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Vitalizing the September woodcut of 'The Shepheardes Calender'
by Tiffany Jo Werth, Chris Barrett, Todd Borlik, Dennis Britton, Vin Nardizzi, Jessica Rosenberg

Edmund Spenser, detail of September woodcut in The Shepheardes Calender (London: 1579) RB 69548,  The Huntington Library San Marino, California

Jump to: Tiffany Jo WerthChris BarrettTodd BorlikDennis BrittonVin NardizziJessica Rosenberg


Vitalising the September woodcut of The Shepheardes Calender

Introduction and curation by Tiffany Jo Werth

Set in Sultan Murat III’s Ottoman empire of the sixteenth-century, the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name is Red (1998; translated into English in 2001) boasts multiple narrators. Some of the perspectives are non/ and more-than-human monologues: the colour red, a dog, a tree, Death, a coin, even a severed head. These voices enliven the novel’s central mystery about a murdered miniaturist who speaks to the reader from the opening chapter. In part a meditation on the threat of Westernisation, and in particular of Venetian influence, on Ottoman pictorial art, the novel also stages a debate between visual and textual forms. Although not an overtly ecological novel, it nonetheless raises provocative questions about what it feels like to inhabit a perspective other than one’s own embodied experience and faith (a male narrator at one point also experiments with wearing his mother’s and aunt’s clothes along with other more mundane aesthetic heresies).

The tension the novel explores between images and words, between human and more-than-human perspectives, prompted me to wonder what would happen if a few intrepid ecologically-minded literary scholars of sixteenth-century England were to turn their eyes and ears towards the various entities populating the woodcuts accompanying Edmund Spenser’s 1579 The Shepheardes Calender. What might the clouds, the innocuous seeming fences and borders, the still cottages, grazing sheep and simple landscapes, even the homely human shepherds, say? What insights might they tell us about their environment or their eclogue? How might they speak of the past to the present moment of 2020? As Elisabeth Chaghafi writes in an earlier Spenser Review essay, the ‘extremely visual text’ of The Shepheardes Calender is ‘not only complex, but used deliberately to create meaning’.[i] In the short musings that follow, Chris Barrett, Todd Borlik, Dennis Britton, Vin Nardizzi and Jessica Rosenberg tease out the structural functions of non-typographical elements, reading them against the textual grain, to listen to how the visual environs of The Shepheardes Calender are a haunting of— uninhabitable and inhospitable—worlds.


[i] Elisabeth Chaghafi, ‘Visual Readers: The Shepheardes Calender Through the Eyes of its Compositors’, Spenser Review 48.3.3 (Fall 2018).  Accessed September 2nd, 2020.



Chris Barrett

‘September’ concludes with an act of hospitality: Hobbinoll offers Diggon a ‘vetchy bed’ (256), made of the leaves and stems left once peas are harvested. This act is one of openness: openness of a door to a guest, but openness, too, to the possibility of trace materials becoming kindness. There is transformation at work here, and we might call it welcome. Indeed, the September woodcut registers this metamorphic friendliness in terms that invite a cosmocritical gaze: the world of this visual space includes the sublunary but also the solar and astronomical, and all of them conspire to redefine hospitality as a process of transmutation.[i] To see this, we need to talk about the clouds.

Clouds unify the transactions among the figures in this image, maybe because clouds are a kind of way-station for water in its cycle, a resting place between the wet and the airy, or between the earthly and the celestial. Fittingly for the generous in-betweenness of clouds, a wreath of them sets off the zodiacal sign at upper left. The underside of a fluffy if only partly-delineated cloud curves in scallops, and the striated lines of thinner clouds suggest wispy strips of stretched vapour. These wriggling, haphazard clouds drift in the sky, but they remember another earlier home: ‘cloud’, in its first few centuries of use in English, referred not to ‘a visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating in the air’, but rather to ‘A mass of rock; a hill’, or, later, to ‘A consolidated mass of earth or clay’.[ii] Etymologically, clouds began as clods, and in this woodcut, the air hosts the earth, and the ground welcomes the sky: the rounded humps of the hills invert the airy curving of the cumulus-looking cloud, while the hatched shading of the distant hills lightly curves the cirrus clouds’ striping. The upper and lower sections of the woodcut visit one another, turn into one another, revealing their shapeshifting friendship to the colleagues of Colin Cloud Clod Clout.

