Songs and Sonnets of Elizabethan Period:Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare, Henry constable, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton

Sonnet, derived from the Italian word ‘Sonneto’ meaning a little sound or strain, is a poem expressing one main idea or emotion consisting of fourteen decasyllabic lines. the origin of it is Italy in the early 15th century.In the first half of the 16th century the sonnet was introduced in England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. However, such outburst of lyricism in Elizabethan England is shared by almost all the poets of the Elizabethan period including Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare. Among the other writers there is Henry constable, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton etc. Now we will categorically analyse them.

Firstly Sir Philip Sidney set the vogue of writing sonnet sequences. In fact after Wyatt and Surrey, the sonnet was neglected for a number of years. It was for Sidney to revitalize this form by composing one hundred and eight sonnets, all put in Astrophel and Stella, commemorating his futile love for Penelope Devereux, the daughter of his patron, the Earl of Essex. As a sonneteer Sidney is placed next only to Shakespeare and Spenser. His sonnets are mostly written in mixed Italian and English form.

The next most notable Edmund Spenser wrote Amoretti, a sequence of eighty eight sonnets addressed to Elizabeth Boyle whom he married in 1594. In them the poet gives expression to his feeling of his heart in a sincere and unaffected manner without any recourse to allegory. Here is not the unquiet of Sidney’s love for Lord Rich’s wife, nor the complaining tone of Shakespeare whose mistress deceived him with his friend. Spenser’s sonnets are unique for their ‘purity’, ‘maidenliness’, and divine qualities’. In style it is improved upon and rhyme scheme is three interlinked quatrains in an alternative rhyme with the couplet standing alone i.e. abab bcbc cdcd ee.

Next Shakespeare’s sonnets are expressions of his feelings and experience of love and lust, of friendship and honour, of growth through experience of sin, expiation, of mutability, plentitude and the knowledge of good and evil. According to Oscar Wilde, they are a dramatic presentation of the passions and conflicts raging with in the poet’s own soul. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets  first published in Thorpe’s edition of 1609. most critics agree that Shakespeare’s sonnets consists of two group of  poems – a long series addressed to the Fair Youth (sonnets – 1 to 126) followed by a shorter series concerned with the Dark Lady (sonnets 127 – 154). The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into four parts – three quatrains and one couplet. Each quatrain has its own rhyme scheme as, abab, cd cd, efef, gg. Like the Italian sonnet the Shakespearean is also normally addressed to dear one, as mentioned already, but unlike the Italian sonnet, it has no turn of thought, hence no pause.

The other notable contribution is Henry Constable’s Diana, containing twenty eight sonnets, besides four sonnets To Sir P. Sidney’s soul prefixed to Sidney’s Apology For Poetry. Delia by Samuel Daniel, a sonnet sequence of fifty sonnets is distinguished by a happy choice of words and phrase and sweet flow of verses. Michael Drayton’s Idea, containing fifty one sonnets however lacks true passion.Henry in his sonnet is often ingenious, sometimes graceful and always conventional. 

In the bulk of two thousand sonnets in Elizabethan period the predominant theme is obviously love, problem of time and poetic articulation. In form and language there is certain variation yet the subject lines conform the uniformity. However, it is true that they form the casket, which encloses the most precious pearls of Elizabethan lyricism, some of them unsurpassed by none.