If we set aside the small body of verse that Shakespeare produced in lyric and elegiac forms, his main contributions to non-dramatic poetry are to two poetic sub-genres that were fashionable in the early 1590s and that are at almost opposite extremes of the poetic spectrum (though both allowed for a display of literary virtuosity): the sonnet sequence, and the extended narrative poem. The sonnetform is effectively fixed by its fourteen lines and set rhyme-schemes, and therefore demands great rigour in control and concentration. The extended narrative poem, as it developed in Shakespeare’s time, might seem to have encouraged the opposite of concentration. It had no prescribed verse- or stanza-form, no real limit to its length, and it therefore allowed the writer considerable freedom not only for amplification, ornamentation and digression, but also for the inclusion of generic elements of other forms. It does not even have a handy designation, although the term ‘epyllion’, meaning ‘minor epic’ is sometimes applied to it. Even this term is a little misleading, however, because the sources and models for most of these narrative poems are not the Homeric or Virgilian epics, but the erotic writings of Ovid.
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