Prothalamion as renaissance writing and a nuptial song.

Question What do you understand by the term renaissance? Examine Spenser’s Prothalamion as an example of both renaissance writing as well as a nuptial song.


The literal meaning of the term ‘renaissance’ is re-birth. It was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Florence in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The main factors which helped in the spread of renaissance are:

(a) New Secular Hunger for Discovering

Texts: The courts and monasteries of Europe had long been repositories of old manuscripts and texts, but a change in how scholars viewed them stimulated the massive reappraisal of classical works in the Renaissance. Fourteenth century writer Petrarch typified this–he may even have triggered it– by writing about his own lust for discovering texts which had previously been ignored and were just gathering dust.

Now secular readers developed a taste, even a hunger, for seeking out, reading and spreading old works, chief of all classical writings, on a more widespread level than centuries previous. New libraries developed to facilitate access to old books.

(b) Reintroduction of Classical Work:

While there were classical texts in Western Europe at the start of the Renaissance, many had been lost and existed only in the East, in both Christian Constantinople and Muslim states. During the Renaissance many key texts were reintroduced into Europe, whether by merchants taking advantage of the new hunger for old texts, or by scholars who had been invited over to teach. For instance, in 1396 a Chair for teaching Greek was created in Florence. The chosen teacher, Chrysoloras, brought with him a copy of Ptolemy’s Geography from the East. In addition, a huge number of Greek texts and scholars arrived in Europe with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

(c) The Printing Press:

A hunger for forgotten texts may have developed in Europe, but it was the new printing press that allowed these works to be mass produced, feeding a much wider audience than the old hand written methods could ever have hoped to reach. This in turn allowed the Renaissance to develop more fully. In addition, the press removed scribal errors, allowing humanists and scholars to know they were comparing the nuances of the same text, and not someone’s mistake. This allowed for the further evolution of textual criticism which underpinned Renaissance thinking.

(d) Development of Renaissance Humanism:

Renaissance Humanism was a new manner of thinking and approaching the world, based around a new form of curriculum for those learning. It has been called the earliest expression of the Renaissance, and is described as both a product of the movement and a cause. Humanist thinkers challenged the mindset of both the previously dominant school of scholarly thought, Scholasticism, as well as the church, allowing the new mindsets which underpinned the Renaissance to develop instead.

(e) The Political Situation:

The Need for Display and Administration: The Renaissance changes in the style of art, as well as the outlook of artists, needed wealthy patrons to support it, and Renaissance Italy was especially fertile ground. Political changes in the ruling class of Italy shortly before this period had led to the rulers of most of the major city states being “new men” without much of a political history. They attempted to legitimize themselves with conspicuous display, with ostentation, including all forms of art and creativity.

(f) This meant that artists keen to use their new found Renaissance ideas were ably supported and able to produce masterpieces. As the Renaissance spread, the Church and other European rulers would use their wealth to adopt the new styles to keep pace. The demand from new (and old) elites wasn’t just artistic; they also relied upon ideas developed from the Renaissance for their political models. Machiavelli’s infamous guide to rulers–The Prince– is a work of Renaissance political theory.


The term “Prothalamion” is a Spenserian presentation invented to signify upto the first nuptial song. This poem was written on the occasion of the wedding of two daughters of Edwars Somerset on 8 November, 1596. He was also the Earl of Wercestor. The wedding took place at the Strand in London in Essex House. Spenser was once sponsored by the Earl of Essex for the writing of this poem. This poem is however different from Spenser’s own nuptial song.

Epithalamion is highly sensual and consistent in its Thames, whereas the Prothalamion is shorter, pensive and slow in its pace.

The Prothalamion also uses some of the devices of the earlier poem in its structure. In this type of poem pastoral setting is also used. It also uses a couplet at the end of first stanza. This couplet is again used as refrain at the end of every stanza. In Prothalamion poems also the non-religious gods are described to bless the couples so as to protect them from all evils May you have and gentle hearts content of your leves complements.

And let faire Venus, that is Queene of loue With her heart quelling Some upon you smile Whose smile they say, hath virtue to semuve All Loues dislike and friendships fanltie guile For euer toassoile. (stanza 6).

Here ends the resemblence between these two types of poems. The Prothalamion poems mainly confines itself only for descrinbing the wedding procession leading upto Essex house. This poem is enchanted in morning for a few hours only. Like this such poems are not like the Epithalamion in which there is profound integration of temporality and theme. Prothalamion poems express an elaborate structure in which two brides are compared to beautiful swans that sail down the river. It is compared with the Roman classical myth of Jove and Leda. However the two daughters of Somerset were more beautiful than Jova and Leda too. The real significance of the poem is less in poetic achievements and more in the biographical values. This is perhaps due to the pressure of court politics. The following is a celebrating wedding song:

When I whom sullein care, Through discontent of my long fruitleses stay In princes court and expectation vayne of idle hopes, which still doe fly away, Like empty shadows, did aflict my brayne Walkt forth to ease my payne (Stanza 1)

This poem is written in honour of his patron’s friend represents anger and rejection both, that Spenser must have felt toward the entire system of patronage which was important for his survival. This is repeated again by Spenser in following stanza No 8.

Next whereunto there standes a stately place, Where oft I gayned giftes and goodly grace Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell,

Whose want too well, now feeles my friendless case:

But Ah here fits not well Olde woes, but ioyes to tell...

Earl of Leicester was patron of Spenser for many years. This reference suggests about the impersonality of patronage system, in which one patron replaces the other, and this most bothers Spenser.



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