The ability to write poetry was held in high consideration during the 15th century and many courtiers were also scholars, soldiers and poets, thus embodying the ideal Renaissance gentleman. The most popular poetry was the "sonnet" (Renaissance poetry is mainly represented by the sonnet which was introduced from Italy by Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey, but it is worth remembering the madrigals, meant to be accompanied by music on the Italian model, and the delightful songs which combine popular inspiration and artistic skill.
The Earl of Surrey not only introduced the sonnet and modified its structure; he is also remembered for another innovation, the use of blank verse in his translation of Virgil's Aeneid. Blank, or unrhymed, verse followed the example of the Italian "endecasillabi sciolti" and was destined to become the metre or drama and epic poetry and a perfect instrument in the hands of Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and John Milton.
William Shakespeare was not only a dramatist; he also established himself as the greatest English master of the sonnet form. An important feature which distinguishes his sonnets is that the dramatist in him is stronger than the poet and the majority of his sonnets sound like dialogues: the poet speaks to the addressee as a character would on one of his plays, reflecting the rhythm and movement of living speech. The best of his sonnets have a richness of texture, which is a metaphorical density and a perfection of form to be found nowhere else, and touch a variety of themes, from old age and death to the joys and sorrows of love, from poetic immortality to disillusionment, time and the value of friendship.