This essay examines A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1596) as projects born in the creative matrix of Spenser’s state of exile between England and Ireland. I show that a complex rhetoric of national identity was at play in the margins of England’s geopolitical borders—a rhetoric that critiques the center of power. Spenser codifies such rhetoric in his polemical and imaginative literature, struggling (but ultimately failing) to defend English colonial expansion.

Edmund Spenser purportedly writes to Queen Elizabeth in 1592, “I am a stranger in mine owne countrye, and almost vnknowen to my best frends, onely remembered by her Maiestie … I should account my ten years absense a flatt banishment, were I not honoured in her Maiesties seruice … In all humility, I desire this Dart to be deliuered, an Irish weapon, and this with an English hearte, that in whose heart faith is not fastened, a Darte may.”1 It is tempting to read sarcasm or a woe-is-me appeal to the queen into Spenser’s letter, but there is also an acute melancholy and a heartfelt sense of longing for his native England and a place at Court for the exiled poet. Spenser was no stranger to exile and the complicated identity that comes with it, so the potential dual valence in Spenser’s dart warrants attention.2 His image encourages the reader to see past the gift’s outward appearance. What seems Irish is actually English; what hails from the margins of the empire belongs in the heart of the Court. Clear too is Spenser’s sense of himself as an exile with a complex national identity developed in between nations and lands.

Numerous scholars call attention to the deeply rooted influence of exile in Spenser’s literary creations.3 Richard A. McCabe, for example, describes Spenser’s writings as “the product of an Irish environment, the product of mortal conflict between two irreconcilable cultures.”4 McCabe’s “mortal conflict” is consistent with what Jesse M. Lander terms the “polemical culture” of the early modern period and, provocatively, may suggest a relationship [End Page 45] between what I call Spenser’s mind of exile and early modern colonial apologetics.5 A mind of exile focuses on narratives that define or redefine the dominant culture. It attempts to shape a national identity conceptualized on the periphery of the dominant culture, which is then codified in the texts produced from within these marginalized positions. Using the mind of exile as a critical lens opens up a new mode of inquiry into Spenser, making it possible to explore Spenser as a protocolonial author struggling and ultimately failing to defend English colonial expansion.

Spenser’s mind of exile heavily influences two of his works in particular, A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1596). In the former, Spenser uses the dialogue between Irenius and Eudoxus to attempt a revision of Ireland’s past in order to prepare it for an English future. This dialogue results in a crucial moment of cognitive displacement from which grows a new narrative of Ireland’s present that conceptualizes exile as a multivalent aspect of colonization and the construction of national identity.6 In Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, Colin represents a precolonial figure, a type of exile whose relation to the nation-state is central to his national identity and to his moral and ethical ambiguity.7 The simple life he enjoys is challenged by his encounter with a more sophisticated culture that is, at the same time, his own culture. Like the dart given with Spenser’s letter, Colin is a product of the margins and the center—a reflection of both. In this reading, Colin Clout becomes an extended meditation on national and cultural displacement and seeks to transform what it means to be an exile and a true citizen. Yet, as I will show, neither View nor Colin Clout resolve the sociopolitical tensions they explore. Instead, they expose a complex and hybrid understanding of national identity as it changes and adapts to the tensions that occur when a colonial power intersects with and attempts to supplant another culture. Both View and Colin Clout thus open up questions about Spenser’s ideas surrounding England’s attempts to bring a Catholic Ireland completely under the English, Protestant crown. These questions were possible, I argue, because of Spenser’s unique position between cultures, an exile between lands and nations.


View is well known in Spenser scholarship.8 The text introduces two speakers, Irenius and Eudoxus, respectively representing [End Page 46] the margins and the center of English political life. Irenius, having lately returned from Ireland, meets Eudoxus in England. There Irenius adopts the voice of an authority with firsthand knowledge, a point almost overdetermined in the text. Eudoxus speaks “of Ireland, whence you [Irenius] lately came” and asks for information gleaned from “your late continuance there” (pp. 11–2). Irenius speaks of Ireland’s problems “as I observed them,” and even the name Irenius might be rendered as “man of Ireland” (p. 12).9 View begins in medias res, omitting the specific reasons for Irenius’s Irish sojourn; however, the text hints that at least some of his experiences come from Spenser’s own (pp. 23 and 28). Irenius calls for the conquest and colonization of Ireland by the English crown, issues that directly impacted Spenser’s life. Spenser, as a member of the New English in Ireland, had firsthand knowledge of what one stood to gain and lose from being part of a continued English presence.10 Spenser’s house in Kilcolman certainly spoke to the success one could have abroad, but, as for his desire to become a national poet, banishment from Court proved a difficult problem.11 He faced the classic conundrum of any exile: how do I get home?—or, if that is not possible, how do I make where I am now into a place that is home?

Such questions are arguably more complicated for Spenser than they were for other well-known exiles such as Dante Alighieri, the Marian Exiles, and some Elizabethan Catholics. Dante, although forbidden from returning to his beloved Florence, spent his life more or less settled in Italy. Numerous Marian Exiles, including John Bale and William Turner, ultimately returned to, settled in, and perished in England. Others such as John Ponet and Thomas Stapleton died while in exile but nevertheless made a virtue of marginality and wrote about their own sense of English national identity.12 Numerous Catholic priests were exiled to Louvain and Douai during Elizabeth’s reign but returned to England as members of the Jesuit English mission.13 Still other figures, some of whom were not exiles, utilized their positions in the sociopolitical margins to conceptualize national identity. Among these were men such as Thomas Dekker, whose Seuen Deadly Sinnes of London (1606) includes an Englishman, dressed in European clothing, being drawn and quartered.14 Unlike those figures, Spenser rarely comes to rest either at home or abroad. Spenser biographies have depicted him “as a man who, exiled from court, really wanted to be there.”15 The motivations behind his move to Ireland are unclear. Andrew Hadfield comments, “We will probably never know whether this [following Lord Grey to Ireland] [End Page 47] was a great opportunity … or an effective banishment as a result of offending too many people in his early work.”16 Spenser’s Irish exile was followed by at least two voyages back and forth to England before his ultimate return to London in 1598.17 This final trip was out of necessity. James Ware, the seventeenth-century editor of View, acknowledges Spenser’s final displacement from Ireland and loss of place and property during the Nine Years’ War, calling him “á rebellibus (as Camdens words are) è laribus ejectus & bonis spoliatus” (Ejected from his home and deprived of his property) (p. 5).18 Spenser’s final year in England, however, did not result in a place of honor as either a Court poet or a civil administrator. He lived and died at home in neither England nor Ireland.

