3.4.5. Edmund Spenser, Colin Clouts Come Home Again, 1595


“It may be conjectured that before Spenser’s poem was written, Shakspeare had produced on the stage one or more of his historical plays, probably King Richard the Second and Third. Spenser, therfore, while he distinguished him by that characteristic epithet which several of his contemporaries have applied to him, — ‘A gentler shepherd may no where be found,’ and alluded to the brandished spear from which his name, so congenial with heroic song, was originally derived, may be supposed to have had in contemplation these imperial tragedies, then perhaps performing with applause at the Curtain Theatre, as well as his Venus and Adonis, and the newly published poem of the Rape of Lucrece, which had appeared in the middle of the year 1594, and may, with perfect propriety, be referred to under the denomination of heroic verse. In Richard the Second, the challenge of Bolingbroke and the Duke of Norfolk in the first act, and the contention in the fourth act between the various noble disputants assembled ill the lists at Coventry, being conducted with all the forms and pomp of chivalry, furnished, doubtless, a very splendid spectacle ; and indeed the whole drama, as well as that of Richard the Third, doth, like its author, ‘heroically sound.’”

- Thomas Fuller (1662), as well as Spenser, alludes to the heroic sound of our poet's name (Worthies of England, Warwickshire, p. 126):

In Shakespeare, three eminent poets may seem in some sort to be compounded. 1. Martial; in the warlike sound of his surname, whence some may conjecture him of a military extraction, hasti-vibrans, or Shake-speare; 2. Ovid, the most natural and witty of all poets; 3. Plautus, who was an exact comedian, yet never any scholar.

- Ben Jonson, in his posthumous verses on our author, has a similar allusion to Shakspeare's

Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue; even so the grace
Of Shakspeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-torned and true filed lines;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandished at the eyes of ignorance.

- See also Th. Bancroft's Epigrams, 1639, where our poet is thus addressed:

Thou hast so used thy pen, or shook thy speare,
That poets startle, not thy wit come near.

Edmond Malone, Life of William Shakespeare (1821), p. 274-5.



Then rouse thy feathers quickly Daniell,[1]
And to what course thou please thyself advance:
But most me seems, thy accent will excell
In Tragic plaints and passionate mischance.
And there that shepheard of the Ocean is,[2]
That spends his wit in loveʼs consuming smart:

Full sweetly tempʼred is that Muse of his
That can empierce a Princessʼ mighty heart.
There also is (ah no, he is not now)
But since I said he is, he is quite gone,
Amyntas quite is gone, and lies full low,
Having his Amaryllis left to moan.[3]
Help, O ye shepheards help ye all in this,
Help Amaryllis this her loss to mourn:
Her loss is yours, your loss Amyntas is,
Amyntas flower of Shepheardsʼ pride forlorn:

He whilest he livèd was the noblest swain,
That ever pipèd in an oaten quill:[4]
Both did he other, which could pipe, maintain,
And eke could pipe himself with passing skill.
And there though last not least [5] is Aetion, [6]
A gentler shepheard may nowhere be found:[7]
Whose Muse, full of high thoughtsʼ invention,
Doth like himself Heroically sound.[8]
All these, and many others moʼ remain,
Now after Astrofell is dead and gone:[9]

But while as Astrofell did live and reign,
Amongst all these was none his Paragon.
All these do florish in their sundry kind,
And do their Cynthia immortall make:
Yet found I liking in her royal mind
Not for my skill, but for that shepheards’ sake.



[1] “Then rouse thy feathers quickly Daniell”: Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) whose Delia, contayning certayne Sonnets, with the Complaint of Rosamond, was printed three times in 1592, and twice in 1594.

Of the twelve poets Spenser mentions in Colin Clouts Home Again, two are already dead, two are old, another skillful but envious, two more engaged in work beneath their powers, and another able but “meanly waged.” Only four living poets receive unqualified praise: Spenser’s patron Raleigh, Alabaster and Daniel - and AETION.

The poets are: 1) “There is good Harpalus now waxen aged / In faithful service of fair Cynthia” (= William Hunnis, c. 1525-1597, musician and poet; was appointed gentleman of the Chapel Royal by Edward VI. The poem “Harpalus complaynt of Pillidaes” was published in Tottels Miscellany, 1557.) -  2) “And there is Corydon though meanly waged, / Yet ablest wit of most I know this day” (= Abraham Fraunce, c.1558-c.1595, author of The Lamentation of Corydon for the love of Alexis, 1592, a translation of Virgil's second eclogue.) - 3) “And there is sad Alcyon bent to mourn … Whose gentle sprite for Daphne’s death…” (= Sir Arthur Gorges, c.1569-1625, who lost his wife in 1590, and adressed several poems to “Daphne”) - 4) “There eke is Palin worty of great praise / Albe he envy at my rustic quill” (= probably George Peele, 1556-1596 who wrote in his Eclogue Gratulatorie, 1589: “Twit me with boldness, Palin, as thou wilt”.) - 5) “And there is pleasing Alcon, could he raise / His tunes from lays to matter of more skill” (= Thomas Lodge, 1558-1625. Alcon is the name of an old peasant in A Looking Glasse for London and England, 1590, a play in which Lodge and Greene collaborated. - 6) “And there is old Palemon free from spite … That sung so long until quite hoarse he grew” (= Thomas Churchyard, c.1520-1604, who answered in Churchyards Cherishing, 1596: “The platform where all poets thrive, / Save one whose voice is hoarse they say.”) - 7) “And there is Alabaster throughly taught, / In all his skill, though knowen yet to few” (= William Alabaster, 1567-1640, had completed the first book of his Elisaeis, , a Latin epic in honour of Queen Elizabeth.) - 8) “And there is a new shepheard late up sprung … In love’s soft lays and looser thoughts delight. / Then rouse thy feathers quickly Daniell” (= Samuel Daniel, 1562-1619.) -- 9) The shepheard of the Ocean -- 10) Amyntas --11) Aetion -- 12) Astrophell

[2] “And there that shepheard of the Ocean is”: Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1554-1618), the author of "The Ocean's Love to Cynthia," or, "The Ocean, to Cynthia," a long elegy written to celebrate Queen Elizabeth as Cynthia. Raleigh never published it, and no complete manuscript exists. One believes the poem to have been composed between the years 1592-1595.

