Whoso List to Hunt Essay - Critical Essays


Sheri Metzger Karmiol

Metzger Karmiol has a doctorate in English Renaissance literature and teaches literature and drama at the University of New Mexico. In this essay, she discusses Wyatt's representation of the hind and argues that Wyatt's depiction of a hunted woman as an animal parallels the very real risk that women faced in a society in which they held no power.

In early-sixteenth-century England, women had little identity that was their own to possess. Women were governed by fathers, brothers, and husbands, belonging to these men in a very literal sense, as property. Women were expected to be chaste and to present themselves in a manner that would not elicit gossip or in any way diminish the reputations of their male "owners." Women's lack of power in this society provides an important framework in which to examine Wyatt's sonnet "Whoso List to Hunt." The hind's status in the poem as the property of a royal owner makes her too dangerous for the narrator to hunt, and she is also herself at risk in being the property of a powerful man. The hind's seeming inability to recognize this danger, as a mere animal, adds to the complexity of the narrative, especially when the cultural and historical realities of the Tudor court are considered. Wyatt disguises the real-life female subject of the poem as a hind not because her identity is unimportant but because naming her would have created gossip that would endanger both poet and woman.

Hunting the hind is evidently a familiar activity for the narrator. The sonnet begins with the narrator stating, "I know where is an hind." He does not say that he knows where there are hinds; he knows where there is a specific hind. Thus, he immediately establishes that he has hunted her before, and the choice of animal is not random. The hunter admits that he cannot possess the hind and eventually warns off other hunters. Feminists might argue that Wyatt trivializes women in reducing the female subject to prey being chased through the forest by an eager hunter, but such an assessment limits the poem's possibilities. Within the language of poetry, an author can obfuscate meaning and deny intent by claiming that the reader has misread the text; in his sonnet, Wyatt clouds his meaning through the creation of the hind.

In Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, a book that examines the interplay between culture and certain poets' identities, the critic Stephen Greenblatt discusses Wyatt's caution in choosing the right words for his sonnet and the way in which he uses his language to disguise meaning. Greenblatt suggests that a cultural and historical reading of the poem might focus on Wyatt's experience as a diplomat when Henry VIII was negotiating treaties with the French and Spanish. Wyatt was conversant in several languages and certainly understood how the precise meanings of words could be crucial in diplomacy. According to Greenblatt, Wyatt was

highly conscious of the potential shifts in meaning as words pass from one language to another, and this sensitivity intersects with an acute awareness of the way conventions of courtesy and friendliness may conceal hostility and aggression, on the one hand, or weakness and anxiety, on the other.

As Wyatt's poem makes clear, the hunter recognizes that there is real risk for whoever pursues this hind. In the penultimate line of his sonnet, Wyatt writes, "Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am." The Latin phrase on the collar, "Touch me not," makes clear that she is owned by another man. This is a deliberate divergence from the original Petrarchan sonnet, in which the hind explains that the collar is meant to free her, even from Caesar's ownership. In line 11 of Petrarch's "Rime 190," the collar of the doe explains, "It pleased my Caesar to create me free." Caesar was often identified as a god to Roman citizens, and so this line suggests that a god has set the hind free. In Wyatt's sonnet, the collar signifies not freedom but ownership. The hunt is abandoned not because the hind is meant to be free but because she is the property of a powerful owner. Greenblatt points out that "the collar stops the hunt, transforms the hind from prey to pet or possession," although she does not behave as a possession. Indeed, Greenblatt explains that the collar itself is a "manifest sign of her wildness." Its...

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Ellen C. Caldwell

In the following essay, Caldwell gives a critical analysis of Thomas Wyatt's life and work.

