George Gascoigne

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Genevieve Ambrose Oldfield (essay date April 1937)

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SOURCE: Oldfield, Genevieve Ambrose. “New Light on the Life of George Gascoigne.” The Review of English Studies 13, no. 50 (April 1937): 129-38.

[In the following essay, Oldfield focuses on Gascoigne's marriage and apparent disinheritance and how these events are reflected in the poet's writings.]

Although many facts in the life of the Elizabethan poet George Gascoigne are obscured by the lapse of time and disputed by his biographers, it is my intention to consider now only two of these matters, i.e. (1) the so-called “disinheritance theory,” which presupposes that Gascoigne was legally disinherited before his father's death; and (2) the poet's marriage, which long has been enshrouded in mystery and which still presents its baffling points.

First of all, in considering the disinheritance theory, the poet's own words should have some weight in the matter, though, unsupported by other proof, they would avail but little. However, it is as well at least to glance at his prose preambles and the prose introductions to his poems. In these prefatory remarks, which are cast in the form of letters, his attitude should be sincere, and in all of them one notices that he often refers to his misspent youth. For instance, in his “Epistle to the Reverend Divines,”1 written in 1574, he writes “whatsoever my youth hath seemed unto the graver sort, I woulde bee verie loth nowe in my middle age to deserve reproch. … For if I shoulde nowe at this age seeme as carelesse of reproche, as I was in greene youth readie to goe astray, my faultes might quickely growe double, and myne estimation shoulde bee woorthie too remayne but single.” Later in the same he refers to the “oversight of my youth” which “had brought me far behind hand and indebted unto the world.”

Again the following year, in an “Epistle to the Young Gentlemen of England,”2 in apologizing for his poems he attests that “a man of middle yeares, who hath to his cost experimented the vanities of youth, and to his perill passed them: who hath bought repentance deare, and yet gone through with the bargaine: who seeth before his face the tyme past lost, and the rest passing away in post: Such a man had more neede to be well advised in his doings, and resolute in his determinations. For with more ease and greater favour may we answere for tenn madde follies committed in grene youth, than one sober oversight escaped in yeares of discretion.” And of his poems he says, “for the most of them being written in my madnesse, might have yeelded then more delight to my frantike fansie to see them published, than they now do accumulate cares in my minde to set them forth corrected: and a deformed youth had bene more likely to set them to sale long sithence than a reformed man can be able now to protect them with simplicitye.” And later, “being indebted unto the world (at the least five thousand days very vainly spent) I may yeeld him yet some part of mine account in these Poemes.”

And, again, to account for publishing his poems, he states “bicause I have (to mine owne great detriment) mispent my golden time, I may serve as ensample to the youthfull Gentlemen of England, that they runne not upon the rocks which have brought me to shipwracke.” He adjures his readers to “beware … and learn you to use the talent which I have highly abused. Make me your mirrour. And if hereafter you see me recover mine estate, or re-edify the decayed...

(This entire section contains 4334 words.)

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walls of my youth, then begin you sooner to build some foundation which may beautify your pallace.”

Once more, in “The general advertisement” of his poems “to the reader,”3 the following passage is suggestive of the same regret or disappointment: “yet wit and I did (in youth) make such a fray, that I fear his cozen wisdom will never become friends with me in my age.” He excuses himself with these words, “Well though my folly be greater than my fortune, yet overgreat were mine unconstancy if in mine own behalf I should compile so many sundry songs or sonnets.” “For,” says he, “in wanton delights I helped all men, though in sad earnest I never furthered myself any kind of way.”

All these references and innuendoes surely at least bespeak some serious thought in the poet's mind, something that might well have been otherwise.

To include as evidence autobiographical material gleaned from his poems would perhaps be treading on dangerous ground, since it has been claimed recently that Gascoigne's Hundreth Sundry Flowres4 is but an anthology of verses written by various poets of the period,5 so the evidence of his verses will be left until later. But even if the author himself cannot be relied upon for facts concerning his own life, it would seem indeed strange if a contemporary and friend during his lifetime should feel called upon to write untrue things of the poet's life immediately after his death. And yet Arber's reprint of the Stationers' Register for the year 1577 contains the entry, under the name of Aggas: “Licenced unto him a Remembraunce of the well employed lief and godlie ende of George Gascoign esquier who deceased at Stamford in Lincolnshire the vij of October, 1577, the reporte of George Whetstons gentleman.” It will be realized that George Whetstone was really a friend, for it was at his home in Stamford that Gascoigne died in the presence of his wife and son, and was buried in the family vault of the Whetstones.

The pamphlet containing the “reporte” (Malone 593, in the Bodleian) is in verse and tells of the life and death of the poet. It is written partly in the first person, as though Gascoigne himself were the writer, and between the verses are interspersed several interesting annotations in prose, as though Whetstone had added these, such as “He was Sir John Gascoigne's sonne and heire disinherited,” and “he thought he could succeed dispite his disinheritance.” It does not seem probable that at such a time a friend would make false statements about the poet's disinheritance if some such thing had not occurred. But to turn to more authoritative proof in the legal documents.

As early as June 1, 1562, Sir John had disposed of the capital house and site of his manor of Cardington with appurtenances, by “sale, bargaine, enfoeffment,”6 etc., of the same to Edward Gilbert, alderman of London, after having recovered the same to the use of himself and wife “and their heirs forever” from Francis Earl of Bedford and Sir George Converys, less than a month previously on May 12, 1562.7 And in both these documents the name of his son and heir do not occur, though in similar documents “his son and heir, George” together with the father, are named as party of the one part, especially in deeds pertaining to property.

However, one would pass by this fact most innocently if Sir John Gascoigne's will8 did not very clearly indicate that the relation between himself and his son George was far from harmonious. The will was made on April 2, 1568, two days before Sir John died. In it he left to his wife household effects to the value of 300 marks, to be appraised by “four indifferent persons,” according to the terms and meaning of a promise conveyed in a pair of indentures between Francis, Earl of Bedford and Sir George Conyers on the one part, and himself and son, George, on the other part, with his wife to have her choice of the goods. Other bequests followed, including the lease of the parsonage of Fenlake Barnes in Cardington to his younger son, John. And all his manors, lands, etc., not before granted he left to his son George and his heirs, “upon one condition only, and not otherwise,” that his executor should be allowed to take sufficient of the profits therefrom to satisfy all debts, legacies and bequests as set forth in the will, including one annuity of £20 for life to a servant, Anne Drewry.9 Or, alternatively, he ordained that his son, George, should discharge the terms of the will within one year of his father's death, and if this were not done all his lands, tenements, etc., not included in his wife's jointure and £16 per annum out of the profits of her jointure, were to go to Sir John's executor to enable him to carry out the terms of the will, including also the payment of funeral charges, etc. A list of the debts followed, including a recognizance in which George was implicated and would suffer.

This recognizance10 was made on November 12, 1567, only five months before the will was drawn up, and consisted of a pair of indentures between Sir John Gascoigne and his son, George, on the one part, and one Thomas Colby of London on the other part, and discloses the fact that the latter paid to the former the sum of £940 for the manor of “Escottes, alias Cotton,” in Cardington, with all its appurtenances, farms, lands, etc., except several leases of land not yet expired, which were to run until expiry with the profits reserved to Sir John and his heirs.

Then on the security of this recognizance Sir John alone, without reference to his son, accepted from Thomas Colby on December 15 next following the sum of 2,000 marks and again on March 10, 1568, another £200, both of which amounts were to be returned only if the terms of the original recognizance were not kept. Three weeks and two days later, when Sir John made his will—only two days before he died—the terms of the recognizance apparently were still troubling his mind. Probably he feared that his son George would attempt to forfeit the pledge he had made with his father regarding Thomas Colby's “possession and enjoyment of the property unmolested” by claims, for he stipulated that his executor should take whatever steps might be necessary to prevent such forfeiture of the recognizance, even to “the prosecuting and serving of execution of a bond” against his son.

This left matters so that George, if he had wished to recover the premises involved, not only would have had to repay the original sum of £940 received from Colby for the manor and appurtenances, but also the additional 2,000 marks and £200 advanced to his father by Colby. And Sir John in his will, to further ensure that all the tangle was carried out, appointed this same Thomas Colby supervisor of his will, to confer with and advise the executor. And if his executor, a nephew through his wife's connections, William Curson, refused to act as executor, Thomas Colby should assume that office as well.

In this manner, with his property all tied up or disposed of, except that which was apportioned to his wife and his younger son, Sir John practically disinherited his son and heir, George, without publicly announcing the fact, though if the Inquisition Post Mortem11 can be relied upon for accuracy, and it was taken April 2, 1569, long enough after Sir John's death for the matter to have become obscured and misrepresented, George did acquire a “manor and fourth part of the barony and other premises” which were worth by the year £20 14s. 11d. and 12s. respectively. However, in view of subsequent events, it does not seem likely in this instance that the Inquisition Post Mortem can be strictly relied upon.

The first question that arises is why Sir John chose this manner of disinheriting his son when he might as easily have publicly announced the disinheritance if the son had displeased or disgraced his father. The answer to this question is not far to seek. On July 10, 1563, only nine months after the marriage of George to Elizabeth Breton, Sir John appeared in the Queen's Chancery Court12 and acknowledged that he owed his son George £1,000 if the property due to descend to him and his heirs were otherwise disposed of, except to descend to the rightful heirs of Sir John in case George lacked issue. But Sir John, rather than fulfil the terms of this recognizance and pay his son £1,000 for the inheritance which he was not to receive, preferred to dispose of the bulk of the estate through the recognizance for Thomas Colby of London, and even had the audacity to secure his son's connivance in the plan. It was a bold enterprise and apparently succeeded, for his son's verdict was recorded in Whetstone's “Remembrance”:

First of my life, which some (amis) did knowe,
          I leve mine armes, my actes shall blase the same,
Yet on a thorne a grape will never growe,
          No more a Churle, dooth breed a childe of fame.
But (for my birth) my birth right was not great
          My father did his forward son defeat.
This froward deed could scarce my hart dismay …

So, apparently, he understood the cause of his father's bitterness that resulted so woefully for him. And later he was to feel the echo of the “froward deed,” when his mother, Lady Margaret, whose will was made on April 16, 1574, did not even mention George, though she left property and money to her younger son, John Gascoigne. But George was better placed then and dared to dispute her will. On the same day that it was proved, March 10, 1575, George attempted to have it broken legally,13 but this was not accomplished. Her executor, John Conyers—a nephew—carried out the provisions of the will, sentence definitive was passed on the lady's sanity and her son George, for his trouble, only incurred the expenses involved.

Now what could have caused such bitterness, such animosity, such retaliation on the part of the father, Sir John Gascoigne, that his son George would feel it for the rest of his life? In the first place he deserted the law for a Court life, though it is true that later he returned to Gray's Inn to practise law. But surely this would not cause a father to disinherit his son. George was a bold courtier; he envied those higher placed and aspired to service for the Queen. His ambition knew no bounds, and neither—we surmise—did his prodigality and extravagance. A “young blood” of Elizabeth's age usually lived a fast, quick, and short life, and evidence is not lacking that George did all three of these superlatively, which may not have pleased even an Elizabethan father. But in addition to incurring enormous debts, squandering his time, his money, brains, and health, he made a marriage under circumstances which probably added the last drop to his father's cup of bitterness.

Within the very year of this marriage, possibly acting under coercion of his son, who wanted to be assured of his future inheritance from a father who had already perhaps very patently expressed his opinion of his son's wife, Sir John made the promise in the Chancery Court that he would forfeit £1,000 to George if the lands, manors, etc., were not allowed to descend to him and his heirs;14 but how easily Sir John circumvented this promise!

The marriage of the poet, George, to Elisabeth, widow of William Breton and daughter of John Bacon of Bury St. Edmunds, was celebrated at Christ Church, Newgate Street, on November 23, 1562, according to the Church Register of Christenings, Marriages and Burials from 1538 to 1588.15

Now William Breton in his will, dated February 12, 1557, expressed his confidence in his wife, for he left to her his capital mansion in St. Giles parish without Creplegate, as well as property and houses in Barbycan and Redcross Streets in the same parish, and also his quay and wharf called “Dyse Key” which he had bought of Thomas Bacon and then let to the same Thomas and James Bacon, his brother, to the use of Elisabeth during her life, and after her death to the use of his eldest son, Richard. But in his bequests to his sons, Richard and Nicholas, and to his daughters, all of which he left in the custody of his wife until they attained their majorities, he took the further precaution of providing in the event of her remarriage, in which case, or, if she died before the bequests were made, he ordained that his father-in-law John Bacon and Lawrence Eresby, or the longer liver of them, should assume the custody of and dispose of their profits to the good up-bringing of the children.16 He must have been motivated therefore by some suspicion that if his wife remarried the custody of his children's heritage might be better left in other hands. He died on January 12, 1559, and his father-in-law, John Bacon of Bury St. Edmunds,17 did not long survive him. His will was made on April 7, 1559, and proved on March 10, 1560.18 When the will was made his daughter was already remarried and, we assume, not quite to his liking, since he left to her, whom throughout the will he designated as “Boysse,” only one-third of a gold chain which was to be equally divided between his three daughters, whereas to his other two unmarried daughters he left money and property as well. The will also mentions his son-in-law, “Mr. Boyse,” to whom he left gold for a ring.

The will of James Bacon of London19 was dated April 22, 1573, and mentions the quay called “Dice Keye,” in the parish of St. Dunstan in the East, “late purchased of Richard Britein” for the sum of £900, “whereof £450 is already paid, and £450 is due after the death of Elizabeth Gascoyne, mother of the said Richard Britteine, and to her for life there is to be paid £50 a year.” He also ordained that £450 should be realized of his goods, etc., to remain in the hands of his wife for the discharge of his “heir,” after the death of the said Elizabeth Gascoyne, or if his wife died before Elizabeth the £450 was to be delivered to William Webb, citizen and salter of London, to discharge to the same effect.

The next bit of evidence in this unusual case is an excerpt from a diary of Henry Machyn, which has been published in the Camden Society publications under date of September 30, 1562, as follows: “The same day at nyght bi-twyn viij and ix was a grett fray in Redcrosse Stret betwyn ij gentylmen and ther men, for they dyd maree one woman and dyvers wher hurtt; these were ther names, Master Boysse and master Gaskyn gentylmen.”20

Apparently George Gascoigne landed in prison over this strange affair. For Edward Boys of London brought suit in the Queen's Court against “George Gascoyn of London esquire in the custody of the marshal,” for the sum of £500 regarding the inheritance of the Breton children. Thus it seems that each man was quite willing and eager to claim the widow of William Breton as his wife, and each was equally willing to act as custodian of the bequests left by William Breton to his children.

All of the documents in the case have not been forthcoming, so it is with great difficulty that the intricacies of the affair are patched together; but there was claim and counterclaim by each man in the Chancery Court21 and the Court of Wards and Liveries.22 However, the matter was finally adjusted to the satisfaction of Gascoigne, for the Queen on February 17, 1569,23 took the case out of her court of Wards and Liveries, and herself granted to “our beloved George Gascoyne” the custody of the life and marriage of Richard Breton during his minority, together with an annuity of £15 out of the proceeds from the property left by William Breton to his son, Richard. This annuity was to run from the day when Breton died24 (January 12, 1559) until the then present time, and to continue until such time as Richard might attain his majority.

How Gascoigne succeeded in gaining the favour of “good Queen Bess,” is problematical; but it is not unlikely that influence was exerted by reason of the kinship between Gascoigne's wife, Elisabeth, and the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon, who was a distant cousin of her father's.

At last the poet's fortunes seem to have changed. He was assured of an income of at least £15. By being made legal custodian of William Breton's children by his wife Elisabeth, the recognition of Gascoigne's marriage to her was achieved. Thus the matrimonial tangle was solved to the poet's satisfaction.25 But there was still the financial embarrassment visited on George by his father's avaricious though possibly justifiable act. This too, however, was at length adjudicated favourably for George when, on June 1, 1569,26 by gracious act of the Queen, entry was granted to George and his heirs forever, to all the lands, manors, tenements, farms, etc., which should have come to him on the death of his father.

With the revelation of these facts in the matters of his disinheritance and marriage, it is not difficult to believe that the poet was thinking of his plight in one or both cases when he wrote the following verse:

One onely dismall day, suffised (with despite)
To take me from my carvers place, and from the table quite.
Five hundred broken sleepes, had busied all my braynes,
To find (at last) some worthy trade that might increase my gaynes:
One blacke unluckie houre my trade hath overthrowen,
And marrde my marte, & broke my bank, & al my blisse oreblowen.
To wrappe up all in woe, I am in prison pent,
My gaines possessed by my foes, my friends against me bent.
And all the heavy haps, that ever age yet bare,
Assembled are within my breast, to choake me up with care.

This verse was chosen more or less at random from “The Complaint of the Greene Knight,” an autobiographical poem; but its like in grief, woe, and disappointment may be seen in many other pieces in Gascoigne's Posies. But enough of poetry, since, as in the Bible, a verse can always be found to prove any doubtful point.


  1. Used as introduction to the second edition of his works, appearing in 1575 under the title The Posies.

  2. Also included in introduction of the second edition of his collected poems, 1575.

  3. Prefatory to second edition.

  4. This is the title of the first edition of Gascoigne's collected works published in 1572/3.

  5. The anthology theory is repudiated by the present writer, who bases her belief, among other things, on the fact that the so-called anthology, reprinted by the Haslewood Press for Mr. B. M. Ward in 1926, contains only half the original volume, which is divided by a break in pagination at p. 201. The latter half is called the original first edition by Mr. Ward, despite the fact that of the six known copies of this volume none contains only this portion without the first part consisting of the two plays, The Supposes and Jocasta, both of which are referred to by the Printer in his foreword “to the Reader” occurring in the first edition of Gascoigne's poems.

  6. Public Record Office, Patent Roll, 4 Elizabeth, Part 10, mem. 30 (29).

  7. P.R.O., Patent Roll, 5 Elizabeth, Part 10, mem. 3 (56).

  8. P.C.C., Babington 12, preserved in Somerset House, London.

  9. This is the Anne Drewrie who appeared in the Queen's Court on January 23, 1585, and pleaded herself satisfied with the “outlawry” of Sir John Gascoigne, who had been imprisoned for refusing to pay her the sum of £200, with 68s. damages, awarded her previously in the same Court. The Queen therefore, “in her piety” pardoned Sir John his “outlawry” and he was forthwith released from prison. P.R.O., Patent Roll, 7 Elizabeth, Part 8, mem. 1 (45).

  10. P.R.O., Patent Roll, 10 Elizabeth, Part 11, and Close Roll, Part 13.

  11. P.R.O., Chancery Inquisition, Post Mortem, Series II, vol. 151, (3).

  12. P.R.O., Close Roll, 5 Elizabeth, Part 21.

  13. P.C.C., Carew 4, preserved in Somerset House, London.

  14. P.R.O., Close Roll, 5 Elizabeth, Part 21, No. 98.

  15. In the list of marriages, however, the year 1538 in the original—which was written in 1586, evidently a transcript of an earlier register—has been altered by a later hand to 1542, with a corresponding alteration in subsequent years until 1587. And the Harleian Society, by whom the registers were published in 1895, adhered to the years as altered in the original. If the date had not been altered the marriage of Gascoigne to Elisabeth must have occurred on November 23, 1558; but her first husband, William Breton, did not die until January 12, 1559, so 1558 is untenable.

  16. Taken from the Memorial Introduction to Rev. Alexander B. Grosart's Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Nicholas Breton, London, 1879, pp. xii-xvii.

  17. Up to this time it has been impossible to substantiate the statement frequently made that her father was one John Bacon of London. If such were the case this second John Bacon with a daughter and son-in-law, Boyse, must have caused all the confusion in Gascoigne's life; but the legal documents do not allow of such an interpretation, and it is therefore assumed that her father, while not of London, was confused with his brothers, Thomas and James, who were of London.

  18. P.C.C., Chayney 16. Preserved in Somerset House, London.

  19. P.C.C., Peter 28.

  20. Inasmuch as the marriage of Gascoigne and Elizabeth occurred on November 17, 1562, it is small wonder that this ante-nuptial presumption of his caused a great uproar and “fray in Redcrosse Stret.”

  21. P.R.O., Chancery Proceedings, Series II, 71/71; Chancery Proceedings, Series II, 78/55; Coram Rege Roll, 1206.

  22. The matter before this court is known only by reference occurring in other documents, as search failed to trace the W. & L. documents.

  23. P.R.O., Patent Roll, 11 Elizabeth, Part 8, mem. 10.

  24. The fact that the annuity was to run from the date of William Breton's death may imply that the marriage of George Gascoigne to Elizabeth occurred shortly thereafter, but this is only conjecture.

  25. The discrepancy of dates still excites doubt, especially in view of the Queen's grant of custody running from the death of William Breton, January 12, 1559, but the final outcome was satisfactory: date of marriage, November 17, 1562; fray in Redcross Street, September 30, 1562; date of Chancery and other Court proceedings re Breton children, October 7, 1562, and some time between October, 1562, and Easter, 1563.

  26. P.R.O., Patent Roll, 11 Elizabeth, Part 4, mem. 26.


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George Gascoigne c. 1539-1577

English poet, playwright, and critic.

Considered accomplished in several forms, Gascoigne was a major literary pioneer. Scholars generally agree that he wrote the first English prose comedy, the first book of English literary criticism, and the first original English verse satire written on Roman models. Some contend that his most famous work, The Adventures of Master F. J. (1573), is the first English novel. Gascoigne's works are informed by his wide array of experiences, including the study of law, military duty, and service at court. The quality of Gascoigne's works significantly changed over the course of his career, shifting from a cheery idealism to a passionate moralism.

Biographical Information

Details of Gascoigne's life are unclear. Thought to have been born around 1539 in Bedfordshire, he is known to be the son of Margaret Scargill Gascoigne and Sir John Gascoigne, a prosperous landowner and farmer. References to Trinity College, Cambridge, in Gascoigne's writings suggest that he was educated there and left before completing his degree. By 1555 Gascoigne studied law at Gray's Inn, but returned to Bedfordshire when he lost interest in the legal profession. Soon afterward, he represented his father at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, affording Gascoigne an opportunity to enter court life. However, he never completely won the favor of the court until later, in the 1570s. Between 1558 and 1572 Gascoigne experienced a number of legal difficulties that caused him to suffer both financially and emotionally. His marriage in 1561 to Elizabeth Bacon Breton, a woman who had not legally divorced her previous husband, led to several years of litigation. In 1565 Gascoigne returned to Gray's Inn in an effort to better his financial situation. While there he wrote some of his most significant early works. In 1568 Gascoigne's father, on his deathbed, disinherited him. Around this time Gascoigne again left Gray's Inn, and by May 1570 he was placed in a Bedford jail for failure to pay his debts. In order to avoid further incarceration and to remedy his financial problems, Gascoigne undertook a military career, fighting in two campaigns in Holland the early 1570s. Following his return from the war, Gascoigne was accused of several crimes, including murder and treason. In an effort to avoid an investigation, he returned to Holland for another military expedition. The rest of Gascoigne's life was spent trying to gain recognition as a writer, an endeavor in which he realized some success. His The Pleasant Tale of Hemetes the Hermit (1575) and The Grief of Joy (1576)—both of which he presented directly to Queen Elizabeth—were well-received at court. Gascoigne died, following a lengthy illness, on October 7, 1577, in Lincolnshire.

Major Works

Among Gascoigne's first significant works is The Supposes (1566), an adaptation of an Italian comedy. A story of disguise and mistaken identity, Gascoigne altered Lodovico Ariosto's original to provide uniquely English characters that appealed to Queen Elizabeth's court. His A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) was originally published under the guise of an anthology representing the works of several authors, though it was written entirely by Gascoigne. Many scholars consider this ploy a sophisticated literary device that serves to focus on the art of rhetoric and the playfulness of reading. Contained in this anthology is The Adventures of Master F. J., one of Gascoigne's most celebrated works. A collection of poems framed by a prose narrative, The Adventures of Master F. J. offers a variety of material for critical study, ranging from the author's pioneering structure and metrical patterns to his commentary on social and gender roles. Subsequent works by Gascoigne, such as The Spoyle of Antwerpe (1576), an account of war atrocities he witnessed in Holland, and his translation The Droomme of Doomesday (1576), demonstrate a shift in his writing style which suggests that his concerns had changed from aesthetic innovation to stout moralism. Ultimately, however, Gascoigne is recognized for his ability to write about a variety of subjects from a wide array of perspectives, which, in turn, demonstrates his appreciation of language and rhetoric and his aptitude for literary invention.

Critical Reception

Critics generally agree that Gascoigne was one of the most important innovators in English literature. Some scholars contend that The Adventures of Master F. J. is the first English novel, and most agree that The Supposes is the first English prose comedy, Certain Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse or Rhyme in English (1575) is the first book of English literary criticism, and The Steele Glas (1576) is the first original English verse satire written on Roman models. In addition, critics such as William L. Wallace suggest that the variety of rhyme and metrical patterns found in Gascoigne's poetry illustrates his willingness to explore the possibilities of English verse. However, some critics, including Stanley R. Maveety, contend that not all of Gascoigne's pieces were original. For example, Maveety argues that the structure of The Steele Glas borrows heavily from the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman and asserts that Gascoigne may be less of an innovator than many believe. Moreover, while Jocasta claims to be translated from Euripides' Phoenissae, which would make it the first Greek tragedy to appear on an English stage, it was actually adapted from Lodovico Dolce's Italian play Giocasta. Nevertheless, Gascoigne's reputation as a literary pioneer and innovator remains secure.

Stanley R. Maveety (essay date April 1963)

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SOURCE: Maveety, Stanley R. “Versification in The Steele Glas.Studies in Philology 60, no. 2 (April 1963): 166-73.

[In the essay that follows, Maveety examines the structure and meter of The Steele Glas, contending that the structure was heavily influenced by the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman.]

In 1576 George Gascoigne wrote a poem of about 1200 lines called The Steele Glas. The “trusty” steel glass or mirror is the poet's device in which he sees an unflattering reflection of his own society. Occupational types from kings on down are seen as a rather shabby lot. Pride, greed, and dishonesty are everywhere, and as Gascoigne looks in the glass he speaks directly to some of the offenders in vigorous and often colloquial language. His remedy for society as a whole can be stated quite simply: if each man would perform his duties humbly and honestly, the world would be better off.

Although the poem has the distinction of being the first original, non-dramatic blank verse in English, it is medieval in tone and subject matter. As Skeat,1 F. E. Schelling,2 and C. T. Prouty3 have all pointed out, the content of The Steele Glas was greatly influenced by The Vision of Piers the Plowman; as a matter of fact, Gascoigne refers to Piers by name five times. C. S. Lewis4 has written that, “It is medieval in everything but metre.” But it is my contention that in addition to the similarity of its subject matter The Steele Glas resembles Langland's poem with regard to versification as well.

Though Piers Plowman is a specimen of what is often called alliterative verse, the most distinctive quality of that verse is not alliteration but the structure of the line. In a typical alliterative line there are four heavy accents, the first two separated from the second two by a medial pause. On the other hand, blank verse, as everyone knows, normally has ten syllables to the line—five iambic feet. Mr. Yvor Winters, however, has pointed out what no other critic to my knowledge has seen—that in traditional English meter (such as blank verse) the accent is relative to the foot rather than to the entire line.5 Consider Gascoigne's line,

But words of worth, and worthy to be wayed.

Normal iambic pentameter scansion gives us a heavy stress on the word to, and though to is less heavily stressed than be which follows it, normal scansion is correct since to is heavier than the last syllable of worthy which precedes it. This last syllable of worthy and the to which follows it constitute the fourth iambic foot. Be and weighed make up the fifth foot and with the preceding foot make a series of four syllables of increasing stress. The phenomenon is not at all rare in traditional English verse; its presence here makes it possible for this same line, if regarded as an accentual, or alliterative line, to contain only four heavy stresses.

But words of worth, and worthy to be wayed.

In this typical line, as well as indicating the stress relative to the line as a whole, as it must be considered in alliterative verse, I have indicated another way in which Gascoigne's line is like that of Langland's, the medial pause. Gascoigne's consistent use of a heavy caesura after the second foot divides his line also—usually so that there are two heavily stressed syllables in each half line.6

Still another similarity is Gascoigne's lack of enjambment. Because his lines as a rule do not run over, Gascoigne's metrical unit is really the line (as in Piers Plowman) rather than the verse paragraph (as in most blank verse). Mr. George K. Smart has shown statistically that Gascoigne differed in this respect from those who had written blank verse before him. According to Smart, twenty-two percent of Surrey's lines in his translation of Books II and IV of the Aeneid run over. Grimald, in his two blank verse translations, used twenty-three percent run-over lines. Turberville, in his Heroides, ran over thirty-three percent of his lines. According to Smart only eleven percent of Gascoigne's lines in The Steele Glas are run over.7

But the two poems are alike in more than the structure of the line, the infrequency of enjambment, and the obvious lack of rhyme; they are alike also in their alliteration. Knott and Fowler's preface to the A-text of Piers Plowman includes a list of patterns for individual lines. In the first line of Piers Plowman, for example,

In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne,

the alliterated s, coinciding with all four accented syllables, produces a pattern Knott and Fowler indicate (aa/aa). In the next three lines of Piers Plowman we may see two other metrical patterns:

I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were (aa/ax)
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes (aa/ax)
Went wyde in his world wondres to here (aaa/ax).

Knott and Fowler list eight such patterns, in addition to the three above, these five: (aa/xa), (ax/ax), (xa/xa), (aa/bb), (aa/xx).8

Comparing these patterns to lines of The Steele Glas one finds surprising conformity; that is to say, many of the lines of The Steele Glas, although very regular as blank verse, conform, at the same time, to one of the patterns of the medieval line. For example, the following lines from The Steele Glas resemble the (aa/aa) pattern of the first line of Piers Plowman:

That malice make no mansion in their minds
That euermore, they mark what moode doth moue
And dig for death in dellicatest dishes

The following lines in The Steele Glas correspond to the (aa/ax) pattern.

To lende a light, and lanterne to our feete
O worthy words, to ende my worthlesse verse
VVhen goldsmithes get, no gains by sodred crownes

The following fit the (aa/xa) pattern:

Nor colour crafte, by swearing precious coles
Which Magike makes, in wicked mysteries
My battred braynes (which now be shrewdly brusde)

The (aaa/ax) pattern of the third line of Piers Plowman is rare in The Steele Glas since Gascoigne's caesura, occurring usually at the end of the second foot, makes it unlikely that the three heavily stressed syllables will occur before the second half of the line. Even so a few lines approach this pattern:

But bumbast bolster, frisle, and perfume
when Dauie Diker diggs, and dallies not
when weauers weight is found in huswiues web

The following conform to the (ax/ax) pattern:

Which loyter not, but labour al the yeare
And pine before, their processe be preferrde
And some again (I see them wel enough

The following fit the (xa/xa) pattern:

VVhen baylifes strain, none other thing but strays
By earing vp the balks, that part their bounds
And both fo dresse their hydes, that we go dry

The following are like the seventh pattern (aa/bb):

Which go not gay, nor fede on daintie foode
Til secret sinnes (vntoucht) infecte their flocks
Which loth all lust, disdayning drunkenesse,

Knott and Fowler's final pattern (aa/xx) can be illustrated with the following:

That Grammer grudge not at our english tong
VVhich sway the sworde, of royal gouernment
VVhen mercers make, more bones to swere and lye

Still we scarcely imagine Gascoigne, or Langland for that matter, sitting down with any such list of patterns before him as a handy guide for the composition of alliterative verse. No doubt both men composed largely by ear and tried to produce an effect rather than match exactly a prescribed pattern. There are many lines in The Steele Glas which do not match any of the patterns cited above, but which nevertheless, make similar use of alliteration. As a matter of fact, Skeat noted lines in Piers Plowman itself,9 which do not conform to these patterns.