Given such personal experiences, it is no surprise that “ambivalence, hybridity, and the role of the diaspora, are central motifs in Spenser’s Irish treatise.”19 View has been interpreted as a call for a militant Protestant expansion into Ireland or a call for implementing martial law on rebellious Irishmen.20 Bruce Avery writes that Spenser, in View, “was both a poet and a part of the political administration of the British colonial government; he was an Englishman, yet he spent most of his life in Ireland: hence the View seems to waver between Irenius’s eyewitness accounts, which might square with Spenser’s interpretation of his experience of the place, and accounts which would be acceptable to the home authority represented by Eudoxus.”21 Avery’s reading of View highlights its dialogic hybridity. Two personalities—Spenser’s English identity (in Eudoxus) and Spenser’s Irish identity (in Irenius)—meet to discuss Ireland’s re-formation into English soil. When both personalities speak of “reformation,” a ubiquitous term in View, they refer not to religious reform per se but rather to a fundamental reshaping of the Irish commonwealth’s national identity.

Hadfield’s and Avery’s arguments are both valuable and insightful, but neither focuses at length upon the dialogue’s historical revisionism and how it relies upon displacement and exile as the means of reforming an Irish national identity. For a text ostensibly about Ireland’s present state, a remarkable portion of it focuses on Ireland’s past. The dialogue begins with an examination of Ireland’s purported barbarity and whether “it proceed[s] from the very genius of the soyle, or influence of the starres,” or God himself (p. 11). The use of “genius” calls to mind its Latin origin gen or “root,” as does the text’s insistence that in order to understand the roots one must first understand that the causes of Ireland’s problems are “most auncient and long growne” (p. 13). [End Page 48] Such rhetoric locates the text in a quasi-historical, chronicle-like mode. Irenius probes the roots of Irish national identity by narrating the events leading to the present. Eudoxus encourages a pursuit of origins when he asks why a newly elected Irish captain takes his oath upon a stone: “Have you ever heard what was the occasion and first beginning of this custome? for it is good to know the same, and may perhaps discover some secret meaning and intent therein, very materiall to the state of that government” (p. 17). Eudoxus seeks to chronicle a seemingly trivial cultural tradition only to extrapolate from it the possibility of knowing something hidden, fundamental, and “materiall” to Ireland’s national constitution. The elision of the custom and its historical origin is reinforced by the vagueness of “the same,” which could refer either to “first beginning” or the custom. The request to know a beginning prompts a lengthy discussion of Ireland’s cultural origins written from a decidedly English point of view, and Irenius does indeed seem desirous of finding not only the root of the custom but also the root of Irish national identity.

Approximately one-third of the way through the text, Irenius turns his attention specifically to the origins of Irish culture. Eudoxus calls the historical narrative that Irenius expounds “sweete remembrances of antiquities, from whence it seemeth that the customes of that nation proceeded,” while Irenius names it the “ample discourse of the originall of them, and the antiquity of that people” (p. 43). Irenius theorizes that Irish culture evolved from Scottish culture, which in turn grew from Scythian culture. The narrative casts as barbarian both Ireland and Scotland by connecting both to one of the barbarian cultures of the ancient world. Like a good scholar, Irenius is never far from his sources, referring to the “Chronicles of Spaine” and the “Bardes or Irish Chroniclers” as the foundation of his historical narrative (pp. 44 and 46). Eudoxus challenges the claim of Scythian lineage, arguing that Irishmen claim a Spanish descent. Irenius’s response deserves quoting at length:

They doe indeed, but (I conceive) without any good ground. For if there were any such notable transmission of a colony hether out of Spaine, … the very Chronicles of Spaine … would not have omitted so memorable a thing, as the subduing of so noble a realme to the Spaniard, no more then they doe now neglect to memorize their conquest of the Indians … But the Irish doe heerein no otherwise, then our vaine English-men doe in the Tale of Brutus, whom [End Page 49] they devise to have first conquered and inhabited this land, it being as impossible to proove, that there was ever any such Brutus of Albion or England, as it is, that there was any such Gathelus of Spaine. But surely the Scythians (of whom I earst spoke) at such time as the Northerne Nations overflowed all Christendome, came downe to the sea coast … and arrived in the North-part thereof, which is now called Ulster, which first inhabiting, and afterwards stretching themselves forth into the land as their numbers increased, named it all of themselves Scuttenland, which more briefly is called Scutland, or Scotland.

