The period to be covered in this chapter ranges from the 1660s to the 1780s, and priority will be given to three issues: (i) the development of what in effect was a dominant verse idiom with specified rules for variation—the most significant feature of this being the widespread use of the heroic couplet; (ii) the relationship between poetic writing and a new critical tradition which supplemented advice on how to make poems with directions on how to read them; (iii) the single-handed 'invention' by John Milton of a metrical and stylistic framework for non-dramatic blank verse.

None of these issues can remain immune from the influence of the others and in identifying the correspondences and tensions between them we will provide ourselves with a means of charting the intersections between the formal and referential functions of poetry and the broader cultural/historical conditions of literary history. First, some facts.

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