Statistics in such a case are likely to be subjective, but on the basis of a close, line-by-line reading of The Steele Glas made expressly for this purpose, I conclude that almost fifty percent of the lines of The Steele Glas either fit one of the patterns noted by Knott and Fowler or produce a similar effect. Below is a quotation of several lines on which one can make a more reasonable judgment of the entire matter. (For an honest representation I have chosen a passage that includes such lines as the fifth through the seventh which do not conform to the patterns of alliteration and caesura.) The subject is the unscrupulous merchant who takes advantage of young gallants through usury. Such merchants, Gascoigne asserts, know how,

To make their coyne, a net to catch yong frye.
To binde such babes, in father Derbies bands,
To stay their steps, by statute Staples staffe,
To rule yong roysters, with Recognisance,
To reade Arithmeticke once euery day,
In VVoodstreat, Bredstreat, and in Pultery
(VVhere such schoolmaisters keepe their counting house)
To fede on bones, when flesh and fell is gon,
To keepe their byrds, ful close in caytiues cage,
(Who being brought, to liberty at large,
Might sing perchance, abroad, when sun doth shine
Of their mishaps, and how their feathers fell)
Until the canker may their corps consume.

The passage is typical and represents the characteristics that have been discussed, but we must avoid two possible overstatements. First, many other poets, before Gascoigne and after, made similar use of alliteration, and his use of the caesura after the second foot was by no means uncommon. The difference is in the degree. Smart has written that, “Nowhere in English is there such a consistent use of such a definite pattern of blank verse.”10

Second, we must not imagine that The Steele Glas and Piers Plowman, read aloud, will sound precisely alike. Though individual lines of The Steele Glas share distinctive characteristics with lines of Piers Plowman, one is the old, native, accentual, or alliterative verse, and the other is iambic pentameter. Gascoigne in writing the latter made use of the effects of the former, but is it possible that Gascoigne thought he was writing in the old tradition?

Precisely what Gascoigne thought of the meter of Piers Plowman and the meter in his own Steele Glas would be interesting to know but hard to determine. A very reasonable place to look is Gascoigne's own treatise on the writing of verse, Certaine Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of English Verse (1575), which, of course, is the first book of English literary criticism. Though he lists and defines current verse forms, Gascoigne writes not a word about blank verse. He quotes Chaucer's Parson, writing that “it is not enough to thunder in Rym [sic], Ram, Ruff, by letter,” but he does not seem aware that this is a reference to a different system of versification. In another, more tantalizing note after observing that only the iambic foot was currently used in English verse, he wrote, “We have used in times past other kinds of meters: as for example this following,

No wight in this world, that wealth can attain.”

The line is ten syllables, an alternating of iambic and anapestic feet, but where did Gascoigne get it? Could this be his attempt at the alliterative verse “we have used in times past”? Before giving us an answer, Gascoigne changes the subject.11

Gascoigne's metrics are generally very regular, and it would seem, at first glance, quite foolhardy to suggest he was trying to reproduce the versification of Piers Plowman, but somehow falling into blank verse by mistake. However, Miss G. D. Wilcock in her study of the classical verse movement suggests such a possibility. Wilcock, reviewing the works of those who advocated and those who opposed the writing of classical hexameters in English, shows quite conclusively that until Daniel's Defense of Rhyme, no one seemed perfectly aware of just what it was that constituted the metrical basis for English verse. Daniel was not the first to use the words stress or accent, but he was the first to use the terms consistently, apparently recognizing just what was involved. Though such poets as Gascoigne had already mastered metrical regularity, they were not thoroughly aware of what they had done; the practice preceded the theory.

Gascoigne, as a matter of fact, is one of those Miss Wilcock cites to indicate this lack of clarity in the understanding of those very principles they had so clearly mastered.

With Gascoigne's Certain Notes … the word accent emerges into prosodic discussion. Yet … the term [is] involved in a haze of confusion, of which the prime cause is the inability or unwillingness to listen to English metrical speech without some very largely irrelevant classical or foreign authority in the hand. … His discrimination of the different accents is not based upon his working knowledge of English rhythms. … He professes to find three accents in English: lenis (unstressed), circumflexa (indifferent—for this he gives no illustration) and gravis which ‘is drawen out or elevate and maketh that sillable long whereupon it is placed.’12

It is my conclusion that Gascoigne, not understanding completely the basis for the versification of either Piers Plowman or the verse practiced in his own day, made an approximation of the old verse form, using the metrical system currently available to him. It would seem that metrically The Steele Glas, like so much in sixteenth century literature, reveals more than one influence. In the verse of other sixteenth century poets Gascoigne had examples of alliteration and heavy caesura—both perhaps showing the indirect influence of the medieval native tradition. In addition Gascoigne was probably influenced consciously and directly by The Vision of Piers the Plowman, a recently published specimen of that same native tradition. Alden, commenting on the classical origin of blank verse, wrote, “It is curious that a form so completely adopted as the favorite of English verse should be borrowed rather than native. …”13 For the source of the blank verse in The Steele Glas I believe we should say—borrowed as well as native.


  1. Walter W. Skeat, Specimens of English Literature (Oxford, 1917), p. 473.

  2. Felix E. Schelling, The Life and Writings of George Gascoigne (Publications of the University of Pennsylvania; Series in Philology, Literature, and Archeology, II, 4), pp. 72, 74-75.

  3. C. T. Prouty, George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet (New York, 1942), pp. 248-251.

  4. C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1954), p. 270.

  5. Yvor Winters, “Primitivism and Decadence,” In Defense of Reason (Denver, 1943), p. 108. Primitivism and Decadence was separately published in 1937. For a similar discussion of meter as it is related to “The Audible Reading of Poetry,” see Yvor Winters, The Function of Criticism (Denver, 1957), pp. 81-100. W. K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley in “The Concept of Meter: An Exercise in Abstraction,” PMLA, LXXIV (December, 1959), 585-598, describe traditional English metrics in terms of relative stress and acknowledge their indebtedness to Winters.

  6. George Gascoigne, “The Steele Glas,Complete Works, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge, 1910), II, pp. 143-174.

  7. G. K. Smart, “Non Dramatic Blank Verse,” Anglia, LXI (June, 1937), pp. 384-386.

  8. Thomas A. Knott and David C. Fowler, Piers Plowman: A Critical Edition of the A-Version (Baltimore, 1952), pp. i-lx.

  9. Walter W. Skeat, ed., The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman (Oxford, 1932), p. xxxviii. “Sometimes there are two rime-letters in the second half-line and one in the first. … :

    ‘Tyle he had sylver · for his sawes and his selynge.’

    . … By a bold license, the rime-letter is sometimes found at the beginning of soft or subordinate syllables, as in the words for, whil, in the lines:

    ‘Danne I frained hir faire · for hym dat hir made;’

    ‘And with him to wonye and wo · whil god is in hevene;’”

    Though Piers Plowman was first printed in 1550, and reappeared in 1561, I have quoted from the modern edition since I am dealing only with the meter.

  10. G. K. Smart, “Non Dramatic Blank Verse,” Anglia, LXI (June, 1937), pp. 384-386. Smart was criticizing the inflexibility of Gascoigne's blank verse; he made no reference to the native, accentual tradition.

  11. George Gascoigne, “Certain Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse,Complete Works, ed. John W. Cunliffe, I, 465-473.

  12. G. D. Wilcock, “Passing Pitefull Hexameters: A Study of the Quality and Accent in English Renaissance Verse,” Modern Language Review, XXVII (January, 1934), 1-19.

  13. Raymond Macdonald Alden, English Verse (New York, 1903), p. 174.

Principal Works

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Gascoigne's Memories, Written Upon This Occasion (poetry) 1565

Jocasta [adaptor, with Francis Kinwelmershe; from Lodovico Dolce's play Giocasta] (play) 1566

The Supposes [adaptor; from Lodovico Ariosto's play I Suppositi] (play) 1566

*A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, Bounde Vp in One Small Poesie. Gathered Partely (by Translation) and Partly by Inuention (poetry) 1573; revised and enlarged as The Posies of George Gascoigne Esquire, 1575

The Glasse of Gouernement. A Tragicall Comedie (play) 1575

The Droomme of Doomes Day. Wherein the Frailties of Mans Lyfe, Are Portrayed, Translated by Gascoigne [translator; from Pope Innocent III's De Contemptu Mundi sive de Miseria Humanae Conditionis] (poetry) 1576

The Grief of Joy (poetry) 1576

The Spoyle of Antwerpe. Faithfully Reported, by a True Englishman, Who Was Present (pamphlet) 1576

The Steele Glas. A Satyre. Together with the Complainte of Phylomene (poetry and play) 1576

The Complete Works of George Gascoigne. 2 vols. [edited by John W. Cunliffe] (poetry, plays, novel, and criticism) 1907-10

*This work includes the plays The Supposes and Jocasta, the novel The Adventures of Master F. J., the long poem Dan Bartholomew of Bath, and the poem “Gascoigne's De Profundis,” as well as the masque Gascoigne's Device of a Masque for the Right Honourable Viscount Montague and sundry verse. The revised version also includes the critical treatise Certain Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse or Ryme in English, and revises The Adventures of Master F. J. as The Pleasant Fable of Ferdinando Jeronimi and Leonora de Valasco, Translated Out of the Italian Riding Tales of Bartello.

Leicester Bradner (essay date fall 1965)

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SOURCE: Bradner, Leicester. “Point of View in George Gascoigne's Fiction.” Studies in Short Fiction 3, no. 7 (fall 1965): 16-22.

[In the following essay, Bradner analyzes the importance of point of view in Gascoigne's work and elucidates the author's narrative skill.]

When George Gascoigne first published his poems in 1573, his desire to dissociate himself from the events described in them led him to adopt a number of subterfuges. One of the most important of these was the creation of an outside editor or narrator from whose point of view we see the action. He used this device in presenting his miscellaneous poems and in two pieces of extended narrative. The first, Dan Bartholmew of Bath, a collection of poems connected by verse links attributed to a man called the Reporter, was incomplete when first printed in the Hundreth Sundry Flowres of 1573; in the second edition, called the Posies, two years later, it appeared in its completed form. The other piece of fiction was called The Adventures passed by Master F. J. in 1573, but on its reappearance in 1575 it was called The Pleasant Fable of Ferdinando Jeronimi and Leonora de Valasco and its English setting has been changed to Italy. The reasons for this change need not be discussed here. It seems evident from the incomplete state of Dan Bartholmew that it was mainly written just before publication. On the other hand, in the F. J. story the poems at least were written long before publication; but the prose links, which pretty well take over the action, could have been written at any time.1

In spite of its later date of composition, Dan Bartholmew is distinctly inferior to the Adventures of Master F. J. in narrative skill. I shall therefore discuss it first. The story is told by an intimate friend of Bartholmew called the Reporter. In the prologue he says that he saw these lovers play their tragedy. He describes the woman's beauty and then transcribes three poems in which Bartholmew triumphs in the success of his love. The two men then go to Bath, where Bartholmew learns of his lady's unfaithfulness. After seventeen pages of poetical laments by our hero, the Reporter resumes the narrative and tells how Bartholmew was practically on his deathbed when a letter written in his lady's blood revived him. He believed all her excuses and returned to London, where she continues to fool him by her wiles. The poem ends with a series of obscure references to the Admiral, the Noble Face, and to bracelets, all of which whet our curiosity without satisfying it.

The place of the Reporter in all this is rather ambiguous. It is clear that he is a close friend of Bartholmew, but his relation to the lady is not clear. He knows her well enough to describe her beauty in some detail, but he says “I myself was never paramour.” Yet in his concluding narrative he suggests that in earlier years he had tasted the sour-sweet fruits of love and that in particular he knew all about the lady's fickleness.

The following stanza, in fact, sounds quite explicit:

Not I alone, but many mo with me,
Had found what ficklenesse his Idoll used,
And how she claimed Cressides heire to be,
And how she had his great good will abused,
And how she was of many men refused,
Who tride hir tricks and knew hir by the kinde,
Save only him she made no lover blinde.(2)

The impression one gets is that the Reporter is the older and more experienced Gascoigne commenting on the foolishness of his younger self. His sympathy is obvious, but so is his scorn of the younger man's credulity.

Bartholmew of Bath is an interesting but unsuccessful attempt to link together some miscellaneous love poems into a coherent narrative. The Reporter does not tell enough of the story to arouse our interest, and the arrangement of the poems into such solid blocks with rather abrupt transitions is not skillful. Worst of all, the Reporter never succeeds in making Bartholmew and his fickle lady seem real to us. We get the impression that the narrator is too close to the events to see them with the impartial eye of an artist, and also that he is trying to tell the tale too briefly and with too many omissions. It is hard to understand how this failure can have been written later than the very successful story of Master F. J., yet the evidence seems to show that it was. The only possible explanation is haste, an explanation supported by the unfinished state of the poem in the first edition.

In the Adventures passed by Master F. J. Gascoigne used the same method of telling the story through the person of a close friend. Here, however, through careful attention to the details of narrative and setting and through a subtle presentation of character, Gascoigne scored an artistic triumph. The start is hardly auspicious. The anonymous editor of this supposed collection of poems of various men, who signs himself “G. T.,” says that he will begin first with those written by Master F. J. Without any background of preliminary narrative, he open thus: “The said F. J. chaunced once in the northe partes of this Realme to fall in company of a very fayre gentlewoman whose name was Mistresse Elinor, unto whom bearing a hotte affection he first adventured to write this letter following.”3 As the story goes on he unobtrusively fills in the details of the setting, a country estate in northern England, and of the other characters. These consist of Elinor's father-in-law (the owner of the estate), his daughter Frances, and a number of guests. G. T. is not personally acquainted with any of these people, but he has evidently heard the story many times from F. J. and has drawn his own conclusions about them and about the incidents in which they participate. The action appears to have taken place some years in the past.

Superficially the most important difference between these two works is the appearance of prose as the medium for G. T.'s narrative instead of the rather ineffective verse used by the Reporter. At first G. T. makes frequent use of letters and poems written or received by his friend; but as the story gathers momentum these become fewer and fewer, so that most of the time we find ourselves reading a straight prose narrative. The really important difference lies, however, in the infinitely greater skill as a narrator possessed by G. T. He tells the story of this adulterous summer love affair from beginning to end with adequate detail and with real understanding of the characters. He makes us see the attractive side of Elinor as well as her fickleness and duplicity; he makes us see the tolerant side of Frances as well as her love for F. J.; and he succeeds in making us rather sympathetic towards this foolish and deluded young man. He avoids moralizing, yet at the same time draws a moral.

It is true that we know no more about G. T. in the way of facts than we do about the Reporter; both are defined only as friends of the main character. Yet from the evidence just given we can deduce a good deal about G. T.'s personality. He is obviously a man of intelligence and experience, one who not only has the requisite knowledge about the story he is telling but also understands its significance. He expresses neither horror nor surprise at his friend's immoral adventures, but he deplores his blindness and lack of realistic appraisal of the situation. These qualities make him an ideal narrator, since he is both interested and well informed but not personally involved, as the Reporter in Bartholmew of Bath appears to be. He also obviously fancies himself as a literary critic, for he follows most of F. J.'s poems with brief discussions. And of course he uses the privilege of all imaginary story tellers to give us detailed reports of conversations at which he was not present. But Gascoigne consistently maintains the point of view of G. T. throughout the whole story. We never confuse him with a mere omniscient author; he writes in the first person, describing events which he has heard about, like Marlow in Conrad's novels. He frequently remarks that F. J. told him of this or that incident,4 and of course all the poems are supposed to have been given to him to publish. In this respect he can be said to function as editor as well as narrator, a combination not unknown in the later history of fiction. This editorial function is casually referred to at various points but most clearly in a passage just preceding the poem called “a Friday's breakfast.” Here G. T. says, “I dwell too long uppon these particular poynts in discoursing this trifling history, but that the same is the more apte meane of introduction to the verses which I meane to reherse unto you.”5 Finally, as if to make sure that we do not miss the point, all the prose sections are signed with the initials G. T.

It is exactly G. T.'s editorial function which makes us wonder whether Gascoigne really had any artistic purpose in making him the teller of the story. The whole volume is an elaborate hoax, since it pretends to be a collection of the poems of a number of different men. G. T., who has collected the material, presents it with running comment. His use of narrative is not limited to the story of F. J., for he provides descriptive introductions to several of the poems outside of this story, introductions which give dramatic settings to the poems. Before poem No. 10 in Prouty's edition he writes that the poem concerns a gentlewoman “who passed by him with her armes set bragging by her sides,” and before the next poem he writes that “whiles he sat at the dore of his lodging, devysing these verses above rehearsed, the same gentlewoman passed by agayne and cast a longe looke towards him, wherby he left his former invention and wrote thus.” And a little later he writes the following paragraph as an introduction to poem No. 16:

And for a further profe of this Dames quick understanding, you shall now understand that soone after this answer of hirs the same Author chaunced to be at a supper in hir company, where were also hir brother, hir husband, and an old lover of hirs by whom she had bin long suspected. Nowe, although there wanted no delicate viands to content them, yit their chief repast was by entreglancing of lookes. For G. G. being stoong with hot affection could none otherwise relieve his passion but by gazing. And the Dame of a curteous enclination deigned (now and then) to requite the same with glancing at him. Hir old lover occupied his eyes with watching: and hir brother, perceyving all this, could not absteyne from winking, whereby he might put his Sister in remembrance, least she should too much forget hirself. But most of all hir husband beholding the first, and being evill pleased with the second, scarse contented with the third, and misconstruing the fourth, was constreyned to play the fifth part in froward frowning.6

What strikes any reader at once is how much more interesting the introduction is than the poem which follows. Perhaps when Gascoigne started to present the poems dealing with F. J., who is really probably Gascoigne himself, he had no more in mind than this kind of running commentary. At any rate, the first twelve pages contain ten poems or letters, but the remaining forty-two pages only six. No matter what his original purpose, the scheme of writing through an invented person seems to have enthralled him, and he evidently discovered that writing prose could be a joy and not a task.

In reading the finished work as a whole, no ordinary reader would suspect that the prose was merely a commentary on the poems. Elinor's character, though partly indicated in the poems, is mainly developed in the prose sections, and the character of Frances is entirely developed there. The elaborate and very important social setting occurs only in the prose also.

All this had to be changed in the second edition. Gascoigne's moral critics attacked him for retelling an old scandal about actual people. Consequently the whole volume was rearranged. As for the story of F. J., readers now learned that it had nothing to do with England but was a translation from an Italian author named Bartello (who, needless to say, does not exist). The names and geographical references were all changed to Italian ones; and, most important of all, G. T. disappears entirely. The pronoun I now refers sometimes to the supposed translator and sometimes to the supposed author. F. J. has become Ferdinando Jeronimi, and the narrator does not claim to be personally acquainted with him. Also, most of the critical discussions of the poems disappear, since Bartello is supposed to be an author, not an editor. Unfortunately this is the form in which the story is still known to most people, for the standard Cambridge edition of Gascoigne's works used the second edition for its text and only gave variants from the first edition in an appendix. All too many reference works describe the tale as a translation, and even C. S. Lewis called its origin “disputed” without pointing out that the evidence for Gascoigne as author is overwhelming and has been accepted by all competent scholars for a generation.7

It is true, of course, that the incidents of the story remain as they were, with the exception of two brief sexual passages, but we are given a more formal and informative introduction and a definitely moral conclusion instead of the abrupt ending of the original. Although the story remains the same, our approach to it has been changed. It is now given to us in the usual formal fashion by an omniscient author. Gone is the sense of immediacy which came from G. T.'s friendship with the main character; gone too are the comments on the poems and the occasional references to what other people thought of them. Finally, in a more subtle way, some of the sympathy for F. J. is gone. He is no longer the intimate friend of the man who is talking to us but just a poor deluded immoralist. Worse than this, he is, in the added conclusion, made responsible for the death of that charming character Frances, for

rejecting all proffers from her father and contempning all curtesies he took his leave, & without pretence of returne departed to his house in Venice, spending there the rest of his dayes in a dissolute kind of life and abandoning the worthy Lady Frauncischina, who dayly being gauled with the griefe of his great ingratitude dyd shortlye bring herself into a miserable consumption, whereof after three yeares languishing she dyed.8

Whatever his original intention, I think that the result of Gascoigne's handling of point of view in the first version of his story was an artistic triumph far ahead of anything else we find in English fiction for a long time. That Gascoigne was pleased with the method is shown by his use of it again in Bartholmew of Bath. But here the disparity in tone and quality of the various poems and the haste with which the compilation was done resulted, as we have seen, in failure. Only in the pretended editor G. T., whose office required a certain critical detachment, did Gascoigne succeed in creating someone who could tell a good story, one who by his zeal to make a group of mediocre poems interesting achieved a surprising skill in narrative.


  1. For extended discussion of these problems see the introduction to C. T. Prouty's edition of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (Columbia, Missouri, 1942).

  2. Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, C. T. Prouty, ed. (Columbia, Missouri, 1942), p. 219. Hereafter referred to as Prouty.

  3. Prouty, p. 51.

  4. See Prouty, pp. 53, 54, 60, 70, and many others. R. P. Adams in “Gascoigne's Master F. J. as Original Fiction,” PMLA, lxxiii (1958), 315-326, gives a detailed analysis of G. T.'s place in the story. His purpose, however, was different from mine. F. B. Fieler in “Gascoigne's Use of Courtly Love in The Adventures passed by Master F. J., Studies in Short Fiction, i (Fall 1963), 26-32, discusses Gascoigne's use of G. T.'s editorial remarks to satirize the conventions of courtly love.

  5. Prouty, p. 74.

  6. Prouty, pp. 117-18.

  7. C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1954), p. 269.

  8. The Posies (Cambridge, 1907), p. 453.

Ronald C. Johnson (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: Johnson, Ronald C. “The Love Lyrics.” In George Gascoigne, pp. 36-55. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

[In the excerpt below, Johnson discusses Gascoigne's love lyrics, noting that while some display the conventions of courtly love poems, some are unusual for their examination of the psychology of love.]

A discussion of Gascoigne's lyric poems falls naturally into two sections, those concerning love and those concerning his insights into himself and his society. The love lyrics grew out of his life at court, and they include the forms we expect from the courtly love tradition, such as the praise of a lady, the disclosure of love, and the lament of an absent lover. However, a number of his love lyrics deal with the psychology of love. For example, the absent-lover's lament was usually an exercise in rhetoric, but Gascoigne turns it into an examination of the feelings inherent in the situation. Again, Gascoigne was quite concerned with aging, and in his poetry he reflects the basic, real emotions of an aging lover instead of the pleasant moralizing which we usually find written on this theme. Gascoigne wrote much courtly love poetry, but his most interesting poems focus on the individual rather than on the convention.

In his other lyrics, Gascoigne attempted to understand himself or to orient what he saw around him to his own sense of values. The resulting conflict produced several disturbing lyrics which border on satire, as well as two longer poems—“The Complaint of the green knight” and “Gascoigne's wodmanship”—which look into the poet's own mind and personality for answers to his perplexing problems. In this section of his poems, Gascoigne seeks truth; and the poetry is much less concerned with decoration or sweetness of expression than with accuracy of statement. Therefore, in the second group of Gascoigne's lyrics, those not concerned primarily with love, whatever there is of poetic beauty in the poems comes largely from the degree of accuracy with which he touches the emotions or truths he examines. The expression is secondary, but in his better poems it is restrained and economical, and there are lines which achieve great poetic power as a result of his restraint.

Gascoigne's lyrics create or explore a wide variety of emotions. They include humor, pathos, bitterness, helpless irony, sensuality, light praise, and others. Also, with a few exceptions, his lyrics speak in a definite voice; they are seldom bland or frivolous. The poet's voice is heard in irony, cynicism, lusty pleasure, pessimism, or scorn. At times, his tone interferes with the mood his poem—through imagery or description—has established. But the tone is Gascoigne's peculiar signature to his poems, and it is basically pessimistic. When it interrupts the mood, as in “Spreta tamen viiunt,” it impairs the poem's effect; but, when it supports the mood, as in “Lullabye of a lover,” the result is highly successful. The wide variety of mood and the consistent and dominant tone, or poetic voice, are characteristics which make Gascoigne distinct from many of the poets of his age.

In this chapter, for the sake of convenience and also to avoid unnecessary conflict, I use the term “lyric” in its loosest sense. I include in it all his poems concerning any aspect of love. But, even more broadly, I exclude from it only The Steele Glas, the narrative poems such as “Gascoigne's voyage into Holland,” and Dan Bartholomew of Bath (although I do refer to his “Last will and Testament”), and the didactic poems such as “Dulce Bellum Inexpertis” (perhaps more appropriately narrative), and “Counsell to Douglas Dive.” The body of poems could be broken into smaller and more cogent segments, but my purpose is to analyze them rather than to divide and classify them. Therefore, I use the term “lyric” rather broadly and as a means to classify largely instead of minutely.


Although the relationship between the love poetry of Petrarch and that of Gascoigne was discussed in Chapter 2, a few points should be reiterated here. The first is that, when Gascoigne attempted to copy Petrarch's method, his poetry is generally unsuccessful. For example, his poem, “The shield of Love” on the theme of absence, is a general adaptation of a Petrarchan sonnet. In it he manages to work out a rather pleasing courtly figure: “That trustie targe hath long borne off the blowes, / And broke the thrusts which absence at me throwes.” Yet, he was compelled to use well-worn Petrarchan phrases, and the development of the theme is subjugated to them:

In dolefull dayes I lead an absent life,
And wound my will with many a weary thought:
I plead for peace, yet sterve in stormes of strife,
I find debate, where quiet rest was sought. …
So that I live, and dye in one degree,
Healed by hope, and hurt againe with dread:
Fast bound by fayth when fansie would be free,
Untyed by trust, though thoughts enthrall my head:
Reviv'd by joyes, when hope doth most abound,
And yet with grief, in depth of dollors drownd.

(Prouty, [C.T. “George Gascoigne's A Hundreth Sundry Flowers.The University of Missouri Studies 17, no. 2 (1942).] 142-43)

The expression is by no means unpleasing, but the content is trite and the conceit worked out in the beginning of the poem is almost completely neglected.

Also, Gascoigne often satirized the Petrarchan conventions in his love poetry. The poem, “The passion of a Lover,” suggests such an attitude; but in that poem his treatment of the conventions is mild. However, he handles the Petrarchan tradition most rudely in his “Anatomye of a lover.” In this poem, love reduces the lover limb by limb to the state of a wretched corpse. The exaggeration of the conventional effects of love turns the usually applied compliments to the lady into ugly ridicule, and it emphasizes the inherent insipidity of the whole tradition of Petrarchan copying during this part of the century:

To make a lover knowne, by plaine Anatomie,
You lovers all that list beware, lo here behold you me. …
These locks that hang unkempt, these hollowe dazled eyes,
These chattring teeth, this trembling tongue, wel tewed with careful cries.
These wan & wrinkled cheeks, wel washt with waves of wo,
May stand for patterne of a ghost, where so this carkasse go. …
My thighes, my knees, my legs, and last of all my feete,
To serve a lovers turne, are so unable and unmeete, …
Yet for a just rewarde of love so dearely bought,
I pray you say, lo this was he, whom love had worne to naught.

(Prouty, 143-44)

In most of the love poetry, however, Gascoigne exhibits very little of the Petrarchan influence. His love poems offer a wide variety of types ranging from the most earthy, at times bawdy poems, to delicate, almost philosophical statements on love. In his Certayne notes of Instruction, Gascoigne mentions several points concerning the writing of love poetry. His first note—“The first and most necessarie poynt that ever I found meete to be considered in making of a delectable poeme is this, to grounde it upon some fine invention.”—establishes the importance which he placed upon the “invention” or conceit of a poem; we see him developing it in the bed-grave analogy in “Gascoignes good nyghte,” in the figure of a court of law in “Gascoignes araignement,” and in the metaphor of a crow in “Counsell to Douglas Dive.” But the poetry of love and compliment offers more difficulty in expressing the intended mood and meaning, so he elaborates on the problem:

If I should undertake to wryte in prayse of a gentlewoman, I would neither praise hir christal eye, nor hir cherrie lippe, &c. For these things are trita & obvia. But I would either find some supernaturall cause wherby my penne might walke in the superlative degree, or els I would undertake to aunswere for any imperfection that shee hath, and thereupon rayse the prayse of hir commendacion. Likewise if I should disclose my pretence in love, I would eyther make a straunge discourse of some intollerable passion, or finde occasion to pleade by the example of some historie, or discover my disquiet in shadowes per Allegoriam, or use the covertest meane that I could to avoyde the uncomely customes of comon writers.

(Cunliffe, [J.W., ed. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne. 2 vols. Cambridge: The University Press, 1910.] I, 465-66)

The poem “An absent lover thus complayneth” demonstrates his “occasion to pleade by the example of some historie,” as does “The lover disdaynefully rejected,” in which he uses the example of Angelica and the ever-present Cressida to expose the shortcomings of his once-possessed mistress:

If Cressides name were not so knowen,
And written wyde on every wall;
If brute of pryde were not so blowen
Upon Angelica withall:
For hault disdain thou mightst be she,
Or Cressyde for inconstancie.

(Prouty, 131)

Another use of historical example, but with the intent instead to heighten the fame of the mistress, is the poem “Another shorter discourse”:

If ever man yit found the Bath of perfect blisse,
Then swim I now amid the Sea where nought but pleasure is.
I love and am beloved (without vaunt be it told)
Of one more fayre than shee of Grece for whom proud Troy was sold:
As bountifull and good as Cleopatra Queene:
As constant as Penelope unto hir make was seene.
What would you more? my pen unable is to write
The least desart that seemes to shine within this worthy wight.
So that for now I cease, with hands held up on hye,
And crave of God that when I chaunge, I may be forst to dye.

(Prouty, 131)

The two instructions which he gives for praising a gentlewoman in poetry are exemplified by the poems “This Praise of a Countess” and by “Gascoigne's prayse of Bridges, now Ladie Sandes.” The first poem devises a “supernaturall cause whereby my penne might walke in the superlative degree.” The poet calls upon the gods to help him praise his lady, but they refuse for several reasons, the first of which is jealousy: “For Pallas … / if once my Ladies gifts were knowen, / Pallas should loose the prayses of hir own.” The second reason is love:

And bloudy Mars by chaunge of his delight
Hath made Joves daughter now myne enemie. …
She may go home to Vulcane now agayne:
For Mars is sworne to be my Ladies swayne.

The third reason is loss of power: “Of hir bright beams Dan Phoebus stands in dread, … / Dame Cynthia holds in her horned head, / For feare to loose by like comparison” (Prouty, 129-30). The poet here uses the gods themselves to bring about the courtly compliment.

The second poem is an excellent example of the poet's using an imperfection in his lady to heighten his commendation of her. First, Gascoigne refers directly to the disfigurement, and then suggests a supernatural cause for it:

Although some lavishe lippes, which like some other best,
Will say the blemishe on hir browe disgraceth all the rest:
Thereto I thus replie, God wotte they little knowe
The hidden cause of that mishap, nor how the harm did grow.

(Prouty, 146)

The poet then explains that Bridges' face was so fair that she kindled love in Cupid's breast. But his love quickly turned to hate when Cupid realized how busy she would make him and in anger, “with mightie mace, gan rap her on the pate.” Thus, the mark is the symbol of her perfection; and, far from being ugly, she was saved by Nature:

And quick with skin she covered it, yt whiter is than snow.
Wherwith Dan Cupide fled, for feare of further flame,
When angell like he saw hir shine, whome he had smit with shame. …
The skar still there remains, no force, there let it be,
There is no cloud that can eclipse so bright a sunne as she.

The device is cleverly worked out; and, by following his own advice, he creates a worthy compliment that, by another method, could have been quite awkward.

In contrast to Gascoigne's comments in his Certayne notes, some modern critics maintain that Elizabethan love poetry emphasizes the physical symptoms of love above all other aspects. One says:

To the Elizabethans … the expression “lovesick” meant literally what it said. … Literary characters affected by it are physically disordered and mentally unbalanced. Some of them go mad. Some of them die. In large part the Elizabethans owed their ideas concerning the love malady to psychological and medical theory. … Sometimes love is a hot and excited condition of body and mind which spurs to action; sometimes it is a cold, weak, and passive debility. In the first stage, desire is the dominant passion; in the second, grief is the dominant passion.1

This excerpt creditably describes some of the mid-century poetry, but it does not indicate that many of these characteristics stem in part from an overemphasis of the Petrarchan convention of the suffering lover. Such criticism tends to overlook the period's non-Petrarchan love poetry; as a result, it misses the point and, of course, the value of much of the poetry.