(p. 44)

This argument exposes the polemic nature of Irenius’s history by erasing any ambiguity in the past that Eudoxus’s objection might introduce. His initial argumentum ex silentio dismisses the Irish claim to a Spanish, Catholic heritage in order to establish a new English, Protestant one. Notably, Irenius attempts to link both Irish and English origin stories. Citing Brutus and Gathelus ties each culture to a notable ancient culture: the Trojans and the Spanish, respectively. Yet Irenius transmutes both from history to myth, denying both as “impossible to proove.” Brutus and Gathelus are made mythic, but Irenius insists that “surely” the Scythians peopled both Scotland and Ireland. He concludes that “Scotland and Ireland are all one and the same … Ireland is called Scotia-major, and that which is now called Scotland, Scotia-minor” (p. 45).22 This geographic renaming further severs Irish claims to a Spanish lineage. By setting England apart, Spenser emphasizes the cultural otherness of both Ireland and Scotland, writing the history of the former so as to better prepare it for the cultivation of an English culture. He is attempting, in other words, to write a nationalizing historical narrative by stressing the need for a right reading of history.

The polemic nature of such a right reading appears during Irenius’s long exposition of the evidence linking Irish and Scythian culture. Weapons of war and religious ceremonies, to name only two examples, allow him to conclude a Scythian connection. Yet it is Eudoxus’s response that is most noteworthy: “Surely Iren … in these few words, that from you which I would have thought had bin impossible to have bin spoken of times so remote, and customes so ancient: with delight whereof I was all that while as it were intranced, and carried so farre from my selfe, as that I am now right sorry that you ended so soone” (p. 64). Eudoxus experiences [End Page 50] a moment of personal and mental displacement, instigated by this right reading, one that “intrance[s]” and convinces him of the truth of Irenius’s narrative. At other times in the dialogue, Eudoxus follows Irenius’s claims with additional questions or outright disputation. Here, however, the right reading overcomes his objections. From this point in the dialogue, Eudoxus’s objections become fewer, ultimately disappearing altogether. Structurally, it is the moment when Eudoxus is “carried so farre from [himself]” that the dialogue shifts from demonstrating the need for an Irish solution to a discussion about how to solve the problem. Mapping the text around this rhetorical moment yields the following structure: Irenius proposes the need for an Irish reformation; Eudoxus is skeptical and wants to know why Irenius thinks so; Irenius obliges and crafts an Irish national narrative; Eudoxus, carried away by that narrative, abandons his skepticism; and, together, both men then discuss the means of making Ireland English. To put it another way, it is the moment of mental displacement that allows Eudoxus to see the truth of Irenius’s narrative and affirms the chronicle’s accuracy as a historical narrative.

Irenius’s reading of Irish history underscores the plasticity of the historical narrative by calling into question its textuality and attempting to codify the correct interpretation. Prior to Eudoxus’s mental displacement, he demonstrates this interpretive need in skeptical comments about Irish chronicles, which he calls “most fabulous and forged” (p. 46). Irenius counters: “unto them besides I adde mine owne reading … I doe gather a likelihood of truth, not certainly affirming any thing, but by conferring of times, languages, monuments, and such like, I doe hunt out a probability of things, which I leave to your judgement to believe or refuse” (p. 46). This sounds very much like a modern historian or literary critic. History is a text—collated fragments of the past in need of interpretation that end with “a probability of things.” But Irenius’s dissembling is disingenuous. His history is clearly intended to be the true one, and his interpretation is privileged above any made by the Irish themselves, as is clear in his subsequent comments that “there appears among them some reliques of the true antiquitie, though disguised, which a well eyed man may happily discover and finde out,” to which he sets in opposition the “many forged histories of their owne antiquity, which they deliver to fooles, and make them believe for true” (pp. 47 and 49). The scholar/poet sets himself against the Irish “Bardes” whom “the Irish themselves … doe most constantly beleeve and avouch” (p. 46). The “well eyed man”—scholars and poets such as Irenius [End Page 51] and Spenser—is required in order to interpret Ireland’s history correctly. Writing a true historical narrative is thus, from Irenius’s point of view, synonymous with constructing a national identity by one who is neither wholly English nor Irish.

Irenius, like Spenser, is both a man of Ireland and an Englishman. His in-betweenness uniquely places him to prepare and to present this right historical reading that defines what makes an Irishman Irish. His narrative also tries to define an English identity, broadly summarized as all that the Irish are not. The dialogue lays the groundwork and articulates the justification for the continued English colonial expansion on the island. Despite his efforts, however, Irenius’s rewriting of Irish history into colonial apologetics starts to break down nearly as soon as he begins. Irenius concedes that he can only narrate “a likelihood of truth” and “a probability of things.” His historical narrative exists somewhere in between the real events of the past and the “likelihood” of his version of events. By narrating these events, Irenius also demonstrates that Irish cultural identity is neither simple nor easily displaced. Eudoxus says as much early in the dialogue, noting that Irenius has “brought [the Irish] from very great and ancient nations, as any were in the world” (p. 51). Irenius admits that the first English colonies settled within the Irish Pale by King Henry II, despite being “a strong colonie,” eventually adopted Irish culture and became “almost mere Irish” (pp. 53–4). These early colonists, Irenius later insists, “are degenerate, yea, and some of them have quite shaken off their English names, and put on Irish that they might bee altogether Irish” (p. 68). Robert Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and his kinsmen “did quite cast off both their English name and alleagiance … and termed themselves very Irish, taking on them Irish habits and customes” (p. 69). Thus, in writing his history to show the superiority of an English national identity, Irenius reveals instead the inherent malleability of national identity and its links to history, place, and language. He tells Eudoxus, “for the minde followeth much the temperature of the body: and also the words are the image of the minde, so as they proceeding from the minde, the minde must needs be affected with the words. So that the speach being Irish, the heart must needes bee Irish” (p. 71). Neither English nor Irish identity is self-evident. They must both be codified by a right reading of history that either resolves or suppresses the tensions introduced by the intersection of cultures.

