AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

The influence of the poetry of Edmund Spenser upon the poetry of John Milton

by Claribel May Nothnagle

Institution: Boston University
Year: 1942
Record ID: 1540696
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2144/7543


Scholars commonly assert that Edmund Spenser, the great poet of the Elizabethan Age, exerted influence upon John Milton, the Puritan poet of the next century. The purpose of this paper is to report the findings of a study of this influence, the reasons for it, and the kind and extent of it. There were certain parallels in the natures, lives, and beliefs of these two men which are possible grounds for a close sympathy between them. They both had extremely sensitive natures, both were well acquainted with the city of London, both lived in periods of history that were politically difficult, and both knew unhappiness in love. Both were much disturbed by these mental and emotional conflicts in their lives. Both were idealists, and both were disillusioned. These parallels wove a mysterious chain between the two poets. There is much proof to show that the influence of Spenser on Milton does exist. Felix Schelling, James Hanford, and John Dryden make statements that Spenser's influence was of great importance. Milton's own testimony is the best proof. He acknowledges his debt to Spenser in "Areobagitica" and in "Apology for Smectymnus." He refers to him also in "Fikonoklastes". This influence was expressed in Milton's poetry in thought and in form. Some of the ways in which Spenser seems to have influenced Milton in thought are in his ideas about poetry, in his Platonism, in his belief of freedom of the human will, in his cosmology, and in his Renaissance ideas. Both Spenser and Milton believed that it was the duty of the poet to teach. They both conceived a lofty Christian-Platonic ideal as the goal toward which to aim, and the purpose of their poetry was to teach this ideal. They believed poetry must be virtuous in intent and on lofty subjects. They believed it was produced by divine inspiration. The Platonism of Spenser and Milton was, as has already been suggested in the preceding paragraph, modified by Christian doctrines. Spenser and Milton believed that love is beauty and that all that is good is beautiful, but they also believed that God is Love and that beauty emanates from Him. They believed in the Platonic conception of the spirit working upward above the physical to a realm of its own, and in the conception of two kinds of love, earthly and heavenly. Plato believed in the three-fold life of philosophy, action, and passion. Spenser and Milton illustrate a like belief in this three-fold life in which temperance must control passion, wisdom must govern philosophy, and courage govern action. Other elements of Platonism are inseparable from other distinguishing characteristics of the two poets. Spenser and Milton also believed in free will. The similarity of wording in expressing this idea suggest that Milton may have influenced in this belief of Spenser. Spenser's cosmology in a mixture of the beliefs of Ptolemy, Dionysius, and the Bible. Hu uses the Ptolemaic system of the earth as the center of the universe, but adapts the nine orders of the angels from Dionysius. Milton expresses a like mixture of ideas. Both…