The principles of Certayne notes of Instruction that we have mentioned are rhetorical ones familiar to every schoolboy of the period. Such techniques are used by the orator, or expository writer, to support and amplify a contention. Gascoigne puts the techniques into a metrical form. His purpose is at least as much to persuade as to delight; he is at least as much concerned with the result as with the means. Thus, when Gascoigne recites his woes, he uses them as a base for presenting a lesson or a truth, the ultimate aim of the poem. In the poem beginning “When I recorde within my musing mind / The noble names of wights bewitched in love,” his intent is to find a sense of security, even peace, in the fact that great men in history suffered in the same way. To prove his contention, he cites David and Bathsheba, Solomon and the Pharaoh's daughter, Holoferne and Judith, and Sampson and Delilah—all from biblical times; and he mentions Nasoes, Corinna, and Cressida from Classical times to emphasize the all-inclusiveness of love's weakening power. His final verse recites the lesson to be drawn from his examples:

So that to end my tale as I began,
I see the good, the wise, the stoute, the bolde:
The strongest champion and the learnedst man,
Have bene and be, by lust of love controlde.
Which when I thinke, I hold me well content
To live in love, and never to repent.

(Prouty, 142)

In his love poetry Gascoigne also often seeks out an intellectual relationship between the lover and the conditions of love. He states his contention, searches for supporting evidence, and draws conclusions that are psychologically sound, as in the poem, “The lamentation of a lover”:

Now have I found the waye, to weepe & wayle my fill,
Now can I end my dolefull dayes, & so content my will.
The way to weepe inough, for such as list to wayle,
Is this: to go abord y(e) ship, where pleasure beareth sayle.
And there to mark the jestes of every joyfull wight,
And with what wynde and wave they fleete, to nourish their delight.
For as the striken Deare, that seeth his fellowes feede
Amid the lustie heard (unhurt) & feeles himself to bleede.
Or as the seely byrd, that with the Bolte is brusd,
And lieth a loofe among the leaves, of al hir peeres refusd,
And heares them sing full shrill, yet cannot she rejoyce,
Nor frame one warbling note to pass out of hir mournfull voyce.
Even so I find by proofe, that pleasure dubleth payne
Unto a wretched wounded hart, which doth in woe remaine.
I passe where pleasure is, I heare some sing for joye,
I see som laugh, some other daunce, in spight of darke anoy.
But out alas my mind amends not by their myrth,
I deeme al pleasures to be paine, that dwel above y(e) earth.
Such heavy humors feede, y(e) bloud that lends me breath,
As mery medcins cannot serve, to kepe my corps from death.

(Prouty, 123-24)

This poem shows quite clearly the pattern Gascoigne uses to develop the statements he makes in many of his love poems. The contention, or truth, of the above poem is stated in the third and fourth lines. (He usually uses a metaphor or an analogy for the poetic effect.) Then he discovers examples from other aspects of life to heighten and establish the soundness of the second key statement of the truth, “I finde by proofe that pleasure doubleth payne / Unto a wretched wounded hart.” The transition from the examples to the poet is simply made with “I pass where pleasure is,” and from that point on the reader is brought to know one precise reality in the world of a lover.


Gascoigne follows the same rhetorical pattern in his poem upon the theme, Spreta tamen viuunt; but he plunges more deeply into a type of stoical philosophy here. Again, he begins the poem with a statement of an observed truth: “Despysed things may live, although they pine in payne, / And things ofte trodden under foote may once yet rise againe”; and he develops it with a number of examples, such as “The rootes of rotten Reedes in swelling seas are seen, / And when eche tide hath tost his worst, they grow again ful greene.” But this theme is only preparatory to the major one; for the poet has been cast aside by his love, and, in order to learn, as did “trustie Troylus,” to accept his fate, he asks for help from philosophy. Thus, the poet is launched on his deeper theme, one which fully supports the theme at the poem's start:

I see no sight on earth but it to Chaunge enclines:
As little clowds oft overcast, the brightest sunne that shines.
No Flower is so fresh, but frost can it deface:
No man so sure in any seate but he maye leese his place.
So that I stand content (though much against my mind)
To take in worth this lothsome lot, which luck to me assynd,
And trust to see the time, when they that nowe are up:
May feele the whirle of fortunes wheele, and tast of sorrowes cup.
God knoweth I wish it not, it had ben bet for mee:
Still to have kept my quiet chayre in hap of high degree.
But since without recure, Dame Chaunge in love must raigne:
I now wish chaunge that sought no chaunge, but constant did remain.
And if such chaunge do chance, I vowe to clap my hands,
And laugh at them which laught at me: lo thus my fansy stands.

(Prouty, 126-27)

The question of thwarted love is secondary to the all-inclusiveness of the philosophical truth of mutability. The poet instinctively recognizes the depth of his theme, and in only three lines he applies it to the whole range of life: the “brightest sunne,” the sixteenth-century symbol of kingship, is checked or overthrown by a little cloud; the “Flower” is youth or life which is snuffed out by “frost” or death;2 and one “sure in any seate” has worldly power or fame which can suffer sudden change. In the face of this truth, the poet knows he can do no more than wait and watch and at the same time review his misfortunes. The line “I now wish chaunge that sought no chaunge, but constant did remaine” is a pleasant play on words in which the poet would like his unhappy mood to pass in accordance with the principle of change so that he could escape. Thus, Gascoigne has proved that hope is an ever-present condition, at least in lovers, and that its philosophical basis is the principle of mutability.

The somewhat cynical tone near the end of the poem which appears in his desire to see the high brought low and in his wish to have the last laugh makes this poem more than just one about vagaries of love. In fact, the tone conflicts with the message of hope that the poet wants to convey; and it does so because the poet is so bitter about the way life has handled him that he cannot keep the expression of it out of his poems. We see it in “Lullaby of a lover,” in “The divorce of a lover,” in “Gascoignes wodmanship,” and in many others; it appears as cynicism, bitterness, and pessimism.

His pessimism is often reflected in his expression of the loverloved one relationship. The poem “The Partridge in the pretie Merlines foot” is a love poem which uses an analogy to make clear the terms of the lover's involvement. In the first half of the poem, the partridge, who is the lover, has been caught in the foot of the Merlin plant and finds herself prey to the hawk above and to the dogs below. Her wings, therefore, cannot save her from the dogs, and her protective coloring does not hide her from the hawk; her position is hopeless because of the Merlin: “But nature made the Merlyne mee to kyll, / And me to yeeld unto the Merlines will.” The poet then compares his state in each respect to the preceding description:

Desire thy dogge, did spring me up in hast:
Thou wert the Hauke, whose tallents caught me fast. …
Thou are that Hauke, whom nature made to hent me,
And I the Byrd, that must therewith content me.
And since Dame Nature hath ordayned so,
Her happie heast I gladly shall embrace:
I yeeld my will, although it were to wo,
I stand content to take my griefe for grace: …

(Prouty, 121)

The point of interest here is the concept underlying the analogy: the lover is the helpless prey; the loved one, a cruel bird of prey. The Merlin, usually a symbol of lust, suggests the whole condition of love as a trap. Desire is a low animal, a dog, which forces the lover into the trap; physical charms are cruel and deadly. Yet, the situation is natural and, therefore, to be accepted. There is a complete absence of chivalric or romantic ideals of love in the poem; nature, the very terms of existence, is cruel and devouring. Even the greatest pleasure, physical love, brings pain; it is described in terms of captive and tormentor; and it can be accepted only fatalistically, without joy and, ultimately, without hope.

The group of poems which lament the absence of a lover, although quite conventional, maintain the pessimistic tone of Gascoigne's poetry. Such complaints have been a familiar poetic theme, extending at least as far back as the early French Troubadours; and Gascoigne has some success with it. The lamenting lover may be either male or female, but we would expect the woman's lament to be more poignant as she can do nothing but wait, whereas the man has available to him at least the distractions of worldly business. As a result, when the poet assumes the woman's point of view, his poem is usually more successful than with the man's. With Gascoigne, this observation certainly holds. In one lament in which he takes the man's position, he produces one of his tritest, most poorly written poems. The poem shows a lover bidding his lady to be patient; the first verse contains the inanity which is diffused throughout the poem:

Content thy selfe with patience perforce,
And quench no love with droppes of darke mistrust:
Let absence have no power to divorce,
Thy faithfull freend which meaneth to be just.
Beare but a while thy constance to declare,
For when I come one ynche shall breake no square.

(Prouty, 136-37)

The applicability of the last line leaves a little doubt. Further on, apparently running out of material, Gascoigne again resorts to nonsense:

Be thou a true Penelope to me,
And thou shalt soone thine owne Ulisses see.
What sayd I? soone? yea, soone I saye againe;
I wyll come soone, and sooner if I may:

Finally, he resorts to the Petrarchan tradition: “I fryse in hope, I thaw in hot desire, / Farre from the flame, and yet I burne like fire.” Yet even in such a worthless poem as this one, Gascoigne leaves his stamp upon the reader in his directness and in his attempt to express a truth, as given in the last verse:

Wherefore deare friend, thinke on the pleasures past,
And let my teares, for both our paynes suffise:
The lingring joyes, when as they come at last,
Are bet then those, which passe in posting wise.
And I my selfe, to prove this tale is true,
In hast, post hast, thy comfort will renew.

Gascoigne has significantly better success, as we have noted, when he assumes the woman's point of view. In his poem, “The vertue of Ver,” although some of the beauty is stifled by his constant use of “Ver” in place of “Spring,” his poetic technique is skillfully displayed. Gascoigne forms a framework around the central figure, a woman bewailing her lack of love, by having the poet approach her in a boat and overhear the lament; at the end, he hurries home to write the poem. The device is successful because it heightens the essential contrasts and levels of the poem—winter and spring, fertility and barrenness, gaiety and grief. The poet, as he sees that spring has come, “… crost the Thames to take the cherefull ayre / In open feeldes. …” As he approaches the opposite shore, he hears weeping and investigates:

Alas (quod she) behold eche pleasaunt greene,
Will now renew, his sommers livery;
The fragrant flowers, which have not long bene seene,
Will florish now, (ere long) in bravery:
The tender buddes, whom colde hath long kept in,
Will spring and sproute, as they do now begin.
But I (alas) within whose mourning mind
The graffes of grief, are onely given to growe,
Cannot enjoy the spring which others finde,
But still my will must wyther all in woe:
The cold of care so nippes my joyes at roote,
No sunne doth shine that well can do them boote.
The lustie Ver, which whillome might exchange
My griefe to joy, and then my joyes encrease,
Springs now elsewhere, and showes to me but strange,
My winters woe, therefore can never cease:
In other coasts his sunne full clere doth shine,
And comfort lends to ev'ry mould but mine.

(Prouty, 122-23)

Gascoigne shows a sensitivity to nature here that can be compared to Surrey's sonnet on spring that we quoted in the previous chapter. And he achieves a poignant irony in the verse beginning “But I, alas!” The poem captures the idea of fertility and birth which sets off the barrenness and hints of frigidity in the woman. The subject of the poem is unusual, for the woman has not merely lost a lover; she is incapable of love. She “Cannot enjoy the spring which others finde.” The fact that her desire (“will”) must wither and the words “The lustie Ver … showes to me but strange” suggest frigidity in the woman. The point is given a humorous turn as the lady blushes deeply upon discovering her spy: “By sight whereof, Lord, how she chaunged hew! / So that for shame I turned backe apace.” But the blush and the poet's shame at what he heard, rather than his sympathy or pity, again reinforce the suggestion of frigidity. It is strange that Gascoigne would write about this subject, but the poem undeniably presents effective contrasts on several levels of perception, and the most effective is the image of the frigid woman unable to receive warmth or life from the burgeonings around her.

In the poem “An absent Dame thus complayneth” nothing complicates the personality of the woman; she is simply waiting at home while her lover is away. Gascoigne makes the situation clear, for the woman says explicitly:

The droppes of dark disdayne, did never drench my hart,
For well I know I am belov'd, if that might ease my smart.
Ne yet the privy coales, of glowing jellosie
Could ever kindle needlesse feare, within my fantasie.
The rigor of repulse, doth not renew my playnt,
Nor choyce of change doth move my mone, nor force me thus to faynt,
Onely that pang of payne, which passeth all the rest,
And cankerlike doth fret the hart, within the giltlesse brest.

(Prouty, 125)

The mood or emotion of the woman is developed through a series of similes showing various aspects of her situation, as in the two below:

Much like the seely Byrd, which close in Cage is pent,
So sing I now, not notes of joye, but layes of deepe lament.
And as the hooded Hauke, which heares the Partrich spring,
Who though she feele hir self fast tyed, yet beats hir bating wing:
So strive I now to showe, my feeble forward will, …

The images can be analyzed to show explicitly the feelings which mingle within the woman. The frivolous, lighthearted bird contrasts dramatically with the hooded hawk and heightens the loss which each figure represents—the caged bird, joy; the hawk, sexual desire (“my feeble forward will”). Further on, she sings “Swallow-like,”—in a single plaintive note not sweet or joyful. The use of bird images to describe a woman left alone allows the reader to penetrate deeply into her emotions—her sadness, and her strong but blunted desire—and to determine to some extent their tone. However, the poem introduces other images—a greyhound restrained from chasing his game, love as seeds being sown and reaped—which destroy the poem's unity and nearly obliterate the good effects of the bird similes.

The most successful of this group of poems is “A Lady, being both wronged by false suspect …” in which Gascoigne suggests the accompaniment of a lute, with its occasional loud strums and twangs, as a sound background to the woman's frustrated emotions. He establishes the scene in the first verse and carries it throughout the entire poem:

Give me my Lute in bed now as I lye,
And lock the doores of mine unluckie bower:
So shall my voyce in mournefull verse descrie,
The secrete smart which causeth me to lower.
Resound, you walles an Eccho to my mone,
And thou, cold bed wherein I lie alone:
Beare witness yet what rest thy Lady takes,
When other sleepe which may enjoy their makes.

(The following five stanzas describe in order the first bloom of love and happiness, the slander and discord begun by persons envious of her state, the loss of her husband's confidence, and “the greatest grief of all”—her being forcibly kept from seeing her husband.)

Now have you heard the summe of all my grief,
Whereof to tell my hart (oh) rends in twayne:
Good Ladies yet lend you me some relief,
And beare a parte to ease me of my payne.
My sortes are such, that waying well my trueth,
They might provoke the craggy rocks to rueth,
And move these walles with teares for to lament,
The lothsome life wherin my youth is spent.
But thou, my Lute, be stil; now take thy rest,
Repose thy bones upon this bed of downe:
Thou hast dischargd some burden from my breast,
Wherefore take thou my place, here lie thee downe.
And let me walke to tyre my restlesse minde,
Untill I may entreate some curteous wynde:
To blow these wordes unto my noble make,
That he may see I sorowe for his sake.

(Prouty, 133-35)

Several places in the poem demand a sudden, loud strumming on the lute, as in the fifth line of the first stanza. The effect is that of a lute accompanying a sort of chant, producing a descant; and we can literally find levels of volume which stand for peaks of emotion in the singer. At the beginning, the woman is overwrought and loud; she is compelled to relieve herself through the descant. In the following stanzas, as she moves from the emotionally low-pitched history of her marriage through the appearance of slander and false suspect, she continually increases in volume, until she hits the peak of her misfortune—her lover's absence. At this point, she is loud and nearly incoherent; but she regains control, and the following stanza descends considerably in volume by means of such words as “weary” and “tyre” until, in that stanza, she gives up the song to her ladies in waiting, but not before she emphasizes one last surge of emotion with her lute “(oh).” The reference to the good ladies, of course, has a double meaning; not only are they asked to join her song literally, but they are also asked to spread the truth about their mistress. The images in the last stanzas reinforce the emotion very well, particularly when the lute and the woman change places, the lute becoming tired “bones” upon the bed and the woman becoming the restless instrument of a sorrowful melody.

Gascoigne, who does several things quite well in this poem, produces the effect of a musical instrument and uses it to underline the emotional peaks of the poem. He uses alliteration well, in places with great effect. His syntax is not crude nor artificial; in the last stanza, it is highly effective. And his images are vivid and successful. In all the poems of this group, he captures the mood and personality of the women quite accurately and effectively.

A number of Gascoigne's poems concern themselves with the problems of the lover as he grows old and as his capacity for physical love dries up. The stark reality of the loss of youth fills him with mingled feelings of awe and despair; and this pessimism is brought out strongly in the poem “A Lover often warned,” in which the poet, as an older man, gains as a reward for his search for love only a “sodain clappe.” In the poem, Gascoigne investigates the attitudes felt by a middle-aged man pursuing physical love. The man, who in his youth “had the fieldes of freedome woon, / And liv'd at large, and playde with pleasurs ball,” now desires again to live with the fast, loose crowd of his youth. He says:

My cares were cold, and craved comforts coale,
To warme my will with flakes of freendly flame.
I sought and found, I crav'd and did obtene,
I woon my wish, and yet I got no gaine.

(Prouty, 140-41)

His “will,” of course, is his lust, or sexual desire, which has diminished as he has grown older. Yet, in his attempts to revive the joys of his youth, he finds that he no longer is able to satisfy himself—“Dame pleasures plasters prov'd a corosive”—and, worse still, he is unable to attract the young women but must rely on those as jaded as he is old:

The cause is this, my lot did light too late,
The Byrdes were flowen, before I found the nest: …
And I fond foole with emptie hand must call,
The gorged Hauke, which likes no lure at all.
Thus still I toyle, to till the barreyne land,
And grope for grapes among the bramble briers:
I strive to sayle and yet I sticke on sand,
I deeme to live, yet drowne in deep desires.
These lots of love are fitte for wanton will,
Which findes too much, yet must be seeking still.

The metaphors in the concluding stanza transmit the sense of frustration and pathos very effectively. The state of the lover is more than ridiculous; it is hopeless, but he is doomed to continue the game.

In this poem, Gascoigne achieves certain poetic effects that deserve our attention. The “flakes of friendly flame” image is strongly suggestive of metaphysical poetry. The combination of “flame” with “flakes” produces a tension which is resolved only when we realize it is the “coale” which flakes to produce the warmth; for coals, when jostled, break up and shoot out small flames and heat. In terms of the metaphor, the coal is the warm, suggestive gestures and actions of others which the poet as an old man relies upon to arouse passion within himself. This type of intellectual density, one that critics so much admire in the Metaphysical poets, is frequently found in Gascoigne's poetry.

The other effect is contained in the lines: “And I, fond foole, with emptie hand must call, / The gorged Hauke, which likes no lure at all.” Here the poet heightens our sense of his futility by an order of three: first, the empty hand; beyond that, the already sated bird; and, further still, a bird which does not succumb to lures in the first place—and he succeeds without recourse to an artificial method such as hyperbole. Instead, he describes a level, or type of experience which, through metaphor, perfectly describes another level, or type. In expressing the lover's position in this poem, Gascoigne faces the reality of the world; he does not lose himself in a romantic dream. Of course, this reality is pessimistic, and he does not temper this pessimism with the fact that he has gained maturity and wisdom. It is painful to him; it, like the flaws he finds in his society, is another crack in the structure of the world of his youth.

The villain in these poems is time. It causes change and decay in both society and the individual; it is the great destroyer of all things; and it forces man to face the horrors of the grave. Yet, it is, at the same time, a democratic force, one which levels all people and all accomplishments. Viewed in this light, time becomes a teacher; and one who can understand time holds a certain wisdom which can be spread to others. In a fine long poem, The Grief of Joye, Gascoigne seeks to teach the superficiality of the pleasures found in youth, in beauty, in strength, and in activity. Each of these pleasures holds its own trap for an individual; beauty, for example, breeds lust, vanity, and physical weakness; but the inevitable loss of each pleasure is caused by the passage of time. He says of youth:

For youthe cannot, stande still in one estate,
But flieth us from, when most thereof is made
And age steales on, unto our privy gate,
And in y(e) darke, doth (silently) invade,
Youthes fortte unwares: w(ch) never knewe y(t) trade. /
So: when we thincke, age furthest from our lyfe,
Youthes doore breakes up, and yt steppes in by strife.

(Cunliffe II, 520)

Of beauty, the greatest grief is to watch it disappear, to see the eyes become dull, the ivory necks yellow, erect shoulders stoop, voices become hoarse, and so forth. The cause of all this change is time:

And yet all this (in tyme) will come to passe /
Whiche tyme flyes fast, as I (of late) did singe /
Yf wee would then, continew y(t) w(ch) was,
Stay tyme (in tyme) before away shee flyng /
But yf wee cannot, tyme (past) backward bring,
Then never hope, that Bewtie can remayne,
Yt came w(th) tyme, and goeth with tyme agayne. /

(Cunliffe, II, 536)

Strength, or force, is easily overcome:

Great laboure doth, deminish greatest force,
And darke dysease, decrease the strength as fast /
When bothe thes fayle, the mightiest massy corps,
Ys daunted downe, w(th) Ages Axe at last /
So that when wightest wrastlyng tricks be past,
Coomes crooked Eldd, and geves a selly trypp,
Tyll from deathes foote, no stowrdy strong can skypp /

(Cunliffe, II, 543)

Throughout the poem, the verses discussing time contain the most effective poetry; they are more concerned with death than are the other stanzas, and their imagery is stronger. The two stanzas given below handle the theme in different moods but with good effect:

Much lyke to them, who (sitting in a shipp)
Are borne forthright, and feele no footing sturr. /
In silent sleepes, the tyme awaie dothe slipp. /
Yt neither bawlethe (like a contrie curre)
Nor standeth styll, to byde a hasty spurre /
But slily slydes, and never maketh noyse,
And much bewrayes: with verie little voyce. /

(Cunliffe, II, 523)

Tell me but this, what mighty man hathe powre,
To drive S(r) deathe, one furlong from his doore?
What yowthe so strong, as to prolong his hower?
Or who can salve, S(r) surfetts festring soore?
Ys yt not trewe, that moyling more and more,
Awake, on sleepe, att ease, or bating breathe,
Wee steale (by steppes) unto the gates of deathe?

(Cunliffe, II, 544)

Even though Gascoigne criticizes at length various aspects of each subject—the boasting and wastefulness of youth, the traps of beauty mentioned above, the boorishness, recklessness, and mindlessness of strength, and the foolishnesses and perils of various activities—he does offer some constructive comments for each subject. For youth:

Whereas in deede, most comfort is compiled,
In things w(ch) seeme, to be but bytter bale /
Marke well my woordes and trust unto my tale,
“All is not golde, w(ch) glistereth faire and bright,
“Nor all things good, w(ch) fairest seeme in sight.
“Trew joye cannot, in trifleng toyes consist /
“Nor happines, in joyes w(ch) soone decaie /

(Cunliffe, II, 524)

and for beauty:

How muche were better (then) to decke the mynde,
And make that fayre, whose light might alwaies last?
Eternall fame, to wysdome is assignd /
And modesty, dothe purchase praise as fast / …
If Dames demaund, howe they the same might deeme?
I answere thus: the fayre which is content,
Withe natures gyftes / and neither dothe esteeme,
Yt selfe to muche: nor is to lightnes bent,
Nor woulde be loved, but with a true entent:
And strives in goodnes, likewise to excell,
I say that Bewtie, beares awaie the bell.

(Cunliffe, II, 524)

The underlying element in his advice is that man should take pleasure in those personal qualities which aging will not diminish: the qualities of character and mind. There is certainly a strong element of Classical philosophy, particularly Boethius, in the poem; but Gascoigne also learned from his own experience of growing older, and the lesson thus taught follows quite consistently from the experiences he describes in his lyrics. He shows that he has grasped the essential features of this life—unrelenting change and decay. His lesson is that we must accept these facts, learn from them, and guide our desires accordingly.

Yet Gascoigne himself does not submit to these laws without some regret. In a mood of pessimistic acceptance, he writes the exquisite lyric, “Lullabye of a lover.” In it, he lists all that he must give up as he grows old: his youth, his roving and vain eye, his lust, and his potency. The poet writes in the form of a lullaby:

Sing lullaby, as women do,
Wherewith they bring their babes to rest, …
Full many wanton babes have I
Which must be stilld with lullabie.

(Prouty, 150-51)

The eight-line iambic tetrameter stanza, with the first four lines cross-rhyming and with the last four rhyming as couplets, has a hushed, muted sound. The repetition of the word “lullaby,” appearing several times in each stanza, brings to the poem the effect of crooning, so that on the surface the poem is passive and tender. Yet, in each stanza there is one detail that intrudes into the peaceful tone; for example, he writes of his youth, “For crooked age and hoary heares, / Have wonne the haven within my head”; on his roving eye, “For every glasse may now suffise, / To shew the furrowes in my face”; on his lust, “Since all too late I fynde by skill, / How deare I have thy fansies bought”; and on his potency, “Synce Age is colde, and nothing coye, / Keepe close thy coyne, for so is beste.” The intrusions are the results of growing old, and they describe the reason why each pleasure is now passing. But, to soften the harshness, each detail is followed with the lullaby refrain, as in the stanza on his youth:

With Lullabye then youth be still,
With Lullabye content thy will,
Since courage quayles, and commes behynde,
Goe sleepe, and so beguyle thy mynde.

Much of the effectiveness of this poem lies in the irony of “Lullabye” and “sleepe.” A lullaby is for children and is meant to pacify and to bring to rest. But what the poet means to do is literally to dismiss from his awareness any recognition of youthful pleasures. However, the muted bitterness of the poem arises because he cannot beguile his mind, cannot help regretting bitterly the passing of his earlier joys; and thus what seems to be a pleasant call to sleep is a galling, heavy awareness of reality. The poet gives himself advice which he cannot accept. In the last stanza he, in effect, bids farewell to his pleasures and girds himself for the years of bitterness ahead:

Thus Lullabie my youth, myne eyes,
My will, my ware, and all that was,
I can no mo delayes devise,
But welcome payne, lette pleasure passe:
With Lullabye nowe take your leave,
With Lullabye youre dreames deceyve,
And when you rise with waking eye,
Remembre Gascoignes Lullabye.

The “welcome payne” and “rise with waking eye” show his complete acceptance of the reality of growing old. There are several ironies in the individual stanzas which show that the poet has learned from bitter experiences, such as finding by skill—that is, from the doctor—that his fancies bring disease now more than pleasure. But the overall tension results from the conflict between the dreamlike lullaby tone and the harsh, unrelentingly realistic content.

  1. Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady (East Lansing: Michigan State College Press, 1951), p. 143.

  2. He repeats this image more explicitly in the first song of The Grief of Joye:

    I see not I: whereof yong men should bost,
    Since hee that is, nor fonde nor madd owtright,
    Dothe knowe y(t) adge, will come at last like frost
    And nipp the flowers. …

    (Cunliffe, II, 520)

Further Reading

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Helgerson, Richard. “Gascoigne.” In Elizabethan Prodigals, pp. 44-56. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Explains how Gascoigne's love poetry provides information on its author.

LaGrandeur, Kevin. “Androgyny and Linguistic Power in Gascoigne's The Steele Glas.Texas Studies in Literature and Language 37, no. 3 (fall 1995): 344-61.

Explores technical innovations and the depiction of gender roles in The Steele Glas.

Nathan, Leonard. “Gascoigne's Lullabie and Structures in the Tudor Lyric.” In The Rhetoric of Renaissance Poetry from Wyatt to Milton, edited by Thomas O. Sloan and Raymond B. Waddington, pp. 58-72. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Demonstrates the influence of Gascoigne's poem The Lullabie of a Lover on the structure of the Tudor lyric.

Prouty, C. T. George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier and Poet. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1942, 351 p.

Complete and detailed account of Gascoigne's life and works.

Schelling, Felix. Life and Writings of George Gascoigne, with Three Poems Heretofore Not Reprinted. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1893, 131 p.

Comprehensive examination of Gascoigne's literary career and life.

Shore, David R. “Whythorne's Autobiography and the Genesis of Gascoigne's Master F. J.Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 12, no. 2 (fall 1982): 159-78.

Suggests that Thomas Whythorne's Autobiography influenced Gascoigne's Adventures of Master F. J.

Additional coverage of Gascoigne's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 136; Literature Resource Center; and Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2.

Ronald C. Johnson (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: Johnson, Ronald C. “The Three Plays.” In George Gascoigne, pp. 137-55. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

[In the following excerpt, Johnson discusses the plays The Supposes, Jocasta, and The Glasse of Government.]

When we read Gascoigne's plays, we are immediately aware that the first two plays, The Supposes and Jocasta, are translations and vary considerably from his last play, The Glasse of Governement, which is original. The two translated plays were done party as exercises, partly as experiments; and their form and content reflect the purposes of their original authors. The Glasse of Governement, however, handles several themes which we now recognize as arising from Gascoigne's own early experiences, and it treats them with a certain grim irony that gives the play a strength which the others lack. The first two plays, The Supposes and Jocasta, were translated and produced in 1566, while Gascoigne was attending Gray's Inn for the second time. He translated The Supposes from Ariosto by himself and Euripides's Jocasta from the Italian playwright Dolce with the help of Francis Kinwelmershe. The Supposes holds the unique distinction of being the first Italian comedy to be translated into English and also of being the first English play to use prose dialogue. In both respects, The Supposes is important to English drama. Jocasta stands as the first Greek tragedy to appear on an English stage. So we can see that the time Gascoigne spent in Gray's Inn was fruitful; indeed, he and his companions for a few years were the center of English drama. They wrote and acted in plays that helped form the tastes of their age and which influenced the shape of the drama to come, both in the content of the drama—the Italian comic mode and the Greek-Senecan tragic mode—and in the form—prose dialogue, adaptation of coherent scene divisions, Senecan characteristics, and others.1

The Glasse of Governement, the third and original play, was written after Gascoigne returned from the Dutch wars; it shows, in contrast to the other plays, a change in his mood. He was no longer lighthearted and full of illusions; he was wiser and, to some extent, regretful of the lost time of his young life. This change appears, first of all, in his choice of a recognized form for his drama, rather than an experimental one as in his earlier ones. But, second, the intent of the play is to teach morals, to demonstrate the wisdom of authority as contrasted to the foolishness of inexperience. The play is not successful partly because of the gravity in which Gascoigne approaches the theme. But there are aspects in it, as in the others, which make us wish he had given more time to the drama and less, perhaps, to the court.


Gascoigne's first play, The Supposes, a translation of Ariosto's play, is an example of “New Style” Italian comedy. The characters and situations are conventional, and the language is for the most part refined. This style contrasts sharply with plays such as William Stevenson's Gammer Gurton's Needle, which imitated many aspects of Latin comedy and relied considerably on coarse language and vulgar wit for its success. Although the material of The Supposes is far removed from that which forms the substance of his work, Gascoigne accomplished several things in the play: he avoids coarseness and eroticism and emphasizes the moral positions of the characters; he utilizes the humor and absurdity of the situation rather than the eroticism inherent in it; and he develops a form of euphuistic dialogue that is remarkable in its grasp of the techniques perfected over a decade later by Lyly. For example, in the same way that Euphues argues love policies to himself, so does Polynesta's lover argue to himself:

Hard hap had I when I first began this unfortunate enterprise: … thinking that as shevering colde by glowing fire, thurst by drinke, hunger by pleasant repasts, and a thousande suche like passions finde remedie by their contraries, so my restlesse desire might have founde quiet by continuall contemplation. But alas, I find that only love is unsaciable: for as the flie playeth with the flame till at last she is cause of her own decay, so the lover that thinketh with kissing and colling to content his unbrideled apetite, is commonly seene the only cause of his owne consumption. … I reape the fruites of my desire: yet as my joyes abounde, even so my paines encrease. I fare like the covetous man, that having all the world at will, is never yet content: the more I have, the more I desire. … I know she loveth me best of all others, but what may that prevaile when perforce she shal be constrained to marie another? Alas, the pleasant tast of my sugred joyes doth yet remaine so perfect in my remembrance, that the least soppe of sorow seemeth more soure than gal in my mouth. If I had never knowen delight, with better contentation might I have passed these dreadful dolours. …

(Cunliffe, [J.W., ed. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne. 2 vols. Cambridge: The University Press, 1910.] I, 197)

From this quotation, we can perceive something of Erostrato's character; but we also can see the action of the play being rehearsed.

