The Sonnet

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Information about The Sonnet

Published on October 2, 2007

Author: Francisco


The Sonnet:  The Sonnet The “Original” Sonneteer:  The “Original” Sonneteer Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca or Francis Petrarch; 1304-1374) Recall that Chaucer may have met him; most certainly knew his work; so, while England is in the Middle Ages, men like Petrarch are ushering in the Italian Renaissance “Original” in qt marks b/c there were others Technical Features of the Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnet:  Technical Features of the Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnet 14 lines Iambic pentameter Octave (8 line stanza) followed by a sestet (six line stanza) Octave presents one idea or situation; sestet presents another, often opposite idea or situation The “turn” signals this switch in topic and tone to the reader: according to Elements, “The turn signals a logical or emotional shift, or a new beginning” (191). Often, one of three basic paradigms applies to Petrarchan sonnets: Standard Rhyme Scheme (Wyatt often uses abbaabbacddcee) Conceits=unlikely comparisons (love to a hook; love to war; love to a hunt) Sequences Topics of Petrarchan Sonnets:  Topics of Petrarchan Sonnets Addressed to Laura: beautiful, idealized woman who does not requite the poet’s love interest Poems are often about unrequited love Unlike Wyatt’s translations, Petrarch’s are usually not as melancholic. Petrarch’s are more upbeat about being in love; according to the editors of the Norton Anthology, for Petrarch, “love is a transcendent experience” (526). Why Write Sonnets?:  Why Write Sonnets? A challenging form to write in; often enabled great poets to demonstrate their genius (i.e., Shakespeare, Spenser, and Sidney in particular) Different from other genres; had a sequence but quite different from epic, drama, pastoral, narrative, and romance About a very interesting topic: love Very popular in England in the Renaissance Possible Growth in Reputation or Patronage or both (but men like Wyatt, Surrey, and Sidney did not need patrons; often they were patrons) English Sonnets—Major Players in the Renaissance:  English Sonnets—Major Players in the Renaissance Sir Thomas Wyatt introduces form to England Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey Sir Philip Sidney (“first” to write a complex sequence) Edmund Spenser (complex rhyme; love interest probably his wife) William Shakespeare (3 quatrains + couplet; love interests may be a young man and a dark lady) John Donne (“Holy Sonnets”) Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey:  Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey Wyatt and Surrey—Forms and Ideas:  Wyatt and Surrey—Forms and Ideas The pioneers of the sonnet form in England Translated and adapted Petrarch’s sonnets Tone, especially of Wyatt’s more bitter than Petrarch’s Sir Philip Sidney:  Sir Philip Sidney Sir Philip Sidney:  Sir Philip Sidney Sidney himself a “hero” of the Renaissance b/c he was an ideal courtier Died honorably in battle at 32 Ardent protestant; protested QEI’s potential marriage to the Catholic duke of Anjou; dismissed from court for it Related to (and friends with) many important people Father = Sir Henry Sidney (Lord Deputy of Ireland) Father-in-law = Sir Francis Walsingham (QEI’s Advisor) Uncle = Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (QEI’s “true love” but who she never got to marry) Friend and Biographer = Fulke Greville (another important poet) Spenser dedicated The Shepheardes Calendar to him Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke = sister (he dedicated his other major work, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia to her) Courted Penelope Devereux (probably Stella); marriage was rumored, but two years later she married Lord Robert Rich (word Rich appears in many of his sonnets) Sidney the Poet:  Sidney the Poet Never considered himself a professional ($$) poet; rather, he was an aristocratic courtier with an eye on being a great, “Renaissance” man who could be a great Englishman. He never tried to have his works published Though not a professional poet, he did write three of the most important works of the English Renaissance: Other than Shakespeare’s, his is the most important sonnet sequence perhaps in the language Wrote “Defense of Poetry” one of the most important prose works in the Renaissance Arcadia may be most important prose fiction work during Renaissance Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella:  Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella First major sonnet sequence in the English language 108 sonnets (11 songs interwoven throughout) Influenced heavily by Petrarch Each has 14 lines mostly about unrequited love many complex conceits Utilizes deep paradoxes about life and death, time, writing, and love Sequence implies not linear narrative action, but an exploration of states of mind, the human soul, and changes in each Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella cont.:  Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella cont. Important Features: First major sequence Regular references to “Rich” (Penelope Devereux, later Lady Rich) points to “game” sonneteers often played with both words and audience While topic is Petrarchan (unrequited love), sonnets also paint a picture of love itself, not just the poet or the love-object Used iambic pentameter (5 feet, unstressed/stressed, intermingled occasionally with hexameter (6 feet) Edmund Spenser:  Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser:  Edmund Spenser Next to Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the English Renaissance; arguably its greatest poet (Shakespeare’s great contribution being drama) Spenser wanted to be a poet and is considered by some to be England’s first professional poet (Shakespeare being a professional dramatist who made little or no money/patronage for his poetry despite its greatness) Unlike Sidney, Wyatt, and Surrey, a “commoner” Spenser’s Poetry:  Spenser’s Poetry Technically, a genius; manipulation of rhymes, meters, rhythms, etc. in several different poetic genres is unrivaled in English poetry Shepheardes Calendar Eclogues Archaic language Pastoral An “announcement” of his “arrival” as a poet Not received well critically (Sidney, Jonson, and Johnson all criticized it) Homage to Chaucer? 13 diff. meters (only 4 “normal”) show how experimental he was Spenser’s Poetry Cont.:  Spenser’s Poetry Cont. The Faerie Queene Considered by many to be his masterpiece (maybe the great work of the Renaissance) First three “books” (each 12 cantos long, each canto having anywhere from 40-50 individual 9-line poems) published in 1590 at the encouragement of Sir Walter Ralegh Dedicated to the Queen, her courtiers, and Ralegh, it earned him 50 pounds per year for life Genre: Epic Romance (poetic rendering of stories of errant knights, villains, monsters, heroes, etc.) Published six-book version in 1596 (full 12 book version not) One of the most influential poetic works that is not known widely Minor Poetry:  Minor Poetry Complaints Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (about courtiers) Amoretti Sonnet Cycle Probably about the courting of his second wife; may have meant to have been framed by his Prothalamion and Epithalamion Very intricate rhyme scheme (results in the Spenserian Sonnet being named after him) Prothalamion and Epithalamion Wedding Songs (Pre- and Post-) Contributions to Poetics:  Contributions to Poetics Experimentation and Innovation Various Rhyme Schemes and Meters Sonnets about requited love Sonnet rhyme is very complex = ababbcbccdcdee This implies a connectedness between all lines, and the three quatrains. Spenser used this to great extent in FQ and the Epithalamion. (See Norton intro.) In the end, Spenser was probably trying to mirror in the complex harmony of his poetry, the complex harmony he found in the universe (The Epithalamion has 365 long lines, twenty four stanzas, the first 16 describe day, and the last 8, night (matching a standard day with 16 hours of light) Vast technical virtuosity not matched by any other poet, perhaps ever William Shakespeare:  William Shakespeare Shakespeare (the poet):  Shakespeare (the poet) Large percentage of his plays is in poetry, but here we are concerned with his poetry in general Shakespeare not discussed much as a poetic genius because of his enormous dramatic influence; however, poetically he, like, Spenser was the giant of his age; had he not written plays, he’d be like Spenser Types of Poems Shakespeare Wrote:  Types of Poems Shakespeare Wrote Most famous for his sonnets Narrative Poems Venus and Adonis The Rape of Lucrece The Order of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:  The Order of Shakespeare’s Sonnets There is a debate about the “proper” order of the sonnets Suffice to say, it probably does not much matter to those new to sonnets because, as you might recall, sequences are really supposed to capture an overall state of mind anyway—order should not matter Having said that . . . The Order of Shakespeare’s Sonnets Cont.:  The Order of Shakespeare’s Sonnets Cont. Basic Breakdown: 1-126 addressed to a young man Sonnets which urge the young man to marry and have children: 1-17 Rival poet sonnets: 21, 79, 80, 83, 86 127-152 