View might thus be called an attempted polemic chronicle. The narrative purports to be self-justifying, casting alternate [End Page 52] historical narratives as corrupt or in need of proper interpretation. Spenser tries to form a stable national identity by linking together the writing and the reading of history as a text from a hybrid position, the Anglo-Irish Irenius. Spenser’s attempt fails, however, due in part to the hybrid nature of his own national identity. The Irenius persona that Spenser adopts is himself a character in between nations, neither wholly English nor wholly Irish. His hybrid identity undergirds Irenius’s rhetorical ethos. For Spenser, whose experiences mirror those of Irenius, a similar sense of hybrid national identity is at play whose conflicts cannot be fully resolved. Irenius, for example, fears for England’s soundness if Ireland is not reformed; he speaks of the Irish “stepp[ing] into the very rooms of our English” and lauds the English as paragons of virtue by setting them implicitly against the “evill” Irish (pp. 30 and 93). Irenius/Spenser, therefore, tries to affect his own separation from the Irish vis-à-vis a total denial of Ireland’s cultural redemption outside of a transplantation of an English national culture. Irenius argues that “evill people [that is, the Irish], by good ordinances and government, may be made good; but the evill that is of it selfe evill, will never become good” (p. 93). Careful readers will of course be aware that in making these arguments Irenius has caught himself in a paradox. If Irish culture is “of it selfe evill,” then no amount of English colonial expansion will result in bringing the English and Irish together as one people. What remains is a more dramatic approach that finally and violently plants English culture into Irish soil.

I use “plants” deliberately here because husbandry metaphors abound in View, and Spenser’s use of soil—specifically, one’s relationship to that soil—further demonstrates the mind of exile within the text. Spenser writes of the English “planting … some good forme or policy” (p. 26); he recalls the reign of Henry II, “when Ireland was planted with English” (p. 70); he references the success of Rome’s conquest of England by “plant[ing] some of their legions in all places convenient” (p. 120); and he refers to England’s “planting of religion” in Ireland (p. 153). The transformation of Irish soil into English soil must occur to transform Spenser’s dwelling place in Ireland into his home vis-à-vis an extension of England. This process might be called imperial agriculture, wherein the exile creates native soil. The exile returns to his nation via the conversion of his exiled house into his native home. Given that goal, View’s use of planting metaphors becomes clear. Land and place, inscribed within national borders, grow closely related to personal and national identity.23 Irenius speaks very [End Page 53] much like many later colonists when he says, “I eftsoones bring in my reformation, and thereupon establish such a forme of government, as I may thinke meetest for the good of that realme … the Irish will better be drawne to the English then the English to the Irish government” (pp. 134–5).24 The comment embraces the sense of cultural superiority found in many colonial endeavors, assuming that English culture is inherently good and destined to be embraced by the colonized. Moreover, if English culture is not embraced, Irenius’s claim also justifies the oppression or elimination of the colonized. His argument along these lines includes the (in)famous description of the starving Irish rebels emerging from the Munster woods looking like “anatomies of death … like ghosts crying out of their graves” (p. 101). Driven from their land, they emerge as empty husks or they perish, leaving the land “voyde of man and beast” and therefore open to English cultural transformation (p. 102).

To illustrate this point, Irenius urges a “union of manners, and conformity of mindes, to bring them to be one people … [by] scattering [the Irish] amongst the English … to bring them by dayly conversation unto better liking of each other” (p. 145). The goal is to leverage the Irish’s displacement into the margins and to control that displacement in order to facilitate England’s colonization of the island. By severing Irish identity from the land, Irenius is in effect exiling the Irish as a means of remaking them. Displacement transforms the Irish into exiles in their own land but not from it. Exile paradoxically becomes a place of error (you are exiled from your land because you are not English) and a place of transformation and reformation (once Irish land is English land, a new identity will come with it). It is thus through the process of exile and return that View seeks to transform Irish soil into English soil. As a result, the New English cease to be exiles by returning to their native soil. Exile is doubly transformative. It functions to remake both the exiles themselves and, in certain circumstances, the land into which the exile is banished.

Hence, View emerges from in-between historical narratives, lands, and nations. Spenser writes an Irish historical narrative somewhere between polemic and chronicle, the narrative neither wholly true nor wholly false. As a polemic, the text tries to define and to dismiss Irish culture by undermining its legitimacy and professing its inferiority to English culture but cannot sustain the process. The many militant and totalitarian recommendations that View makes were, thankfully, never fully implemented, but the text’s influence helped shape English views of Ireland well into [End Page 54] the seventeenth century.25 The voice in the text is often a hostile one that, as John Breen argues, “speaks of the insularity of the islander who, as pedagogue to the court, feels hostility for the world of the Other.”26 Breen also refers to Ireland as a “refracted vision of England” and an “otherworld” similar in symbolic nature to the island that the exiled Meliboeus fears in Virgil’s first eclogue and to the land now “experienced by a fictive genealogical inheritor, Colin Clout.”27 The Colin figure, like Irenius, is a man between lands and, like Meliboeus, an exile. In Colin Clout, the narratives of transformation and reformation expressed in View appear in a poetic medium. Colin assumes the role of a man caught between lands, struggling to reconcile the two cultures he simultaneously inhabits but, like Irenius, not wholly succeeding.