This is not the only cloudy resemblance in the woodcut, though. Clouds shift and change when you watch them, variously revealing that which is (like allegorical devices, in Spenser’s letter to Ralegh) ‘clowdily enwrapped’. They host one shape, and then another, demonstrating how everything becomes everything else, eventually: sun and stars produce clods and clouds and shepherds. Look at a cloud, and now it looks like something else—and this time, I see in the cumulus crenations not hilltops inverted but open parentheses, mouthing at the sky. They mirror the September shepherds’ own propensity for parenthetical remarks—things too important to be unsaid, but somehow apart from the text proper. Among the many: Diggon’s lament of ‘(wae is me therefore)’ (25) or Hobbinoll’s lament of ‘(Ah for Colin he whilome my ioye)’ (177), grief and unrequited love registered only in the shrugging, preserving arms of parentheses.

These cloudy parentheses hover above a shepherd who offers shelter to another, and these parentheses offer shelter to what is lost between meaning and mattering. Theirs is a radical hospitality, playing out in the sky of a poem all about the turning of one home into another’s, the making of welcome out of residue, the making of shapes from clouds. The shepherds use those parenthetical remarks for all the things we are in danger of not valuing, in danger of not saying; words we have not said, or meant, enough. Words that have to do, Hobbinoll and Diggon suggest, with grief and love. Words that have to do with what it means to matter and to be welcome, which is another way of saying, words that have to do with justice, still parenthetical in the history of our nation and our world. In summer 2020, these cumulative, cumulus parentheses open to the heavens; as unclosed as unstolen breath, they drift up from clod to cloud to sky and space; they are ready to host all the things we should have said before, and tell us it is time to hear them.

[i] For the concept of the cosmocritical, I am indebted to Carl Phelpstead, ‘Beyond Ecocriticism: A Cosmocritical Reading of Ælfwine’s Prayerbook’, The Review of English Studies 69, issue 291 (September 2018): 613–631.

[ii] ‘cloud, n.’ OED Online. June 2020. Oxford University Press. (accessed August 17, 2020).


The Dewilded Hills

Todd Andrew Borlik


A picturesque vista of rolling hills with a flock of sheep nibbling the greensward: could there be a more iconic image of the pristine English countryside? When one reads the ensuing poem and inspects the September woodcut more closely, however, these idyllic first impressions fall prey to some misgivings. First off, to deal with semantics, the term picturesque was not popularised until 1782, so it would be anachronistic to imagine that Spenser’s readers perceived the image as such. Secondly, one cannot assume that the setting is England since internal evidence (Davy’s name and dialect, and the reference to a ‘farre countrye’) hint that at least some episodes may unfold in Wales. Thirdly, given that the poem dwells repeatedly on the motif of the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, it would be unsafe to presume that the herd of four-legged blobs in the lower left are all sheep. Fourthly, to state the obvious, the woodcut is uncoloured, so the round and craggy outcroppings in the background could be brownish moorlands or grey stony mountains rather than emerald green. This brings me to the last and most important caveat: the woodless vista depicted here is not pristine but the result of human activity—or rather the result of human and ovine symbiosis, for the hills have been cleared of trees to create better grazing for sheep.[i] Rather than tranquil herbivores, cliché symbols of innocence or meekness, sheep are likely responsible for denuding the hills in the distance. Although Diggon complains his ‘sheep been wasted,’ one might also contend that the sheep have wasted the landscape, in the sense of making it appear open and vast (which is what the word ‘waste’ often signifies in early modern English).[ii]

