illustrated portrait of Anne Boleyn, the subject of Wyatt's poem

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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How is the beloved represented in Thomas Wyatt's "Whoso List to Hunt"?

Quick answer:

The narrator of "Whoso List to Hunt" is obsessed with his unattainable beloved, who he sees as a wild deer, but who might be seen as an object of male ownership. The question and answer comes from the Poetry Foundation site.

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What's interesting about the beloved in this sonnet is how little we learn of her. While tradition has it that this is a poem about Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII, if we look solely at the text of the poem, we find it is more about the narrator than his beloved. 

He is in love with an unattainable woman, who he imagines as a hind or deer he has been pursuing. A deer would be a graceful, swift-footed and elusive creature, this one especially so, but a deer is also a form of prey, a creature hunted, an object. Either you triumph over it by killing or capturing it, or it triumphs by eluding you. It is a prize whose capture becomes a display of your manhood. The beloved is a beautiful creature of nature but also a quarry to be possessed. 

The narrator is obsessed with with a woman he cannot have—possibly precisely because he can't have her. He says to other men who might want to pursue her that she is out of reach for them too. We learn that her diamond collar means she is the possession of another man and a "caesar" or king at that. We also learn at the end of the sonnet that the nature of this beloved women is wild.

One way to approach the beloved in this poem is through a feminist lens. The narrator's idea of love is sexist by our modern standards. The beloved is compared to an animal, seen as a form of prey, and not given distinctive human characteristics. The narrator doesn't object to her being the property of another man: he might not like that another man owns her, but he doesn't protest the right of male ownership. What woman would have a chance with that kind of "love" surrounding her? Can we blame her for wanting to be wild? 

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 In order to produce an essay of this length, I would suggest that you include the historical background to the poem as well as a close reading of the text.

 The word ‘ beloved’ is not used in the poem, so one would conclude that the term refers to the object of the chase, the ‘hind’, whose pursuit the narrator gives up on. Historically, this figure is believed to be Anne Boleyn. She was introduced to the court of Henry VIII and was rumoured to be close to Wyatt before becoming Henry’s wife.

The theme of the poem being the narrator’s renouncement of the pursuit of the quarry may be interpreted to show that the King himself was where Wyatt’s loyalty, and love, truly lay. If the narrator is perceived as giving up the quest for Boleyn out of love and respect for his monarch, then Henry VIII could be perceived as his ‘beloved’.

Within the close reading of the text, the symbol of the hind’s golden collar denoting ownership by Caesar implies that the narrator supports the assertion that Boleyn was already destined for a royal union. The comparison of Henry VIII with Caesar indicates the narrator’s deep sense of respect for his king. Subtly implied also, however, are the darker qualities of fear and domination which the Tudor monarchy held.

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