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Sonnet 54 - Edmund Spenser

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Victoria Ioannou

on 2 March 2015

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Transcript of Sonnet 54 - Edmund Spenser

Verses 1-4
Line 1: All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players' (Shakespeare, Act II, 'As you like it')
Stands on the stage of the metaphorical stage of life.
Performs for his beloved spectator (Elizabeth Boyle).
She sits quietly unmoved as he performs.
He introduces the metaphor of the theatre (Line 2) 'like the spectator idly sits'
The first quatrain sets up the analogy and describes how stressed or worried Spenser is as he is disguising his ‘troubled wits’ – putting his game face on, while secretly fretting about this girl’s affections.
Sonnet 54 - Edmund Spenser
Verses 5-8
Displays a wide range of emotions
Pretends to be happy and gay.
Hides true feelings with laughter and comedy.
When the script changes and he must portray sorrow, he cries and turns his own grief and distress into tragedy.
The second quatrain almost seems to be boastful about how he can play all the occasions and demonstrate all the emotional range that should (in his opinion) leave this girl crazy for him.
Verses 9-12
The third quatrain shows that all of his efforts are of no use. His beloved sits and watches intently, but is not amused. She neither finds joy in his gaiety nor feels sorry for him when in pain. She makes fun of him when he laughs and laughs when he cries. She hardens her heart forever by disrespecting him so.

Overview & Structure
This is a poem that bemoans a woman being completely unmoved by a man’s actions. The theatre and the different type of plays the wannabe lover claims to be adept in, are really different aspects or spheres of life. He is left feeling confused and frustrated by her lack of interest in him.

Divided into ....................................
Edmund Spenser (1553-1599)
Spenserian Sonnet = how love compares to the shows of the theatre
Poem is part of the Ammoretti collection of sonnets
Written about his courtship with Elizabeth Boyle.
They eventually married in 1594.
Petrarchan sonnet (14 lines)
Part of 89 sonnets.
It’s thought that the poem uses the theatre analogy because in the two years (1592-1593) preceding all the theatres had been closed to try to prevent a plague spreading.


Unrequited love is probably the most obvious. The poetic voice (Spenser) explores his frustration that he cannot get this woman (Boyle) to notice him, despite all his best efforts.

You may also consider the theatre to be a key theme, but it is only used as a comparative so be aware.
The analogy is the most important thing. It is used to compare his attempts to woo her with an actor’s attempts to move his audience.
There are also contradictory responses from his love. ‘Laugh’ contrasted with ‘mock’, ‘cry’ contrasted with ‘laugh’. This heightens the feelings of frustration to almost anger as this woman is not just rejecting him, but scorning him – laughing at or mocking his advances.
That last line contains quite a harsh metaphor comparing her to ‘a senseless stone’. This conveys ideas of her having no emotion or heart and being cold and mean. It seems like Spenser has got to the stage of slagging off the girl he fancied, but who rejected him, in order to save face or his own feelings.
Alliteration: Line 6: Letter ....
Line 13: Question - Pause -> important
Enjambment: Lines ...... (poetic device to get his point across)
Language and techniques
Frustration passing into annoyance/anger.

He explains all his efforts and seems to appeal to us to sympathise with him as she scorns him and then is fairly rude about her when he is on the point of giving up.

Finally, the couplet sums up all his frustrations. He questions whether there is anything he can do and then decides it’s her fault as she is incapable of emotion. Nothing seems to get through to her and warm her heart.
Verses 13-14
Full transcript