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Searching for Spenser's Popular Voice
by Abigail Shinn

In the Epistle to The Shepheardes Calender (1579) E. K. states that Spenser is ‘following the example of the best and most Auncient Poetes’ with his first independent publication. An often-repeated statement on the part of Elizabethan writers, a claim for classical inheritance here reflects the Calender’s debts to the genre of pastoral.[1] The range of influences on Spenser’s output which accord with classical and élite European literary sources is extensive, from Virgil, Marot and Petrarch to Du Bellay and Ariosto. His debt to English writers such as Chaucer and Skelton is also made explicit, particularly in the prefatory material appended to the Calender. All of these authorities point to a hyper-literate readership who recognise Spenser’s borrowings and associations, a readership from which Spenser could potentially elicit patronage. To locate Spenser’s work only within this élite sphere of literary production is, however, to limit the range and scope of his cultural eclecticism. I believe that it is also possible to find within his poetry an engagement with what we might term a popular voice. To ignore Spenser’s cultural breadth is to constrain our understanding of his work’s hybridity and for all of the difficulties associated with defining or excavating the popular it is important that we acknowledge Spenser’s interest in modes of storytelling which belong to non élite spheres of cultural production.

A self-consciously radical departure from conceptions of English poesy as derivative and secondary to Latinate and European modes of poetic expression, Spenser’s work often displays a remarkably inclusive approach to diverse and widely circulating popular cultural forms. I have argued elsewhere that this inclusivity can most clearly be seen with Spenser’s engagement with popular and ephemeral forms of print, most importantly the almanac, but the larger, and much harder undertaking is to situate Spenser’s work within a broader conception of ‘popular cultural engagement’, given the vexed nature of the term and the difficulties associated with defining its parameters.[2]

Peter Burke has made a compelling argument for the ways in which élite figures engaged with what he terms the ‘little tradition’, asserting that this minority were in a position to move freely between élite and popular cultural spaces:

[T]he crucial cultural difference in early modern Europe…was that between the majority, for whom popular culture was the only culture, and the minority, who had access to the great tradition but participated in the little tradition as a second culture. They were amphibious, bi-cultural, and also bilingual…For the élite, but   for them only, the two traditions had different psychological functions; the great tradition was serious, the little tradition was play.[3]

Burke later provides an example for this ‘amphibious’ interaction between the great and little traditions in literature, pointing out that Ariosto used traditional oral forms of Italian epic when shaping Orlando Furioso, a work which had a major influence upon Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.[4] I will argue here that Spenser is often engaging in a playful interaction with popular culture. Unlike Burke, however, in this context I see Spenser’s cultural play as being very serious. By incorporating the popular alongside borrowings from classical and élite European sources, I argue, Spenser shapes a distinctive image of himself as England’s ‘new Poete’ (Calender, 25), an image which mixes together élite and non élite forms of storytelling into a unique popular voice.

I will propose some ideas below which may serve as a nascent argument for Spenser’s popular voice. Firstly, I will explore how cultural eclecticism might be important for Spenser’s earliest attempts to shape an image of himself as an English poet; I will then trace the correspondences between the beast fable and Mother Hubberd’s Tale (1591) as an illustrative example of one of the ways in which Spenser plays with popular forms for serious ends. The wider ramifications of this cultural play for Spenser’s work as a whole will be briefly considered at the end of the essay.

In Three Proper and wittie, familiar Letters: lately passed betwene two Vniuersitie men: touching the Earthquake in Aprill last, and our English refourmed Versifying (1580), Spenser in the guise of Immerito reiterates the argument for a renewed interest in English verse espoused a year earlier by E. K. in the Calender. While this indicates that Spenser’s desire to preserve ‘oure Mother tongue’ is consistent with that of his unnamed glosser and adds greater weight to the suspicion that E. K is Spenser himself, the Three Proper and wittie, familiar Letters also ask ‘why a Gods name may not we as else the Graekes, haue the kingdome of oure owne Language’ (6).[5] This lament potentially affords the English language the same prestige as ancient Greek, which Spenser and Harvey believed to be an even more important ancient tongue than Latin.[6] In the preface to the Letters a ‘welwiller’ (another constructed glosser), suggests that Spenser and Harvey’s correspondence will ‘helpe to garnish our Tongue’ (4). Rather than imitating the ancients or merely demonstrating a skill with the language, Spenser and Harvey will allow it to grow, to reach out towards new boundaries. This is particularly evident when Immerito describes experimenting with English hexameters, arguing that the problems with ‘Accente’ and ‘sillable’ are ‘to be wonne with Custome, and rough wordes must be subdued with Use’ (6).

