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Titles of some of Wyatt's sonnets will indicate the kind of subjects: "The Lover Waxeth Wiser, and Will not Die for Affection," "How the Lover Perisheth in his Delight, as the Fly in the Fire," "Description of the Contrarious Passions in a Lover," "Complaint for True Love Unrequited." His rhymes are not always good, and his lines are frequently rough; but he often shows real poetic thought and power of
phrasing, which would give him a not unworthy place in literature apart from his great service in introducing the sonnet-form to English poets.
Surrey's Poetry. While Surrey wrote sonnets superior in many respects to Wyatt's, his place in literature rests on other grounds. For his introduction of blank verse into English, and for his occasional realistic presentation of nature he merits a high place among the beginners of the English Renaissance. The latter is well illustrated by his
sonnet, "Description of Spring," and by some passages in the poem called "Prisoned in Windsor."
Blank verse, like the sonnet, was not the invention of its first English user, but a borrowing from the Italian. While the Italian use of it is found, as is Surrey's, in a translation of the Eneid, the English form is not a mere imitation, but has undeniable individuality. When we try to imagine the Elizabethan drama in any other metrical form, we can realize our debt to Surrey for bringing it to his countrymen. Blank verse has also been used in most of the really great long poems in the language, from Milton's Paradise Lost to Tennyson's Idylls; and it is generally regarded as the most characteristic verse form of English.
Indirect Italian Influence. Italy exerted a strong influence in the Renaissance in England not only by such direct means as have been set forth above, but in indirect ways also. At the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Greek scholars fled to Italy with their precious manuscripts, which gave the West its first direct acquaintance with the Greek language and literature. Italian scholars were eagerly sought out by students visiting Italy, and one was induced before 1500 to begin teaching Greek at Oxford.
The place in the Renaissance of this concern with the past is a large one, showing most readily to the young student, perhaps, in Shakspere's use of Plutarch in the Roman plays. Along with the interest in Greek antiquity went a similar interest in British antiquity, evident in Shakspere's Lear, Macbeth, Cymbeline, all based on legendary British history.
Religious Aspect of the Renaissance. An important aspect of the English Renaissance not clearly due to any outside influence is the religious. Luther's defiance of the Pope antedated by seventeen years, it is true, Tyndale's
translation of the Bible (1534); but the translator's plans were forming many years before, and it does not appear that Tyndale had any other inspiration or spur than his
own passion for ex
tending the limits of human knowledge" in a direction necessarily of benefit to mankind. His translation
served its religious purpose chiefly by being more accurate than any then existing. Its further contribution to the New Birth consisted in its merit as English, wherein it marks an important point in the history of English prose. Tyndale has been called by some "the father of modern English prose;
undeserved title if, as one writer says, he
(New York Public Library.)
"fixed the character of the English translations [of the Bible] forevermore." 1
1 Professor Whitney, in Cambridge History, III, 48. It is only proper to state that scholars are not unanimous in crediting Tyndale with the superior merits of the translation bearing his name. To the present writer Tyndale's claims seem unquestionably the best.
FROM THE ACCESSION OF ELIZABETH TO THE CLOSING OF THE THEATRES (1558-1642)
It must not be supposed by the student that the Elizabethan Age in English literature, often called the Golden Age, reached its high development early in Elizabeth's reign. Two full decades of preparation were yet to pass before the appearance of the first great creative works of the age- Spenser's Shepherd's Calender and Lyly's Euphues.
The Preparatory Period. Although this preparatory period was of significance in broadening the intellectual view of the whole nation, its greatest value consisted in its providing material for the drama, the most characteristic literary form of the time. Compilations of British chronicles, crude but valuable dramas built up on classic models, translations of noted works of antiquity and of current works of interest in several European languages, made accessible subject-matter for the dramatists which left the full force of their genius free to be expended on adaptation and reshaping to suit English spirit and taste.
Of the chroniclers the most noted during this time were Grafton, Stowe, Camden, and greatest of all, Ralph Holinshed. Of the plays on classic models need be mentioned only the tragedy Gorboduc, and the comedy, Ralph Roister Doister. Before 1575 nine books of the Eneid had been put into
English verse by Thomas Phaer; three tragedies of Seneca by Jasper Heywood and one by Neville; the Metamorphoses of Ovid by Golding, and the Epistles by Turberville.
The best-known collection of Continental stories (bestknown because used by Shakspere) is Paynter's Palace of Pleasure, the alliterative title of which seems to have suggested one used later by Turberville Ten Tragical Tales out of Sundry Italians. (Verse collections similarly named are the Paradise of Dainty Devices and the Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions.) In the same year with The Shepherd's Calender and Euphues appeared what is to the moderns perhaps the most important of all these translations-Sir Thomas North's Plutarch's
Lives, to which we owe Shakspere's Greek and Roman plays.
The Period of Splendor: (1) The Queen. The thirty years following this preparatory period are made splendid not only by the literature produced, but by the development of an intense and vigorous national life. Elizabeth, the "man-minded offset" of Henry VIII, possessed the strength and talents needed to guide the nation through a troubled time. And the nation believed in her: to her subjects she seemed, says the historian J. R. Green," the embodiment of dauntless resolution."
The reigns of her Protestant brother, Edward VI, and her Roman Catholic sister, Mary, had left the English peo