Renaissance and Reformation English Poetry
by
James P. Bednarz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0209

Introduction

The English Renaissance, the age of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, John Donne, and John Milton, was one of the most brilliant periods in Western literary history for the production of great poetry. Yet the scope of its achievement is so varied that any effort to account for its multiplicity is inordinately challenging. Between 1509, with the reign of Henry VIII, until the end of the Commonwealth in 1660, nondramatic poetry of the most varied kind—from epic to ballad—found a voice and an audience in recitation, manuscript circulation, and print. The period’s ideals were inscribed in the heroic narratives of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in a culture that embraced the epic as a means of political and theological reflection. But just as Renaissance poets looked outward at the turbulent world of early modern history, which they measured in terms of a mythic glorious past, they simultaneously gazed inward to focus on basic issues of identity and subjectivity, being especially attentive to the intricate trajectories of human desire. Beginning with the lyric poetry of John Skelton and Sir Thomas Wyatt, the blending of native, classical, and Continental influences added richness to verse that easily moved from the high to low, from earnest self-scrutiny and entreaty to mockery, play, disdain, and detachment. These qualities would mature in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. English Renaissance poetry is customarily divided chronologically in two ways. Scholars distinguish between either the 16th and 17th centuries, or between Tudor (1485–1603) and Stuart (1603–1649) periods. The division between Tudor and Stuart poetry is useful, for instance, in tracing how different poetic concerns, such as satire and religious poetry, challenged sonnet and epic. It helps account for how a growing insistence on “strong lines” of condensed poetic thought found expression in both the measured Augustan style of Ben Jonson and John Donne’s mannered wit. But these divisions can also obscure significant similarities as well between writers such as Spenser and Jonson or Sidney and Milton who share surprisingly similar attitudes on a variety of literary, political, and social issues. For quality, rhetorical genius, emotional complexity, depth, and variety, the poetry of the English Renaissance is unsurpassed.

General Overviews

One of the scholarly rituals that anyone interested in understanding the breadth of Renaissance poetry must perform is to read the historical overviews Lewis 1954 and Bush 1945 (the third and fifth volumes of the Oxford History of English Literature) on 16th- and 17th-century verse. You will probably find grounds for disagreement with their surveys, but you also will have to admire their skill in covering an immense number of works in different genres, while presenting a literary transition that takes readers from the late Middle Ages to the Restoration. Although, by turns, quaint, quirky, and weathered, Lewis was a voracious reader who still provides the best comprehensive study of the development of English Renaissance poetry in the 16th century: and he does this in alternating chapters that parallel philosophical and stylistic changes in verse and prose. He also successfully grounds the period’s poetic forms in the work of the late Middle Ages, providing an excellent context for assessing their native antecedents. Nevertheless, his division of the century between an earlier “Drab” and a later “Golden” style, as Winters 1967 has shown, is too pejorative and simplistic to account for the patent merits of the so-called plain style in the work of poets such as George Gascoigne. In line with Lewis’s estimation, however, Waller 1993 is an especially impressive treatment of the literary genius of Spenser and Sidney. Bush’s command of the field is equally impressive. He recognizes, from the start, the need not to insist too firmly on a difference between “cavalier” and “metaphysical” poets, since these conceptual modes and their resulting styles shared a more fluid interrelation in 17th-century verse. And he does not neglect the towering figure of Milton or the age’s heroic verse. Of the many more recent guides, Waller 1993 and Cheney 2011 provide excellent introductions to the earlier Renaissance, while Parfitt 1995, with a few questionable evaluations, renders a similarly comprehensive account of later developments.

  • Bush, Douglas. English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600–1660. Oxford History of English Literature. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1945.

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    Bush provides an expert analysis of how Renaissance poetry was shaped by the concerns of its age, as he situates poetic form within the literary, social, political, and religious tendencies of Stuart culture. The period’s major poets are each considered in a separate chapter.

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  • Cheney, Patrick. Reading Sixteenth-Century Poetry. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

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    Cheney divides his study among Henrician, Edwardian, and Marian poetry from 1500 to 1588 and Elizabethan poetry from 1588 to 1603. Focusing on the pleasures and uses of poetry, he organizes his book around a series of historical changes that can be seen in the key categories of voice, perception, world, form, and career. A helpful bibliography is appended.

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  • Lewis, C. S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama. Oxford History of English Literature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954.

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    This is an excellent starting point for students who want to secure a firmer knowledge of 16th-century English verse in its various permutations. Lewis is nevertheless at his best when considering the “Golden” period realized by the masterpieces of Sidney and Spenser.

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  • Parfitt, George. English Poetry of the Seventeenth Century. Longman Literature in English. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1995.

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    Parfitt’s book complements Waller 1993 in the same series. It analyzes lyric, the poetry of place, poems of occasion, satire, and epic. It has a chronology, a general bibliography, and bibliographies of individual writers. Together Waller and Parfitt furnish a set of intelligent and wide-ranging introductions that emphasize the political and social conditions that shaped the writing of poetry.

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  • Waller, Gary. English Poetry of the Sixteenth Century. Longman Literature in English. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1993.

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    Waller’s informative account of the period extends from Dunbar and Wyatt to Shakespeare and Donne, and it is organized into chapters devoted to contemporary engagements with the period. Chapter 8, “Gendering the Muse: Women’s Poetry, Gay Voices,” and Chapter 9, “Conclusion—Reopening the Canon,” typify the author’s interest in producing a more inclusive evaluation. The volume features a chronology, general bibliographies, and notes on individual authors.

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  • Winters, Yvor. Forms of Discovery: Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English. Chicago: A. Swallow, 1967.

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    “The 16th Century Lyric in England” was originally written in 1939 and then revised for this book. In his assault on the English Renaissance canon, Winters responds to Lewis 1954 by dividing 16th-century lyric between the “plain” and “sugared” styles to suggest the superiority of such unappreciated authors as Barnabe Googe, Nicholas Grimald, Jasper Heywood, Thomas Nashe, and George Turberville, who were capable of direct, forceful, and moving verse. The “sugared” style is too sweet for Winters’s taste.

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Reference Works

Detailed reference works of all kinds are available to aid one’s knowledge and appreciation of English Renaissance literature. A basic manual on how to do graduate research in the field is supplied by Bowers and Kieran 2010. Richardson 1996 offers an informative set of essays on Renaissance poets and their work by an impressive roster of scholars. The Dictionary of Literary Biography series that Richardson edits is known for its subtle integration of authors’ lives and works. Another vital resource is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which you can find either in print or online. The OED will often list historically pertinent meanings for words and phrases that have been obscured by centuries of linguistic change. It can also prevent anachronistic mistakes, based on modern assumptions about what early modern language means. The differences can be surprising. For help with understanding, Wright 1988 is instructive, although its primary emphasis is on Shakespeare’s drama. And to come to terms with how exactingly English Renaissance critics thought about poetic construction and ornament, study Whigham and Rebhorn 2007, a copiously annotated edition of George Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesy. The Voice of the Shuttle, Renaissance and 17th Century website is a good starting point for locating selections of Renaissance poetry and essays about its creation, meaning, and transmission. If you become even more interested in the cultural field in which poetry was disseminated in the 16th and 17th centuries, you might want to consult Beal 1980, which is an amazing catalogue of all known manuscript copies of the work of the period’s greatest authors. The Folger Shakespeare Library provides digital reproductions of some texts with commentary. Fresh approaches can be found in Sullivan 2012.

  • Beal, Peter. Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1700. 2 vols. London: Mansell, 1980.

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    Beal is currently digitalizing the Index as The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1700 (CELM). This archive contains a catalogue of autograph and scribal manuscripts of all the major authors of the period in 23,000 entries, covering 128 authors. CELM, based at the UCL Centre for Digital Studies in the Humanities, will be even bigger and include a number of female authors overlooked in IELM. The first volume of IELM spans 1450–1625, and the second brings it up to 1700.

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  • Bowers, Jennifer, and Peggy Kieran. Literary Research and the British Renaissance and Early Modern Period, Strategies and Sources. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2010.

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    Bowers and Kieran have written this guide to apprise graduate students of the intricacies, rewards, and limitations of conducting research in the field.

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  • Folger Shakespeare Library.

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    This site offers digitial reproductions of early copies of Shakespeare’s poems as well as the entire text of Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr (1601) with Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and Turtle,” in an appendix of poems by John Marston, George Chapman, and Ben Jonson. The Folger copy is one of only two surviving complete copies of this first edition. Read one of Shakespeare’s greatest poems in context.

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  • Oxford English Dictionary.

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    Linguistic change can radically alter the meaning of words and invite anachronistic readings. Consulting the OED can help prevent embarrassment and open new paths of interpretation.

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  • Richardson, David A., ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Sixteenth-Century British Nondramatic Writers. Vol. 172. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.

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    Contains an excellent set of essays that analyzes the interrelation of early modern authors’ lives and works, with checklists for further reading.

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  • Sullivan, Garrett A., ed. The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature. Wiley Encyclopedia of English Literature. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    This three-volume set has over four hundred entries and offers interpretations by a talented team of scholars. It also attempts cutting-edge interpretations of both canonical and non-canonical authors. The numerous bibliographies of lesser-known figures are a good starting point for both novices and professionals interested in leaving the mainstream.

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  • Voice of the Shuttle, Renaissance and 17th Century.

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    This is a key portal to a trove of contemporary commentary and texts that include many links to English Renaissance verse, with most of the best writers represented by a few examples. The site also contains many links to specific sites dedicated to them and to libraries that possess the earliest versions of their manuscripts and books.

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  • Whigham, Frank, and Wayne A. Rebhorn, eds. The Arte of English Poesy by George Puttenham. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

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    Puttenham’s handbook instructs readers how to become poets, and to that end it illustrates the numerous rhetorical strategies they can manipulate to improve their technique and chance of success.

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  • Wright, George T. Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    Although Wright focuses primarily on iambic pentameter or blank verse (the metrical form most frequently used by Shakespeare) this book is a good introduction to the study of English Renaissance prosody.

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Anthologies

The Elizabethans, as Pomeroy 1973 (cited under Poetry, Manuscript, and Print) writes, were enthusiastic readers of poetic miscellanies. But even though she believed that genre had died out with the age, it endures to this day in the collections of Renaissance verse that publishers continue to print, which usually consist of sets of poems arranged by author, to which is added a chronological or thematic overlay. Some editors have provided mixed formatting that allows greater access to their collections through these three variables. Readers should be aware that editions differ in the degree to which they follow the best copy texts, preserve or modernize spelling, have helpful introductions, and provide assistance with topical allusions, difficult vocabulary, and textual cruxes. Older collections, such as Hebel and Hudson 1929 (cited under Tudor and Stuart Verse), seem as strong as when they were printed. Among the best of these 16th-century collections, Bullett 1947 (cited under 16th-century Verse) offers some excellent selections, including Ralegh’s “The Ocean’s Love to Cynthia,” and Williams 1963 (cited under Tudor and Stuart Verse) includes some exquisite Elizabethan verse. More recent collections, such as Norbrook and Woudhuysen 1992 (cited under Tudor and Stuart Verse), however, feature a wider survey of authors and a greater number of works by women. For especially reader-friendly texts, complete with introductions and generous footnoting, Braden 2004 (cited under 16th-century Verse) and Cummings 1999 (see under 17th-century Verse), are excellent. Seventeenth-century anthologies are also occasionally split, perhaps too rigidly, between “cavalier” and “metaphysical” designations that work better for poems than poets, who might avail themselves of both modes. Among available anthologies, it is still thrilling, however, to use Grierson 1921 (cited under 17th-century Verse). Grierson’s brilliant introduction, when reviewed by T. S. Eliot on the front page of TLS, triggered a new interest in the revolution in poetic conceptualization that occurred at the beginning of the 17th century.