The charge is that through neglect and disuse English has failed to realise its potential as a poetic language, but Immerito argues that with labour and experimentation English can be shaped and moulded to fit unfamiliar forms, wrestled by the poet into new and innovative patterns. The ‘welwiller’s’ use of the word ‘garnish’ also conjures up an image of reformed verse as being embellished with the endless variety of flavours and sensations afforded to the tongue by food, while reminding the reader of E.K’s depiction of the ‘Mother tongue’ (82) as ‘bare and barrein’ (84) in the Calender. The idea of tasting a variety of literary sensations within the boundaries of English is one which carries through to Spenser’s interest in popular cultural forms. Rather than being confined to the parameters of a classical poetic tradition in his work he harnesses an eclectic array of different cultural modes, comparable to a rich cornucopia of flavours. The Letters are described on the title page as touching upon ‘the earthquake in Aprill last, and our refourmed versifying’, consciously or otherwise associating reformed verse and its appetite for cultural eclecticism with the tumult of an earthquake which succeeded in ‘ouerthrowing diuers old buildings, and pieces of Churches’ (5). It is therefore tempting to read the Letters as a manifesto for a literary earthquake which will provide a comparable cultural shock, a shock which is also self-consciously elided with the tectonic movements and iconoclasm of religious reformation. Such a bold statement of intent, particularly when read alongside the prefatory rhetoric of the earlier Calender, can be interpreted as advocating an experimental approach to English verse which ‘tastes’ a variety of cultural products including popular modes of storytelling.

One of the works in which an engagement with widely known and recognisably popular cultural objects takes precedence is Spenser’s Mother Hubberd’s Tale (1591). This satire on courtly behaviour, notably linked to Lord Burghley and the negotiations surrounding the Alençon match, borrows liberally from the beast fable. The beast fable is linked with Aesop’s traditional exploration of unequal power relations and a variety of different texts, satirical and otherwise, use tropes associated with the genre, such as talking animals, and give thinly disguised individuals beastly characteristics or use certain animals to indicate a particular virtue or vice.[7] Books of husbandry and housekeeping, for example, use animals as representations of industriousness (worker bees) or sloth (pigs). The aim of these tales is frequently didactic – a lesson or piece of advice is produced by the author in the guise of a childish school room exercise or popular entertainment. (Many readers would have encountered Aesop for the first time in the classroom and the traditional storyteller would surely have had a beast fable or two as part of their repertoire.)

The beast fable which acts as the clearest precedent for Spenser’s Mother Hubberd’s Tale is The Booke of Raynarde the Foxe, a version of which was printed by Thomas Gaultier in 1550 (this was a reprint of a translation made by Caxton in 1481 from a Dutch version).[8] The Reynard stories were well known throughout Europe and the character found his way into both ballads and polemic. Raynarde the Foxe is organised around a litany of complaints made to the ‘lyon kynge of all beastes’ about Raynarde the fox’s immoral behaviour. [9] Raynarde is charged with slander, rape and murder by the other beasts at court, his crimes made more savage by his dissembling – he claims to have repented and takes on the habit of a ‘heremitage…and doth greate penaunce for his sinnes’ (B1r). It is in this disguise that he tricks Chaunteclere the ‘cocke’ (B1v) and kills his daughter. The fable is littered with references to clerical hypocrisy. At one point a parson declares to the town’s people that if they pull his wife from a river: ‘I giue to them pardon of theyr penaunce and relief of all their synnes’ (C3r), and when Raynarde sees Bruyne the beare after he has been mutilated for stealing honey (part of a trap laid by Raynarde) Raynarde gloatingly compares him to a monk: ‘Were ye a monke or an abbot, he that shore your crowne hath clypped of your eres, ye haue loste your top and done of your gloues, I trowe verelye that ye wyll go synge complyn’ (C4v). The insinuation is that under any friar’s habit there may hide a Raynarde and pardons and indulgences are handed out to serve the purposes of priests while monks carry the marks of punishment rather than salvation. It is clear that Spenser’s fox, Sir Reynold, is much indebted to the medieval Raynarde, in that both foxes endeavour to deceive through dissembling and false flattery in a courtly environment. This debt is most prominent, however, when considering how both stories focus upon the moral ambivalence of counsel. In both Raynarde the Foxe and Mother Hubberd’s Tale there is a preoccupation with the ambiguous nature of the spoken word, particularly when speech is designed to persuade, and this is most clearly figured in the anxieties surrounding counsel as a political and self-serving tool.

