entertainment value which it would otherwise have had; in that kind of pride Skelton is entirely lacking.
Originally published as Skelton and the Dignity of Poetry in ‘Adelphi’, XIII (1936-7), pp. 154-63.
Fraser (1915-80) was a British poet and critic. This essay was written while he was still an undergraduate.
The fifteenth century is the dullest period in the history of English poetry. But anatomy is easy on the dead model, and the period has a fascination for the critic. For him, its interest is that it shows, with extraordinary clearness, the dangers of an unbroken tradition. After Chaucer had died, Gower went on writing like Chaucer, and not so well. After Gower had died, Lydgate and Hoccleve went on writing like Chaucer and Gower, and not so well. They, too, had died. And at the very end of the fifteenth century, poor Stephen Hawes went on writing like Chaucer and Gower and Lydgate and Hoccleve—and not so well. Hawes is the final dilution of the pure Chaucerian spring, the last splash of soda in the stale nectar. Chaucer was to be, after Hawes, a dead influence, until Spenser recreated him, looking on him with an eye not dazed by custom. It is easy to point out, by taking a random sample of his verse, just how and why Stephen Hawes is not good. Consider the rhymes of this stanza.
The boke of fame, which is sentencyous
He drewe himself on his own invencyon: