The Columbia History of British Poetry

By Carl Woodring; James Shapiro | Go to book overview

Varieties of Sixteenth-Century Narrative Poetry

APPEARING the year following Queen Elizabeth's accession, the Mirror for Magistrates--a biographical compendium of Eng lish historical figures beginning with the reign of Richard II and extending to that of Henry VIII--was arguably the most influential publication of the sixteenth century, in large part because of its many literary derivatives. Designed to continue Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium (translated by John Lydgate at the end of the fifteenth century as the Fall of Princes), the narratives were to exemplify the inconstancy of Fortune in human affairs. Thus nearly half of the "tragedies" included in the second edition ( 1563) were laid at the door of capricious Lady Fortuna; others were blamed on the evil nature of the individuals under review; and still others were attributed to the influence of the stars, or of the four humors, or of Providence and the ill will of man. Their import was largely admonitory--contemporaries might see in them, as in a looking glass, the appropriate punishment for evil deeds.

The scheme adopted for these versified narratives required the appearance of a ghost before an interlocutor to whom he related his story with its generally tragic conclusion. The various accounts were based on the contemporary chronicles of Robert Fabyan and Edward Hall and were linked by the prose exchanges among the several interlocutors; the major consequence of their publication in the Mirror was that history was now established as a suitable subject for poets to turn to.

Because the recitations of these historical ghosts were ex post facto, there was no dramatic tension in the accounts, but the narratives them-

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The Columbia History of British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Old English Poetry 1
  • Middle English Poetry 23
  • Chaucer 55
  • Poetry in Scots: Barbour to Burns 81
  • From Ballads to Betjeman 110
  • Printing and Distribution of Poetry 132
  • Varieties of Sixteenth-Century Narrative Poetry 156
  • Sixteenth-Century Lyric Poetry 179
  • Spenser, Sidney, Jonson 203
  • Lyric Poetry from Donne to Philips 229
  • Milton 254
  • Dryden and Pope 274
  • Poetry in the Eighteenth Century 301
  • Blake 327
  • Coleridge 341
  • Poetry, 1785-1832 353
  • Byron, Shelley, and Keats 381
  • Wordsworth and Tennyson 405
  • The Victorian Era 425
  • Victorian Religious Poetry 452
  • Pre-Raphaelite Poetry 478
  • The 1890s 505
  • 1898-1945: Hardy to Auden 532
  • Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot 554
  • Poetry in England, 1945-1990 577
  • Problems and Cleavages 605
  • Brief Biographies of the Poets 643
  • Editions 671
  • Notes on Contributors 678
  • Index 683
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