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Sunday, 12 August 2018

Write a note on the Elizabethan Sonnets and Sonneteers

Sonnet is a foreign importation in English literature.It is appeared in England as one of the distinct and immediate effects of the Renaissance. Sir Thomas Wyatt is the pioneer of sonnet writing in England. Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey popularized it in the carly 16th century. Later on, it was widely used by Edmund Spenser, Sic Philip Sidney, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton. William Shakespeare and afterwards John Milton. Their contribution in the development of the English sonnet is immeasurable.

The term "Sonnet" is derived from the Italian word, Sonnetto which means "Suono". We know that suono means a sound or a song. In this sense, "Sonnetto" means a little sound. So the sonnet is a very short lynie poem of fourteen iambic pentametre lines. It is a verse form consisting of fourteen lines English iambic pentametre and a complicated thyme scheme. Sonnet was originated in Italy in the early thirteenth century, it was first written in about 1230 or 1240 by a Sicilian lawyer, Lentino. It attained in taly the pinnacle of perfection in the masser hands of Petrarch, Cavalcanti and dante. Among them, Dante was the first great poct to use it
Widely. For this reason, he is often
considered to be the father of sonnet.

We know that Petrarch was an Italian poet. He was the first  poet to write sonnets on the subject of his unrequited love for laura. He was followed by other Italian poets of his age. The sonnet was first introduced into English literature by Surrey and Wyatt. Wyatt was a young courtier of the court of Henry- VIII. He visited Italy in 1527 and was deeply influenced by Petrarch. He wrote thirty one sonnets in the strictly Petrarchan form. He divided the sonnet into two parts----

1. Octave (the first eight lines) and
2 Sestet (the last six lines).

There is a clearly marked pause in the idea after the eighth line. The rhyme scheme may be represented as abba abba in the octave and cde cde or cd ed ed in the sestet. Actually, it is the Petrachan form of the sonnet that Wyatt follows. Wyatt's us of this measure is often rigid and awkward. He entirely fails to capture the warm, sensuous colour and delicate music of the Italian poet.

Surrey was the younger contemporary and disciple of Wyatt. He never seems to have visited Italy himself. The influence of the Italian sonnet reached him through his friend. It also fired his imagination. Surrey was a far greater artist than Wyatt and a more remarkable poet. He wrote sonnets in which he expressed his entirely imaginative love for Geraldine of Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald. The elegiac note is natural to him. But his lover's plaints and sighs mingle with exquisite nature- passages. His sonnets have great artistic merits. Though he follows the Petrarchan convention of courtly love, he does not follow the Petrarchan model of the sonnet. He divides his sonnets into three quatrains with a concluding couplet. This style of the sonnet was later on followed by Shakespeare.

Wyatt imported the sonnet from Italy and Surrey invented the English form of the sonnet. Their songs and sonnets were published together in Tottel's Miscellany in 1556. However, the technical peculiarity of the sonnet was not realized in the earlier years of Elizabeth's reign. Then the sonnet proper remained forgotten and neglected till the publication of "Astrophel and Stella". "Astrophel and Stella" is a sonnet- sequence published in 1594. In this sonnet-sequence, Sidney speaks of his early passion for Penelope Devereux. In fact, Penelope was the daughter of the Earl of Essex and the wife of Lord Rich. Bitter regret for lost happiness, the desire to possess the beloved, the struggle in his virtuous heart between duty and passion etc. are the themes of the Elizabethan sonnets.

Sidney has a knightly and Platonic passion. The variety of situations depicted in "Astrophel and Stella" is amazing. Sidney brings in various subsidiary themes like the function of poetry and the rule of inspiration in poetry. His themes are inspired by the humanism of Renaissance. The sonnets published in "Astrophel and Stella" owe much to Petrarch in form, tone and style. On the whole, Sidney is the greatest Elizabethan sonneteer, second to Shakespeare.


"Amoretti" by Edmund Spenser was inspired by Sidney's Astrophel and Stella" His sonnets are addressed to Elizabeth Boyle who afterwards becomes his wife. Sincerity is the key- note of "Amoretti", an Italian word which means little love. It is a collection of about 88 sonnets. The sonnets are unique in their purity of passion. They tell the story of love without sin or remorse. Undoubtedly, they are conventional or borrowed. But the original touches are also frequent. In these sonnets, Spenser expresses his genuine feeing without recourse to allegory. The form of his sonnet is also distinct. Here we find three quatrains , which are link which are linked by an artistic arrangement of rhymes followed by a couplet. So his sonnets are called linked sonnets. They follow a rhyme scheme different from that of Sidney and of Shakespeare. Spenser's sonnets have the rhyme scheme-ab ab ab  be be ed cd ee.

The sonnets of Shakespeare are different from that of Sidney and Spenser in respect of rhyme scheme. They are the only poems in which the dramatist speaks in his person. Shakespeare has written 154 sonnets. Of these, 126 sonnets have addressed to a young friend, most probably the Earl of Southampton. The rest of them are addressed to an unknown lady called Dark Lady. The sonnets were published in 1609. They remain as the monument of devoted love. In these sonnets, the poet has unlocked his heart. He directly expresses his feelings. He has explored the theme of friendship. He transcends the personal and rises it to the level of the universal. Unforgettable lines and epithets are scattered plentifully over his sonnets. Their excellence lies in the rare beauty of the images and style. Like Spenser's sonnets, the Shakespearian sonnet has three quatrains and a concluding couplet. The rhyme of his sonnet is ab ab cd cd ef ef gg. It has perfect phraseology, versification and the perfect blending of sense and sound

Considering the contribution of the Elizabethan Sonnets and sonneteers including Wyatt, Surrey, Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare, we can say that the detail study of the Elizabethan sonnets reveals some common features. The Elizabethan sonnets appear in sequences and not singly. They are written merely because it is the fashion to write sonnets. Most of them are artificial. The Petrarchan convention is usually followed and there are imitation and translation of foreign models. The English form of the sonnet is generally used after Sidney. They are characterized by excess of imagination and are extremely musical. Among Elizabethan sonneteers, Spenser and Shakespeare stand supreme and are worthy of great homage and admiration.
Elizabethan Sonnets and Sonneteers

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