An interest in speech is a primary component of the popular beast fable. In beast fables the animal kingdom is employed as a repository for narrative possibilities – a way of shoring up character traits and moral positions by aligning people, professions and forms of behaviour with corresponding animals. This is best accomplished by endowing animals with the ability to speak and thereby making their humanity and, conversely, the beastly nature of the humans they represent, explicitly clear. Such a correspondence is often most obvious when the animal in question is classified as vermin, a four legged beast who steals and eats man’s food such as the rat or most notably the fox. Mary Fissell has examined a variety of cheap publications concerned with animals classified as vermin and argues that a prerequisite for being named vermin is a mastery of language: ‘vermin use language, a system of signs, to deceive and trick. In many fables vermin are also expert readers of signs, interpreting the material world in order to avoid being tricked themselves.’[10] The speaking animal is a competitor for food in beast fables, crafty and wily but also endowed with a keen ability to talk their way out of sticky situations.

The preface to Reynarde the foxe claims that the parables contained in this tale of a devious and sly fox will allow men ‘to come unto the subtyll knowledge of suche thinges as daily ben vsed and had in [th]e counseyles of Lordes and Prelates both ghostely and wordely, and also among marchautes and other comen people’ (A4r). This ‘subtyll knowledge’ may allude to discontent over clerical abuses, indicated by Raynarde’s choice of dress and his affectation of repentance, but also to the dissembling nature of lordly ‘counseyles’. The fable claims to be didactic and may also be billing itself as a way of learning the ‘ghostely’ and ‘wordely’ vocabulary of ‘Lordes’ and ‘Prelates’ so it is difficult to discern whether dissembling counsel and false speech is explicitly criticised – particularly as the wily Raynarde escapes without punishment.

The complaint/defence dynamic played out in front of the king in Raynarde the Foxe also has the effect of mimicking or satirising the processes of monarchical justice, and the use of false counsel and lies to achieve a particular end is shown to be part of the accepted processes of power. The courtroom style of the proceedings, whereby Raynarde is accused in absentia of a variety of crimes by his peers, who direct their complaints to the lion-king, is reminiscent of the pleas for justice or preferment brought to Queen Elizabeth. The plaintiffs at the animal court frequently call on their ‘linage and frendes’ (A5r) when airing their grievances, as would be common practice in a human court, in order to substantiate their claims of mistreatment.[11] Individuals also rely on these ‘frendes’ for counsel when deciding how best to proceed, just as Raynarde himself receives counsel from a variety of associates when trying to escape the accusations of his enemies. Counsel played a strategic role in political discourse during the early modern period provoking extensive debate over whether it should be proffered by right or duty.[12] Counsel was seen as a way of circumscribing the excesses of the monarch but counsellors often left themselves open to the charge that they had led their regent astray. This was an accusation levelled at Cromwell during the Pilgrimage of Grace, and at Charles I’s associates during the Personal Rule.[13]