Tudor and Stuart Verse

Some anthologies cover the entire period from 1509 to 1660. There has been an ongoing attempt by editors from the end of the 20th century to expand the canon to include a greater number of poets who have been marginalized in the past, and there have been recurrent efforts to organize anthologies by topic as well as by author. These transformations are visible, for example, in the change from Hebel and Hudson 1929 to Norbrook and Woudhuysen 1992. Williams 1963 presents only short poems, while Kermode and Hollander 1973, as well as Hunter 2010, combine poetry with prose. Renascence Editions, an Online Repository of Works Published in English Between 1477 and 1799 furnishes a growing list of texts.

  • Hebel, J. William, and Hoyt H. Hudson, eds. Poetry of the English Renaissance, 1509–1660: Selections from Early Editions and Manuscripts. New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1929.

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    This standard “tombstone” volume includes much of the period’s best poetry. True, the author of Winters 1967 (cited under General Overviews) might have been distressed to see that Nicholas Grimald is not among the more than forty authors included, along with units on Elizabethan miscellanies, sonnet sequences, lyrics from songbooks, Stuart and Commonwealth miscellanies, and extracts from critical essays.

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  • Hunter, John C., ed. Renaissance Literature: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

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    Hunter’s omnibus edition of poetry and prose has much to recommend it in terms of breadth, but some readers will find too many omissions—such as Venus and Adonis—to make this their primary anthology. The generous selections of work by Aemilia Lanyer and Lady Mary Wroth are, however, refreshing.

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  • Kermode, Frank, and John Hollander, eds. The Literature of the English Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.

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    This anthology by two talented 20th-century critics includes prose and poetry, but there is enough of the latter to give you a full sense of the period; unfortunately, however, there are no works by women included here.

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  • Norbrook, David, and H. R. Woudhuysen, eds. The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509–1659. London: Allen Lane, 1992.

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    The result of a collaboration between an outstanding literary historian and a fine textual scholar, this comprehensive collection with a splendid introduction combines authoritative texts with fresh insights into their position in Renaissance culture.

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  • Renascence Editions, an Online Repository of Works Published in English Between 1477 and 1799.

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    Provides enough English Renaissance poetry to allow readers to create, in effect, their own digital anthologies by clicking links to the works of Thomas Campion, Henry Constable, Samuel Daniel, Sir John Davies, John Donne, Michael Drayton, Phineas Fletcher, George Gascoigne, Everard Guilpin, Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Philip Sidney, William Smith, Edmund Spenser, John Taylor, and Mary Wroth.

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  • Williams, John, ed. English Renaissance Poetry, A Collection of Shorter Poems from Skelton to Jonson. New York: Doubleday, 1963.

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    This delightful collection contains some of the age’s best poems. The canon of each poet, prefaced with a brief introduction, has been carefully pruned to leave only a handful of the most memorable. This anthology is, however, dominated by Elizabethan verse.

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16th-century Verse

A number of anthologies, such as Bullett 1947 and Bender 1967, concentrate broadly on the Tudor period, containing work from the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509 to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. Holt and MacFaul 2011 provides a fresh look at Tottlel’s Miscellany. Others specialize in particular genres or historical contexts, such as the collection of Ovidian narratives in Donno 1963 or the lyric poetry of the Henrician and Elizabethan courts in Bender 1967. For examples of the widest range of poetic genres, consult Rollins and Baker 1992. Braden 2004 provides excellent guidance on close reading and helpful study aids, while Clark 2001 is a volume made up exclusively of women’s verses. Rollins and Baker 1992 prints the widest range of examples in its massive collection.

  • Bender, Robert M., ed. Five Courtier Poets of the English Renaissance. New York: Washington Square, 1967.

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    This collection of lyrics by Sir Thomas Wyatt; Henry Howard, earl of Surrey; Philip Sidney; Fulke Greville; Lord Brooke; and Sir Walter Ralegh includes some of the period’s best non-Shakespearean verse. The addition of Greville’s strong-lined and occasionally obscure verse demonstrates the complexity of Elizabethan lyrics.

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  • Braden, Gordon, ed. Sixteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology. Blackwell Annotated Anthologies. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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    A recent collection of 16th-century poetry that concentrates on major poets such as Wyatt, Spenser (whose Book 3 of The Faerie Queene is included), and Donne, this edition enhances the reader’s experience with commentary, chronologies (highlighting political and literary history), a thematic list of main topics, and extensive notes.

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  • Bullett, Gerald, ed. Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century. Everyman Library. London: Dent, 1947.

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    This anthology features a unique sampling of poems in an unexpected arrangement. Half the volume is devoted to Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, and half to Philip Sidney, Walter Ralegh, and Sir John Davies. The juxtaposition of Ralegh’s broken elegiac “The Ocean’s Love to Cynthia” with Davies’s witty and charming “Orchestra” and learned “Nosce Teipsum” reminds readers of the period’s contrasting poetic voices.

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  • Clark, Danielle, ed. Renaissance Women Poets: Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer. New York: Penguin, 2001.

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    Three of the best women writers are brought together in this volume of strong and original voices. The inclusion of Whitney, a middle-class poet with a keen eye for London life, will be a revelation for readers lucky enough to come across this stimulating anthology.

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  • Donno, Elizabeth Story, ed. Elizabethan Minor Epics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963.

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    Featuring one popular form of the Elizabethan period, Donno’s anthology includes the most important specimens, beginning with Thomas Lodge’s Scillaes Metamorphosis, of a genre sometimes known as either the “Ovidian mythological narrative” or the “epyllion” (“minor epic”).

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  • Holt, Amanda, and Tom MacFaul. Tottel’s Miscellany: Songs and Sonnets of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Others. New York: Penguin, 2011.

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    This first major anthology of English poetry, featuring poets of the court of Henry VIII, was published in 1557 and repeatedly thereafter. It helped legitimize vernacular verse and served as a model for Elizabethan writers.

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  • Loughlin, Marie. The Broadview Anthology of Sixteenth-Century Poetry and Prose. Calgary: Broadview, 2011.

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    The verse selections in this 1,332-page compendium include a judicious sampling of some rarely reprinted writers along with their well-known contemporaries.

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  • Rollins, Hyder E., and Herschel Baker, eds. The Renaissance in England: Non-dramatic Prose and Verse of the Sixteenth Century. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1992.

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    This massive assortment of prose and poetry, in a new edition, provides the widest sample of short poems in any comparable collection. Most, as a result, are excerpts rather than complete texts, collections, or lyric sequences. Here sections highlight miscellanies, ballads and song books, early Elizabethan poetry, and translations.

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17th-century Verse

These collections tend to divide poetry into political or literary categories. Using a political rubric, editors typically split their treatment between “Jacobean” or “Caroline” cultures, named for James I (1603–1625) and Charles I (1625–1649), the first Stuart monarchs. Using a literary form of categorization, however, they commonly distinguish “cavalier” from “metaphysical” verse, based on the belief that Ben Jonson and John Donne, who helped initiate these poetic styles, were the period’s most important influences. Rumrich and Chaplin 2005 adds early and modern criticism, while Cummings 1999 has better notes. DiCesare 1978 presents those decades’ most brilliant devotional poets, Grierson 1921 and Gardner 1957 (the “Metaphysicals”) and Maclean 1974 (the “Cavaliers”). Smith 2007 and Wilcox 2007 are meticulous guides to the artistry of Marvell’s and Herbert’s lucid yet perplexing verse.

  • Cummings, Robert, ed. Seventeenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology. Blackwell Annotated Anthologies. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

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    Like Braden 2004 (cited under 16th-century Verse) in the same series, Cummings’s edition has several features that assist in understanding the verse in its historical context. The weight of this volume falls on Donne, Ben Jonson, Mary Wroth, Robert Herrick, and George Herbert. Yet Cummings makes a serious effort to include Katherine Phillips and such lesser luminaries as Martha Moulsworth, William Habington, Lucy Hutchinson, Sir Richard Fanshaw, and Anne Wharton.

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  • DiCesare, Mario, ed. George Herbert and Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978.

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    Seventeenth-century culture saw some of the greatest devotional poetry in English, and few religious poets have been able to rival the synthesis of translucent grace and puzzling complexity that characterizes George Herbert’s verse. Herbert provides the anchor for this volume that features the theological meditations of Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan, and Thomas Traherne. A set of 20th-century essays rounds out the edition.

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  • Gardner, Helen, ed. The Metaphysical Poets. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1957.

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    This anthology challenges the rigid differentiation between Shakespeare and “metaphysical” poetry by including “The Phoenix and Turtle” among its selections. Although Gardner saw an immense difference between the poetics of Shakespeare and Donne, she posited a connection between them in this instance. This is a historically important collection with a fine introduction.

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  • Grierson, H. J. C., ed. Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921.

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    No other anthology has done more to change public taste than Grierson’s revival of a group of poets who had dropped out of favor by 1700. Grierson sees Donne as an intellectual confronted with a fragmented vision of the universe, who was unable to make it cohere. Grierson plays up the tentative and experimental aspects of these writers, unfortunately leaving readers to ponder if anyone in the period was not in some sense “metaphysical.”

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  • Maclean, Hugh, ed. Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1974.

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    Influenced by Bush 1945, Maclean emphasizes Jonson’s influence on “cavalier” poets, Richard Corbett, Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, James Shirley, Mildmay Fane (earl of Westmorland), Thomas Randolph, William Habington, Edmund Waller, Sir John Suckling, Sidney Godolphin, William Cartwright, James Graham (marquise of Montrose), Sir John Denham, Richard Lovelace, Alexander Cowley, Henry Vaughan, and Thomas Stanley. But some of these have been classified by others as “metaphysical.”

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  • Rumrich, John P., and Gregory Chaplin, eds. Seventeenth-Century British Poetry, 1603–1660. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.

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    This edition contains works by major poets—Donne, Jonson, Herbert, Milton, Marvell—as well as a range of women writers, including Lanyer, Wroth, Bradstreet, Cavendish, and Philips. One notable feature is that it offers two sections of criticism: the first part covers the 17th and 18th centuries, and the second includes modern criticism from T. S. Eliot to Leah Marcus and William Kerrigan.

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  • Smith, Nigel, ed. The Poems of Andrew Marvell. Rev. ed. London: Pearson. 2007.

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    Comprehensive commentary and copious annotations make this volume crucial for the study of Marvell’s subtle verse.

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  • Wilcox, Helen, ed. The English Poems of George Herbert. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    This standard edition provides expert guidance to the work of one of the 17th century’s greatest devotional poets.

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Bibliographies

For research on English Renaissance poetry, the MLA International Bibliography is essential. Aside from the numerous bibliographies mentioned elsewhere that are specifically keyed to criticism and biography, Dawson and Dupree 1994 comments on significant criticism of 17th-century verse up until 1994, and Plett 1995 surveys how critics approached rhetoric and poetics then and now. The daunting task of establishing the field of lyric in the Elizabethan period has been credibly achieved by May and Ringler 2004.

Literary Criticism

English poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries is too often discussed as two entirely different fields. But one can locate both continuity and disruption in the transformations in poetic form and meaning in the first decade of the 17th century. The accession of James I in 1603 affected the cultural milieu, but writing of the late Elizabethan period—from the late 1590s to 1603—already shows traits that would retroactively be called “Jacobean,” tempering one’s sense of dynastic rupture. Indeed, criticism of both periods appears occasionally to be too strictly demarcated. The New Historicism brought English Renaissance poetry alive with a new awareness of its place in the circulation of power, status, and meaning in early modern culture. At present, a new line of inquiry sometimes called the “New Formalism” provides fresh insight by affirming the inseparability of meaning, context, and structure.