Re-examining the woodcut after reading the poem further undermines the aestheticising of the pastoral landscape, particularly in the eclogue’s pejorative references to grass. Speaking of the failures of the clergy, Diggon bewails ‘that sicke mischief graseth hem emong’ (113). The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser glosses graseth to mean ‘is prevalent’ but the verb unmistakably connotes grazing. Spenser also compares the rich and mighty to ‘foul wagmoires overgrast’ (130).[iii] While ‘overgrast’ implies tall grass concealing boggy terrain beneath, the unusual word also bears a Derridean trace of its opposite; primed by the previous use of graze, one could easily hear ‘overgrazed,’ which smacks of environmental damage from intensive sheep-farming. Likewise, the phrase ‘sike pastoures’ (140) signifies bad shepherds or pastors but also evokes degraded pastures.

The verdure is not the only the victim of this rapacious pastoralism. According to Diggon, the pastures are sick because wolves have infiltrated the flocks, which prompts Hobbinol to give him the lie and retort that wolves have been extirpated from England ‘sith the Saxon king,’ after whose reign ‘Never was Woolfe seene many nor some’ (151-52). Read as a religious allegory, this can be deciphered as an allusion to Henry VIII and the expulsion of Roman Catholic priests, but more immediately refers to Edgar I (r. 959-975), who imposed a tribute of wolf-pelts on the Welsh in a deliberate bid to exterminate the beasts. With this history in mind, easily accessible to Spenser’s readers thanks to John Caius’ popular Of English Doggs (translated by Abraham Fleming in 1576), one might argue that what is not depicted here is as significant as what is represented: with apologies to Conan Doyle, the wolf that didn’t howl.

In a seminal article, Louis Montrose argued ‘the logical place to begin studying the social matrix of Elizabethan pastoral form should be in the pastures themselves,’ and this is a fortiori true of The Shepheardes Calender’s environmental matrix.[iv] Spenser’s religious pastoral betrays the ecological consequences of a pastoral economy: sheep-farming bears much of the responsibility for the extirpation of wolves and the dewilding of Britain. Wool gradually displaced the wolf, as Spenser’s playful spelling ‘woolfe’ reminds us by conflating predator and prey. Disguised as ‘stylistic primitivism,’ Spenser’s punning orthography underscores Diggon’s critique of the pastoral and invites us to see the pastures in the woodcut as sick or barren rather than pristine.[v] September’s emblem, Inopem me copia fecit [‘Plenty made me poor’] could be the motto not simply of Diggon but of this monotonous landscape, in which human wealth is acquired at the price of ecological impoverishment.

[i] My thinking about human-sheep hybrids has been influenced by Julian Yates, ‘Counting Sheep: Dolly does Utopia (again)’, Rhizomes 8 (2004). Web. For more environmentalist screeds against sheep, see George Monbiot, Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[ii] Janice Hewlett Koelb, ‘“This Most Beautiful and Adorn’d World”: Nicholson’s Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory Reconsidered.’ ISLE 16 no. 3 (2009): 443-468.

[iii] The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, ed. William Oram et al (New Haven: Yale Univeristy Press, 1989), 156n.

[iv] Louis Montrose, ‘Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form’, English Literary History 50 no. 3 (1983): 415-459, 421. For more ecocritical readings of the genre, see Terry Gifford, Pastoral (London: Routledge, 1999, 2019); Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (London: Routledge, 2011), 37-65; Ken Hiltner, What Else is Pastoral? Renaissance Literature and the Environment (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011).

[v] On Spenser’s ‘stylistic primitivism’, see Andrew Miller, ‘Spenser’s Shameful Shepheardes Calender’, English Literary History 86 no. 1 (2019): 27-54.