Counsel was often a dangerous business and not only for those who undertook to advise princes. Those in power often displayed a singular weakness when they relied too heavily on counsel from an untested source and risked being led astray or even betrayed by their intimates. In Raynarde the foxe it is made clear that the king of beasts cannot rely upon his most trusted advisors as they are all too easily corrupted by Raynarde. Upon hearing several complaints against the misbehaving fox, the king sends a messenger to fetch him to court. The task is appointed to Bruyne the bear and when they meet one another Raynarde tempts him with honey and succeeds in trapping him in the middle of a split oak. The bear’s greed is his undoing: he is promised favours by Raynarde only to find himself unwittingly ensnared and at the mercy of the town’s people wielding ‘rake’, ‘brome’, ‘stake’ and ‘flayle’ (C1v).  Despite being warned by the king that Raynarde: ‘is a wyly shrewe, and knoweth so many wyles, that he wyl lye and flater, and shall thinke how he may begyle and deceyue you and bring you to some mockery’ (B4v), Bruyne succumbs to his love of honey and quickly forgets his petition from the king. Corrupted by a false promise to slake his gluttony, he agrees to be a ‘faithful frend’ and help Raynarde against his ‘enemys in the kinges courte’ (B7v). The implication is that all courtiers have a price, that they can be easily won through counterfeited speech and that they will then go on to perpetuate counterfeits of their own.

In Mother Hubberd’s Tale Spenser’s ape and fox are punished for their transgression against the king whereas Raynarde’s wily counsel ensures that he not only escapes punishment, but is elevated to become one of the great and the good at court. Both Caxton’s version of the Raynarde story and Spenser’s poem, however, use the beast fable to highlight the ambiguous nature of counsel and the danger of persuasive rhetoric. Raynarde the fox succeeds in persuading those bringing him to court to delay by offering them temptations of the flesh (honey for the bear, mice for the cat), and later succeeds in persuading the king not to send him to the gallows. In Mother Hubberd’s Tale Sir Reynold convinces the ape to join him on his ‘aduentures straunge’ (91) and then influences him to adopt the skin and crown of the lion. Initially the fox makes much of the ape’s privileged position as his ‘Gossip’ (53), immediately indicating that their prior relationship is based upon the dissemination of intimate knowledge and the potential for slander.[14]

Yet ere that anie way I doo betake,
I meane my Gossip priuie first to make.
Ah my deare Gossip (answer’d then the Ape,)
Deeply doo your sad words my wits awape,

These two gossips will provide one another with counsel, although the fox is clearly the more persuasive of the two, and will privilege their relationship over any bond they may forge with another. In ‘gossip’ Spenser’s ape and fox share information that they can turn to their advantage. Importantly, in Mother Hubberd’s Tale no action or disguise is undertaken without there being an element of counsel involved. It is Sir Reynold’s counsel at the beginning of the poem which persuades the ape to ‘turne the next leafe of the booke’ (68) and follow him abroad into the world in ‘disguize’ (83): ‘Therefore to me, my trustie friend, aread / Thy councell: two is better than one head’ (81-82). It is a priest who counsels the fox and the ape to obtain a benefice and ‘read Homilies vpon holidayes’ (393); while ‘this good Sir did follow the plaine word’ (390) the prelate cannot read: ‘Ne tell a written word, ne write a letter’ (383), indicating his ignorance of ‘deep learning’ (385). He does not have command over the inscribed word but yet proffers a ‘ghostly sermon’ (479) to the ape and the fox which they deem ‘holesome counsell’ (553). After they have plundered their benefice and are forced to flee the wrath of their parishioners they come across a mule who advises them on how to gain favour at court:

…with a good bold face
And with big words, and with a stately pace,
That men may thinke of you in generall,
That to be in you, which is not at all.

It is counsel, or more specifically, counsel which promotes dissembling, which legitimates the disguises adopted by the two beasts; they are informed that it is in their best interest to pretend that they are not what they are. It is ‘big words’ (346) which will enable them to pass as courtiers, the ape ‘vpon his tiptoes’ (664) is ‘cloathed like a Gentleman’ (660) and feigns to be like a man, while Sir Reynold ‘with fine counterfesaunce / Supports his credite and his countenaunce’ (667-668). Outward bluff and show is privileged over substance, highlighting the performative nature of speech within clerical and courtly spheres.

