Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 1. The Spenserian Era of English Versification

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

IX. The Prosody of the Seventeenth Century

§ 1. The Spenserian Era of English Versification

IN the last summary of prosodic progress given in this work, we saw how, with Spenser, something like a new era of English versification was reached; how that versification was again adjusted to the demands at once of metrical form and of the ear; how, by Spenser himself, and by his contemporaries, “poetic diction” of the best sort was once more constructed; and how, in short, something like the Chaucerian position was once more attained, but with the metrical forms immensely varied, and with these forms adjusted to a condition of the language which has proved relatively permanent.

Spenser died in the penultimate year of the sixteenth century, Dryden in the last year of the seventeenth, and the period between the two deaths witnessed large and definite prosodic progress: not always in the limited and flattering acceptation of the word, but always progress in the true historical sense. Many of the examples and evidences of this—the dramatic blank verse of Sbakespeare and his elder and younger craft-fellows; the remarkable array of later Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline lyric; the practical creation of nondramatic blank verse by Milton; the rival forms of stopped and overflowing couplet—have been separately considered under the heads of the greater and lesser poets who exemplified them. These particular considerations will only be summarised here to the extent necessary for a general view of the whole tendencies and results of the prosodic period. But an attempt will be made to map this out clearly; for, historically, if we consider, there is hardly a more important field of English versification in existence.