Edmund Spenser's  Shepheardes Calender  (1579)
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Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender (1579)

An analyzed facsimile edition

Kenneth Borris, Joshua Samuel Reid, Ken Borris

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender (1579)

An analyzed facsimile edition

Kenneth Borris, Joshua Samuel Reid, Ken Borris

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About This Book

Spenser's extraordinary Shepheardes Calender as first printed in 1579 is arguably the seminal book of the Elizabethan literary renaissance. This volume reassesses it as a material text in relation to book history, and provides the first clearly detailed facsimile of the 1579 Calender available as a book. The editor reconsiders the original book's development, production, design, and particular characteristics, and demonstrates both its correlations with diverse precursors in print and its significant departures. Numerous illustrations of archival sources facilitate comparison. By reinvestigating the 1579 Calender 's twelve pictures, he shows that Spenser himself probably designed them, that they involve complex symbolism, and that this book's meaning is thus profoundly verbal-visual. An analyzed facsimile is an essential new resource for study of Spenser's Calender, Spenser, Elizabethan print and poetics, and early modern English literary history.

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Year
2022
ISBN
9781526133472
Introduction
1 Prologue
As first published in 1579, Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender is a most intriguing early modern book: highly innovative both in material form and textual content, politically audacious, and arguably the seminal publication of the Elizabethan literary renaissance. This present volume uniquely focuses on investigating its original materialization in print. Although the medium of any book is integral to its textual message, as D. F. McKenzie and Roger Chartier among others observe, the circumstances and characteristics of the Calender’s first printing are exceptionally significant. It is a “landmark in book design,” as Jason Scott-Warren remarks, with a “complexity” that renders it “near-impossible to edit, since these words really are at their best when locked into this bibliographic form” (2011, 153–4). And most sensationally, the Calender was the first known production of its printer Hugh Singleton after his imprisonment for printing John Stubbs’s Discovery of a Gaping Gulf in August 1579, wherein Stubbs attacked Queen Elizabeth’s prospective marriage to the Roman Catholic François de Valois, the duc d’Anjou and Alençon and the heir apparent to the French throne (hereafter called Anjou). Stubbs, his associate William Page, and Singleton were condemned to have their right hands publicly chopped off: a judgment somehow remitted for the latter but inflicted upon the others on November 3, 1579. Since the Calender involves much anti-Anjou satire, Spenser’s and Singleton’s publication of this book shortly thereafter in December 1579 was risky (Sections 2 and 10). However artfully it meddled in this regal affair of state, no one could surely predict how the Crown would react, and sanctions could be unofficial as well as legally mandated.
The poet indeed published his Calender under a pseudonym, “Immerito.” Its standard interpretation in Spenser scholarship has been “‘the unworthy one,’” from the Italian immerito (Kennedy 1990, 652), expressing strategically disarming self-deprecation. Yet just as this book’s contents courted controversy, so Spenser’s alias also evokes the Latin immerito in the sense “by one who is innocent,” and thus asserts the author’s integrity, his unworthiness of blame or punishment, against potential allegations of wrongdoing.
Contrary to the pen-name’s self-deprecating sense, this book, Spenser’s first major publication, radically redefined the possibilities of literary form, poetics, authorship, and the illustration of fiction in England. The Calender calendrically and pictorially reconfigured the eclogue series beyond any indications apparent in this genre’s previous English, continental, and ancient exemplars, so that Spenser’s creation is both recognizably correlative to them yet also unique (Sections 4 and 7). Whereas many illustrated books throughout Europe just repeated their pictures in rotation, each one of the Calender’s singularly addresses its particular context. Moreover, the Calender’s complex interactively verbal-visual composition involving an extensive programmatic set of original pictures that were each context-specific, and hence unrepeated, was unprecedented for a first edition of original poetry printed in England.1 And among such publications there, only Richard Willes’s Poematum liber published in London in 1573 had previously included an elaborate textual apparatus in its first edition. Aside from emblem books, a form that influenced the Calender but from which it differs much (Section 4), this sort of pictorial development seems unprecedented even in continental first editions of original poetry. Moreover, these so rarely provided a commentary that the only precedents known to me are Girolamo Benivieni’s Florentine Canzoni e sonnetti of 1500, and Willes’s.
Long into the seventeenth century, the Calender’s first edition of 1579 continued to define much of this text’s reception and cultural impact because the next four editions largely followed the original book’s content, design, and typography, aside from providing grander title pages (1581, 1586, 1591, 1597).2 The first edition has prime textual authority because the successors evince “gradual deterioration of the text through blind reliance of each edition upon its immediate predecessor.”3 Not until the Calender’s sixth edition in 1611 did its mode of presentation substantially change, for its layout was then redesigned to complement that of Spenser’s first and posthumous volume of collected poems. The original woodcuts and commentary were nonetheless retained. The seventh edition, published in 1617 for Spenser’s second folio of collected poems, followed the new model, and the Calender circulated only in these seven editions until after 1650.
