Edmund Spenser (1552–1599) hoped to be seen as the culmination of Western literary culture. Considered the greatest nondramatic poet of Elizabethan England, he is matched in preeminence only by William Shakespeare, his younger contemporary, and John Milton, his literary heir. He was born and buried in London, but nearly all his poetry was written in Ireland, where he spent the last 20 years of his life laboring on The Faerie Queene, a 36,000-line unfinished epic romance memorializing Queen Elizabeth I. This work—the centerpiece of his legacy—is the subject of much disagreement among scholars, in part because of the context in which Spenser wrote. While penning his career-defining poem, he helped administer the brutal colonization of Ireland by “new” English settlers (of which he was one) who were given the confiscated land of Irish chieftains and their followers. In his posthumously published response to the Irish rebellion that erupted in 1594, A View of the Present State of Ireland (written about 1596), Spenser advocated harsh and destructive economic and military programs, including forced starvation of the rural population. His own castle (confiscated from the Irish) was burned, forcing him to flee with his family to London where he died in his mid-40s. Situated next to Geoffrey Chaucer’s grave in Westminster Abbey, Spenser’s tomb bears the

Subscribe for access This article is reserved for subscribers.