Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti contains 85 sonnets that describe his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle. These sonnets follow the traditional Petrarchan model in most respects. Petrarch often obsessed over women who were unavailable to him either because they are in a higher social class or because they were already married; Spenser, on the other hand, chooses to obsess about a woman that he can have and actually does marry. Sonnet 65 reads like an argument, which is a typical characteristic of a Petrarchan love sonnet. A Petrarchan lover’s debate consists of a male speaker tries to alleviate any fears his beloved may have about losing her freedom when she gets married.
The doubt which ye misdeeme, fayre love, is vaine,
That fondly feare to loose your liberty,
When loosing one, two liberties ye gayne,
And make him bond that bondage earst dyd fly. (lines 1-4)
The doubt which you misconceive, fair love, is in vain. Your fear that you will lose your liberty is foolish. When you lose one liberty you will gain two more. You will make a husband out of a bachelor when you marry him.
In the 16th Century England, marriage meant that women would have to give up all of her fiscal and personal freedoms to their husbands. The fact that Spenser felt the need to address this speaks volumes about the woman that he wants to marry. If she is concerned about losing her independence then she must already live an independent life.
Sweet be the bands, the which true love doth tye,
Without constraint or dread of any ill:
The gentle birde feels no captivity
Within her cage, but singes and feeds her fill. (5-8)
The bonds of true love make a sweet marriage. Marriage is without constraint and fear: the gentle bird feels no captivity within its cage rather is sings and is well taken care of.
“Birde” is an anagram for bride, and “cage” can be interpreted to mean house. Replacing these words in the metaphor shows Spenser’s opinion of marriage. The gentle bride will not feel like she is losing any liberty within her home rather she will be happy and well taken care of. Spenser uses the imagery of bonds to stat that even though he respects her independence he still wants to control her, but he makes sure to tell her that bondage (marriage) will not be unpleasant as long as she enters the marriage willingly and gently. The captive lover is a traditional Petrarchan conceit-the captive lover will gain more liberty if she allows herself to be captured than if she remains free. Spenser’s conceit is different in the way that the lover will become a captive by marrying her suitor; usually Petrarch only concerns himself with affairs and platonic relationships.
There pride dare not approch, nor discord spill
The league twixt them, that loyal love hath bound;
But simple truth and mutuall good will
Seekes with sweet peace to salve each others wound. (9-12)
In a marriage, the spouses should set aside their pride and arguing, so that they don’t destroy the bond between them. It is simply truth and good will that make a good marriage. Marriage is about tending someone else’s needs before your own.
There fayth doth fearlesse dwell in brazen towre,
And spotlesse pleasure builds her sacred bowre. (13-4).
Their faith does fearlessly dwell in a bold tower, and spotlessly does she take pleasure in building her sacred bowre (a lady’s private apartment).
This sonnet takes place on Thursday, March 28, 1594. “This day [Maundy Thursday] celebrated the institution of the new covenant, sealed by the Resurrection. The day was associated with marriage in Spenser’s time through the common reading of Psalm 128, which was often read at even prayers on that day; it was also read during the marriage service. Spenser’s application of post-Reformation covenantal thought to a Petrarchan poem about marriage is a clear departure from the traditional use of the form by 16th Century English poets” (Femino).
Femino, Melissa. “Amoretti: Sonnet 65.” The Facts on File companion to British poetry before 1600, vol 1. P. 19-20.