As we might expect of Italian comedy, the plot situation is quite complex, whereas the plot action is relatively simple. Before the play opens, Erostrato, a Sicilian attending school in Ferrara, has fallen in love with the gentlewoman, Polynesta. In order to gain access to her, Erostrato has assumed the identity of his servant, Dulipo, and taken a position as servingman to her father, Damon. After bribing the nurse, Balia, to speak in his favor, Erostrato becomes Polynesta's lover; but he, of course, reveals his noble identity to his beloved. At this point the play begins. Cleander, an elderly doctor, wants Polynesta for his wife. To counter this suitor, Erostrato has his servant Dulipo, who is masquerading as Erostrato, also make suit for Polynesta. As Cleander has more money to offer, Erostrato's only device is to bring in a false father for the false Erostrato to make an even larger settlement—a scheme that fails when the real father suddenly arrives and unmasks Dulipo. Also at this time, Damon discovers Polynesta's indiscretion and claps Erostrato, a supposed servant, into a dungeon. However, the parasite Pasyphilo helps clear up the confusion, the three elderly men—Damon, Cleander, and Erostrato's father—come to an agreement, and the play ends happily.

The success of the play depends much more on the situation than on the characters. The characters are stock figures in Italian comedy—two young lovers, two greedy old men, a two-faced servant, a faithful servant, a corruptible nurse, an interfering old crone, and several low-life comic figures. None of these is on stage long enough to be a protagonist; indeed, all of them, except Erostrato's father, are guilty of one or another crime: Erostrato seduces Polynesta and deceives society at large; Polynesta loses her honor quite willingly; her father, Damon, wishes to sell her to the highest bidder; old Cleander is apparently fired by lust; and Dulipo, the faithful servant, is living a fraudulent life and is forced to renounce the master who once saved his life.

As is usual with stock figures, there is little attempt at depth of characterization. Erostrato, rather than capturing our sympathy, simply sums up past events when he says:

O howe often have I thoughte my selfe sure of the upper hande herein? but I triumphed before the victorie. And then how ofte againe have I thoughte the fielde loste? Thus have I beene tossed nowe over, nowe under, even as fortune list to whirle the wheele, neither sure to winne nor certayne to loose the wager.

(Cunliffe, I, 212)

Polynesta, the center around which all the action moves, speaks only in the opening scene and does not appear onstage again until the end of the play. Dulipo, masquerading as Erostrato, is perhaps the most convincing character, for his position is completely untenable, and we feel his growing confusion and fear as events close in on him. Of the clowns, Pasyphilo is the most consistent with his ravenous appetite, yet he commands some admiration as a gourmet and leads directly to Greedy in Massinger's A New Way To Pay Old Debts.

The most puzzling lost opportunity to develop character comes when Erostrato's seduction of Polynesta is discovered by her father and Erostrato is thrown into a dungeon. We would expect speeches worthy of Euphues from Erostrato, or at least words of despair; but he is silent from this point until the last scene. Instead, we hear Damon, the father, airing his griefs in a long soliloquy:

My daughter is defloured, and I utterly dishonested: how can I then wype that blot off my browe? and on whom shall I seeke revenge? … O Polynesta, full evill hast thou requited the clemencie of thy carefull father: and yet to excuse thee giltlesse before God, and to condemne thee giltie before the worlde, I can count none other but my wretched selfe the caytife and causer of all my cares. … It is too true, that of all sorowes this is the head source and chiefe fountaine of all furies: the goods of the world are incertain, the gaines to be rejoyced at, and the losse not greatly to be lamented: only the children cast away, cutteth the parents throate with the knife of inward care, which knife will kill me surely, I make none other accompte.

(Cunliffe, I, 213-15)

Selfish though Damon is, Polynesta's sin has made him realize his own shortcomings.

The dialogue is witty, and the play moves rapidly into its complications. But the success of the play lies directly on its structure, and in this respect Ariosto simply plays upon the familiar and successful theme of young lovers struggling to get together against the desires of one or two old men and, to some extent society. The twists in this play are the many cases of mistaken identities (the reason for the title of the play by the way), and they are explained by Gascoigne in “The Prologue”:

But understand, this our Suppose is nothing else but a mystaking or imagination of one thing for an other. For you shall see the master supposed for the servant, the servant for the master: the freeman for a slave, and the bondslave for a freeman: the stranger for a well knowen friend, and the familiar for a stranger.

(Cunliffe, I, 188)

False identity is the key to the play; critical moments arise when the various characters learn of the duplicity and when Erostrato's father comes looking for his noble son, only to find a servingman in his place. The one case of unknown identity which surprises audience and characters alike is Dulipo, who is really Cleander's lost son.

As I have observed earlier, part of the play's importance lies in the Italian source. It brought to the scholars, nobles, and gallants a new, sophisticated comedy, not yet tainted by the eroticism which haunted such comedy during the following century and a half and which finally destroyed it. In The Supposes, the erotic elements are, however, present: an old man's lust for a young, beautiful girl; a pandering nurse; a demure but sexually permissive heroine; and a disguised nobleman who enjoys the heroine almost at will. However, the play concentrates on the problems faced by the two young lovers, not of how to satisfy their desires (there they have no problems), but of how to overcome the greater fortune of old Cleander so that they can marry.

The play emphasizes the position of each character rather than his deeper emotions. Erostrato's speech, quoted above in part, explains his position intellectually. Damon's long soliloquy points out precisely why he feels injured: the loss of his daughter's honor means not only that his reputation suffers and that he will not receive money for her hand but also that she cannot hope to live in the noble world to which she had been bred. Cleander's speech, when he discovers Dulipo to be his lost son, explains why he suddenly no longer desires Polynesta. Apparently, he only wanted an heir for his fortunes and saw Polynesta as the most desirable mother. In the light of this explanation, all the others' insulting remarks about his lust and greed seem suddenly shallow, although we cannot help but feel that the author is whitewashing Cleander to some extent.

In this way, by concentrating on the intellectual aspects of their positions, the play avoids the traps of sensuality and eroticism which this type of situation comedy can so easily fall into, and it sets a tone of critical objectivity which influenced English comedy for nearly seventy-five years.


The story of Jocasta, mother and wife of Oedipus, is less well known to us than the story of her husband-son Oedipus or her daughter Antigone. However, the narrative raises several questions which vitally interested Elizabethan artists and which were directly relevant to England—the question of an heir to the throne, the dangers of civil war, and the more eternal problems of ambition, hate, pride, and the workings of fate. Both Oedipus Rex and Antigone were known; and, by the end of the sixteenth century, their purer dramatic character was realized. But they are essentially studies in tyranny and in man against fate, and they did not fulfill the political requirements of the 1560's. Gascoigne's Jocasta, with its emphasis upon the public ruin brought about by private ambition, did.

To a modern audience, Jocasta comes across as an unsuccessful play. Too many major characters have deep-seated problems which, as they are brought to light one by one, reduce the emotional unity of the drama, Jocasta, her two sons, Antigone, and Creon are all focused upon at some time during the play. At the play's start, Jocasta is already reeling under the guilt of having been wife to her own son; and the conditions of Oedipus's disgrace—blindness and internment—are continually before her. Also, her two sons (by Oedipus) have quarreled over the rule of Thebes, and one has raised a Greek army to win Thebes from the other. The inevitability of the death of at least one of them increases Jocasta's grief. In her attempt to create peace, she brings them face to face before the battle, thus initiating the major action of the play.

Eteocles and Polinices, her sons, were to share the rule of Thebes by ruling on alternate years. Eteocles, being first to rule, became ambitious and usurped the kingship entirely to himself, forcing Polinices to seek aid from other cities to restore his right. Polinices, the favored one of the women, is referred to as “sweet” and “gentle Polinices” by Antigone particularly. In the battle before Thebes, Eteocles's army is victorious; but he decides to press the victory and challenges Polinices to single combat. Both are killed; and Jocasta, overcome by the sight, kills herself. Antigone throughout the play has strongly favored Polinices, and we see the extent of Eteocles's treachery mainly through her speeches. After the battle she attempts to bury Polinices, but is prevented by Creon, Jocasta's brother, who assumes kingship upon Eteocles's death. She thwarts Creon's wish that she marry his son and accompanies the now-banished Oedipus into exile at the play's end.

Creon, the other major figure, is a bit more complex. In the opening “argument” of the play, Creon is called “King, the type of Tyranny”; but his tyranny consists only in refusing Polinices burial and in banishing Oedipus. However, Creon has long desired the kingship; Antigone, we find, is more fearful of him than of Eteocles:

Besides all this, a certaine jelousie,
Lately conceyvde (I know not whence it springs)
Of Creon, my mothers brother, appaules me much,
Him doubt I more than any danger else.

(Cunliffe, I, 256-57)

Yet, when the blind seer Tyresias tells Creon that he must sacrifice his son Meneceus in order to become king, Creon refuses and is genuinely grieved when Meneceus takes his own life to save Thebes.

Gascoigne's play, in fact, contains many contradictions which are posed rather than answered. On the political level, both brothers share blame for the tragic war. Eteocles, of course, committed the first offense by usurping the throne in a tyrannical fashion; his crime is compounded by his increasing hatred of Antigone and Oedipus. But, as Eteocles points out, Polinices is bringing foreign troops to wage war against his own people; he is willing to destroy Thebes so that he may rule it. To compound the crime, Polinices has taken a foreign wife—that is, made a foreign alliance—to raise his army for such an attack. Thus, both brothers are guilty. Certainly Polinices has been wronged, but is he justified in destroying his city, in causing many innocent deaths, to right his own personal wrong? The comment implicit in the English version is that death and destruction are the necessary results of pride and ambition. The question of right and wrong is superficial. Rather, English lords and politicians should learn the lesson of history and avoid the original causes.

Another problem, one which has theological overtones, is the guilt attached to Jocasta. I say “theological” rather than “philosophical” because the English dramatists did not show much understanding of Greek concepts of destiny and free will until Marlowe's time in the 1590's. Generally, the vicissitudes of man's fate were blamed on the turning Wheel of Fortune, as the translators' additions to the play demonstrate. However, the unfairness of Jocasta's position, that of being punished for a sin of which she was completely unaware when she committed it, brought forth some objections similar to the ones Milton used to ameliorate Adam's guilt in Paradise Lost. In the original play, Jocasta's guilt and grief must remain unmitigated even though she is essentially a gentle and loving woman who refuses to blame any other person for the evil besetting Thebes. Tyresias tells us of the extent of her guilt when speaking to Creon:

The incest foule, and childbirth monstruous
Of Jocasta, so stirres the wrath of Jove
This citie shall with bloudy channels swimme,
And angry Mars shall overcome it all
With famine, flame, rape, murther, dole and death:
These lustie towres shall have a headlong fall,
These houses burnde, and all the rest be razde,
And soone be sayde, here whilome Thebes stoode.

(Cunliffe, I, 287)

Yet, the English version, through Creon, makes the distinction that her sin was unwilled:

O Jocasta, miserable mother,
What haplesse ende thy life alas hath hent?
Percase the heavens purveyed had the same,
Moved therto by the wicked wedlocke
Of Oedipus thy sonne yet might thy scuse
But justly made, that knewe not of the crime.

(Cunliffe, I, 310)

Such a sentiment could only arise from a theology which presupposes punishment in another world, not the Grecian theology which poses the inexplicable problem of life rather than death. This one statement, unimportant in a dramatic context, seems to echo the Anglican position in opposition to the Puritan dogma of Election: that certain men are doomed to damnation from birth and that others are elected to salvation in spite of the lives each may lead. To an Anglican, Jocasta's crime could not lead to her damnation because her crime was not self-willed; and the misery and grief in her life are attributable to the turns of fortune which all mankind must bear. It was for later dramatists such as Webster, Tourneur, and Shakespeare to realize the greater dramatic and poetic possibilities of the Greek tragic view.

The question of why the men of Gray's Inn produced Jocasta rather than, perhaps, Oedipus Rex may be answered on several grounds. Jocasta plays upon the evils of civil war and the troubles inherent in the breakdown of ordered authority. Remembering that the ravages of the War of the Roses were still apparent in England and that Queen Elizabeth was unmarried and thus had no apparent heir, we can understand how concerned Englishmen were over the orderly succession of the throne. Sackville's and Norton's Gorboduc, produced at Gray's Inn a few years earlier, portrayed the evils of a divided kingship. Statesmen, scholars, and artists all besieged the queen to marry in order to avoid civil disorder in the event of her death. All were afraid of the results of an unscrupulous ambition and were aware of the force the throne held to offset it. Jocasta, if nothing more, was another appeal to settle the issue of succession by demonstrating the lesson of history. In marginal notes and poetic appendices to the play, the view of Jocasta as a “mirrour for magistrates” is urged upon the reader and spectator.

Another reason the play was chosen lies in its Senecan flavor. To the Inns of Court dramatists, Seneca offered new and exciting drama techniques, and they imitated him in such plays as Gorboduc and translated him directly. Senecan characteristics are well known, but it is worthwhile noting those used in Jocasta. The “dumme shewe” is the first characteristic offered to the audience. In it, the actors pantomime an action, such as a pope removing his crown and robes and putting on armor. In Jocasta there are five dumb shows. The one preceding the third act gives a good example of how elaborate they could become:

Before the beginning of this.iii. Act did sound a very dolefull noise of cornettes, during the which there opened and appeared in the stage a great Gulfe. Immediatly came gentlemen in their dublets & hose, bringing upon their shulders baskets full of earth and threwe them into the Gulfe to fill it up, but it would not so close up nor be filled. Then came the ladyes and dames that stoode by, throwing in their cheynes & Jewels, so to cause it stoppe up and close it selfe: but when it would no so be filled, came in a knighte with his sword drawen, armed at all poyntes, who walking twise or thrise about it, & perusing it, seing that it would nether be filled with earth nor with their Jewells and ornaments, after solempne reverence done to the gods, and curteous leave taken of the Ladyes and standers by, sodeinly lepte into the Gulfe, the which did close up immediatly: betokning unto us the love that every worthy person oweth unto his native countrie, by the historye of Curtius, who for the lyke cause adventured the like in Rome. This done, blind Tyresias the devine prophete led in by hys daughter, and conducted by Meneceus the son of Creon, entreth by the gates Electrae, and sayth as followeth.

(Cunliffe, I, 283)

The appeal of the dumb shows to Englishmen stems from the long tradition of mumming. However, it was through Seneca's influence that it became a major dramatic technique, one used with great effect by later Renaissance dramatists such as John Webster.

Another device is the long set speech, such as Jocasta delivers at the beginning of the play and the one Nuntius gives near the play's end. Such speeches allow the full exploitation of the playwright's rhetorical ability; and in the hands of Marlowe, this characteristic developed into a superb dramatic instrument used by all the major dramatists. It is also a major factor in the development of the soliloquy, to which Renaissance drama owes much.

Seneca also inspired interest in violence and horror. Because Senecan plays were written to be read, not to be acted, bloody or horrible events occurred away from the action of the play and then were described to the reader in great detail by a “Nuntius.” In this way, rhetoric conveyed the desired impact of violence and terror to the reader who otherwise would not be able to visualize it from reading the bare dialogue. In Jocasta, we see this interest reflected in the speech of the Nuntius describing the battle and the deaths of Jocasta and her two sons. One of the dramatic weaknesses of Jocasta, as a play made to be acted on stage, is the large proportion of reported action as against staged action. However, subsequent dramatists learned from these early experiments and brought violence and horror onstage in increasing degrees, turning their rhetoric into other areas.


Gascoigne's only original play, The Glasse of Governement, is a highly moralistic drama illustrating the “prodigal son” theme.2 Since the play was written in 1575 after Gascoigne had spent time soldiering in the Netherlands, it undoubtedly was influenced by Dutch plays on the same subject; but Gascoigne's contributions to this type of play are original and interesting. The typical prodigal-son story tells of a young man who leaves his family and spends his inheritance in riotous living. He descends into ruin and ill health, and he loses all his fortune. His family, however, forgives him and takes him back into the fold. The essential parts of the story are the young, proud, undisciplined son and the forgiving father. If we regard the youth as mankind, the father as Christ, and the family as the Christian community, we have the substance of the Christian moral.

Both on the Continent and in England, the Christian story is twisted somewhat because humanist playwrights focused on techniques of education. Prodigality became the result of an undisciplined mind; and, to humanist dramatists to whom theories of education were of primary concern, a prodigal-son play offered the most appropriate setting for discussions of proper educational methods. The emphasis on forgiveness, repentance, and grace was considerably less pronounced. The inherent drama of pride, despair, and salvation was overlooked, and the plays for the most part resembled moral sermons and pedagogical essays. Although both of these characteristics are apparent in The Glasse of Governement, Gascoigne added to the play dramatic qualities which he had learned while translating Ariosto and Euripides. These additions include conventional scene divisions which dictate that the onstage actors leave naturally at the scene's close; logical act divisions following the five-act structure; the use of a subplot and comic figures; the more complex technique of paralleling characters on different dramatic levels; the establishment of plausibly motivated situations and characters. I do not intend to discuss all of these aspects, but certain ones clearly indicate Gascoigne's important position in breaking away from the trite approach to this theme and in making it acceptable material for the drama.

Gascoigne's play is concerned with the careers of the sons of two families, Phylautus and Phylomusus in one family, and Phylosarchus and Phylotimus in the other. The two elder sons, Phylautus and Phylosarchus, with their desire for experience and their weariness with instruction, contrast to the two younger ones, Phylomusus and Phylotimus, who study diligently and do the tasks assigned them by their tutor, Gnomaticus. The older brothers' boredom is given relief by Lamia, a harlot, who becomes the catalyst to their rebellious acts. When Lamia's influence is discovered by the two fathers, all four sons are sent away to the university at Douai. Once there, the two elder sons leave school entirely and go their separate ways: Phylautus, eventually executed for robbery; and Phylosarchus, whipped and banished for fornication. The two younger brothers, who complete their education honorably, accept favorable positions in the community. There is an attempt by both the younger brothers and the fathers to save the errant sons. The fathers forgive their sons and send a servant, Fidus, to bring them home. The younger brother, Philotimus, pleads to save Phylosarchus from whipping. The interesting twist on the prodigal-son theme is that, although the fathers forgive the prodigals, they still receive the severest penalties for their crimes.

The characters of the harlot Lamia, Pandarina her “aunt,” and her gentleman helpers, Dick Droom and Eccho, add considerable substance to the play. Lamia is quite a sympathetic character; she is, like the two elder brothers, rebelling against a restrictive, moralistic society. She says:

if I could have bene contented to be so shutte up from sight and speech of such as like me, I might have lived gallantly and well provided with my mother, who (though I say it) is a good old Lady in Valentia, but when I sawe that I must weare my good apparell alwayes within doores, and that I must passe over my meales without company, I trussed up my Jewelles in a casket, and (being accompanyed with my good Auntie here) I bad Valentia farewell, for I had rather make hard shifte to live at lyberty, then enjoy great riches in such a kind of emprisonment.

(Cunliffe, II, 23-24)

The final point in this speech is the basic irony of the play and certainly one of the central ironies of Gascoigne's life: life does not offer freedom and riches both; a young person must give up one. Unfortunately, the society frowned on the value of freedom for a young person; for such freedom led to excesses which led to degeneration. Thus, a youth choosing to go his own way was almost always severed from his family. Gascoigne's own youth contained many elements of prodigality, and in many respects Lamia's career is like his. Lamia's mistake is to accept the advice of Pandarina too easily; but Lamia, young, attractive, willful, wishes to have some fun out of life. Thus, her punishment, which is three days on the “cucking stoole” and banishment, seems a bit too harsh even though she did play a part in starting the two elder brothers on the road to their destruction.

The play turns on a series of parallels or contrasts. The obvious and unexceptional contrast is between the good and the bad sons; but the more subtle parallel is between the bad sons and Lamia. She has already rejected established authority and morality, and they do so during the course of the play. Their reasons are the same: boredom with accepted social roles and a desire to pursue their own interests. None of the three carries any hard feelings toward his parent: indeed, Lamia even says, “I might have lived gallantly and well provided with my mother, who (though I say it) is a good old Lady in Valentia.” It is rather that, like many young people, they are stifled by parental authority and must get away.

In the context of the play, their decisions and actions are evil because they conflict with society's laws. The two sons are forgiven by their fathers but are cruelly punished by society, but Lamia finds no forgiveness from any side. Her position, in fact, causes the Servus, a police officer, some difficulty as he admits to the two fathers: “and though I desire (as much as you) to see them condingly corrected, yet with out proofe of some offence I should therin commit a wrong. … I have no proofe of evill wherwith to burthen her” (Cunliffe, II, 82). Yet, when the news of the older sons' bad careers comes to his ears, he does not hesitate to commit her to public humiliation.

To some extent, Gascoigne seems to be sympathetic to Lamia's position. When the civil authorities are intent on prosecuting her, he has Nuntius, a news carrier, say to Gnomaticus:

Good lord what a world is this? Justice quoth he? mary this is Justyce of the new fashion.
And what Justice good fellow I pray thee.
Nay none at all Sir, but rather an open wronge, an honest old gentlewoman with her kinswoman are commaunded to the coupe, onely because they suffered an honest youngman (and Sonne to a welthy Burgher) to suppe with them yesternight, … I have seldome heard of such rigor used, especially since they proffer good suretyes to be alwayes forth comming untill their behaviour be tryed.

(Cunliffe, II, 70)

The women are not even to be allowed bail. But an additional detail exposes the plight of Lamia. At the first suggestion of trouble, her servingmen-protectors leave her to her fate. As Eccho, the parasite, says earlier:

Tush Dyck hold thy peace, if we have not them, we shall have others as good as they, thou mayst bee sure that as long as Lamia continueth bewtifull, she shall never be without Sutors, and when the Crowes feete groweth under her eye, why then no more adoe but ensineuate thy selfe with another. Yea and in the meane time also, it should be no bad councell, if a man had foure or five such hauntes in store, that evermore when one house is on sweeping, another spytte may cry creake at the fire: store is no sore as the proverbe saith, and now adayes the broker which hath but one bargaine in hand, may chaunce to weare a thred bare coate.

(Cunliffe, II, 66)

Finally, we learn that Lamia may even be in love with Phylosarchus, as Eccho again suggests: “Fye fie, what meaneth shee? Will she cast away her selfe on this fashion for his sake? She beareth but evill in remembraunce the good documentes of that vertuous olde Lady her Aunte. I warrant you it would be long before that Messalina would dye for love. Tush tush shall I tell you? It is folly to stand meditation of these matters, every man for himselfe and I for one …” (Cunliffe, II, 61). Lamia, it seems, is caught in the snares of her youth. Being beautiful, she is condemned as a temptress; being young, she is foolish enough to fall in love, and sufficiently inexperienced to be used by her Aunt, Eccho, and Dick Droome as their source of income. Certainly, Lamia had few scruples, but Gascoigne gives us more than just the surface portrait of a scheming woman. We come to understand, through her, the barriers put in the way of youth and the mortal danger waiting for those who trespass across those barriers.

If Lamia and the two elder brothers are not completely evil, the results of their actions usually are. What, then, we must ask, is it that turns young people into or allows them to become criminals? The answer is highly ironic: their teachers! Gnomaticus and Pandarina, who are equally guilty for the tragedy of Lamia and the two elder brothers, are placed in obvious parallel positions early in the play. Gnomaticus delivers a sermon to the four youths in which, in elaborate and typically humanistic fashion, he instructs them to fear, love, and trust God: “I say, Feare God for he is might, love God, for he is mercifull, and trust in God for he is faithfull and just” (Cunliffe, II, 21). In the following scene, Pandarina counsels Lamia with almost parallel phrases, but of course with different intent: “I pray you learne these three pointes of me to governe your steppes by. First Trust no man how faire so ever he speake, next Reject no man (that hath ought) how evil favored so ever he be. And lastely Love no man longer than he geveth, since lyberall gyfts are the glewe of everduring love” (Cunliffe, II, 25). And Lamia replies in a tone of humility paralleling that of the four youths: “Well Aunt, I were worthy of great reprehension, if I would reject the good documents of such a frende, and if I have heretofore done contrary, impute it to my youth, but be you sure that hereafter I will endevour my selfe to follow your precepts” (Cunliffe, II, 25).

Pandarina gives Lamia evil counsel that is actually contrary to Lamia's nature (for she falls in love), and thus her counseling leads Lamia into the life of a criminal. Pandarina has some difficulty guiding Lamia, but society is ultimately on Pandarina's side, and, by the end of the play, it literally makes a hardened prostitute out of what at first was only a willful girl. Gnomaticus, on the other hand, aims at moral perfection for his four charges. The two parents retain him to instill the highest religious and civic ideals in their sons, and he virtually guarantees success. He chooses to teach four topics—their duty to God, to their king, to their country, and to their parents: His methods are to deliver sermons, to give them reading assignments, and to have them write poems and essays on the four subjects. His methods, in effect, are those of the humanist scholar-teacher. But Gnomaticus's major fault is that he does not understand human nature. He cannot recognize the signs of boredom and incipient rebellion in Phylautus and Phylosarchus, the two older sons; and he cannot, therefore, prevent their ruin. He believes in the essential goodness of the boys, and in this he is correct, for Phylosarchus, far from being a lustful seducer, wishes to write love poems to Lamia and to court her in a fairly conventional way. But in his instruction, Gnomaticus relies too much on familiar proverbial wisdom and thereby disappoints the expectations of the elder brothers whose quick wits had already mastered this stage of education.

The content of instruction, as an exercise in abstraction and entirely without material relevant to the boys' daily lives, fails to satisfy the older brothers' desire for experience. So they search for it themselves, aided only by the corrupt servant, provided by Gnomaticus. Thus, both the humanistic education and the humanist educator fail to prevent the tragedy.

Another error, more directly fatal, is Gnomaticus's naïve trust of other human beings. Unable to recognize a corrupt servant, he trusts Ambidexter to watch over the four brothers at the university. Ambidexter, the bad servant, is directly responsible for leading the elder brothers to their ruin. Significantly, when the news of their disgrace and death is brought back, Gnomaticus is the first to receive it, perhaps because it is his failure more than anyone else's.

We found earlier that Gascoigne's early life somewhat followed the pattern of a prodigal son, so we must recognize that he understood their attitudes quite well. Perhaps this explains the absolute irreconcilability of the prodigals to society. Unlike other prodigal-son plays, neither the boys nor Lamia return to their parents' forgiving arms. Their parents certainly would take them, but somehow the real world does not operate so benevolently. Gascoigne, himself, although the son of a wealthy man, had to struggle for a living, and the experience left him without a neat formula for happiness and success, a point often made in his lyric poetry, such as “Gascoignes wodmanship.” Thus, underneath the apparent respect he shows for Gnomaticus's teachings, there are notes of dislike for the two good sons. Their characters are flat and lifeless, they do their assigned tasks without question, and they often do more than is required in order to win Gnomaticus's approval. They frown upon their brothers' unconventionality, and in general show few human qualities, except when Phylotimus pleads to save Phylosarchus from a whipping. In one instance, when the two elder brothers have been rebuked by the Markgrave, the contrast in attitudes between the two sets of brothers is most marked:

Where have we bene quoth you? why we have bene with that good olde gentleman the Markgrave, unto whome we were as welcome as water into the ship, the olde froward frowner would scarce vouchsafe to speak unto us, or to looke upon us, but he shall sit untill his heeles ake before I come at him againe.
brother, use reverent speach of him, principally bycause he is a Magistrate, and therwithal for his greye haires, for that is one especiall poynt of our master traditions.
Tushe what you tell me of our masters traditions? if a Magistrate, or an elder would challendge reverence of a young gentleman, it were good reason also that they should render affabilitie, and chearefull countenance to all such as present them selves before them with good will. When we came to him he knewe us not,

(Cunliffe, II, 46)

This one incident illustrates one source of the conflict the elder brothers have with society, the literal denial of equality to the young by the elders; but it also summarizes the younger brothers clearly. In effect, they represent all those whose success in life springs from following a course laid out for them by others, from obeying unquestioningly those in authority, and from maintaining the traditional roles of society.

Gnomaticus, also, is given an unpleasant trait. When the Nuntius tells him of Pandarina's and Lamia's arrest, he is not even remotely concerned that they are held without the slightest bit of real evidence; even the Nuntius is astonished by this lack of concern for justice. But, of course, Gnomaticus is worried over his pupils, and the fate of someone on a lower social level does not concern him.

Yet, despite the undercurrents of trouble, the play is designed to depict humanistic concepts and techniques of education. During the first two acts, Gnomaticus delivers lectures on duty and morality and discusses concepts of philosophy with his four pupils. Then he assigns them tasks in reading, in memorizing, and in versifying. The view that poetry aids memory is voiced by Gnomaticus: “and here I deliver the same unto you, to be put in verse everie one by himself and in sundrie device, that you may therein take the greater delight, for of all other Artes Poetrie giveth greatest assistaunce unto memorie, since the verie terminations and ceasures doe (as it were) serve for places of memorie, and helpe the mynde with delight to carie burthens, which else would seeme more grievous” (Cunliffe, II, 47-48). The content of their study also is humanistic: they are to learn their duties to God, king, country, and parents; and they are to learn how to express themselves well in rhetoric and poetry.

Another humanist attitude, one expressed by Queen Elizabeth's tutor Roger Ascham in The Schoolmaster, is that quick wits learn quickly but do not retain what they have learned, that they delight in pleasant studies but do not advance to more difficult labors, and that they usually come to a bad or inconsequential end. It seems almost that Ascham wrote the script, for the career followed by the two prodigals compares closely to his description of quick wits. The two prodigals have read extensively in the “pleasant” writings of Terence and Tully. They do the assigned work quickly and are bored by it, but they do not then apply themselves to more difficult material. Rather, they desire diversion and relaxation. And, of course, they come to a bad end.

Gnomaticus is aware of the quicker wits of the elder sons. When his servant praises their intellectual capacity: “and the two eldest could even then (in maner) record without booke as much as you had taught them,” Gnomaticus replies: “Yea but what is that to the purpose? the quickest wits prove not alwayes best, for as they are readie to conceive, so do they quickly forget, & therewithall, the finenesse of their capacitie doth carie such oftentimes to delight in vanities, since mans nature is such, that with ease it inclyneth to pleasure, and unwilling it is to indure pain or travell, without the which no vertue is obteyned” (Cunliffe, II, 38). The conservative, less active, and less volatile mind was the preferred one; for it was less rebellious, less likely to stir up civil discord or religious doubts. It is difficult to take Gnomaticus's view on quick wits seriously, for it condemns his own teaching. Yet, the entire play is an exemplum of his and Ascham's view; and, in this respect, the prodigal-son story becomes really the one about rebels against traditional education. Education, after all, is the main perpetuating device of a culture or society; and one who rejects it is, in the eyes of that society, necessarily dangerous and must be either reclaimed or broken. In The Glasse of Governement, the two who choose to follow their own courses rather than those laid down by society are broken.

As I mentioned earlier, Gascoigne himself suffered the effects of prodigality. As a result, his attitude toward Phylosarchus and Phylautus is mixed. He sympathizes with their dilemma, but he feels forced to uphold the standards of his society. The subsequent conflict resulted in certain touches of character—to Lamia, to Gnomaticus, and to the two prodigals—which give the play strength and reality.


  1. See especially F. S. Boas, University Drama in the Tudor Age (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914); J. Cunliffe, The Influence of Seneca on Elizabethan Tragedy (London: Macmillan and Company, 1893); and F. L. Lucas, Seneca and Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge, at the University Press, 1922).

  2. The most useful study of this type of play is C. H. Herford, Studies in the Literary Relations of England and Germany in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1886).

Linda Bradley Salamon (essay date January 1974)

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SOURCE: Salamon, Linda Bradley. “A Face in The Glasse: Gascoigne's Glasse of Government Re-examined.” Studies in Philology 71, no. 1 (January 1974): 47-71.

[In this essay, Salamon contends that the play The Glasse of Government displays the values of Christian humanism.]

