What are the general characteristics of Elizabethan poetry?

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The Elizabethan age ushered in a period of literary freedom and provided grounds for experimentation for the poets. The age was a break away from the tumultuous socioeconomic events of the previous period. The general society was more at peace and enjoying political stability during the Elizabethan age. Poetry from this time feature romanticism ideals and melodrama. The works would combine tragedy and comedy as seen in some of Edmund Spenser’s poetry. Poetry during this age also featured imagination and intense emotions. This made the base nature of such works to emanate from the poets' own feelings which were then developed into art. The literary works also adhered to some form of rhyming meter and structure as experienced in the sonnet which is also a feature of Elizabethan poetry introduced by Thomas Wyatt.

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Elizabethan poetry, as the name suggests, comprises the poetry written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The Elizabethan age, which spanned from 1558 to 1603, was a golden period in the history of English Literature. Fine Arts and Literature flourished like anything during this time. Poetry was the chief form of literature along with Drama. William Shakespeare, the most admired poet and playwright in English literature tradition, wrote during this time. In fact, the Elizabethan age is also known as the “Age of Shakespeare”. Some other important Elizabethan poets include Edmund Spencer, Philip Sydney, Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, etc.

The sonnet form, which was championed by Shakespeare, was one of the most dominant forms of poetry during this time. Lyric and narrative poetry were also very common. Poetry and verse plays were majorly written in blank verse. The spirit of Renaissance had conquered England and, inevitably, there was a profound interest to borrow from the classical texts. Themes of Nationalism, Humanism, and patriotism dominated both poetry and drama. The poetry was marked by Romantic luxuriance, creativity, Imagination and experimentation. Use of metaphors was very common.

Shakespeare wrote over hundred sonnets. He developed a new form of sonnet known as the Shakespearean sonnet (or the English sonnet) that was different from the Petrarchan sonnet. Some of the best works of poetry by Spencer are The Fairie Queen, Epithalamion, Prothalamion, Amoretti, The Shepherd’s Calendar, etc. Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella are also very famous.

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The general characteristics of the Elizabethan poetry, given this genre typically focuses on creativity, is the use of metaphors, repetition, puns, and paradoxes.  The metaphor is typically used to compare women to objects of rare and exotic beauty.  The repetition exists so as to develop and deepen the theme of the poetry. The use of puns existed so as to develop a play on words given many words, in the English language, typically have multiple meanings. Lastly, the use of paradoxes instills the importance of opposites.

Thematically, Elizabethan poetry focused upon romance and courtly love.

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