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23. Tudor Versification and the Rise of Iambic Pentameter

Jeff Dolven


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

Place United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland » England

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1500-1599

Key-Topics literary history, lyric, poetry

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405154772.2010.00028.x


Extract

The iamb might be said to have attained the maximum of its authority over English verse sometime in the 1570s. At this, the poet George Gascoigne was mildly abashed. “[W]e use none other but a foot of two sillables,” he sighs, whereof the first is depressed or made short, and the second is elevate and made long. And surely I can lament that wee are fallen into suche a playne and simple manner of wryting, that there is none other foote used but one … But since it is so, let us take the forde as we finde it, and lette me set downe unto you suche rules or precepts that even in this playne foote of two sillables you wreste no woorde from his natural and usuall sounde. ( Smith 1967 : 1.50) Gascoigne's pragmatic resolve to take the ford as he found it secured his place in the history of criticism, for his “Certayne Notes of Instruction” – a treatise published with his Posies in 1575 – is the first systematic discussion of English versifying. That fact might seem surprising, since poets had been writing English verse for centuries. Why had there been no such manual before? Or, contrarily, why was one suddenly necessary in 1575, if there had been such a long tradition of verse composition? Why is Gas-coigne embarrassed about the plainness and simplicity of his native tongue; to what standard of ornament or complexity was he comparing it? And that ford: From what historical bank or shoal ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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