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Keats’s Endymion and Elizabethan Minor Epic

William Edwards

Pages 169 - 179



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

This article considers John Keats’s long narrative poem Endymion as a revival of the genre of Elizabethan minor epic. Critics interested in the ‘Elizabethan’ quality of Keats’s verse usually focus on his annotation of William Shakespeare’s plays, to the neglect of other types of early modern verse-writing that may have influenced him. My article traces certain aspects of the language and narrative of Endymion back to three minor epics of the 1590s: Michael Drayton’s Endimion and Phoebe, Thomas Lodge’s Glaucus and Scilla, and Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. The rural landscapes depicted in these Elizabethan poems, which all feature passages combining the words ‘eglantine’ and ‘nightingales’ (near-anagrams of one another), foreshadow the lush pastoral setting of Keats’s poem and his love of verbal manipulation. I argue that Endymion’s extravagant style represents a self-conscious attempt on Keats’s part to recapture the luscious, irreverent, tragicomic idiom favoured by the Elizabethan writers of minor epic. In highlighting these shared qualities, my aim is to re-contextualise Keats’s underrated early poem as a unique fusion of Romantic and Elizabethan styles.

Keywords: Endymion, Keats, minor epic, source study, metamorphosis, poetry, Elizabethan, Romantic


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