Versi Sciolti: Blank Verse and its Place in the Poetic Canon

Earl of Surrey (Henry Howard) who introduced blank verse poetry to English speakers.
Henry Howard the Earl of Surrey 1517-1547

What is blank verse?

Blank verse describes poetry with unrhyming verses.

History of blank verse:

The creation of this style of poetry is attributed to the Earl of Surrey (Henry Howard) circa 1540, however, it was Italian poet Giovanni Rucellai who coined the phrase versi sciolti (“blank verse”).

This poetic style was adapted from the Greek and Latin tradition of heroic verse (a type of poetry reserved for epic or heroic subjects).

Blank verse soon became the standard meter of Italian Renaissance drama and became the standard technique for dramatic and narrative poetry written in English and German as well.

Despite the glow of its initial reception, blank verse experienced a lull until 1667 when John Milton used the style to compose Paradise Lost.

Statue of Laocoön and His Sons created by three great Greek sculptors: Agesander, Polydorus and Athenodoros. 

This life-size statue is made of marble and depicts a Trojan priest named Lacoon, together with his sons Thymbraeus and Antiphantes, being throttled by sea serpents.
Statue of Laocoön and His Sons created by three great Greek sculptors: Agesander, Polydorus and Athenodoros

Structure of blank verse:


Blank verse does not have a fixed number of lines or stanzas.

Rhyme Scheme:

Blank verse does not make use of rhyme scheme.


Blank verse can be composed in any kind of meter, such as iamb, trochee, and dactyl.

Types of blank verse:

1.) Iamb pentameter (unstressed/stressed syllables)

2.) Trochee blank verse (stressed/unstressed syllables)

3.) Anapest blank verse (unstressed/unstressed/stressed syllables)

4.) Dactyl blank verse (stressed/unstressed/unstressed syllables)

Image of a hand holding a skull. This is a replication of Hamlet's soliloquy from Act 5, Scene 1 of The Tragedy of Hamlet.
Image by Vasiliki Varvaki. Taken from Getty Images

Famous examples of blank verse

Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton used blank verse for the first English tragic drama, Gorboduc which was first performed in 1561.

Playwright William Shakespeare famously used iambic pentameter to craft classics like Romeo and Juliet (1594), Hamlet (1600), and Macbeth (1605).

Christopher Marlowe made use of blank verse in his most famous play Doctor Faustus (1604).

William Wordsworth used blank verse in his autobiography of the poetic spirit, The Prelude (1799). His contemporaries, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats also made use of this poetic form.

Robert Frost even used blank verse in Mending Wall (1914) and A Masque of Reason (1945).

The Word Count is hosting a poetry contest throughout the month of July. Find out more on our Facebook page.

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