The fox is also aware that bad advice could be their undoing: ‘things miscounselled must needs miswend’ (128). They must plot their path depending on whatever opportunities are proffered to them while they are on the road; their strength is their ability to change at will into whatever form serves them best, be it shepherd, cleric or courtier; with the help of opportunism and disguise they are able to adopt multiple characters based on their ‘big words’ (646) and costume changes.  A mutable beast, able to change his colours, is more likely to survive and even thrive in a hostile environment, as any courtier who had made it through the changing political and religious climate during the reigns of the Tudors could attest. The fox and the ape become a two-headed beast as ‘two is better than one’ (82), an image easily equated with the many-headed, multiple-tongued Rumour. They purvey disguise and false attire, but also carry with them the danger of false speech inciting transgressive behaviour in others – all this counterfeiting is liable to be catching. Counsel becomes little more than self-serving dissemblance as false words beget yet more false words in a dangerous cycle of counterfeit and disguise.

The foregrounding of counsel as the motivation behind the progress of the ape and the fox as they approach the court mimics the central role of counsel in Raynarde the foxe. When Chauntecler the cock accuses Raynarde of having slain his daughter the lion king orders that the unfortunate hen be buried with full rites and then seeks counsel: ‘we wyl speke with these lordes and take counscyll how we may do right and iustyce of this greate murther, and bring this false thefe to the law’ (B4r). In Raynarde the Foxe the satiric impulse is strengthened by the various courtiers’ inability to stay true to the king’s request and bring Raynard back to the court. Tybert the cat even professes to love Raynarde better than his own kin if he will show him where he can find a ‘good fatte mous’ (C8r). The implication is that the courtiers trusted by the king are in fact no better than Raynarde; he is using his ability to manipulate his peers with speech to achieve the same ends as the bear and the cat – to fill his belly and to avoid capture. Every beast is playing a part in order to satisfy their needs and wants; the only corrective voice in the satire is that of the lion-king and he is made to look like a foolish leader swayed by false counsel.

By placing words into the mouths of beasts both stories can explore the beastly nature of linguistic dissimulation, while also retaining a circumspect distance from their respective courtly spheres. Caxton’s translation of Raynarde the Foxe ends with the careful qualification: ‘yf any thynge be sayed or written herein, that may greue or displease any man, blame not me but the fox for they bene his wordes and not myne’ (T4r). This is not dissimilar to Spenser’s ending:

…pardon me, If I amisse haue pend,
For weake was my remembrance it to hold,
And bad her tongue that it so bluntly tolde.

One throws words committed to the page back into the mouth of the beast, the other pins them firmly onto an old female storyteller; neither writer will claim the words as their own. This distancing effect is one of the primary functions of the beast fable as it allows the writer to disassociate themselves from the work at hand by having an animal or a secondary storyteller shoulder the burden of meaning or association. The animals that take on the fabulist role as beasts of burden ultimately speak of the poet or writer’s risk in seeking a public outlet for their work.

Mother Hubberd’s Tale has been introduced by Spenser as one of many ‘pleasant tales’ told around the sick bed of the narrator: ‘They sought my troubled sense how to deceaue / With talke, that might vnquiet fancies reaue’ (23-24). Speech is here allied with the ability to ‘deceaue’ (23) the senses in order to banish ‘vnquiet fancies’ (24); storytelling becomes the means by which the well prevent the sick from slipping into delusional fantasies. The stories of ‘Knights’ (29), ‘Faeries’ (30), ‘Giaunts’ (31) and ‘Squires’ (29) are designed to ‘delight’ (32) rather than ‘be beleeued’ (31), providing a distraction from the ‘wicked maladie’ (9) that afflicts the narrator. (The narrator is also purportedly struck down in August during the deadly dog days that almanac writers linked to pestilence, plague and lasciviousness, the storytelling around his bedside directly linked to the animalesque constellations that circle the heavens. The animal is immediately identified as a site of symbolic importance and intimately entwined with a particular kind of wordplay.) Thus, the poem immediately produces a vision of speech as being double-tongued, able to provide solace and entertainment for the sick, but, perversely, also able to manipulate and dissemble with disastrous consequences. 