No poet represents the complexities of the court of Henry VIII better than Sir Thomas Wyatt. Skilled in international diplomacy, imprisoned without charges, at ease jousting in tournaments, and adept at writing courtly poetry, Wyatt was admired and envied by his contemporaries. The distinction between his public and private life was not always clearly marked, for he spent his life at various courts, where he wrote for a predominantly aristocratic audience who shared common interests. Through and in this milieu he created a new English poetics by experimenting with meter and voice and by grafting Continental and classical forms and ideas to English traditions. Wyatt wrote the first English sonnets and true satires, projecting through them the most important political issues of the period: the Protestant Reformation and the centralization of state power under the reigns of the Tudors. For this combination of formalistic innovation and historical reflection, he is today considered the most important poet of the first half of the sixteenth century. Living and writing dangerously in an era of national and international, religious and secular transformations, Wyatt was the Henrician Renaissance man, and his poetry was the soul of his age.

Wyatt's position, attitudes, character, and fortunes were formed at the courts of the first two Tudor monarchs. One of the most important issues in scholarship on Wyatt remains the relationship between his poetry and his life as a Henrician courtier. With its extensive reproduction of primary sources, the best biography of Wyatt is still Kenneth Muir's Life and Letters of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1963). All letters and documents are quoted from this edition, while all poetry is cited from Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems (1978).

Born around 1503 at Allington Castle in Kent, Thomas was the son of Sir Henry Wyatt of Yorkshire and Anne Skinner Wyatt of Surrey. Imprisoned more than once by Richard III, Sir Henry had become under Henry VII a powerful, wealthy privy councillor, and he remained so after Henry VIII's accession. In 1516 his son Thomas served as an honorary attendant at Princess Mary's christening. John Leland writes that Thomas attended Cambridge, and although there is no record to confirm the statement, it seems plausible that he did. It is often assumed that in 1516 he entered Saint John's College, Cambridge, but his name may have been confused with another Wyatt matriculating there. After marriage to Elizabeth Brooke, daughter of Thomas, Lord Cobham, in 1520 and the birth of a son in 1521, Wyatt progressed in his career at court, as esquire of the king's body and clerk of the king's jewels (1524). He probably acquired these posts through a combination of innate abilities and his father's influence. Stephen Miriam Foley suggests in Sir Thomas Wyatt (1990) that the positions were more significant than their titles might imply, for they helped to entrench him in the king's household. Members of that household sought power, struggling with the king's councillors to influence the king.

Sometime after the birth of his son, perhaps around 1525, Wyatt seems to have become estranged from his wife; all editors and biographers assume the reason to be her infidelity, for such were the rumors during his life. The Spanish Calendar, for instance, gives this detail: "Wyatt had cast [his wife] away on account of adultery." It is certain that in 1526, when Sir Thomas Cheney embarked for the French court on an official delegation, Wyatt accompanied him. There he may have met Clé-ment Marot, whose poetry influenced his own work and whose epigram "Frere Thibault" is copied into the Egerton manuscript of Wyatt's poetry. In 1527 Wyatt asked for and was granted permission to attend Sir John Russell on his legation to Rome. On this journey he became acquainted with Continental political affairs and the methods of persuasive diplomacy, for when Russell was injured, Wyatt accomplished one part of the mission alone. He was briefly imprisoned by Spanish imperial forces, but he and Russell left Rome shortly before it was taken by the emperor's army.

Around 1527 Queen Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, asked Wyatt to translate Petrarch's De remediis utriusque fortunae. Wyatt translated in its place a piece he found less tedious, Guillaume Budé's Latin version of Plutarch's De tranquillitate et securitate animi. It was soon published by Richard Pynson as The Quiet of Mind (1528), and as several scholars have pointed out, the echoes of "quiet mind" in Wyatt's poetry indicate that the piece continued to hold philosophical importance for him. From around 1528 or 1529 to November 1530, Wyatt held the post of high marshal of Calais, and in 1532 he became commissioner of the peace in Essex. From this time forward he was under the patronage of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's secretary and adviser on religious matters, one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. In 1533 Wyatt served for his father at the coronation of Anne Boleyn. Although in 1534 he was imprisoned in the Fleet for what was recorded as his involvement in a "great affray" in which a sergeant of London was slain, his rapid success as a courtier dates from this period. Also in 1534 he was given "command of all men able for war in the seven hundreds" and in various parishes of the county of Kent, and license "to have twenty men in his livery." He is thought to have been knighted in 1535. Around 1536 Wyatt formed an attachment to Elizabeth Darrell, who became his mistress for life. Some of his poems, such as "A face that should content me wondrous well" and "So feeble is the thread," almost surely allude to this relationship.

