Edited by Sebastian Sobecki and John Scattergood A C R I T I C A L C O M P A N I O N T O Elisabeth Dutton, A.S.G. Edwards, Jane Griffiths, J O H N S K E L T O N A CRITICAL COMPANION TO JOHN SKELTON Edited by Sebastian Sobecki and John Scattergood D. S. BREWER © Contributors 2018 All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner First published 2018 D. S. Brewer, Cambridge ISBN 978 1 84384 513 3 D. S. Brewer is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620–2731, USA website: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate This publication is printed on acid-free paper In memoriam John A. Burrow (1932–2017) Contents Acknowledgements ix List of Contributors x Abbreviations xi Conventions xii Introduction Sebastian Sobecki 1 1 John Skelton (?1460–1529): A Life in Writing John Scattergood 5 2 Religion Tom Betteridge 26 3 Law and Politics Sebastian Sobecki 37 4 Classical Literature John Scattergood 52 5 Humanism David Carlson 71 6 Satires and Invectives J. A. Burrow 88 7 Lyrics and Short Poems Julia Boffey 102 8 Skelton’s Voice and Performance Elizabeth Dutton s 114 9 Literary Tradition Jane Griffiths 127 10 Skelton and the English Language Greg Waite 139 11 Skelton’s English Works in Manuscripts and Print Carol M. Meale 163 12 Skelton’s English Canon A. S. G. Edwards 180 13 Reception and Afterlife Helen Cooper 194 A Skelton Bibliography Nadine Kuipers 205 Index 221 Introduction SEBASTIAN SOBECKI John Skelton remains challenging for modern audiences. Filled with contradictions, he is a poet in need of a critical introduction. His deep erudition can be daunting: his fondness for Latin interpolations and interjections often produces macaronic lines with a distinctly bookish and even pedantic appearance. Yet Skelton’s learned content is often couched in a verse form more readily associated with levity: skeltonics, a convention which he helped to create and, rather eccentrically, also name. This trademark style is characterised by rhyming couplets and short lines, often carrying only two or three stresses, that give his poetry its typically fast pace. His surviving oeuvre may be modest in size, but his English and Latin poems span a broad gamut of topics, themes and occasions. For a (self-designated) court poet there is remarkably little flattery in his work. Instead, Skelton is perhaps best known for his complex moral allegory, The Bowge of Courte, and his three scathing satires of Henry VIII’s despised Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey: Speke Parott, Collyn Clout and Why Come Ye Nat to Courte? The Bowge of Courte is a biting satire of court life, built around the fashionable allegory of the ship-of-state. Skelton’s caustic view of life in the immediate orbit of Henry VIII remains one of the most powerful critiques of the arbitrariness of late medieval and early modern court politics. It is as if The Bowge of Courte had been written to anticipate the tumultuous careers of such Tudor courtiers as Sir Thomas Wyatt or, indeed, Skelton himself. The Wolsey satires, on the other hand, mark a milestone in the history of political satire in Britain. With irreverent wit and unmitigated vitriol these three poems unleashed an attack on England’s second-most powerful man that caused Skelton to fear for his own life and to seek refuge in the sanctuary of Westminster. Few satirists in English history have dared to match Skelton’s radical commitment to this genre. But Skelton’s surviving works also include occasional verse, advice literature and even a play, Magnyfycence. Then there is the specific historical and political context in which almost all of his work is embedded, making some of his poems only fully accessible with the firm support of editorial footnotes. A companion volume to Skelton, therefore, has been long overdue. The last fifteen years have seen an unprecedented surge of interest in Tudor culture, particularly in the wake of discussions about the nature of periodisation, modernity and the Middle Ages. As a result, the early Tudor period – historically neglected by both medievalists and early modernists – has ironi- 2 A CRITICAL COMPANION TO JOHN SKELTON cally enjoyed a renaissance among scholars and the wider public. The academic interest in this formerly interstitial period has been shaped by a number of influential studies that assign a central role to literary culture under Henry VII and Henry VIII, studies such as James Simpson’s Reform and Cultural Revolution, 1350–1547 (2002) or Greg Walker’s Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation (2005). These forays, in turn, have given rise to book series, handbooks and companions expressly dedicated to medieval and Tudor literature. Furthermore, several developments outside academia document the renewed interest in the early Tudor period: Showtime’s TV series The Tudors (2007–10), the movie The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), and the success of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels with their stage (2013) and BBC (2015) adaptations. Skelton is a