The first great age of English language was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) in England. Named after the monarch, the Elizabethan age, produced some of thebiggest marvels of English Literature in history.
The influence of Italy, France and Spainon English literature continued in this age.Drama, novels and poetry all enjoyed a golden age of literature along with fine arts,science and philosophy. However, Poetry, together Drama, emerged as the most popularforms.William Shakespeare, Edmund Spencer, Philip Sydney, Walter Raleigh, ChristopherMarlowe, etc are some of the poetic luminaries of the age.Here are its main characteristics:1-Forms:The sonnet form, which became the dominant form of poetry and was preferred style ofShakespeare himself (168 sonnets). Lyric, descriptive and narrative poetry also cameinto popular usage.
Shakespeare created a new kind of sonnet, the Shakespearean sonnet (English sonnet).This was different than the more widespread form, the Petrarchan sonnet (brought fromItaly by Thomas Wyatt etc.).
Elizabethan sonnets have an iambic pentameter andconsist of 14 lines with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. These are called threequatrains and a couplet.In Petrarchan form, there are 14 lines of iambic pentameter divided into the “octet” orthe first 8 lines and the “sestet” (the next six). There is a turn or “volta,” between theoctet and sestet. Here the poet gives a different perspective or argument and it occursbetween the octet and the sestet.
Sometimes the turn is reserved for the final couplet like William Shakespeare’s sonnet130.Edmund Spenser, also called the father of poetic diction (English), wrote the famouspoems The Fairie Queen which introduced the Spenserian stanza consisting of 8 iambicpentameter lines followed by an alexandrine(iambic hexameter) with ABABBCBCCrhyme scheme.2-Themes:The socio-political life of the time was revitalized by the exploits of Renaissance andpoetry also reflected that. The classical texts were heavily relied on for inspiration andthemes. Ideas of patriotism, nationalism, freedom, free speech, humanism, dominatedthe literary space.In stark contrast to Chaucer’s age, this age was embellished with the notions of grandromances, exorbitant metaphors, experimentation and innovation.
Aggrandizement oflove was the most visible notion that captivated he poets of the age like Ben Jonson’s ToCecilia etc.The age also witnessed an amalgamation of classical myth like Greek etc and Englishtales of elves and fairies. This gave a boost to poplar fictional elements as well.Other topics exploited by poets were political life, war and conflict, nature of life, theduality of man etc.
3-Style:Blank verse was the meter of choice for adding more drama to the text. It freed the poetsfrom the clutches of making everything rhyme. It was used profusely in drama as well bythe likes of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe and survived far beyond theElizabethan era with the works like John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and WilliamWordsworth’s “Prelude.
“Language was rich with grand narratives and heroic tales. The writing was evocative,palliative and flowery.Clever wordplay, alliteration and metaphors were commonly deployed. The age isrenowned for its bewitching lyrics like Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella orShakespeare’s poems like Venus and Adonis.Double Entendres were the most adored device of the Elizabethan poets.
It comprises ofwords or phrases with dual meanings, a benign explicit meaning and an implicitsecondary one which was more sensual.The use of grandiose affectations like 'conceit' was also popular to add more intrigue andsuspense to the narrative. There was also a conscious appropriation of the past with useof archaisms, old syntax, and obscure spellings. This created a sense of old glory andclassicalism.**Beginning of the metaphysical poetry…At the far end of the Elizabethan age and the start of Jacobean age a group calledmetaphysical poets became famous with the use of stark imagery in place if musicallyrics of the previous age.John Donne popularized the metaphysical poetry early in the 17th Century. His religiouspoetry had dramatic realism, colloquialism and direct speech.
George Herbert, HenryVaughan, Richard Crashaw and Andrew Marvell were later poets influenced by Dunne’swork and made progressive contribution to this genre of poetry.