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Chapter # VI

THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE


NON-DRAMATIC VERSE
 The Age of Shakespeare:
William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was born into an age of experiment,
invention, discovery, and revolution. It was an age in which scientists overthrew long-held
axioms, philosophers promoted universal education, and seafarers expanded the boundaries of
the known world.
He was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the
English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet
and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39
plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain
authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed
more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. At the age of 18, he
married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna and twins Hamnetand
Judith. Sometime between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor,
writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as
the King's Men.
Shakespeare came of age in London, one of the great capitals of Europe, during the reign of
Queen Elizabeth I, and later King James I. This era of exploration and discovery was also a
golden age for literature: Shakespeare composed his works alongside Christopher Marlowe,
Ben Jonson, and Edmund Spenser. It was also an age of turmoil, filled with conspiracies,
rebellions, and plots, including the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate the king and blow up
Parliament in 1605.

By 1592 he had become a successful actor and playwright in London and was famous among
Londoners for the popularity of his plays.
Shakespeare was an astute businessman as well as an artist. He recognized that he could broaden
his audience by using characters and language that would appeal to both the noble and the lower
classes. He mixed both bawdy and sophisticated humour to appeal to his larger audience. He also
wrote about the human experience with universal themes of love, ambition and envy that are
still felt and loved by modern audiences.
The plays are often categorized as tragedies, comedies or histories. Tragedies featured
sympathetic protagonists who were doomed by their flaws. Comedies tended to be more upbeat,
with happy endings that often led to a marriage. The historical plays were frequently politically
motivated to appeal to the Elizabethan court and featured British and Scottish kings.
As an actor, Shakespeare was present during the production of his plays and therefore wrote
them with very little stage direction. Dialogue was written in blank verse and iambic pentameter,
meaning that each line of speech is ten syllables long and unrhymed. In his early works, lines
were often stressed at the end.
As his writing developed, Shakespeare gained an understanding that a more lyrical style of writing
would hold the audience interest and be more pleasing to the ear. He developed a characteristic
cadence to his dialogue, stressing his lines in the second syllable to provide a rhythmic pattern to
his speeches.
Shakespeare's writing developed and evolved throughout his career. Scholars often divide his
work into periods based on different aspects of his writing style. Influences were everywhere at
work which extended to expand thought, stir the feelings, dilate the imagination and by
nourishing as well as stimulating genius, to give breadth and energy to the literature produced.
England now felt the full effect of the revival of learning, which was no longer limited to the
scholarly few at the universities and about the court.
By virtue of its fertility and of the variety and splendor of its production, this period as a whole
rank as one of the greatest in the annals of the world’s literature and is remembered by the
names as “Shakespearean Age and Elizabethan Age”.
 Elizabethan poetry before Spenser:
The age of Shakespeare or the Elizabethan Age witnessed of the redhest periods in the history of
England. The Age witnessed the rise and growth of the feelings of patriotism and nationalism
among the English people and brought about an unprecedented progress in almost all the
branches of its varigated life. The age is considered as “The Golden Age” in the history of English
literature. It was the age of Queen Elizabethan 1st (1558-1603) comprising the half of 16th
century. It was an age in which the mind of the people was set free from the trammels of
Medievalism from free of religious persecuation from fear of poverty and starvation and from
the fear of foreign invasion. It was an age/era of social, political and religious peace. Men were
now free to devote themselves to art and literatures. It was also an era of great adventures, travel
and discovery which fired the imagination of the people and impelled them to creative activity.
It is therefore called a “Golden Age of English Literature.”
The Elizabethan Age extends from 1558-1603. It can be divided into two periods. The first period
may be called “Age of Spenser” (1558-1579) and the second may be called “Age of Shakespeare”
(1579-1603). In the first part we have the time of preparation of the spring tide of Elizabethan
literature, the second is the time of full blossom and furition.
Following were the poets whose devoted their work before Edmund Spenser:
 HENRY HOWARD, EARL OF SURREY (1517-47)

SURREY, HENRY HOWARD, the poet was son of Thomas Howard. His work consists of sonnets and
miscellaneous poems in various meters, notable for their grace and finish. He combined love and
nature in his personal sonnets, and gave them the impress of his personality. Surrey also
composed impersonal sonnets characterised by satirical touches to contemporary personages.
He was the first English poet to use ‘Blank-Verse’ in his translation of the two books of the
“AENIED”.
“TOTTEL’S MISCELLANY” was published in 1557, a date which marks the public beginning of
modern English Poetry.
 THOMAS SAKVILLE (1536-1608)

In bulk Sackville’s poetry does not amount so much, but in merit it is of much consequence. He
is the author of two significant works, “THE MIRROR OF MAGISTRATES” and “INDUCTION”. Both
are composed in the rhyme royal stanza, are melancholy and elegiac in sprit and archaic in
language, but have a severe nobility of thought and a grandear of conception and of language
quite unknown since the days of Chaucer.
 GEORGE GASCOGINE (1526-1577)

Gascoigne was the first literary artist to introduce the first English comedy. “ THE SUPPOSES” the
first regular verse satire, “THE STEEL GLASS” the first pose tale from Bandello; the first translation
from the Greek tragedy “JO CASTA”. He was a tolerable metrical artist and had a nice turn for
fantasy as can be seen in his “FLOWERS”, “HERBS” and “WEEDS”. His Blank-Verse was correct but
dull.

