Confluences and Spillages: Enjambment in Elizabethan Tragedy and the Classics


  • Emanuel Stelzer University of Verona



This essay aims at assessing how a set of confluences, bringing together classical dramatic and epic tradition, its sixteenth-century continental (especially Italian) reception, and vernacular practices, led to the development of performative effects in the use of run-on lines in English dramatic blank verse. A dearth of theorisation in the early modern period has caused scholars to overlook the deliberate uses of this device except for stylometric and authorship studies. The imitation of classical metres in versi sciolti adopted in both epos and tragic drama revitalised the practice of introducing enjambment for performative purposes. Enjambment was used and theorised in sixteenth-century continental poetry and drama as a marker of gravitas, and it is possible that the Elizabethan poets and playwrights, besides imitating Seneca’s use of run-on lines, came into contact with these continental practices which helped them develop their versification and impress their audiences.

Keywords: enjambment; blank verse; Elizabethan drama; classical metres; gravitas