Michael Drayton was born in 1563 at Hartshill, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. The facts of his early life remain unknown. Drayton first published, in 1590, a volume of spiritual poems: The Harmony of the Church. Ironically the Archbishop of Canterbury seized almost the entire edition and had it destroyed. In 1593 he published Idea: The Shepherd's Garland, nine pastorals celebrating his own love-sorrows under the poetic name of Rowland. This was later expanded to a 64-sonnet cycle.
With the publication of The Legend of Piers Gaveston, Matilda and Mortimeriados, later enlarged and republished, in 1603, under the title of The Barons' Wars, his career began to gather interest and attention. In 1596, The Legend of Robert, Duke of Normandy, another historical poem, was published, followed in 1597 by England's Heroical Epistles, a series of historical studies, in imitation of those of Ovid. Written in the heroic couplet, they contain some of his finest writing.
Like other poets of his era, Drayton wrote for the theatre; but unlike Shakespeare, Jonson, or Samuel Daniel, he invested little of his art in the genre. Between 1597 and 1602, Drayton was a member of the stable of playwrights who worked for Philip Henslowe. Henslowe's diary links Drayton's name with 23 plays from that period and, for all but one unfinished work, in collaboration with others such as Thomas Dekker, Anthony Munday, and Henry Chettle. Only one play has survived: part one of Sir John Oldcastle, which Drayton wrote with Munday, Robert Wilson, and Richard Hathwaye, but little of Drayton can be seen in its pages.
By this time, as a poet, Drayton was well received and admired at the court of Elizabeth I. If he hoped to continue that admiration with the accession of James I he thought wrong. In 1603, he addressed a poem of compliment to James I, but it was ridiculed and his services rudely rejected.
In 1605 Drayton reprinted his most important works: the historical poems and the Idea. Also published was a fantastic satire called The Man in the Moon and, for the first time, the famous Ballad of Agincourt. Since 1598 he had worked on Poly-Olbion, a work to celebrate all the points of topographical or antiquarian interest in Great Britain. Eighteen books in total, the first were published in 1614 and the last in 1622. In 1627 he published another of his miscellaneous volumes.
Drayton last published in 1630 with The Muses' Elizium. Michael Drayton died in London on December 23rd, 1631. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, in Poets' Corner. A monument was placed there with memorial lines attributed to Ben Jonson.
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