Elizabethan Poetry

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Elizabethan Poetry I

Drama dominates our syllabus but the Renaissance was a Golden Age not just for English drama, but also for English poetry. But what was English poetry? George Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie (1589) and Sir Philip Sidney’s The Defense of Poesie (1595): early attempts to think about English poetry as a distinct national tradition. Puttenham and Sidney were concerned to build a canon and help shape English poetry into a tradition capable of rivalling more prestigious literatures (for example of Italy and France). The courtly lyric/ Petrarchan love sonnet introduced to English by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey: not the only poetic genre in the Renaissance, but one of the most interesting, which has shaped our later conceptions of English poetry. Wyatt and Surrey were “courtly makers” (Puttenham). The Renaissance court was the undisputed centre of power (political system: absolutism). Attending court was the main route (if not the only) route to social advancement in Ren. England, but court life could also be extremely dangerous (Surrey was executed by Henry VIII). Two important points about courtly poetry:

1)Wyatt, Surrey, Sidney and others were not primarily poets; poetry was at most an adjunct to their main identity as courtiers (which does not mean that they did not take it seriously). 2)Courtly poetry was never intended to reach a broader, non-courtly audience. Wyatt and Surrey had no notion that it would be beneficial or even possible to have their poetry read by a wider public. It was only in 1557 that the London publisher named Richard Tottel decided to publish a printed collection of poetry by these two (and others): Tottel’s Miscellany, a landmark in English publishing history because it is the first print anthology of poetry in English. Before print became a factor courtly poetry was manuscript poetry and also to a certain extent coterie poetry (“coterie”: a small select group of people). Renaissance...
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