For English literary history, the first publication of Spenser’s Calender in 1579 has pivotal importance. “If, as most commentators since the end of the sixteenth century have agreed, modern English literature got its first solid foundation in the second half of Elizabeth’s reign,” Richard Helgerson observes, Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney “have the best claim to being its founders” (1992, 26). They were the most talented and productive protagonists of a coterie endeavor that set out in the late 1570s to revivify English letters so as to fulfill the language’s creative potential and challenge the foremost continental literary achievements (Gair 1990, 55; Helgerson 1983, ch. 2; Sidney 1973b, 110–21). At least among English texts of the time that were printed, Spenser’s 1579 Calender was the prototype of these developments. It provides an indirect poetic manifesto anticipating his further poetic accomplishments, just as he had already conceived and begun The Faerie Queene around this time (Variorum, 10:17). Not until 1580 did Sidney write most of his so-called Old Arcadia and his Defence of Poetry (1973a, xvi–xvii; 1973b, 60–2), and both circulated only in manuscript until the former was printed, heavily revised, in 1590, and the latter in 1595.
The Calender quickly gained an influence unusual for an Elizabethan literary work. Its five editions by 1597 and seven by 1617 were relatively numerous by Jacobethan standards for English vernacular drama, poetry, and fiction (compare Blayney 1997, 387–9). In many ways a literary coup in 1579, the Calender transformed the apparent prospects of English poets and poetry. At a time when “the institutional identity of English was notably weak” (Helgerson 1992, 24), and when the Calender’s original commentator E. K. could understandably complain “that our Mother tonge, which truly of it self is both ful enough for prose & stately enough for verse, hath long been counted most bare and barrein of both” (¶iib), this book provided a showpiece of an Englishman’s bravura creative performance in English.
Not only did it canvass a wide variety of verse forms, some quite difficult, but the Calender’s formal mastery of this genre far excels any previous English attempts and bears comparison with the finest European exemplars, even though many continental poets had already long been publishing eclogues. Barnaby Googe’s Eglogs of 1563, the sole previous original English printed eclogue series since around 1520, had used monotonous poulter’s measure throughout. Yet Spenser’s series also innovatively features both calendrical restructuring (Section 4) and programmatic verbal-visual development (Section 10). The poetry and pictures engage numerous and varied verbal and imagistic antecedents from the ancients to the late sixteenth century (Sections 410). Provision of a newly conceived, extensive, and programmatic set of pictures for a first edition of original poetry was itself exceptional both in England and continentally, once again, as was equipping such a text with a full-scale commentary. This latter stratagem enabled the Calender to appear from the outset an instant classic worthy of learned attention.
By this means, as well as, paradoxically, by using the authorial pseudo-disguise of “Immerito,” Spenser concocted a composite “form that artfully presents its author” as Wendy Wall argues, so as to bring “the question of poetic authority and agency to the fore” at a time when the value of imaginative literary authorship was contested (1993, 235–6). By allowing identification of Hobbinol as Gabriel Harvey in the Calender’s commentary, which thus indicated Immerito’s personal circumstances (39b), Spenser ensured that his authorial persona was always somewhat unmasked within the book itself. It was devised to launch “our new Poete” who “shall be hable to keepe wing with the best,” as E. K. calls him at the outset (¶iiia). Rejecting discreet dissemination in coterie manuscript, Spenser sought the much-broadened audience enabled by print, mined Renaissance humanist pastoralism’s rich resources for representing the predicament of the learned writer, and redefined the significance and responsibilities of English poetic endeavor.4 By reassessing various alternatives instanced in diverse shepherd-poets, yet claiming to surpass them all in the Epilogue’s final “realization of greatness” overcoming “temporal and mortal hindrances,” the Calender “narrates its own poetic ascendancy up the ranks into the realm of the transcendent,” Wall observes, so that its author emerges “as heroic and singular” (1993, 236, 239). Its eloquent celebration of Elizabeth in Aprill and its daring anti-Anjou satire, expressed so artfully that Spenser suffered no known sanctions, further assert the poet’s power to forge, critique, and redefine state mythologies, as well as the moral, social, political, and national importance of the poetic vocation (Borris 2020a; Montrose 1986; Wall 1993, 234–42). Transfiguring the possibilities of English literary authorship, Spenser thus “used the book format to generate the author’s laureate status … as the origin and arbiter of a literary monument that exceeds its place in everyday cultural transactions” (Wall 2000, 77–9, 86).
No wonder that this remarkable text excited admiration. “SPENSER had done enough for the immortalitie of his Name,” Michael Drayton observed in 1619, “had he only given us his Shepheards Kalender, a Master piece if any.” In 1589, before Spenser had printed any other substantial poetry, the university wit Thomas Nashe declared that “should the challenge of deepe conceit, be intruded by any forreiner, to bring our english wits, to the tutch...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series Information
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication Page
  7. Contents
  8. List of figures
  9. Preface and acknowledgments
  10. Notes on quotations, translations, and abbreviations
  11. Introduction
  12. Appendices
  13. References
  14. Index