Prothalamion Summary & Analysis by Edmund Spenser

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"Prothalamion" was written by the English poet Edmund Spenser in 1596 in celebration of the engagements of Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset, the daughters of the Earl of Somerset. The poem was innovative and unusual for its time. In fact, Spenser coined the word "prothalamion" specifically for it, modeling the title on the word "epithalamion," or "wedding song." Unlike an "epithalamion," which celebrates a wedding, a "prothalamion" celebrates a betrothal or engagement. The betrothals of the poem were more than matters of the heart, and were politically important events in England at the time. The poem thus meditates on the relationship between marriage, nature, and politics; it celebrates the beauty of the brides, the perfection of their marriages, and the natural world as a respite from the political complications of life at court. At the same time, however, the poem also suggests that the beauty and perfection that it describes is fleeting.

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