Scholarly inattention to George Gascoigne's The Glasse of Governement (1575) is not surprising. As the work's first modern student, C. H. Herford, dryly remarked, “The poetry of penitence is rarely immortal.”1 Set among the richer blossoms of Tudor drama, this first complete effort of Gascoigne's moral “reformation”—acknowledged a closet drama, for which no performance is recorded—does not attract notice. Early historians of pre-Shakespearian drama with a bent for completeness and categorization classify The Glasse, blithely named “A tragicall Comedie” by Gascoigne, as an “interlude,” offspring of the moralities and ancestor of the histories2; most general studies of the period ignore a work which never could have held the stage. Although it has found mild admirers in Gascoigne's biographers, the sermonizing, mechanical Glasse undeniably has its longueurs. Nevertheless, the work holds some interest as an attempt to give literary shape in English to Christian humanism at its most basic level: Christian doctrine in a Roman genre, for and about the education of schoolboys. In particular, its similarities to The Scholemaster of Roger Ascham and, to a lesser extent, The Governour of Sir Thomas Elyot—central documents by well-known humanists of earlier generations—deserve remark.

The text of the work includes a précis which is both accurate and presumably representative of Gascoigne's intended emphases.


Two rich Citizens of Andwerpe (beeing nighe neighboures, & having eche of them two sonnes of like age) do place them togither with one godly teacher. The scholemaster doth briefly instruct them their duetie towardes God, their Prince, their Parentes, their cuntrie, and all magistrates in the same. The eldest being yong men of quicke capacitie, do (Parrotte like) very quickly learne the rules without booke: the yonger beeing somewhat more dull of understanding, do yet engrave the same within their memories. The elder by allurement of Parasites and lewde company, beginne to incline themselves to concupiscence. The parents (to prevent it) sende them all togither to the Universitie of Dowaye, whereas the yonger in short space be (by painefull studie) preferred, that one to be Secretarie unto the Palsegrave, that other becommeth a famous preacher in Geneva. The eldest (turning to their vomit) take their cariage with them, and travaile the worlde. That one is apprehended and executed for a robbery (even in sight of his brother) in the Palsegraves courte: that other whipped and banished Geneva for fornication: notwithstanding the earnest sute of his brother for his pardon.3

The few scholars who have looked at The Glasse of Governement accept Herford's 1886 assertion of its relation to the Terentius Christianus plays of the earlier sixteenth century, written by Dutch and German humanists on the theme of the “prodigal son.”4 Among those dramas are Gnaepheus' Acolastus (c. 1528), Macropedius' Rebelles (1535), and Stymmelius' Studentes (1549). But both external and internal evidence for this relationship require careful reassessment. The first task is to examine the possibility that Gascoigne knew the Dutch dramas, when there is no direct evidence. The major suggestion of Herford and subsequent scholars is that Gascoigne encountered the plays while a gentleman-adventurer in the Netherlands. The other possibility is that he read at Cambridge copies which reached England, in the original or in various translations; Herford considered that the three continental writers themselves “must have been well-known by name and reputation to the literary and university circles in which Gascoigne moved.”5 Finally, Dutch sources are proffered as the only possible reason for the Dutch setting of The Glasse.

The thorough studies of C. T. Prouty have shown, however, that Gascoigne spent not two-and-a-half continuous years in the Low Countries before 1574, but twenty-four months in two different intervals.6 Moreover, the six months thus removed from his putative visit, October, 1572, to March, 1572/3, comprise the only extended period when Gascoigne was sufficiently free from fighting, laying siege, or being a prisoner-of-war to indulge in leisurely reading. In addition, these military adventures preceded his moral reformation, and he casually indicates that a portion of his free time was devoted to a romantic escapade.7 Thus it seems implausible that, of all books available for brief respites from such a life, Gascoigne would choose to read three very similar texts for schoolboys—and he must have read them all, to fulfill Herford's theory. Still more conjectural is F. E. Schelling's suggestion that Gascoigne visited a Dutch school and saw one or more of the local “prodigal son” plays performed.8 As for their inclusion in his studies, Prouty shows that the only known information about Gascoigne at Cambridge lies in two rueful references of his own, from which few deductions can be justified.9 Finally, Gascoigne had independent incentive to set a story of moral debasement in the Netherlands; “The Fruites of Warre,” his verse narrative of his experiences there, reveals both his great discretion in not assigning any ethical failures to Englishmen and his distaste for the smug, self-interested Dutch. In “Gascoignes Voyage to Holland,” furthermore, he chastises the “race of Bulbeefe borne” for drink and womanizing, chief among the vulgar errors in The Glasse. Thus Gascoigne's acquaintance with three specific Dutch “prodigal son” plays cannot be demonstrated.

It is clear, on the other hand, that Gascoigne knew the genre of the “Christian Terence” in a general way, “that it penetrated well within his literary milieu.”10 Perhaps he recalled the general form of Acolastus and Studentes and, with his visible enthusiasm for trying new genres, used it as a vehicle for rather different ideas. For, when internal evidence is examined, the striking fact is that The Glasse of Governement bears no more than superficial resemblance to any of the continental plays. All are written in Latin verse, not vernacular prose. Acolastus lacks a schoolmaster and any contrast between earnest and light-minded brothers, two of the most important characteristics of The Glasse.Studentes moves from seduction by youths of an honest girl toward conventional marriage as the approved aim; in contrast, the resort of youths to a harlot leading indirectly to punishment is only one, largely incidental, action of The Glasse. Most tellingly, the play fails prima facie to exhibit the definitive feature of the “prodigal son” parable—the errant sons do not return, repentant, to the welcoming arms of their families.

The dénouement of the play actually illustrates a rather different point, “the whole Comedie a figure of the rewardes and punishments of vertues and vices” (5). Herford and his followers simply ascribe this discrepancy to Gascoigne's Calvinism, intruding into the prodigal son motif. But the moral of the story can more easily be found in another source altogether. Ascham's Scholemaster teaches

that those which be commonly the wisest, the best learned, and best men also, when they be old, were never commonly the quickest of wit when they were young … [while contrariwise] amongst a number of quick wits in youth, few be found in the end either very fortunate for themselves, or very profitable to serve the commonwealth, but decay and vanish, men know not which way.11

All those qualities of The Glasse of Governement which cannot be attributed to the “Christian Terence” convention, in fact, prove to be tenets of English humanism, either educational doctrines specifically articulated by Ascham or concepts of local government at least adumbrated by Elyot. Gnomaticus' interest in comprehension rather than memorization as a method of learning, his instruction in dutiful behavior rather than in logic or literature, his discovery of the dangers to youth of freedom and travel—these are Ascham's ideas, given quasi-dramatic expression by Gascoigne. The play's title and the quality of justice meted out in its conclusion equally recall Elyot.

Although Gascoigne knew the work of Erasmus,12 there is no external evidence that he had read Ascham or Elyot. But The Scholemaster was published in 1570, five years before The Glasse; it proved “an immediate success” and was reissued in 1571 and 1573.13 Moreover, it was written by a man popular with the Queen whose approval Gascoigne sought, and it taught in part the role he wished to play. After publication in 1531, The Governour “went through eight editions in the next fifty years, and even later was quoted as an authority.”14 And Elyot was a country gentleman of background and education like Gascoigne's own. Still, it is internal evidence which demonstrates the probability that Gascoigne elected to dramatize the theories of these English humanists' works, primarily The Scholemaster, and that he adapted the available genre of the Latin school-play largely to that end.

The basic structure of The Glasse, beginning with the choice of dramatic rather than pamphlet form, provides the most suggestive connection to the Terentius Christianus plays, yet even in this respect, similarities to Ascham are apparent. The play begins with two fathers discussing the finishing touches necessary to the joint education and advancement of their four sons, and the selection of the best schoolmaster to provide such polish. By comparison, in Acolastus, a single father and his wise friend discuss a son's education with no teacher involved; in Rebelles, two mothers select a master purely to avoid corporal punishment; in Studentes, the scholarly son, once at the university, chooses his own tutor. But, as Prouty has observed,15 the preface to The Scholemaster depicts Ascham's inspiration for the work in a situation very like The Glasse. Sir Richard Sackville suggests that his grandson and Ascham's son be taught together, by a carefully chosen master, on Ascham's principles of incentive by praise, not fear, of the staying power in “hard” rather than “quick” wits, and of the judicious discipline required in adolescence, not only in childhood (82-3).

Naming the dramatis personae in allegorical, carpentered Greek is of course a characteristic of the continental plays, and the hero's friend in Acolastus shares the name “Philautus” with one of Gascoigne's misbehaved ones. But the general scheme of Phylopaes, Philocalus, Phylomusus, and Phylotimus also recalls Ascham's Socratic list of the qualities required in a good student, other than innate wit and memory—philomathes, philoponos, philekoos, zetetikos, and philepainos (105-11). Moreover, Gascoigne specifically emphasizes that the two younger sons possess these characteristics; they appear to love learning (35), they are willing to take pains, for “with travell everie thing is obtained … unto a willing hart” (48), they are willing to hear each other's opinions as well as their teacher's (54), they are bold in questioning, asking Gnomaticus to “vouchsafe to stand somewhat the more uppon every point” (18), and they seek his praise for well-accomplished duties (58). These five are qualities of character, not mind, which Ascham says are “won and maintained by the only wisdom and discretion of the schoolmaster” who thus ameliorates natural disadvantages (111). In The Glasse, the elder brothers have euphues and mnemon alone16; the younger have the latter five characteristics, and of course they have Gnomaticus.

When examination thus turns from occasion and names in The Glasse to characterization and statement or meaning, any relation to continental plays becomes wholly tenuous and the similarity to The Scholemaster seems inescapable. The culmination of the play, however clumsily achieved, is precisely not the repentance and forgiveness of the errant brothers, but the just rewards of both the superficial learner, lightly misled from sound teachings, and the slow but thorough and sincere student. And the characterization that inevitably requires this dénouement employs virtually all of Ascham's educational doctrines that are not strictly curricular, virtually in the order of their occurrence in the first book of The Scholemaster.

The doctrines which The Glasse exemplifies fall into three general categories: classroom psychology and method, questions of conduct and discipline, and depiction of the ultimate goal of education. In the first category falls the distinction between “quick” and “hard” wits which is both the moving force of the play and Ascham's most characteristic contribution to humanist theory. As soon as his Scholemaster has briefly outlined the method of double translation and the gentleness to be used in applying it, he begins a lengthy digression, which fills the remainder of the first book, with this point:

If one by quickness of wit take his lesson readily, another by hardness of wit taketh it not so speedily; the first is always commended, the other is commonly punished: when a wise schoolmaster should rather discreetly consider the right disposition of both their natures, and not so much weigh what either of them is able to do now, as what either of them is likely to do hereafter.


Much aroused by this topic, Ascham then describes the effect of quick wits in learning—“apt to take, unapt to keep,” in manners—“in desire, newfangled; in purpose, unconstant,” and in character—“very light of conditions; and thereby very ready of disposition to be carried over quickly, by any light company to any riot and unthriftiness when they be young.” With careful parallelism he outlines the opposite quality and its results: “Hard wits be hard to receive, but sure to keep. … [They] are hardly carried … to desire every new thing … and therefore they be careful and diligent in their own matters, not curious and busy in other men's affairs.” Upon the distinction Ascham bases his subsequent choices of methods for teaching, of destined vocations, and of appropriate liberty in discipline, reading, and travel.

Gascoigne establishes a similar basic distinction in The Glasse of Governement just as clearly, if less rapidly. At the first introduction of the two pairs of brothers—to the audience as well as to Gnomaticus—the younger two stand mute while the elder two forthrightly declare filial obedience. Gnomaticus immediately remarks that they “declare by their seemely gesture and modest boldnesse to be both of good capacitie.” However, when all four are directed to hear their new teacher out, the elder pair promise obedience in order to assure “fatherly favor,” while the younger pair chorus, “We hope also to immitate the good in all moral examples of vertuous behavior” (15). Those who wish truly to learn on the humanist pattern are already distinguished from the merely opportunistic. Their difference is sealed in their response to Gnomaticus' lesson. The younger two, “blockheads” to their brothers, judge that with “great reason & vertue … it teacheth in effect the summe of our duties. Yea, and that very compendiously.” But the “scollers of quicke capacity” consider the teaching unoriginal and unnecessary: “I looked for some excellent matter at this newe Schoolemasters handes, if this be all that he can say to us … I have (in effect) all this geare without booke already.” And they ignore it for “choyce company of gallant young gentlemen,” while their brothers ponder it for thorough understanding (34-5). An instant, superficial grasp and a thirst for innovation are set against painstaking and steadfastness. The resultant conduct is inevitable, as Gnomaticus foresees. “The quickest wits prove not alwayes best, for as they are readie to cõceive, so do they quickly forget, & therewithall, the fineness of their capacitie doth carie such oftẽtimes to delight in vanities” (38). With surprise he eventually discovers “that Phylomusus and Phylotimus (whom I had thought not so quicke of capacity as the other) had done the [tasks] very well” (60). The outcome exactly conforms to Ascham's prediction.

Further matters of practical pedagogy embodied by Gascoigne in The Glasse of Governement are not unique to Ascham but common in humanist thinking. Still, Gascoigne's version is very like The Scholemaster. Concerning selection of a tutor, Ascham remarks,

It is pity, that commonly more care is had, yea and that among very wise men, to find out rather a cunning man for their horse, than a cunning man for their children. They say nay in word, but they do so in deed: for to one they will gladly give a stipend of two hundred crowns by the year, and loth to offer to the other two hundred shillings.


Gascoigne depicts his two wise fathers seeking “some … honest and carefull schoolemaister” with specific reference to his “stipend” and to animals.

For as there is no jewell so deare unto man, as the ofspring wherewith it pleaseth God to blesse him, so there is no money so well spent as that which is given to a good Schoolemaister.



I would be lothe to make bargaines in this respect, as men do at the market or in other places, for grasing of Oxen or feeding of Cattle.


Later, Gnomaticus reflects that the negligent schoolmaster “may in some respect be compared to the horsecourser, which onelie careth to feed his horse fat, and never delighteth to ryde him, manage him, or make him handsome” (68). Ascham requires of his tutor, once chosen, that he suit his methods to the personality of his scholar, which he should study carefully (101, 113-6). Thus Gnomaticus examines his students, fully intending to “determine what trade or Methode shalbe most convenient to use in teaching of you” (16).

The method which Gnomaticus selects, unfortunately suited to the younger brothers only, is one which The Scholemaster would heartily approve. Ascham's “plaine and perfite way of teachyng” requires that the student fully understand his lesson, then after “pausing an hour at least” reproduce it in his own words (90). His lesson should be based upon plentiful examples and not merely rules, which thus are inculcated “more plainly, sensibly, and orderly” (91). And the whole process should be a pleasure. Similarly, Gnomaticus studs his lectures with stories from Cicero and Scripture, Erasmus and Solomon, Sophocles and Paul—lessons which the younger sons realize are “such as requireth a rype deliberation, and weightie consideration of the same” (39). The time for contemplation duly spent, Gnomaticus sets them the task of versifying his words, “that you may therein take the greater delight,” as they visibly do.19 The elder brothers, meanwhile, do not fulfill the assignment; they need not labor to learn what they claim instantly to know “without booke” (35, 38). One boy remarks of his elder brother, however, “doubtless he will sometimes forget as fast, as he learneth readily” (45), a judgment which events have already begun to validate. The elder pair exemplify Ascham's scornful description of “quick wits,”

learning without book every thing, understanding within the book little or nothing. Their whole knowledge by learning without book was tied only to their tongue and lips, and never ascended up to the brain and head, and therefore was soon spit out of the mouth again.


The truncated lives of Phylosarchus and Phylautus, who are much more fully realized than the younger brothers,20 make a further more important statement than the fallibility of rapid memorization. When Gascoigne considers the student's response to teaching, he turns from classroom matters to questions of conduct and discipline, just as Ascham does in the long digression in The Scholemaster. The second major hindrance to learning after unwise masters, Ascham finds, is indiscipline in adolescence, permitted by loving parents.

From seven to seventeen, young gentlemen commonly be carefully enough brought up; but from seventeen to seven-and-twenty (the most dangerous time of all a man's life, and the most slippery to stay well in) they have commonly the rein of all licence in their own hand. … Commonly the wisest and also best men, be found the fondest fathers in this behalf.


The results of total freedom at such an age are disobedience and disrespect to adults, sexual irregularity, susceptibility to the blandishments of servants, pseudo-sophisticated manners, and incapacity to learn except by hard experience (121-38).

The pupils of The Glasse of Governement are respectively almost twenty-one and past nineteen—all well within Ascham's slippery age, as Gnomaticus ruefully recognizes.

Great difference there is betweene children and young men. … For idlenesse is the cause of many evils in youth, whereas beeing occupied or exercised in any thing that is vertuous or commendable, they shall not have so great occasion to thinke of vanities. … And yet is the mind of young men so prone and prompt to vanitie & delight, that all proveth not as I would have it.

(53, 69)

The fathers of the play are no doubt well-intentioned in their search for an honest instructor, “because in the house of the vertuous there is seldom any vice permitted” (10), as is Gnomaticus in his lectures on dutiful behavior. But, while Gascoigne hardly achieves a dramatic masterstroke at this point, the pupils are casually left to their own devices when their lessons are over. Given the personalities of the older pair, the results are obvious: they sneer at their teacher and rebel against the authority of their parents and the magistrates.

This order of teaching … hath in it neither head nor foote. … Is there any man so dull of understanding, that he knoweth not that in all contreys elders must (or will) be reverenced? and see we not daily, that all parents challenge obedience and love?

(34; cf. 46, 64)

Phylosarchus promptly follows the first female who crosses his path, and the two older youths are ripe for successive plucking by this lady of easy virtue, her parasites, and a two-faced servant.

Terentian as these low-life characters are, the importance of the servant once again points to Ascham. For the machinery of The Glasse requires two sets of villains. The first seduction from moral paths of the elder youths—like most of the vitality of the play—is supplied by Eccho and Lamia.21 But a gratuitous rumor brings about their arrest before much money or virtue is lost, and they figure in the youths' final destruction only at a distant remove. Meanwhile, Gascoigne has emphasized in the verse prologue and introduced in the very first scene the false servant Ambidexter, contrasted with the loyal Fidus. The fathers recognize from the outset that “nothing is more perillous to seduce children or young men, then the consorte and councell of a lewde servaunt” (11). It is Ambidexter who portentously discards Gnomaticus' letters and procures Phylosarchus' fatal “fair minion,” thus contriving his being whipped for three days and banished from Geneva. “His onelie leudenes hath ministered matter unto their misbehaviour, for he is their lodes mate & companiõ in all places” (77). The most serious temptation in The Glasse thus affirms Ascham's opinion:

Yea, read Terence and Plautus advisedly over, and ye shall find in those two wise writers, almost in every comedy, no unthrifty young man, that is not brought thereunto by the subtle enticement of some lewd servant. … Getae, and Davi … be pressing in … to meddle in every matter; when honest Parmenos shall not be heard. … Their company, their talk, their over great experience in mischief, doth easily corrupt the best natures, and best brought up wits.


Phylautus and Phylosarchus are just such well brought up but easily misled young men.

Their danger is drastically intensified, moreover, when they leave the precincts of home and university to travel abroad in the world. Here too Gascoigne recalls The Scholemaster. The youthful indulgences which Ascham most deplores, as all the world knows, are traveling to Italy and reading romances, whether medieval or Italian. The digression on conduct long-windedly concludes by denouncing the “open manslaughter and bold bawdry” of papistical romances and the “variety of vanities” which Italy teaches visitors, including the “courtly courtesies” of “daily dalliers” in Petrarchan convention (155-7, 165). While Italy proper appears in The Glasse of Governement only in the dismissal in the prologue of “Italian toyes” on stage, still the bored brothers' first idea is to travel to Douay because it is “wel replenished with curteous people and fayre women” (35). And soon enough “they prepare themselves to abandon the University, and to go gadding about the world a little,” “to seeke adventures abrode in the world” (75-6).22 Like Ascham, Gascoigne almost chorically believes that “vanitie,” “varietie of all delightes,” and “vayne delight hath carried them to run another race” (44, 49, 79). The manner acquired on such jaunts is the behavior admired by Lamia, “courtlike and of good desertes” (24). When Phylosarchus has learned to “geve her the Albade, or the Bezo las manos,” Eccho can report that she “commended you for your curtesies … but especially shee marked you by sundry thinges and gestures” (37, 40)—presumably very like Ascham's “smiling and secret countenances … signs, tokens, wagers” (165).

The youths' literary tastes are corrupted, as well as their manners. Phylosarchus' first conversation with Lamia turns on that archetypal romance hero, “the good king Amadis … whose Knightes undertooke alwayes the defence of Dames and Damselles.” Ominously, Phylosarchus vows in rich rhetoric to reincarnate chivalry (42). When Gnomaticus assigns the task of versifying moral rules, his enamored pupil longs only for “eloquence, for the better obteyning of this heavenly dame. … Me thinkes the glimsing of her eyes have in it a reflexion, farre more vehement than the beames of the sunne it selfe, and the sweetnesse of her heavenly breath, surpasseth the spiceries of Arabia” (48-9). When the teacher examines the results, he naturally finds “that Phylosarchus had spent the time in wryting of loving sonets, and Phylautus had also made verses in praise of Marshiall feates and pollycies” (60)—pure bawdry and manslaughter.

Willful indiscipline in life leads to decadence in serious thought as well as in literary modes. If concupiscence leads Phylosarchus to harlotry in The Glasse, intellectual pride leads Phylautus into heresy. Gnomaticus foresees the danger, albeit not in time:

Ye mindes of yong men … become often times so prowde & so headie, that they are caried rather away … in a vayne glorious oppinion of their owne wit. … Such have sũdrie philosophers bin in time past, who have so far gone in their owne peevish conceits … [as] to defend such propositions, as seeme most rediculous & estranged from reason … whereupon also hath sprong the damnable opiniõ of Atheysts.


Of course, Ascham thinks Italian corruption in religion is a joint danger with lechery.

[Englishmen Italianated] mock the pope, they rail on Luther; they allow neither side; they like none, but only themselves. … The heaven they desire is only their own present pleasure and private profit; whereby they plainly declare of whose school, of what religion they be; that is Epicures in living, and ἄθεοι in doctrine.


The downward path can go no further. The quick-witted, light-minded pair have ignored lessons and avoided tasks, have flouted discipline and challenged their elders, have fallen prey to sycophants and to bitter experience, have been poisoned in manners and in mind. The loyal servant Fidus reports to their fathers, “No sir they were gone also, but no man could tell me whether they were gone” (86), thus summoning a verbal echo of Ascham's sad lines on the fate of such youths, “[They] decay and vanish, men know not which way” (100). False morality, deliberately chosen, brings the bright sons of well-meaning parents to a bad end.

The results of their training lead to the third, and broadest, area of similarity between The Glasse of Governement and The Scholemaster: the ultimate aim of education. In The Glasse the dauntingly good Phylomusus and Phylotimus come into their own in demonstrations of humanist goals. In The Scholemaster, Ascham devotes no special passage or digression to fundamental aims, but he expresses his basic assumptions in his summaries of more specific points. The clearest example concludes his discussion of the value of good discipline and the detriment of experience:

[I wish] that the youth in England … should be by good bringing up so grounded in judgment of learning, so founded in love of honesty, as, when they should be called forth to the execution of great affairs, in service of their prince and country, they might be able to use, and to order all experiences … according to the square, rule, and line of wisdom, learning, and virtue.

(138; cf. 120, 146, 166)

Again, The Glasse offers a persuasive verbal echo.

Wee will continue the exercise of [your enstruction], and wee will thereunto joyne such holesome preceptes, as may become a rule and Squire, wherby the rest of your lyfe and actions may be guyded.

(17; italics added)

The true consonance between Ascham and Gascoigne lies not in rules but in the notion, general to humanism in both its Italian and its Erasmian forms, that education provides moral instruction for guidance in adult life. Wise judgment about conduct—sapientia—is far more essential than possession of information—scientia. For that reason Ascham places “The First Book, teaching The Bringing up of Youth” before “The Second Book, teaching the ready Way to the Latin Tongue.” For that reason he has “earnest respect to three special points; troth of religion, honesty in living, right order in learning” (86), and constantly couples “learning and honesty” as his goals. Similarly, Gnomaticus is not offering grammar school instruction in The Glasse. The fathers declare that their sons have completed primary education, and Gnomaticus briefly satisfies himself that they are right (12, 16). Like the pupils who come to The Scholemaster (87, 167), the four youths are being prepared for the university in moral, not merely intellectual, terms. Many repetitions make the point of ethical behavior agonizingly clear, and still Gnomaticus underlines it: young men must assuredly not be “onely trained in knowledge or artes, and never perswaded in points of reformation” (68).

While the virtuous education thus afforded is by no means vocational, for both Ascham and Gascoigne a practical end is in view. Unable to leave his own children “any great store of living,” Ascham instead bequeathes them “the right way to good learning; which if they follow … they shall very well come to sufficiency of living” (86).23 Worldly success, to be sure, is not merely monetary. Quick wits rarely “come to show any great countenance, or bear any great authority abroad in the world,” while slower learners prove “deep of judgment, whether they write or give council in all weighty affairs” (99, 101). The ability wisely to serve public life in the commonwealth is the result of Ascham's method, a result which cannot be obtained from the Machiavellian lessons of Italian travel (149, 163). Self-improvement and advancement through an education in virtue are acceptable goals for every man of able mind and worthy character, for “only good men, by their government and example, make happy times in every degree and state” (233).

Phylopaes and Philocalus, the parents in The Glasse of Governement, agree with Ascham's view of appropriate aspirations:

If we … have … heaped up sufficient store, not only to serve our own use, but further to provide for our posterity, then may they by learning aspire unto greater promotion, and builde greater matters uppon a better foundation. … Al desire of promotion (by vertue) is godly and Lawfull.


They hope to see their sons “prosper” and “their state promote,” and so dispatch them to the university, “trusting that you will there use such diligence, as may be to the profit of your Countrey and for your own advancementes” (14, 43, 63). Like Ascham, Gascoigne infuses the financial exigencies of sixteenth-century court life with humanist moral fervor. To achieve advancement requires virtuous behavior, so that the boys are taught ad infinitum “the summe of their duty first towardes God, then to their Prince, next to their parents, and consequently aswell towardes the benefite of their countrey, as also how to behave themselves to all magistrates, and officers in the same” (13). Gnomaticus' lessons provide, in due order, “for the salvatiõ of your soules, the comfort of your lyfe, and the profitte of your Countrey” (17). Properly instructed in civic duty, young men can—and the younger pair do—become “magistrates and officers in the same,” and magistrates are “the bones & sinowes of the Common wealth” (7).24 In short, Gascoigne echoes Ascham in expressing the tenets of civic humanism.

Service in public life is emphasized in The Glasse of Governement not only by the praiseworthy achievements of Phylomusus and Phylotimus but by two other characteristics of the play: the role of the Markgrave and the very title itself. Neither has any real precedent in the tradition of the “prodigal son” play. The titles of the plays which Herford surveyed all either name or describe the profligate youths they concern. Gascoigne's title is drawn from a different genre altogether, the speculum principis tradition which extends from Isocrates' Ad Nicoclem (c. 374 b.c.) to James I's Basilikon Doron. The hoary notion of learning conduct by observing examples to be imitated or avoided is expressed in the text of the play by Phylomusus' intentions toward Gnomaticus' lesson, “that in all my lyfe I maye make it a glasse wherein I may beholde my duetie” (35). Still more definite are Gascoigne's statements in the frame of the play. In the prologue:

Content you then (my Lordes) with good intent,
Grave citizens, you people greate and small,
To see your selves in Glasse of Governement.


And in the epilogue:

This christall glasse I polisht fayre and cleene,
For every man, that list his faultes to mend.


Gascoigne is, of course, also the author of The Steele Glas. Moreover, the “government” in question is not political or administrative rule but self-government, control of one's private life, as was the case in medieval treatises de regimine principum. Thus Gnomaticus states the purpose of his teaching as “to enclude as much as shalbe necessary for the perfect government of a true Christian” (18), and the older boys' behavior is three times named “misgovernment” (79, 80, 83).

Gascoigne and Ascham are fully in accord about the central necessity of teaching self-control to the young, in part through the use of good examples. However, the circumspect Ascham includes in The Scholemaster relatively little of the advice for actual rule which is common in the speculum tradition, for “my mind was not so much to be busy and bold with them that be great now, as to give true advice to them that be great hereafter” (147).25 He reflects the genre largely by insisting on the particular importance of training in conduct for noblemen's sons, and by acknowledging the position of counselor to the prince as the role in which such wisdom is most needed—and least apparent. Youths returned from Italy are

so singular in wisdom … as scarce they count the best counsellor the prince hath comparable with them: common discoursers of all matters, busy searchers of most secret affairs, open flatterers of great men, privy mislikers of good men, fair speakers with smiling countenances … openly to all men; … spiteful reporters privily of good men.


While such an analysis adequately describes the conduct of Gascoigne's Eccho—and “counsell” is displayed in the breach by him and by Pandarina (24, 36)—more significant elements of the speculum tradition are also reflected in The Glasse of Governement. The mirrors present the responsible monarch, not the tyrant, who accepts as burden, not pleasure, the task of gaining the love, not the fear, of his people through just laws and honest deputies. Thus Gnomaticus invokes a central contrast from the genre in his first lecture; “And yet with this feare you must also joyne love, for it is not with God as it is with Princes of the worlde, which to make themselves feared do become Tyrantes” (19). His second lecture expands on the themes, “that a king representeth the figure of God amongst men,” and that “next unto the king we are to consider the Magistrates which are appoynted for administration of justice, and polityke government … because they are the grave and expert personages, which devise lawes and constitutions for continuaunce of peace and tranquilitie” (28-9). Most important, Severus the Markgrave himself takes over the role of soliloquizing raissoneur in Act IV, in order to deliver the basic admonition of the traditional advice to princes:

Although it seeme unto some men a sweete thing to cõmaunde, yet whosoever cõpareth the burdẽ of such cares as are insidẽt unto his office, unto the lightnes of the pleasure which cõmeth by commaundement, he shal find, that much greater is the payne. … We are not borne onely for our selves, but parte our contrey also doth chalenge.


Act V is entirely concerned with the implementation of the greatest burden of office, careful administration of justice. Severus is determined that “the Sonnes of honest and welthy Burghers” shall not be seduced by “lewde fellowes” who “skape skot-free,” but he makes a great point of finding direct evidence, not executing summary punishment (79, 82-3). At the play's end, when rewards and punishments are evenhandedly dealt to those who deserve them, Severus speaks the principle he represents: “It is a happy commonwealth where Justice may be ministred with severitie, and where no mediacions or sutes may wrest the sentence of the Lawe” (86). On an Aristotelian principle commonly employed in specula, unwonted mercy or “vain pity” is as much a perversion of justice as is tyrannous cruelty. By his example, Severus has provided instruction in public policy that is a macrocosm to the microcosm of Gnomaticus' lessons in private morality.26

Such a conclusion, without doubt the “moral” of the play—resolving as it does both the Ascham-like distinction between “quick” and “hard” wits and wider issues as well—is patently not drawn from the “prodigal son” tradition. The final material on public justice is not explicit in The Scholemaster, either.27 But such a statement on justice was available to Gascoigne, among several contemporary versions of the speculum tradition, in The Boke named The Gouernour by Ascham's admired predecessor, Sir Thomas Elyot.28 Moreover, The Gouernour specifically applies speculum ideas to the work of local magistrates, employing that title and office with a frequency and connotation much like Gascoigne's. Finally, Elyot wrote a lesser-known, lengthy description of the just rule of Alexander Severus, entitled The Image of Governance.

If, in seeking precedent for The Glasse of Governement, attention is not confined wholly to other dramas, the prose treatises of Ascham and Elyot clearly appear to be sources for the ideas Gascoigne chose to dramatize. The molders of English literature in the sixteenth century, moreover, did not confine themselves within strict concepts of genre, as Gascoigne's constant experimentation amply proves. Elyot not only tried his hand at Platonic dialogues which are as “dramatic” as The Glasse, but he included as obiter dicta in The Governour,

[Comedies] be undoubtedly a picture or as it were a mirrour of men's life, wherin iuell is not taught but discovered; to the intent that men beholdynge the promptnes of youth unto vice, the snares of harlottes and baudes laide for yonge myndes, the disceipte of servantes, the chaunces of fortune contrary to mennes expectation, they beinge therof warned may prepare them selfe to resist or prevente occasion.29

Gascoigne required no Latin examples by Dutchmen, concerned with biblical stories, to inspire The Glasse; Elyot's brief description is closer to Gascoigne's realization than any Acolastus.