Tudor-Stuart Criticism

It is refreshing to discover single-authored books as well as collections of essays that survey the works of writers in the entire period rather than dividing it in half. This approach, championed by Tuve 1947, allows for a sense of continuity that is artificially disrupted by fixating too much on the century break in the year 1600. Grierson 1958 led the way in this pursuit. Kermode 1971 and Cheney, et al. 2007 continue this approach. Kermode 1972, more specifically, emphasizes the evolution of pastoral, while Biester 1997 charts the effort of poets to achieve “lyric wonder” in Tudor and Stuart contexts. Even Tudor and Stuart monarchs, as Herman 2010 indicates, used poetry to enhance their stature. Low 1993 charts changes in attitudes toward love in the period, and Tilmouth 2007 detects a moral transformation in the nature of Renaissance lyric from Spenser to Rochester.

  • Biester, James. Lyric Wonder: Rhetoric and Wit in Renaissance English Poetry. Rhetoric and Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

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    Biester illustrates how the fashion for metaphysical wit and strong lines was occasioned by the rise in the prestige of “wonder” as a power that poets saw themselves exercising over patrons and readers. Finding that satire and epigram held them back by stereotyping them as malcontents, poets discovered the political and social advantage in acquiring and deploying an “admirable” style rooted in classical literary theory.

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  • Cheney, Patrick, Andrew Hadfield, and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr., eds. Early Modern English Poetry: A Critical Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    This book belongs in every collection of English Renaissance literature. Its twenty-eight chapters by leading experts explore basic issues of verse formation and print before surveying key works from Wyatt to Milton.

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  • Grierson, Herbert. Cross-Currents in 17th-Century English Literature: The World, The Flesh, The Spirit. New York: Harper, 1958.

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    A cogent attempt to link 16th-century writers, especially the late Elizabethans such as Spenser, to the literary transformations of the 17th century. Taking a long view of the period, Grierson plots out both considerable evolution and disruption in the literary “cross-currents” that led to the transformation of antecedent poetic forms.

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  • Herman, Peter. Royal Poetrie: Monarchic Verse and the Political Imaginary of Early Modern England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

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    Examines the cultural contexts that gave rise to the poetry of Henry VIII; Mary, Queen of Scots; Elizabeth I; and James I. Each monarch, Herman claims, used poetry to manipulate “the social imaginary” and derived one source of their power from it.

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  • Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971.

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    Crossing the boundaries between Tudor and Stuart and dramatic and nondramatic texts, Kermode’s inquiry into these three great writers is divided into tangentially related investigations split between what he calls “research” and “criticism.” The first five chapters on Spenser and Donne, replete with astute local observations, map out one of the pivotal stylistic changes in English literary history.

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  • Kermode, Frank. English Pastoral Poetry from the Beginnings to Marvell: An Anthology. W. W. Norton, 1972.

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    This anthology gives readers a full experience of the genre of pastoral poetry as it develops in the 14th century to its refinement by Andrew Marvell. Kermode explains how the basic dialectic of “nature” and “art,” crucial to pastoral, was based on a fundamental distinction in Renaissance culture between the universe in which we find ourselves and the means by which we transform it. Kermode’s cogent introduction (pp. 11–44) traces a single symbolic form through four centuries of its vital growth and development.

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  • Low, Anthony. The Reinvention of Love: Poetry, Politics and Culture from Sidney to Milton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Studies changes in the prevailing sense of what it means to love, in both secular and divine contexts, by analyzing lyrics by Sidney, Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, Carew, and Milton.

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  • Tilmouth, Christopher. Passion’s Triumph Over Reason: A History of the Moral Imagination from Spenser to Rochester. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212378.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through his analysis of poetic texts by Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, Crashaw, and Milton, Tilmouth charts the decline of an austere rationalist model of self-control that leads to the emergence of a libertine ethic in the work of the earl of Rochester.

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  • Tuve, Rosemond. Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947.

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    Faced with what she believed to be an inordinate contrast between “metaphysical” verse and prior Elizabethan practice, Tuve maintains that 16th- and 17th-century poets availed themselves of identical rhetorical strategies that can be identified through a rigorous comparison of their poetic criteria, which involve sensuous imagery, delight, significance, and efficacy.

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Criticism of 16th-century Poetry

Like most studies of 16th-century English literature, Alpers 1967 highlights the achievement of the Elizabethan period (1558–1603), with Shakespeare at its center, during the 1580s and 1590s. Fewer studies explore work in the previous reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, or Mary I, Elizabeth’s Tudor predecessors. Rudick 1999 demonstrates the complexity of reading Ralegh’s poetry in manuscript. Smith 1968 outlines the Elizabethan period’s principal poetic genres. Rose 1968 isolates “heroic love” in the work of Sidney and Spenser, and Keach 1977 and Ellis 2003 explicate the complexities of the erotic narrative now called the “epyllion.” In a study of poetic influence, Alexander 2006 measures Sidney’s posthumous impact on the age. This concentration on the 1580s and 1590s risks hampering a greater appreciation of such earlier talented poets as Sir Thomas Wyatt and John Skelton. Some intrepid scholars, nevertheless, continue to bring back compelling reports of their encounters with these relatively unappreciated poets. Sessions 1999 reminds us of how instrumental Surrey was in creating one of the period’s greatest poetic inventions: English blank verse. And Stamatakis 2012 has helpfully drawn attention to the subtle variations of meaning that make Wyatt’s poetry so brilliant.

  • Alexander, Gavin. Writing After Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586–1640. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199285471.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Alexander traces the impact of Sidney’s death in 1586 on English poetry, when manuscripts the poet would never have published while he lived became available to the poets of the 1590s, who used them to change the character of English literature.

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  • Alpers, Paul, ed. Elizabethan Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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    With an energizing blend of theory and close reading, the book’s three sections, “Rhetoric and Poetry,” “Individual Poets and Modes of Poetry,” and “The Faerie Queene,” understand English Renaissance poetry as both formal and cultural constructs. Here, for example, are G. K. Hunter’s “Humanism and Courtship” and Howard Baker’s “The Formation of the Heroic Medium,” together with C. S. Lewis’s close reading of Hero and Leander and C. L. Barber on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

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  • Ellis, James Richard. Sexuality and Citizenship: Metamorphosis in Elizabethan Erotic Verse. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

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    Focusing on the Elizabethan epyllion (meaning “little epic”), Ellis demonstrates the importance of myth as a hermeneutic exercise and as an attempt to interpret reality, rather than as an assemblage of inherited stories. Ellis is particularly concerned with “metamorphosis” as a metaphor for examining the subject’s relation to others, variously moderated by the social constraints of “law.”

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  • Keach, William. Elizabethan Erotic Narratives: Irony and Pathos in the Ovidian Poetry of Shakespeare. Marlowe, and their Contemporaries. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1977.

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    In this expert appreciation of the “epyllion,” Keach demonstrates how the narrator’s tonal inflections in the Amores, Heroides, and the Metamorphoses had an enduring impact on the English narrative poetry Ovid inspired. This is the best introduction to the genre.

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  • Rose, Mark. Heroic Love: Studies in Sidney and Spenser. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674423060Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As Philip Sidney remarked, Cupid had “ambitiously climbed” into the heroic poem in 16th-century epic narratives. A form of “heroic love” was then recurrently defined as the very source of epic achievement, a spur to greatness based on aspiring desire. In this seminal study, Rose shows how Sidney’s Arcadia and Spenser’s Faerie Queene are informed by an impulse to reconcile the claims of passion and reason in marriage.

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  • Rudick, Michael, ed. The Poems of Sir Walter Ralegh: A Historical Edition. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999.

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    Since the extant manuscripts of Ralegh’s poetry can be difficult to assess in terms of customary literary stemmata, Ruddick documents the proliferation of versions of the same poem instead of trying to reduce them to a putatively ideal reading. The result is an invigorating tour through Ralegh’s poetic manuscripts and early printed versions of his verse by a scholar whose knowledge of the topic is unmatched.

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  • Sessions, William A. Henry Howard, the Poet Earl of Surrey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Surrey was the prime inventor of English blank verse, the poetic medium that would be of immense significance for drama. Sessions blends accounts of his political and literary activities with appreciation of how he created a metrical form that conflated the musicality of verse with a versatile pentameter line perfect for capturing subtle psychological nuances of speech.

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  • Smith, Hallett. Elizabethan Poetry: A Study in Conventions, Meaning, and Expression. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

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    This concise book concentrates on six major poetic conventions: pastoral, Ovidian poetry, sonnets, satire, song, and heroic poem. For each type, Smith defines its basic literary components and traces its evolution over the course of the period. With its encyclopedic knowledge of the field, Smith’s book is an excellent resource for learning about the tacit assumptions of Elizabethan poetics.

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  • Snare, George. The Mystification of George Chapman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989.

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    Snare rejects the assumption that Chapman is an obscure moralizing poet. Instead, he characterizes him as a more playful Ovidian. His book focuses on Chapman’s continuation of Hero and Leander and Ovid’s Banquet of Sense.

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  • Stamatakis, Chris. Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Rhetoric of Rewriting: “Turning the Word.” Oxford English Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199644407.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stamatakis eloquently describes Wyatt as “self-conscious, without ever being truly self-revealing,” using language to express doubts, conditions, and a sense of incompletion. Drawing on both historical research and a close reading of linguistic, verbal, textual, and semiotic features of the poems, the author shows that Wyatt’s topicality is always occluded by textual indeterminacy.

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Criticism of 17th-century Poetry

Eliot 1932 sparked a resurgence of interest in the period’s poetry, and Keast 1971 supplies a competent roadmap of mid-20th-century approaches. Colie 1966 draws attention to its key paradoxes. Drayton complained of the decline in interest in epic poetry at the beginning of the 17th century that Milton’s majestic Paradise Lost would belatedly address. But, as Post 1999 shows, there was no decrease in the number or quality of verse masterpieces throughout the period. Sharpe 1990 sheds new light on neglected poetic strategies during the reign of Charles I. Smith 1994 focuses on the troubled 1640s, and McDowell 2008 examines Marvell’s literary allegiances in the last years of that decade. One characteristic way of trying to make sense of the diversity is to follow Bush 1945 (cited under General Overviews) in dividing it between the “successors” of Jonson and Donne, the “cavalier” poets and the “Sons of Ben,” on the one hand, and the “metaphysical” poets, treated by Williamson 1967, on the other. But Bush recognized the hybrid quality of much 17th-century verse, and it is important to view these stylistic distinctions with caution. In an example of the New Formalism, McColley 1997 provides yet a different approach by emphasizing the importance that music still played in a period of self-consciously difficult verse.

  • Colie, Rosalie. Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.

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    Few literary studies have had a greater impact on the study of English Renaissance poetry than Colie’s book on the philosophical and rhetorical fascination with “conceits” of contradiction and logical opposition that energized poetry of the 17th century. Colie explores the classical origins of paradox in treatises that she then uses to add philosophical density to her explication of English poetry in a study centered on Donne.

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  • Corns, Thomas N. The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Analysis of the work of ten major poets is prefaced by five essays on such varied topics as politics, religion, gender, manuscript and print transmission, social history, genre, and rhetoric.

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  • Eliot, T. S. “The Metaphysical Poets.” In Selected Essays 1917–1932. By T. S. Eliot. 241–250, London: Faber, 1932.

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    In an article that was originally printed on the front page of TLS as a review of Grierson 1921 (cited under 17th-century Verse), Eliot proposed that Donne did not experience philosophical fragmentation but was possessed of an ability to relate thought and feeling in a period before a “dissociation of sensibility” led to a preference for hollow Augustan verse.

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  • Keast, William R., ed. Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism. Rev. ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    Paralleling Alpers 1967 (cited under Criticism of 16th-century Poetry) in the same series, this well-designed selection includes some of the best criticism of the 20th century. Essays by Grierson, Eliot, Miner, Mazzeo, Leishman, Williamson, Martz, Parfitt, and Kermode are here represented by carefully selected excerpts from their most significant work.

