Elizabethan Sonnets and its Features [Explanation]

Elizabethan Sonnets and its Features 

Discussion on:

  • Show how Elizabethan sonnet was a product of the time and comment on its theme and form.
  • Write a note on Elizabethan sonnets and comment on its features..

The Sonnets originated in Italy during the thirteenth century under the patronage of Petrarch and Dante. The sonnet enjoyed and became popular in Italy during the fifteenth century but in the sixteenth century it spread to Spain and France. It further made its way to England through the works of Wyatt, Surrey in the early sixteenth century.

After Wyatt and Surrey, the sonnet was neglected for a number of years till Sir Philip Sidney came to protect the dying form by composing 108 sonnets in his ‘Astrophel and Stella’. These poems expressed the poet’s heart for a lady who broke off with him. In these sonnets we find much of the conventional materials of the Italian sonnets. But on the other hand we find the practical situation of a man who loves one very much. After the publication of Sidney’s ‘Astrophell and Stella’ , we find a good number of sonnets produced by a host of writers of whom Spenser and Shakespeare are worthy of detailed consideration. Spenser composed 88 sonnets of love and addressed the Elizabeth Boyle. These Sonnets have been the Italian name of ‘Amornetti’. In the poems the poet gives expression to the feelings of his heart in a sincere and unaffected manner. These sonnets till a story of love without sin or remorse.


The another important sonneteer of Elizabethan age is William Shakespeare, who wrote 154 sonnets. William Shakespeare’s Sonnets, are divided into two series. The first series i.e 1-126 is addressed to a youth or to a very young man of a great beauty. The second series i.e 127-154 consists of sonnets to or about a certain dark mistress whom the poet loves but whom he also despises.

READ:Merits of Shakespeare according to ‘Preface to Shakespeare’ [Explanation]

After William Shakespeare, the other Elizabethan sonnet writer of prominence was Michael Drayton. He was the poet who reached the highest level of poetic feeling and expression. His well known sonnet sequence was ‘idea’. The title was directly borrowed from a French poet. His sonnets hardly give the impression of true passion. Summing of the development of Elizabethan sonnet, we can say that a good number of poets were involved in this new poetic form and became popular not only in England but also in the world.

Salient Features of Elizabethan Sonnets:

  • Elizabethan Sonnets were produced in sequence, instead of single sonnet. We find 12 collection of sonnets sequences in this age and no age since them witnessed such a spontaneous outburst of sonnet sequences in English Literature. 
  • Elizabethan Sonnets were addressed to an actual lady or a lady of imagination. The sincerity of emotion and passion expressed in the sonnets was very much doubted. 
  • Elizabethan Sonnets are written in Shakespearian form of sonnet. We don’t find Petrarchan form of sonnets except Sidney. 
  • Elizabethan Sonneteer followed French Sonneteer for their model and they neglected the Italian form. 
  • All the Elizabethan Sonnets expressed the conventional type of love. 
  • The Sonnets of Elizabethan age are marked by flights of imagination. The Elizabethan poets seldom fails to rose to true poetical heights in his poems. 
  • Elizabethan Sonneteer were the masters of the art of versification. They were singers in verse and most of them was a singer in his own way. 

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