November 1

The Art of Love:
Some Approaches to Renaissance Lyric

(Note: What follows supplements material on poetic form and on Petrarch and Petrarchism found on class handout.)

The Significance of Fixed Form

Form puts language under pressure. In the love sonnet, the speaker's most extreme emotions are ordered and controlled by the strict limitations of the form. The result is a particular kind of poetic economy, a lovely condensation, compression, concision.

To write within rules offers yet another example of literature as a kind of serious play.

The sonnet offers infinite riches in a little room; it's another variation on the Renaissance interest in the microcosmos. Its single stanza (stanza = room in Italian) could be thought of as a little world of the emotions.

Popularity of Love Lyric/Sonnet Sequence in Elizabethan England

Petrarch as Pop Icon

Consider the popularity of Petrarch’s 14th century lyric sequence the Rime Sparse ("scattered rhymes") as a model.

Petrarch the Innovator

The Rime Sparseoffers several significant poetic innovations.

A tip: In reading these poems it is especially important to follow the unfolding of the poetic logic of their extended metaphors.

A Fruitful Contradiction

The very absence and silence of the lady in the Petrarchan sequences becomes a provocation to art:

Petrarch and the Petrarchists

Wyatt, Surrey, and the poets of the next two generations (Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Mary Wroth) took over the Petrarchan themes and poetic protocols and played around with them.

The poets of the late 16th century seem especially fond of

At the same time, the familiar aspects of "Petrarchism" are regularly revised and even subverted. Petrarchism becomes a poetic idiom of great flexibility that can be deployed

Indeed, in any fashion that the poet wishes.

(Cf. Shakespearian examples and also Wyatt’s and Spenser’s revisions of the Petrarchan "love hunt" on your handout.)