Earl of Leicester (Prose, 6; SE, 432). My Slomber is likely the same work as A Senights Slumber, mentioned in the preface to Complaints, and is possibly the same as Dreames—though revelatory ‘dream’ visions and ‘sleep’‐related illusions constituted different literary traditions. Spenser also claims that he plans shortly to ‘sette forth’ a book entitled Epithalamion Thamesis. This poem, he explains, will draw on the geographical information in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1577) to describe the ancestry of the Thames, ‘all the Countrey that he passeth thorough’, his marriage, and his fluvial wedding guests. ‘A worke beleeve me’, Spenser assures his friend, ‘of much labour’ and cartographical research (Prose, 17). Harvey in response notes that this Epithalamion will provide a ‘president, and patterne’ for an up‐and‐coming ‘brother’ poet, one of whose projects may in time reach the ‘length, bredth, and depth’ of Spenser's river poem (Prose, 468–70). If he existed at all, this novice may be William Vallans, whose poem about the river Lee, A Tale of Two Swannes (1590, but probably composed about 1577), mentions Epithalamion Thamesis.4 In his preface, Vallans wonders why the version he has seen in ‘Latene verse’ has been suppressed, and why the version in English, ‘long since’ promised, is ‘not perfourmed’ (A2r).

Spenser also mentions his Stemmata Dudleiana, which includes ‘sundry Apostrophes’ addressed ‘you knowe to whome’, and reminds Harvey that it is not a work ‘lightly’ to be circulated; ‘trust me’, he adds in a moment of self‐congratulation, ‘I never dyd better’ (Prose, 18). Apparently written in Latin, Stemmata Dudleiana may have been a genealogy of Spenser's patron, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester: Spenser suggests that the work follows Harvey's example, possibly indicating that the Stemmata, like Harvey's Gratulationes (1578), praised Leicester and proposed his marriage to Elizabeth (Orwen 1946). In response, Harvey claims that a week's ‘pollishing and trimming’ would suffice to finish either the Stemmata or another lost work, Spenser's ‘nine Englishe Commoedies’ (Prose, 459–60). In a later letter, Harvey notes that these works imitate Herodotus in being named after the nine Muses, and he likens them to Ludovico Ariosto's comedies for their ‘finenesse of plausible Elocution’ and ‘rarenesse of Poeticall invention’ (Prose, 471). The comparison of Spenser's elocution and invention with that found in some of the best known drama of the Italian Renaissance does not necessarily suggest—implausibly—that Spenser had written nine plays. Spenser (with Harvey following) may very well be drawing on the medieval (p. 354) use of ‘comedy’ for a narrative poem, particularly since Chaucer uses ‘comedye’ in this sense in the stanza of Troilus and Criseyde that begins ‘Go litel bok’ (V.1786), the line Spenser appropriates for the opening of The Shepheardes Calender ( ‘To His Booke’). Spenser's ‘commoedies’ may therefore have been a series of shorter dramatic speeches, such as those in his Teares of the Muses.

The third major source for the lost works is the preface to Spenser's Complaints (1591). In ‘The Printer to the Gentle Reader’, Spenser's publisher William Ponsonby explains that the success of The Faerie Queene (1590) prompted him to try to ‘get into [his] handes such smale Poemes of the same Authors; as [Ponsonby] heard were disperst abroad in sundrie hands, and not easie to bee come by, by [the author] himselfe; some of them having bene diverslie imbeziled and purloyned from him, since his departure over Sea’. While Complaints includes a thematically coherent selection of Spenser's works both old and new, Ponsonby asserts that the poet had also written

sundrie others, namelie Ecclesiastes, and Canticum canticorum translated, A senights slumber, The hell of lovers, his Purgatorie, being all dedicated to Ladies; so it may seeme he ment them all to one volume. Besides some other Pamphlets looselie scattered abroad: as The dying Pellican, The howers of the Lord, The sacrifice of a sinner, The seven Psalmes, &c. (Spenser 1989: 224)

