Monday, 17 October 2016

Preparation for NET/JRF English - 5

Now –

Chaucer’s Imitators and Disciples in England

John Lydgate: Lydgate was a friend of Chaucer, upon whom he models much of his poetry. But as a poet he is no Chaucer. Throughout the fifteenth century the authority of Chaucer was paramount, and Lydgate pays tribute to him on numerous occasions, always in the same tone, as “The noble poete of Breteyne, My mayster Chaucer.” John Lydgate has the distinction of being the most voluminous poet of the 14th century and even of all the Middle Ages in England - about 140,000 lines of verse. His longest poems are The Storie of Thebes and Troye Book.

[Classical times and the Middle Ages took a strange interest in the unnatural story of Oedipus and his marriage to his own mother. When his sons quarreled over the right to rule Thebes and the party of Polynices laid siege to the city, the opportunity existed for an epic narrative, comparable to that which described the siege of Troy. The Virgilian epic, the Thebaid, by Statius, a Roman poet of the Silver Age, gave western Europe such a treatment. Either the Thebaid or an epitome of it was made into a French poem in the twelfth century called the Roman de Thebes, and this in turn became the basis of other romances. The only English poem on the subject was Lydgate’s Siege of Thebes].

Stephen Hawes, while he is too much an echo of the past, is also an allegorist, and faintly heralds Spenser. Hawkes, who acknowledges as his masters the trinity - Gower, Chaucer and Lydgate – and especially Lydgate, is like a ghost from the past. His chief work is The Pastime of Pleasure.

Alexander Barclay is the first of his nation to have come across a subject of German origin. His Ship of Fools is a translation made in 1509 from the Strasbourg poet Sebastian Brant. The figures in the poem are not the usual wooden creatures representing the common vices and virtues, but they are sharply satirical portraits of the various kinds of foolish men. Sometimes Barclay adds personal touches to make the general satire more telling. Certayne Eclogues, another of Barclay's works, is the earliest English collection of pastorals. It contains, among much grumbling over the times, quite attractive pictures of the country life of the day.

John Skelton - Skelton's peculiar metre, came to be called 'Skeltonics.'  He also published works like A Lytell Geste of Robin Hood knowing the popular ballad would please a less refined audience. In The Book of Colin Clout, Colin Clout is a peasant, another Piers Plowman, who chastises the vices of the clergy. Book of Philip Sparrow, an elegy on the death of a sparrow who belonged to fair Jane Scroupe, is filled with feeling, elegance and grace.

Sir Richard Ros - little is known about him, except his parentage, and does not have much to recommend him but a certain metrical skill. The Flower and the Leaf is more than a tableau gracefully described, in which one company of knights and ladies representing the Flower gets drenched in a shower and is hospitably given shelter by another company representing the Leaf. The Assembly of Ladies owes something to Lydgate’s Temple of Glass. In tone and phrasing the most Chaucerian of all these apocryphal pieces is a little poem of 290 lines called The Cuckoo and the Nightingale. In the manuscripts it is just as fittingly called The Book of Cupid, God of Love, for it explains that the God of Love has great power over folk, even over the poet, who is “old and unlusty.” The body of the poem is a dispute between the two birds over the joys and sorrows of love, recalling at times in setting and circumstances the altercation in the Owl and the Nightingale.

Chaucer’s Imitators and Disciples in Scotland

King James I of Scotland: In many ways the Scottish Chaucerians were more successful in their efforts than their English contemporaries. In 1406, at the age of eleven, the young King James I of Scotland was captured by the English and for eighteen years was a prisoner in England. He does not seem to have been badly treated and had plenty of leisure in which to acquire the intimate knowledge of Chaucer’s poetry which he shows.

 The story of his capture and imprisonment, his falling in love at first sight when, like Palamon in the Knight’s Tale, he caught a glimpse of a surpassingly beautiful lady in the garden below his prison window, and the dream in which he is carried aloft, like Chaucer in the Hous of Fame, to the palace of Venus and later is advised by Minerva.

—such incidents form the subject of The Kingis Quair (“King’s Book”). Written apparently just before his release, in a language the Chaucerian character of which has been somewhat obscured by Scottish copyists, it makes a very pleasing little romantic story out of facts which are in part at least autobiographical. As its 197 stanzas are those of Chaucer’s Troilus the form has generally been known since as “rime royal.”

Robert Henryson - Later in the century another Scottish poet, Robert Henryson, schoolmaster of Dunfermline, caught some of the spirit of Chaucer in his Fables, where he told such stories as “The Cock and the Fox” and “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” adding to each, however, a rather un-Chaucerian “moral.” He turned the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice into rime royal and wrote a number of shorter moralizing pieces. His ballad of Robene and Makyne has been admired as an early pastoral and considered superior to the Nut Brown Maid, a judgment with which many will agree. But the poem which attaches itself most closely to Chaucer is The Testament of Cresseid. In this piece Cresseid, deserted by Diomede, curses the gods and is punished by leprosy. Ashamed to be seen by her friends, she goes to the spittel-house to live among the lepers. The crowning torture which she endures is to be given alms, as one of the beggars, by Troilus, whom Henryson represents as still living and who happens to pass by in a company of knights.