With the internal evidence for the relation of The Glasse of Governement to The Governour and The Scholemaster thus apparent, a very close connection to the continental Terentius Christianus is difficult to support. Gascoigne himself firmly disclaims any intent to imitate Terence.

A Comedie, I meane for to present,
No Terence phrase: his tyme and myne are twaine:
The verse that pleasde a Romaine rashe intent,
Myght well offend the godly Preachers vayne.


Within the play, Terence as a text for schoolboys is treated with exactly Ascham's chary attitude (17). Terentian elements are undoubtedly present, but uneasily so. The occurrence of Christianity in the play is equally problematical. True, Gnomaticus lengthily teaches piety, the fourth chorus preaches godly morality in biblical imagery and dogged poulter's measure, and Phylotimus is honored to be a Genevan pastor. But the presiding force at the conclusion is not so much God as the deus ex machina of the Markgrave, and the deliberately Stoic attitude of Philocalus toward his son's death is at least as much approved as the prayerful grief of Phylopaes. The iron law inherent in the outcome of the play is neither Christian nor very Terentian.

You see that right, which ever more hath raigned,
And justice both: do keepe their places still,
To cherish good, and eke to punish ill.


Within the creaking machinery, stern English common sense prevails.

Demonstration of the probable debt of Gascoigne's Glasse of Governement to the thought of Ascham and Elyot, rather than to continental Latin plays, has required detailed, even labored, examination. In view of Gascoigne's substantial achievements elsewhere, the wisdom of such close attention to a slender work may justly be questioned. But the play does have its small charms: I, v, offers an ironic parody of I, iv, Lamia seems a rather actable character, and the third chorus is quite a good poem. More important, The Glasse provides an example for the transmission of humanist values from the scholars of the early and mid-sixteenth century to the literary artists of the Elizabethan era.


  1. C. H. Herford, “Gascoigne's Glasse of Government,Englische Studien, IX (1886), 201.

  2. E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 1923), III, 321, classifies the play as closet drama; F. E. Schelling, Elizabethan Drama 1558-1642 (Boston, 1908), I, 65, notes the absence of any performance; F. S. Boas, “Early English Comedy” in CHEL, V, 109, and C. F. Tucker Brooke, The Tudor Drama (Boston, 1911), pp. 127-9, class it as an interlude. In the prologue to The Glasse, however, Gascoigne contrasts interludes to his own enterprise:

    An Enterlude may make you laugh your fill.
    .....Playne speech to use, if wanton be your wyll,
    You may be gone, wyde open standes the porte.
  3. George Gascoigne, The Glasse of Governement, in The Complete Works, ed. John W. Cunliffe, II, 5. All subsequent citations of Gascoigne refer to this edition and occur in the text.

  4. The most recent student of Gascoigne, Ronald C. Johnson, remarks tangentially that The Glasse embodies Ascham's views on quick wits, but he accepts the prodigal-son origin and takes a curiously modern line toward the play, stressing the role of Lamia, “the Harlot,” and discerning the theme as “society vs. the individual” (George Gascoigne [New York, 1972], pp. 147-55).

  5. Herford, p. 206.

  6. C. T. Prouty, George Gascoigne (New York, 1942), pp. 59-60. Professor Prouty examines the evidence in greater detail in “Gascoigne in the Low Countries and the Publication of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers,RES, XII (1936), 139-46. Cf. Abraham B. Feldman, “English Playwrights in the Netherlands Wars,” N&Q, CXCVII (1952), 530-3, on the quality of Gascoigne's experience there.

  7. Gascoigne, “The Fruites of Warre,” ed. Cunliffe, I, 165-6.

  8. Schelling, p. 66.

  9. Prouty, George Gascoigne, p. 14. The more detailed of these references is, “… such lattyn as I forgatt att Cantabridge. …”

  10. Herford, p. 205. Gnaepheus' Acolastus had appeared in England in a bilingual edition for schoolboys' instruction in Latin, and a copy of Stymmelius' Studentes dated 1570 is included in the Lansdowne MSS (Brooke, p. 124; Herford, p. 206). Given E. K.'s remark in glossing the “November” eclogue that “Gaskin … some partes of learning wanted (albee it is well knowen he altogether wanted not learning),” these are possible sources of his acquaintance with the genre. The English translator of Acolastus was John Palsgrave; Gascoigne, who loved a pun as much as the next Elizabethan, makes the “Palsgrave” (Pfalzgraf) a chief mover in his conclusion. Finally, Acolastus alone of the three continental plays introduces the Terentian meretrix and two parasites, as does Gascoigne.

    Although three English plays in this vein—the anonymous Nice Wanton and Misogonus and Thomas Ingleland's Disobedient Child—all preceded Gascoigne's treatment, all clearly descend independently from continental sources (Cf. Brooke, pp. 123-7; Boas, pp. 108-11; Schelling, pp. 63-5).

  11. Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster, in The Whole Works, ed. J. A. Giles, III, 98. All subsequent citations of Ascham refer to this edition.

  12. Gascoigne's “Fruites of Warre” is subtitled “Dulce Bellum inexpertis,” and he gracefully attributes the theme to “the fourth Chyllyade of that famous Clarke,” Erasmus (Works, I, 184). In The Glasse, his students are taught from the Colloquia, and the lesson of obedience is taken in part from the Apothegms (16, 28). C. S. Lewis has trenchantly observed that, though The Glasse “is divided into Acts and Scenes, the speeches (highly edifying) are so long and many scenes so undramatic that it reads more like an Erasmian ‘colloquy’ than a play.” English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (Oxford, 1944), p. 269.

  13. Lawrence Ryan, Roger Ascham (Stanford, 1963), p. 250.

  14. Ruth Kelso, The Doctrine of the English Gentleman in the Sixteenth Century (Urbana, 1929), p. 118.

  15. Prouty, George Gascoigne, p. 186.

  16. Gnomaticus marks in the older pair “towardnes … seemely gesture and modest boldnesse” (15)—the sort of oratorical qualities that Ascham places under euphues. Phylautus is said specifically to suffer from self-praise (45, 71), not to seek others' praise. The contrast is made abundantly clear in the epilogue:

    Who liste to learne, what dilligence may do,
    What humble minds, by studies may attayne,
    Let him behold, these younger brethren two,
    Whose wits at first, did seeme to bee but playne,
    Yet as you see, at last they got with payne,
    The golden fleese, of grace and cunning Skyll,
    Before the rest which followed wanton will.


  17. A tutor is far superior to instruction in “common schools,” Ascham scathingly makes clear (91-2, 94). Gascoigne believes that much more is required beyond such schools' provision: “[Our Sonnes] have hitherto bene thought toward enough at such common schooles as they have frequented, and therefore wil shortly be ready for the university, yet would I thinke convenient that they spent some time together, with some such honest and careful Schoolemaister, who might before theyr departure lay a sure foũdation to their understanding” (10).

  18. As the usage here suggests, Gascoigne customarily names the teacher “schoolmaster” or “instructor” and never “tutor,” although the latter term would follow humanist tradition as well as represent the situation in the play more accurately. In fact, “schoolmaster” appears at least eighteen times in the play; while Gascoigne's spelling is notably eccentric, he hits upon Ascham's titular form at least four times.

  19. “… and yet you must also therein observe decorum” (47-8). The brothers thus must satisfy the condition which Ascham also places under the heading “PARAPHRASIS,” “to understand, what in every matter to be spoken or written on, is in very deed nimium, satis, parum; that is for to say, to all considerations decorum” (185; cf. 240).

  20. The younger pair appear in six scenes in which they have only one or two sentences apiece or even in chorus. In their three “big” scenes, they are once ridiculed by the eavesdropping Dick Drumme, once cynically tricked by their brothers, and once seen tediously versifying someone else's ideas. So interchangeable are they that, in the final scene, even Gascoigne confuses whose son has entered which profession (cf. 75 and 87). The older two have many more lines, and are permitted to display some temperament.

  21. More villainy is added by two characters with a decidedly English, as well as Roman, ancestry—“Dick Drumme, the Royster,” and Pandarina.

  22. Their travel is, in one sense, educational: it is a brutal case of “learning by experience.” Gnomaticus soliloquizes that “unto some wittes neyther correction, nor friendly admonition, nor any other perswasion will serve, until their owne rodde have beaten them.” And he advises their fathers to “let them see the worlde a while: for such fine wittes have such an universall desire commonly, that they never prove stayed untill the black oxe hath troden on their toes” (80-1). His ominous images, and the conclusion of the play, show Gascoigne's affirmation of Ascham's opinion on this somewhat vexed humanist question. “Learning teacheth more in one year than experience in twenty; and learning teacheth safely, when experience maketh mo[re] miserable than wise. He hazardeth sore that waxeth wise by experience” (136). This topic occurs in The Scholemaster, as in The Glasse of Governement, between the other evils of lewd servants and foreign travel.

  23. Both Gascoigne and Ascham rather curiously use, at the outset of their works, bourgeois images to describe their efforts.

    Who list laye out some pence in such a Marte,
    Bellsavage fayre were fittest for his purse,
    I lyst not so to misbestowe mine arte,
    I have best wares, what neede I then shew woorse?


    [My Schoolmaster] doth his scholar no more wrong, nor deserveth no worse name thereby, than he doth in London, who, selling silk or cloth unto his friend, doth give him better measure than either his promise or bargain was.


  24. Once again, Gascoigne echoes The Scholemaster; speaking of the necessity for the educated to govern, Ascham says, “For [God] knoweth, that nobility without virtue and wisdom, is blood indeed, but blood truly without bone and sinews; and so of itself, without the other, very weak to bear the burden of weighty affairs” (123).

    Gascoigne even dramatizes The Scholemaster's views on the best roles for the educated to play. Not only does Ascham repeatedly couple “God and country,” “religion and commonwealth” as the proper spheres of duty (e.g., 116, 185), but he marks St. John's, Cambridge, graduates as “notable ornaments to this whole realm … either for divinity, on the one side or other, or for civil service to their prince and country” (235). Moreover, he thinks certain authors, specifically Terence, “base stuff for that scholar that should become hereafter either a good minister in religion, or a civil gentleman in service of his prince and country” (247). Gascoigne writes into Gnomaticus' lectures unusual emphasis on obligations to ministers and magistrates as well as to God and prince, and his two successful brothers become secretary to the Palsgrave and singularly commended minister in Geneva.

  25. On the speculum, see Lester K. Born, “Introduction,” The Education of a Christian Prince (New York, 1936), pp. 1-130; Allan H. Gilbert, Machiavelli'sPrinceand Its Forerunners (Durham, N. C., 1938); Felix Gilbert, “The Humanist Concept of the Prince and The Prince of Machiavelli,” JMH, XI (1939), 449-83. That Ascham knew the tradition is amply clear from multiple references in the letter to Elizabeth printed with The Scholemaster in Bennet's and Giles' editions. “And therefore was I very willing to offer this book to your Majesty, wherein, as in a fair glass, your Majesty shall see and acknowledge, by God's dealings with David, even very many like good dealings of God with your Majesty” (74-5). On his belief in teaching by means of example, see especially pp. 124, 142.

  26. Proper behavior to every rank in private life, also common in specula, is urged upon his sons by Phylopaes. “I … do charge you that you become gentle and curteouse to each other, humble to your betters, and affable to your inferiours in all respectes” (15). Compare Sir Thomas Elyot's presentation of “Majesty” and the qualities incident to it, particularly “affability” and “benevolence” (The Boke named The Gouernour, ed. H. H. S. Croft [London, 1883], II, 12 ff.). Again, the good governor maintains “equalitie without singuler affection or acceptaunce of personagis.” Elyot, II, 96.

  27. N. B., however, “The remedy of this [misorder] doth not stand only in making good common laws for the whole realm, but also (and perchance chiefly) in observing private discipline, every man carefully in his own house” (129).

  28. The best-known example of the influence of Elyot's concept of justice is of course Shakespeare's dramatization in Henry IV, Part II of the judge who stands up to Prince Hal. C. T. Prouty, aware of the close connection between Gascoigne and George Whetstone, believes that Shakespeare may have drawn the combination of low-life characters and a severe magistrate in Measure for Measure from The Glasse of Governement (“George Whetstone and the Sources of Measure for Measure,ShQ, XV [1964], 143-4). Reminiscences of Gascoigne's theme in the play are suggestive, but of course its conclusion is contrary—severity is taught a lesson. More convincing is Mary Lascelles' suggestion that here too Shakespeare drew directly upon Elyot (“Sir Thomas Elyot and the Legend of Alexander Severus,” RES, N.S. II [1961], 305-18).

  29. Elyot, I, 124-5. In the same paragraph Elyot alludes to “entreludes in englisshe,” a further anticipation of Gascoigne.

William L. Wallace (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: Wallace, William L. Introduction to George Gascoigne's The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene: A Critical Edition with an Introduction, pp. 4-70. Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1975.

[In the essay which follows, Wallace provides an in-depth analysis of both The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene.]

Maister Gascoigne is not to bee abridged of his deserved esteeme, who first beate the path to that perfection which our best Poets have aspired to since his departure; whereto he did ascend by comparing the Italian with the English as Tully did Graeca cum Latinis. …

Thus Thomas Nashe “To the Gentleman Students of both Universities.”1 But with the notable exception of Ivor Winters, who ranks George Gascoigne “one of the six or seven greatest lyric poets of the sixteenth century, and perhaps higher,”2 modern scholars and critics have neglected the poet's virtues. Yet Gascoigne's writing is better than either anthologies or literary histories usually allow, and his pioneering contributions to English poetry, practical literary criticism, prose fiction, and drama are unrivaled in number. His Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse is the first critical treatise on English poetry. The great variety of metrical and rhyme patterns in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres shows his delight in the technical possibilities of English verse, and Gascoigne makes the only significant use of the sonnet form between Surrey and Spenser. The Steele Glas is both the first original English verse satire written on Roman models and the first extensive original poem in blank verse. The prose Adventures of Master F. J., an account of a psychologically complex love affair told through a series of letters, has been called the first English novel.3 In drama, the Supposes, his translation of Ariosto's Suppositi, is the first English prose comedy; and his Jocasta, a translation of Dolce's version of Euripides' Phoenissae, is the first Greek tragedy to be translated into English and only the second to be written in blank verse.

His accomplishments are important, but his reputation as an innovator has hindered appreciation of the poems themselves. The stylistic tradition of The Steele Glas, its social and biographical background, its classical provenience as well as its place in Renaissance English satire have been too much neglected. This introductory essay will discuss the intentionally “plain style” of The Steele Glas, those aspects of Tudor social history and Gascoigne's biography which inform its tone and themes, the poem's large debt to Horace, Juvenal, Plutarch and Valerius Maximus as well as to native English sources, and finally its relation to the more obviously neoclassical English satirists of the 1590's and early 1600's. The composition and provenience of The Complainte of Phylomene, a poem of less interest, I treat separately.

Critics have naturally seen Gascoigne's work in the context of larger trends and movements and have compared him with later poets to whom his best work bears little relation.4 Since his best efforts belong to a “plain style” tradition soon eclipsed by the rhetorically ornate poetry of Sidney and Spenser, his reputation dimmed rather early. In 1615 Robert Tofte wrote:

This nice Age, wherein wee now live, hath brought more neate and teirse Wits, into the world; yet must not old George Gascoigne, and Turbervill, with such others, be altogether rejected, since they first brake the Ice for our quainter Poets, that now write, that they might the more safer swimme in the maine Ocean of sweet Poesie.5

Gascoigne is a far better poet than Turberville and such others, and his best poems belong within a tradition different from and opposed to the eloquent style of Tofte's ‘quainter’ poets. Both The Steele Glas and, to a lesser degree, The Complainte of Phylomene are written in a plain style purposefully opposed to the rhetorically ornate, “eloquent” tradition adopted by Sidney and Spenser. The eloquent style, with its Petrarchan tropes and amatory themes, was identified with courtly worldliness and deceit. The plain style aimed at open dealing and simple truth through a traditional colloquial directness. The chief characteristics of this plain style are “direct summary statement tending toward folk aphorism, a predominantly Anglo-Saxon diction, folk proverb and metaphor, and a tone of moral severity.” The best plain style poems speak with a distinctly personal voice: their “exact and forceful expression of truisms particularized by the poet's personal experience” elicit a concern for the personal and human implications of often accepted but seldom realized verities.6

The plain style satirist of The Steele Glas has disappointed readers who, aware of Gascoigne's reputation as an innovator, came to the first formal English verse satire expecting a strident, neo-Juvenalian satirist like Marston or Guilpin. They found the style and tone of Gascoigne's satire to be controlled by the satirist's moral emphasis and identification with the objects of his attack in a manner more closely related to Piers Plowman than to the hispid voices of the 1590's. Thus, they frequently limited their comments to the poem's native elements and ignored or denied its classical form and substance, its debts to Juvenal, Horace, Plutarch, Valerius Maximus, and other Roman writers.7 This is a serious misreading. The tone of the poem is contemplative and reflective, and its focus is on corruption and vice rather than on the railing anger of later Elizabethan satirists. But the satirist of The Steele Glas belongs to the tradition of formal satire. Gascoigne's female persona, Satyra, (who, despite her androgyny, remains identified with Gascoigne himself) is a blunt plain-dealer disgusted and almost overcome by the vices and follies of the time. Satyra-Gascoigne is moved to satire by remorse for his past life and sadness because of his own condition and the world's.

Gascoigne's contemporaries were expected to have known of Gascoigne the man and to recognize the personal allusions in the poem. Though the satiric persona (the hemaphroditic Satyra) is carefully developed according to classical example, she is intentionally and obviously the reformed George Gascoigne: the ruined heir of a wealthy knightly family, the courtier in disgrace, the poet censured for his scandalous works, and a soldier of fortune home from an unprofitable war.8 Both The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene were published as a part of his continuing efforts to overcome his reputation as a wastrel and rakehell, to establish a name as a respected and respectable poet, and to demonstrate his capacity for public office. Gascoigne, trying to survive the ruin of his patrimony, at least two imprisonments, the censure of his poetry, and a general notoriety sufficient to keep him from taking the seat in Parliament to which he had been elected in 1573, ambivalently presented himself as the prodigal who is in fact guilty of much, but whose errors have been exaggerated and whose repentance is scorned. In both poems he speaks in the sad and serious tone of one who has not only seen and experienced the world's follies and corruption, but has fully and actively participated in them to his regret and ruin. Gascoigne's satirist is not merely the simple countryman who can objectively criticize the court and town, but one who has been directly involved with all levels of the society he attacks.

Although Gascoigne's readers have assumed that his own career informs the strongly realized personal and pessimistic tone which distinguishes his best poetry, they have neglected the significance and context of his ruin. No one has yet stressed the heights in the Tudor hierarchy from which he fell. No one has measured the extent of his ambitions or weighed the pressures which led him to Gray's Inn and Elizabeth's court. One thinks of Gascoigne's origins as something loftier than yeoman stock and recalls that he wasted a good deal of land. And since he was a ruined place seeker when his poetry was published, he finds a place in our memory of barely gentle poets like Churchyard, Whetstone, and Peele. But Gascoigne's family was in fact among the wealthiest and best established of England's gentry. The Bedford Gascoignes were descended from Sir William Gascoigne of Gawthorpe Hall, Yorkshire, Henry IV's Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. (Sir William was popularly but incorrectly supposed to have imprisoned Prince Hal. 2 Henry IV. I. ii.) John Gascoigne, third son of Sir William, had moved to Bedford in the 1400's to marry Jane, sole heir of Lord Baldwin Pygot, and acquire with her the manors of Cardington and Dodyngton. From this time, the family history is one of advantageous marriages, good estate management, and the steady ingathering of wealth and influence. Early on, John Gascoigne lost Cardington to the Winters by siding with Warwick the Kingmaker in the Battle of Barnet in 1471. But by marrying Elizabeth Winter, Sir John's grandson, Sir William, gained the manor back. A shrewd and acquisitive man skilled in the patronage game, Sir William Gascoigne, George's grandfather, was twice sheriff of Bedfordshire, Cardinal Wolsey's Controller of the House, and, after the Cardinal's fall, steward to John Neville, Lord Latimer. Sir William's son, Sir John, continued the family tradition of marrying well. He went back to Yorkshire to marry Margaret Scargill, co-heir to Sir Robert Scargill's considerable property. Sir John held lands that entitled him (with Lord Latimer and others) to act as Almoner in royal coronations; he was Justice of the Peace, and Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire in 1542, 1553, and 1557.9 As Lawrence Stone has said, “the most prestigious position a country gentleman could hold was … that of knight of the shire, the representative of his county at Westminister.”10

A 1580 tax talley indicates the Gascoignes' relative financial standing among the gentry. Only eight hundred persons in all of England had lands valued at twenty pounds per year or more. George Gascoigne's 1568 inheritance, though diminished perhaps by half by large borrowing and bad relations with Sir John, amounted to £195 per year11 when “few … received more than one hundred pounds, while even the greater gentry had only a few hundreds at the most.” When there were only about sixty peers in England and fewer than three hundred knights, the young Gascoigne had inherited a place among the greatest of the gentry.12 But within a few years, he lay imprisoned for debt in Bedford jail, his patrimony squandered in courtier gallantry.

A number of economic, social, and cultural changes between the Battle of Barnet in 1471 and Queen Elizabeth's accession in 1558 presented obstacles to Gascoigne's remaining in Bedford and marrying well in the manner of his forebears. Most noticeably, the attitudes and practices of landholders were changing under the influence of a rapid price rise and an extraordinarily fluid land market. In earlier days, the lord had indeed been the head of his manor and responsible for the supervision and welfare of its tenants. Selling land was considered virtually immoral; changes in ownership and exploitation were being treated as mere commodities. Rackrenting, enclosure, and eviction accelerated. The increase in rents, prices, and standards of consumption made it difficult for either tenant or lord to live in his customary manner,13 though every tradition held that they must, condemning ambition as a deadly sin against commonwealth and God's cosmic order.14 Economic exploitation grew so much more efficient that England became the wealthiest country in Europe. But when he wrote The Steele Glas, Gascoigne had seen the effects of the new economics on those men who were unable to compete and fell from their station, men thrown off the land to become sturdy beggars, tenants whose lords enjoyed their rents in London and left the country prey to rackrenting lawyers serving as overseers.15 The involvement of gentlemen and peers in industry and trade, the abuse of monopolies, and the growth of usury especially upset those who, like Gascoigne, were unable to profit by these practices or were caught in their toils.16

Despite our perspective on these great changes, Elizabethans still thought of their society as an orderly, organic hierarchy of deferential relations; everyone had his place and ought to stay in it. The ensuing conflict between binding traditions and pressing realities made the times fertile for satire. The earlier hierarchical model in which each class had its traditional place and its duty to the commonwealth was no mere ideal but a once veridical image of the world and a plan for its perfection. The quickening of economic and societal change was not seen as ‘progress’ or ‘historical development’ but as acceleration in the world's decay.17 Gascoigne—the young landed esquire, the London gallant and courtier, the soldier of fortune, the ruined place seeker—experienced at first hand the decay and failure of this orderly cosmos, a degeneration which afflicted all degrees of society “from prince to poore, from high estate to lowe.”

But whatever the outlook of the ruined satirist in 1576, two decades earlier the allurements of London and the court had been irresistible to the young esquire. Not even the greater gentry remained any longer at home, busying themselves with country matters in the manner of old Sir John. Beyond the appeal of the court's glamour and adventure, the pressure of peer example, and the dream of securing high position, society had changed in ways which made it virtually impossible for Gascoigne to remain in Bedfordshire. England was now a princely national commonwealth. The decimation of old feudal families in the civil wars, a very purposeful Tudor policy of centralization, and a century of economic and cultural movement had made London and the court the hub of a centralized national life. Royal servants dependent on the royal favor had replaced the fifteenth century magnate whose influence frequently rested on how many acres and men at arms he could boast. The traditional hierarchy of birth was supposed to be maintained by educating the gentry and aristocracy to meet their new responsibilities in the modern state. Aristocrats and the greater gentry generally had first opportunity at public positions but were expected to prepare themselves for such service. No longer should they remain hunters and hawkers nor, even if inclined to learning, should they educate themselves for a contemplative life on their own estates. Instead, duty and fashion called them to serve the prince, the head of the national commonweal.18 But this renovation of medieval social ideals increased both social mobility and the traditional hostility toward it.19 The ideal of the gentleman educated to serve the commonwealth gave many young esquires new prospects as well as obligations. These opportunities at court were validated and publicized in such exemplary careers as those of Cecil and Hatton. The traditional life of the county gentry seemed, in contrast, backward and loutish.

When he wrote The Steele Glas, Gascoigne understood the relations of country to court, but his own career had taught him that self-interest blinded most to a proper concern for the nation. He had also seen those ambitious young men drawn too soon away from home and education, spoiled for duties in the country, and left financially and morally bankrupt—all before they gained the years or the experience needful to their country's welfare or their own. Tudor society as Gascoigne met it, despite the official opinions in the Homilies, was no longer an assembly of stable social classes. The courtier's place depended upon his ability to ingratiate himself with inner circles whose constitution might change with royal caprice.20 The movement, chiefly at London and at court, from class to class, estate to estate, was not the celebrated rise to power of the gentry, and yet it is undeniable that obligations and opportunities in London made traditional country life seem stagnant and dull.21

Gascoigne attended Trinity College, Cambridge, but left without a degree. In 1555, probably sixteen years old, he entered Gray's Inn to study law. How seriously he (or most of his fellow students) pursued a legal education is open to question. In the second part of the century, admissions to the Inns of Court rose as cultural life centered more and more on London and the court. Acquaintance with the law was useful in a litigious society, but for most intending courtiers the Inns were simply finishing schools. There were no academic entrance requirements, no compulsions to study law or anything else, and few restrictions on student conduct. With London and the court near and beckoning, it is no surprise that many of Gascoigne's fellows used the Inns simply as an entry to the gallant life in London and at court.22

In 1557, Gascoigne entered Philip and Mary's last Parliament as Burgess for Bedford; in 1558, he acted for his father as Almoner in Elizabeth's coronation. He was certainly active at court after Elizabeth's accession, but the emphasis in his poetry on his immaturity when first there suggests that he began this expensive life much earlier. When young Gascoigne came to court, he kept company with such well-connected ruffians as Arthur Hall, a ward of Cecil who resided in the Secretary's household, and Rowlande Yorke, a notorious tavern brawler who was to betray Zutphen to the Prince of Parma in 1586/87.23 Scarcely more than a boy, inexperienced in court subtlety, protected by no great personage, and expectably naive, he accepted the court's appearances at face value. In “The greene knights farewell to Fansie,” Gascoigne writes:

The glosse of gorgeous courtes, by thee did please mine eye, A stately sight me thought it was, to see the brave go by: To see there feathers flaunte, to marke their straunge devise, To lie along in Ladies lappes, to lispe and make it nice: To fawne and flatter both, I liked sometimes well, But since I see how vayne it is, Fansie (quoth he) farewell.24

“Gascoignes Wodmanship” provides a more damning account of the court itself. After Cambridge and Gray's Inn

… he shotte to catch a courtly grace,
And thought even there to wield the world at will,
But out alas he much mistooke the place,
And shot awrie at every rover still.
The blasing baits which drawe the gazing eye,
Unfethered there his first affection,
No wonder then although he shot awrie,
Wanting the feathers of discretion.
Yet more than them, the marks of dignitie,
He much mistooke and shot the wronger way,
Thinking the purse of prodigalitie,
Had bene best meane to purchase such a pray.
He thought the flattering face which fleareth still,
Had bene full fraught with all fidelitie,
And that such wordes as courtiers use at will,
Could not have varied from the veritie.
But when his bonet buttened with gold,
His comelie cape begarded all with gay,
His bumbast hose, with linings manifold,
His knit silke stocks and all his queint aray,
Had pickt his purse of all the Peter pence,
Which might have paide for his promotion,
Then (all to late) he found that light expence,
Had quite quencht out the courts devotion.
So that since then the tast of miserie,
Had bene alwayes full bitter in his bit. …(25)

The places available to courtiers fell into three rough categories. The first and largest consisted of keeperships of castles, parks, and royal lands: these were sought out by younger sons fearful of losing their gentility altogether. Second were the offices in service to a Leicester or a Burghley which guaranteed comfortable respectability if one survived. The adolescent Gascoigne aspired to the third group, those places which were dispensed by the Queen herself to a very small number with poise and wit enough to catch her eye. If one could keep her pleasure, there followed wealth, possibly title, and a place within the ruling circle.26 As Gascoigne saw so clearly at the last, his attempt to move into this system was immature and foolish. The money spent acquired him only a reputation for profligacy when he could have purchased a substantial position outright. And yet such imprudent attempts to be called to the tables of princes were not always unsuccessful. The twenty-year-old Christopher Hatton first attracted Elizabeth's attention by dancing in an Inner Temple masque, but he was then no more qualified for royal service than the young Gascoigne. Hatton's ancestry was scarcely gentle. Like Gascoigne he left his university before taking a degree and quit the Temple before being admitted to the bar. But Hatton's comeliness (sustained by competence developed in royal service) led to appointments as a Gentleman Pensioner, Captain of Elizabeth's Guard, Vice Chamberlain, and (without yet having been admitted to the bar) Lord Chancellor of England.27

The older, wiser Gascoigne of The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene had seen also the harsh, morally debilitating life at court. Social mobility brought social insecurity, an insecurity further complicated by the personal character of patronage. Suits were frequently delayed even after the right people had been paid. Outright bribery was common by Elizabethan standards and rampant by ours.28 And too much practice of the art of pleasing left many courtiers pliant sycophants without decency or loyalty. Christopher Hatton, doubtless a genuinely useful royal servant, remained a willing executor of the wishes of others—dependent till the last on his ability to please the Queen. Burleigh, Hatton's lifelong opponent who sometimes lost the Queen's favor but never her respect, found him “readier to change offence taken than any other with whom I have had like occasion.” When Mary Queen of Scots was finally executed and Elizabeth's wrath demanded a scapegoat, Hatton sacrificed his longtime friend and secretary William Davidson. When the Bishop of Ely was ill, Hatton blackmailed him for his London House. Hatton's behavior was determined by this total dependence on court favor, and his behavior was not anomalous.29

Gascoigne retired to Willington Manor in 1563; penury seems to have ended his first round at court. Expenses for clothes, ornaments, and servants were high for any courtier, and especially so for a young profligate like Gascoigne. Close Roll entries for 1562 and part of 1563 indicating payment of debts of over £1,000 hint at his pace of expenditure.30 Litigation was another ruinous expense. Elizabeth Bacon Bretton Boyes, a propertied widow with children, had married Gascoigne in 1562, though the legality of her earlier marriage to Edward Boyes was still unresolved. Boyes' claims to rights and property, litigation concerning the rights and property of the Bretton children, and the numerous suits arising out of Gascoigne's own unscrupulous efforts to raise money against his inheritance were to occupy much of his time and wealth for the rest of his life.31

Having retired to the country in 1563, Gascoigne was back at Gray's Inn in 1564 and 1565. To judge from his expenditures, by 1566 he was again back at court (from 1566-1570 the Close Rolls indicate paid debts of over £4,000 and the court records indicate sales and attempts to sell land).32 Also from 1566-1570 he was in continual litigation over his own and his wife's legal troubles. Even his inheritance in 1568 was insufficient to stave off his creditors and legal opponents; by 1570 he was a ruined bankrupt, imprisoned for debt in Bedford jail. His meditation on his disastrous career and condition are poignantly expressed in his poem written on the theme Magnum Vectigal Parcimonia:

I not denie but some men have good hap,
To climbe a lofte by scales of courtly grace,
And winne the world with liberalitye:
Yet he that yerks old angells out apace,
And hath no newe to purchase dignitye,
When orders fall, may chaunce to lacke his grace.
For haggard hawkes mislike an emptie hand:
So stiffely some sticke to the mercers stall,
Till sutes of silke have swet out all their land.
So ofte thy neighbors banquet in thy hall,
Till Davie Debet in thy parler stand,
And bids the welcome to thine owne decay.(33)

Despite his long association with Gray's Inn, the reformed Gascoigne chose to define himself as a poet and soldier. In The Steele Glas the law is one of the few professions treated wholly without sympathy. Lawyers are frauds concerned wholly with self-aggrandizement, agents of rackrenting lords who exploit those whom they should protect. But worst of all, they connive at and profit from the ruin of gentlemen and nobility.