Dennis Austin Britton


Diggon Davie, like many of us, is distressed by the state of the world. He considers himself  ‘A most wretched wight / For day, that was, in wightly past, / And now at earst the dirke night doth haste’ (5-7).[i] Recalling Jesus’s words in John 9:4, ‘I must worke the workes of him that sent me, while it is day; the night commeth when no man can worke’ (Geneva Bible 1560), Diggon’s words express hopelessness—the end is near, and there seems to be little that can be done. It is what it is. Uncertainty and this hopelessness are in no way dispelled by Hobbinoll’s kind gesture:


But were Hobbinoll, as God mought please,
Diggon should soone find favour and ease.
But if to my cotage though wilt resort,
So as I can, I will thee comfort:
There mayest thou ligge in a vetchy bed,
Till fayrer Fortune shewe forth her head. (252-7)


Hobbinoll’s home, his cottage, can offer some physical comfort, but it cannot (at least directly) resolve the lager problems—the end of the day and the shepherds who have ‘bene ydle and still’ or ‘bene false, and full of covetise’ (80 & 82). The future is uncertain, dependent as it is on ‘fayer Fortune’. Who knows when or if Diggon will ever get out of bed and leave Hobbinoll’s cottage. 

Today I find it impossible not to read Diggon’s complaint and Hobbinoll’s response without considering Black Lives Matters, environmental racism, and our global pandemic. [ii] Hobbinoll’s cottage within the pastoral setting seem to provide solace; it is distanced from what is at the centre of the woodcut, the space where a despairing conversation moves between Diggon and Hobbinoll. But Hobbinoll and his cottage are also in precarious circumstances; the cottage and the pastoral mode announce Hobbinoll’s social position. The woodcut depicts a humble dwelling void of windows and with a bowing roof. The word ‘cotage’ also denotes the dwelling of a member of the labouring class, and Philip Sidney offered that pastoral ‘can show the misery of people under hard lords and ravening soldiers.’[iii] As we already know, pastoral can be read to uncover various types of economic and social exploitation; it can draw attention to the forces of economic and militaristic violence. And I have little confidence that a fence can protect Hobbinoll within his cottage from such forces. Here in the United States, the murder of Brianna Taylor, the Flint water crisis, and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline illustrates this all too well.[iv]

Many of us have new orientations to our cottages, precarious as they may be. Our cottages are now the K-12 classroom, the university classroom, the office, the conference venue, the happy hour gathering place, the place of worship, the place of quarantine, and a location of protest. Indeed, even as many have diligently sheltered in place, it has become increasingly impossible to maintain a boundary between home and the threats of the world outside. And yet, we all need a place to retreat to so that we can get up and try again. As much as I appreciate Hobbinoll’s hospitality, I hope that Diggon does not wait on ‘fayer Fortune’. The Shepheardes Calender shows us that Fortune is no friend to shepherds.    


[i] Citations from the September eclogue are from The Shepheardes Calender, in The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, edited by William A. Oram, Einar Bjorvand, Ronald Bond, Thomas H. Cain, Alexander Dunlop, and Richard Schell (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 1-213.

[ii] A. C. Hamilton suggested long ago that the poem invites readings that are not bound to Spenser’s particular historical moment in ‘The Argument of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender’, ELH 23.3 (1956): 171-82. Hamilton writes,

What is so perverse about this effort to identify historical allusions is that Spenser has laboured so carefully to conceal them. Why, then, should the critic turn from what the poet says to what he has left unsaid? Certainly parts of the poem ‘reflect,’ though in no simple one-to-one correspondence the contemporary historical situation, awareness of which would then provide an added social impact for the contemporary reader; but the poem’s substance, its meaning, is not there…. Spenser is not writing a history of his time, but prophecy. (172)

The apotheosis of Spenser aside, Hamilton unbinds The Shepheardes Calendar from its historical context and projects the meaning of Spenser’s pastoral into the future.

[iii] ‘Cottage’, OED, def. 1.a; Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy, in Sir Philip Sidney: Selected Prose and Poetry, edited by Robert Kimbrough (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 127.

[iv] I also think about Professor Danielle Morgan at Santa Clara University, whose brother was harassed by campus police, and who was made to prove that she lived in university housing: ‘I asked why I needed to show ID at my own home. He said “Well, it’s not your home. The University owns it”’. (Alaa Elassar, ‘University launches investigation after a Black professor was asked by campus security to prove she lived in her own house’, CNN Online, Accessed 26 August, 2020).