William Dunbar - is generally considered to be the chief of the Scottish Chaucerian poets. Returning to Scotland, he became attached to the household of James IV, and in course of time was appointed official Rhymer. Dunbar wrote freely, often on subjects of passing interest; and though his work runs mainly on Chaucerian lines it has an energy and pictorial quality that are quite individual. Of the more than ninety poems associated with his name the most important are the Goldyn Targe, of the common allegorical-rhetorical type; The Thrissil and the Rois, celebrating the marriage of James IV and the English Margaret (1503); the Dance of the Sevin Deidlie Synnis, with its strong macabre effects and its masterly grip of metre; the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, a revival of the ancient alliterative measure, and outrageously frank in expression; and The Lament for the Makaris, in short stanzas with the refrain Timor Mortis conturbat me, quite striking in its effect.

John Barbour is yet another important Scottish poet to claim our attention. He was born in Aberdeenshire, and studied both at Oxford and Paris. His great work is his Bruce (1375), a lengthy poem of twenty books and thirteen thousand lines. The work is really a history of Scotland's struggle for freedom from the year 1286 till the death of Bruce and the burial of his heart (1332). The heroic theme is the rise of Bruce, and the central incident of the poem is the battle of Bannockburn. The poem, often rudely but pithily expressed, contains much absurd legend and a good deal of inaccuracy, but it is no mean beginning to the long series of Scottish heroic poems.

Gawin Douglas - The Palace of Honour, is of elaborate and careful workmanship, and typical of the fifteenth-century manner; King Hart, a laboriously allegorical treatment of life, the Hart being the heart of life, which is attended by the five senses and other personifications of abstractions; Conscience, a short poem, a mere quibble on the word 'conscience,' of no great poetical merit; and the Aeneid, his most considerable effort, a careful translation of Virgil, with some incongruous touches, but done with competence and some poetical ability. It is the earliest of its kind, and so is worthy of some consideration.

Sir David Lyndsay - Most of Lyndsay's literary work, was written during the period of prosperity at court. He differs from his contemporary Gavin Douglas, who abandoned literature to become a politician. Lyndsay’s famous works are - The Dreme, The Testament and Complaynt of the Papyngo, and Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis.


Reginald Pecock may have been born in Wales, and perhaps in 1390. He was educated at Oxford, and took orders, when he became prominent through his attacks upon the Lollards. In his arguments he went so far that he was convicted of heresy (1457), forced to make a public recantation, and had to resign his bishopric of Chichester. He died in obscurity about 1460. His chief work was The Repressor of Over-much Blaming of the Faith.

The first book printed in England was The Dictes and Sayengis of the Philosophers (1477). The main part of the volume was the work of Lord Rivers, but Caxton, as was his habit, revised it for the press. It would be difficult to overestimate the debt of English literature to Caxton. He printed almost every English work of real quality known in his day, including Chaucer and Malory. In addition, he made and printed twenty-four translations from French, Dutch, and Latin texts, of which the most remarkable were the two earliest, the Recuyell of the Histories of Troye (1471) and the Game and Playe of the Chesse (1475).

John Fisher - opposed Henry VIII's desire to be acknowledged as the head of the English Church, and was imprisoned in the Tower. While there he was made a cardinal by the Pope; and he was beheaded by the orders of Henry.

Hugh Latimer - In the early 1530s Hugh Latimer, became the most celebrated preacher of reform in England, began a vigorous sermon campaign against ‘pickpurse purgatory’, ‘this monster purgatory’ and its affiliated religious practices. Latimer’s racy colloquialisms and fiery zeal brought to a populace selectively acquainted with the Gospels a native analogue of Jesus’ chastisement of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees by calling them ‘whited sepulchres’ or his tongue-lashing and expelling of the money-changers in theTemple at Jerusalem. Latimer’s iconoclastic challenge provoked at least as much public outcry as public interest, eliciting the charge that he was spreading ‘new learning’ – that is, heresy.18 Nonetheless, he was the Lenten preacher at court in 1534, and was appointed Bishop of Worcester in 1535. He resisted some of the reforms of Henry, was imprisoned in the Tower, and was released on the death of the King. At the accession of Mary he was once again thrown into jail and was burnt at Oxford.

Blind Harry is also known as Harry or Henry the Minstrel. He is famous for his The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace, a lengthy poem recounting the life of William Wallace, the Scottish independence leader, written 172 years after Wallace's death.

Notes - 
1. Try to find out the other special characteristic features that you find in the Disciples of Chaucer both in England and in Scotland.

2. We can find in Early Middle English the growth of a local tradition of songs and ballads. The song lyric might celebrate the changing of the seasons, like ‘Lenten is come with love to town’ (from Spring), The ballad traditionally told a story, based on a character (like Robin Hood, unfortunate Lord Randal, or the Wife of Usher’s Well), in memorable rhythmic verses. The ending was generally unhappy, in contrast with the simple, positive assertions of the song lyrics. The ballad Lord Randal is a question/answer dialogue, ending in his death.

3. A little sheaf of poems deserves mention. La Belle Dame sans Mercy is a translation in 856 lines from Alain Chartier.

4. Makar, also spelled Maker (Scottish: “maker,” or “poet”), plural Makaris, or Makeris, also called Scottish Chaucerians, any of the Scottish courtly poets who flourished from about 1425 to 1550. Because Geoffrey Chaucer was their acknowledged master and they often employed his verse forms and themes, the makaris are usually called “Scottish Chaucerians”.

English Literature by Edward Albert [Revised by J. A. Stone]
History of English Literature, by Legouis and Cazamian
The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland, by Ronald Carter and John McRae
A Literary History of England. II Edition. Edited by Albert C. Baugh. Volume I
The Britannica Encyclopedia
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