Michael Drayton Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Except for brief prefaces to his books and letters, four of which were published in the Works of his friend William Drummond of Hawthornden, Michael Drayton wrote exclusively in verse. Between about 1597 and 1602, he is reputed to have written or collaborated on twenty plays, all of which are lost except The First Part of the True and Honorable Historie of the Life of Sir John Old-Castle the Good Lord Cobham (pr. 1599). The titles indicate that these were chronicle history plays.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

According to Francis Meres in 1598, Michael Drayton was “a man of virtuous disposition, honest conversation, and well-governed carriage; which is almost miraculous among good wits in these declining times.” His early reputation was as a Spenserian, and as his life went on, friends perceived him as a conservative man increasingly out of sorts with the post-Elizabethan world. Though inevitably overshadowed by major contemporaries such as Edmund Spenser, his fellow-Warwickshirite William Shakespeare, John Donne, and Ben Jonson, he wrote well in virtually every popular literary genre of his day, and in his “heroical epistles” and Horatian odes, he introduced forms which, while not of major importance thereafter in English literature, he practiced with distinction. With reference to his longest work, Charles Lamb called Drayton “that panegyrist of my native earth; who has gone over her soul in his Poly-Olbion with the fidelity of a herald, and the painful love of a son.” Drayton’s odes in praise of English accomplishments, the “Ballad of Agincourt” and “To the Virginian Voyage,” remain anthology favorites, as do several poems from Idea, one of the finest sonnet sequences in English.

As one of England’s first professional poets, Drayton nearly always wrote competently and on occasion superbly, especially in his lyrics. In his best poems, he blends an intense love of his native land with a classicism marked by clarity, decorum, careful attention to form, and—with respect to all passions except his patriotic fervor—calm detachment.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Brink, Jean R. Michael Drayton Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Offers an excellent introduction to Drayton’s life and works. The first chapter substantially revises Drayton’s biography. The other chapters deal chronologically with each of his major poems, and the concluding chapter discusses Drayton’s impact on later writers. Includes chronology, notes, and a useful select bibliography.

Brooks-Davies, Douglas, ed. Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century: Wyatt, Surrey, Ralegh, Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, Michael Drayton, and Sir John Davies. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1992. Examines work by Drayton and other sixteenth century poets.

Corbett, Margery, and Ronald Lightbown. The Comely Frontispiece: The Emblematic Title-Page in England, 1550-1660. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979. In this collection of essays, the thirteenth chapter is devoted to the unusual frontispiece to Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, his lengthy poetic description of the geography and history of Great Britain. An interpretation is offered of the engraving of Great Britain as a woman seated on an imperial throne. Beautifully illustrated.

Curran, John E. “The History Never Written: Bards, Druids, and the Problem of Antiquarianism in ’Poly Olbion.’” Renaissance Quarterly 51, no. 2 (Summer, 1998): 498-528. A study of the response of Drayton to the rise of antiquarianism as seen in his depictions of bards and druids in this poem.

Galbraith, David. Architectonics of Imitation in Spenser, Daniel, and Drayton. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 2000. Galbraith examines Samuel Daniel’s Civile Warres, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612-1622) to explore the boundaries between history and poetry.

Harner, James L. Samuel Daniel and Michael Drayton: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Approximately one-half of this bibliography is devoted to books and articles written about Drayton. The entries are arranged chronologically beginning with the seventeenth century and concluding with the twentieth. The annotations are reliable and extremely useful.