The woman with whom Wyatt has been notoriously associated, however, is Anne Boleyn, second queen of Henry VIII. Careful scholars acknowledge that although Wyatt's poetry is suggestive, the hard evidence for his role as Boleyn's lover, or scorned lover, is so bedeviled by legend and rumor as to affect even the most cautious statements. One poem long considered to allude to Boleyn is the riddle "What word is that that changeth not" (no. 54), for its solution (anna) is penned above the poem in the Egerton manuscript (though not in Wyatt's or the scribe's hand and, it seems, after the poem was copied there.) The third line of the poem puns on the solution: "It is mine answer" (mine Anne, sir). There is nothing, however, to indicate that the poem is about any specific Anne. Although anecdotes have circulated of the rivalry between Wyatt and Henry, it is very difficult and perhaps even impossible to gauge the extent of Wyatt's relationship with Boleyn, especially when Henry decided to divorce Catherine and marry her. Henry's doing so resulted in the Act of Supremacy (1534), whereby he broke from the hegemony of the pope and the Catholic church and proclaimed himself head of the church in England. This move had severe domestic and international consequences, in which Wyatt was implicated.

Although it has been widely debated, a poem historically thought to indicate Wyatt's loss of Boleyn to Henry is the sonnet "Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind" (no. 11). Wyatt altered the original poem, Petrarch's Rime 190, "Una candida cerva sopra l'erba," to center on the "chase," a courtly sport that provides an apt metaphor for the pursuit of love and power at Henry's court, as several scholars have acknowledged. In Wyatt's sonnet the speaker advises other suitors that they may pursue the hind/lady as vainly as he has and give her up with as much difficulty. The poem concludes that the chase should be given over, for the motto on the hind's collar suggests that although she has been claimed by someone more powerful than they, she will not be constrained by anyone:

  And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written her fair neck round about:
'Noli me tangere for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold though I seem tame.'

Julius Caesar's deer are reported to have worn this motto on their collars. Wyatt's decision to retain the term Caesar from the Italian poem does suggest that the speaker or poet alludes to a royal master with powerful edicts, such as Henry VIII. Although the hind/lady might topically designate any one of several women, it could appropriately refer to Boleyn. To describe a lady of the court as an object of prey, bound by words or laws to a ruler absolute in name if not in reality, is to flatter neither the lady, who is seen to be promiscuous or at least willful, nor "Caesar," who is seen to be unsuccessful in his attempt to "own" her with his inscription. In another sonnet also thought to refer to Boleyn in her role as court star, reformer, and the catalyst behind Henry's divorce, "If waker care, if sudden pale color" (no. 28), the speaker claims he has replaced his former love with another. The poem is found in the Egerton manuscript, where the line "Her that did set our country in a roar," so suggestive of Boleyn, has been revised, in Wyatt's hand, to "Brunet that set my wealth in such a roar."

