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Thomas Sackville

Earl of Dorset

1536 - 1608

In English literature departments, Thomas Sackville is remembered for composing a handful of innovative works that paved the way to the great poetry and drama of the late Elizabethan age. He is often described as the most important English poet between Chaucer and Spenser.

The scion of an ancient family that came to England with William the Conqueror, in 1561 he and his friend Thomas Norton co-authored the play Gorboduc, the first blank verse play  in the English language. According to Shakespeare scholar Eric Sams, this play is “the manifest source of Shakespeare’s lifelong style and idiom”.

In 1906, the literary critic E. K. Chambers described Sackville as “a great poetic genius, indeed.” In 1938, the literary critic Fitzroy Pyle called him “one of the great might-have-beens” of English literature. Historical and poetic records indicate that Sackville’s preferred literary genres were those favored by Shakespeare.

The recent discovery of his lost poem, "Sacvyle’s Olde Age" in the 1980's, overturned scholars’ long-standing assumption that Sackville abandoned poetry in his mid-twenties. He remained devoted to poetry throughout his life but did not allow his later works to appear under his name.

Sackville’s contemporaries knew him as the author of both “public” and “private” poems, and he is considered by some to have been the major hidden poet lauded by several writers. Sackville died on April 19, 1608 while conducting business at the king’s privy-council table. He was outlived by his wife of fifty-three years, Cecily Baker Sackville, with whom he had seven children.

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