As a group, these differ from other lost works in that most appear to treat devotional subjects. Three are biblical translations: Ecclesiastes, Canticles (the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs), and the seven penitential psalms. The Howers of the Lord and The Sacrifice of a Sinner are self‐evidently devotional, and in this context the Dying Pellican, also mentioned by Harvey alongside Dreames, suggests a treatment of the pelican in its traditional role as an emblem for Christ (because the bird was thought to feed its young with its own blood). As Ponsonby's preface is the only evidence for most of these works, their status as component parts of Spenser's literary self‐fashioning is less secure than that of the works listed in the Calender or correspondence. But Spenser's probable involvement in the publication of Complaints lends some authority to Ponsonby's words: the two men certainly maintained a close working relationship, as Ponsonby had just published The Faerie Queene and would continue to publish Spenser's new books while Spenser lived. Furthermore, a manuscript commendatory sonnet dated 1588 (before the publication of Complaints) suggests that literary contemporaries thought Spenser had written devotional poetry. The poem discusses the forthcoming publication of The Faerie Queene and praises its author as a divinely inspired poet who writes of ‘Heavens course’ as well as the ‘bloudy warrs of Men’. If readers doubt the judgment of the sonnet's anonymous author, he directs them to read Spenser's works, ‘Then deeme, who may it be | That can each God in Heaven and Hell descrye’ (Black 2001: 124). An inaccurate description of Spenser's publications so far or the forthcoming epic, these lines may describe one or more of the poems Ponsonby lists.

Evidence for two additional lost works appears in sources other than these three publications. In the Vewe of the Presente State of Ireland (1633), the speaker Irenius, (p. 355) often read as a figure for Spenser, notes his plans to produce a work on the Antiquities of Ireland (Prose, 81–2, 230–1). Finally, Spenser may have written additional instalments of The Faerie Queene. In the ‘Letter to Ralegh’ Spenser refers to the poem's ‘first twelve bookes’, and the title pages of the 1590 and 1596 editions both advertise the poem as ‘disposed into twelve books’. In Amoretti 80 (1595), Spenser acknowledges that he has completed only the first six books, but indicates that he still considers the work but ‘halfe fordonne’. The title page of the posthumous 1609 edition retains the promise of twelve books and prints the Two Cantos of Mutabilitie as Book VII, cantos 6 and 7 (plus two stanzas of an ‘unperfite’ canto 8). The packaging of this edition may suggest that Spenser's publisher thought, or at least hoped, that other parts of The Faerie Queene had been completed and would be discovered. These missing books of Spenser's epic have especially tantalized the imaginations of later writers and scholars.

Reading the Lost Works

What happened to the lost works? As Jack B. Oruch notes, ‘For each item several possibilities exist: accidental disappearance, theft, deliberate suppression, incorporation into another work by a new title, or Spenser's failure to write what he and others spoke of as planned, in progress, or completed’ (SE, 738). Some of the shorter poems Ponsonby described as ‘disperst abroad in sundrie hands’ or ‘imbeziled and purloyned’ from Spenser may never have been recovered from coterie circulation, whether authorized or unauthorized. In his Epigrammatum libri quatuor (1607), John Stradling claimed that some manuscripts had been consumed in a fire set by Irish rebels (G3v). The final books of The Faerie Queene may likewise have been lost or destroyed: in 1633, Sir James Ware posited that the poem's conclusion was lost ‘by the disorder and abuse’ of a servant, ‘whom [Spenser] had sent before him into England ’ (Prose, 531). Spenser himself encouraged such narratives of loss, dwelling on the vulnerability of ‘good thoughts’ to the ravages of ‘wicked Time’ in his continuation of Chaucer's unfinished Squire's Tale:

  •  O cursed Eld the cankerworme of writs,
  •  How may these rimes, so rude as doth appeare,
  •  Hope to endure, sith workes of heavenly wits
  • Are quite devoured, and brought to nought by little bits? (IV.ii.33)5

But ‘cursed Eld’ is not the only enemy to ‘writs’. Spenser may have suppressed the Stemmata Dudleiana, for example, because it was dangerous to circulate pedigrees that advanced claims of royal blood (Bennett 1942: 92; Van Es 2002: 163). Finally, some of these lost works may never have been more than ‘good thoughts’ in the first place. The Calender and the correspondence are both self‐consciously (not to (p. 356) mention self‐promotingly) clever texts, full of coterie allusions to matters now opaque, and some of these references may have been the playful product of insider games or jokes.6

