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Spenser Studies in Japan, 2011 to 2013
by Toshiyuki Suzuki

Spenser Studies in Japan, 2011 to 2013


In 2006 the Spenser Society of Japan, in commemoration of its twentieth anniversary, published Shijin no Shijin Spenser (Spenser, the Poet’s Poet), a collection of twenty essays on Spenser.[1]  In the preface to this collection, A. C. Hamilton commended it highly as “a milestone in the progress of the Society,” referring in retrospect to Haruhiko Fujii’s entry in The Spenser Encyclopedia, “Spenser’s influence and reputation in Japan,” and to Shohachi Fukuda’s career in translating Spenser’s poetry into Japanese.[2]  From that time on, studies of Spenser in Japan, mostly done in Japanese, have continued constantly as before.  What follows is a general but brief introduction to books and papers on Spenser published in the past few years.



Spenser, Edmund. Yosei no Joou Meibamen (The Faerie Queene: Selected Cantos). Trans. Shohachi Fukuda. Tokyo: Bungeisha, 2013. 351 pp. ISBN: 978-4286143781. $8.00 paper.

This new Japanese version of The Faerie Queene based on A. C. Hamilton’s second Longman edition (2001) comprises within one volume twelve cantos selected from Fukuda’s own verse translation of the poem, as well as a commentary on each of its seventy-four cantos.  The general Japanese reader can, therefore, easily grasp the epic in its entirety, while enjoying the major episodes narrated in a fixed form of verse similar to that of classical Japanese poetry.  Fukuda’s rendering closely reflects the rhythm and tempo of the Spenserian stanza; eight lines of iambic pentameter are translated into eight twelve-syllable Japanese lines (in a 7-5 or 5-7 syllabic pattern) and the final alexandrine into a fourteen-syllable line (in a 7-7 syllabic pattern).  Chinese characters in the text that may be somewhat difficult even for Japanese to sound out have phonetic transcriptions in the Japanese syllabary printed in small type alongside them,[3] and a vocabulary is provided at the end of each canto.  In addition, several illustrations by Edward Corbould are reprinted from the Routledge edition (London, 1855).  All of these efforts show that the book is intended to be friendly to a younger generation of readers.


Sidney, Sir Philip. “Sir Philip Sidney no Shi eno Bengo (Sir Philip Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry: A Japanese Translation with Detailed Notes).” Trans. Yoshitoshi Murasato. Journal of the Faculty of Letters 71 Prefectural U of Kumamoto (2012): 45-83 & 72 (2013): 45-94.  ISSN: 1341-1241.

Although this translation is not directly concerned with Spenser’s text, it offers nevertheless valuable material to Japanese readers of the poet.  Murasato, who had translated New Arcadia and A. C. Hamilton’s Sir Philip Sidney: A Study of His Life and Works (1977), has rendered this Renaissance literary theory in slightly archaic Japanese with detailed annotations.  His translation is based on Forrest G. Robinson’s edition (1970), whose text is that of An Apologie published by Henry Olney, prior to the publication of The Defence of Poesie by William Ponsonby in 1595.  Incidentally, a Japanese version of the latter appeared in 1968, translated by Yoshiaki Fuhara. 


Odawara, Yoko. Trans. Spenser to Sono Jidai (Spenser and His Times). Tokyo: Nan’undo, 2011. 430 pp. ISBN: 978-452329315. $38.00 cloth.  

A Japanese version of Colin Burrow’s Edmund Spenser (1996) in the new series Writers and Their Work, it has the translator’s copious notes (placed at the end of the book), which turned Burrow’s slim paperback original into a portly hardcover volume. In his preface to this version Burrow characterizes The Faerie Queene as a poem both “densely historical” and “outside and beyond history,” and says that the book is “an attempt to explain how these two aspects of Spenser’s work hold together and how they interact.”  Hence the extensive and detailed notes by Odawara, chiefly on historical figures and events in Spenser’s times, which will certainly help Japanese readers who want to understand the historical background.


Books / articles in Japanese

Murasato, Yoshitoshi. “Forster de Yomu Sidney no Arcadia (Reading of Sidney’s Arcadia from the point of view of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel).” Tsutsui, Hitoshi & Akira Tamai, eds. Forster Bungaku no Shosou (Aspects of E. M. Forster’s Literary World). Tokyo: Eihosha, 2012. 189-232. ISBN: 978-4269721227. $31.00 cloth.

