Francis, Thou Art Translated: Petrarch Metamorphosed in English, 1380-1595


  • Ronald L. Martinez Brown University



English translation of Petrarch—translation that is also metamorphosis in a manner that Petrarch would have recognized—begins with Chaucer's rendition of canticus TroiliTroilus and Criseyde, an inaugural moment of lyric imitation long thought unique in Chaucer's work. Yet suggestive claims have been made that Rvf 189 was also rendered by Chaucer as Troilus' second canticus in book V, within a context inclusive of additional Petrarchan influences on Chaucer. Chaucer's versions, and their contextualization in the Troilus, had definite consequences for Petrarchan translation when it resumed with the Henrician poets Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard a century and a half later. For the Tudor poets living under the tyranny of Henry VIII the Petrarch-inspired sonnet offered a richly articulated space of private reflection that did not fail to register the pressure of court politics. Wyatt's Petrarchan translations in the Egerton manuscript represent a privileged part of his lyric production, a preference that the Earl of Surrey absorbed for his very different poetic program, one designed to exalt both aristocratic lineage and an aureate genealogy of poets including Virgil, Dante, and Chaucer along with Petrarch and Wyatt. Mediated by multiple editions of Tottel's Songs and Sonnettes between 1557 and 1594, the legacy of Wyatt's and Surrey's Petrarchan translations reached the Elizabethans with an emphasis on Petrarch's poetic supremacy that stimulated emulation by the young Shakespeare. His tragedy Romeo and Juliet threw down a challenge to Petrarch with respect to sonnet forms, sonnet rhetoric, and the typical story of enamorment, a story still discernibly affiliated with Chaucer's .


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