But of these various possibilities, scholarly attention has traditionally focused on the idea that revised versions of these lost works became embedded in the poetry Spenser eventually did publish. For example, The Faerie Queene may draw on the Stemmata Dudleiana in the genealogies of Artegall and Britomart, the Court of Cupide in the descriptions of Mirabella's trials or of Busirane's house, the Epithalamion Thamesis in the marriage of the Thames and Medway, the translation of Moschus in Venus's search for Cupid in Book III, canto 6, My Slomber and Dreames in the visions and dreams in Book I, or Pageaunts and Legendes in any number of places. Stemmata Dudleiana may have become the basis of The Ruines of Time, the Epithalamion Thamesis may have inspired aspects of Prothalamion, and Dreames may have been refashioned as the elegy for Douglas Howard in Daphnaïda, which recollects the dream vision of Chaucer's Book of the Duchess. The Fowre Hymnes (1596) may incorporate The Hell of Lovers, his Purgatorie and include the other works Ponsonby mentions as ‘dedicated to Ladies’ and suitable for gathering in one volume: the poems collected in Fowre Hymns focus on the philosophy of love and the book was dedicated to the Countesses of Warwick and Cumberland.7 The published version of The Faerie Queene may even incorporate its ‘lost’ second half. Northrop Frye (1961: 110) notes that ‘as one virtue is bound to involve others, Spenser's scheme was bound to foreshorten as he went on’, so the extant six books may include passages and episodes Spenser initially envisioned as constituting additional books. A similar dynamic may be at work with many of these missing poems. Just as he revised for Amoretti the line about the eyelid‐perching Graces originally intended for Pageaunts (quoted earlier), Spenser may have used other lost works where and when he saw opportunity and appropriateness.

Another way to understand the lost works is to see them as part of a self‐consciously crafted campaign to promote Spenser as a ‘prolific virtuoso writer in all genres, one who could supply much fine work to patron and public if only he were properly encouraged and rewarded’ (SE, 738). But even beyond their possible role in generating publicity and patronage, the lost works serve to suggest important answers to implicit questions about the ‘new Poete’ at particular cultural and vocational moments. In what literary traditions and debates was it important that he intervene? What genealogies were claimed for him? What alliances did he forge, and in what literary communities did he participate? Whether or not they existed, the lost works reveal what Spenser and his circle assumed his ambitions, literary heritage, and networks should be. When English readers first encountered the anonymous Master Immerito he was a tabula rasa. Through their descriptions of his other writings, the Calender, the correspondence, and later the Complaints sought to ‘create’ him as a nationally significant figure.8

Several lost works, for example, signify interventions in ongoing debates about the literary resources of the English language, particularly the extent to which poetry in the vernacular should rely on classical principles. Should a fledgling poet employ the (p. 357) accentual‐syllabic metre that would eventually become the norm for English verse, or the quantitative metres employed in Greek and Latin, which depend not on stress but on the quantity and duration of syllables? The question remained open in the 1570s and 1580s. Spenser informs Harvey that he lately prefers ‘Englishe Versifying’ (i.e., quantitative metre) and will employ it for Epithalamion Thamesis (Prose, 252). Spenser also plans to dedicate My Slomber to Edward Dyer, who, along with Sidney, had founded a ‘faction’ that promoted ‘certaine Lawes and rules of Quantities of English sillables’ (Prose, 17, 6). Spenser names this new literary club the Areopagus. Whether a real or imagined literary community, the Areopagus represents an English response to Continental academies such as the Pléiade in France, centres of artistic production and authority that promoted reliance on classical models.9 These references thus align Spenser with major movements in Continental poetry as well as with influential English contemporaries. If Spenser had written these poems but then incorporated them in other works, he rewrote them in the accentual‐syllabic verse increasingly recognized in the 1580s and 1590s as better suited to the expressive possibilities of poetry in English. Nonetheless, his experiments with quantitative poetry may have showed Spenser what English could and could not do relative to Latin, teaching him about the boundaries of play with word order, the potential for rhetorical variety within the verse line, and the poetic importance of each syllable (Prose, 479–83).

In general, these early discussions of lost works suggest that Spenser was experimenting with a variety of models and influences. If Legendes eventually evolved into the Legends of Holiness, Temperance, and Chastity, for instance, then the Calender envisions Spenser's career as moving not only along the Virgilian trajectory from pastoral to epic but also within a calendrical tradition, since ‘legends’ can describe hagiographic and martyrological texts associated with the calendar year (Chapman 2004). The topographical Epithalamion, the genealogical Stemmata Dudleiana, and the visionary Dreames (as well as the planned Antiquities of Ireland) anticipate Spenser's virtuoso use of the ‘forms of history’ available to him, such as the antiquarian, the chorographic, and the prophetic.10

