Monday, September 9, 2013

Elizabethan Poets

English Renaissance & Elizabethan Poets

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) – The Broken-Hearted Diplomat
Sir Wyatt was a diplomat for Henry VIII, travelling all over Europe, and taking many poetic ideas from the continent back to England. He translated sonnets by Petrarch. He married in 1520, but things soon fell apart, as he accused his wife of adultery. They separated, and she started living with another man, leaving Sir Wyatt to start courting Anne Boleyn, a young beauty whom King Henry then chose as his second wife. Wyatt was soon arrested on suspicion of loving her. While in prison, Wyatt witnessed Anne’s execution for adultery, along with five other men accused of sleeping with her. He was pardoned, but arrested again years later. This time, Wyatt was charged by the bishop of London of speaking rudely about the king while serving as ambassador. He was pardoned again, but died soon after at the age of 39, from an illness. His poems are considered rough, dramatic, and energetic. He also wrote satires about the idiocy of court life.                                                              

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) – The Poet’s Poet
Edmund Spenser came from a poor family. He worked while studying at Cambridge to pay expenses. Afterwards, he worked for various noblemen, writing poetry in his spare time, soon moving to Ireland. His poems are considered more formal and stately. His first major work, The Shepheardes Calendar was dedicated to his friend, the poet Sir Philip Sidney. It describes the life of a shepherd named Colin Clout, as he lives out the twelve months of the year. His magnum opus, Faerie Queene, used English folklore and knights to summarize English values of the time. He wrote A View of the Present State of Ireland, in which he claimed the Irish would never be pacified until their language and customs were destroyed, even suggesting burning fields to create famine. It earned him no friends, and when the Irish rebelled in the Nine Years War, they burned his castle down, with an infant son inside. Fleeing to London, he died soon after.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) – The Wild Explorer
Famous as a founder of Virginia, in America, Sir Raleigh was a diplomat, historian, and poet who secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth. The queen had them both imprisoned in the Tower of London for the offence, but they were later pardoned, with Walter exploring South America. When King James I took the throne, he feared Sir Raleigh, and imprisoned him again, for many years. While in prison, he wrote his History of the World. He was allowed one last voyage to South America in 1616, to find enough gold to earn his freedom. He was Attacked by the Spanish and failed. When he returned to England, he was executed for treason. He wrote, “The Author’s Epitaph, Made by Himself,” the night before he died.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) – The Tragic Hero
Sir Sidney was a poet, diplomat, world traveler, and militant Protestant who died defending the Dutch against the Catholic Spanish. He was shot in the thigh and died of gangrene, days later. He was famous for giving his water to another wounded soldier, saying, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” After his death, Edmund Spencer wrote a poetic elegy for him titled Astrophel. Sir Sidney’s most famous works are Arcadia, dedicated to his sister Mary, and Astrophel and Stella, describing his love for Penelope Devereux, whom he later married. He also wrote the essay The Defense of Poesy, arguing that poetry combines the liveliness of history with the ethics of philosophy, working better than either to inspire the reader to be virtuous.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) – The Brawler
Born the same year as Shakespeare, he attended Cambridge on a scholarship meant for clergy. But, he never wanted to be a minister, and it was later clear in his writings that he was an atheist. He wrote poems and plays, becoming famous before Shakespeare, while at the time serving as a spy for the government. Tragically, he was stabbed to death at a private inn. Was it an argument over the bill, as the killer claimed, or a political cover-up? All three witnesses were spies for the royal court, and the killer himself invited Marlowe to the dinner. Was Marlowe really killed or allowed to escape from England, where atheism and heresy were equal to treason? He’d just been questioned by the government ten days earlier, and could have been executed. Is it possible some of Shakespeare’s plays were really written by Marlowe? Who knows, but he died leaving his greatest work, Hero and Leander, unfinished.

Thomas Campion (1567-1620) – The Composer
Campion was a composer, doctor, and a poet, most famous for writing over a hundred songs for lute and dancing. He considered his poetry secondary. Campion believed poetry shouldn’t have to rhyme, calling rhyme vulgar. After Cromwell outlawed secular music, much of Campion’s work was lost and forgotten. It wasn’t until 1889 that his works were rediscovered and appreciated.


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