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  • McColley, Diane Kelsey. Music and Poetry in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Most of Donne’s poetry seems so metrically irregular that one would think his work would resist the medium of song. But composers, such as Alfonso Ferrabosco, found harmonies to suit Donne’s words. Donne himself speaks of this process in “The Triple Fool.” With attention to cultural history, McColley’s chapters on Donne, Herbert, and Milton trace the intertwining of these sister arts in the 17th century.

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  • McDowell, Nicholas. Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278008.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    McDowell outlines the social contexts that influenced Andrew Marvell’s composition of lyric verse in the late 1640s. Of particular interest is Marvell’s friendship with the royalist Richard Lovelace. Other chapters similarly examine how the Civil War affected poets and their allegiances to each other.

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  • Post, Jonathan. The English Lyric: The Early Seventeenth Century. London: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1999.

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    Post’s appealing approach conforms to late-20th- and early-21st-century trends in literary analysis as he seeks both to historicize the meaning of the poems he interprets and to broaden the canon through references to relatively unknown writers, particularly women. He does justice to the canonical writers Donne, Jonson, Herbert, Milton, Vaughan, and Marvell, but he does not neglect lesser-known talents

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  • Sharpe, Kevin. Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Demonstrating how Caroline political culture shaped drama, poetry, and the masque, Sharpe’s chapters on “Thomas Carew and the Poetry of Love and Nature” and “Aurelian Townshend and the Poetry of Natural Innocence” show history’s impact on literature. He reads Carew sympathetically as a “cavalier poet,” who like Herrick, Lovelace, and Suckling, was unfairly trivialized by Bush 1945 (see under General Overviews). Attending Carew’s tension and debate, Sharpe gives a fuller picture. The chapter on Townshend again shows a courtier poet who addresses the ethical and political issues of his age but asserts his independence in a world where art and politics were one.

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  • Smith, Nigel. Literature and Revolution in England, 1640–1660. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

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    Smith shows how prolonged social instability transformed English literature in the mid-17th century. Having accumulated unprecedented cultural capital in the 1590s, the fractious literature of the 1640s searched for new ways to define itself. Part 3 features sections on epic, lyric, satire, and pastoral.

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  • Williamson, George. Six Metaphysical Poets: A Reader’s Guide. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1967.

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    Williamson’s masterly study engages what Dryden referred to as “metaphrase,” a line-by-line close reading of the text that summarizes the writer’s argument. Williamson illuminates the work of John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Abraham Cowley, Henry Vaughan, and Andrew Marvell, providing a short course in the metaphysical movement that avoids abstract generalities about different writers

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Major Poets

This section considers resources available for studying the works of the seven most important poets of the English Renaissance: John Donne, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, William Shakespeare, and Edmund Spenser. Although a long list of other writers might have also been included, these seven are indispensable to any adequate comprehension of the period’s poetic masterpieces.

John Donne

One of the foremost writers of both secular and religious verses, Donne (b. 1574–d. 1631) is known for his strong lines of intellectually muscular wit that seem poised between revelation and irony. As Leishman 1951, Alvarez 1961, and the essays in Gardner 1962 illustrate, his early satires are stinging examples of social observation while his other lyrics, for the most part, reflect on the nature of human and divine love. His verse epistles are brilliant exhibitions of erudition and wit, attesting to his strong bonds of friendship. His divine sonnets, as Stringer 2005 confirms, are among the best religious poems in the language, and his Anniversary poems, as Tayler 1991 shows, are elaborate examples of metaphysical wit. T. S. Eliot had once praised Donne’s supreme syncretic ability, but later in his career, as Schucard 1993 indicates, he viewed Donne as exhibiting a “dissociated sensibility” in contrast to Dante, whose vision Eliot considered perfectly unified. Marotti 1986 examines the social transmission of Donne’s verse, and Guibbory 2006 supplies an attractive overview of his life, career, and writing. Smith 1971 has useful notes.

  • Alvarez, A. The School of Donne. New York: Mentor, 1961.

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    Few critics have done more than Alvarez to further appreciation of the complexity and intellectual depth of Donne’s work. The School of Donne helps readers see how much coherence his attitude toward experience has, how deeply his sentiments are expressed, and how facetious his hyperbole might actually be.

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  • Gardner, Helen, ed. John Donne, A Collection of Critical Essays. Twentieth Century Views. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962.

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    Reading this collection of essays on Donne’s poetry by some fine mid-20th-century scholars offers the thrill of coming to terms with one of the period’s most difficult writers. For those unsure of their footing when first reading Donne’s work, this collection provides both close readings of some of the most famous poems and evaluations of his relation to the poetry of his time.

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  • Guibbory, Achsah, ed. The Cambridge Companion to John Donne. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521832373Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These sixteen essays frame the poetry and prose within the literary, social, and political contexts in which they were composed.

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  • Leishman, J. B. The Monarch of Wit: An Analytical and Comparative Study of the Poetry of John Donne. New York: Harper and Row, 1951.

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    Especially attuned to Donne’s shifting tone and adept at analyzing the meaning and implications of Donne’s poetic fireworks, The Monarch of Wit is still the best single volume explication of the epigrams, elegies, songs and sonnets, and divine poems.

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  • Marotti, Arthur F. John Donne, Coterie Poet. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986.

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    Marotti shows how Donne used manuscript circulation to cement bonds with his patrons and friends that directly affected how and what he wrote. In defining him as an inns-of-court author, a courtly servant, a social exile and Jacobean courtier, Marotti traces the arc of Donne’s career in his anticourt lyricism, hyperbolic compliment, love songs to his wife, and poems of loss and devotion.

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  • Schucard, Ronald, ed. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry. By Thomas Stearns Eliot. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.

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    Combining Eliot’s Clark and Turnball lectures, in which he repudiated his former belief that Donne exhibited a unified sensibility able to synthesize the most disparate experiences, this book highlights Eliot’s ability to change his mind. Here it is only Dante who can claim an organized conception of the world. Eliot in effect now agrees with Grierson, whom he had “corrected” in his 1921 review in TLS.

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  • Smith, A. J., ed. John Donne, The Complete English Poems. New York: Penguin, 1971.

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    Smith’s introductions are so precise and his notes are so helpful in untangling some of the most difficult cruxes in Donne’s language that this edition deserves special recognition for its user-friendly format.

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  • Stringer, Gary A. The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne: The Holy Sonnets. Vol. 7. Part 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

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    This state-of-the art edition focuses on some of Donne’s most extraordinary religious verse.

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  • Tayler, Edward. Donne’s Idea of a Woman: Structure and Meaning in The Anniversaries. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

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    Ben Jonson thought that Donne’s poems were full of blasphemies, but Tayler defends Donne’s poetic theology in Donne’s Anniversary poems by tracing its classical and Christian origins. This provocative study explains, with minute attention to their linguistic detail, the theoretical assumptions about “mind” and “subject” encountered in Donne’s most ambitious poems.

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Ben Jonson

Donaldson 2011 deftly blends an ongoing analysis of Jonson’s nondramatic poetry into his account of the author’s life (b. 1572–d. 1637) in his fine biography, a fitting complement to Donaldson 1985, which is a one-volume edition of selected works. There one can find lightly modernized versions of “Epigrams,” “The Forest,” “The Underwood,” “Ungathered Verse,” “Songs and Poems from the Plays and Masks,” “A Panegyre,” “Leges Conviviales,” and an assortment of “Dubia.” What sets Donaldson’s edition (1985) apart is its informative notes. Harp and Stewart 2000 offers a good assessment of his career, while Wayne 1984, Evans 1989, and Peterson 2011 articulate the historical resonances of Jonson’s verse. Bevington, Butler, and Donaldson 2013, however, brings a new level of scrutiny to the canon as the lead editor of the new collected works of Jonson, a major event in Renaissance studies.

  • Bevington, David, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson, eds. The Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson. 7 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Replacing Herford and Simpson’s edition of Jonson’s complete works, this magnificent product by its main editors and an extensive associate editorial team arranges works chronologically regardless of genre. One of its best features is Colin Burrow’s introductions to “Epigrams” and “The Forest” and his notes on the poems on Shakespeare and lesser-known lyrics, in Volume 5. Volumes 4 and 6 offer more minor verse and Volume 7 has Jonson’s translation of Horace’s Art of Poetry.

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  • Donaldson, Ian, ed. Ben Jonson. The Oxford Authors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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    This volume combines Jonson’s most popular plays, Volpone and The Alchemist, with a generous selection of the poems. It includes a useful introduction, chronology, and suggestions for further reading.

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  • Donaldson, Ian. Ben Jonson: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    This well-received biography of Jonson draws on fresh discoveries to demonstrate the interpenetration of his drama, masque, and lyric poetry over the long course of his career. Donaldson is particularly alert to the manner in which Jonson forged an identity for himself as a playwright and patronage poet in the competitive milieu of England’s early modern literary scene.

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  • Evans, Robert. Ben Jonson and the Poetics of Patronage. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1989.

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    Attentive to the formal properties of the poems he discusses and sensitive to their historical resonances, Evans employs what he calls a “micropolitical” analysis to explicate the manner in which the poems function in a literary context dominated by powerful patrons whose favor Jonson courted. The poet did so, Evans explains, not by being a sycophant but by offering his services, in the best Humanist tradition, as an advisor to the ruling class.

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  • Harp, Richard, and Stanley Stewart. The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521641136Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The chapters of this well-organized companion provide a sense of Jonson’s achievement. Russ McDonald on “Jonson and Shakespeare and the Rhythm of Verse” (pp. 103–118) helps tune one’s ear to the poems’ cadences; Ian Donaldson surveys the poetic canon (pp. 119–139); John Mulryan defines his peculiar classicism (pp. 163–174); Leah Marcus illustrates how poetry was used at court (pp. 30–42), and R. V. Young explores his learning (pp. 175–187).

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  • Peterson, Richard. Imitation and Praise in the Poems of Ben Jonson. 2d ed. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

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    Instead of emphasizing Jonson’s satiric thrust, Peterson concentrates on the linked processes of imitation and praise through which Jonson presented his artistic and moral program to patrons. With classical literature as his compass and moral integrity as his destination, Jonson developed a poetics that advocated his ideals in masterpieces such as his ode on Cary and Morison. Analysis is particularly welcome when it touches on verses that are seldom considered by others.

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  • Wayne, Don E. Penshurst, The Semiotics of Place and the Poetics of History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

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    This dazzling study examines how Jonson’s “To Penshurst” relates to the estate itself and to the Sidney family that owned it, showing how Jonson uses the house and its maintenance to explore social, moral, intellectual, and psychological issues. Combining literary and architectural disciplines, and blending historical and formalist approaches, Wayne details the tensions in Jonson’s relation to history: Penshurst signifies both an ancient order and something new.

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Christopher Marlowe

Although his early translation of Ovid’s Amores can seem wooden and inaccurate in places, Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is the period’s greatest mythological narrative, in a field that includes Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Its blend of heterosexual and homoerotic love is particularly fascinating. His translation of the first book of Lucan’s republican Pharsalia (Cheney 2009) has also been admired for its provocative choice of subject. These three works and his “Come live with me and be my love,” a lovely improvisation on Catullus’s “Vivamus, mea Lesbia” and Virgil’s second eclogue, are enough to guarantee his place among the most gifted poets of the English Renaissance. All Marlowe’s poems can be found in Orgel 1979. Riggs 2004 examines his life, and Cheney 2004 explores his works. Greg 1944 probes unsolved mysteries concerning the publication of Hero and Leander in 1598, and Martz 1972 reproduces its first edition. Logan 2007 wrestles with Marlowe’s effect on Shakespeare but speculates that their narrative poems did not affect each other. His verse is available online at Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature, Christopher Marlowe and The Perseus Collection: The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe.