But references to lost works in the Calender and correspondence also function more specifically to depict Spenser's culturally nationalist aims as they identify the classical, Continental, and English models Spenser sought to emulate and eventually to surpass. As mentioned earlier, the discussions of Dreames situate Spenser as Chaucer's heir and compare his powers of ‘invention’ favourably with those of classical Greek and Italian poets. The nine comedies demonstrate the new poet's range: he competes not only in the heavyweight class of epic, with his ‘Elvish Queene’ seeking to ‘overgo’ Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, but he also measures up well against the Continental star in other literary weight classes, such as dramatic verse (Prose, 471). Moreover, the comedies indicate Spenser's shared commitment with Ariosto to marry classical sources with contemporary themes and vernacular expression. The reference to Petrarch's Visions in connection with Dreames likewise stresses Spenser's commitment to writing in the vernacular, as does the translation of Moschus: the new poet has remade a classical text into English just as Poliziano had translated it (p. 358) from Greek to Latin. Spenser's announced intervention in the epithalamic tradition similarly emphasizes his classical, Continental, and neo‐Latin connections. At the same time, the influence of Holinshed on Epithalamion Thamesis places that work in the particularly English tradition of antiquarian river poems, linking Spenser with writers such as William Camden and John Leland. Many of the lost works thus elaborate on the picture of Master Immerito painted in the Calender as being ‘yet both English, and also used of most excellent Authors and most famous Poetes’ (Spenser 1989: 14). As a group, they consequently contribute to Spenser's self‐characterization as a vernacular ‘neoteric’ poet—a writer who experiments with various ‘lower’ forms in ways that fruitfully inform his epic project, and who looks not only to the past for inspiration but also to the ideas and writers of the European present, employing them to reorient the past from a contemporary, international perspective.11

A decade after the publication of the Calender and correspondence, William Ponsonby announced what he, and perhaps Spenser, envisioned as the next career move of the ‘new Poet’ (Spenser 1989: 224). As a collection, Complaints represents the fruition of the verse experiments and Continental imitations mentioned a decade earlier in The Shepheardes Calender and correspondence (SE, 179–80). The volume also seems to have provided Spenser with a chance to recast earlier work. Complaints contains Mother Hubberds Tale, which the dedication contends was ‘composed in…youth’ and which originally engaged with events of the late 1570s, as well as reworked versions of Spenser's very first publications, the sonnets based on the work of Clément Marot and Joachim Du Bellay that had appeared in Jan Van der Noot's A Theatre for Worldings (1569). Other poems may also be based on earlier, apparently ‘lost’, work. The nine comedies named for the Muses may be connected in some way to the nine laments in Teares of the Muses; My Slomber and Dreames may be related to the three Visions that end the volume, or, in their shared use of the trope of sleep, to Virgils Gnat and Mother Hubberds Tale.12

But Ponsonby's preface implicitly addresses a more general question: with the publication of Complaints and the first three books of The Faerie Queene, what poetic avenues now opened? According to Spenser's publisher, the next step was not the second instalment of The Faerie Queene but shorter works that could be collected to similar ‘grave and profitable’ effect as Complaints (Spenser 1989: 222). These poems likely were, or were envisioned as, lyrics: popular devotional forms of the period included sonnets, hymns, and metrical psalms. Ponsonby's wistful catalogue of unavailable titles reflects Spenser's continued interest in the idea of poetry as divine gift, an idea established by his English Poete. Devotional poetry was regarded as a ‘high’ form that Spenser and his promoters may have thought worthy of the new poet's next efforts. After all, Sidney had praised poetry that imitated ‘the inconceivable excellencies of God’ as the pinnacle of poetic art, and Ponsonby's list echoes Sidney's examples: ‘David in his Psalms; Solomon in his Song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs; Moses and Deborah in their Hymns; and the writer of Job’ (Sidney 1989: 217). This potential move toward the explicitly devotional may reflect the influence of prominent Continental alternatives to the Virgilian career (p. 359) path, particularly that of the Augustinian turn from ‘youthful, courtly, erotic poetry to aged, contemplative, divine poetry’.13