The Sitting Shepherd


Vin Nardizzi


The woodcut for ‘September’ affords an anomalous visual description of pastoralism in The Shepheardes Calender. It features a sitting shepherd. By my count, there stand 20 shepherds in the fore- and background across the full complement of woodcuts.[i] These shepherds tend to be fellows-well-met; they look eager to share stories and songs. In natural-historical terms, their bipedal, upright posture distinguishes them hierarchically from all other creatures in the pastoral landscape.[ii] The sitting shepherd stands athwart this visual paradigm.

It is not unusual, however, for pastoral literature to imagine shepherds in recumbent positions. This pose has been conventional since Virgil, whose Tityrus reclines under a beech tree.[iii] Spenser adheres to this convention, too; it is the woodcuts to the Calender that do not. In ‘Februarie’, for instance, Cuddy reveals that he has been sitting on the ground for the duration (ll. 241-2).[iv] He also describes the effects of his position in terms that suggest a lack of circulation and perhaps numbness (ll. 243-4). And yet this is precisely not how the woodcut figures him: his clothes may be shabby, but he looks sprightly. This is one example; other such discrepancies appear in ‘Januarye’, ‘March’, ‘Aprill’, ‘Maye’ and ‘November’.[v] Despite all visual evidence to the contrary, the sitting shepherd in the woodcut for ‘September’ mirrors the rule in pastoral poetry, not the exception. By such logic, the woodcuts do not reflect the shepherd’s – humanity’s – exalted stature, in that term’s rich range of meaning. They work rigorously to produce it.

A longer account would survey English literary and print histories of this discrepancy: shepherd sitting in poetry and standing erect in image. It would explore Spenser’s poem to name the sitting shepherd (Hobbinol or Diggon Davie?) and to speculate about what the woodcut may convey about his story by seating him. As a prolegomenon, I stay with the Calender’s visual archive. What can we learn about this shepherd’s posture – and its relation to the articulation of human preeminence in the woodcuts – when we examine him in relation to his kin in sitting?

The shepherd in the woodcut to ‘September’ is not without company. Morrell ‘sittes’ in the woodcut to ‘Julye’ (l.2), and so too does Colin in the one for ‘December’. Both Morrell and Colin, however, are posed differently. In them, elevation is a meaningful, if contradictory, sign. Height equals hauteur in ‘Julye’, where Morrell, the ‘goteheard prowde / that sittes on yonder banke’ (ll. 1-2), looks down; by contrast, the shepherd in the woodcut for ‘September’ must raise his chin to meet his partner’s gaze. Unlike Colin, who sits with bent knees on what seems to be a mound, the shepherd in the September woodcut crosses his legs, tucking his right one underneath his left and extending his left leg horizontally so that his heel works to secure balance. Despite his melancholy, Colin claps his staff with both hands for support, while this shepherd holds his at an acute angle, seemingly keeping the staff steady by resting it in an elbow. So seated, the shepherd from September little resembles his closest visual kin in sitting in the Calender: Cuddy (again), who adjudicates in ‘August’, as if he ‘were … a king’ (l. 52) enthroned on the earth, a singing competition. By such lights, the posture of the sitting shepherd in the woodcut for ‘September’ suggests lowliness, tenuousness and unsteadiness. The poem’s content will enrichen and complicate these coordinates.

The delicate balance on display in the woodcut glimpses the effort required to maintain the fantasy of human supremacy in the pastoral world. This sitting shepherd could hold still, but so too might he suffer Cuddy’s circulatory ailments. If his equipoise were to be too disturbed, he might teeter over and roll down that incline or, worse yet, tumble altogether out of the woodcut’s lower frame. Already in question (by precise virtue of his not standing erect), the idea of human preeminence would follow.

[i] My prompt for counting shepherds (not sheep), is Julian Yates, Of Sheep, Oranges, and Yeast: A Multispecies Impression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).

[ii] According to Paul Alpers, What is Pastoral? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 93, ‘A convention is a usage that brings human beings together; a pastoral convention brings them together under the figure of shepherds’. On the preeminence of humanity’s bipedal gait in natural-historical contexts, see Laurie Shannon, The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locals (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

[iii] On this image as foundational for the poet, see Annabel Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). On the legacy of this Virgilian image in print, see Ruth Samson Luborsky, ‘The Illustrations to The Shepheardes Calendar’, Spenser Studies 2 (1981), 28.