The beast fable is a perfect vehicle for this double reading as the talking animal divorces the faculty of speech from the human body and enables the reader to isolate its potential for misuse. The narrator of Spenser’s poem is also at pains to emphasise that Mother Hubberd herself is but a common storyteller with no finesse: she ‘bad her tongue that it so bluntly told’ (1388), thus demanding that the reader question any pleasure that they derive from the tale. One of Mother Hubberd’s Tale titles is Prosopopoia, defined by George Puttenham in the Arte of English Poesie (1589) as ‘the Counterfait in Personation’.[15] This alternative title (or indeed primary title as it is listed first on the frontispiece to the 1591 edition) clearly states Spenser’s intentions for the poem: all persons therein shall be counterfeit. The two-part title also neatly combines the oral storyteller with a descriptor for a mode of figuration probably only familiar to a reader with an education in rhetoric. This may immediately signal the cultural hybridity of the poem.

By drawing upon the popular tradition of the Reynarde story, both its depiction in early print sources but also potentially in the more discursive and amorphous spheres of oral storytelling and visual culture, Spenser creates a new satire with a very old pedigree. The recognisable tropes and characters, principally those of the fox and ape, allow him to reinforce the negative qualities of speech, most importantly speech associated with dissimulation and false counsel, and links his send up of courtly behaviour to a widespread and familiar form of anti-clericalism. In no way does this lessen Spenser’s considerable debt to élite and classical modes of literary production, but nonetheless it is important to acknowledge that this most canonical of Elizabethan poets saw nothing untoward in borrowing from popular formats which would have been common and easily recognisable to a broad readership. I wonder if this may, in fact, have contributed to Mother Hubberd’s Tale being ‘called in’ by the censor? Surely a satire with the capacity to reach out to non-élite and even illiterate audiences (if the story was read out loud in the manner of Mother Hubberd) was a far more suspect and worrying achievement than a work which could be neatly contained within the domain of a literary élite? To use a popular voice carried with it the risk of censure and punishment.

What are the wider implications of this one brief case study for Spenser’s work as a whole? Perhaps Mother Hubberd’s Tale calls for a reappraisal of how we locate and define Spenser’s sources and influences more generally? Primarily I see the poem’s use of the beast fable as evidence for Spenser’s interest in modes of popular storytelling and characterisation which afford his work a greater capacity to ‘garnish’ English poetry and bolster his claim in the Calender to be England’s ‘new Poete’. Throughout his work we see the use of well-known narrative forms and characters which habitually cross cultural boundaries and which have the capacity to operate as hybridised cultural entities. This playful eclecticism includes Spenser’s interest in combining classical genres with more popular forms. In the Calender, for example, pastoral is used to reflect quotidian concerns with calendar time, astrology and agricultural labour. In The Faerie Queene, epic showcases the resilience of national figures such as St George and King Arthur, often by referencing the rich material culture associated with their images and iconography, such as shop signs, woodcuts, wall hangings and needlework, and in the case of St George, the post-Reformation survival of the St George’s day festival in Norwich. These are only two possible further lines of enquiry but I imagine that if we listen hard enough it may be possible to discern Spenser’s popular voice everywhere.


Abigail Shinn

[1] ‘The Shepheardes Calender’ in Edmund Spenser: The Shorter Poems, ed. by Richard A. McCabe (London: Penguin Books, 1999), 29, ll. 144-145. All further quotations are from this edition.

[2] Abigail Shinn, ‘Strange discourses of vnnecessarie matter: The Shepheardes Calender and the Almanac Tradition’, Literature and Popular Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Matthew Dimmock and Andrew Hadfield (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), 137-150 and ‘Spenser’s Popular Intertexts’, The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in the Early Modern Period, ed. Emma Smith and Andy Kesson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 157-168.

[3] Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 28.

[4] Burke, Popular Culture, 62.