The execution of Boleyn and her alleged lovers is one of the more sordid episodes of Henry's turbulent reign and has attracted a great deal of prurient interest. The episode does, however, indicate the violence attendant upon the very structure of dynastic succession and illustrates the instability of fortunes in a Renaissance court. Readers should consult the most reliable biographies and remember that theories about Wyatt's attachment to Boleyn involve the consideration not only of his life but also of the very densely recorded lives of Henry VIII and Boleyn. In 1536 Wyatt was arrested a few days after the arrests of Anne and five men alleged to have been her lovers. Most speculations about his relationship with Anne center on his arrest and imprisonment at this time. Muir gives three independent, sixteenth-century accounts, all of uncertain authority, which claim that before Henry married Boleyn, Wyatt told either Henry or his Council that she was not fit to become queen because she had been Wyatt's lover; but Muir adds that these anecdotes could have been devised to explain why Wyatt was not executed with the five men accused of adultery. Whatever the actions of Anne may have been, after she gave birth to Princess Elizabeth and then miscarried a second child, she lost Henry's favor; desperate for a male heir, he had already begun to look for her replacement. Cromwell is said to have instigated a plot to remove her by accusing her of adultery and therefore treason. A court musician, Mark Smeaton, was tortured and produced the names of four other men, some of them Wyatt's friends. Anne's brother, Thomas Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, was charged with incest, and Henry himself claimed that "more than a hundred had to do with her." There were no official charges against Wyatt, who in 1541 declared that his court enemy, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was responsible: "My Lord of Suffolk himself can tell that I imputed it to him, and not only at the beginning but even the very night before my apprehension now last." A letter of petition from Wyatt's father to Cromwell does not reveal the nature of the charges beyond "the displeasure that [Wyatt] hath done to god otherwise."

One poem that seems to date from this period of imprisonment (no. 123) is headed V. Innocentia / Veritas Viat Fides / Circumdederunt me inimici mei. If one accepts that Viat indicates Wyatt, then the heading reads, "Innocence, Truth, Wyatt, Faith; my enemies have surrounded me." Editors have suggested that innocence, truth, and faith "surround" Wyatt's name in contradistinction to his enemies. The speaker asks that anyone "Who list his wealth and ease retain" should strive to live a private life, for there is danger, or "thunder," around seats of power. The refrain of the poem is circa Regna tonat, a phrase from Seneca's Phaedra, in which Jupiter "thunders about thrones." The opening line of the third stanza, "These bloody days have broken my heart," may refer to the fall of Anne and her courtiers. Even more powerful is the image Wyatt paints of the speaker in his cell, witnessing through its window grating what may have been Anne's execution:

  The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favor, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

In the last stanza the speaker learns that the wit to plead one's case or one's innocence is not always useful. This poem does not apologize for the speaker's conduct or his situation or the system in which he must live; rather, it vividly demonstrates the well-known fact that proximity to the king could be fatal. An elegy for Anne's putative lovers, "In mourning wise since daily I increase" (no. 197) is also dated to this period. The poem devotes a stanza to each man executed, naming him (Lord Rochford, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, and Smeaton), acknowledging his guilt, yet mourning his death. This poem, which appears in one manuscript only, has not always been attributed to Wyatt.

After the executions of Anne and her alleged lovers, Wyatt was soon restored to favor, made sheriff of Kent, and asked to muster men and to attend on Henry VIII. In November 1536 his father died, and in 1537 he once again undertook a diplomatic mission, this time as ambassador to the court of Emperor Charles V. On his journey Wyatt wrote to his son, advising him to emulate the exemplary life of Sir Henry Wyatt rather than Wyatt's own: "And of myself I may be a near example unto you of my folly and unthriftness that hath as I well deserved brought me into a thousand dangers and hazards, enmities, hatreds, prisonments, despites, and indignations." He further admonished his son to "make God and goodness" his "foundations." An epigram in Wyatt's hand in the Egerton manuscript, "Of Carthage he, that worthy warrior," ends with a reference to Spain: "At Monzòn thus I restless rest in Spain" (no. 46). Henry VIII wished to prevent Charles V from forming what would amount to a Catholic alliance with Francis I and thus to prevent a concerted attack on England. Wyatt returned home in mid 1538; but when Charles and Francis, without Henry, reached a separate accord at Nice, the danger of an attack against England grew more grave. Wyatt's poem in ottava rima, "Tagus, farewell" (no. 60), probably dates from this period. With this poem, as with the letter to his son, scholars have tried to establish Wyatt's character. Despite his sufferings and despite his criticisms of the king and his court, he was a loyal servant to Henry VIII. In the last lines the speaker looks forward to returning to London: "My king, my country, alone for whom I live, / Of mighty love the wings for this me give."

