The Invention of Rhythm

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“The Invention of Rhythm” dismantles the foundational myth of modern English verse. It considers its two protagonists, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who together brought English poetry out of the middle ages: the latter taking the former’s experiments with Romance language verse forms and smoothing them into the first sustained examples of the iambic measures that would so strongly influence the Elizabethans, and in turn dominate English poetry until the coming of Modernism in the twentieth century. It considers their contrastively-oscillating critical reputations from the seventeenth century to the present day, focusing on how historically-contingent aesthetic and socio-political values have been continuously brought to bear on studies of their respective versification, in fact producing, and perpetuating the mythological narrative, with negligable study of the linguistic and rhythmical patterns of their poems themselves.

It reconsiders their writing, in context of their manuscripts and the anthology by which they were received for most of this time, Tottel’s Miscellany, and through statistically-driven orthographic and paleographic analyses of over a half-dozen early- to mid-sixteenth-century manuscripts, as well as extensive historical, philological and grammatical comparisons, exhaustive stemmatological and polygenous derivational models, and several newly-developed analytical techniques, argues against the persistent Great Men narrative in favor of a democratic, collaborative picture of the invention of modern English versification.

Finally, it presents a complete, transparent prosodic analysis of the over 3,200 lines of Wyatt and Surrey's verse in Tottel’s, and through statistical and philological analyses, demonstrates the congeniality of their received verses, their structural differences invented and exaggerated by the extra-prosodic studies that imagined, adjusted to their own ends, and continue to perpetuate the myth.






Smith, Darrell Franklin (2016). The Invention of Rhythm. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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