chapter  5
20 Pages

Songes and Sonettes, 1557

ByPeter C. Herman

Songs and Sonettes contributed to the formation of a protean English vernacular tradition quickly used and contested by a broad range of individuals. Conveying both a language of interiority and a lexicon of coded political commentary, Richard Tottel's anthology foregrounded the possibilities of economic, erotic, and political agency within the English language: forms of agency presented as accessible and imitable through study of the text. Tottel's collection, Petrarch might seem like the "God in verse" of that text. Tottel's collection serves as an aesthetic axis mundi around which other texts congregate and receive judgment. As the collection immediately achieved immense popularity, and served as the English Petrarchan urtext, attacks perhaps remained inevitable. Richard Tottel's text serves as an early modern touchstone for writers Petrarchans, anti-Petrarchans, and othersregardless of their class, religion, or goals. Simultaneously elevating the passions and the individual, Petrarchan poetry merits vilification for Protestants such as Ascham because it draws attention away from God and hierarchical relationships.