Once more ambassador to the emperor in 1539, Wyatt was to watch his movements through France and to ascertain his intentions regarding England. But by mid 1540, after Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves threatened to create a Protestant league, and in the event of growing distrust between Charles and Francis, the danger of an attack against England was no longer imminent, so Wyatt returned home. On 28 July his patron, Cromwell, was executed. Historians attribute Cromwell's fall in part to factional resistance to his foreign and religious policies and in part to Henry's severe dislike of Anne of Cleves. He had married her sight unseen and claimed that descriptions of her beauty were untrue (historian John Guy notes that he called her "the Flanders mare"). An account found in the Spanish chronicle claims that at the execution Cromwell asked Wyatt to pray for him but that Wyatt was so overcome by tears he could not speak. It is thought that the sonnet Richard Tottel entitles "The lover laments the death of his love" refers instead to Wyatt's loss of his friend and patron, for it imitates Petrarch's Rime 269, "Rotta è l'alta colonna e 'l verde lauro," an elegy on the occasion of his patron's death, as well as the death of Laura. Wyatt's poem (no. 29) begins:

  The pillar perished is whereto I leant,
The strongest stay of mine unquiet mind;
The like of it no man again can find—
From east to west still seeking though he went.

The "pillar" could easily designate Cromwell. The reference to an "unquiet mind" echoes Wyatt's translation of Plutarch and suggests an attempt to find some sort of relief from the uncertainties of life under Henry VIII. Cromwell's papers were investigated after his execution, and in 1541 Wyatt was arrested and imprisoned on the weight of old allegations that he had met with the traitor Reginald Pole and had otherwise misrepresented the king's interests. Wyatt had been cleared of those charges in 1538, but Cromwell's death left him open to further attack from his court enemies.

A poem addressed to Sir Francis Brian (no. 62) has traditionally been dated to this last period of incarceration:

  Sighs are my food, drink are my tears;
Clinking of fetters such music would crave.
  Stink and close air away my life wears.
Innocency is all the hope I have.

Besides its graphic depiction of the speaker's suffering and humiliation—"this wound shall heal again / But yet, alas, the scar shall still remain"—this poem echoes "Who list his wealth and ease retain" in its claim of the speaker's innocence. Wyatt had in 1536 suffered imprisonment in the Tower and, if scholarly dating is correct, had written of it. "Sighs are my food," though shorter, is more bitter in tone than the earlier poem. When commanded to answer in writing the accusations against him, Wyatt provided a declaration of his innocence. He insisted that "for my part I declare affirmingly, at all proofs whereby a Christian man may be tried, that in my life in crime toward the Majesty of the King my master or any his issue, in deed, word, writing or wish I never offended, I never committed malice or offense, or (as I have presently said before you) done thing wherein my thought could accuse my conscience." He then prepared a lengthy, sharply worded defense of his actions, turning the case against his accusers. At its end he declares: "Thus much I thought to say unto you afore both God and man to discharge me, that I seem not to perish in my own fault, for lack of declaring my truth; and afore God and all these men I charge you with my innocent truth that in case, as God defend, you be guilty of mine innocent blood, that you before his tribunal shall be inexcusable." No evidence of a trial survives; but the Privy Council later mentioned Wyatt's confession and pardon, both of which may have been wrought from this defense. At the time, the pardon was believed to have been urged by Queen Catherine Howard and to have rested on the removal of Elizabeth Darrell and the reinstatement of Wyatt's wife. In 1541 Wyatt made his will, providing for Darrell and their son, Francis, and for his legitimate son, Thomas. There are indications that Wyatt was restored to favor, for later in 1541 he received some of the awards of Thomas Culpepper, who was charged with adultery with Queen Catherine Howard, and made an advantageous exchange of property with Henry VIII. Early in 1542 Wyatt was probably member of Parliament for Kent, and it is possible that he was to be made vice admiral of a fleet. On 11 October 1542, on his way to Falmouth to meet and escort to London the Spanish envoy, he died of a fever at the home of Sir John Horsey at Sherborne in Dorset.

