Sonnet-mongers on the early modern English stage
in The early modern English sonnet
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The Petrarchan love sonnet and the figure of the sonneteer kept appearing in seventeenth-century plays (generally comedies) long after the fourteen-line poem is usually said to have waned. The plays discuss the sonnet both as a poetic form and as a tool for social advancement; the staging of sonneteering as a mercantile activity practised by incompetent sonneteers (most usually amateur poets from the country gentry) appears as a means to reflect on poetic language. Sonnets are deemed to be superior to ballads according to a hierarchy of poetic genres which reflects the social hierarchy. The evidence gathered in the wide array of seventeenth-century plays studied suggests that after the ‘sonnet craze’, when received poets in the canon had moved on to anti-Petrarchan poetics, or poetics which had little to do with the Petrarchan model, more ordinary rhymers kept on imitating the Canzoniere, and still claimed they composed sonnets. The continuous stream of attacks against the sonnet therefore also testifies to the deep mark it left upon early modern English poetry.


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