Early Tudor Poetry, 1485-1547

By John M. Berdan | Go to book overview
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When a writer offers a new work on an old subject, the scholarly public rightly demands both fresh handling of the old material and fresh material itself. True as this is as a general proposition, it is still more applicable in the case of Early Tudor literature, because here the subject itself is usually considered to lack interest. That the authors, whose works form the subjects for the following discussions, are unread is evident, because there are few modern editions, and those few in the publications of learned, or antiquarian, societies inaccessible to the general public. There is fashion in scholarship, just as there is in everything else. The drama of the sixteenth century has been elaborately studied. To the nineteenth century, the most fascinating writer in literature was probably Shakespeare. Any fact, any book, however remotely connected with his work, was valued. This interest embraced his contemporaries, his predecessors, and the predecessors of his predecessors, until the whole development of the drama in England has been extensively studied. For this reason the dramatic problems are omitted in this work, except as they appear in connection with the poetry. The case of the poetry, on the other hand, is quite different. Spenser, intangible, incomprehensible and very diffuse, has never proved so interesting a protagonist. Much less so his predecessors. It sounds a paradox when I affirm that the period is interesting!

This paradox is apparent only. Interest may arise from many causes; here the interest is not in the literature of the age so much as in the succeeding literature of the time of Elizabeth, which it conditioned. That is regarded as one of the great periods. To understand it is the function of the scholar, and to appreciate it is the privilege of the reader. But its roots lie back in the first half of the century. When Spenser was going to college in 1569, Hawes was one of the great English poets with two editions in 1555, Skelton's works had just been collected in 1568, Barclay had his collected edition in 1570, and Heywood was alive, the Dean of English literature. Tottel Miscellany, from its first


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