It is clear, then, that although the records of Wyatt's life are not always reliable, they are numerous. Besides details in official records, in foreign chronicles, letters, and memoirs, there are letters in his hand, which help to establish his own concerns as a courtier and the demands placed on him by others. His letters to Cromwell and the king reveal a command of detail and dialogue as well as a sensitivity to delicate national and international issues. The two letters to his son have long been used to establish Wyatt's forthright character. His defense in 1541 demonstrates his acuity and his ability to outmaneuver his enemies. For Wyatt's poetry perhaps the most salient features of his life are his worldliness and his wavering fortunes as a courtier. Despite his imprisonments, which must surely have made him aware of the precariousness of his position, Wyatt remained a courtier and accepted diplomatic missions. Those years as ambassador must also have made him aware that diplomacy is a game of negotiation and refusal, that international alliances are quickly and of necessity broken with the changing expectations of new governments and the shifting needs of the state or the monarch. Wyatt's courtly poetry, then, transcribes, whether explicitly or obliquely, his life as a courtier.

Every aspect of Wyatt's poetry has been widely debated: the canon, the texts, the prosody, the occasion, the personae or voices, the significance of French and Italian influences, and the representation of court life. Wyatt's poems circulated widely among various members of Henry's court, and some may first have been published in a miscellany or verse anthology, The Court of Venus, of which three fragments survive. They were edited in 1955 by Russell A. Fraser, who dates the first fragment (Douce) to 1535–1539, the second (Stark) to 1547–1549, and the third (Folger) to 1561–1564, the subtitle of the Stark fragment running A Book of Ballets. Five of the poems in these fragments are Wyatt's, and others are thought to be his as well. The Douce fragment is, in fact, the earliest known printed miscellany in England. By far the most important of the miscellanies, however, is that compiled and edited in 1557 by Tottel: Songs and Sonnets, better known as Tottel's Miscellany. This collection of various verse forms and types, from the sonnet to satire, went through at least nine editions in thirty years. Intended to honor and represent "English eloquence," it is arranged by author, Wyatt being the best represented. Tottel or his editors exercised a great deal of license in altering Wyatt's poetry, omitting lines, rearranging the poems to resemble sonnets, regularizing the meter, smoothing out the irony, and giving them titles that prescribe their meanings. This collection includes about one-third of Wyatt's canon, concentrating on his lyrics and his adaptations from Italian sources, such as Petrarch and Serafino d'Aquilano. It is clear that Tottel thought this collection to represent the best of the courtly tradition and the best of Continental imitations, and although it is uneven in quality, it remains one of the most important publications of the sixteenth century.

Since Tottel's 1557 Miscellany, Wyatt's name has been coupled with that of a younger poet, another translator of Petrarch: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The work of both poets is presented by Tottel, but Wyatt's metrical forms, rugged and experimental in the manuscripts, have been regularized into more-fluid and more-recognizably iambic-pentameter lines. Through George F. Nott's edition (1816) of the poems from manuscripts, it became apparent that Tottel had altered the poems, and Wyatt's prosody began to be studied independently of Surrey's. Wyatt both experiments with metrical forms and writes poems in various recognizable meters, but there is much disagreement over his...

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Reed Way Dasenbrock

In the following essay, Dasenbrock establishes that Wyatt's use of Petrarch was new and inventive and that Wyatt laid the groundwork for later poets who built upon his work with the sonnet format. Dasenbrock believes that Wyatt has not received the credit that he deserves as an imitator and translator of Petrarch's poetry.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to a proper understanding and appreciation of older works of art is our tendency to place them in our categories and judge them accordingly. Nowhere is this more true than in the consideration of works of art whose origins lie partly in other works. Ever since the Romantics, originality has been privileged over imitation, and this has relegated the once honorable...

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