[5] Three proper wittie familiar Letters, lately passed betwene two Vniuersitie men: touching the Earthquake in Aprill last, and our English refourmed Versifying (London: H. Bynneman, 1580), 6. All further quotations are from this edition.

[6] Caroline Brown Bourland discusses Harvey’s interest in languages as well as his dismay at the fashion for teaching French and Italian over Latin and Greek in ‘Gabriel Harvey and the Modern Languages’, The Huntington Library Quarterly, 4 (1940), 85-106.

[7] Thomas Nashe’s Pierce Penniless (1592) employs a fable illustrating the sin of hypocrisy whose main character is a Bear who is aided in his machinations by an Ape and a Fox. Nashe, like Spenser is clearly using the form of Raynarde the Foxe. For a detailed exploration of the contemporary allegory of Nashe’s work see Donald J. McGinn, ‘The Allegory of the ‘Beare’ and the ‘Foxe’ in Nashe’s Pierce Penilesse’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 61 (1946), 431-453.

[8] N. F. Blake, Caxton and his World (London: Andre Deutsch, 1969), 50.

[9] The booke of raynarde the foxe…(London: Thomas Gaultier, 1550), A1v. All further quotations are taken from this edition.

[10] Mary Fissell, ‘Imagining Vermin in Early Modern England’, History Workshop Journal, 47 (1999), 1-29, (16).

[11] The fox was often thought to be perfect for the role of a lawyer because of their ability to use language to manoeuvre themselves or others out of difficult situations, Fissell, ‘Imagining Vermin’, 16.

[12] A. N. McLaren argues that there were two competing readings of sovereignty as stemming from ‘mixed monarchy’ or from the crown itself, systems of counsel were bound to this dichotomy and ‘the relationship of counsel to sovereignty’ was subsequently a ‘contested proposition’, Political Culture in the Reign of Elizabeth I: Queen and Commonwealth 1558-1585 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 158.

[13] Michael Mullet, Popular Culture and Popular Protest in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (London: Croom Helm Ltd, 1987), 3.

[14] In ‘Rumour, News and Popular Political Opinion in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England’, The Historical Journal, 40 (1997), pp. 597-620, Adam Fox provides an overview of ‘verbal intelligence’ (598) and its relation to political opinion while also considering the penalties for slander.

[15] George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (London: Richard Field, 1589), 200.


  • Emilia Morgan 9 months ago

    Amazing analysis of the representation of Ireland in the works of Edmund Spenser. I am working on the task with similar subject on the portrayal of cultural identities in literature. I explore the complex relationship between literature and national identity and use the advices on format from to make the paper look good. I think such online resources make the student's life much easier.

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  • Connections 7 months ago

    However, locating Spenser's work only within this élite sphere of literary production limits the extent and scope of his cultural eclecticism. I believe that there is also an engagement with what we would call a popular voice in his poetry.

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  • Encinitas Pro Concrete Co. 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    I believe that it is also possible to find within his poetry an engagement with what we might term a popular voice.

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  • Mike Boro 1 month ago

    Dear Abigail Shinn,

    Fascinating insights into Spenser's fusion of classical and popular influences! Your analysis of the beast fable in "Mother Hubberd's Tale" offers a nuanced view of language, power, and counsel. The exploration of Spenser's serious engagement with popular culture and the potential censorship of his work due to its reach to non-élite audiences adds depth to our understanding. Thank you for shedding light on the multifaceted nature of Spenser's literary choices.

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  • Pokedoku 1 month ago

    Your exploration of Spenser's blend of classical and popular influences is intriguing. The analysis of the beast fable in "Mother Hubberd's Tale" offers a nuanced view of language, power, and counsel. Your insights into Spenser's serious engagement with popular culture and the potential censorship of his work due to its reach to non-élite audiences add depth to our understanding. Thanks for shedding light on the multifaceted nature of Spenser's literary choices.

    Link / Reply

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Cite as:

Abigail Shinn, "Searching for Spenser's Popular Voice," Spenser Review 48.1.3 (Winter 2018). Accessed February 28th, 2024.
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