Shakespeare's Sonnets

The Unraveling of Courtly Love: Responses to Petrarchan form in Wyatt, Sidney, and Shakespeare College

When Sir Thomas Wyatt decided to introduce the sonnet to England, the result was unexpected to say the least. While Wyatt had been known for lighter riddles, songs and satires, he nevertheless made the surprising choice to focus on a brooding genre so far from his wheelhouse. Even though the English renaissance sonnet is often studied as an isolated genre, it is the composition of the Petrarchan model and its careful arrangement into sequence that establishes an expectation, consequently proving the indebtedness of the English sequences to Petrarch. Therefore the study of the English sonnet hinges on the understanding of its Italian foundation.

The original sequences followed a formulaic progression, revealing the poet’s intent. Francesco Petrarca, the original sonneteer, illustrates the ideals of Courtly Love by apotheosizing Laura, a married woman constantly out of his reach. Similar to an Hymn of Love, albeit unrequited, his poetry seems inspired by a Troubadour style of Ode. This classical sonnet is traditionally a rhapsody of a pure lady, who’s beauty is beyond compare. The form of the poem is as follows: A fourteen line poem, with verses written in iambic pentameter, rhyming abba abba cde cde, and is divided into an...

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