[3]Amyntas quite is gone, and lies full low, / Having his Amaryllis left to moan”: Spenser mourns the death of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, Earl of Derby (1559- 16 April 1594). Amaryllis is his Countess, Alice Spencer, daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorp (to whom Spenser claimed kinship). Spenser dedicated The Teares of the Muses to her in 1591.

[4] “That ever pipèd in an oaten quill”: See Steven May, Spenser's "Amyntas": Three Poems by Ferdinando Stanley, Modern Philology vol. 70, No. 1 (1972), pp. 49-52.

[5] “And there though last not least”: Edmond Malone (1741-1812) comments:

“Let it not, however, be supposed, that William Shakespeare [= Aetion] was lightly estimated by Spenser, because his name is last introduced in this list of poetical worthies; for, not to insist on the law of heraldry, by which, in all processions, the last place is considered the most honourable, and always assigned to the person of the greatest dignity, we may observe that Nashe, in an eulogy on his friend George Peele, whom he preferred to all the dramatic writers of the period when it was written (1589), introduces his admired and favourite poet precisely in the same manner, though certainly he intended to represent him as far surpassing all his contemporaries: 

And for the last, though not the least of them all, I dare commend him [Peele] unto all that know him, as the chief supporter of pleasaunce now living, the Atlas of poetry, and primus verborum artifex.’

Though last, not least, seems to have been a common formula in that age; and is always applied to a person very highly valued by the speaker. Again, in Puttenham's Arte of Poesie, 1589 :

But lest in recital and first in degree, the Queen our sovereign lady, whose learned, delicate, noble muse, easily surmounteth all the rest…’

Thus also Webster (though the last, not the least apposite authority) in the preface to his White Devil, 1612: ‘- and lastly, without wrong last to be named, the right happy and copious Industry of Master Shake-speare,’ &c.” 

There is a further example which Malone overlooked. On New Year’s Day 1593 Queen Elizabeth was given a series of poetical “portraits” of different towns (and counties) throughout England by a very old poet; Thomas Churchyard (= Palemon). Spenser must have known about Churchyard’s poem. One after another, the following towns were mentioned: Northhampton, Warwick, Bedford, Lincoln, Kildare, Hertfort, Huntington, Worcester, Southampton, Pembroke, Shrewsbury - and OXFORD. Each of the counties was represented by a living Countess whose character blended with the respective region. “Oxford” was described as follows:

OXFORD came last, like sober Sibbill sage,
Whose modest face like faire Lucyna shone:
Whose stayed looks decors her youthfull age
That glisters like the alabaster stone.
Her blotlesse life much laude and glorie gate,
And calld her up to be a great estate.
The diamond dooth lose his daintie light,
And waxeth dim, when Oxford comes in sight.

“Lucina” is the goddess of childbirth. Elizabeth Trentham, Countess of Oxford, had been married to the 17th Earl of Oxford since December 1591. In 1592-93 she was pregnant with their son (Henry de Vere) to whom she gave birth on 24. Februar 1593. - Spenser’s  sentence “though last not least” creates a direct and deliberate parallel to Churchyard’s “Oxford came last”.

[6] “Aetion”:1) 1) Ἀετίων — masc. gen. pl. of Ἀέτιος (eagle) = eagle-like. That means, Shake-speare is compared to an eagle.

2) The irrelevant explication: Aetion was a Greek painter. Pliny placed Aetion in the 107th Olympiad (352-349 BC) and (XXXV.50) included him in a list of painters who used a palette restricted to four colours: white, yellow, red and black.

“In the hundred and seventh Olympiad, flourished Aëtion and Therimachus. By the former we have some fine pictures; a Father Liber, Tragedy and Comedy, Semiramis from the rank of a slave elevated to the throne, an Old Woman bearing torches, and a New-made Bride, remarkable for the air of modesty with which she is portrayed.”  (Pliny, Natural History, XXXV.78)

[7] “A gentler shepheard may nowhere be found”: See Edmund Spenser, The Teares of the Muses, 1591: “But that same gentle Spirit, from whose pen / Large streams of honey and sweet Nectar flow”

[8] “Whose Muse, full of high thoughtsʼ invention, / Doth like himself Heroically sound”: And what was the heroic sounding name of Shake-speare’s Muse? - Pallas Athena !

“Pallas, which may therefore well be called quaint for that (as Lucian saith) when Iupiter her father was in travail of her, he caused his son Vulcane with his axe to hew his head. Out which leaped forth lustely a valiant damsel armed at all points, whom seeing Vulcan so fair & comely, lightly leaping to her, proffered her some courtesy, which the Lady disdaining, shaked her speare at him, and threatened his sauciness.” (E. K.s gloss zu Spenser’s Aegloga decima (October) in The Shepheardes Calender (1579).

[9] “Now after Astrofell is dead and gone”: Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586).