After jail Gascoigne next reappears as a soldier of fortune in the Dutch wars. The story of this disillusioning campaign among an irregular band of greedy and undisciplined volunteers is told in his “Dulce Bellum Inexpertis.”34 He fought against the Spanish in two campaigns, in the second gaining honor, reward, and the personal friendship of Prince William of Orange himself. But in both adventures he found that even the most honorable profession was corrupted by the self-deluding pride that infected all of Elizabethan society.35 Gascoigne, especially as his fortunes disintegrated, was painfully aware that he came from a knightly family (his first poem published in 1566 had affixed his motto Tam Marti, quàm Mercurio, As Much for Mars as for Mercury). In The Steele Glas his knights are “worthy soldiers” and he himself is one of them. Because of his knightly self-perception and his military experience, the poem examines soldiery at greater length than any other estate.

In 1572, having failed his studies and exhausted his patrimony, disgusted with both soldiery and manor life, Gascoigne turned to poetry as a means to the recovery of his dignity. His wedding masque for Viscount Montague gained him patronage and election to Parliament in the winter of 1573. But his rehabilitation was hindered by both his dissolute past and his ‘vaine poetrie.’ Soon after his election to Parliament the Privy Council received an anonymous note endorsed “Against Georg Gascoyne that he ought not to be Burgess.” The note charged that while he had formerly dared not enter London for fear of arrest he now used his parliamentary immunity to flout his creditors. More damagingly, he was charged with being a notorious ruffian, a spy, “an Atheist and godlesse personne,” “a defamed person … noted as well for Manslaughter as well as for other great crimes,” and “a common Rymer and a deviser of slaunderous Pasquelles againste divers persons of greate calling.”36 Though Gascoigne's creditors were hardly disinterested, their charges illustrate the dissolute life he refers to in The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene. Rather than settle these troubles, Gascoigne hurriedly left on a second military expedition into Holland. No record of the alleged manslaughter remains, but the accusation may refer to a duel. His friendship with such notorious brawlers as Roland Yorke and Arthur Hall supports the epithet “ruffiane.”

The reference to his poetry and “Pasquelles” indicates the embarrassment his early ‘vaine poetrie’ was to cause him. When A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres had been published earlier in 1573, the Queen's Majesty's Commissioners banned it as immoral and libelous. Though the Flowres had been published anonymously it was immediately recognized as Gascoigne's. In the 1575 Posies Gascoigne acknowledged that his Flowres had “not onely bene offensive for sundrie wanton speeches and lascivious phrases, but further … the same have been doubtfully construed and (therefore) scandalous.” The Flowres contained a great deal of lascivious and amorous poetry. Gascoigne clumsily explained that he wrote it for others to use in pressing their attentions upon ladies of the court:

I thought good to advertise thee, that the most part of [these amorous verses] were written for other men. And out of doubt, if ever I wrote lyne for my selfe in causes of love, I have written tenne for other men in layes of lust.37

The charge of “slaunderous pasquelles” had equal currency and substance. Gabriel Harvey repeats it in an obituary poem on Gascoigne:

Me thinkes thou skornist seigniores
And gibist at thrice mightye peeres. …(38)

Specifically, The Adventures of Master F. J., a prose novella about courtly adultery, was read as a libelous roman a clef, perhaps upon Leicester himself.39

In 1575 Gascoigne published The Posies, which contained his two dramas and poems on his military experiences, as well as the revised Flowres. He revised and bowdlerized Master F. J., omitted three poems (which, since they are not obviously scandalous or libidinous, must have made specific people uncomfortable), and divided his matter into “Floures to comfort,” “Herbes to cure,” and “Weedes to be avoyded.” He then explained in prefatory epistles “to al the yong gentlemen” and “To the reverende divines” that he intended The Posies for the moral benefit of readers, for the improvement of the English language, and for proof of his worthiness for better employment. The Queen's Majesty's Commissioners, the ‘Divines’ to whom The Posies was dedicated, responded by banning it.

Thus, next year, in the 1576 The Steele Glastogither with The Complainte of Phylomene, Gascoigne's personae speak out of a remembrance of misdeeds past but also out of the intention of reform. If his talents and experience go wasted, it will be because of unforgiving judges and censorious critics.40 Having failed to clear his name with The Posies, Gascoigne needed a patron to whom he might justify and promote himself in future publications. A patron, or even a great man who accepted the dedication of a work, was a real asset. A strong man with a famous name could protect the poet and broadcast the merit of his work to buyers and critics.41 Patronage was especially important in the case of The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene: the reception or even the publication of a satire and an Ovidian poem of rape and atrocity depended in large measure upon their being recognized as sharp departures from Gascoigne's earlier ‘vaine poetri.’ Thus, he chose to dedicate them to a noble friend who already knew his poetry: Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, a prominent but moderate Puritan.42

Gascoigne intended The Steele Glas to be an obvious departure from his earlier work. It was to be an unquestionably serious, moral, and substantial poem, demanding the respect of even his most censorious critics. Thus he chose to write a formal verse satire in imitation of Horace and Juvenal. He chose blank verse (the meter of Gorbuduc, his Jocasta, and Surrey's translations from the Aeneid) as loftier and more praiseworthy than rhyme—a meter appropriate to the poem's intended dignity. Having only judgement and taste to guide him, Gascoigne could not know that Momus would soon declare the ten syllable couplet the only form for English verse satire.

The Steele Glas is the first conscious attempt to write in English a formal satire on the Roman model, combining native English and Roman material and technique. Gascoigne brought together two satiric traditions which were in the sixteenth century seen as much closer than they are today: the native English, best represented by Langland, and the classical, which for Gascoigne meant Horace and Juvenal.43

Aside from Wyatt and Skelton, neither of whom were considered formal satirists,44 Gascoigne had no English predecessors who had tried to unite the two traditions. Contemporary theory maintained that satire should viciously and mercilessly reprove the vices of men in harsh, obscure lines such as might be spoken by a fiercely unlettered woodland satyr,45 but theory was quite removed from actual practice. Thomas Drant's introduction to his 1566 translation of Horace illustrates this confusion. He describes satire as

… a tarte and carpyng kynde of verse, An instrument to pynche the prankes of men, … those that wyll them write, With taunting gyrds and glikes and gibes must vex the lewd, Strayne curtesy, ne reck of mortall spyte.

But only two pages before he has given a very different description of his translations:

I have done as the people of god wer commanded to do with their captive women that were hansome and beautiful: I have shaved of his heare, and pared of his nayles (that is) I have wyped awaye all his vanitie and superfluitie of matter. Further, I have for the moste parte drawen his private carpyng of this or that man to a general moral. I have englished thinges not accordyng to the vain of the Latin proprietie, but of our own vulgar tongue. I have interfaced (to remove his obscuritie and sometymes to better his matter) much of myne owne devysinge. I have peeced his reason, eekede, and mended his similitudes, mollyfied his hardnes, prolonged his cortall kynd of speeche, changed, and much altered his wordes, but not his sentence: or at leaste (I dare say) not his purpose.46

Like Drant's translations, most sixteenth century satires before the 1590's maintain a solemn moral tone, a serious and pessimistic view of society. They make their attack within a religious and moral framework influenced by the still strong homiletic tradition.47

The chief native influence upon The Steele Glas was Langland, whose Piers Plowman was to the Elizabethans the archetypal English satire. Poems like the anonymous Pierce the Ploughman's creede had dropped all allegorical content to attack political and ecclesiastical corruption. By the sixteenth century the Piers figure—rough, humble, but perceptive and honestly plainspoken, was a recognizable satiric type.48The Steele Glas draws more heavily for its themes and their treatment on Piers Plowman than on any later English poem.49 Langland and Gascoigne are both conservative in their view of the organization of society: Langland clearly subscribes to the principle of hereditary estates, condemning upstarts who leave their vocation (i.e., B. V. 25-27; B. VI. 317-319). But, as in The Steele Glas, all classes, including officers and nobles, have positive duties: it is not enough for magistrates and aristocracy to stop abusing those whom they have in charge; they must actively work for their welfare (i.e., B. III. 75-85; VI. 25-45).50 Neither Langland nor Gascoigne was a progressive advocating reform by royal decree or social reorganization. The roots of social and individual disease are in deadly sins like pride, envy, and avarice. Neither poet has any easy specific cures nor any expectation of immediate earthly reform. Both attack the failure of institutions and the men who run them, but they know that institutions depend for their character on inherently corrupt men. This attitude is best exemplified in their attitudes toward law and justice. Both poets treat these as important guides for human conduct, but they know that institutions depend for their character on inherently corrupt men. This attitude is best exemplified in their attitudes toward law and justice. Both poets treat these as important guides for human conduct, but for both, justice is an ideal, virtually opposed to the law as it actually exists.51

Though most satirists between Langland's time and Gascoigne's shared their religious and social conservatism, Gascoigne seems to have learned most from Langland's tone and technique. Since both identify with the objects of their satire, they avoid harsh shifts in tone from strident, self-demeaning contempt to serious exhortations to a virtuous satiric norm.52 Both use the enumeration of estates to show, in Raleigh's words, “unpartially … abuses all … from prince to poore, from high estate to lowe. …” Langland's exposure of the ubiquity of avarice as various types clamber about Mede suggests Gascoigne's catalogue of social stations and their typical vices:

To marie this maydene was many man assembled:
As of knightes and of clerkis and other comune poeple,
As sysours and sompnours, shireves and here clerkes,
Bedelles and baillives and brokoures of chaffare,
Forgoeres and vitaillers and vokates of the Arches. …

(B. II. 56-60)

Langland, like Gascoigne, uses anaphora and “when … then” clauses to heap up evidence for his satiric indictment. When the King asks Reason to forgive Wrong, Reason answers that she will not until the vices characteristic of each estate have been reformed:

                    ‘Rede me noughte,’ quod Resoun, ‘no reuthe to have,
Til lordes and ladies lovien alle treuthe,
And haten al harlotrye, to heren it, or to mouthen it;
Tyl Pernelles purfil be put in here hucche,
And Childryn cherissyng be chastyng with yerdes,
And harlotes holynesse be holden for an hyne;
Til clerken coveitise be to clothe the pore and to fede,
And religious romares recordare in here cloistres,
As seynt Benet hem bad, Bernarde and Fraunceys;
And til prechoures prechyng be preved on hemselven;
Tyl the kynges conseille be the comune profyte;
Tyl bisschopes baiardes ben beggeres chambres,
Here haukes and her houndes helpe to pore religious. …’

(B. IV. 113-125)

The same comprehensiveness and repetitive structure are found in the fifteenth century ballad “Nowe a Dayes.”53 Even Skelton, whose strident tone often anticipates the neo-Juvenalian imitations of the 1590's, organizes Colin Clout by estates. Colin Clout is not merely an attack on the proud Wolsey, but on the self-aggrandizing pride of the clergy, the nobility, and the laity—all responsible for the disorder of the times.54 Though Gascoigne was not drawn to Skeltonian invective, Skelton's development in Colin Clout of Langland's technique of accumulation, repetition, and parallel structuring of verse lines anticipates The Steele Glas:55

And where the prelates be
Come of low degree,
And set in majeste
And Spirtuall dyngnyte,
Farwell symplicitee,
Farwell humylyte,
Farwell good charyte!


Skelton is the only satirist between Langland and Gascoigne to focus on self-deluding, self-aggrandizing pride as the basis of human folly. When Barclay, Crowley, and Hake look to causes, they attack the secondary sins of greed and ambition. Usually they merely cite evils and recommend facile solutions. Barclay's criticism is socially comprehensive, but he is narrowly preoccupied with the universal desire to change one's estate for a higher:

Promote a yeman, make hym a gentyl man
And make a Baylyf of a Butcher's son
Make of a squyer knyght, yet wyll they if they can
Covyt in theyr myndes hyer promosyon. …(57)

Robert Crowley, the shallowest of the three in ideas, continues the same socially comprehensive attack together with narrow concern for the stability of social degree. His works show no overall plan or logical division coming from a coherent view of society: his Epigrams proceed alphabetically from “Abbayes” and “Allyes” (bowling) to “Usururs.” When he does assert the ideals of common weal and the stewardship of goods (“You are not borne to your selfe”) he directs them to usurers, rather than the landlords and monopolists who were still supposed to respect them. Both his simplicity and optimism are evident in the full title of The Voice of the Last Trumpet:

The voyce of the laste trumpet blowen bi the seventh angel as is mentioned in the eleventh of the apocalips callynge all the estates of menne to the right path of their vocation, wherein are contained xii lessons to twelve several estates of menne, which if they learne and follow, al shal be well and nothynge amise.58

Edward Hake's News from Powles Churchyard is a framed series of soliloquies overheard by a man raving outside of St. Paul's. He enumerates the vices of each estate and finds avarice to be the cause of all.59 Barclay, Crowley, and Hake could at most have reinforced what Gascoigne got firsthand from Langland. His tracing of the causes of the world's evils beyond mere covetousness to self-aggrandizing pride (cupiditas) is closer to Langland's satiric view than to any poet between.

Gascoigne's debt to classical satirists and moralists is as important as his relation to Langland and the English tradition. The Steele Glas is modeled on the formal verse satires of Horace and Juvenal. Much of its substance, exempla of ancient virtue, is taken from classical historians, chiefly Plutarch's Lives and the Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium of Valerius Maximus. The satires of Horace and Juvenal, usually discursive monologues written in a colloquial style and frequently addressed to a specified audience, provided Gascoigne not only a pattern for The Steele Glas but also models of serious moral and ethical criticisms of vice presented against strongly realized traditional norms.

Much in Juvenal touched a sympathetic chord in Gascoigne: his general pessimism about the state of Rome and his attacks on the imperial court, his sense of a plainer, greater past against which the luxurious and effete present must be measured (6.286-351), the use of historical exemplars to point up present vices (8.211-235; 10.246-288), criticism of nobles and officers who failed their social obligations (7.150-214; 8), and especially the strong and acerbic note of personal disappointment, the profound and pervading resentment of a society which allows upstart favorites to root deserving men from office (1.26-29, 129-131).60 Though Juvenal is reticent about personal details, his life as a penurious place-seeker, a resentful hanger-on of the rich, undeniably influenced the themes and tone of his poetry. Gilbert Highet has constructed from available evidence a life similar in outline to Gascoigne's: Juvenal, a young Roman of high position in his town, came to Rome and tried his fortune at the imperial court; he failed to achieve promotion and grew disgusted with the sycophants he met. A lampoon against the influence of Domitian's favorites drew the emperor's wrath, and Juvenal was banished to the provinces. At the accession of the new emperor Nerva he returned to Rome a penurious client. Carefully avoiding reference to living persons, he expressed his bitter insights in strident satire.61 Gascoigne shares Juvenal's scornful pessimism and his sense of personal injustice and humiliation, but his invective foregoes Juvenal's aggressive, strident indignation and the ruthless lust for blood so much valued by the English satirists of the 1590's.

The tone and technique of The Steele Glas remind one more of Horace, who, like Gascoigne and Langland, identifies with the objects of his satire. He refuses to damn Rome or Romans absolutely. Horace's satire is like Gascoigne's in its mode of autobiography; the satirist is a part of his corrupt world and refers to his own life in it. Though he frequently sermonizes and holds the reader at a distance, his topics include the importance of acknowledging one's own faults (Sat. 1.3. 19-37) and mutual toleration among friends (Sat. 1.3. 38-76). Unlike Juvenal, who held all vices to be equally evil, Horace argued the necessity of a humane recognition of different degrees of wrongdoing (Sat. 1. 93-119).62 These themes occur frequently in The Steele Glas as Gascoigne first subjects himself to scrutiny in his mirror (223-252), identifies himself with the soldiers to whom he is preaching (473), and asks his priests to pray for him as well as the rest of society (1123-1130).

Today, we too frequently read Horace simply as an urbane, genial, witty, all-observing, but all-forgiving man of the world.63 But from antiquity to the eighteenth century Horace, like Juvenal, was read primarily for his moral content. The first translator of the Satires into English called them A Medicinable Morall …, and even such scholarly editors of the Opera omnia as Denys Lambin and Henri Estienne valued them chiefly for their ethical emphasis.64 Though every age discovers in the artifacts of earlier times whatever it most enjoys and values, the Renaissance understood Horace's moral themes with particular sympathy. Although his satiric norms are rooted in Roman instead of Christian virtue, his themes, substance, and tone are quite compatible with the native English tradition.65 Like Gascoigne, Horace denied that satire maliciously attacks specific persons (Sat. 1.4. 64-102) and stressed its straightforward, prosaic nature and its educational purpose (Sat. 1.4. 38-66, 103-136). Gascoigne valued in Horace the perspicacious satirist who penetrates the world's hypocrisy and self deception to reveal to his readers the truth of their human condition (Sat. 1.4. 103-136). The function of satire was the examination of states of being and their consequences; if the truths enforced were truisms honored in the breach, so much greater the need for their reinforcement.

Gascoigne, like Horace, Shakespeare, and Pope, analyzed institutions in terms of their member's characters. In this he found material useful to hand in the classical moralists Valerius Maximus and Plutarch. Both writers are dominated by their didactic purpose at the expense of fact. Drawing uncritically from earlier authors, both subordinate historical accuracy and perspective to their interest in anecdotes which illustrate specific qualities of character. But their emphasis on the isolated speech and deed made them all the more useful. Gascoigne draws most of his exempla, good and bad, from these two authors.

Plutarch, though he has suffered in prestige in the last hundred years, was from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century the standard source from which educated men drew their conceptions of the ancient classical world. Gascoigne would have been especially sympathetic to Plutarch's political and social conservatism, his emphasis on the dangers of ambition and self-deluding pride, his insistence on distinguishing between minor vices and major crimes, and his emphasis on the absolute necessity of military discipline.66 The Lives were not available in English until Sir Thomas North's translation of 1579 (‘Shakespeare's Plutarch’) but were easily accessible in Latin, in the Italian translations of Domenichi (1555) and Sansovino (1564), and the more convenient French of Amyot (1559).67 Plutarch was, of course, a biographer and moralist, not a historian. His purpose was to record the virtues of the great so that his readers might be improved and society be made better and more cohesive. Believing that the private character of public men determines the course of history, Plutarch emphasizes their individual human qualities at the expense of their broad historical significance.68 He praises Alexander for his stern and impartial justice (Vit. Alex. 42.1-2, 43.3; cf. 22.1-5, 57.203) and reports that Pericles chided his friends for praising his military victories instead of his equity and impartiality to domestic enemies (Vit. Per. 38.3-4). Gascoigne draws directly on these passages (310, 717; 544-553), directly paraphrasing the anecdote about Pericles.69

Unlike Plutarch's Lives, Gascoigne's other main source of illustrative moral anecdote, the Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX of Valerius Maximus, had an important place in medieval as well as Renaissance education. This is attested by two late epitomes and a great number of manuscripts. The editio princeps was published about 1470 in Strassburg, the Aldine edition appeared in 1502, and the edition of Stephanus Viandus Pighius was published in Antwerp in 1567. The work is hardly read today, but it was well known by Petrarch and Montaigne.70 In Valerius as in Plutarch Gascoigne found political and social conservatism and emphasis on military discipline. But the chief appeal of the Factorum was utilitarian. It is a reference book for orators, a collection of sententiae and anecdotes. In the first sentence of the dedication Valerius announces his purpose and plan: he has collected together under appropriate headings memorable deeds and sayings to save his readers from having to consult the authors (e.g., Cicero, Livy, Varro) which he himself ransacked.71 Each of nine books is divided into chapters on separate moral and philosophical topics, and each chapter is further subdivided into Roman and foreign (mostly Greek) examples. Two chapter titles from each book will illustrate its commonplace character as well as its variety and scope:

I. “Of Religion,” and “Of Omens”

II. “Of Military Discipline,” and “Of Magistries”

III. “Of Bravery,” and “Of Degeneracy”

IV. “Of Moderation,” and “Of Generosity”

V. “Of Gratitude,” and “Of Ingratitude”

VI. “Of Chastity,” and “Of Justice”

VII. “Of Wise Sayings or Acts,” and “Of Necessity”

VIII. “Of Industry,” and “Of Eloquence”

IX. “Of Luxury and Lust,” and “Of Avarice”

The work has none of Plutarch's excellence, but its variety and convenience insured its popularity as long as an epideictic rhetoric of praise and blame remained a major influence on English poetry.

Though there are direct links between the Roman satirists and Gascoigne, the consistent structural principle of their formal verse satires is thematic: some irrational vice or folly with many ramifications is turned about for exposure and illumination—and its opposing virtue recommended. Whatever techniques the formal satirist uses, the satire is held together by its argumentative core, that satirical point which all the devices are supposed to prove. Regardless of whatever appearance of simplicity or nonchalant urbanity the satire may have, underneath there is the didactic and dialectic argument—the vice and its correction.72The Steele Glas frames one vice at the root of Elizabethan corruption—willful “pevishe pride” or “surcuydry” which blinds men to their real good. The satire attacks self-deluding pride by means of the steel mirror, which exposes and illuminates the manifestations of this root evil throughout the infected Elizabethan society. After this arraignment, Gascoigne prescribes his cure: “true humilytie” such as is found in Epaminondas (697-712), Pericles (544-554) and Augustus Caesar (581-584, 770-780), as well as in Piers Plowman (1030).

The title of Gascoigne's poem, The Steele Glas, denotes a mirror of burnished metal like those used by the ancients and thus indicates that this formal satire is based upon Roman models. But more important, the glass (or glasses; one steel, the other crystal), has an actual and symbolic function within the poem itself. The satirist and his contemporary Maecenas, Lord Grey, are looking into a steel mirror together. Gascoigne occasionally addresses one of the groups he sees in the mirror but more often speaks personally to his friend. The newfangled crystal glass of proud self-delusion gives a false and flattering picture of society and its members, a view which is responsible for the decline of all estates. The plain, rough steel glass inherited from Lucillius, the founder of Roman satire, will not flatter. It sees through cant, hypocrisy, and deception to reveal not only the actual condition of persons and estates but also the ideal from which they have declined. The contrast between the two mirrors is developed at the beginning of the poem. Throughout, the steel mirror both denies self-delusion and emphasizes honest perception of actuality against the poem's ideal satiric norms.73

Gascoigne's Satyra is a carefully developed persona moved to satire by grief and sadness: both personal, for her own woes, and general, for the world which is so badly out of joint. Her development both establishes her satiric credentials and provides motivation for her sweeping indictment of Elizabethan society. Because of his reputation for profligacy and the censoring of two earlier publications, Gascoigne cultivates an image of a sincerely repentant prodigal whose every late effort is maliciously misrepresented and suppressed by envious, unforgiving critics. Nevertheless, he continues to write plain, honest works based upon his personal experience of past error and his appreciation of the hard truths within commonplaces he had ignored in his youth. After the ‘Epistle Dedicatorie’ has ambiguously confessed to actual misdeeds (which are nonetheless too severely punished), the exordium allegorically separates Gascoigne's life into two periods represented by two sisters. The younger sister is Poesys, the title of Gascoigne's early amatory poetry which had been condemned; the elder is Satyra, the second-born twin of Poesys. The Steele Glas is, of course, written from the older Satyra's point of view. Poesys married Vaine Delight (Gascoigne's lascivious early poems), who raped Satyra and silenced her by cutting out her tongue with a “Raysor of Restraynte.” Satyra's suffering and sorrow inform the serious, pessimistic tone of the satire. In the six short stanzas outlining the confinements under which she sings, Gascoigne links Satyra's personal grief to her more generalized grief for the whold world. After describing her condition, she explains:

“And thus I meane, in mournfull wise to sing …
A trustie tune …
A playne song note. …
For whyles I mark this weak and weary world,
Wherein I see, howe every kind of man
Can flatter still, and yet deceives himselfe. …,

(ll. 157-163)

I see and sigh (bycause it makes me sadde)
That pevishe pryde, doth al the world possesse. …”

(ll. 174-175)

The poem's didactic thesis is that the whole commonwealth is dominated by willful, self-aggrandizing and self-deluding pride. This pride blinds men to their real nature and makes them indifferent to their proper dignity and obligations. The concern for honest perception and integrity informs the whole poem, even its most conventional details, and gives it a thematic coherence rare in Renaissance satire. In the exordium, deceptive courtiers seduce Poesys into marrying Vaine Delight, who rapes Satyra and cuts out her tongue to conceal his own lewdness. Satyra sings her plainsong in the night of the commonwealth's self-deception to make Reprovers see themselves honestly in the Steele Glas. The world is ‘pevishe,’ lacking in ‘good foundation’ (213); it refuses to see itself correctly unless plainly confronted. Satyra can see plainly: her view is rooted in experience (224-248) and she has not only witnessed but also suffered the vanities of human pride.

Because of its strongly and personally realized satiric stance, The Steele Glas achieves a depth and coherence rare among both its predecessors and the neo-Juvenalian satires which followed. Gascoigne's attack on the evils of Elizabethan society is more profound than those of Crowley and Hake, or those of Marston and Guilpin who followed him in the 1590's. The misdeeds of avaricious soldiers, lawyers, merchants, and ministers grow ultimately from their failure to see themselves truly and maintain their right relation to society. Gascoigne's priests pray that all governing estates remember the twin ideals of truth and commonwealth (813 ff., 883-890). Concern for honesty and plain-dealing colors even the longest of the poem's catalogues (1066-1120): when the ideal priests ask when their prayers can stop, the answer is a review of nearly every position in English society—in effect, not until that great busy day when men must be honest with themselves and one another. Barclay, Hake, and Crowley had also enforced a moral standard upon society, but their morality is almost wholly on the surface of conventions accepted but mostly ignored by right-thinking people.

Though they are markedly different in tone and satiric focus from their English predecessors, the satires of the 1590's are marred by the same easy acceptance of social and literary conventions (though the conventions themselves are often quite different). While the focus of early satire was on the objects of attack and the standards by which they were judged, the focus in most neoclassical English Renaissance satire is on the satirist and his indignation. This satirist's artificially cultivated moods are seldom of much interest; His posture is an assumed and artificial hostility.74 Marston addresses his poetry “To Detraction” and dedicates The Scourge of Villany “To his most esteemed and best beloved Self.”75 Hall's satiric pose reminds one of a small boy throwing stones:

Nowe laugh I loud, and breake my spleen to see
This pleasing pastime of my poesie,
Much better than a Paris-garden Beare,
Or prating puppet in a theatre.
Go to then ye my sacred Sermones,
And please me more the more you do displease.(76)

Though the devil-may-care quality of these poems is initially appealing, it does not last. The great majority of these neo-Juvenalian formal satires are thematically shallow. More concerned with writing a satire than with satirizing important and fundamental human failings, their authors attack violations of accepted social norms such as extravagance in fashion, bad manners, and social pretension and affectation. There is little of the deeply felt ethical concern found in Langland and Gascoigne. Thomas Bastard, for instance, attacks usurers not so much for lending money at exorbitant interest as for their shamelessness in daring to mix as equals with reputable merchants and gentry. Social intrusiveness, not immoral assaults against the common weal, is Bastard's chief complaint.77

Donne is the best and most profound writer of formal satires in the sixteenth century. Among the satirists, of course, he is far the best poet as well, but the permanent appeal of his satires owes to qualities also apparent in Gascoigne's work: his concern for morality rather than mere propriety and his empathy with the subjects of his satire. Like Gascoigne, Donne recognized the blinding, warping effect which selfish pride has on human values: “Selfelove cannot be called a distinct sin … but the roote of all sins.”78 Though Donne's “Satyre I” uses the device of a Horatian stroll79 to satirize a fop's absorption in such superficial braveries as tobacco taking and modish clothing, his subject is actually the young man's typical blindness to virtue. A monologue sets up the satiric criterion against which the young man's values as well as his behavior must be judged:

Why shoulds't thou (that dost not onely approve,
But in ranke itchie lust, desire, and love
The nakednesse and barenesse to enjoy,
Of thy plumpe muddy whore, or prostitute boy)
Hate vertue, though shee be naked, and bare?
At birth, and death, our bodies naked are;
And till our Soules be unapparrelled
Of bodies, they from blisse are banished.
Mans first blest state was naked, when by sinne
Hee lost that, yet hee was cloath'd but in beasts skin. …


“Satyre IV” illustrates Donne's identification with the objects of his satire: he recognizes that he, unlike the fop who afflicts him, has no suit to press, no reason for being at court other than the vanity common to postlapsarian humanity (ll. 7-20). Perhaps it is Donne's “Satyre V” on courtiers and suitors which links him most closely to Gascoigne. After describing the evil fortunes of suitors who (like Gascoigne) lose their patrimony seeking to increase it, Donne turns on the object of his commiseration and charges him with self-destroying blindness to his own good:

O wretch that thy fortunes should moralize
Esops fables, and make tales, prophesies.
Thou'art the swimming dog whom shadows cosened,
And div'st, neare drowning, for what's vanished.


Gascoigne's guiding concern with this theme of human pride and perception makes The Steele Glas not only an important experiment, but also the most significant satire between Skelton and Donne.


Though an interesting poem, The Complainte of Phylomene has neither the serious purpose nor the unity of The Steele Glas. Despite Gascoigne's profession of observing “the same determinate invention” throughout, the poem is a mixed effort. One notes this in its two verse forms and in Gascoigne's statements in the prose dedications at its beginning and end. With sections written and altered from 1562 to 1576, the thematic emphases of the early poulter's measure “Fable of Philomela” are different from those of the pentameter frame tale.

It appears that the poet started with a rough paraphrase of the Philomela story in Ovid's Metamorphoses, to which he added some emphasis on standard complaint motifs (“The Fable of Philomela,” ll. 1-612). Then, probably in 1575, he added the frame tale (“Philomene” and the Conclusion) and that part of the “Fable” (ll. 613-808) that explicates and moralizes the nightingale's notes.

In the 1575 revision he uses the early paraphrase, “The Fable of Philomela” as the central exemplum in a moral complaint. This revision incorporates and alters devices taken from the Old French love vision (the chanson d'aventure) as inherited from Chaucer and fifteenth century Chaucerians. Unlike his chief source, The Mirror for Magistrates complaints, Gascoigne tells the central narrative exemplum, “The Fable …,” in the third person and uses it to enforce a personal and moral rather than a political theme. This theme—the horror of lechery and the importance of chastity—is further enforced by eighty-two lines of autobiographical allusion added with the prose note dated April, 1576.

Gascoigne began The Complainte of Phylomene in April of 1562, and left it substantially alone until April, 1575, when he wrote the first prose dedication. He completed the poem and its final prose appendage in April, 1576. Gascoigne invited speculation as to what was composed when by challenging Lord Grey “to gesse (by change of style) where the renewing of the verse may be most apparantly thought to begin.” We may assume that the poulter's measure paraphrase of Ovid's narrative (“The Fable” 1-612) was composed first since Gascoigne's other poulter's measure poems are early compositions and because this paraphrase relates the Philomela story on which the exegesis of the notes of the nightingale and the pentameter introduction and conclusion are based. Though Gascoigne may have paraphrased Ovid's narrative in 1562, the indebtedness of this section of the poem in both details and phrasing to Thomas Cooper's 1565 Thesaurus and William Golding's 1567 translation of The Metamorphoses indicates that he at least modified the “Fable” after 1567. The nightingale's reference to speaking against her sex (389) also indicates that the central exemplum was modified after the frame tale was planned or written.80

Gascoigne's invitation to “gesse by change of style” where he took up again provides another method of determining which parts follow which. “Style” here refers both to moral emphasis and to metrical differences between the frame tale and the “Fable.”81 The shift in moral emphasis indicates that the additions start with the moralization of the nightingale's notes beginning at l. 613 of the “Fable.” Changes in Gascoigne's metrical preferences suggests that the pentameter frame tale was written after the poulter's measure paraphrase of Ovid. Since the frame tale is a later addition but contains with its narrative structure both a description of the nightingale's notes and the dreamer's wish for their explication, lines 613-808 of the “Fable” are connected in terms of composition, and were thus also written in 1575. The first eight lines of the concluding pentameter section complete the frame tale and logically belong to the section composed in 1575, but lines 9-90 must be that portion of the poem finished in 1576. They are really an epilogue explaining the moral application of the preceding poem and relating it to Gascoigne's life. Also, these eighty-two lines are addressed directly to Lord Grey, as in the 1576 prose note.

