‘Southerne shepheardes boye’ (1574–79)
in The early Spenser, 1554–80
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This chapter argues that, after leaving Cambridge, Spenser was employed in London from 1574 to 1578 by John Young, Master of Pembroke College. Previously, it has been assumed that he was employed by Young only after he became Bishop of Rochester in 1578. The only source for the assumption that Spenser was the ‘secretary’ to an Elizabethan bishop is a note written inside the book that Spenser gave Gabriel Harvey for Christmas in 1578. During Spenser’s sojourn in London, he met his future wife, became disillusioned with the Church of England, and decided against taking holy orders. A re-examination of topical satire in the ecclesiastical eclogues shows that Spenser attacked John Aylmer, Bishop of London, for selling timber on church lands to enrich his offspring. This satire in the Shepheardes Calender, later echoed in the Marprelate tracts, indicates that Spenser no longer planned to take holy orders. In an eclogue such as Maye, Spenser has been identified as a Puritan, Church of England Protestant, and even a Catholic. In the ecclesiastical eclogues, he deliberately uses a dialogic structure to conceal his religious persuasion.

The early Spenser, 1554–80

‘Minde on honour fixed’


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