If View attempts a history of Ireland to enable its transformation, Colin Clout represents Spenser’s poetic efforts to transform Ireland, the Elizabethan Court, and England into idealized versions of themselves by defining what it means to be both an exile and a citizen. Colin Clout, like View, has a robust and varied body of critical scholarship.28 Part of the poem’s appeal is in Spenser’s return to pastoral in 1591, at the very height of his work on The Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596), as well as in his return to the Colin figure after a dozen years, one of only three times in Spenser’s oeuvre when he adopts Colin as his persona.29 Colin Clout opens with a scene setting common to pastoral and a link to the eclogues of The Shepheardes Calender (1579): his fellow shepherds call upon Colin, lately returned from a trip to the Court of Queen Cynthia, to tell of his journey—a structure Isabel G. MacCaffery calls “the formula of out-and-back.”30 A liminal figure of the poetic world travels to the land’s representative center and finds both grace and falsehood. The paradox drives him back to the margins, but he carries with him the desire for the grace of the center. This desire to transform the margins to an extension of the central, Cynthian Court serves as an opportunity to both praise and critique the Court. Here, much of Colin Clout is concerned with displacement and its effects on both individuals and lands. The shepherd Hobbinol claims that

Whilest thou [Colin] wast hence, all dead in dole did lie:The woods were heard to waile full many a sythe,And all their birds with silence to complaine: [End Page 55]

But now both woods and fields, and floods revive,Sith thou art come, their cause of merriment,That us late dead, hast made againe alive.

(lines 22–4 and 29–31)

Although the moment reflects pastoral conventions, it also idealizes the effect of Colin’s displacement on the land. The land dies for the duration of his absence, reverting to a sterile and empty place. Colin’s return brings salvation to his land, a salvation natural and aesthetic, national and poetic.

Colin Clout is saturated with allusions to liminality.31 Spenser’s title suggests the poem is ostensibly about a homecoming, but its titular character begins and ends the poem in between lands. Although home in Arcadia, part of Colin remains behind in Cynthia’s Court. He tells his fellows:

Since that same day in nought I take delight,Ne feeling have in any earthly pleasure,But in remembrance of that glorious bright,My lifes sole blisse, my heart’s eternall threasure.

(lines 44–7)

Part of him remains with Cynthia, dividing his loyalties and leaving him incapable of resting contentedly in Arcadia. The returning exile becomes an exile all over again in the act of composing the narrative. Colin’s in-betweenness then is simultaneously physical and mental and represents a creative matrix from which Colin attempts to understand and articulate his experiences. The poem examines the plight of an exile at home in neither England nor Ireland and his attempts to negotiate and to resolve the condition of “not-belonging.”32 The poem approaches but does not attain success in this endeavor by attempting a redefinition of what it means to be an exile: not a person relegated to the margins because of an error but a true citizen from the center of England’s political life that is marginalized nevertheless.

This definition of citizen is best demonstrated by Colin himself, who was never home to begin with. He, like Spenser, is doubly displaced. His encounter with the Shepherd of the Ocean occurs because he is already living on Arcadia’s margins as a result of a forsaken love, “That made me in that desart chose to dwell” (line 91). The Shepherd of the Ocean (i.e., Sir Walter Raleigh), himself [End Page 56] an exile “debard,” empathizes with Colin’s “lucklesse lot: / That banisht had my selfe, like wight forlore, / Into that waste, where I was quite forgot” (lines 181–3). The obvious parallel intended between Colin/Spenser and the Shepherd/Raleigh invites parallels between Colin’s feelings of displacement and Spenser’s own. When Spenser writes Colin Clout’s dedicatory note to Raleigh, he does so “not from his ‘home’ (as [the poem’s] title seems to demand) but from his ‘house’ in Kilcolman. Colin is ‘home’ in Ireland, Spenser merely ‘housed’ there.”33 Colin’s journey to Cynthia’s Court, which echoes Spenser’s own, thus carries with it a dual valence. Colin travels further away from a home where he already did not belong, while Spenser traveled back to an England that was no longer fully his home either. Colin leaves Arcadia with a description of the totality of his removal:

        [A]n huge great vessell to us came,Dauncing upon the waters back to lond,As if it scornd the daunger of the same;

The same aboord us gently did receave,And without harme us farre away did beare,So farre that land our mother us did leave,And nought but sea and heaven to us appeare.Then hartlesse quite and full of inward feare,That shepheard I besought to me to tell,Under what skie, or in what world we were,In which I saw no living people dwell.

(lines 213–5 and 224–31)

Colin fears the moment of separation between lands, for he is neither in the Arcadia that he knows nor in the realm that he plans to visit. The space is isolated and bereft of people, unsettling Colin so much that he needs reassurance that the voyage has not removed him entirely from the world. Like Chaucer’s Custance in “The Man of Law’s Tale,” Colin finds himself alone on the sea and unsure of his fate. And like Custance, his eventual return to land alludes to rebirth. Colin’s arrival in England is likened to a new birth when “our ship her fruitfull wombe unlade, / And put us all ashore on Cynthias land” (lines 288–9). Rebirth would seem to signal a new beginning for Colin in a paradise free from sadness, disharmony, famine, and war (lines 312–5).

Yet Colin is not at home in England either. He retains and reinforces his own foreignness by identifying with some of the [End Page 57] nymphs in Cynthia’s Court when he eventually reaches it. These include the Anglo-Irish Galathea, for whom “there is not her won, but here with us / About the borders of our rich Coshma” and “Neæra ours, not theirs, though there she be” (lines 521–2 and 525). The distinction between “ours” and “theirs” reinforces Colin’s separateness from Cynthia’s realm, a distinction of which the shepherd Cuddy seems intent on reminding Colin when he interrupts the recitation of the nymphs to name Colin a “base shepherd” distinct from the “Angels” (lines 618–9). The morphological similarity between “Angels” and “Angles/Angli” must be deliberate, further emphasizing Colin’s alien presence in England. At the same time, the wordplay recalls Pope Gregory I’s words to Augustine in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum: “Non Angli, sed angeli” (Not Angles, but angels).34 Colin’s response to Cuddy’s challenge is especially telling and supports the idea that Colin picks up on Cuddy’s wordplay:

Her name in every tree I will endosse,That as the trees do grow, her name may grow:And in the ground each where it will engrosse,And fill the stones, that all men may it know.The speaking woods and murmuring waters fall,Her name Ile teach in knowen termes to frame:And eke my lambs when for their dams they call,Ile teach to call for Cynthia by name.