John Milton

On the strength of Lycidas, his great pastoral elegy, and Paradise Lost, Milton (b. 1608–d. 1674) is the 17th-century equivalent to Edmund Spenser: a writer of vast poetic ambition who took the epic challenge. Barker 1965 and McDowell and Smith 2009 bring the entire canon into view with superb collections of essays. Thorpe 1969 unravels the long critical tradition, augmented by Barker 1965, Patrides 1967, and Kranidas 1971. Fish 1971, more specifically, brings the poetry of Paradise Lost alive by paying close attention to its verbal texture, while posing the poem as a kind of test of its readers’ ability to understand moral law. King 2000 positions Milton’s poem in relation to the period’s central theological debates, while Reisner 2009 cites Milton’s encounter with the unspeakable, and Herman and Sauer 2012 encourages a decentering of his poetics.

  • Barker, Arthur E. Milton: Modern Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

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    The thirty-two essays in Barker’s collection by such major scholars as John Hollander, Douglas Bush, C. S. Lewis, Helen Gardner, Arnold Stein, George Williamson, Merritt Hughes, and Northrop Frye, cover the Milton canon. Gardner’s essay, for example, reminds us of how porous the boundaries between nondramatic and dramatic poetry can be in “Milton’s ‘Satan’ and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy” (pp. 205–217).

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  • Fish, Stanley E. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

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    A riveting exercise in “reader response” criticism, Fish’s book argues that Milton leads us to make certain errors in interpretation as we struggle to understand his meaning and that these errors are then corrected as we come to a fuller comprehension of God’s and Milton’s plan. Reading recapitulates “the fortunate fall,” through which sin is redeemed through grace. The poet educates his readers to progress from “mazie error” to salvation.

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  • Herman, Peter, and Elizabeth Sauer. The New Milton Criticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139094238Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This collection of essays by twelve prominent critics emphasizes ambivalence and discontinuity in Milton’s work, his open-ended consideration of perplexing theological and philosophical questions.

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  • The John Milton Reading Room.

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    Accurate searchable texts of Milton’s work can be found on this website, which also features a bibliography of contemporary scholarship about the poet, his work, and his world, from 1987–2011.

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  • King, John N. Milton and Religious Controversy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Those who set Paradise Lost in a literary tradition that moves relentlessly from Spenser’s Faerie Queen to Wordswoth’s Prelude, as the long poem in English shook off Christian allegory before becoming a mode of solitary self-reflection, will be surprised by the religio-historical context for Milton’s poem that King reveals. Most critics ignore its polemical character as a protest against clericalism. King calls on his expert knowledge of vitriolic sermons, broadsides, and pamphlets to clarify its relation to the Civil Wars, Commonwealth, and Restoration.

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  • Kranidas, Thomas, ed. New Essays on Paradise Lost. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

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    This is another volume of criticism showing the strength of Milton studies in the second half of the 20th century that exposes Eliot’s denigration of Milton as a mere passing episode. Arnold Stein, Stanley Fish, John Shawcross, Harold Toliver, Barbara K. Lewalski, Isabel McCaffrey and others explore Milton’s epic in terms of form, style, genre, conception of innocence and experience, the falls of Adam and Eve, and the Apocalypse. This is the right collection for readers who want to have their imaginations sparked by brilliant defenses of Paradise Lost as an intricate literary masterpiece.

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  • McDowell, Nicholas, and Nigel Smith, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Milton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    This handbook includes a cogent set of essays on the “Shorter Poems” as well as Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Lycidas. It prompts readers to see the poetic works in a wider historical and literary context.

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  • Patrides, C. A., ed. Milton’s Epic Poetry: Essays on Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1967.

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    T. S. Eliot’s upgrading of Donne’s poetry was paralleled by his downgrading of Milton, as less agile, void of the energy that united thought and feeling in Donne. In the mid-20th century Miltonists answered Eliot’s criticism by revealing the complexity of his epic vision and giving Paradise Regained the full attention it deserved. The result can be seen in this collection of sixteen essays. The section on Paradise Regained, with selections by Northrop Frye, Barbara K. Lewalski, and Louis L. Martz is particularly strong. The book has extensive bibliographies.

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  • Reisner, Naom. Milton and the Ineffable. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572625.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study focuses on Milton’s attempt to express what cannot be put into words in his poetry. It describes how the ineffable acts as a spur and check to Milton’s poetic creativity.

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  • Thorpe, James, ed. Milton Criticism, Selections from Four Centuries. New York: Collier, 1969.

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    This omnivorous one-volume survey of Milton covers thirty-two reactions by prominent critics to all aspects of his project, from faith to style. Thorpe’s extracts, running from Andrew Marvell to T. S. Eliot, offer both incisive commentaries on Milton’s poetry by some of the tradition’s finest critics and scholars and a means of tracing the vicissitudes of his posthumous reputation. Thorpe’s introduction sets the context.

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William Shakespeare

Aside from his drama, which is written in verse and in prose with verse insets, Shakespeare published two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594). He also contributed a sixty-seven-line elegy, often called “The Phoenix and Turtle,” to an assortment of poems by Robert Chester called Love’s Martyr (1601) and witnessed the publication of his Sonnets with the possibly spurious “A Lover’s Complaint” (1609). It is usually assumed that he wrote the short inscription in Trinity Church, where he is buried, warning passers-by not to move his bones. Three works attributed to him in the 20th century (“Funeral Elegy,” “Shall I Die, Shall I Fly,” and “To the Queen”) have, by consensus, been rejected. Dubrow 1987 and Belsey 1995 bring out the complexities of the narrative poems, and Bednarz 2012 emphasizes the significance of “The Phoenix and Turtle” as a lyric masterpiece written at the height of Shakespeare’s career. Booth 1977, Fineman 1986, and Vendler 1997 deliberate on the intricacies of the sonnets and help define their place in early modern literature. Cheney 2007 views Shakespeare’s poetry in its broader engagement with drama and print. Post 2013 has the widest coverage. Vickers 2007, however, seeks to eliminate A Lover’s Complaint from the canon.

  • Bednarz, James P. Shakespeare and the Truth of Love: The Mystery of “The Phoenix and Turtle.” Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230393325Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    After enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the 1920s, Shakespeare’s untitled sixty-seven-line elegy, usually called “The Phoenix and Turtle,” has fallen into neglect. This book accounts for its publication in 1601 in Love’s Martyr, defines the terms of its paradoxical poetics, notes the shortcomings of the historical allegories that have been applied to it, and assesses its place in the development of metaphysical poetry.

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  • Belsey, Catherine. “Love as Trompe-l’oeil: Taxonomies of Desire in Venus and Adonis.” Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (1995): 257–276.

    DOI: 10.2307/2871118Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Belsey demonstrates how the poem’s shifting perspectives on love and lust prohibit a fixed understanding of Shakespeare’s paradoxes. In Belsey’s reading Venus is the subjective condition of desire in all its multiplicity, vacillating between opposing conceptualizations of what love means.

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  • Booth, Steven. Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Edited with Analytic Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977.

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    Booth’s edition of the Sonnets is a good complement to Vendler 1997, offering minutely specific readings of words and phrases that occasionally have multiple meanings. Booth teases out every conceivable interpretation of the language he scrutinizes, and though this can prove frustrating at times, it can also help confirm or undermine your readings by suggesting plausible lines of approach. This volume encourages a richer comprehension of the multiple meanings of these poems.

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  • Cheney, Patrick, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521846277Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This fine volume of essays emphasizes the permeability of “poetry” and “drama” in early modern culture, when literature was still classified as “poetry” and imaginative writers were called “poets.” Key chapters on Shakespeare’s poems are augmented by essays on such topics as “Shakespeare and the Development of English Poetry,” “Print and Manuscript,” “Poetry, Politics, and Religion,” “Love, Beauty, and Sexuality,” “Shakespeare and Classicism,” and “Poetry in Shakespeare’s Plays.”

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  • Dubrow, Heather. Captive Victors: Shakespeare’s Narrative Poems and Sonnets. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987.

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    Synthesizing studies of Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and the Sonnets, Dubrow concentrates on Shakespeare’s mastery of rhetoric to depict complex psychological states in commentary attuned to the power of language.

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  • Duffin, Ross W. Shakespeare’s Songbook. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

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    These 160 songs, comprising ballads, narratives, drinking songs, love songs, and rounds are either included in his work or alluded to by Shakespeare. Lyrics with settings are accompanied by an informative and entertaining commentary. A companion audio CD is included.

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  • Fineman, Joel. Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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    Densely written, Fineman’s book argues that Shakespeare introduced a radical poetic subjectivity into the English tradition by treating poetic voice as a construct that creates and annulls value. For Fineman the sonnets’ shift of attention from the young man to the dark lady allows for an interrogation of the process of creating and negating the value of desire’s object. Harold Bloom, in effect, applied the same thesis to the drama in Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human. The claim that Shakespeare invented subjectivity is overblown, but it isolates a provocative feature of the Sonnets.

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  • Post, Jonathan, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare’s Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199607747.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The thirty-eight chapters of this impressive handbook engage a wide range of topics and deploy varied approaches in explicating Shakespeare’s dramatic and nondramatic verse. Sources and influences are also amply considered.

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  • Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    Engaged in the close reading of each of the sonnets, Vendler, more than any other critic, makes one aware of the intricate artistry that underlies their emotional expression. Whether calling attention to thematic groupings, structural patterning, temporal scheme, metrical effect, or key words, Vendler’s intense attention to what is written can deepen our appreciation of the techniques that contribute to these sonnets’ emotional impact.

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  • Vickers, Brian. Shakespeare, A Lover’s Complaint, and John Davies of Hereford. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    A Lover’s Complaint was originally published with the Sonnets in Thomas Thorpe’s first edition (1609). But some find good reason to believe that Shakespeare did not write it, granted its excessive alliteration, wooden metrical cadences, infelicitous inversions of word order, and inordinately Spenserian style. Vickers might not be able to prove that John Davies of Hereford wrote the poem, but he makes a strong case for rejecting it for being so unlike what we expect in a text by Shakespeare. One anticipates that this debate will continue, led by stylometric analysis associating it with Shakespeare’s linguistic choices.

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Sir Philip Sidney

Although he died at the age of thirty-two from a wound sustained in battle, Sidney (b. 1554–d. 1586) managed not only to write an epic prose romance, the Arcadia, laced with poetry, but also Astrophil and Stella, which was one of the most important Elizabethan sonnet sequences, and the important literary treatise An Apology for Poetry (see Sidney 1973). Sidney was a talented poet who even played with reviving classical quantitative verse and translating Psalms 1–43. His poems express a touching combination of unrequited desire, rebellious self-assertion, and remorse. His trochaic tetrameter verses, for instance, show a supple beauty of phrasing and image rarely encountered in the medium outside of Shakespeare. Buxton 1964 and Duncan-Jones 1991 place him in his social and biographical contexts. Kinney 1988 indicates the scope of his achievement. Kalstone 1965 minutely examines his verse, and Fumerton 1991 positions it in material culture. The Sidney Homepage should be consulted for the most up-to-date criticism.

  • Buxton, John. Sir Philip Sidney and the English Renaissance. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 1964.

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    Buxton sets out to define the significance of the Sidney literary circle for English poetry from the late 1570s to 1630. His chapter “Experiments for a New Poetry” (pp. 95–132) pays close attention to the textual sociability that linked Sidney with his sister Mary, the Countess of Pembroke; Fulke Greville; Edmund Spenser; Edward Dyer; Abraham Fraunce; and Samuel Daniel. The notion of a “Sidney circle” has, however, fallen out of favor in contemporary criticism.

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  • Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

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    Following the posthumous publication of Arcadia, Astrophil and Stella, and the Apology for Poetry, Sidney became legendary as a model of the perfect courtier poet. Yet his life was overshadowed by disappointment and failure. Duncan-Jones reveals the facts behind his writing.

