The Elizabethan Sonnet
In the English sonnet sequences that proliferated in the final decades of the sixteenth century, there is no duplication of the central Petrarchan paradigm for the afterlife. Instead, the vast majority of Elizabethan sonnet series expand Wyatt’s desire to escape from love into a kind of death-drive. This chapter examines a wide range of sonnet sequences, largely written by minor poets and overlooked by literary history, in which the idea that death would bring an absolute end to torturous erotic affections is unambiguously embraced. This embrace is not due to a belief, however, that there will be ample rewards--either erotic or devotional--in the afterlife. Instead, this poetry is overwhelmingly secular, often suggesting a strain of materialism more consonant with classical ideas than with Christian models for the afterlife.
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