English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century

By Maurice Evans | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII

SPENSER'S FAERIE QUEENE

I

THE poetry of the late XVIth century was divided against itself with more than usual ferocity. Plato and Lucretius, Petrarch and Ovid challenged each other within the same poetic kinds and, in the case of Hero and Leander which was begun by Marlowe and finished by Chapman, within the same poem. In a wider conflict, Petrarch and Ovid alike were ranged against the Puritan, and even Sidney renounced the love of Astrophel in his later sonnets; "Leave me, O Love, that leadeth but to dust" was, by 1590, no longer the academic protestation which it had been in the earlier miscellanies. There was scarcely a popular ballad or madrigal in the period which had not its moralized counterpart or a pastoral idyll which was not balanced by a piece of satiric realism from Marston or Hall. Some of this contradiction may be attributed to the conception of the Kinds which, as it divided poetry into mutually exclusive categories, encouraged poets to be eclectic. Breton, for example, and Drayton, in his early days, tried their hand at every mode--love, morality, idyll and satire--without apparently caring whether this procedure involved any inconsistency or not. They were all different poetic exercises to be attempted, and the question of beliefs did not enter into the matter. Nevertheless, the diversity of modes corresponded increasingly to a diversity of opinions, and Daniel, in his Musophilus, saw his age as one of confused greatness in which the different excellencies cancelled each other out:

All that which might have many ages grac'd,
Is borne in one, to make one cloid with all;
That goodnes seems, goodnes to have defac't,
And virtue hath to virtue given the fall. (253.)

-132-

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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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