Shakespearean Stanzas? Venus and Adonis, Lucrece and Complaint

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The names of poetic forms are deeply enmeshed in literary history. This article excavates the sources and effects of the stanza forms used by Shakespeare in the first works to be published with his name on them: the rhymed pentameter sixain of Venus and Adonis and the rhyme royal of Lucrece. The “Venus and Adonis stanza”, so-called for its use by Shakespeare, had been used in many earlier works such as Paradyse of Daynty Devyses, and Robert Southwell’s prolific use demonstrates a parallel complaint tradition. The rhyme royal stanza, by contrast, was well-established by the time Shakespeare used it in Lucrece. Shakespeare drew on a particularly legalistic use of the form, as seen in Thomas Churchyard’s Shores Wife, for Lucrece’s powerful complaint. Tracing the multiple genealogies of stanza forms allows us to understand Shakespeare’s innovation through his borrowing, and to look at - and beyond - the obscuring labels given to Renaissance poetic forms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Oct 2019


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