(lines 632–9)

Colin attempts to bring Cynthia to him by making the land hers in the colonial gesture of writing her name on the trees. In a similar way, Ireland is not Spenser’s home until Elizabeth’s rule extends fully into Ireland. Writing Cynthia’s name into the trees, the stones, and the very land represents Colin/Spenser’s attempt to transform “here,” Arcadia, into “there,” Cynthia’s land. It is the poetic equivalent of the imperial agriculture occurring in View.

Given this reading of Colin Clout, it becomes possible to see in the skein of the poem manifestations of a Spenserian mind of exile struggling to write a stable national identity. It is visible in Colin’s return to Arcadia and the challenge Thestylis poses to him regarding his return:

         Why, Colin, since thou foundst such graceWith Cynthia and all her noble crew: [End Page 58] Why didst thou euer leave that happie place,In which such wealth might unto thee accrew?And back returnedst to this barrein soyle,Where cold and care and penury do dwell:Here to keepe sheepe, with hunger and with toyle,Most wretched he, that is and cannot tell.

(lines 652–9)

Thestylis urges a resolution to the poem’s central paradox—namely, why Colin came home at all given the joys he experienced abroad. Nancy Jo Hoffman writes of these lines, “The source of Spenser’s wretchedness lies in his exile from the queen and court and in his reluctance to make Ireland his home, but these truths cannot be ‘told’ directly, and certainly not in pastoral.”35 She also astutely notes that “wretched” comes from the “Anglo-Saxon wrecca,” which means “an exile” or “one driven out.”36 Spenser would surely have known this etymology from Chaucer and other early English authors, and its presence in the poem becomes more significant when reading it as a meditation on Spenser’s own exile from Elizabeth’s Court. It also creates an additional link to Chaucer’s exiled Custance, whom he describes as a “wretch” in some form at least four times, a term that he reserves for Custance alone.37 Spenser, it seems, intends Colin to be read as a type of exile caught between lands, much as Spenser himself was.

Thestylis’s inquiry instigates an extended critique of the Court at the center of Colin’s world. It would seem that if anyone in Colin Clout is truly home, then it should be those living in Cynthia’s realm and attending Cynthia’s Court. Its courtiers, however, only “happie seemd to bee” and are themselves “wretches” (lines 667 and 675). Colin sees the shallowness of the center where “each mans worth is measured by his weed” and where “single Truth and simple honestie / Do wander up and downe despysed of all” (lines 711 and 727–8). The mention of wretches suggests that the courtiers are exiles in their own right—but exiles from what? Truth seems to be the answer. Truth, like Colin, is neither in the Court nor welcomed there. Both wander in lands “up and downe despysed of all.”

The center of the Court thus becomes a paradoxical place of falsehood and grace. It represents falsehood because the courtiers are concerned only with appearances and self-promotion. Simultaneously, it represents grace because Cynthia reigns there and the Court remains the place where Colin feels most blessed. Colin Fairweather argues that “Colin evokes Cynthia as a generative [End Page 59] pastoral spirit who transfigures and pervades the rustic landscape … Colin’s Orphic powers collapse the distinction between the center and the margins of power.”38 The Orphic moment represents a transformation occurring at the margin, affecting the center, and originating from a liminal figure who has been to the center and returned. When the reader moves to the margins of the poem in Arcadia, a similar conflict arises between authenticity and error. Colin tells Thestylis that he

         rather chose back to my sheep to tourney,Whose utmost hardnesse I before had tryde,Then having learnd repentance late, to mourneEmongst those wretches which I there descryde.

(lines 672–5)

The authenticity of the rural, pastoral, and liminal Arcadia is set in clear opposition to the corrupt and corrupting urban center of Cynthia’s Court. Despite this, Arcadia is incomplete because it lacks Cynthia’s Court. The conflict arising between the interplay of the margins and the center becomes the poem’s underlying structure.

Returning, then, to MacCaffery’s suggestion of a tripartite structure, I propose dividing Colin Clout into three major episodes defined by Colin’s movement from the margins to the center and back again. The first movement is actually the last one chronologically: Colin’s return to Arcadia is the point at which the pastoral begins. The second is his narration of the journey with the Shepherd of the Ocean. The third and final movement is the poem’s shift from a bucolic to an erotic mode in its closing meditation on the Court of love. Colin affirms the presence of love in Cynthia’s Court but laments that the love worshipped there is corrupted by the same superficiality he observed in the courtiers. Against such superficiality, Spenser sets a Neo-Platonic notion of love worshiped by the shepherds of Arcadia.

The Court of love corresponds to an allegory within an allegory of Elizabeth’s Court echoing that of Gloriana’s in The Faerie Queene. Colin/Spenser is one of those courtiers attempting to return from an exile both national and spiritual. The figure at the margins, Colin/Spenser, arrives at the center and sees the Court for what it is, an idealized place of grace and truth but a place corrupted by vapid courtiers and yes men. They, not Colin/ Spenser, are the true exiles—figures who deserve marginalization for their failures. Spenser attempts a resolution to Colin Clout’s [End Page 60] central paradox by defining who the true exiles are. They are not, like Spenser, those located at the margins of the empire but those worshipers in the Court of love who are outlaws:

For their desire is base, and doth not merit,The name of love, but of disloyall lust:Ne mongst true lovers they shall place inherit,But as Exuls out of his court be thrust.

(lines 891–4)

The moment is a declaration of national allegiance presented in an erotic poetic mode. The exiled Spenser, through his Colin persona, speaks truth to the power of the center to transform it. Colin/Spenser establishes himself as one of the “true lovers” who will, in fact, receive a place in the grace of the center. The only resolution to Spenser’s displacement is a return to that grace in the center of the Elizabethan Court.

Together, View and Colin Clout represent Spenser’s attempts to write himself out of his in-betweenness or leverage his position in order to define a place both geopolitical and literary. In this light, Spenser’s 1592 letter, with which I began, now reads more like a declaration than a melancholy lament. Spenser is a stranger because he is not fully a member of either nation. Only his service to Elizabeth, bull’s-eye of his dart and heart, gives him a sense of place. The dart is symbolic of its giver, the Ireland man with an English heart. Certainly View and Colin Clout reflect Spenser’s desire for that transformation so that he might find a place where he truly feels at home. Spenser’s attempts at resolution, however, are incomplete, both in his poems and the historical record. Although he died in London, Spenser never achieved his desire to become a national poet in his lifetime, and his exile to Ireland fundamentally shaped his relationship to England.39 It is fitting then that in Colin Clout’s conclusion, Colin does not return triumphant to Cynthia’s Court, now restored to its true glory, nor does Arcadia become a land written over with Cynthia’s name. The poem’s final lines are far more ambiguous. Spenser closes the poem saying,

So, having ended, [Colin] from ground did rise,And after him uprose eke all the rest:All loth to part, but that the glooming skiesWarnd them to draw their bleating flocks to rest.

(lines 952–5) [End Page 61]

Colin and his fellow shepherds, the liminal figures, can do nothing but return to their livelihoods. Like the exiled Spenser and so many of his fellow exiles, Colin must continue to wait for the transformation of either the Court or Ireland that will allow him to return home. The paradox of the poem becomes the paradox of the exile, in between grace and error, truth and falsehood, house and home.

Spenser’s attempts to resolve the paradox of exile were one source of his literary genius, and exile worked its way into the very roots of his prose and poetry. Both View and Colin Clout, recalling Edward W. Said’s memorable definition of exile as “the perilous territory of not-belonging,” explore the social, political, and artistic power of exile.40 Viewed in this light, View and Colin Clout allow some speculative conclusions about the mind of exile in the late sixteenth century. At the dawn of England’s colonial period, there was a complex rhetoric of national identity at play in the margins of England’s geopolitical borders that critiqued the center of power—a rhetoric codified in the polemical and imaginative literature of Spenser. Spenser’s work also shows clear evidence of the struggles that colonial apologetics would continue to wrestle with in the coming centuries. His was an English heart exiled to the margins of the empire, yet he still hoped and worked to expand those borders and eventually to come to rest in his home, an exile no more. As I have shown, being at home in neither England nor Ireland had an equally important effect on his understanding of colonial expansion and his attempts to work through its many ideological and logistical challenges. Or, perhaps more succinctly, Spenser attempted to reconcile his place between the rise of an empire that was itself between what it was and what it would become.

J. Seth Lee

J. Seth Lee is a visiting assistant professor of English at Christian Brothers University. His research focuses on sixteenth-century English exilic polemic and draws on the terminology and discourse of postcolonial notions of hybridity and boundary studies. His current project is a book exploring the impact of exile on the formation of English national identity from Chaucer to Spenser.


1. Alexander Judson, The Life of Edmund Spenser (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1945), p. 155, qtd. in John Breen, “Edmund Spenser’s Exile and the Politics and Poetics of Pastoral,” CahiersE 53, 1 (April 1998): 27–41, 27. “Dart” refers to a gold and diamond dart included with the letter.

2. Andrew Hadfield’s recent biography of Edmund Spenser indicates that the young poet was familiar with a number of contemporaneous exiles and that exiles played a large part in Spenser’s formative education and eschatology (Edmund Spenser: A Life [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012]).

3. Harold Stein argues that the influence of the twice-exiled Protestant William Turner appears in Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender (1579) and Mother Hubberd’s Tale (1591) (“Spenser and William Turner,” Modern Language [End Page 62] Notes 51, 6 [June 1936]: 345–51). Richard A. McCabe’s Chatterton Lecture on Poetry defines Spenser’s life as one fundamentally shaped by exile (“Edmund Spenser, Poet of Exile,” PBA 80 [1993]: 73–103).

4. McCabe, p. 74.

5. Jesse M. Lander, Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006), p. 64. See also Lander, “Introduction: The Disorder of Books,” in Inventing Polemic, pp. 1–55.

6. Spenser, A View of the State of Ireland: From the First Printed Edition (1633), ed. Hadfield and Willy Maley (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), p. 67. Subsequent references to this text, hereafter View, are from this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text and notes by page number.

7. Spenser, Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, in Edmund Spenser’s Poetry, ed. Hugh Maclean and Anne Lake Prescott, 3d edn. (New York: Norton, 1993), pp. 560–82. Subsequent references to this text, hereafter Colin Clout, are from this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text and notes by line number.

8. For an examination of the role of Spenser’s View on the formation of an Irish other, its impact on sixteenth-century colonial politics, and Spenser’s conflicted self-identification, see Bruce Avery, “Mapping the Irish Other: Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland,” ELH 57, 2 (Summer 1990): 263–79; Hadfield, “Spenser, Ireland, and Sixteenth-Century Political Theory,” MLR 89, 1 (January 1994): 1–18; and Gary A. Schmidt, “The View from Ireland: Spenser in 1596,” in Renaissance Hybrids: Culture and Genre in Early Modern England (Farnham UK: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 91–118.

9. Hadfield and Maley, Introduction to View, pp. xi–xxvi, xviin16.

10. New English refers to the Protestants who settled in the English Pale during the sixteenth-century Protestant Ascendency. The title distinguishes them from the English settlers of the twelfth century.