 Spenser and his poetry:


Edmund Spenser, (born 1552/53, London, England—died January 13, 1599, London), English
poet whose long allegorical poem The Faerie Queene is one of the greatest in the English
language. It was written in what came to be called the Spenserian stanza. He is considered the
greatest non-dramatic poet of an age which found its natural literary expression in the drama.
It was Charles Lamb who called Spenser “the ‘Poet’s Poet’ and in giving him that honoured tittle,
the prince of English essayists was not wrong. Spenser is regarded as the ‘poet’s poet’ and the
‘second father of English Poetry’. In Spenser’s poetry we have the best and the finest qualities
that are generally associated with good and great poetry, and in a way are spread over in the
works of subsequent poets. The poetic faculty in Spenser is so abundantly and predominantly
present that we cannot think of any other poet save Spenser to occupy the pride of place among
English poets.
The main poetical works of Spenser are “Shepherd’s Calender”, “The Four Hymns”, Mother
Husband’s Tale”, “The Complaints”, “The Amoretti”, “The Epithalamion” and the masterpiece
“The Faerie Queene”. ‘The Faerie Queene’ is a great work on which Spenser’s fame rests. The
original plan of the poets included 24 books, each of which was to recount the adventure and
triumphs of a knight who represented moral Virtue. The plot of the poem is rather complicated
and obscure. But the main aim of the poet becomes moral edification through and allegorical
device.
The Shepheardes Calender can be called the first work of the English literary Renaissance.
Following the example of Virgil and of many later poets, Spenser was beginning his career with a
series of eclogues (literally “selections,” usually short poems in the form of pastoral dialogues),
in which various characters, in the guise of innocent and simple shepherds, converse about life
and love in a variety of elegantly managed verse forms, formulating weighty—often satirical—
opinions on questions of the day.
A glimpse of Spenser's audacious plan to help provide England with a great national literature
appears in an appendix printed in the 1590 edition of the first three books of his most important
work, The Faerie Queene. Like the canterbury tales, The Faery Queene is a fragment for of the
twelve books which Spenser projected, six only were published during his lifetime and portions
of the seventh after his death. However, it is the longest as well as one of the greatest of English
poems.
It is "an historicall fiction," written to glorify Queen Elizabeth and "to fashion a gentleman or
noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline."

 Faerie Queen:
The Faerie Queene (1590) is an epic poem by Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599), which follows the
adventures of a number of medieval knights. The poem, written in a deliberately archaic style,
draws on history and myth, particularly the legends of Arthur. Each book follows the adventures
of a knight who represents a particular virtue and who has that quality in him or herself tested
by the plot.
The Faerie Queene is an allegorical work in praise of Elizabeth I and of Elizabethan notions of
virtue. The poem employs frequent allusions to recent history and contemporary politics in its
celebration and critique of the Tudor dynasty, such as the religious controversies and reforms
under Mary and Elizabeth. Spenser wrote that one of his intentions was that the reading of this
work should ‘fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle disciple’. Spenser
invented a new verse form for his epic that is now known as the Spenserian stanza.
The Faerie Queene is an English epic poem by Edmund Spenser. Books I to III were first published
in 1590, and then republished in 1596 together with books IV to VI. The Faerie Queene is notable
for its form: it is one of the longest poems in the English language as well as the origin of the
verse form known as the Spenserian stanza.[1] On a literal level, the poem follows several knights as a means to
examine different virtues, and though the text is primarily an allegorical work, it can be read on
several levels of allegory, including as praise (or, later, criticism) of Queen Elizabeth I. In Spenser's
"Letter of the Authors", he states that the entire epic poem is "cloudily enwrapped in Allegorical
devises", and the aim of publishing The Faerie Queene was to "fashion a gentleman or noble
person in vertuous and gentle discipline".[2]
The Faerie Queene found such favour with Elizabeth I that Spenser was granted a pension for life
amounting to £50 a year, though there is no further evidence that Elizabeth I ever read any of
the poem. This royal patronage elevated the poem to a level of success that made it Spenser's
defining work.
The poem is unfinished: Spenser’s original plan was for 12 books, but we have just seven, the last
being incomplete. The first three books were published in 1590 and the second three in 1596.