By Priscilla J. Bawcutt
William Dunbar is a poet whose virtuosity is often praised, but rarely analyzed. This first major study of his work to be published in over ten years examines his view of himself as a major poet, or "makar," and the way he handles various poetic genres. It challenges the over-simplified and reductive views purveyed by some critics, that Dunbar is primarily a moralist or no more than a talented virtuoso. New emphasis is placed on the petitions, or begging-poems, and their use for poetic introspection. There is also a particularly full study of Dunbar's under-valued comic poems, and of the modes most congenial to him--notably parody, irony, "flyting" or invective, and black dream-fantasy. Taking account of recent scholarship, Priscilla Bawcutt explores the complex literary traditions available to Dunbar, both in Latin and the vernaculars, including "popular" and alliterative poetry as well as that of Chaucer and his followers. This original, learned, and critically searching book is set to become the leading analysis of one of the most fascinating and accomplished of medieval poets.