central literary figure and the leading poet during the first thirty years of Tudor rule. Unsurprisingly, then, the study of Skelton’s work has grown considerably as a result of the renewed interest in early Tudor England. The last few years have seen three substantial monographs dedicated to this poet: Jane Griffith’s John Skelton and Poetic Authority: Defining the Liberty to Speak (2006), Douglas Gray’s The Phoenix and the Parrot: Skelton and the Language of Satire (2012) and John Scattergood’s John Skelton: The Career of an Early Tudor Poet (2014). The viral success of The Skelton Project’s ‘Speke Parott’ YouTube clip (2014) – with over 1 million views – promises greater inclusion of Skelton on university curricula, and Scattergood’s revised edition of Skelton’s works (CEP), published in 2015, will ensure that Skelton’s poetry will remain available and accessible in a complete edition for the future. To this could be added the publication of incisive chapters and articles on Skelton in leading journals over the last few years – Skelton Studies has never been as buoyant and robust as it is now. Despite this considerable interest in Tudor culture and Skelton, there is no convenient introduction or handbook to this poet. Ever since the publication of Greg Walker’s seminal study, John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s (1988), the poet has been waiting for a companion that would break down the complexity of his poetry for students and interested scholars. Our Critical Companion to John Skelton addresses that lack. Skelton is extraordinarily significant for the history of English literature, and, although he was primarily an English poet, he was much influenced by Latin literature and wrote extensively in Latin: this aspect of his achievement will also be addressed in this book. The Critical Companion is designed to introduce Skelton and his work to readers unfamiliar with the poet; to gather vibrant strands of existing research on Skelton; and to open up new avenues for future studies. Our organising principle for this Critical Companion recognises the need for detailed introductions to Skelton’s life and existing scholarship. Thus, our opening contribution is John Scattergood’s chapter on Skelton’s life and career, ‘John Skelton (?1460–1529): A Life in Writing’. Then follow twelve essays on Skelton’s works and his cultural context that, while gathering recent scholarship, also provide authoritative discussions and break new ground. Chapters 2–5 form a group on Skelton’s immediate cultural and literary contexts. Thomas Betteridge’s essay, ‘Religion’, comes first. The many kinds INTRODUCTION 3 of religious writing in Skelton’s work – he was, after all, an ordained priest – are at the heart of this chapter. This is followed by Sebastian Sobecki’s ‘Law and Politics’, which situates Skelton’s poetry in London’s urban milieux and explores the many legal allusions in his work, especially in the anti-Wolsey satires. John Scattergood’s ‘Classical Literature’ uncovers the poet’s considerable debt to Classical writers, while David Carlson, in ‘Humanism’, charts Skelton’s uneasy relationship with England’s emerging humanist circles. Next there are eight essays directly concerned with Skelton’s writings. In ‘Satires and Invectives’ John Burrow explores one of the most characteristic features of Skelton’s writings, whereas Julia Boffey, in ‘Lyrics and Short Poems’, examines Skelton’s shorter poems, a significant part of his oeuvre. Drama and dramatic contexts, including Skelton’s only surviving play, Magnyfycence, are discussed by Elisabeth Dutton in ‘Skelton’s Voice and Performance’, then Jane Griffiths situates Skelton in the broader literary tradition in a focussed study of Against Venemous Tongues. Greg Waite, in ‘Skelton and the English Language’, breaks down the complexities of Skelton’s linguistic idiosyncrasies and experiments. Carol Meale’s ‘Manuscripts and Prints’ provides an overview of the circulation of Skelton’s works in these two media, and A. S. G. Edwards offers an updated survey of the works ascribed to Skelton in ‘Skelton’s English Canon’. The volume is concluded by Helen Cooper’s discussion of Skelton’s posthumous reception, in ‘Reception and Afterlife’, and is followed by a comprehensive research bibliography on Skelton and pertinent scholarship, provided by Nadine Kuipers. We hope not only that the Critical Companion to John Skelton will take stock of recent scholarship and equip students and researchers with a fresh introduction to this remarkable poet, but also that the essays gathered here will open new paths for research on Skelton and early Tudor literary culture. Works Cited Griffiths, Jane, John Skelton and Poetic Authority (Oxford, 2006) Scattergood, John, John Skelton: The Career of an Early Tudor Poet (Dublin, 2014) Simpson, James, Reform and Cultural Revolution, 1350–1547 (Oxford, 2002) Walker, Greg, John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s (Cambridge, 1988) ———, Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation (Oxford, 2005)