Spenser's association with metrical psalms has additional implications. There was a tradition of using psalm translation to convey an anti‐court pose (Prescott 1991), a tradition consistent with the sceptical Spenser of the 1590s who critiqued the court in Complaints and Colin Clout. More generally, writing psalms would align Spenser not only with the Continental, Calvinist traditions established by Clément Marot and Theodore de Bèze but also with English ones, particularly the metrically and metaphorically experimental verse translations of Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.14 More broadly, like other ‘lost works’, this reference may create and sustain Spenser's connections to Philip, who by the publication of Spenser's Complaints in 1591 had begun to assume posthumous mythical status as a literary and political hero, and to the Sidney family generally, a collective model of poetic skill and potentially a powerful source of patronage. Spenser began his civil career working for Leicester and Henry Sidney, and may have exchanged work in manuscript with Philip (see n. 3). Complaints itself is in some ways inspired by Philip and is unified by dedications and references to him and his Sidney and Dudley relatives (Lemmi 1930; SE, 180). These references anticipate and may have invited Mary Sidney Herbert's possible collaboration with Spenser on Astrophel and the Doleful Lay of Clorinda (1595).15 If Complaints as a whole proclaims ties to the Sidneys and what they represent, the preface's depiction of Spenser's ambitions as religious lyricist suggests literary cross‐fertilization and parallel career paths among Spenser, Sidney, and Pembroke. As the publisher of numerous works by Sidney, Pembroke, and Spenser in the 1590s, Ponsonby himself was a locus for a literary community that was both real in some respects and aspirational in others. He worked actively to foster this community, and perhaps encouraged Pembroke to release some of her brother's texts by publishing her own work as well as numerous dedications to her, including addresses by Spenser himself in Complaints, the 1590 Faerie Queene, Colin Clout, and Astrophel. Ponsonby's desire to publish Spenser's religious poetry as a collection corresponds to Fulke Greville's planned volume of Sidney's religious writings, and may even have been intended to invite Pembroke to provide him with the nearly or recently finished Sidneian Psalmes for publication. Ponsonby may also have hoped to loosen monopolies on publication of devotional works by whetting public appetite for those of so prominent a writer as Spenser.16

What happened to these apparent plans for a collection of devotional poems and biblical translations? In the sixteenth century, the devotional poem competed with the Petrarchan sonnet for primacy of lyric place (Dubrow 1995: 61–4; Hamlin 2005: 135). What may have been intended as a Sidney‐inspired collection of psalms and other religious lyrics in 1591, shortly before the publication of Astrophil and Stella, may have become instead a sonnet sequence in the Petrarchan tradition once the popularity of Sidney's sonnets raised the prestige of what had been considered a ‘low’ form (Marotti 1982: 407–8). Perhaps torn between these two career options for an English poet, the devotional and the Petrarchan, Spenser chose to incorporate some of these intended religious works into Amoretti and Epithalamion, published by (p. 360) Ponsonby in 1595. This collection rings with echoes of the Psalms and the Song of Solomon (mentioned in Ponsonby's preface to Complaints), follows the structure of the liturgical calendar, and marries earthly to spiritual love (cf. Kaske 2004: 38–46).

Suppositious Works

While uncertainties of attribution complicate the canon of many Renaissance writers, Spenser is associated with relatively few works of debated authorship. Three of these are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this Handbook. A Vewe of the Presente State of Ireland, written in 1596 and printed under Spenser's name in 1633, is widely accepted as Spenser's. A strong case has also been made for one of the three state papers known collectively as A Brief Note of Ireland (see Chapter 17 above). The one poem to spur discussion is the Doleful Lay of Clorinda, printed in Astrophel, the collection of elegies dedicated to Sidney and published with Colin Clouts Come Home Again (1595). The collection's poetic fiction ascribes the Doleful Lay to Astrophel's sister, suggesting that it was to be read as the voice of Mary Sidney Herbert; this attribution is still a matter of dispute.

The one remaining suppositious work is Axiochus (1592), a translation of a dialogue on death and immortality popular in the Renaissance and thought (incorrectly) to be by Plato.17 The title page of the 1592 English version advertises itself as ‘Translated out of Greeke by Edw. Spenser’, a claim repeated in a prefatory note to the reader: ‘translated out of Greeke, by that worthy Scholler and Poet, Maister Edward Spenser, whose studies have & do carry no mean commendation, because their deserts are of so great esteeme’ (¶4r). The volume clearly intends readers to identify the translator as Edmund Spenser, the only well‐known poet of that name. Because Spenser's publications had been either anonymous or had printed his name as ‘Ed.’, ‘Edward’ was a plausible error if the publisher, Cuthbert Burby, was unacquainted with Spenser. Scholars in favour of the attribution note that the original Axiochus was known among the Sidney circle—Philippe Duplessis de Mornay, a close friend of the Sidney family, had published a French translation in 1581—and argue for verbal parallels between the translation and both the prose in the Vewe and the poetry in The Faerie Queene. Supporting the attribution is the fact that the translation is not ‘out of Greeke’ but is based on a 1568 Latin version: Spenser's command of Greek is debated.