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  • Fumerton, Patricia. Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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    Cultural studies of English Renaissance poetry often challenge us to consider the social systems of which literature is a single component. Using an interdisciplinary approach to her subject in chapter 3, “Secret Arts: Elizabethan Miniatures and Sonnets” (pp. 67–110), Fummerton shows how an art of secrecy unites the trade in portrait miniatures with the art of the sonnet, especially as practiced by Sidney in Astrophil and Stella.

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  • Kalstone, David. Sidney’s Poetry: Contexts and Interpretations. New York: W. W. Norton, 1965.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674493940Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An indispensable book on Sidney’s poetry, it treats both the pastoral verse of the Arcadia and the sonnets of Astrophil and Stella. Sidney’s sequence initiated the craze for the sonnet genre that would culminate in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and Kalstone shows how Sidney had a dual relation to Continental Europe and England. Astrophil and Stella was a late example of the sonnet sequence tradition that had been practiced for centuries in Italy and had long flourished in France; however, England had not felt the same enthusiasm for the genre until Sidney’s genius for appropriation and parody of its literary excesses delighted readers.

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  • Kinney, Arthur, ed. Sidney in Retrospect: Selections from English Literary Renaissance. Amherst, MA: University of Amherst Press, 1988.

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    These essays are divided into four parts: “Life and Letter,” “Sidney’s Theory of Poetry,” “Sidney’s Lyrics,” and “Sidney’s Arcadia.” Each addresses issues pertinent to his poetry, but O. B. Hardison’s essay “The Two Voices of Sidney’s Apology for Poetry” stands out for its ability to trace both Sidney’s romantic desire for freedom in literature and his debt to 16th-century Italian neoclassical theory.

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  • Parker, Tom W. N. Proportional Form in the Sonnets of the Sidney Circle: Loving in Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198184430.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence is governed by a complex set of proportions that are imitated in the sequences of his brother Robert and his friend Fulke Greville. The poetry of Giordano Bruno, Mary Wroth, Henry Constable, Barnabe Barnes, and Michael Drayton is also examined.

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  • Ringler, William, ed. The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.

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    This standard edition of Sidney’s poetry is the result of Ringler’s careful examination of over a hundred manuscripts and early printed texts.

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  • Sidney, Sir Philip. An Apology for Poetry. Edited by Geoffrey Shepherd. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1973.

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    No reading of his poetry is complete without Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, the first great work of English literary criticism. Here, Sidney justifies “poetry,” which he defines as imaginative literature, and comments on its genres and practice. Although often cited for its condemnation of popular drama, it helps readers understand the contradictory way in which this sometimes paradoxical treatise perceives the role of a “poet.” Shepherd’s astute introduction and extensive notes add depth.

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  • The Sidney Homepage.

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    This webpage contains links to the Sidney Journal as well as a good bibliography relating to the poet and his times. It also contains links to other valuable online resources, including biographies of the Countess of Pembroke and Mary Wroth and selections of their writing.

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  • Stillman, Robert E. Sir Philip Sidney and the Poetics of Renaissance Cosmopolitanism. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.

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    Stillman attempts to reconstruct Sidney’s hermeneutic principals in order to reveal how these principals shaped his sense of poetry’s significance as a powerful form of knowledge in the public domain.

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Edmund Spenser

One of the most ambitious poets of the Elizabethan period, Spenser (b. 1552–d. 1599) wrote the great national epic The Faerie Queene in two installments in 1590 and 1596, completing only six of its proposed twenty-four books. He launched his career with The Shepheardes Calender (1579), a collection of pastoral poems. He is also known as the author of The Amoretti and Epithalamion as well as Four Hymns and various complaints and satire. Hamilton 1990 helps address all questions about him and his work, and Spenser Online keeps scholars apprised of the latest insights into his work. Hadfield 2012 reveals the interplay of his life and works, while Williams 1966 and Evans 1970 confront the meaning of The Faerie Queene. Lewis 1936 places it in the European context of an “allegory of love.” Fletcher 1964, furthermore, tries to uncover the “symbolic mode” underlying Spenser’s allegory, and Guillory 1983 (cited under Poet, Patronage, and Politics) poses questions concerning the kind of “poetic authority” Spenser and Milton assume. Until the new Variorum Spenser appears, Osgood and Padelford 1932–1949 must suffice. Judicious text selection and helpful commentary make Prescott and Hadfield 2013 the best one-volume edition.

  • Evans, Maurice. Spenser’s Anatomy of Heroism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

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    Positing the unification of opposites as the basis of Spenser’s poetics, Evans outlines the main epic actions and themes that shape Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

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  • Fletcher, Angus. Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1964.

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    What is the system of symbolic thought that can be found in the deep structure of The Faerie Queene? Fletcher’s book is a probing attempt to discover the model of allegorical thought that conditions the poem’s creation and reception as a “symbolic act.”

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  • Hadfield, Andrew. Edmund Spenser, A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    An exciting event in early-21st-century Spenser scholarship has been the publication of what should be the standard biography of the poet for years to come. Finally, we have an account to replace Alexander Judson’s outdated sketch in the old Variorum Spenser.

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  • Hamilton, A. C., ed. The Spenser Encyclopedia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

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    This impressive compilation of research about the life, work, and times of Edmund Spenser is unquestionably the most important research tool that a reader can consult in understanding the poet.

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  • Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love. London: Oxford University Press, 1936.

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    Fascinated by the medieval fusion of “courtly love” and “allegory,” Lewis read The Faerie Queene as a paean to married love that rejected the romance of adultery endemic to some of his sources. Modern criticism of the poem begins with this study.

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  • Osgood, Charles, and Frederick Padelford. Edmund Spenser: Works. A Variorum Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932–1949.

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    Some of the criticism might seem dated, but there is still much historical background to be gleaned from this massive edition. The citation of sources is particularly good and can serve as the basis for a more sophisticated approach to Spenser’s artistry.

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  • Prescott, Anne Lake, and Andrew D. Hadfield, eds. Edmund Spenser’s Poetry. Norton Critical Edition. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013.

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    Filling out this engaging anthology are Books 1 and 3 of The Faerie Queene and a generous assortment of other verse from that poem and Spenser’s other masterpieces. There are also some newly added major essays on his poetry and a lengthy bibliography of criticism.

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  • Spenser Online.

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    With links to Spenser Review, Spenser Studies, and a bibliography, this is a key website for learning more about “the prince of poets.”

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  • Williams, Kathleen. Spenser’s World of Glass: A Reading of The Faerie Queene. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

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    Relatively forgotten by current scholars, Williams’s study is a discussion of Spenserian poetics that suggests the unifying dynamic behind the poet’s epic clashes with his desire to be comprehensive. The result is a fractured multiplicity.

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Poet, Patronage, and Politics

How did English Renaissance poets conceive of what they were doing? What did they take as their role and status in society? Why did some poets spurn print for what Harold Love calls manuscript “publication”? How did they create modes of self-presentation to articulate their constructed identities to audiences? These questions, first made compelling by Helgerson 1983 and Guillory 1983, are central to “authorship studies,” more recently exemplified by Meyer-Lee 2009, which examine both the actual positions poets occupied in Renaissance culture, the arcs of their careers, and the fictions they deployed to represent themselves in addresses to the patrons and readers they hoped to affect. So that while Fraser 1970 documents poetry’s disparagement by some in the period, Goldberg 1989, Norbrook 2002, and McCoy 2002 illustrate its political effectiveness. To understand what Elizabethan readers expected from the best verse, one should consult George Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie (see Whigham and Rebhorn 2007 cited under Reference Works) and Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry (see Sidney 1973, cited under Sir Philip Sidney). Puttenham attends to the minutiae of poetic affect through conceptual and decorative arrangements of words that functioned both visually and acoustically. Sidney affirms the high aspirations true poets had as moral educators. Javitch 1978, a pioneering work in the sociology of lyric poetry, demonstrated that poetic rhetorical strategies had a political valence as modes of self-presentation. Since then scholars have traced the relation between poetry and national concerns: among the best of these works is Norbrook 2002. In the early 21st century what seem to be private moments of love in Renaissance lyrics are sometimes read as encoded political statements articulating a suitor’s hopes and desires for advancement. Indeed, the importance of patronage in Renaissance culture made the intertwining of politics and poetry inevitable, even among great poets who see themselves as independent educators rather than unctuous sycophants. These issues are compounded by a new overriding nationalism, a desire to “write the nation” in numerous poetic forms.

  • Fraser, Russell. The War against Poetry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.

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    Imaginative, although not religious, poetry was under constant attack during the 16th and 17th centuries in England, and Fraser’s study considers the classical, Christian, social, and economic reasons for its threatened status as a trivial lie that diverted attention from more important pursuits that would not turn the mind from truth.

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  • Goldberg, Jonathan. James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and their Contemporaries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.

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    From James I’s early desire to punish Spenser for condemning Mary, Queen of Scots, in The Faerie Queene of 1596, to the end of his reign in 1625, the monarch’s conception of himself as an absolute sovereign influenced the way he was represented by his subjects, such as Jonson. Although biased by its authoritarian model, Goldberg’s New Historicist approach captures the subtle interplay of political and literary power in the early 17th century.

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  • Guillory, John. Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

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    How did Spenser and Milton justify their role as poets? On what basis did they claim “poetic authority” for their vocation? This book helped initiate the field of early modern “authorship” studies by examining the principals of self-justification embedded in the two most important “vatic” (that is, “prophetic”) voices of secular and religious inspiration in the English Renaissance.

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  • Hannay, Margaret P. Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    Hannay’s definitive biography uncovers new facts about the niece of Mary Sidney Herbert, the countess of Pembroke, who was a talented writer. This is the first full biography of Lady Wroth, and Hannay emphasizes the connection between her life and literary work.

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  • Helgerson, Richard. Self-Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton, and the Literary System. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

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    In this influential examination of poetic self-presentation in the work of Spenser, Jonson, and Milton, Helgerson analyzes the artistic strategies these three major writers used to project themselves as “laureates” who saw their work as a vocation, not merely a profession.

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  • Javitch, Daniel. Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

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    Finding analogies between rhetorical strategies advocated in Renaissance literary theory about the writing of poetry and those advanced by the authors of courtesy books intended to educate young men on how to act, Javitch makes poetry a mode of self-advancement for those hoping to succeed at court.

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  • McCoy, Richard C. Alterations of State: Sacred Kingship in the English Reformation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Paying close attention to political philosophy, McCoy establishes key moments in literature, the visual arts, and architecture when the idea of sacred kingship was subjected to intense reflection and debate. The book covers Skelton’s paradoxical defense of monarchy, Shakespeare’s and Marvell’s ambivalence, and Milton’s rejection of the idea. Its analysis is a compelling fusion of literature and politics in scholarship.

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  • Meyer-Lee, Robert J. Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    John Dryden was appointed to be the first poet laureate in 1660, but long before then poets began to claim a “laureate” dignity for themselves. In answer to Helgerson 1983, which treats Spenser as a laureate poet, Meyer-Lee convincingly shows how that role was already assumed by poets in the 14th century, establishing a tradition inherited by the poets of the early 16th century.

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  • Norbrook, David. Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199247189.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    If you read only one book on the connection between English Renaissance politics and fiction, it should be Norbrook’s synoptic account of the place Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost occupy in a tradition of visionary intervention in political affairs. Norbrook shows how not only Spenser and Milton but also Sidney, Greville, and Jonson raised oppositional voices when necessary in defense of a humanist ideal.

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  • Walker, Greg. John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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    Walker seeks to situate Skelton’s poetry firmly within the political and social events of his time. Its central chapter is on “Speke Parott” and “Why Come Ye Nat to Courte?” The author especially concentrates on Skelton’s attitude toward Cardinal Wolsey.

