The sonnet and the sword

There was a fascinating programme on the radio about poetry and the court of Elizabeth I, The Sonnet and the Sword:

The presenter was Peggy Reynolds and she was looking at not just the poetry of the age but the Elizabethan world, as expressed in poetry; many of the courtiers and officials wrote and by looking at their work one has a fascinating glimpse of the personalities and the  politics of the different factions. Flattery of the queen was a huge part of their world, to obtain advancement or preferment, to sideline their political rivals, it was vital to have the Queen’s favour.

One of the contributes was Professor Steven May who considered not just the poetry from the upper echelons of the court circle but also other writers, mentioning of course, Shakespeare. Another interesting contributor was Dr Susan Doran who looked at the wider context and set poetry into its age when there was religious problems, England having left the Church of Rome under Henry VIII, reverted to Catholicism under Mary, and then back to Protestantism under Elizabeth. The ongoing war with Spain was a backdrop to these religious questions and anxieties. and concern over the royal succession. A third major concern of politicians, law-makers, lords and bishops was the succession; Elizabeth was unmarried and it was by no means clear who would succeed her.”Poetry during the reign of Elizabeth I developed into a national literature, with courtiers as the elite consumers judging literary developments, and often being at the forefront of innovations themselves.”


Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

William Shakespeare

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