Early Tudor Poetry, 1485-1547

By John M. Berdan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE SCHOLASTIC TRADITION

The starting point for an understanding of the development of English poetry in the first half of the sixteenth century is the fact that the change in the pronunciation of the language between fourteen hundred and fifteen hundred to a measure broke the continuity in the development of the literature. Ordinarily the movement is gradual, each writer introducing modifications in themselves slight, but the cumulative effect of which, after half a century, becomes apparent in what is called a "new school." At that time, however, not only had the change in the language rendered former authors, such as Chaucer and Lydgate, unavailable as models, but also the demand for literary productions was great. With the Tudors was born a new age.

The writers of this new age were in a curious situation. They could either adapt forms written in Middle English, which was fast being forgotten, or they could imitate forms used in other languages than English. Naturally the dilemma did not present itself to them as sharply defined as this. In trying to express themselves they took what forms they had, and did the best they could with them. And the form chosen depended both upon what the especial occasion required and upon the knowledge and preference of the writer. They wrote as best they knew. On the other hand, that they were limited to the alternatives of the dilemma, owing to the change in pronunciation, was felt by many of them and is clear to us. No one author, either, was limited to one kind of composition. Skelton, for example, has one poem in accordance with the practice of the medieval tradition, he shows a knowledge of humanism, and yet his characteristic work is in still another field, that of medieval, scholastic Latin; Hawes is affected by the scholastic theory of the "aureate language," but his work is along the lines of the medieval tradition. And so with the others. The condition is what is to be expected in an era of beginnings, when each writer is feeling his way to a manner of

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