In this essay Murasato discusses Sidney’s narrative skills, applying E. M. Forster’s theory of seven aspects of the novel to the two (the Old and New) versions of Arcadia.  He adopts for his frame of reference the modern novelist’s view of story, characters, plot, and prophecy, and examines the two texts of the heroic romance.  The comparison of the two versions seen from these aspects shows clearly that the greatest difference between the two is in the construction of the plot; whereas the story-line of the Old is sequential and straightforward, that of the New is far more complicated with the inclusion of many narrator-characters, their flashbacks from the past, and variations in the style of narration.  Murasato considers this complication of the plot to be Sidney’s elaborate attempt to expand the dimensions of the work and deems the New Arcadia, where he consciously cultivated the art of organizing multilevel viewpoint and narrative, a prototype or precursor of the narrative of the modern novel.


Takemura, Harumi. “Elizabeth-cho Kyutei Shukusai ni okeru ‘Yosei no Joou’ no Romansu-teki Henyo (Romantic Transition of the Fairy Queen Motif in the Elizabethan Court Festivities).” Ed. The Shakespeare Society of Japan Shakespeare to Engeki Bunka (Shakespeare and Theatrical Culture). Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 2012. 135-157. ISBN: 978-4327472276. $36.00 cloth.

Takemura’s study appears in an anthology published in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Shakespeare Society of Japan, which collects twelve essays on Shakespeare and his cultural/theatrical milieu.  To clarify one phase of the cult of Elizabeth, Takemura explores the metamorphosis of the fairy-queen motif that frequently recurred in different genres and contexts of Elizabethan literature.  Her study includes: (1) Elizabethan court festivities in the 1570s, in particular, pageants presented on the Queen’s visits to Kenilworth and elsewhere; (2) Gloriana in The Faerie Queene and Cynthia in Endymion; (3) Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Fairy Queen played by Mrs. Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor.  She points out that, unlike pageant writers, Spenser virtually deified Elizabeth and equated her with his own Faerie Queene in appropriating this chivalric, romantic, and pastoral motif for his nationalistic epic.  She also holds that Gloriana’s romanticized order of chivalry, alluding to the Order of the Garter, revealed its inherent equivocality between gyneolatry and sexual love.  She further observes that the development of the public theater and printing industry in the 1590s caused the motif, theretofore prevalent in courtly literature, to spread rapidly to low culture, producing a hybrid of courtly and civic culture. 


Iwanaga, Hiroto. Petrarchism no Arika (The Whereabouts of Petrarchism: Elizabethan Love Sonnets). Tokyo: Otowa Shobo-Tsurumi Shoten, 2011. 241 pp. ISBN: 978-4755302541. $27.00 paper.

The book as a whole discusses aspects of English Petrarchism in the 1590s, tracing the way through its Italian and French sources back to Petrarch’s Canzoniere.  Iwanaga examines and exemplifies how Elizabethan poets imitated, Anglicized, and exploited Petrarchan models in their own poetic achievements, taking up the practices of a wide range of poets from earlier sonneteers such as Thomas Watson, Barnabe Barnes, Henry Constable, and others, to Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare.  After a careful survey of their works, the author concludes that Petrarchism served them as a catalyst in stimulating their own poetic imagination, and that the consequent diversification of Petrarchism has made it difficult to define the term precisely. Two chapters out of twelve are given to discussions of Spenser’s sonnets—one chapter on The Visions of Petrarch, and the other on Sonnet 34 of Amoretti.


Articles in English

Ide, Arata. “Chivalric Revival and the London Public Playhouse in the 1580s.” Studies in English Literature 52 (2011): 1-15. ISSN: 0387-3439.

