Romantic models dominate our conception of lyric poetry. This essay questions the pertinence of these models to the Renaissance lyric by reading that poetry in the light of Jonathan Culler’s classic account of the romantic lyric in his Pursuit of Signs (1981). Culler famously argues that the definitive trope of lyric is apostrophe, in which first-person speakers address pointedly fictive personifications, such as a sick rose or the west wind, in order to emphasize subjective voicing over objective perception. As Culler helps us see, apostrophes are surprisingly important in Renaissance as well as romantic lyric. But the apostrophes of Renaissance lyric characteristically portray first-person speakers as writing in real time and space to “empirical listeners.” What makes Renaissance lyric distinctive is its persistently social mode of address. Through readings of apostrophic poetry by Waller, Donne, King, Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare, the essay calls for criticism of the lyric that pays closer attention to the differences among historically diverse lyric cultures.
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