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Michael Drayton and the Burden of History

Chatterton Lecture on Poetry, delivered by Professor Andrew Hadfield, on 7 May 2003.

Michael Drayton (1563-1631) has often been seen as a retrogressive poet obsessed with the historical drama of the past which he sought in vain to apply to the present. Drayton's main original contribution to literary history, Poly-Olbion (published 1612-22), was a commercial failure and he is often read as a miserable writer who felt that his moment had come and gone. But if a wider range of Drayton's poetry is read then he emerges more as a bold and innovative experimental writer, keen to try out new forms, styles and exapnd the range of poetry written in English. An overview of his work shows him to be a keen reader of the non-aristocratic canon of English poetry: Marlowe, Spenser, Shakespeare and A Mirror for Magistrates. Drayton's fear was that he may not be a strong enough writer to escape the influences of his predecessors who he copied, recycled and adapted and that he would fail to establish his own distinctive literary voice. This was the burden of history that he had to face and which has marginalised his achievement, relegating him to a footnote in literary history.

Speaker: Professor Andrew Hadfield, University of Wales Aberstwyth.

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