Ide’s topic of chivalric revival and the public theater is valuable for the light it throws on the process by which “London citizens’ appropriation of chivalric symbolism for the Protestant cause” emerged against the background of the national crisis of the 1580s.  He begins his essay with a discussion of Richard Robinson’s English translation (1582) of John Leland’s Assertio Inclytissimi Arturii Regis Britanniae (1544), a treatise on the historicity of King Arthur, and goes on to examine the foundation and activities of the Society of Archers in London that yearly commemorated Prince Arthur and his Knightly Order of the Round Table.  He further discusses chivalric citizen-heroes on the public stage, taking Tamburlaine the Great (ca. 1587) as the most influential in terms of popularization of plays with the chivalric-romance motif.  In this connection, he briefly mentions Marlowe’s borrowings from The Faerie Queene and his partaking of Spenser’s interest in protestant chivalric romance.  This is followed by a survey of later plays such as 1Henry VI, Henry V, and Shoemaker’s Holiday and a description of the burial rites of Philip Sidney organized by Francis Walsingham in 1586, to demonstrate what effects such chivalric plays and knightly ritual processions might have had on the nobility and citizenry.  By way of conclusion, he emphasizes the role public theater played in the formation of civic chivalry and the militarization of the populace.


Suzuki, Toshiyuki. “Authorial Revision or Compositorial Tampering? Notes on Minor Changes in the 1596 Quarto of The Faerie Queene, Books I-III.” Treatises & Studies by the Faculty of Kinjo Gakuin University 8.1 (2011): 32-49. ISSN: 1880-0351.

One of the co-editors of A. C. Hamilton’s second Longman edition of The Faerie Queene (2001), Suzuki supplements its textual notes with commentaries on some of the minor changes made in 1596, when the second quarto of Books I-III was published with the major revision of the ending of Book III.  To see the number and the extent of the changes, he first gives statistical data on the 1596 variants of the 1590 quarto readings, and proceeds to explain the reasons for the Longman editors’ choice between the two, reviewing previous modern editions, chiefly the Oxford edition and the Variorum.  Substantive variants that are more or less controversial are taken up for discussion, sorted by grammatical or prosodic categories such as conjunctions, personal pronouns, word order, tense, wording, and rhyme/meter.  The author argues that there are many 1596 alterations that can be reasonably supposed to be from the compositor’s hand rather than the poet’s, and questions the previous editors’ assumption that Spenser revised the first edition extensively and elaborately. 


News in Brief

In November, 2012, Shohachi Fukuda, the President of the Spenser Society of Japan, was awarded a national medal (the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon) for his achievements in Spenser scholarship, and honored with a statement by the Emperor of Japan.


Toshiyuki Suzuki
Kinjo Gakuin University
Nagoya, Japan


[1] The Spenser Society of Japan edited Shijin no Shijin Spensr (Fukuoka: Kyushu UP, 2006).  Commemorating its tenth anniversary, the Society had published in 1997 the first collection of essays on Spenser in Japan, a volume containing twenty-five essays by twenty-four Japanese Spenserians, i.e. Fukuda, Shohachi & Susumu Kawanishi, eds. Shijin no Ou Spenser (The Prince of Poets: Essays on Spenser). (Fukuoka: Kyushu UP, 1997).


[2] The first Japanese version of the complete text of The Faerie Queene, published in 1969 by seven scholars at Kumamoto University including Shohachi Fukuda, marked an epoch in the history of the translation of Spenser’s poetry in Japan.  It was followed by a joint translation of The Shephardes Calender and of all other shorter poems, both published by the same group of scholars in 1974 and 1980, respectively.  These two works were subsequently revised, compiled into one volume, and published in 2007 under the title The Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser.  Fukuda had independently translated some of these poems in verse, and in 2000 published Poems of Spenser, a collection comprising SC, Fate of the Butterflie, Colin Clouts, Amorretti & Epithalamion, and Prothalamion.  Concurrently, the first translation of The Faerie Queene underwent an extensive revision, and a revised edition by Fukuda and his colleague Yuichi Wada appeared in 1994.  Based on this edition and with further revision, yet another edition by the same translators was published in a four-volume paperback in 2005.

[3] The Japanese writing system uses Chinese characters (called kanji) in combination with phonetic syllabic scripts (kana) derived from Chinese characters but developed in Japan.  While kanji, which are ideographic, are used to express the meanings of most words, kana, which can express all the sounds of Japanese, are used to write inflectional endings and grammatical particles.  As is often the case with books for children and learners of the language, kana are also used (printed in small type alongside kanji) to indicate Japanese pronunciation of kanji that are deemed to be outside the range of daily use or beyond the reach of intended readers’ passive vocabulary.


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Cite as:

Toshiyuki Suzuki, "Spenser Studies in Japan, 2011 to 2013," Spenser Review 43.3.67 (Winter 2014). Accessed September 26th, 2018.
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