Chris Stamatakis
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‘Small parcelles’
Unsequenced sonnets in the sixteenth century
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Whilst scholars have often attended to the sonnet’s accretive nature, this chapter hopes to address the parallel – and largely unwritten – history of the sonnet as a stand-alone form in sixteenth-century English poetry, a form that flourishes in unsequenced contexts. Elizabethan commentators and practitioners alike routinely theorise the sonnet as, in the first instance, a circumscribed form, privileging the sonnet’s self-containment and recognising the skilful artifice required of the sonneteer in negotiating compact form – a conception very much in keeping with the way the sonnet was understood on the Continent. Used as dedicatory or commendatory poems, stand-alone sonnets do not just articulate frustrated desire, or pledge service, or seek patronage, or secure fame: they co-opt formal self-enclosure in the service of celebrating native eloquence and accommodating foreignness, implicitly or explicitly commenting on the literary authority, cultural status and vernacular identity of the works in which they are found, especially when they serve as a paratext or preface to a volume. In the confluence of horticultural and political registers that is often found in their rhetoric, with entwined motifs of enclosure, vernacular cultivation and national self-definition, those sonnets announce and enact a process of cultural transference and belonging.

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