Most of the available biographical facts derive from Michael Drayton’s own poems and dedications. He was born in northern Warwickshire in 1563 and seems to have been reared and educated in the household of Sir Henry Goodere at Polesworth, not far from his native village of Hartshill. To fulfill his lifelong desire to be a poet, he moved to London at least by 1591, although more likely in the later 1580’s. Beyond reasonable doubt the “Idea” of his sonnets honors Sir Henry’s daughter Anne. Drayton may have been in love with Anne; around 1595, however, she married a man of her own class, Sir Henry Rainsford. Of Drayton’s ever marrying, there is no record. In later years, the poet spent his summers at Clifford Hall, Gloucestershire, the Rainsfords’ seat, and he is known to have been treated by Lady Rainsford’s physician, John Hall, who was Shakespeare’s son-in-law. Although he apparently lived the last forty years of his life in London, Drayton’s fondness for rural England and his admiration for the values of the landed gentry were obviously genuine. He is credited with having been on familiar terms with nearly every important literary Englishman of his time. Dying near the end of 1631, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Michael Drayton (DRAYT-uhn), born at Hartshill, Warwickshire, in 1563, may have been the most prolific as well as the most dedicated poet of his period. His Poly-Olbion, completed in 1622 and ten years in the writing, is one of the longest poems in English, a varied topographical and historical celebration of England’s glories. It represents only one type of his poetic works, however, which include his earliest volume, the biblical paraphrases published in 1591 titled The Harmonie of the Church; the sonnet series, Ideas Mirrour, published in 1594 and revised, as Idea, in 1619; and the mock-heroic Nimphidia, published in The Battaile of Agincourt in 1627.
Drayton’s finest work is The Muses Elizium, finished the year before his death, in which the combination of his talents for realistic expression and dignified artifice are enhanced by a firm idealism. His vigorous sonnets, among them the famous “Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part” (from the Idea of 1619), showed him leading toward this fluent style.
He collaborated on more than twenty plays, of which only one has survived. His historical poems are of only passing interest; however, his continued fascination with England’s past found successful expression in Englands Heroicall Epistles, modeled on Ovid. This work includes twenty-four imaginary letters exchanged between such famous personages as Henry II and Fair Rosamond, and Edward IV and Jane Shore. Nimphidia contains two of his most charming pastoral poems and a critical verse letter to Henry Reynolds, which puts forth his poetic theories. Drayton died impoverished in London on December 23, 1631, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.