Michael Drayton(1563-1631) was born at Hartshill, in Warwickshire. His early life was spent in the service of Sir Henry Goodyer (1534-95), who introduced him to Lucy, countess of Bedford (1581-1627). His friends included John Stow, William Camden, Ben Jonson, William Drummond, William Browne, George Wither, and possibly William Shakespeare. He died in comparative poverty but was buried in Westminster Abbey, where Lady Anne Clifford paid for his monument.
He constantly revised and reissued poems, often giving them different titles. The Harmony of the Church (1591) is a dull metrical version, marred by excessive alliteration, of some songs and prayers from the Old Testament. Idea: The Shepherd’s Garland (1593) has nine eclogues showing the strong influence of Spenser’s The Shepherd’s Calendar.
Idea’s Mirror (1594) is his contribution to the sonnet vogue. Idea’s Mirror is a 64-sonnet sequence continued the pastorals’ lovelorn theme. This volume contained many splendid and brilliantly-phrased sonnets, mainly in the Petrarchan model. It is supposed that Anne, the younger daughter of Goodere, was the ‘idea’ who prompted Drayton’s cycle of sonnets. Drayton’s most memorable ‘The Parting’, with its famous first line, ‘Since there is no help, come let us kiss and part’. He lacks Sidney’s depth as a sonneteer, but he has something of Sidney’s directness. Passion smoulders throughout the cycle, and if Idea is unified by its poet’s intensity of utterance, it reaches a fiery climax in the masterpiece ‘The Parting’, by which Drayton has won immortality.
Drayton attempted historical poetry with two poems, both in 1594, Piers Gaveston and Matilda using Holinshed as a source. Endymion and Phoebe (1595) is an epyllion (a minor epic), a fashionable form used by Marlowe in Hero and Leander and Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis. With characteristic energy, Drayton experimented with another form in England’s Heroical Epistles (1597-1602). In the Epistles, twelve pairs of famous English lovers- beginning with Henry II and Rosamond, and concluding with Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley-write long letters to each other in couplet rhyme. This work was extremely popular and went into six editions.
The Owl, a satire, perhaps reflecting Drayton’s failure to thrive at James I’s court, appeared in 1604, and Odes in 1606.
Drayton’s output was excellent and varied. He seemed equally at home in odes and sonnets, in legends and plays. His patriotic ballads of Agincourt and To the Virginian Voyage, a tribute to the explorers who went with Raleigh, are proofs of his patriotism and are contained in the volume named Poems Lyric and Pastoral (1606).
Like Spenser and Daniel, Drayton was alert to the importance of celebrating the idea of the nation-state. Poly-Olbion Parts I (1612) and II (1622) celebrate, in alexandrine verse, the geographical features, the customs and histories of all the counties of the kingdom. Philip Henslowe’s diary shows that he also collaborated on plays but none has survived. His Works have been definitively edited in six volumes by J. W. Hebel, K. Tillotson, and B. H. Newdigate (1931-41; rev. 1961).