Portrait of Michael Drayton

The Life of Michael Drayton (1563-1631)

Michael Drayton was born at Hartshill in Warwickshire in 1563 and as a youth he became page to Sir Henry Goodeere of Polesworth. Goodeere is to be credited for Drayton's education. Drayton fell in love with Sir Henry's daughter, Anne, who served as an inspiration for 'Idea'. Goodeere also introduced Drayton to the 'patroness of poets', Lucy, Countess of Bedford, to whom Drayton's Mortimeriados is dedicated. Little else is known of Drayton's early years, though it has been suggested that he may have served in the army, before settling down in London in 1590.1
        Drayton's career as a poet was long: from his first published work in 1591 to his last in 1630. Drayton constantly revised his works, rewriting and reissuing them, sometimes under different titles. His first published work was Harmonie of the Church (1591), a metrical rendering of scriptural passages, rife with alliteration. Soon thereafter Drayton, a disciple of Edmund Spenser, wrote Idea, the Shepherd's Garland (1593), consisting of nine eclogues, or pastoral verse dialogues. Drayton revised and reissued it in 1606. Next, Drayton published the historical poems Peirs Gaveston (1593), and Matilda (1594). Drayton used Holinshed as one of the sources. Idea's Mirror (1594) is a collection of love sonnets, the first version of his later sonnet sequence Idea. In 1595 Drayton published Endymion and Phoebe, one of the sources for Keats' Endymion. Endymion and Phoebe is an epyllion, an erotic treatment of mythological narratives. It, too, was later revised and reissued as The Man in the Moon (1606 and 1619).
        In 1596, Drayton published Robert, Duke of Normandy (revised 1605 and 1619), a legend. In it, Fame and Fortune tell Robert's story in the presence of Robert's ghost. In the same year, 1596, Drayton also published the historical poem Mortimeriados, which underwent an extensive rewriting and reappeared as The Barons' Wars in 1603. Both versions owe a debt to Marlowe's Edward II. The first was in rhyme royal, a series of scenes, the latter in ottava rima, several hundred lines longer and more serious in tone and in its interest in the nature of civil war. The Barons' Wars was itself revised in 1619.
        One of Drayton's finest works, England's Heroical Epistles (1597), a collection of verse letters by lovers, earned Drayton the title of 'our English Ovid'.2 The work was in the model of Ovid's Heroides, but instead of mythological lovers, Drayton's lovers were figures from English history.
        Drayton's only extant play, The First Part of Sir John Oldcastle (1600), played on the popularity of Falstaff from Shakespeare's plays. It may have been a collaboration, like the now lost plays of which only records survive.
        Drayton's Poems Lyric and Pastoral (1606) was the first to introduce imitations of Horace's Odes. The collection contains the odes To the Virginian Voyage and The Battle of Agincourt. Drayton's masterpiece, however, is Poly-Olbion (1612 and 1622), a thirty-thousand-line historical-geographical poem celebrating all the counties of England and Wales.3
        In 1627 appeared The Battle of Agincourt, an attempt at epic, The Miseries of Queen Margaret, and Nymphidia, the Court of Fairy, Drayton's most popular work. Nymphidia is a mock-heroic series of fairy poems, or 'Nimphalls'1, much influenced by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Drayton's last published work, The Muses' Elizium, is a return to the pastoral. Michael Drayton died in London on December 2, 1631. He was buried in Westminster Abbey under a monument with an epitaph by Ben Jonson commissioned by the Countess of Dorset.

  1. Gosse, Edmund. "Michael Drayton." The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Available Online.
  2. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Ian Ousby, Ed.
    Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993. 273.
  3. >The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Vol 1.
    New York, W. W. Norton & Co., 1993.

Berthelot, Joseph A., Michael Drayton (1967)
Brink, Jean R. Michael Drayton revisited (1990)
Drayton, Michael, Works of Michael Drayton, ed. by J. William Hebel, et al., 6 vols. (1961)
Elton, Oliver. Michael Drayton, A Critical Study (1905; repr. 1966)
Hardin, Richard F. Michael Drayton and the Passing of Elizabethan England (1973)
Harner, James L. Samuel Daniel and Michael Drayton: A Reference Guide (1980)
Jafri, S. Naqi Husain. Aspects of Drayton's Poetry (1981)
Westling, Louise H., The Evolution of Michael Drayton's Idea (1974)
Whitaker, Lemuel. Michael Drayton as a dramatist (1903)

   Article Citation:

   Jokinen, Anniina. "Life of Michael Drayton." Luminarium.
                5 Feb 2007. [Date you accessed this article].

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Created by Anniina Jokinen on August 10, 1996. Last updated on February 5, 2007.