Elizabethan Sonneteers

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  • Topic: Sonnet, Poetic form, Poetry
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  • Published : February 21, 2011
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Elizabethan Sonneteers

Like some other literary genres the sonnet in England was imported from abroad. Most probably it was originated in Italy in the 13th century with Dante who wrote a number of sonnets to his beloved named Beatrice. A sonnet is according to M.H. Abrahm, “A lyric poem of fourteen lines that has a specific rhyme scheme written in iambic pentameter.” The flowering of the sonnet came with Petrarch, a generation later. It was Wyatt who introduced the sonnet in England. He wrote much earlier but his sonnets were published in 1557, a year before Elizabeth was coroneted. He was deeply influenced by Petrarchan and out of his 32 sonnets, 17 are the adaptation of Petrarch. Most of them follow the Petrarchan pattern. Each has an octave followed by a sestet. In between the octave and the sestet there is a marked pause indicated on paper by some blank space. The octave in a Petrarchan sonnet always has the rhyme-scheme abba abba, though the sestet may have one of the various pattern such as cdcdcd or cddcee. Surrey invented a new pattern for his sonnets which later was to be adopted by most Elizabethan sonneteers along with Shakespeare. Both Wyatt and Surrey were highly influenced by the love poetry of Petrarch and did their best to imitate it. Surrey wrote about 15 or 16 sonnets out of which 10 use the Shakespearean formula. Surrey’s work is characterized by acute grace and softness. The feature of Surreysque Pattern is the division of the 14 lines into four units- three quatrains and the ending couplet. The rhyme-scheme followed is abab, abab, abab, cc. Moreover, he is a better craftsman and gives greater harmony to his poetry. After Wyatt and Surrey, the sonnet was neglected for a number of years. It is with Sidney’s work that the popular vogue of the sonnet began. The vogue remained in the full swing till the end of the 16th century. Sidney composed 108 sonnets and 11 songs all put in his own sequence entitled Astrophell and Stella, which was later...
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