Home  »  Volume III: English RENASCENCE AND REFORMATION  »  § 4. The influence of Petrarch

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XII. The Elizabethan Sonnet

§ 4. The influence of Petrarch

At the same time, Petrarch and many of his Italian imitators were rediscovered by the Elizabethans, and Petrarch’s sway was ultimately re-established, so that he and his Italian disciples exerted, at the close of queen Elizabeth’s reign, the most powerful spell of all on English sonneteers. Elizabethan critics failed to detect in the Elizabethan sonnet much appreciable deviation from its Petrarchian archetype. “In his sweete-mourning sonets,” wrote Sir John Harington, a typical Elizabethan, in 1591, “the dolefull Petrarke…seemes to have comprehended all the passions that all men of that humour have felt.” Gabriel Harvey, in his Pierces Supererogation (1593, p. 61), after enthusiastic commendation of Petrarch’s sonnets (“Petrarch’s invention is pure love itself: Petrarch’s elocution pure beauty itself”), justifies the common English practice of imitating them on the ground that

  • all the noblest Italian, French and Spanish poets have in their several veins Petrarchized; and it is no dishonour for the daintiest or divinest muse to be his scholar, whom the amiablest invention and beautifullest elocution acknowledge their master.