The Evolution of the English Sonnet or the Corruption of the Italian Sonnet

Topics: Sonnet, Philip Sidney, Rhyme scheme Pages: 5 (846 words) Published: April 10, 2011
The Evolution of the English Sonnet or The Corruption of the Italian Sonnet

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarcha) (1304-1374): The Petrarchan Sonnet Background:

Wrote a collection called variously Canzoniere (canzone means song), Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments of vernacular things), or Rime Sparse (Scattered Rhymes) •Considered the Father of the sonnet, from Ital. sonetto, meaning a little song or sound •Wrote a volume containing 366 poems in the Tuscan vernacular; 317 of which are sonnets •Divided the poems into two parts. Some scholars believe this reflects Laura’s Life and Death •Declared himself the Poet Laureate. Prided himself on writing Africa, an unfinished Latin epic Inspiration:

“Laura,” probably Laure de Sade, a married noblewoman from Avignon •Petrarch’s fictionalized relationship with Laura resembles the poetic stance Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) adopted toward Beatrice in his Vita Nuova and Divide Comedy. At times, the virtuous lady acts as a guide to his distressed soul. Themes:

the beauty of the idealized, virtuous mistress
hyperbolic praises of golden hair, white skin, red lips, blue, gray, or clear eyes; features often compared to natural or celestial objects; Ovidian myths play a big role, especially Diana and Acteon, Apollo and Daphne •In Italian lauro=laurel tree, l’aura=breeze, l’auro=gold Structure:

Octave: The first eight lines of the fourteen line sonnet •Sestet: The six concluding lines
Volta (or turn): The shift in thought occurring in the eighth or ninth line that separates the octave from the sestet •Rhyme-Scheme: abba abba cde cde

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542): The Warped Petrarchan Sonnet
Poet and courtier at the court of Henry VIII
Traveled to Italy during the Petrarchan sonnet craze
Translated many Petrarchan sonnets into English, as did Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547); also wrote original poems and sonnets Inspiration:
Arrested under suspicion of adultery with Anne Boleyn; the only “suspect” not executed •Inspired by courtly ladies, including Queen Anne
The beauty of a mistress “more chased than chaste”
Wyatt’s ladies tend to be less pure than Petrarch’s. Although they are still beautiful, and still physically unavailable, they are often flirtatious, even cruel. •In English, the dear/deer pun is attractive

Wyatt keeps Petrarch’s structure, but often resorts to eye-rhyme •He changes the sestet of cde cde into, essentially, two tersets, cdd cee; this contributes to the development of the couplet.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): The Milder Petrarchan Sonnet

Published Amoretti and Epithalamion in 1595 while living in Ireland •Also wrote The Shepard’s Calendar (1579), Complaints (1591), and The Faerie Queene (1590-) Inspiration:
Wrote the sonnets in honor of his wife, Elizabeth Boyle, whom he married in 1594 •Read and translated the poetry (including sonnets) of the French DuBellay (1525-1560) Themes:
Loves the deer/dear pun
A number of traditional Petrarchan themes appear: an elusive mistress, beautiful features, Ovidian myth •Unlike Petrarch and Wyatt, Spenser makes his mistress submissive and receptive Structure:

Increases the number of different rhymes to five: abab bcbc cdcd ee •The sonnet now has three couplet-like rhymes: bb, cc, ee •Because of the altered rhyme scheme, the placement of the turn varies

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): The Anti-Petrarchan Sonnet Background:
Began writing his sonnets at least by the 1590s. Finished by at least 1609. •Thomas Watson’s Hekatompathia (1582) and Astrophil and Stella (1591) by Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), started a sonnet craze in England. Inspiration:

The printer of the 1609 Quarto dedicates the sonnets to Mr. W.H. (whose identity remains unknown but hotly contested) •Sonnets 1-126 appear to refer to a fair young man, 127-152 to a “dark lady,” and 153-154 to a Greek epigram involving...
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