English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century

By Maurice Evans | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III

POETIC THEORY AND PRACTICE

THE Renaissance, in one of its aspects, was an outbreak of nationalism which caused the vernacular languages and national literatures to become the object of patriotic interest. It is difficult for us, in these days of national insularity, to think in terms of any language but our own; but it must be remembered that the great mantle of Latin had been cast over Christendom for a thousand years, and that even in the XVIth century, Latin was still the accredited medium of scholarship. The vernaculars, though of course accepted for every-day usage, had still to justify themselves in the fields of literature and learning, and the achievement of this ideal was one of the main Renaissance preoccupations. The first need of the vernaculars was to widen their vocabularies, if they were to be capable of inheriting the role of Latin, and the XVth and XVIth centuries saw a great expansion in their range, as new words were coined or old ones borrowed from a wide variety of sources. One of the greatest Renaissance controversies was waged over the question of where these new words should come from, and XVIth-century England was torn between the opposing factions of those who wanted to keep the language pure, and those who were prepared to borrow what their opponents contemptuously called "Inkehorne Termes" out of Latin or Greek or living European languages. With our fuller modern knowledge of the development of languages, we are apt nowadays to laugh at the XVIth-century purists who tried to hold up the flood of foreign words, but their attitude was more reasonable than we are apt to believe. The printing presses were concentrated in London, Oxford and Cambridge, which naturally gave preeminence to the south-eastern dialect of English, "the usuall speach of the Court, and that of London and the shires lying about London within LX myles, and not much above" ( Puttenham III, IV, p. 145). As with the spread of "King's English" by means of the B.B.C., so the monopoly of print enjoyed by the

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English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Author's Note 7
  • Chapter I - Cross Currents of the Renaissance 9
  • Chapter II - Society and the Poet 20
  • Chapter III - Poetic Theory and Practice 31
  • Chapter IV - John Skelton 47
  • Chapter V - Wyatt and Surrey 65
  • Chapter VI - Shorter Forms of Elizabethan Poetry 81
  • Chapter VII - Historical Poetry 118
  • Chapter VIII - Spenser's Faerie Queene 132
  • Chapter IX - Donne and the Elizabethans 161
  • Bibliography 176
  • Index 181
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