Petrarch's Influence on Shakespeare
An excerpt from Petrarch and his influence on English literature by Pietro Borghesi. Bologna: N. Zanichelli. Shakespeare, even the great Shakespeare, could not escape the influence of the Petrarchists and therefore of Petrarch himself, but, as we do not want to be misunderstood, we say at once just what we said about Spenser: Shakespeare is not a Petrarchist and perhaps his poetical vein is more akin to Dante's than to Petrarch's. In order to show that he is not a Petrarchist it is enough to compare his sonnets with those of Watson, Barnes, Fletcher, Daniel, Drayton and other contemporaries: their superiority is seen at once with the certainty that they do not come from the same source of inspiration. Besides, Shakespeare did not follow all the rules which Petrarch constantly applied, although perhaps he may have read, if not all, at least some of Petrarch's sonnets. We say so because we are of the opinion of those who think that Shakespeare knew Italian, if not to perfection, doubtless in such a degree as to be able to discern the drift of an Italian poem or novel. Were it otherwise it would be very difficult to explain how he could found not less than fourteen of his dramas on Italian fiction. But of course it is not of his dramas we are going to speak, although the lyrical element peculiar to his time is to be seen in all his plays: it is of his sonnets that we wish to say something. Certainly there is some relation between his sonnets and Petrarch's. The dominant idea of his 21st sonnet is taken from the 3rd sonnet in Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, and we have seen that Sidney was Petrarchist. The thought developed in his 23rd sonnet, namely the inability of love to express itself in words occurs over and over again in Provencal poets, and is found in Petrarch's 41st sonnet, which, as we have seen, was translated also by Wyatt. There is also some connection between his 26th sonnet and that of Petrarch beginning "Amor, che...
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