Elizabethan Sonneteers

Soldier, courtier, poet, and dramatist, George Gascoigne (1525-1577) wrote one of the first English sonnet sequences as well as the first essay on the writing of poetry. But the flowering of interest in the sonnet form dates to 1591, to publication of Astrophel and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). Today Sidney's iambic pentameter sounds more assured and fluid than that of his predecessors. Astrophel and Stella contains over one hundred sonnets and several songs. A biography of Sidney was written by his contemporary Fulke Greville (1554-1628), who himself wrote over a hundred sonnets. The explorer Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618), favored by Queen Elizabeth but imprisoned and executed by King James, wrote a few sonnets.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) also wrote a sonnet sequence, Amoretti (1595), in an interlocking rhyme form now known as the Spenserian sonnet.

Michael Drayton (1563-1631) fell in love with Anne, the daughter of Sir Henry Goodere, his employer, but she married someone else. He continued his worship of her in the fluid and direct sonnets of his long sequence, Idea's Mirror (1592)--eventually revised into Idea (1619). Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) wrote a sequence, Delia, which included sonnets with a carpe diem theme loosening into near rhymes and feminine line endings. John Davies (1563-1618) included several sonnets in three of his books in the early 1600s. Barnabe Barnes (c.1569-1609) was a very prolific writer of sonnets. Giles Fletcher (c.1549-1611), Bartholomew Griffin, Henry Constable (1562-1613), Henry Lok (c.1553-1608), and Alexander Craig (c.1567-1627), William Percy (1575-1648), E. C. (the unknown author of Emaricdulfe), and Richard Lynche also wrote sequences. Also included here is the one known sonnet by Charles Best.

Of course, the most celebrated of English sonneteers is William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Written in the 1590s but not published until 1609, the 154 sonnets are his most personal work, tempting generation upon generation to speculate upon the identities of the young man and "Dark Lady" to whom they are addressed.

Read Elizabethan Sonneteers by William Minto (1885).

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