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Poetry, Gender, and Sexuality

One of the most popular themes of Renaissance poetry is “love,” which was imagined both philosophically and pragmatically by poets who expressed a wide range of appetites and called for varying degrees of restraint in the name of moral law. Feminist scholarship such as Kahn 1981, Berry 1989, Brink 1993, Henderson 1995, and Bell 2010 has called attention to the implicit patterns of sexual preference and identity encoded in Renaissance poetics, finding in its workings both a confirmation and a contestation of patriarchy. Gay studies, such as Borris and Klawitter 2001, have found homosocial and homosexual concerns endemic to early modern culture. And a recent interest in paternity, exemplified by MacFaul 2010, explores the period’s frequent doubling of writing with conception. Issues of sexual identity are particularly heated in discussion of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, but they affect much of the period’s other poetry as well, where traces of misogyny and affirmations of male superiority are tempered by ideals of equality and mutuality.

  • Bell, Ilona. Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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    In an expression of cultural poetics and cultural materialism, Bell examines how lyric form and social custom combine in the practice of “courtship.” Bell discovers new ways of conceiving of poetry as not only representing amorous acts but also showing courtship’s transactions. Early modern poetry, in Bell’s analysis, was a means to work out real problems in imaginary forms and to create a dialogue between male and female voices.

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  • Berry, Philippa. Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen. London: Routledge, 1989.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203359273Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Elizabeth, an unmarried queen, shaped literature addressed to her, especially poetry by her male courtiers, in significant ways. In her powerful readings of the work of Lyly, Ralegh, Chapman, Shakespeare, and Spenser, Berry shows how these texts shifted the dominant masculine focus of political discourse and challenged key doctrines defining the nature of women. Her concluding chapter shows how the cult of the chaste Elizabeth inspired not only The Faerie Queene but also some of the age’s best poetry.

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  • Borris, Kenneth, and George Klawitter, eds. The Affectionate Shepherd: Celebrating Richard Barnfield. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2001.

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    One of the most openly homoerotic poets of the 16th century, Barnfield’s relatively neglected story makes engrossing reading in this comprehensive set of essays that discusses his literary connections and place in the secondary rank of English Renaissance writers. As this volume proves, Barnfield’s admiration and imitation of Shakespeare, along with his amatory same-sex pastoral verse, are only part of his growing appeal for scholars.

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  • Brink, Jean R., ed. Privileging Gender in Early Modern England. Sixteenth-Century Essays and Studies. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth-Century Journal Publishers, 1993.

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    Feminist critics have diligently searched the archives for marginalized or unjustly neglected female voices. Among the essays in this wide-ranging collection on the issue of gender in texts written by and about early modern women, is a discussion of Mary Sidney Herbert’s and Anne Lok’s involvement with the psalms (pp. 19–36) as well as Elizabeth Tanfield Cary’s Tragedie of Mariam (pp. 141–73).

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  • Henderson, Diana E. Passion Made Public: Elizabethan Lyric, Gender, and Performance. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

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    The focus of this book is the impact on dramatic verse of the lyric’s refinement in the 1580s and 1590s. One of its concerns is how critical distinctions between high and low lyric became centered on whether or not women were an adequate object of praise, making issues of gender central to literary theory. Her three main chapters on George Peele, Marlowe, and Shakespeare show how this preoccupation of 16th-century lyric poets moved from page to stage.

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  • Kahn, Coppélia. Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

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    A pioneering work in early modern gender studies, Kahn’s book explores Shakespeare’s interest in the difficulty of achieving an ideal masculine identity in a patriarchal society. How did he imagine men grew up? Kahn combines feminist and psychoanalytic theory for a particularly insightful reading in chapter 2 of “Self and Eros in Venus and Adonis.” Her book, however, is mainly about Shakespeare’s drama.

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  • MacFaul, Tom. Poetry and Paternity in Renaissance England: Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Jonson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511761089Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    MacFaul explores the analogy between children and poetry in the major poets of the English Renaissance, noting how their involvement with these twinned themes touches some of their most profound notions of selfhood. The idea of paternity they generated, he argues, was at once essential to their ability to create a sense of social order and poetic authority.

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  • Travitsky, Betty S., and Anne Lake Prescott, eds. Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: An Anthology of Renaissance Writing. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

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    Divided into sections on “Domestic Affairs,” “Religion,” “Political Life and Social Structures,” and “Love and Sexuality,” this book consists of numerous passages of poetry that dramatize the convergences and differences between men and women on key existential issues. The heterogeneous “voices” that Travitsky and Prescott revive bring the age to life.

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Poetry and Science

The impact of the scientific revolution on English Renaissance poetry, such as shown in Nicolson 1960, had until recently lost much of its fascination for literary scholars, primarily because of a turn toward politics and history. It seemed for a while that literary scholars were no longer interested in the impact of the “New Philosophy” on the period’s imagination. But Rogers 1996, Cummins and Burchell 2007, and Spiller 2007 prove how that has changed. One difference has been a shift in the field’s center from cosmology to natural science (Edwards 1999) and physiology (Schoenfeldt 1999).

  • Cummins, Juliet, and David Burchell, eds. Science, Literature, and Rhetoric in Early Modern England. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

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    Essays on the notion of utility in Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, scientific method in Paradise Lost, and Margaret Cavendish’s connection to the Royal Society distinguish this collection.

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  • Edwards, Karen. Milton and the Natural World: Science and Poetry in Paradise Lost. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Against the grain, Edwards maintains that it is incorrect to assume that Milton was primarily interested in the “old” science of his day and not in the “new philosophy” lamented by Donne in his Anniversary poems. Part 1 deals with animals and Part 2 with plants.

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  • Nicolson, Marjorie H. The Breaking of the Circle: Studies in the Effect of the “New Science” upon Seventeenth Century Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.

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    Nicholson maintains that the scientific revolution of the 16th century, especially Copernican astronomy that negated Ptolomey’s geocentric cosmology, while being welcomed by some, contributed to a sense of psychological fragmentation visible in Renaissance poetry.

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  • Rogers, John. The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry and Politics in the Age of Milton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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    Andrew Marvell, John Milton, and Margaret Cavendish are at the center of this study of the alliance between science and politics in 17th-century England during the Civil Wars, Interregnum, and early Stuart restoration.

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  • Schoenfeldt, Michael. Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Examining the influence of Galenic humor theory on English Renaissance literature, Schoenfeldt shows that Jonson was not alone in using humoral theory (which unites psychology and physiology) to express human subjectivity, and that if Jonson’s application of Galen seems facile, the depiction of psychological states in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Herbert’s The Temple, and Milton’s Paradise Lost show a complex understanding of Galenic medical categories.

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  • Spiller, Elizabeth. Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature: The Art of Making Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Although we usually separate science from literature, as fact from fiction, Spiller shows how in the early modern period the two were often related. Chapters pair Sidney with William Gilbert, Spenser, and William Harvey, and Margaret Cavendish with Thomas Hobbes and Robert Hooke.

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Poetry and Religion

Moving devotional poetry was written throughout the English Renaissance. In the 16th century the two came together, as Targoff 2001 illustrates, in the Protestant liturgy, and Hamlin 2004 shows how Psalms played a vital role even in secular culture. The 17th century saw some of England’s best religious poets, in a movement Lewalski 1984 and Clements 1990 help explain. More recently, Murray 2009 has examined the moments of conversion in this verse, and Joad 2010 has explored the period’s sometimes bizarre conceptions of angelic power. Marotti 2005 foregrounds factional divisions between Protestants and Catholics, and McDonald 1967 presents the verse of the martyred Robert Southwell. DiCesare 1978 (cited under 17th-century Verse) presents a balanced approach through an excellent collection of devotional lyrics followed by modern critical essays.

  • Clements, Arthur L. The Poetry of Contemplation: John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan. New York: State of New York University Press, 1990.

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    Clements grounds his reading of these three poets in the Christian mystic tradition, knowledge of which, he argues, is a necessary prerequisite for an adequate comprehension of their religious poetry. He concludes by making a case for the insight such poetry affords modern readers.

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  • Hamlin, Hannibal. Psalm Culture in Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    This book considers the impact that the biblical Psalms, then in large part attributed to King David, had on 16th- and 17th-century English literature. It surveys Sternhold and Hopkins’s translation as well as musical settings of the psalms and their use in polemical poetry. Treatments of Shakespeare and Milton are included in passing.

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  • Joad, Raymond. Milton’s Angels: The Early-Modern Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199560509.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This comprehensive study describes how angels, who were often connected with occult knowledge, were defined in the period and how what one might call “angelology” left a strong impression on the author of Paradise Lost and his culture.

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  • Lewalski, Barbara. Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

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    Lewalski reconfigures the way in which much 17th-century English religious poetry can be read as the expression of a broad Protestant consensus that unites Anglican and Puritan factions. Her account has been criticized for not understanding the more radical tradition, represented by poets such as Thomas Traherne, and the range of religious alternatives in the period.

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  • Marotti, Arthur. Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2005.

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    How did Catholics depict themselves and how were they characterized by Protestants in Post-Reformation England? Marotti’s study is a harrowing account of the period’s bitter conflicts of faith, as religion and politics shaped a sense of national identity.

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  • Martz, Louis L. John Donne in Meditation: The Anniversaries. Yale Studies in English. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970.

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    Martz’s study of the structure of the Anniversary poems shows what an agile formalist can do to elucidate a work’s architecture in terms of its message. The three-part sequence of meditation, eulogy, and refrain that Martz reveals to be the key to reading the five main sections of “The Anatomy of the World” is just one revelation in this influential book.

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  • McDonald, James H., ed. The Poems of Robert Southwell. Oxford: Clarendon, 1967.

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    The poetry of the Catholic martyr, who was executed in 1595, is carefully edited in this standard edition. Southwell is known for devotional verse that characteristically expresses his dedication to Christ and the Virgin Mary in precise language with pleasing rhythms.

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  • Murray, Molly. The Poetics of Conversion in Early Modern English Literature: Verse and Change from Donne to Dryden. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511770562Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In what Murray sees as a culture of conversion, some early modern Christians moved across sectarian boundaries to discover what they found to be previously unsuspected truths. Murray focuses on William Alabaster, John Donne, Richard Crashaw, and John Dryden, showing how their conversions fit within the controversial theological struggles of their time. Poetry expressed their dilemma and recorded their decisions for readers who shared their concern with finding religious truth.

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  • Targoff, Ramie. Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

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    Exploring the connection between prayer and poetry, Targoff challenges the too common division between a Catholicism devoted to ritual and a Protestant interiority. Focusing on the Church of England’s, she shows how Sidney, Donne, and Herbert were explicitly engaged with issues of public worship.

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Classical Influences

The dominance of classical Latin literature in the early modern educational system, as Bate 1994 points out, helped make Roman Augustan verse almost second nature to the educated. Allusions to and imitations of classical works, as Bush 1932, Braden 1978, and Rivers 1994 explain, deepen a poem’s meaning. Some poets, such as Spenser and Milton, used mythological dictionaries to help them. Lyne 2001 demonstrates that Ovid was by far the period’s most popular classical poet, although Stapleton 1996 suggests that Marlowe’s translation of the risqué Amores made defending Ovid harder, even if Spenser was able to correlate his influence with Virgil’s. The availability of such classical models as Horace, however (see Moul 2010), along with Juvenal and Martial, significantly complicated Ovidianism, especially by subjecting it to satiric scorn as a symptom of moral decay. The revival of formal Latin satire brought a more acerbic tone to the lyric, which became more terse and self-conscious. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the age’s devotion to Ovid, however, is Milton’s Paradise Lost (Bush 1932), which deploys biblical allegory to expose and transcend classical myths of human experience.

