Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > The Prosody of the Seventeenth Century > Loss of Elasticity and Diversity
  The Spenserian Era of English Versification Variations of the Iambic Line  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

IX. The Prosody of the Seventeenth Century.

§ 2. Loss of Elasticity and Diversity.

The point to start with, and to keep in mind as steadily as possible, is that the effort to drag English prosody out of its fifteenth century Slough of Despond—the effort begun by Wyatt and Surrey, continued by Sackville and his contemporaries and completed by Spenser—resulted, almost inevitably, in somewhat too great insistence on strict and nearly syllabic regularity of metre. The elasticity and variety of English verse which had been the most precious heritage from the union of Teutonic and Romance qualities had been a little lost sight of, even to the extent of the strange delusion—formulated as theory by Gascoigne in the face of facts, and evidently entertained by much greater and later poets in practice—that English possessed a foot of two syllables, iambically arranged, and that foot only.   3
  Had this delusion not been counterworked, the loss would have been immense; but, fortunately, the counterworking went on in two—in fact in three—important directions. In the first place, the abundant composition of songs for music necessitated now the admixture, now the constant observance, of “triple time.” In the second, metrical composition in this triple time, with no idea of music, was popular; and, though not much affected by the greater poets, it was sporadically cultivated by the lesser, from Tusser onwards. But the great instrument, pattern and storehouse (to regard it from different points of view) in the recovery—slowly though this recovery was effected—was blank verse.   4

  The Spenserian Era of English Versification Variations of the Iambic Line  

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