2 A Cambridge graduate (with an M. A A Cambridge graduate (with an M.A.), Spenser lived under Elizabeth I’s rule. He wrote The Faerie Queene in her honor, but it failed to garnish political favor as Spenser held unpopular political views. This remains his most famous work, however.Sent to Ireland to hold English property, Spenser met and courted Elizabeth Boyle for a year. His suit is documented in his sonnet series, Amoretti.He is considered the foremost English poet of the 16th century, a man who was considered the most celebrated poet writing in English. William Camden recorded that many poets threw poems and quills into Spenser’s grave at his funeral, but when his tomb was searched in 1930, nothing was found.Edmund Spenser
3 ContextThis sonnet is number 54 in the Amoretti, a sequence of eighty-nine sonnets that detail Spenser’s wooing of Elizabeth Boyle. In this sonnet, Spenser uses the theatre to describe his situation. He is the actor who plays various parts, and she is the unmoved spectator.Elizabeth Boyle
4 StructureThis sonnet is a conceit that compares the speaker’s actions to that of the theatre.This Spenserian sonnet contains an octave and a sestet with the last two lines forming a couplet.The first four lines of the octave introduce the metaphor. Rather than a volta in line five, Spenser chooses to continue the above logic into his next four lines. The rhyme scheme (ABABBCBC CDCDEE) in the first octave allows the continuance of logical thought through the linked rhyme.
5 The concluding sestet turns on a volta at line 9, which introduces Elizabeth’s reactions. The resolution to his problem appears in the final couplet when he rejects her.Unlike a Shakespearean of Petrarchan sonnet, this Spenserian sonnet poses no paradox.
6 Sonnet 54Of this world’s theatre in which we stay, My love like the spectator idly sits, Beholding me, that all the pageants play, Disguising diversly my troubled wits. Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits, And mask in mirth like to a comedy: Soon after, when my joy to sorrow flits, I wail, and make my woes a tragedy. Yet she, beholding me with constant eye, Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart: But when I laugh she mocks, and when I cry She laughs, and hardens evermore her heart. What then can move her? if nor mirth nor moan, She is no woman, but a senseless stone.
7 Of this world’s theatre in which we stay, The “theatre is a metaphor for life.Conceit begins my explaining that the speaker’s “love” is the spectator of his performance.The first line may be an allusion to Shakespeare’s line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”Simile establishes his love as the spectator.Of this world’s theatre in which we stay,My love like the spectator idly sits,Beholding me, that all the pageants play,Disguising diversly my troubled wits.Alliteration of “p” and “d” sounds stress his frustration at trying to win her.Pageants were a short, dramatic parade of scenes.
8 Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits, He moves from hiding his true feelings with laughter to portraying sorrow.Alliteration of “m” sounds reveal his pretense at happiness. The alliterative “w” stresses his grief.Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,And mask in mirth like to a comedy:Soon after, when my joy to sorrow flits,I wail, and make my woes a tragedy.Caesuras mark how quickly he can move from one emotion to the next. He tries comedy and then tragedy, but she remains unmoved.
9 Yet she, beholding me with constant eye, Repetition of “when I” compounds the woman’s rejection of him.Caesura’s stress her emotional reactions to his ministrations.Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart:But when I laugh she mocks, and when I cryShe laughs, and hardens evermore her heart.Her responses are the opposite of what he expects.
10 What then can move her? if nor mirth nor moan, Imagery is used to portray the woman as a hard, unyielding material that resists his attempts to win her.What then can move her? if nor mirth nor moan,She is no woman, but a senseless stone.This metaphor stresses how unmoved Elizabeth is by his actions. The sibilance reinforces the speaker’s frustration so that he is practically hissing at her lack of attraction.Alliteration of “m” sound stresses his frustration. Elizabeth was not eager to align herself with a widower who was twice her age. After one year of wooing, however, she married him.
11 ThemeRegardless of the man’s attempts to win the woman’s affection, his love remains unrequited.
12 ToneThe speaker’s tone is fairly frustrated throughout the poem as his reactions express his doubt that he can move her. The final couplet, however, reveals a tone of bitterness.