What are the characteristic features of English poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth century?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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During the 15th and 16th century, the English poetry was either a part of the The Renaissance Period (1500-1660) or the Neoclassical Period (1660-1798). That being said, many critics have a hard time agreeing upon the exact dates of some of the literary periods and dates one sees may contradict with one another.

Poetry of the Renaissance period tended to contain elements truer to the poet than those which had been seen earlier in poetry. The Renaissance poets tended to raise up the importance of their own native vernacular (pulling away from the classical Latin). These poets also tended to focus upon ironic and satirical situations found in life. The most famous Renaissance poets of this period were Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.

As for the characteristics of the Neoclassical period, the poets of this period tended to pull away from the ideas illustrated by the authors of the Renaissance Period. Therefore, they wrote poems which spoke to the importance of order, correctness, and restraint. Their poetry focused upon re-establishing the importance of the classical forms of poetry (the most commonly used in this period was the rhymed couplet). The most famous poets of this period were Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and John Milton.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This period, sometimes known as the "early modern" period, is one in which English poetry matured and flourished. Poets began using modern English, as opposed to Latin or the Middle English of Chaucer. Although some writers still experimented with the use of classical, quantitative meters, certainly by the end of the period, accentual-syllabic meter became the dominant prosodic mode. Iambic pentameter became a standard line in much the way that dactylic hexameter had been the default in antiquity. Poetry was metered; free verse had yet to be invented. Although English schools continued to emphasize Greek and Latin, not only did poetry in the vernacular flourish, but also writers such as Wilson, Sherry, and Peacham began to develop a uniquely English vocabulary for talking about poetry, rather than relying exclusively on Graeco-Latin critical terms.

Poetry in this period displayed great variety, including verse drama, epic, and lyric poetry, as well as translations and adaptations of poems from other languages. The sonnet flourished as one of the most important types of lyric poetry. While many poets wrote about love in the Petrarchan tradition, religious poetry also thrived.