John Skelton: The Critical Heritage

By Anthony S. G.Edwards | Go to book overview

‘This,’ say the historians, ‘is the longest poem ever written by a poet in his own honour.’ They accuse the author of pomposity and vanity in consequence. I only ask you to read it: I do not think he makes any claims in it which are not justified: after all, he is the finest poet in England (Scotland is hors concours) between Chaucer and the Elizabethans, and he cannot be blamed for knowing it. If he errs, it is in attaching too much reverence to Gower and Lydgate, not to himself. Anyhow, the whole is very pleasant reading: and some of the incidental lyrics are wholly delightful.

What wonderful plays, one thinks after reading ‘Phyllyp Sparowe’, he might have written: what easy characterisation! That he did write plays is known: and one, ‘Magnyfycence’, has survived. The others, like a great many of his poems, have unhappily vanished. The nineteenth century dubbed it ‘the dullest play in any language.’ From the point of view of the nineteenth century the judgment was admissible, seeing the ideal of drama it serves was not then invented: but not from the point of view of the twentieth. It is an abstract play, a sort of morality—still, even at the date I write, a little ahead of the times: but I believe that if the language were modernised and the whole produced with skilful expressionistic lighting it could not fail to create a sensation. Not in England, perhaps, for another twenty years or so: but I confidently recommend it to the notice of Berlin and Prague—and perhaps New York….


49.

EDMUND BLUNDEN ON SKELTON’S 400th ANNIVERSARY

1929

From the ‘Times Literary Supplement’, 20 June, 1929, pp. 481-2; an unsigned review to mark the 400th anniversary of Skelton’s death.

Blunden (1896-1974) was an English poet and man of letters.

Charles Lamb’s thesis on the sociable nature of antiquity rises in the memory on the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of ‘Master Skelton, Poet Laureate,’ a being so

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