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date: 13 October 2019

(p. vi) Preface

(p. vi) Preface

The forty‐two essays that compose this Handbook attempt to examine the entire canon of Spenser's work in the light of current critical concerns and the imminent publication of a new OUP edition of the Complete Works to replace the Johns Hopkins Variorum (1932–57). The five sections into which they are arranged are intended to be neither discrete nor exclusive, as frequent cross‐referencing across the volume indicates. Part I, ‘Contexts’, seeks to elucidate the circumstances in which the poetry and prose were written, and suggests some of the major political, social, and professional issues with which Spenser's writing engages. Part II, ‘Works’, presents a series of new readings of the canon informed by the most recent scholarship. Part III, ‘Poetic Craft’, provides a detailed analysis of what Spenser termed the poet's ‘cunning’, the linguistic, rhetorical, and stylistic skills that distinguish his writing. Part IV, ‘Sources and Influences’, examines a wide range of subtexts, intertexts, and analogues that locate the works within the literary conventions, traditions, and genres upon which Spenser draws—and not infrequently subverts. Part V, ‘Reception’, grapples with the huge issue of Spenser's effect on succeeding generations of editors, writers, painters, and book‐illustrators, while also attempting to identify the most salient and influential strands in the critical tradition. No such Handbook can hope to be exhaustive, let alone definitive. The aim is to contribute to an ongoing process of analysis, appreciation, and response by providing contemporary readers with an informed and provocative basis for further study. No ‘agreed’ view of Spenser emerges from this work. The contributors approach the texts from a variety of viewpoints and employ diverse methods of critical interpretation. The Handbook, like the canon it examines, invites plurality of response.

In designing the layout and content I am indebted to suggestions from many scholars and contributors, in particular to Patrick Cheney, Tom MacFaul, Bart Van Es, and the very generous and constructive scholars who read the proposal for the Press. They helped to bring clarity to the enterprise; such things of darkness as remain I acknowledge mine. Especial thanks are also due to Andrew McNeillie and Jacqueline Baker of OUP, and to the staff of the Bodleian Library. I am grateful also to many of my colleagues at Merton College, Oxford, for fielding a wide range of enquiries of an historical, classical, philosophical, and bibliographical nature, and to the Fellow Librarian Julia Walworth. Finally I am grateful to the forty‐three other contributors who collaborated with me and one another to bring this project to fruition.

Richard McCabe

Merton College, Oxford