By this definition, this would make Spenser’s The Faerie Queene reminiscent of the Greek legend of the labours of Heracles – all of the labours stand alone as discrete stories, as well as forming part of a larger whole. Dramatic and narrative form, and its relation to content, is not lessened by fragmentation. Another significant example lies in a great mediaeval treatise on vernacular poetry, which has its roots in Italy: Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia, written c. 1305. It is written in Latin, but it tackles the subject of the Italian language, using verse forms that are fitting for many types of articulation in that language.
This implies that fragmenting the form in which something is written detracts in no way from the content, and it appears that both Shakespeare and Spenser knew this. Faas asserts that “to Renaissance aestheticians… form was defined by the poet’s invention16″17, which may go partway to explaining why Shakespeare would sometimes violate the sonnet form, sacrificing structure for content. In sonnet XXXII, a few lines have an extra syllable added, changing the emphases to give them a feminine ending (lines 2 and 4), and sonnet CXLV suffers from shortened lines (iambic tetrameter, instead of the traditional pentameter).
In sonnet LXVI, the volta is omitted entirely. Faas goes on to explain: “But most revealing here are the sonnets, where ‘invention’, upon its first occurrence, appears together with its twin-concept ‘argument’: . Just as the poet’s invention or argument is prompted by experience (the love for his friend), so his words are a direct expression of his emotions: . In other words, experience gives the poet’s pen both its ‘skill and argument’ (100). The remaining sonnets in which ‘argument’ and ‘invention’ appear side by side (79, 103, 105), are variations on the same theme.
“18 The suggestion is that content engenders form, but it is obvious that this only occurs to some extent, as both Shakespeare and Spenser are fairly regimented in their chosen structures. In sonnets XL and XLVI, the epizeuxis of the word ‘love’ is quite prominent, but mysteriously, sonnets LXXVI and CXVI are far less end-stopped than their counterparts, making far greater use of the caesura. This is perhaps due to Shakespeare wanting them, as traditional love poems, to sound ‘softer’, as in the earlier example of sonnet XVIII (although this is, of course, pure speculation).
Bose links Spenser and Shakespeare in this regard: “‘The sonnets take their start from something that can, for convenience, be called the Spenserian mode’19. Later on, we are given the characteristics of this mode – the slow movement and melody, the use of imagery predominantly visual and decorative, the romantic glamour, the tendency towards a gently elegiac note. ‘In the Spenserian mode no object is sharply forced on the consciousness… Now there is in Shakespeare’s sonnets a quality that, at a first reading, seems very near to this. ‘ Knights mentions sonnets 98 and 102 as examples of the Spenserian mode.
’20. However, while there are links between Spenser and Shakespeare in this regard, it is evident that in one aspect of his poetry, Shakespeare has a slight advantage that Spenser does not. Sonnets CXXXV and CXXXVI greatly exploit the potential to pun on the poet’s name (reprinted to maximally demonstrate the effect of this): CXXXV Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will, And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus; More than enough am I that vexed thee still, To thy sweet will making addition thus. Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious, Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious, And in my will no fair acceptance shine? The sea, all water, yet receives rain still, And in abundance addeth to his store; So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will One will of mine, to make thy large will more. Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill; Think all but one, and me in that one Will. CXXXVI If thy soul check thee that I come so near, Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will, And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there; Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil. Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love, Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove Among a number one is reckoned none: Then in the number let me pass untold, Though in thy store’s account I one must be; For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold That nothing me, a something sweet to thee: Make but my name thy love, and love that still, And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will. ‘ This allows Shakespeare to inject some unexpected humour into the sonnets, and the ease with which his name rhymes, coupled with the vehicle of the sonnet form’s closely controlled rhyme scheme, allows an ideal association to be set up between form and content.
The two forms examined in this paper have been examined on the basis of shared qualities as much as differences. However, it is worth noting that while the sonnet is compact in itself (even though it can be part of a wider narrative basis per se), epic is by definition the exact opposite. It is imperative that this fundamental difference between the two forms is not forgotten, as it makes a significant mark on the relationship between form and content.
Each of these forms has a different purpose, and each purpose is multi-layered, reflected in the subsequent differences between Shakespeare’s and Spenser’s works in terms of the way each writer manipulates prosody, syntax, diction, symbolism, character, register, and metaphor. Spenser does not deviate from designated structures nearly so much as Shakespeare, suggesting that Spenser has chosen one form only, and expects and hopes it to be applicable to the entire work, whereas Shakespeare does not foster such hopes.
Spenser does not explicitly address the notion of the writer’s craft in his work, whereas Shakespeare does (albeit referring usually to ‘verse’ generally, rather than the sonnet form itself); what’s more, Shakespeare also dares to change form subtly, in accordance with the mood or subject of each individual sonnet, and this in itself says a great deal about how Shakespeare viewed the relationship between form and content. Regardless of whether or not each writer addresses this explicitly in his work, the relationship between structure and content is carefully considered by each, and is far from unfounded.
Word count: 3118 Works consulted Berger H (Jr) (ed. ), Spenser: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall Inc. , 1968 Blake, NF, Rhythmical Alliteration, Modern Philology, vol 67, no. 2, 1969 Cutler, A. & Ladd, D. R. (eds), Prosody: Models and Measurements, Springer-Verlag, 1983 Kermode, F, Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne: Renaissance Essays, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971 Mack, P. (ed. ), Renaissance Rhetoric, St. Martin’s Press, 1994 Palmer, F. R. , Prosodic Analysis, Oxford University Press, 1970 Schar, C. , An Elizabethan Sonnet Problem: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Daniel’s Delia and their Literary Background, Lund Studies in English XXVIII, 1960.
Works cited Aebischer, P. , lecture: “Elizabethan Sonnets”, given at the University of Exeter on February 20th, 2006 Bose, K. , “The New Problem of the Shakespeare Sonnets”, Essays on Shakespeare, Chatterjee, B. (ed. ), Longmans, 1965 Faas, E. , Shakespeare’s Poetics, Cambridge University Press, 1986 Hardison, O. B. , Prosody and Purpose in the English Renaissance, John Hopkins University Press, 1989 Jacobs, R, A Beginners’ Guide To Critical Reading: An Anthology of Literary Texts, Routledge, 2001 MacLean, H. and Prescott, A. L.