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Posthumous LoveEros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England$
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Ramie Targoff

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226789590

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226110462.001.0001

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The Afterlife of Renaissance Sonnets

The Afterlife of Renaissance Sonnets

(p.135) 5 The Afterlife of Renaissance Sonnets
Posthumous Love

Ramie Targoff

University of Chicago Press

This chapter returns to the Elizabethan sonnet, but with a focus on the more affirmative (and, not coincidentally, more celebrated) examples of the genre--the sequences of Spenser and Daniel and Shakespeare, among others--which pursue literary forms of immortality. This pursuit of literary immortality differs from both its classical and Petrarchan counterparts in its explicit self-understanding as compensation for the fact that earthly love is mortal (for the Latin elegists, there is very little of this sentimental strain, whereas for Petrarch, immortal fame complements, rather than compensates for, a shared heavenly future). Within the English love sonnet, the afterlife of love gets displaced from eschatology onto the literary artifact. One consequence of mortal love, then, is the surprising empowerment of the poem itself as a manifestation or materialization of erotic ties that have no other future. In this context, John Donne’s idea of the poem as “well-wrought urn” takes on an even greater resonance: the poem becomes not only the receptacle for the lovers’ remains, but the site for a shared posthumous fate that is otherwise denied them.

Keywords:   Elizabethan sonnet, immortality, fame, Edmund Spenser, Samuel Daniel, Shakespeare, John Donne

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