Literature and Theatre

Gabriel Harvey’s sonnet therapy
Elisabeth Chaghafi

This chapter focuses on Gabriel Harvey’s ‘Greenes Memoriall’, a sonnet sequence that forms part of his pamphlet Foure Letters and Certaine Sonnets (1592). Harvey’s pamphlet, a response to Robert Greene’s slandering him and his brothers, is commonly regarded as vengeful, but the sonnets in the volume display a conscious effort on Harvey’s part to conquer his anger. The chapter argues that Harvey intends to show his journey from initial anger towards greater emotional detachment and a balance of temper. His surprising choice to express himself through sonnets (a format he was not very familiar with and perhaps not very good at) may be explained as a strategy within his struggle to regain his temper: the trope of sonnet as a form that exemplifies the ‘sweetness’ of poetry serves to illustrate the idea of restoring a healthy balance of temper, because the sonnet serves to neutralise the ‘bitter gall’ of his anger. Thus Harvey was effectively self-medicating through poetry, and grappling with the constraints of metre and rhyme in an unfamiliar poetic form forced him to detach himself from his anger and to consider more carefully how to express his points than he might have done in prose.

in The early modern English sonnet
Moral conversion and prodigal authorship
Rémi Vuillemin

Barnabe Barnes, who published Parthenophil and Parthenophe in 1593, and A Divine Centurie of Spirituall Sonnets in 1595, is a unique example of an author releasing two printed sonnet sequences, one secular, one sacred, in two years’ span. The chapter argues that the two works might be understood as a Petrarchan diptych consistent with Barnes’s authorial strategy. The godly poems of A Divine Centurie seem devised to remind the reader of the lewd verse of Parthenophil and Parthenophe and to highlight the connections between the two works; the purpose of such intricacy was probably for Barnes to produce a representation of himself as having undergone a moral conversion – a Petrarchan career pattern that Richard Helgerson described in his Elizabethan Prodigals. Though Barnes’s staged conversion was probably targeted at the Bishop of Durham, the fact that his second sonnet sequence was printed, and therefore also aimed at a wider readership, calls for further hypotheses. Barnes’s recantation might have had to do with his desire to protect his reputation from the damaging effects of the Harvey–Nashe quarrel in which he was indirectly involved.

in The early modern English sonnet
Ever in motion

This volume questions and qualifies commonly accepted assumptions about the early modern English sonnet: that it was a strictly codified form, most often organised in sequences, which emerged only at the very end of the sixteenth century and declined as fast as it had bloomed at the turn of the century – and that minor poets merely participated in the sonnet fashion by replicating established conventions. Drawing from book history, using the tools of close reading and textual criticism, it aims to offer a more nuanced history of the form in early modern England – and especially of the so-called ‘sonnet craze’. It does so by exploring the works of such major poets as Shakespeare, Sidney and Spenser but also of lesser-studied sonneteers such as Barnabe Barnes and Gabriel Harvey. It discusses how sonnets were written, published, received and repurposed in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, taking into account interactions with the French and Italian literary traditions. The collection also discusses current editorial practices and provides the first modern edition of an early seventeenth-century Elizabethan miscellany which claims the Earl of Essex, Spenser and ‘S.P.S.’ (presumably Sir Philp Sidney) as authors.

Accounts of the quatorzain in Italy, France and England in the second half of the sixteenth century
Carlo Alberto Girotto, Jean-Charles Monferran and Rémi Vuillemin

This chapter assesses the reception and the significance of the early modern sonnet by focusing on poetic treatises of the second half of the sixteenth century, when the fashion for sonnets peaked in Italy, France and England. In Italy, where the sonnet had reached formal maturity and a canonical status based on established models, poets were seeking room for innovation to compete with their prestigious forebears, exploring new forms of both sonnet and poetic collection and further dignifying the fourteen-line poem. In France, by contrast, poets and theorists sought to codify the sonnet, imitating the Italians and rejecting earlier vernacular poetry, often insisting on its epigrammatic dimension – they did not, however, discuss the development of sonnet collections. In England, the sonnet (mediated by French precedents) took a much longer time to be codified, and retained during and after the considered period its original meaning of ‘little song’, or short lyric poem. Addressing general questions of poetics related to the prosody and vocabulary of the English language seems to have held more stakes than determining the specificities of the English sonnet, whose textbook definition mostly corresponds to how it was seen by late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century English treatises.

