Poetry

Authored by: Steven W. May

The Elizabethan World

Print publication date:  September  2010
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415409599
eBook ISBN: 9781315736044
Adobe ISBN: 9781317565796

10.4324/9781315736044.ch32

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Abstract

Verse permeated everyday life in Tudor England to a degree unknown in modern times. It was sung to music at church, in homes and on the streets by vendors and ballad-mongers. Many Elizabethans circulated poetry from hand to hand in manuscript. Verses also crop up in about one-third of all books and pamphlets issued from the press during Elizabeth’s reign. Prose texts were regularly interrupted with poetic excerpts used to illustrate, validate or clarify the surrounding content. These snippets of verse were often translated from classical sources and introduced with the formulaic ‘as the poet says’, or ‘in the words of the poet’. Verse titles and adages adorned paintings and were painted on the walls of taverns. At meals, verses were inscribed around the borders of trenchers on which food was served, while the handles of eating utensils were sometimes inscribed with such philosophical musings as ‘Better it is a poor house to hold / than to lie in prison in fetters of gold’. 1 Elizabethans readily composed verses (if not poetry) as occasion served. When ‘adventurers’ in the lottery of 1567–8 were encouraged to individualise their entries with a ‘devise, prose, or poesie’, at least a third of them composed original verses to mark their lots. 2 The age’s books are replete with ownership rhymes, one of the most popular formula being, ‘Iste liber pertinet, bear it well in mind / Ad me Iohannem Dell, both courteous and kind.’ 3

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