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date: 17 November 2018

Abstract and Keywords

‘The poet's poet’ is perhaps the most common critical cliché about Spenser, uttered by some in admiring tones, by others in dismissive ones. But Spenser is also a historian's poet, deeply engaged in the political, religious, and cultural battles of his age. That Spenser is simultaneously a poet's poet and a historian's poet is for many readers a fruitful paradox that opens up the richness of his literary achievement. It has also led in part to Spenser's curious place in the academy: He plays a central role in graduate curricula, producing dissertations and scholarship surpassed in early modern English studies only by Milton and, of course, the Shakespeare industry. Yet his ‘difficulty’, defined in large part by his historical difference, has limited his popularity not only with the common reader but increasingly with undergraduates and non-specialists. This article considers the historicist tradition in Spenser criticism, which raises enduring theoretical concerns about both poetry and criticism, as well as anxieties about the literary canon, the academic profession, and Spenser's place in them.

Keywords: poets, historian, Spenser criticism, poetry, literary canon

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