“All poetry is born of play”: Spenser with Johan Huizinga

Shinn, Abigail. 2023. “All poetry is born of play”: Spenser with Johan Huizinga. Spenser Studies, 37, pp. 265-281. ISSN 0195-9468 [Article]

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In Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (1949) Johan Huizinga argues that “civilisation is, in its earliest phases, played,” and he sees this play as antithetical in nature, generated out of contrasts and competition. Viewing The Shepheardes Calender (1579) through the lens of Huizinga’s understanding of the play concept, I consider how Spenser uses antithetical cultural play in the form of contrasting classical and popular elements, to generate a new vision for English poetics. My analysis concentrates firstly on how the editor E.K. draws attention to, and misreads, cultural difference. This is followed by an examination of the August eclogue’s depiction of two contrasting visions for English song. Reading Spenser companionably with Huizinga helps us to see how difference can be generative of meaning in the poem, producing a hodgepodge in which a mixture of cultural types challenges the reader to imagine new possibilities for English poetry.

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© 2023 The University of Chicago

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


19 March 2022Accepted
June 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

22 Mar 2022 16:02

Last Modified:

17 Jul 2023 15:55

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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