Scholars who question the attribution note that the translation is not mentioned in any contemporary discussion of Spenser's works (printed, manuscript, rumoured, or ‘lost’), including the list compiled by Spenser's own regular publisher, Ponsonby; that many of the parallels are commonplace in Renaissance texts, and could also be the result of imitation rather than shared authorship; and that an attribution by somebody who apparently did not know Spenser carries little weight. In addition, the 1 (p. 361) 592 volume includes the text of a ‘sweet speech’ presented before the Queen at a tournament in January 1581, a speech Spenser could not have written since he was in Dublin at the time. Instead, this additional text is likely to be the work of poet and translator Anthony Munday, who is also the likely author of the book's dedication to London alderman Benedict Barnam. Since the dedication is for the translation, not the speech, the entire volume could very well be Munday's work. If so, was the use of Spenser's name an innocent publisher error, or was it instead a shady attempt to capitalize on Spenser's success? A similar question arises with Brittain's Ida (1628), a pirated edition of a Spenserian imitation by Phineas Fletcher published as ‘Written by that Renowned Poët, Edmond Spencer’. With Axiochus, the 1592 volume was the first book Burby published, and he may have hoped the attribution would improve its chances in the literary marketplace. Munday, a man and a writer prone to impostures and impersonations, may even have been complicit in the strategy. Nonetheless, the Axiochus was attributed to Spenser in his lifetime and, as far as we know, was not disowned. It will be included in the new Collected Works of Edmund Spenser, where its presence will spur consideration of Spenser's engagements with Renaissance Platonic and humanist traditions.


The handful of suppositious works suggests that Spenser exercised an unusual degree of control over the circulation of his writings in manuscript and their publication in print. Only one poem (the Doleful Lay) has raised questions, and even in that case the doubts arise out of Spenser's own deliberate play with textual framing. But while Spenser left behind few works that may be his, many poets were inspired to create works that aspired to be like Spenser's. Beginning in his lifetime and for centuries to follow, Spenser was imitated, appropriated, and adapted for a wide range of creative purposes.18 Spenser's literary influence is addressed elsewhere in this Handbook (see Chapter 36 below). However, this chapter concludes with the two major imitations that pushed imitation into the realm of continuation. In the decades following Spenser's death, Ralph Knevet and Samuel Sheppard extended Spenser's epic project through the reigns of James I and Charles I. Spenser's was still a contemporary voice to these writers: the Vewe was published in 1633, and hopes remained that other works would still come to light. Knevet and Sheppard wrote in dialogue with these hopes, continuing The Faerie Queene in a way they believed Spenser himself would have, were he witness to the reigns that followed Elizabeth's.

Ralph Knevet's A Supplement of the Faery Queene, written by 1635 but never published, continues Spenser's poem through three additional books.19 Books VII and VIII offer the politically allegorical legends of Albanio or Prudence (James I) and Callimachus or Fortitude (Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden, Protestant hero of the (p. 362) Thirty Years' War); Book IX presents the more generally allegorical legend of Belcoeur or Liberality. Each book comprises twelve cantos, ranging in length from between 36 and 63 Spenserian stanzas, and imitates Spenser's diction, allegorical modes, characters, and chivalric epic‐romance world. Throughout, Knevet deploys Spenserian strategies to engage with ‘affaires both military and civill’ (title page) of his own times. Even Book IX, which largely moves away from political commentary, offers an extended allegory of events in Ireland from the 1580s through the first decade of the seventeenth century (following Spenser's account in Book V, but perhaps also with awareness of the Vewe, published while Knevet was writing). Knevet's Arthur, like his Spenserian namesake, makes vigorously heroic appearances in all three books and unites their titular virtues in one person. He is a figure for Charles I, to whom Knevet dedicates the poem; Henrietta Maria assumes the role of the new Gloriana. With Albanio pursuing policies of peace even at the expense of his own daughter and Callimachus dying without achieving his quest, the Supplement registers a nostalgia for an Elizabethan militarism and pursuit of honour that Knevet assumes Spenser had celebrated and that Charles, Knevet hopes, will resurrect.