in The early modern English sonnet
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From commentary on poetry to poetry as commentary
William John Kennedy

This chapter retraces the reception of Petrarch and Petrarchism in early modern England from Wyatt and Surrey to Shakespeare and Drayton via Sidney and Spenser, arguing that poets turned to annotated editions of Petrarch’s works with rich commentaries, so that poetry and poetic commentary became one in the sonnets adapted from Petrarch. Early authors produced a body of English Petrarchism and were imitated by later poets who shaped their own poems as critical commentaries upon the work of their forerunners. Petrarch himself was represented in varied ways, as a master of rhetoric or as religious poet, as an aggressive or a passive lover. Insisting on the social dimension of poetry writing and publishing, and focusing on the readership targeted by each category of poet, this chapter recalls the differences in status and scope between the early Tudor poets, who did not publish their poems themselves, and the later poets, who used their published sonnets to comment on the achievements of their predecessors.

in The early modern English sonnet
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Shakespeare’s shifting sonnets. From Love’s Labour’s Lost to The Passionate Pilgrim
Sophie Chiari

Several Shakespearean sonnets first appeared in Love’s Labour’s Lost, before being published in The Passionate Pilgrim (1598), a collection printed by William Jaggard, raising the issue of their transgeneric circulation. Love’s Labour’s Lost presents sonnet writing as a sterile and artificial activity, but on stage the poems could work as metadramatic tools, and their mock confessional tone as a parody of Shakespeare’s own art. In The Passionate Pilgrim, some of the poems were modified as they were repurposed, which concealed their initial parodic intent. When Heywood later complained that Jaggard had pilfered his work in an epistle at the end of his Apology for Actors, he alluded to Shakespeare. By doing so, he promoted his own work by reminding readers of its presence in The Passionate Pilgrim and by aligning himself with his more famous elder, whose name Jaggard erased from the front page of the next edition of The Passionate Pilgrim. Such an attention-grabbing strategy benefited Shakespeare as well as Heywood and Jaggard himself, who used the puzzlement of potential readers as a marketing device. What has often been dubbed piracy might therefore rather be an extremely cunning commercial strategy.

in The early modern English sonnet
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Laetitia Sansonetti, Rémi Vuillemin and Enrica Zanin

The early modern English sonnet has rarely been assessed as a category, and recent works have rather chosen the wider category of lyric – one whose historicity poses a number of difficulties. Despite the expansion of the canon in the last decades, and the related development of stimulating critical approaches based on gender, nationhood, race or religious studies, our vision of the sonnet is still affected by the ‘parody theory’, which oversimplifies the perspective of the sonneteers, discourages research on their works and does not recognise that parodies can also testify to the success of their targets. The loose codification of the sonnet and the variety of the contexts in which sonnets appear need to be taken into account and to be placed in the context of Petrarchan poetics in other countries, in particular France and Italy. The present volume proposes to do so using the input of book history and the tools of a historicised formalism, focusing in particular (but not only) on the key period of the 1590s.

in The early modern English sonnet
Fragment of a printed verse miscellany
Hugh Gazzard

This chapter is the first modern edition of a fragment from an early modern printed verse miscellany, complete with notes and an introduction discussing the text, presumed authors, printing details, the context of printed verse miscellanies and the miscellany’s reception. Published as an octavo in 1603, The Muses Garland is part of the English interest in printed poetic miscellanies ushered in by Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), and a successor to such late Elizabethan verse collections as The Phoenix Nest, Englands Helicon or A Poetical Rhapsody, miscellanies often addressed to and composed of pieces by courtiers and aristocrats that describe poetry as a medium that dignifies poets. Possibly compiled by Munday, Davison or Breton, or, perhaps even more tentatively, Markham, Pricket or Barnfield, the miscellany includes two poems by Spenser, and ascribes the authorship of two poems to ‘S.P.S.’ (possibly two previously unknown poems by Sir Philip Sidney). The political and poetic prestige of The Muses Garland also derives from its emphasis on the figure of the Earl of Essex, partaking in a trend of making him speak posthumously in the years after his death.

in The early modern English sonnet
Unsequenced sonnets in the sixteenth century
Chris Stamatakis

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.

in The early modern English sonnet
Guillaume Coatalen

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.

in The early modern English sonnet