[iv] All citations to The Shepheardes Calendar, noted by line number, are from Edmund Spenser: The Shorter Poems, ed. Richard A McCabe (London: Penguin, 1999).

[v] For a fuller discussion of the relations between poem and image in The Calendar, see Luborsky.




Jessica Rosenberg


Like the rest of the Calender, the composition of September’s woodcut is a dialogue in closed forms. Behind the shepherds, like a second pair of faces, the cinching of the fence around the cottage mirrors the seasonally-bundled shrubs at the right margin, both compassed by the margin itself, which binds the scene within its own kind of pales. This double frame, of border without and fence within, will be my remit here.

But why does Hobbinoll have a fence? Its appearance suggests a georgic moment in a pastoral scene. Thomas Tusser, who begins his couplets of agricultural instruction in September, considers fencing one of husbandry’s first lessons — abstracting the month’s third point in the dictum, ‘Plow, fence, & store, / Aught els before’.[i] Lackluster fencing, he warns, results in a prodigality of the kind that the eclogue will go on to narrate:  driving his sheep ‘into a farre country’ (l. 25) with an eye to material gain, Diggon Davie had ‘wasted’ them. Diggon, like Tusser, has learned the hard way to close in rather than lose out.

But the enclosure of Hobbinoll’s fence is not very closed. The pointed posts, twice as tall as the sheep before them, are just as straggling and mismatched in size. (Though pale-like enough to be inhospitable to fence-sitters.) About half the fence’s span (itself shown only in part) is filled by a simple three-planked gate, easily breached by vermin or predators. The structure might keep the flock out of a kitchen garden, but would do little to deter foxes or wolves. Nonetheless, as the exterior sheep suggest, it seems a fence for keeping out rather than keeping in. English common law held the owner of livestock responsible for the trespass of his animals,[ii] and Spenser’s shepherds (like Little Boy Blue) are well acquainted with the dangers of livestock out of place. But this fence does not take responsibility for flock or herd; instead, however clumsily, it insulates a domestic sphere against them, making the cottage a space with enemies and strangers beyond.

September’s enclosure is one post in a relay of fences across the Calender, including our fence’s reappearance in May, where it acts as proxy for the threshold at the heart of the fable of the Fox and the Kid.  In each case, Hobbinoll’s fence stands in as a ready and powerful symbol of domestic perimeter. Fences, like hedges, were just this kind of fluid signifier in the context of anti-enclosure polemic, where they became a symbol of unhousing.[iii] Spenser, however, is more interested in the power and precarity of enclosure. Like May’s fable, which eventually fastens credulous Kid in Fox’s basket, September replays the breach and reversal of enclosure, as in the conclusion of the story of Roffy and the wolf (like the fox, a villain bent on intrusion.) Against the wolf’s designs, the canny shepherd locks his sheep ‘Fast in theyr folds’ and ‘And tooke out the Woolfe in his counterfect cote, / And let out the sheepes bloud at his throte’ [204, 206-7].  Tusser could author the moral of fables across both eclogues: ‘Ill husbandrye loesith / for lack of good fence,/ good husbandrie cloesith, / & gainith the pence’.[iv] 

 Is the border of the woodcut likewise an enchanted site of potentially dangerous reversal? Might our attention be fastened within it, like the kid in the basket of the fox? Does this inked enclosure fence in or fence out? The thick-printed borders of the Calenders woodcuts—to whose rough solidity Ruth Luborsky ascribes a nostalgia for earlier visual modes—render in monochrome simplicity the more elaborate frames that usually enclosed images in emblem books, and invite a similar mode of interpretation and objectification.[v][vi] In the quartos, the woodcuts’ borders match the margins of the prose argument and glosses, planting a wider base for the narrower cascade of lyric within. The Calender, of course, is ostentatiously built of such frames, interpretive fences that keep out and close in. Fences are, as Patricia Seed shows in the context of British colonial land claims, rituals of possession.[vii] And, in the Calender, part of a project to establish what Paul Alpers calls a ‘domain of lyric’, a separate and bounded sphere.[viii]

