Early Tudor Poetry, 1485-1547

By John M. Berdan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE MEDIEVAL TRADITION

In history the Battle of Bosworth Field marks an epoch. It is the turning of the tide that comes to the full a century later. The disastrous French wars of Henry VI, followed by the still more disastrous civil strife between York and Lancaster, had almost removed England as a factor from European politics. After the accession of Henry VII, however, civil strife dwindled into a few insignificant insurrections, and foreign warfare was negligible. In literature for the same reason the Battle of Bosworth Field marks an epoch. The presence of literature implies not only leisure for the writer, but also leisure for the reader, and England had been at war spasmodically for half a century. Consequently after Lydgate there is no uniform literary development, each poem is casual, and the appearance of poetry seems sporadic. During this time there was no English writer who survived as a personality and no book of general interest with the exception of the prose Morte Darthur. When once again the country had returned to a state of equilibrium and again there was a demand for literary production, writers found themselves without definite literary models. Their effort to adapt medieval or foreign models, or to originate their own, is the subject of this book; their modification of the traditionary English treatment is the subject of this chapter.

Before proceeding further, it may be well to lodge a caveat. There has been a tendency in recent writers to assume that the Renaissance in England was completely severed from the past. Actually this is not so. In spite of the irregularity and vagueness of the English tradition it is astonishingly strong, due to the vendetta-like nature of the conflict. Battles, on which the possession of the kingdom depended, were fought with comparatively small armies, and small sections of the country only were involved. Elsewhere men went about their business as usual. Naturally, as is shown by the Paston letters, to each man his own affairs bulked large, and the chief interest in the bewildering political changes

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