Who is Hobbinol?

In 1579, the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser anonymously published his pastoral sequence or eclogues The Shepheardes Calender. Hobbinol is a shepherd mentioned in the Janaurye, Aprill, June and September eclogues. He is Colin Clout’s friend.  

The mysterious E.K  in the Janaurye gloss of The Shepheardes Calendar reveals that Colin Clout is the ‘name this Poete secretly shadoweth himself, as sometime did Virgil under the name of Tityrus’. Therefore, Colin Clout is thought of as an obvious allusion to Spenser. E.K. also adds that ‘Hobbinol is a fained country name, whereby, it being so commune and usuall, seemeth to be hidden the person of some his very speciall and most familiar freend’. In fact, Hobbinol was not a common name during Spenser’s time but he is identified as Gabriel Harvey, Spenser’s close acquaintance. As a Fellow of Pembroke Hall, Harvey is thought to have been Spenser’s tutor at Pembroke College, Cambridge where the poet received a B.A. (1573) and an M.A. (1576).

Harvey adopts the Hobbinol persona to praise Spenser and his poetic ambitions:

Collin, I see by thy new-taken Task,
Some sacred Fury hath enricht thy Brains,
That leads thy Muse in haughty Verse to mask,
And loath the Lays that ‘long to lowly Swains.
That lifts thy Notes from Shepherds unto Kings,
So like the lively Lark that mounting sings.

Thy lovely Rosalind seems now forlorn,
And all thy gentle flocks forgotten quight:
Thy changed Heart now holds thy Pipes in scorn,
Those pretty Pipes that did thy Mates delight;
Those trusty Mates, that loved thee so well,
Whom thou gav’st Mirth, as they gave thee the Bell.

Yet as thou erst with thy sweet Roundelays,
Didst stir to glee our Lads in homely Bowers:
So moughtst thou now in these refined Lays,
Delight the dainty Ears of higher Powers.
And so mought they in their deep scanning Skill,
Allow and grace our Colin’s flowing Quill.

And fair befal that Fairy-Queen of thine,
In whose fair Eyes, Love link’d with Vertue sits:
Ensuing by those Beauties Fires Divine,
Such high Conceits into thy humble Wits,
As raised hath poor Pastors oaten Reeds,
From rustick Tunes, to chaunt heroick Deeds.

So mought thy Red-cross Knight, with happy hand,
Victorious be in that fair Island’s right,
Which thou doost veil in Type of Fairy-Land,
Elyza’s blessed Field, that Albion hight.
That shields her Friends, and wars her mighty Foes;
Yet still with People, Peace, and Plenty flows.

But (jolly Shepherd) though with pleasing Stile,
Thou feast the Humour of that Courtly Train:
Let not Conceit thy setled Sense beguile,
Ne daunted be through Envy or Disdain.
Subject thy Doom to her Empyring Spright,
From whence thy Muse, and all the World takes light.

Gabriel Harvey


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