But such conspicuous edging also brings our attention back to the page. Like the modular ornaments of emblem books, September’s border stabilises the impression of ink on paper, distributing force to the edges of the image. These fenced domains (image, lyric, cottage) are still limned by the material stuff of frame, fence and printed border, and the contingencies of force that attend the encounter of block, ink and page.  A border marks out the space of mimesis but is not itself a mimic—it indexes not the world outside the page but the world of its surface.

The wood of the block, reused for years, would have long outlasted the wood of Hobbinoll’s fence.[ix] Husbandmen discouraged such fences of ‘dead-wood’, which William Lawson warned ‘will not last… or make good fence’.[x] Advice for household and pasture prefers a living boundary—a quickset hedge—to what Thomas Hill calls ‘a dead and rough inclosure’.[xi] We might, in a variation on Frances Dolan’s transformative account of the hedgerow as a site of lively ecological contact, ask what different species of contact such a ‘dead and rough inclosure’ might house.[xii]


[i] Tusser, Fiue hundreth points of good husbandry (London: Richard Tottel, 1573), fo. 11v.

[ii] See Blackstone’s Commentaries: A MAN is answerable for not only his own tresspass, but that of his cattle also: for by his negligent keeping they stray upon the land of another (and much more if he permits, or drives them on) and they there tread down his neighbour’s herbage, and spoil his corn or his trees, this is a trespass for which the owner must answer in damages’ (Commentaries v. 3, p. 211).

[iii] On the meaning of hedges and fences as symbols of enclosure, see Joan Thirsk, ‘Enclosing and Engrossing’, in Thirsk, ed., Chapters from The Agrarian History of England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990): 54-55. And Frances E. Dolan, Digging the Past: How and Why to Imagine Seventeenth-Century Agriculture (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2020): 128-134. A glutton, in Utopias famous formulation, ‘may enclose thousands of acres in a single fence’, leaving tenants to wander, unhoused. More, Utopia, ed. George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003): 19.

[iv] Tusser (1573), fo. 57v.

[v] Ruth Samson Luborsky, ‘The Illustrations to The Shepheardes Calender’, Spenser Studies 2.1 (1981): 3-53.

[vi] Those ornamental borders enframe and set off the images in (for example) Whitney’s emblems, and they also break off and make fixed icons of the set form of the sonnet, as Wendy Wall shows in her reading of the mise-en-page of 1590s sequences (The Imprint of Gender (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993): 70-89.) For a masterful account of these ornamental borders, see the series of essays by Juliet Fleming, including ‘How not to look at a printed flower’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 38.2 (2008): 345-371.

[vii] Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europes Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995): 19.

[viii] Alpers, ‘Pastoral and the Domain of Lyric in Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender’, Representations 12 (1985): 83-100; esp. 94. Framing, as Rayna Kalas reveals, was a central activity of poetic making. Kalas, Frame, Glass, Verse: The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007): esp. 22-105.

[ix] My attention to the materiality of wood here is enabled by the insights of Vin Nardizzi ( Wooden Os: Shakespeares Theatres and Englands Trees (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2013) and Joshua Calhoun, The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and the Ecology of Texts in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).

[x] Lawson, A New Orchard and Garden (London, 1618), 15.

[xi] Thomas Hill, The Gardeners Labyrinth (London: Henry Bynneman, 1577), 12.

[xii] Dolan, ‘Weaving Hedges’, in Digging the Past (2020): 122-161; esp. 153-61.


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Cite as:

Tiffany Jo Werth, Chris Barrett, Todd Borlik, Dennis Britton, Vin Nardizzi, Jessica Rosenberg, "Vitalizing the September woodcut of 'The Shepheardes Calender'," Spenser Review 50.3.3 (Fall 2020). Accessed July 18th, 2024.
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