Knevet's monarchist Spenser became royalist in the civil wars of the 1640s, when political instability created a nostalgic desire among the King's supporters for a social order founded in calm obedience of royal rule. The anonymous Faerie Leveller (1648), for example, reprinted the episode in which Artegall and Talus defeat the Giant and scatter his ‘rebellious mob’ (V.ii.29–54). The pamphlet's preface argues that Spenser's tale was prophetical: in the context of the civil war, it claims, Artegall represented Charles I, Talus his forces, Munera Parliamentary taxation, and the socially and economically levelling giant Oliver Cromwell (King 1985). In a far more extended and creative appropriation, Samuel Sheppard revived Spenser as a literary authority for this royalist ideal in The Faerie King, an ambitious work of six books of six cantos each, written about 1650 but not published (Sheppard 1984). Unlike Knevet, Sheppard abandons Spenser's characters, diction, allegorical mode, epic‐chivalric world, and even stanza form (he employs ottava rima). But he shares Knevet's sense of Spenser as the poet of strong, benevolent monarchy, an ideal against which Sheppard paints an ambivalent, anti‐heroic evaluation of Charles I and the events that led to his execution. To Knevet and then to Sheppard, Spenser's Gloriana—at least, the Gloriana they read Spenser as unambiguously celebrating—remained the ideal against which her successors continued to falter. The scarcity of Spenserian continuations (as opposed to imitations and adaptations) suggests that Spenser's poetic successors recognized the danger that the same fate would await them, should they invite direct comparison.


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                                                                (1.) For surveys, see Variorum, VIII, 510–20; SE, 737–8. SE articles on Complaints, dreams, epithalamium, hymns, rivers, and visions have also proved useful in the preparation of this article.

                                                                (2.) Spenser 1989: 19–20; Prose, 6, 442–3. To these can be added the ‘lewd layes’ in praise of love Spenser himself mentions in Heavenly Love (8–9), published in Fowre Hymnes (1596).

                                                                (3.) For Sidney's possible connections with Spenser and Harvey, see Heninger (1987); SE, 656–7; Pask (1996), 83–112; Woudhuysen (1996), 219, 297; Brennan and Kinnamon (2003), 30, 58, 68.

                                                                (4.) See the article on Vallans in NDNB.

                                                                (5.) For a discussion of this passage, see Burrow (1996), 62–3. Spenser's continuation of Chaucer's tale occupies FQ IV.ii.31–IV.iii.52.

                                                                (6.) For the creation of Spenser's ‘persona’ in the correspondence, see Quitslund (1996).

                                                                (7.) For surveys of suggestions along these lines up to 1947, see Variorum, VIII, 510–20, 522, 526–8; Prose, 266–8. See also Bennett (1942), passim; SE, 737–8.

                                                                (8.) See Chapter 25 below.

                                                                (9.) On the Areopagus, see Prose, 479–80; SE, 55; Pask (1996), 98–104.

                                                                (10.) See Van Es (2002), 11–19, 58–66, 176–92.

                                                                (11.) For Spenser as neoteric poet, see Greene (2001). For surveys of Spenser's dialogue with his literary sources, see Chapters 2634 below.

                                                                (12.) Spenser (1989), 224 n. See also Variorum, VIII, 511–12; Prose, 266–7.

                                                                (13.) See Cheney (1993), 5; see also 23–76, 195–224.

                                                                (14.) For the psalm tradition, see Hamlin (2004); and Sidney Journal 23(1–2) (2005), a special issue devoted to the subject. A new edition of the Sidney psalter is forthcoming, edited by Michael Brennan, Hannibal Hamlin, Margaret Hannay, and Noel Kinnamon.

                                                                (15.) See above Chapter 13.

                                                                (16.) See Woudhuysen (1996), 226, 416–17; Hannay (2002), 30, 34–5; Brennan (2002). For Ponsonby's connections with the Sidney circle (and other significant writers and socially prominent figures), publication choices, and support of Protestant causes, see Brennan (1983).

                                                                (17.) Printed in Prose, 19–38. For surveys of this debate, see Prose, 487–96; Erdman and Fogel (1966), 424–7; SE, 77.

                                                                (18.) For surveys, see SE, 395–403; Radcliffe (1996); Alpers (2001).

                                                                (19.) Edited in Lavender (1955); a new edition, by Christopher Burlinson and Andrew Zurcher, is in progress.