  • Bate, Jonathan. Shakespeare and Ovid. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198183242.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bate shows why Ovid, more than any other writer, ancient or contemporary, was Shakespeare’s favorite poet. From establishing the educational context in which Shakespeare would have read the Metamorphoses in Latin, to showing the many imitations of it and the Amores and Heroides in his work, this is a masterpiece of literary criticism.

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  • Braden, Gordon. The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry: Three Case Studies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978.

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    Golding’s translation of the Metamorphoses, Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, and Herrick’s lyric poetry in Hesperides reveal a greater depth of meaning when viewed as strategic transformations, which lay open the relation of the English Renaissance to its classical past.

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  • Bush, Douglas. Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition. 5th ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1932.

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    This classic study moves from the early Tudors and Spenser to Milton as it illustrates the importance of Greek and Roman mythology for the development of early modern poetry. As a documentation of where major English Renaissance poets found their classical mythology, there is no better overview.

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  • Lyne, Raphael. Ovid’s Changing Worlds: English Metamorphoses, 1567–1632. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198187042.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tracing the metamorphosis of English imitations of Ovid between Arthur Golding’s and Arthur Sandys’s translations of the Metamorphoses in 1567 and 1632, Lyne analyzes the Latin poet’s effect on Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Drayton’s Poly-Olbion. He thinks of Spenser’s epic as being shaped primarily by Virgil’s Aeneid, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with an especially important Ovidian dialectical dimension in their complex interplay. The poem is especially noteworthy for creating meaning out of a Virgilian-Ovidian dialectic.

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  • Moul, Victoria. Jonson, Horace, and the Classical Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511711978Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One has to admire the meticulous attention to intertextuality in Moul’s demonstration of how much Horace meant to Jonson, whose own literary and social commentary recurrently follows the writer who was the single most important influence on his nondramatic verse.

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  • Rivers, Isabel. Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry: A Student’s Guide. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 1994.

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    Rivers presents intellectual areas she thinks necessary for an adequate grasp of Renaissance poetry. But her synopses of major fields, such as “The Golden Age and the Garden of Eden,” “The Pagan Gods,” “Platonism and Neoplatonism,” “Stoicism,” “Cosmology,” “Protestant Theology,” and “Theories of Poetry” characteristically operate at too great a distance from literature itself.

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  • Stapleton, M. L. Harmful Eloquence: Ovid’s Amores from Antiquity to Shakespeare. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

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    In Stapleton’s account of the influence of the Amores on Western literature, Marlowe’s translation directly influenced Shakespeare’s composition of the “dark lady” sonnets (pp. 127–154) by stimulating him to emulation. Marlowe’s Ovidian paradigm challenged Shakespeare’s Petrarchan poetics by introducing him to a different conception of lust and eloquence.

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Continental Influences

English lyric and epic poetry drew on contemporary European works that exist in a kind of dialogue with them. The influence of Petrarch’s Canzonieri that Braden 1999, Kennedy 2004, and Boswell and Braden 2012 illustrate is so overwhelming that we risk ignoring other major sources of inspiration. Ariosto and Tasso similarly influenced Spenser’s Faerie Queene, as Treip 1994 indicates. Lee 1910, Prescott 1978, and Melehy 2010, however, are right to insist on the underemphasized influence of contemporary French poetry, especially that of Clément Marot, Pierre de Ronsard, and Joachim du Bellay. Kennedy 1968, furthermore, proves the strong impact of the Spanish poet Jorge de Montemayor on Sidney’s verse.

  • Boswell, Jackson Campbell, and Gordon McMurry Braden, eds. Petrarch’s English Laurels, 1475–1700: A Compendium of Printed References and Allusions. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    Petrarch’s influence on the development of English poetry has never been recorded in such meticulous detail as in this record, year by year, of citations, allusions, and translations. Full quotations of the relevant passages are supplemented by introductions and bibliographical information.

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  • Braden, Gordon. Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

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    Braden turns back to one of English Renaissance poetry’s primary and hugely influential sources, exploring the development of Petrarchan models in Italian and French literature and critical theory. It was during this intermediary phase (and later) that the cult of “Petrarchism” first grew up in response to his innovative poetry.

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  • Coldiron, Anne E. B. English Printing, Verse Translation, and the Battle of the Sexes, 1476–1557. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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    Combining an analysis of early modern print and gender, this book examines a collection of verse translations from French on women, marriage, and sexuality.

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  • Kennedy, Judith, ed. A Critical Edition of Young’s Translation of George of Montemayor’s Diana and Gil Polo’s Enamoured Diana. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.

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    Sidney’s knowledge and imitation of Montemayor’s Diana in the Arcadia is an important source for his pastoral epic, which shows the impact of Spanish literature on the English writer at a time of greatest political animosity between these two hostile nations.

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  • Kennedy, William. The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

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    Kennedy examines how the Petrarchan sonnet was used as a site for expressions of national identity from Du Bellay to Philip and Mary Sidney, and Mary Wroth.

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  • Lee, Sidney. The French Renaissance in England: An Account of the Literary Relations of England and France in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1910.

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    As its title indicates, Lee’s early essays in comparative literature show the debt that English literature owes to the French Renaissance. His extensive chronological survey begins with the early Tudors and ends with Elizabethan lyric and drama.

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  • Melehy, Hassan. The Poetics of Literary Transfer in Early Modern France and England. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    Melehy considers how Joachim Du Bellay, Spenser, Michele de Montaigne, and Shakespeare rewrote Rome’s legacy as a glorious ruin in order to establish their own standing. They created a vigorous national vernacular literature from the ideal of a vanished past. Du Bellay’s conception of Rome had a significant impact on Spenser and Shakespeare.

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  • Prescott, Anne Lake. French Poets and the English Renaissance: Studies of Fame and Transformation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978.

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    Prescott outlines the manner in which English Renaissance writers reacted to their French contemporaries in a trailblazing study of a relatively neglected intertextuality. According to Prescott, Du Bartas was the most important, Ronsand was considered a vates, Marot was found to be useful, and Desportes was translated but proved less influential.

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  • Treip, Mindelle Anne. Allegorical Poetics and the Epic: The Renaissance Tradition to Paradise Lost. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

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    This ambitious study takes as its subject the melding of allegorical theory and practice with the composition of the epic in England and Continental Europe during the Renaissance. In order to do this effectively, moreover, it traces in detail the roots of both traditions in late Antiquity.

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Poetry, Manuscript, and Print

One of the latest research areas in scholarship about English Renaissance poetry is a field that might be called “Cultural Bibliography.” Its object is to suggest how meaning is inflected by the different media through which literature is transmitted (Love 1993 and Marotti 1995) and the material and social contexts in which it is received (Roberts 2003). A revived fascination with the history of the book has led to research and speculation about how poetry was presented, packaged, and edited by both scribes (Love 1993) and stationers (Erne 2013) who transformed it in the act of “editing” it, especially in the case of poetic miscellanies. This, in turn, has led to a reexamination of how The Passionate Pilgrim was deliberately counterfeited by William Jaggard between 1598 and 1599 (Bednarz 2007). One reason for the field’s popularity is that digital media have made it easier to scrutinize the original copies of English Renaissance books. Once the privilege of scholars at research libraries or reproduced in cumbersome microfilm and microfiche formats in large public and university libraries, online Internet access has brought “virtual” readers closer to the material texts of the works they read. Websites such as Early English Books Online provide direct access to format, layout, epigraphs, dedications, commendatory poems, and other related characteristics that reveal new insights about the production and intended reception of poetry. One benefit of such bibliographical analysis is displayed by North 2003, which examines the conventions of authorial secrecy and anonymity common in Renaissance texts.

  • Bednarz, James P. “Canonizing Shakespeare: The Passionate Pilgrim, England’s Helicon and the Question of Authenticity.” Shakespeare Survey 60 (2007): 252–267.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL052187839X.019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay discusses how William Jaggard published a volume of largely counterfeit poems under the title The Passionate Pilgrim sometime between 1598 and 1599 and how Nicholas Ling, the compiler of England’s Helicon, issued in 1600, rejected some of Jaggard’s false Shakespeare ascriptions in the poems that he reprinted from it to show his respect for literary authorship. Shakespeare’s poetry in this instance became one of the first sites of contestation over the nature of the canon.

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  • Eckhardt, Joshua. Manuscript Verse Collectors and the Politics of Anti-Courtly Love Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199559503.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This fascinating book studies the habits of collectors who often sought to preserve the least printable literary genres, such as libels and anticourt poetry. In doing so, they established a set of distinct curatorial protocols and covert practices.

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  • Erne, Lukas. Shakespeare and the Book Trade. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511803406Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In “The Chief Publishers of Shakespeare’s Poems” (chapter 4), Erne demonstrates how Richard Field’s interest in Shakespeare’s poetry was more limited than bibliographers customarily assume. Much of the credit, Erne indicates, should go to John Harrison, who, after its first edition, owned and marketed Venus and Adonis and also published Lucrece. Field would only print Shakespeare’s writing once more, when he worked on “The Phoenix and Turtle” as part of the Poetical Essays appended to Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr in 1601.

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  • Love, Harold. The Culture and Commerce of Texts: Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

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    In this groundbreaking study, Love calls attention to the fact that the invention of printing did not eliminate the generation of manuscript copies of writing or what Love calls “scribal publication.” Instead, manuscript copies coexisted with books, and the two modes of production often crossed over into each other’s domain. Love is particularly agile in illustrating how poetry functioned in this milieu.

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  • Marotti, Arthur F. Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

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    Marotti shows how there were two simultaneous modes of transmitting verse—manuscript dissemination and print—which must be factored into our interpretation. He details the process through which printed books of verse gradually replaced manuscripts in a complex system of overlapping influences. Four major events in the history of English Renaissance verse are highlighted: the publications of Tottel’s Miscellany in 1557, Philip Sidney’s verse in the 1590s, Jonson’s Workes in 1616, and the posthumous editions of Donne and Herbert in 1633.

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  • North, Marcy L. The Anonymous Renaissance: Cultures of Discretion in Tudor-Stuart England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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    Some early modern writers did not wish to have their names printed in connection with a poem, and North perceptively outlines the many evasive strategies used, such as full anonymity and the deployment of initials (sometimes reversed). Aside from revealing the semiotics of self-concealment in the period at large, North’s discussion of the intricate manner in which anonymity operates in verse miscellanies provides a new perspective on self-expression.

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  • Pomeroy, Elizabeth W. The Elizabethan Miscellanies: Their Development and Conventions. University of California English Studies. Berkeley: University of California, 1973.

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    Pomeroy surveys the craze, begun by Tottel’s Miscellany in 1557, for printed verse anthologies. The following years saw The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), The Phoenix Nest (1593), and England’s Helicon (1600). Each miscellany, Pomeroy shows, was compiled for a different reason that controlled its editor’s criteria for selection. Although Pomeroy laments the extinction of the Elizabethan miscellany, its descendants, poetic anthologies, remain a vital part of literary culture.

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  • Roberts, Sasha. Reading Shakespeare’s Poems in Early Modern England. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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    Combines the history of the book, manuscript circulation, and various theories of reception to render a penetrating overview of how Shakespeare’s first readers adapted what he wrote to their own needs.

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  • Woudhuysen, H. R. Sir Philip Sidney and the Circulation of Manuscripts, 1558–1640. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    Exemplary scholarship clarifies the conditions of the genesis and complex transmission of the Sidney canon. There is an especially good chapter on the interplay of the manuscript and print sources from which the sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella is derived.

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  • Zarnowiecki, Matthew. Fair Copies: Reproducing the English Lyric from Tottel to Shakespeare. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.

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    Examines the way in which different formats and media affect the reproduction of lyric poetry in the second half of the 16th century. It begins with Tottel’s Miscellany and then moves chronologically through crucial examples of publication of verse by Gascogine, Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare.

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