addressed to a dark lady 153 & 154 thought to be adaptations of Greek type of sonnet Other Questions:  Other Questions Who is Mr. W. H. (“the only begetter” of the sonnets)? To whom are the sonnets dedicated? Is he Shakespeare’s true love? Suggested identities include: Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (to whom “Venus” and “Lucrece” are dedicated and therefore patronized Shakespeare in the 1590s); supposition here based on the fact that printer transposed HW into WH to hide true identity of dedicatee William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke; he is one of the dedicatees of the First Folio (first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, but published posthumously) Shakespeare’s Borrowings & Innovations:  Shakespeare’s Borrowings & Innovations Kept 14 lines Used 3 quatrains and a couplet Normal Rhyme Scheme = abab cdcd efef gg Often each quatrain presents a new idea and the couplet the turn, but shifts and turns can occur anywhere, sometimes several in one poem Major innovation was in topic/addressee/Love-objects Young man—Identity? Dark Lady Ultimate Answer to “Big” Questions about Young Man, Dark Lady, WH, and the Rival Poet:  Ultimate Answer to “Big” Questions about Young Man, Dark Lady, WH, and the Rival Poet Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World: “The challenge of the game was to sound as intimate, self-revealing, and emotionally vulnerable as possible, without actually disclosing anything compromising to anyone outside the innermost circle . . . Sonnets that were too cautious were insipid and would only show the poet to be a bore; sonnets that were too transparent could give mortal offense” (234). What Adds to the Confusion Resulting from Biographical Study of Sonnets:  What Adds to the Confusion Resulting from Biographical Study of Sonnets Greenblatt continues: “There were circles within circles . . . If the first seventeen of Shakespeare’s sonnets were written to Southampton, then Southampton constituted the innermost circle: he was the reader who was privileged to know almost everything. But their closest friends would have known something; those in the wider circles considerably less; those outside this orbit but still within social range something less again; and so on. The poet’s true mastery is most fully displayed if those on the outermost edges still find the poems thrilling and revealing, even though they know absolutely nothing about any of the key players, not so much as their names” (234-5) And how things get cloudier or muddier:  And how things get cloudier or muddier Greenblatt writes prior to these two passages: “The whole enterprise of writing a sonnet sequence precisely involved drawing a translucent curtain—of one of those gauzy fabrics Elizabethans loved—over the scene so that only shadowy figures are visible to the public” (233-4) Ultimately, Greenblatt, argues, “Sonnets, then, were at once private and social; that is, they characteristically took the form of a personal, intimate address, and at the same time they circulated within a small group whose values and desires they reflected, articulated, and reinforced . . . Those outside the charmed coterie—and all are now in this category—had to content themselves with admiration of the poet’s craft and with groping in the darkness of biographical specualtion” (235).:  Ultimately, Greenblatt, argues, “Sonnets, then, were at once private and social; that is, they characteristically took the form of a personal, intimate address, and at the same time they circulated within a small group whose values and desires they reflected, articulated, and reinforced . . . Those outside the charmed coterie—and all are now in this category—had to content themselves with admiration of the poet’s craft and with groping in the darkness of biographical specualtion” (235). Final Point?:  Final Point? Avoid reading them biographically, as fun as it is to speculate Admire the technical virtuosity of the poems Learn and meditate upon the emotional, spiritual, and philosophical depth and range of the poems Have fun—they did! Overview & Review:  Overview & Review Important Terms:  Important Terms Sonnet Sequence Stanza (Octave, sestet, quatrain, couplet) Question/Answer; Problem/Solution; Idea Introduced/Idea Driven Home Turn Rhyme Scheme Meter Patronage Court, courtiers, coterie All Sonnets:  All Sonnets Petrarchan (Wyatt and Surrey):  Petrarchan (Wyatt and Surrey) Sidney:  Sidney Spenser/Spenserian:  Spenser/Spenserian Shakespeare:  Shakespeare Bibliography:  Bibliography Elements of Literature Norton Anthology of English Literature Riverside Shakespeare

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