Wyatt, Surrey and the English Sonnet Tradition


Carlo M. Bajetta

Cosa hanno in comune Lady Gaga e Sir Thomas Wyatt?  Una lezione con un incipit originale, intesa a far comprendere agli studenti come i temi e le preoccupazioni del Rinascimento siano molto più vicine a noi di quanto crediamo.

Questo prezioso contributo, concepito come un intervento per studenti universitari, ma adattabile alle esigenze di una scuola secondaria, apre interessanti scorci sulla poesia rinascimentale inglese e sul sonetto.


Lesson plan


  • Level: upper intermediate
  • School: 5th year liceo scientifico (or Linguistico, see below)
  • (NB: with adaptations? - originally delivered as an experimental class at IULM, Milan)



  • students should have been already taken through the main events of the early Tudor era (viz., end of the war of the Roses, Henry VII, Henry VIII, the break with Rome, Erasmus in England).


Lecture organisation:

  • Time: (depending on the time allowed for text translation/discussion): 2/3 classes of 60 mins.
  • NB: ideally, the class should be run in collaboration with the Latin teacher / instructor; otherwise the Latin texts from Petrarch and Ovid should be given in translation.
  • Additional tools needed: handouts with texts presented here in modernized spelling (but note some of the spellings here, which can provide interesting insights); whiteboard for occasional notes (not everything has been included here...).
  • Texts: Text(s) to be read in class: Wyatt’s and Surrey’s poems as presented in the slides. Shakespeare and Sidney are given here only to work on metre and can be dealt later on during the year.
  • Works cited / further readings: see works cited / bibliography both in the attached word file and on the last slide.



  • By means of a rather curious initial comparison, get the students to understand: that influence, inventio and imitatio are not so distant from their everyday life as they may think
  • get them to read Wyatt’s and Surrey’s texts not as mere ‘translations’, and to perceived the complex intertwining of politics, sex, love present in these poems
  • showing them how Wyatt and Surrey’s rich figurative language and, especially, their metrical experimentations were influential for the Elizabethan poets.


Works cited:

  • Braden, Gordon (ed.) 2005. Sixteenth-Century Poetry: An annotated anthology (Oxford: Blackwell).
  • Camaiora, Luisa, [1990] 1993. The Arts of Culture: Essays on Wyatt and Surrey, Gray. Goldsmith and Keats (Milan: Europrint).
  • Falconer, Richard, [2000] 2003. ‘A Reading of Wyatt’s 'Who so list to hunt'’ in A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture ed. Michael Hattaway (Oxford: Blackwell).
  • Some translations for these texts can be found in “Amore che ti fermi alla terra”. Antologia di voci dal petrarchismo europeo, a cura di Carlo M. Bajetta, Claudio Recalcati, Edoardo Zuccato con traduzioni di Mario Luzi, Maria Luisa Spaziani, Massimo Bocchiola, Franco Buffoni, Danilo Bramati, Gabriella Galzio, Nicola Gardini, Andrea Inglese, Annalisa Manstretta, Valerio Magrelli, Fabio Pusterla, Claudio Recalcati, Flavio Santi, Edoardo Zuccato, ISU - Università Cattolica, Milano 2004.
Download this file (Wyatt, surrey & Co.ppt)Wyatt, Surrey and the English Sonnet[Scarica le slides del contributo in formato .ppt]1982 kB

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