Titel: Shakespeare's sonnets and the Petrarchan tradition
Autoren/Herausgeber: Stefan Ruhnke
Ausgabe: 1., Auflage
Seminar paper from the year 2007 in the subject English Language and Literature Studies - Literature, grade: 1,3, Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald, course: Petrarchism in English Renaissance Poetry, 17 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: Ever since the first publication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Thomas Thorpe’s, very likely
unauthorized, Quarto-edition in 1609, these poetic masterpieces have interested and
captivated readers and critics alike for the following centuries.
Shakespeare’s exceptional abilities as a playwright as well as a poet have always drawn the
attention of literary criticism towards his works and also to his sonnets. In the past, critics
have often tried to answer all sorts of questions concerning the sonnets. Among the questions
dealt with, like the identity of the persons mentioned in the poems, the correct order and
structure of the sonnet cycle and many others, critics also tried to answer in which ways
Shakespeare used and incorporated already existing poetic conventions and in how far he
wrote against, contrasted and overcame common literary traditions by producing, according to
Pequigney’s praise, “the greatest of all love-sonnet sequences”.
The common literary tradition for writing love poetry that not only English but also
continental poets followed in the sixteenth century was that of Petrarchism.
Already after Francesco Petrarca, or Petrarch, had introduced this way of writing love poetry,
the fashion of imitating or adopting and sometimes contrasting the Petrarchan way of writing
poetry spread from Italy to France, Spain, the Netherlands and also to England4, where Wyatt
and Surrey introduced the sonnet form and the thematic aspects which characterize
Petrarchism5. Although Petrarchism, with its many followers who, despite striking
similarities, often exhibit different ways of adopting the model set by Petrarch, seems not too
easy to define6, this paper aims to show how this prominent love poetry tradition was adopted
and adapted by Shakespeare for his Sonnets.
To achieve this goal it seems essential to try to define what the Petrarchan way of writing love
poetry is and why it became a predominant fashion in England before and during the time
Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. This is to be the purpose of the following chapter.