11. See “Spenser’s Castle,” in Hadfield, Spenser: A Life, pp. 197–230.

12. See John Ponet, A Shorte Treatise of Politike Pouuer and of the True Obedience Which Subiectes Owe to Kynges and Other Ciuile Gouernours, with an Exhortacion to All True Naturall Englishe Men (Strasbourg: W. Köpfel, 1556); EEBO STC (2d edn.) 20178; and Thomas Stapleton, A Fortresse of the Faith First Planted Amonge Vs Englishmen and Continued Hitherto in the Vniuersall Church of Christ (Antwerp: Ihon Laet, 1565); EEBO STC (2d edn.) 23232.

13. For an overview of exile’s influence on the Renaissance, especially the impact of exile on England’s population and literature between 1500 and 1600, see Frederick A. Norwood, Strangers and Exiles: A History of Religious Refugees, 2 vols. (Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 1969); and A. Bartlett Giamatti, Exile and Change in Renaissance Literature (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1984). Several notable studies of the Marian Exiles that discuss exile’s impact on national identity, citizenship, and the complex, individual understandings of early modern exile include Christina Hallowell Garrett, The Marian Exiles: A Study in the Origins of Elizabethan Puritanism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1938); Norwood, “The Marian Exiles: Denizens or Sojourners?,” Church History 13, 2 (June 1944): 100–10; and Jonathan Wright, “Marian Exiles and the Legitimacy of Flight from Persecution,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 52, 2 (April 2001): 220–43. Studies of Catholic Recusants [End Page 63] include Leo Hicks, “The Catholic Exiles and the Elizabethan Religious Settlement,” The Catholic Historical Review 22, 2 (July 1936): 129–48; Esther Francis Mary Hildebrandt, “A Study of the English Protestant Exiles in Northern Switzerland and Strasbourg 1539–47 and Their Role in the English Reformation” (Ph.D. diss., Durham Univ., 1982); and Katy Gibbons, English Catholic Exiles in Late Sixteenth-Century Paris (Suffolk UK: Boydell, 2011).

14. Thomas Dekker, The Seuen Deadly Sinnes of London (London: Edward Allde and S. Stafford, 1606), p. 32; EEBO STC (2d edn.) 6522. See also Hilary Larkin, who examines Dekker and several other early modern authors who explore the idea of Englishness (The Making of Englishmen: Debates on National Identity, 1500–1650, Studies in the History of Political Thought 8 [Leiden: Brill, 2014]).

15. Hadfield, Spenser: A Life, p. 403.

16. Hadfield, Spenser: A Life, pp. 154–5.

17. Hadfield, Spenser: A Life, p. 231.

18. Translation by R. T. Pritchard, qtd. in View, p. 5n3.

19. Hadfield and Maley, Introduction to View, p. xvi.

20. See Hadfield and Maley, Introduction to View, p. xii.

21. Avery, p. 264.

22. This distinction is consistent with the sixteenth-century conceptualization of England as an island almost unto itself surrounded by the islands of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. See Alan MacColl, “The Meaning of ‘Britain’ in Medieval and Early Modern England,” Journal of British Studies 45, 2 (April 2006): 248–69.

23. See Avery, pp. 272–3.

24. A religious subtext is also clearly indicated by Irenius’s use of the word “reformation.” The extension of the English crown will bring with it the extension of the Anglican Church. When Ireland assumes English law and Protestantism, it becomes in essence English.

25. See Hadfield and Maley, Introduction to View, p. xi.

26. Breen, p. 38.

27. Breen, pp. 28–9.

28. The poem’s success as a pastoral is debated in Nancy Jo Hoffman, Spenser’s Pastorals: The Shepheardes Calender and “Colin Clout” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1977) and David R. Shore, Spenser and the Poetics of Pastoral: A Study of the World of Colin Clout (Kingston ON: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 1985). Other scholars have focused on Colin Clout’s use of classical myth, its use of political imagery, and its central structure’s reliance upon love in order to understand it. See also Kreg Segall, “The Precarious Poet in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe,” SEL 53, 1 (Winter 2013): 31–51; Louis Adrian Montrose, “Spenser and the Elizabethan Political Imaginary,” ELH 69, 4 (Winter 2002): 907–46; and David. W. Burchmore, “The Image of the Centre in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe,” RESLJ 28, 112 (November 1977): 393–406.

29. The other appearances are in The Shepheardes Calender and a brief appearance in book 6, canto 10 of The Faerie Queene.

30. Isabel G. MacCaffrey, Spenser’s Allegory: The Anatomy of Imagination (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1976), p. 366. [End Page 64]

31. See Shore, chap. 3, pp. 105–31; Colin Fairweather, “Inclusive and Exclusive Pastoral: Towards an Anatomy of Pastoral Modes,” SP 97, 3 (Summer 2000): 276–307; William A. Oram, “Spenser’s Audiences, 1589–91,” SP 100, 4 (Fall 2003): 514–33; and Catherine Nicholson, “Pastoral in Exile: Spenser and the Poetics of English Alienation,” SSt 23 (2008): 41–71.

32. Edward W. Said, “Reflections on Exile,” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2000), pp. 173–86, 177.

33. McCabe, p. 94.

34. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, eds., Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 134. Pope Gregory I’s words are paraphrased, my translation, from a response he purportedly gave upon seeing English slaves in Rome. Upon asking who they were, he was told, “Angli uocarentur” (they were called Angles), to which he responded, “Bene … nam et angelicam habent faciem, et tales angelorum in caelis decet esse coheredes” (Good … they have the face of angels, and such men should be fellow-heirs of the angels in heaven).

35. Hoffman, p. 121.

36. Hoffman, p. 148n5.

37. Chaucer, “The Man of Law’s Tale,” in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 3d edn. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), pp. 89–104.

38. Fairweather, p. 302.

39. See Hadfield, Spenser: A Life, pp. 402–3.

40. Said, p. 177. [End Page 65]

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