Her cruell hands: Love as Predation in Amoretti
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 16 No. 1 (2008)
Although Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti has long been considered the poet’s personal love song for his second wife to be, Elizabeth Boyle, it is quite difficult to accept that she is the only lady in the poem. Especially, when we accept the fact that Spenser actually has in mind three women who bear the name Elizabeth as he declares in Sonnet 74, it becomes more probable that there are more than one lady presented in the sequence. Among the three ladies that the poet mentions, Queen Elizabeth I plays particularly an important role in the sequence when we consider Spener’s relationship with the queen and the publication date of the poem. And it is my contention that a significant part of the work deals with the poet’s struggle to acquire her love or her favour. It is not difficult to find in Amoretti the elements that can be interpreted as a manifestation of the poet’s bitterness for not having been received in the queen’s court as he thought he deserved.
The most interesting thing is that the queen is presented mostly as a scornful fighter, cruel warrior, and often greedy predator, while the poet is an ineffectual wooer, peace-seeking hostage, and helpless prey. The pain of unrequited love or of a scorned lover lies at the heart of the sequence. To the poet, love is a game that is extremely lopsided and unfair. But he has to play this game because he cannot survive without his lady’s love, which is seen as essential nourishment to him. Thus, predation becomes an important metaphor that illustrates the peculiar relationship between the poet and the lady he loves. Closely related to the dramatic development of the sequence, the poet’s struggle to deal with the lady’s cruelty constitutes a central part of our experience of the poem.
Spenser’s longing for royal favour is reflected in the relationship between the poet and the lady in Amoretti, and it is probably the poet’s attempt to present himself as a scorned lover to the queen and/or to those that hold power in Elizabeth’s court that makes the sonnet sequence such an extravagant complaint, rather than a personal love song.