Talking about the Elizabethan poetry, Poetical status in England at the 15th century period was barren. With the dawn of the new era i.e., the late of 1570s of the Elizabethan Age, “a gleam of hope” was seen through some poetry-based works.
With this, a kindle interest in poetry was aroused by Thomas Wyatt who introduced ‘the sonnet’ and ‘the lyric’ in the English poetry. He paved the way for the later advancement in the hand of Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, and others.
‘Lyrics and sonnets’ of Elizabethan age were an expression of the holiday mood of its author. It is light and airy, and, refreshes even when it says nothing in particular. Its sweetness and melody are unparalleled.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ELIZABETHAN POETRY
- Poetry during this period were written on the ‘theme of romanticism and melodramatic’ features.
- ‘Comedy’ and ‘tragedy’ can be seen in Edmund Spenser’s work.
- The poets of Elizabethan age used to write ‘short but numerous types of Poetry’ which can be seen in Wyatt’s works. In fact, he imparted ‘emotion and passion’, ‘favour and enthusiasm’ to English Poetry.
- Combination of ‘love and nature’ were also seen.
- ‘Sonnets’ and ‘Blank Verse’ were introduced in this very period.
- The first printed anthology of English Poetry called Tottel’s Miscellany was published.
Tottel’s Miscellany, also called “Songs and Sonnets”, is a collection of 271 poems of Wyatt, Spenser and other poets.
Published posthumously in 1557 by Richard Tottel, also the compiler of these collection of poems, in London, a date which mark the beginning of modern English poetry.
It is a collection of some three hundred lyrics, songs and sonnets. There were 97 poems written by Wyatt, 40 by Surrey, 40 by Grimald and 94 by the uncertain poets. But the major poets were ‘Wyatt and Surrey’.
This particular collection of poems includes 54 Sonnets.
SIR THOMAS WYATT (1503-1542)
He was the first poet who introduced ‘the sonnet’ in English poetry which was based on the model of ‘Petrarch, the Italian sonneteer’. And the rhyme scheme of the sonnet is “abba abba cdcdcd or cde cde”.
C.S. Lewis called him, “The father of the drab age”.
His poems were short but fairly numerous. He wrote thirty sonnets, out of which a third consists of translation from Petrarch.
His poems were published in “Tottel’s Miscellany” in which about thirty other writers contributed.
His sonnets are ‘bold and passionate’ songs, sometimes characterized by ‘extreme beauty and charm’ and sometimes by the note of fancifulness. He imparted emotion, passion, forcefulness and enthusiasm to English poetry.
HENRY HOWARD (1516-1547)
Also called the ‘Earl of surrey’, who contributed significantly to the development of sonnet. The form developed by him was later known as ‘Shakespearean sonnet’. The rhyme scheme of Shakespearean sonnet is “abab cdcd efef gg”.
His love sonnets are addressed to Geraldine. These were characterized by ‘melancholy and sadness’.
He introduced ‘blank verse’ in English poetry.
THOMAS SACKVILLE (1536-1608)
He did not write much but his significant work “The Mirror of Magistrates” and “Induction” contributed to the improvement of the versification and material side of the poetry. There is an ‘excess of misery and gloom’ in his poetry.
GEORGE GASCOIGNE (1525-1577)
He wrote the first regular verse attire. “The Steel Glass” has all the lyrical quality of Elizabethan song. His “Flowers, Herbs and Weeds” is noteworthy poem.
He also prepared a little treatise on verification titled “Note of Instruction for the Writing of English Verse”.
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY (1554-1596)
He was a commanding ‘literary figure’ of this age. His fine achievement in poetry is “Astrophel and Stella”, a collection of 108 love sonnets. These poems are addressed to his beloved Penelope who is compared to ‘a star’ (Stella) and Sidney himself is ‘a star-lover’ (Astrophel).
These poems made Sidney the greatest Elizabethan sonneteers after Shakespeare.
EDMUND SPENSER (1552-1599)
He was “the poet’s poet”. His career began with the publication of “The Shepherd’s Calendar”, known as the first pastoral elegy.
His other notable poems are “Mother Hubbard’s Tale” and “Amoretti”. The latter is a series of 88 sonnets. His other poems are “Colin Clout Comes Home Again” and “Epithalamion”.
JOHN DONNE (1572-1631)
He was also one of the remarkable figures of the Elizabethan Age.
In fact, the age of Donne was an age of transition, standing midway between the ‘age of Shakespeare’ and ‘the Jacobean age’. He was the greatest metaphysical poet in English poetry.
He wrote sonnets, lyrics, elegies, satire, and religious poems. His famous satire is “Of the progress of the Soul”.
His love poems are “Songs and Sonnets” and his famous religious poems are “Holy Sonnets” and the lyrics such as “A Hymn to God the Father”. He was indeed a singular original poet of the age.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616)
He was the greatest poetic figure of the age. His sonnets which are 154 in number are the real gems. His 126 sonnets are addressed to a young and handsome man who has been interpreted as the ‘Earl of Southampton’.
The next 28 sonnets are addressed to a Dark Lady who betrayed the poet for the young man. In these sonnets, Shakespeare unlocked his heart. He also wrote some fine lyrics in his dramas.
On the whole, poetry was the most popular, significant and representative literary stream of the Elizabethan Age. Some of the best sonnets, songs and lyrics in the history of English literature have been written in this age.