Why at all Complain? "Bad" Poetry and Denatured Form in Spenser's Daphnaida

Brown, Richard Danson (2020). Why at all Complain? "Bad" Poetry and Denatured Form in Spenser's Daphnaida. Spenser Studies, 34 pp. 77–110.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/706177


How should we read Daphnaïda—as Spenser’s worst poem or as covert advocacy on Spenser’s part for Arthur Gorges? In the light of such divergent recent approaches, this essay considers the poem through its formal choices and the ways in which such framing devices ironize and complicate its protagonist. It begins by rereading the monotonous quality of Alycon’s long lament, suggesting that Spenser uses devices that critically align Alcyon with poets of the previous age in the choice of a particular line shape. It then explores the ways in which this characterization draws on aspects of contemporary drama in the presentation of him as an affectively problematic figure—in this reading, metrical allusion to the drama contributes to the ironic characterization of the poem’s protagonist. The connection between Daphnaïda and contemporary poetry is enhanced by a detailed account of the way Alcyon’s complaint rewrites and “denatures” the famous contemporary sonnet “Like to a Hermite poore in place obscure” before turning to the poem’s complex bibliographical relationship with the Complaints volume. Finally, analysis of the stanza reveals it as denatured rhyme royal, designed to frustrate the eloquent tonalities of the original form.

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