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1 - Shakespeare and the development of English poetry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2007

Patrick Cheney
Affiliation:
Pennsylvania State University
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Summary

Shakespeare's relationship to the earlier development of English poetry is complex and multiform. Certainly in his time, perspectives about this development were changing as a new generation of poets and writers re-evaluated the past. Shakespeare himself shifted his perspective on poetry, alternately engaging his attention with older popular forms, currently fashionable elite forms, and newly conceived experimental forms. When he began writing poems for his earliest plays, lyric poetry appeared in popular broadside printings of traditional ballads, anonymous verse, and occasionally signed poems; in prestige, often reprinted anthologies such as Richard Tottel's Songes and Sonnettes (1557) and Richard Edwards's The Paradise of Dainty Devyces (1576); and in a few volumes of seriously crafted verse by signed authors such as George Gascoigne in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573, revised as The Posies, 1575). When in the early 1590s Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and his early Sonnets, the literary current in London was marked by the dominance of Edmund Spenser (after the publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene in 1590 and of Complaints in 1591) and Philip Sidney (after the pirated publication of his Astrophil and Stella with Samuel Daniel's Delia in 1591). When by 1609 Shakespeare revised his Sonnets for their publication, the development of English poetry was undergoing a sea-change at the hands of Ben Jonson, who had rejected the older fashions of native and Petrarchan forms and had promoted instead those of the classical epigram, ode, satire, and epistle. Shakespeare, as we will see, responded to each of these currents in his own poetic production, dipping into them, floating upon them, and swimming against them in various tides of native, continental, and classical convention.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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