The legal context of Spenser's Daphnaïda

Gibson, Jonathan (2004). The legal context of Spenser's Daphnaïda. The Review of English Studies, 55(218) pp. 24–44.



Daphnaïda (1591), Spenser's narrative elegy for the heiress Douglas Howard, is dominated by the melancholic figure of the shepherd Alcyon, who mourns the death of his lover Daphne. Alcyon represents Douglas's husband Arthur Gorges, while Daphne represents Douglas herself. Most recent critics read the poem as an attempt by Spenser to upbraid Gorges for mourning Douglas too extravagantly. Building on the early twentieth-century scholarship of Helen E. Sandison, this article instead emphasizes Daphnaïda's connection with a bitter legal dispute between Gorges and Douglas's Howard relatives. The Howards claimed that Ambrosia, Douglas's and Gorges's daughter, was 'a forged or changed childe' and therefore not eligible to inherit land from her mother. Alcyon's indecorous mourning combines with a number of other features of Daphnaïda to help build sympathy for Gorges in his legal struggle. The complaint spoken by Alcyon in the poem thus functions implicitly both as a poetic and a legal complaint. The article also explores connections between Gorges's manuscript poetry and Daphnaïda.

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