Thus, lines 1-612 of “The Fable of Philomela” were completed first, sometime after 1567. Then, in 1575, the prose dedication to Lord Grey, the introductory pentameter lines, the remainder (613-808) of the poulter's “Fable,” and the first eight lines of the concluding pentameter section were written. The final autobiographical eighty-two lines of the concluding pentameter section with the concluding prose note to Lord Grey were written in April of 1576.

The earliest section of the poem is an unabashed paraphrase of Ovid which suppresses Ovid's decorative details and adds standard contemptus motifs of fickle fortune and the unsteadfastness of this world. But this section is, strangely enough, a more significant predecessor of such narrative verse tragedies as Daniel's Complainte of Rasamund than is the poem as a whole. The complete poem—for all its theme of personal, instead of political morality—looks backward to The Mirror for Magistrates and fifteenth century allegory. Gascoigne's interest in a single figure, Philomela, and the events motivated by her character and behaviour causes him to suppress most of Ovid's description and psychological interest in other characters. Compare, for instance, Gascoigne's curt four-line treatment (133-136) of the evening's banquet and Tereus's lustful state with the following passage from F. J. Miller's Loeb translation:

Now Phoebus' toils were almost done and his horses were pacing down the western sky. A royal feast was spread, wine in cups of gold. Then they lay them down to peaceful slumber. But although the Thracian king retired, his heart seethes with thoughts of her. Recalling her look, her movement, her hands, he pictures at will what he has not yet seen, and feeds his own fires, his thoughts preventing sleep. Morning came and Pandion, wringing his son-in-law's hand as he was departing, consigned his daughter to him with many tears. …82

VI. 486-493

Gascoigne's intention in “The Fable” was not to write a sensuous Ovidian poem; he prunes that part of Book Six dealing with the House of Pandion to focus on what happened to Philomela and why.83 In addition to this sharp focus on a single figure, the early paraphrase of Ovid also anticipates other characteristics of later she-tragedies: their personal rather than political subjects, their heightened dramatic elements, and the flaws of character which motivate and render credible their protagonists' falls.84 Gascoigne's shift from Ovid's delight in Philomene's beauty to a study of its tragic implications looks forward to Daniel's Rosamund with its interest in a single tragic character who misuses her beauty and is trapped by the consequences.85

An examination of Gascoigne's treatment of Ovid's tale of Philomela makes clearer his anticipation of the tragic narratives of the 1590's. He concentrates on the description and psychological exploration of one character. He preserves entire such scenes as that of Philomela's rape (209-228) but condensed much of the rest. In lines 425-436 of “The Fable” Gascoigne describes the action dramatically, in contrast to Ovid's third person report:

… Philomela could not lift her eyes to her sister, feeling herself to have wronged her. And, with her face turned to the ground, longing to swear and call all the gods to witness that that shame had been forced upon her, she made her hands serve for voice.

VI. 605-609

Gascoigne's effort to motivate and make credible Philomela's fall is the most mature feature of “The Fable” and the one which relates it most closely to later Elizabethan she-tragedies. There had been little emphasis on internal causation in earlier Elizabethan narrative; in the 1559 Mirror for Magistrates fortune was to blame and an ethic of contemptus mundi is implicit. Of all nineteen tragedies of the 1559 edition, only those of Mowbray and Clifford are motivated by genuine tragic retribution. In only one of these does the fault punished resemble a flaw in character which leads to downfall in a secular world.86 In Gascoigne's account, Philomela's own character and actions are responsible for her tragedy. Her vanity and willful pride in her beauty are important causes of her misfortune (81-84). These traits, which complement her more justifiable vengefulness, are added to Ovid's account. In The Metamorphoses, there is no hint of her wrongdoing:

Philomela entered, attired in rich apparel, but richer still in beauty; such as we are wont to hear the naiads described. …


And in Ovid's account, the onus of blame is totally on Tereus:

The moment he saw the maiden Tereus was inflamed with love, quick as if one should set fire to ripe grain, or dry leaves, or hay stored away in the mow. Her beauty, indeed, was worth it; but in his own case his own passionate nature pricked him on, and besides, the men of his clime are quick to love: his own fire and his nation's burnt in him.


Gascoigne suppresses all mention of Thracian lechery so that “hir looke” and “comely garments” not only “prinke it out her part” but are wholly responsible for pricking up Tereus's lust as well (77-90). Gascoigne's characterization makes him merely the instrument of Philomela's rape, to which her pride and vanity have laid her open.

Gascoigne's late additions make the poem a moral complaint modeled on fifteenth century nightingale poems. The fierce morality which Gascoigne draws from his narrative and explication may seem ill-suited to his material—an Ovidian tale within a love vision induced by a bird identified with courtly love—but this combination was not incongruous in the Renaissance. Throughout the Middle Ages Ovid had been interpreted allegorically and moralistically by men who believed that he had had a thorough acquaintance with the Old Testament. In 1565 Golding still felt obliged to explain Ovid's account of creation in terms of Genesis, and as late as 1632 Sandys explained the ‘philosophical’ sense of the Metamorphoses.87 Ovid's tales were frequently the texts for moral homily. In 1560 one T. H. wrote The Fable of Ovid Treting Narcissus, Translated Out of Latin into English Mytre, with a Moral Thereunto, Very pleasant to Rede. Narcissus, of course, is damned by vanity, and the usual contemptus theme is enforced: honors and riches may be desired, but “they wracke them that possess.”88

And the nightingale was not always an accomplice in illicit couplings; her song was frequently an allegory of the Passion.89 One allegorized poem so closely resembles The Complainte of Phylomene in outline and points of variance from the conventional love vision as to raise the question of direct influence. In “A Sayenge of the Nightingale” the poet walks out on a June evening and hears the nightingale. He understands her song asking Venus for vengeance on false lovers and help for the true. The poet falls asleep and dreams of an angel who teaches him the true meaning of the nightingale's song: pure love free from any sinful thought. Rather than singing of fleshly love, the nightingale bewails Christ's sufferings for men's sins. This complaint is followed by a long allegory of Christ's passion.90 Even though the poem is unfinished, the parallels with Gascoigne's poem are clear: the two poets' understanding of the nightingale's notes, the emphasis on false and true lovers, and the supernatural explicator.

Whether or not Gascoigne drew directly on “A Sayenge,” it exemplifies one of the traditions which shaped his poem; the other was the moral complaint. Thematically, as well as chronologically, The Complainte of Phylomene stands halfway between the medieval mirror complaints and the she-tragedies of the 1590's.

Both The Steele Glas and The Complainte of Phylomene show Gascoigne's importance as a literary pioneer who extended and developed the resources of English poetry for greater talents capable of producing more lasting works. The Complainte of Phylomene is an improvement upon Churchyard's Jane Shore but is not the equal of Daniel's Rosamund. It has been deservedly forgotten except by specialists. But, to recall Thomas Nashe's admonition on changing literary tastes, The Steele Glas has been abridged of its deserved esteem. It is ironic that what Gascoigne's contemporaries valued most in the poem—its gravity and serious morality, its examination of the roots of Elizabethan corruption, and its constant accumulation of evidence for a satiric indictment—should now stand between the satire and its readers. Though The Steele Glas does not speak to us with the immediacy of Donne's satires, and though we no longer seek accurate pictures of ages past in solitary poems, this satire is worth the effort of an informed reading. The social and moral comprehensiveness of its criticism and its strongly realized tone of bitter knowledge painfully won give it more than a textbook interest.


  1. The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow (London, 1904-1910; rpt. 1957 with corrections and supplementary notes by F. P. Wilson), III, 319.

  2. “The Sixteenth Century Lyric in England,” Poetry, 53 (1939), 266.

  3. Leicester Bradner, “The First English Novel: A Study of George Gascoigne's Adventures of Master F. J.,PMLA, 45 (1930), 543-552.

  4. See, for instance, John W. Cunliffe, “George Gascoigne,” The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller (New York, 1911), III, 236; and C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1954), p. 269.

  5. Quoted by Cunliffe (“George Gascoigne,” p. 236) from “To the Courteous Reader” in Tofte's translation of Benedetto Varchi's The Blazon of Jealousie (London, 1615).

  6. Douglas Peterson, The English Lyric from Wyatt to Donne (Princeton, 1967) pp. 152-153; also see Ivor Winters, pp. 262, 263.

  7. R. M. Alden, The Rise of Formal Satire in England (Philadelphia, 1899; rpt. New York, 1962), pp. 70-72; G. K. Smart, “English Nondramatic Blank Verse in the Sixteenth Century,” Anglia, 61 (1937), 382-384; Lewis, p. 270.

  8. The authoritative biography is Charles Tyler Prouty, George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet (New York, 1942; rpt. 1966).

  9. Felix E. Schelling, The Life and Writings of George Gascoigne (Philadelphia, 1893; rpt. New York, 1967), pp. 3-5; Prouty, pp. 5-6, 8-10.

  10. The Causes of the English Revolution, 1549-1642 (London, 1965), p. 107.

  11. For the complex and sordid details of Gascoigne's inheritance see Prouty, pp. 21, 35-40, 315-324.

  12. Wallace T. MacCaffrey, “Place and Patronage in Elizabethan Politics,” Elizabethan Government, ed. S. T. Bindoff, et al. (London, 1961), pp. 103, 111.

  13. R. H. Tawney, The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1912), p. 402; and Stone, Revolution, pp. 67-76.

  14. The 1547 and 1573 Books of Homilies were required to be read regularly from the pulpit. The best access to these official doctrines is still E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays (New York, 1944; rpt. 1962), pp. 28-30, 78-84 et passim. For a more complete treatment see Alfred Hart, Shakespeare and the Homilies (Melbourne, 1934).

  15. Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford, 1965), pp. 257-268.

  16. Prouty's study of Close Roll entries (pp. 305-314) documents the transfer of Gascoigne's patrimony to specific lawyers, saddlers, and fishmongers.

  17. For an account of how Tudor domestic policy was still shaped by the old hierarchical ideals see J. H. Hexter, “The Myth of the Middle Class in Tudor England,” Reappraisals in History (Evanston, 1961; rpt. New York, 1963), pp. 105-111. Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass., 1936) explains the cosmological hierarchical views on which medieval social theory was based; Otto Gierke, Political Theories of The Middle Ages, tr. F. W. Maitland (Cambridge, 1900) enunciates the political theory. The durability of the medieval ideal is indicated by the early Puritan's desire and attempt to return to it. He insisted on the inseparability of one's moral and social conscience, and claimed that the responsibility of each individual, peasant to noble, is to subordinate his own interest and aggrandizement to the common good. G. R. Elton, England Under the Tudors (London, 1956), p. 424. Also see M. M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism (Chicago, 1939), pp. 397-404.

  18. Hexter, “The Education of the Aristocracy in the Renaissance,” Reappraisals in History, pp. 48-56, 65-70.

  19. Lawrence Stone, “Social Mobility in England, 1500-1700,” Past and Present, 33 (1966), p. 38.

  20. Elton, p. 256; MacCaffery, pp. 97-101, 125.

  21. Hexter, “The Myth of the Middle Class,” Reappraisals, pp. 93-116.

  22. Wilfred Prest, “Legal Education of the Gentry, 1560-1640,” Past and Present, 38 (1967), 20-39.

  23. Both were notoriously quarrelsome and dangerous. Camden's History … describes Yorke as “a man of loose and dissolute Behaviour, desperately audacious, famous in his time amongst the common Hacksters and Swaggerers, as being the first that, to the great Admiration of many at his boldness first brought into England that bold and dangerous way of Foining with the Rapier in Duelling.” Quoted by Prouty, p. 64.

  24. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, ed. J. W. Cunliffe (Cambridge, 1907-1910), I, 380. Hereafter cited as Works.

  25. Works, I, 349.

  26. MacCaffrey, pp. 108-109.

  27. Eric S. Brooks, Sir Christopher Hatton (London, 1946), pp. 14-15, 19, 23, 28-31.

  28. J. E. Neale, “The Elizabethan Political Scene,” Essays in Elizabethan History (London, 1958), p. 69.

  29. Brooks, pp. 19, 145-166, 311-315; MacCaffrey, 119, 125. See Lewis Einstein, Tudor Ideals (New York, 1921), pp. 26-46 for a view of the court similar to Gascoigne's own, reinforced with anecdote.

  30. Prouty, p. 25.

  31. Prouty, pp. 26-48.

  32. Prouty, p. 44.

  33. Works, I, 65.

  34. Works, I, 139-184.

  35. Prouty, Ch. III. The corruption and abuses which Gascoigne could only mention were normally expected and sometimes officially recognized Elizabethan military procedures. See C. G. Cruikshank, Elizabeth's Army (Oxford, 1966), Chs. II-XII.

  36. See Prouty, pp. 61-65, who quotes the note in full.

  37. Works, I, 3, 16. See also I, 462, “A letter devised for a young lover” which Gascoigne assigned to his “Weedes to be avoyded.”

  38. Quoted by Prouty, p. 63.

  39. Works I, 7 and Prouty, p. 193.

  40. Though this concern with detractors and carping critics was part of a literary tradition [See H. S. Bennet, English Books and Readers: 1558-1603 (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 6-8], it was nonetheless a real concern. See Phoebe Sheavyn, The Literary Profession in the Elizabethan Age, 2nd edition, revised throughout by J. W. Saunders (New York, 1967), especially p. 57.

  41. Eleanor Rosenberg, Leicester: Patron of Letters (New York, 1955), p. xvii; and Sheavyn, p. 27.

  42. Knappen, p. 280.

  43. Though Gascoigne was well read in classical authors and drew on Horace and Juvenal for the idea and form of his satire, he had deep roots in medieval literature. Lydgate's 1422 prose tract, The Serpent of Division, condemns individual wilfulness and surquedry (Gascoigne's word for wilful, self-deluding pride) as the chief internal cause of the fall of states. See Walter F. Schirmer, John Lydgate, tr. Ann E. Keep (Berkeley, 1961), pp. 84-87. The Grief of Joye draws on Petrarch's De Remediis Fortunae; The Droome of Doomes Day contains translations of parts of Pope Innocent III's De Contemptu Mundi and of St. Augustine's Sermons. His diction and structural devices indicate close familiarity with medieval literature. Besides many archaisms sometimes found in Elizabethan poetic diction, Gascoigne's Posies contain a number not found in Tottel's Miscellany or even Chaucer. See T. S. Baldwin, William Shakespeare's Small Latin and Less Greek. (Urbana, 1944), I, passim; Vere Rubel, Poetic Diction in the Sixteenth Century (New York, 1941), p. 189; Maveety; and Thomas B. Stroup and H. Ward Jackson, “Gascoigne's Steele Glas and the Bidding of the Bedes,” SP, 58 (1961), 52-60.

  44. Many of Skelton's poems are satires and he even quotes Juvenal's Difficile est satiram non scribere, but he did not consider his poems to be formally in Juvenal's tradition. See Alden, p. 29. Wyatt's three satires (not so called till Thomas Wharton's 1774 History of English Poetry), though perhaps the most successful of any in the sixteenth century in catching Horace's urbanity, ease, and natural conversational tone, are translations and adaptations. See Patricia Thompson, Sir Thomas Wyatt and His Background (Stanford, 1964), pp. 238-269.

  45. The origins of this conception are various and not always clear. Aelius Donatus's treatise prefixed to Terence's Vetus Comoedia located satire's origin in satyr plays distinguished for their viciousness of attack. To this Thomas Drant added a false etymology from the Arabic word for spear, also identifying the form with the planet Saturn. See John Peter, Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature (Oxford, 1956), pp. 301-303.

  46. A Medicinable Morall, that is, the two Bookes of Horace his Satyres, Englyshed accordyng to the presecription of saint Hierome (London, 1566), A3v, A4v.

  47. G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England, 2nd edition (New York, 1961), p. 216; see J. W. Blench, Preaching in England in the Late Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (New York, 1967), pp. 244-270. Owst (pp. 232, 312) maintains that Barclay, in his translation of Brant's Ship of Fools is completely within the medieval homiletic tradition, and quotes a passage from a Bromyard sermon that closely resembles Gascoigne's own lines on social ambition (405-408): “The squire is not satisfied unless he lives like a knight, the knight wants to be a baron; the baron, an earl; the earl, a king.”

  48. To Robert Crowley, his first printer, as well as to Puttenham and Meres, Langland was considered a satirist, ranked with Lucillius, Horace, Juvenal, and Persius. Milton attacked Hall's claim to be the first English satirist by reference to the “vision and creed of Pierce Plowman.” Hallet Smith, Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), p. 208; English Literary Criticism: The Renaissance, ed. O. B. Hardison (New York, 1963), p. 159; Francis Meres' Treatise “Poetrie,” ed. D. C. Allen (Urbana, 1933), p. 79; and An Apology against a Pamphlet Call'd A Modest Confutation of the Animadversions of the Remonstrant against Smectymnuus, ed. H. M. Ayres in The Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Frank Allen Patterson (New York, 1931-1938), III, i, 329.

  49. There were three editions of the B-text of Piers Plowman in 1550; it was reprinted in 1561. The echo of the following theme in The Steele Glas (1029-1030) clearly suggests Gascoigne's familiarity with the poem:

    Ne none sooner saved ne sadder of beleve
    Than plowmen and pastoures and pore comune laborers.
    Soulerers and shepherdes, such lewed iottes
    Percen with a pater-noster the paleys of hevene.

    B.X. 455-458. Cited by Walter W. Skeat, ed. Specimens of English Literature, (Oxford, 1871), III, 460. Stanley R. Maveety, “Versification in The Steele Glas,” SP, 60 (1963), 166-173, makes a very good case for the direct influence of Langland's alliterative, four stress verse upon Gascoigne's writing of blank verse.

  50. The edition cited is that of J. H. W. bennett (Oxford, 1972).

  51. John Hurt Fisher, “Wyclif, Langland, and the Pearl Poet on the Subject of Aristocracy,” Studies in Medieval Literature, ed. MacEdward Leach (Philadelphia, 1961), p. 147.

  52. John Lawlor, Piers Plowman: An Essay in Criticism (New York, 1962), p. 212.

  53. Ballads from Manuscript, ed. F. J. Furnivall, (London, 1868), I. 96.

  54. A. R. Heiserman, Skelton and Satire (Chicago, 1961), pp. 196-207.

  55. The term “accumulative” is from Alan Swallow, “John Skelton: The Structure of the Poem,” PQ, 32 (1953), 35. “He gathers data not once but time after time to cover the same point again and again. … And this accumulative method is apparent not only in terms of materials, but also in terms of the structure of the verse line. …”

  56. The Poetical Works of John Skelton, ed. Alexander Dyce, (London, 1843; rpt. New York, 1965), I, 333.

  57. The Ship of Fools, tr. Alexander Barclay, ed. T. H. Jamieson, (New York, 1874, rpt. 1966) I, 187.

  58. The Select Works of Robert Crowley, ed. J. M. Cowper (London, 1872), p. 53.

  59. Newes out of Powles Churchyarde Written in English Satyrs Wherein is reprooved excessive and unlawfull seeking after riches, and the evill spending of the same (London, 1579). The only edition extant is the 1579 one, but Hake in his dedication to Leicester mentions having published it originally about 1566 or 1567. The shift of satiric focus from pride to avarice follows a similar shift in the homiletic tradition. The preoccupation with this narrower cause of human folly is evident in the titles of mid-century interludes: All for Money, Enough is as Good as a Feast, and The Trial of Treasure. Blench, pp. 244-270.

  60. The text cited is Juvenal and Persius, tr. G. G. Ramsay (London, 1918).

  61. Gilbert Highet, Juvenal the Satirist (New York, 1954), pp. 2-41.

  62. The text cited is Horace: Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica, tr. H. Rushton Fairclough (New York, 1929).

  63. Against this tendency see W. S. Anderson, “The Roman Socrates: Horace and His Satires,” Satire: Critical Essays on Roman Literature, ed. J. P. Sullivan (Bloomington, 1963), pp. 11, 16-30; Thomas E. Maresca, Pope's Horatian Poems (Columbus, Ohio, 1966), pp. 52, 197, 211-221.

  64. Peter E. Medine, ed. Horace his arte of Poetrie, Pistles and Satyrs, tr. Thomas Drant (New York, 1972), p. ix.

  65. Smith, 217.

  66. C. P. Jones, Plutarch and Rome (Oxford, 1971), pp. 70-78; Alan Wardman, Plutarch's Lives (Berkeley, 1974), p. 34.

  67. R. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage (New York, 1954; rpt. 1964), pp. 520-522; John Edwin Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, 3rd edition (Cambridge, Mass., 1920; rpt. New York, 1958). II, 489.

  68. Wardman, pp. 3, 19.

  69. The text cited is Plutarch's Lives, tr. Bernadotte Perrin (New York, 1914).

  70. Sandys, I, 627; II. 496; Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1949), p. 190. The most recent edition of the Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX is the Teubner, ed. Carolus Kempf (Lipsiae, 1888).

  71. Charles Thomas Cruttwell, A History of Roman Literature (New York, 1908), pp. 346-347; J. Wight Duff, A Literary History of Rome in the Silver Age, 2nd edition, ed. A. M. Duff (New York, 1960), pp. 56-63.

  72. Mary Claire Randolph, “The Structural Design of the Formal Verse Satire,” PQ, 21 (1942), 369, 373, 380-384.

  73. R. C. Johnson, George Gascoigne (New York, 1972), pp. 102-107. Small mirrors made of polished metal kept in a case (“Epilogus,” ll. 1-2) or of brown stained glass had been the best available until the sixteenth century. The newly available Venetian crystal mirrors backed with silver and mercury could be as much as four feet long and achieved a flattering brightness heretofore unknown.

  74. See Lewis, pp. 469-478.

  75. The Poems of John Marson, ed. Arnold Davenport (Liverpool, 1961), pp. 94-95.

  76. The Collected Poems of Joseph Hall, ed. Arnold Davenport (Liverpool, 1949), p. 51.

  77. See Alden, pp. 95, 109-111, 123, et passim. See also Peter, pp. 138-148.

  78. The Sermons of John Donne, ed. G. R. Potter and E. M. Simpson (Berkeley, 1962), IV. 330.

  79. Cf. Horace, Satires I. ix. The text of Donne here quoted is The Poems of John Donne, ed. Sir Herbert Grierson (London, 1933).

  80. See DeWitt T. Starnes, “Literary Features of Renaissance Dictionaries,” SP, 27 (1940), 36-38; and “Gascoigne's The Complainte of Philomene: A Rejoinder,” The University of Texas Studies in English, 27 (1947), 28-41.

  81. See Works I, pp. 3, 9, where he apologizes to the “Divines” for his lascivious poems in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres; in his address “To al yong Gentlemen,” he refers to the worthless style of the poems in connection with “the doubtfulnesse of some darke places” which had made them dangerous.

  82. The text cited is Ovid's Metamorphoses, tr. Frank Justus Miller, (Cambridge, 1921), I, 323.

  83. The stark narrative of the central sections of the poem has been compared to a medieval ballad. See Louis R. Zocca, Elizabethan Narrative Poetry (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1950), pp. 222-226.

  84. Following on the success of Samuel Daniel's The Complaint of Rosamund (1592) a number of first person verse narratives appeared in which fallen beauties told of their lapse from virtue with lovers of high estate and of their inevitable misery. E.g., Thomas Lodge's The Tragicall Complaint of Elstred (1593, Anthony Chutes Bewtie Dishonoured (1593), and Richard Barnfield's The Legend of Cassandra (1595).

  85. See pp. 42, 55 in Poems and a Defence of Rhyme, ed. Arthur Colby Sprague (Chicago, 1930). Gascoigne's poem echoes the contemptus mundi tradition, but Philomela's pride and selfish misuse of her beauty are causes of her rape and mutilation.

  86. William Peery, “Tragic Retribution in the 1559 Mirror for Magistrates,SP, 17 (1949), 113-130. Pride led Mowbrey to his envy of Henry Earle of Hartforde, which in turn caused him to overreach himself and be banished the kingdom. Lord Clyfford, for his cruelty in slaying the son of his enemy the Duke of York, was struck by a headless arrow through the throat as a judgement of God. See The Mirror for Magistrates, ed. Lily B. Campbell (Cambridge, 1938, rpt. New York, 1960), pp. 110, 194-195.

  87. Davis P. Harding, Milton and the Renaissance Ovid (Urbana, 1941), pp. 20-21.

  88. Zocca, p. 213.

  89. D. A. Pearsall, ed. The Floure and the Leafe and The Assembly of Ladies (London, 1962), p. 35.

  90. Lydgate's Mirror Poems: The Two Nightingale Poems, ed. Otto Glauning, EETS (ES), vol. 80 (London, 1900).

Gregory Waters (essay date spring 1977)

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SOURCE: Waters, Gregory. “G. T.'s “Worthles Enterprise”: A Study of the Narrator in Gascoigne's The Adventures of Master F. J.Journal of Narrative Technique 7, no. 2 (spring 1977): 116-27.

[In the essay below, Waters analyzes the importance of the narrator in The Adventures of Master F. J.]

When George Gascoigne first began to write his tale about a young, highly romantic lover and an older, more experienced married mistress, he discovered in the courtly love tradition an ideal frame of reference to manipulate for satiric and moral effect. By 1573 courtly love had lost most of its power as a code of social values, and the time was right for a detached, perhaps even ironic story about a young man's folly in substituting fantasy for fact in love. Earlier in the century, the Tudor Humanists had established the use of prose fiction as a means of securing moral argument, and Gascoigne realized that by maintaining a satiric contrast in his tale between the ideals of courtly love and the blemished facts of life they often hid, he could win an audience that demanded moral satisfaction as well as entertainment from prose works of art. In The Adventures of Master F. J., he carefully included both elements, and presented the satiric story of F. J.'s courtly romance through the eyes of a “detached” narrator, G. T., who provided—or appeared to provide—both an “objective” view of events as they were taking place and a comfortable moral perspective from which readers could profitably judge the participants.1

As the adventures proceed, however, it soon becomes clear that Gascoigne's purpose in having G. T. tell the story is not quite that simple. For in addition to satirizing the courtly code, and the naive efforts of a young man who tried to apply its formal and outdated terms to a very real love affair, it seems to me that Gascoigne is also commenting rather subtly on the ambiguous moral character of his narrator, as it is revealed in G. T.'s language and performance as a writer. As something of a moral satirist, G. T.'s function is presumably to point out the foibles of F. J.'s behavior. In doing so, though, he repeatedly calls attention to his own sexual peculiarities and moral limitations and becomes himself an object of satire. By investing the narrator with an ambiguous personality of his own, one that becomes increasingly more self-conscious as the work goes on, Gascoigne is able to call into question not only the moral validity of the courtly love tradition, but also G. T.'s enterprise of satirizing that tradition. Through a careful manipulation of G. T.'s role as narrator, Gascoigne proposes not so much the rewards as the limits of G. T.'s procedure, and suggests ultimately that the moral drama of The Adventures of Master F. J. is only incidentally that of F. J., Elynor and Fraunces; more importantly, it is the drama of G. T. himself trying to tell the story.2

In the first edition the history of F. J.'s illicit relationship with Elynor is presented through the letters and poems F. J. composed at the time of the affair, together with the prose links G. T. provided to give continuity to the narrative. At the outset, G. T.'s role as moral commentator is less fascinating than his self-promoting efforts as narrator, but, as we shall see, the tension that arises between style and moral purpose becomes increasingly more evident. He starts off as an editor, the friendly confidante of F. J. who, after first collecting the unorganized mass of correspondence, gives it some form and presents in proper order the story of the affair “as they themselves did alwayes with verse reherse unto me the cause that then moved them to write.” But soon the prose links between the letters and poems grow longer and more detailed, and G. T. begins to take liberties with his material, first by indulging himself with some pedantic literary criticism, then by introducing moral judgments into the narrative about the “courtly” nature of the relationship. The step from literary critic to moral commentator becomes a natural one for G. T. to take, and the language in which both kinds of judgments are made is wonderfully self-conscious. As he discourses upon events, G. T. becomes intimately more confidential, increasingly garrulous and defensively moralistic, but always in phrases loaded with bawdy innuendo. And as he gathers self-confidence in himself as a writer, F. J.'s letters and poems become fewer and fewer, until we find ourselves reading straight narrative. In the course of his narrative G. T. steps forward and puts F. J.'s story well behind him, stalling the action a bit for dramatic effect, and creating for himself the opportunity to weave moral allegories about suspicion, to demonstrate both his own superior learning and unique storytelling ability through the mouths of minor characters. What began as editorial intrusion becomes narrative method, and the story, as G. T. tells it, becomes at least as important as what actually occurred. Finally, and most significantly, as the plot draws to a close, G. T.'s language becomes progressively more self-conscious, full of coarse puns and double entendres that demonstrate not only how completely love has degenerated into lust, but also how much the peculiar concerns and language of the narrator dominate the story as we read it. Sooner or later we realize that G. T. has been leering all along, that beneath the condescending literary critic and scene-stealing moral commentator there is a narrator at odds with both his literary and moral positions. By constantly intruding on his own story to comment on the action as it is taking place, G. T. serves as both a self-parodying surrogate for the moralist as writer, and a self-indicting moralistic censor, forced to condemn activities he describes with such obvious relish. Insecure with the materials of his story, G. T. finds comfort only in narrative performance and fails to realize the ultimately ambiguous nature of his own moral position.

In the first edition the story is presented through a series of signed blocks of material, similar in structure and perhaps playing off the method of controlled point of view established in the prefaces. By counting these initialed blocks, Robert Adams has shown how twenty-six lines of prose are signed “SHE” and belong to Lady Elynor, four hundred and twenty lines of prose and verse were written by F. J., and no less than eighteen hundred and forty-eight lines, or eighty percent of the discourse can be attributed to G. T.3 By sheer physical presence alone it is G. T.'s role that dominates the narrative. In the beginning, in his efforts to insinuate himself as a credible editor, G. T. is forced to refer back to his source repeatedly, and interjections such as “My friend F. J. hath told me,” “as I have heard him say,” or “F. J. told me himself” appear in the discourse with disturbing frequency. Paradoxically, these interjections remind the reader not only that the information came from F. J., but also that it is G. T. who is creating a story around the fragments, a story he comes to regard with some pride as “my tale.” At the same time the increasingly longer prose links signed “G. T.” declare by their frequent appearance that our narrator is assigning himself an everlarger amount of space as a commenting character and is making himself indispensable to our understanding of the story as readers.

At first G. T.'s commentary takes the form of literary criticism, and he breaks in after F. J.'s poems to analyze meter and weigh conceits, to praise, express doubt or explain mistakes by referring back to the events of the narrative. At the outset, G. T.'s readings of F. J.'s poems are usually favorable, though expressed with an undercurrent of irony that becomes increasingly less subtle as the love affair progresses. After one early poem, for instance, which pleases F. J.'s mistress for its originality, G. T. informs us that “The Sonet was highly commended, and in my judgment, it deserveth not lesse, I have heard F. J. saye that he borrowed th' inventiun of an Italian: but were it a translation or invention (if I be Judge) it is both prety and pithy”. G. T. playfully casts doubt on F. J.'s originality, yet he excuses the fault by applauding the style. As the love relationship becomes less Platonic, however, G. T. finds occasion to object to the style of the poems more forcefully, and implies that F. J.'s infatuation has hindered his art. After a lover's quarrel which F. J. celebrates in a rather dreary poem called “A Cloud of Care,” G. T. apologizes: “This is but a rough meeter, and reason, for it was devised in great disquiet of mynd, and written in rage, yet have I seene much worse passe the musters … and as it is, I pray you let it passe.” Again he seems to be raising doubts only to put them aside, but our suspicions linger, about both the quality of the poems themselves and G. T.'s place in the discourse. Finally, once the affair is physically consummated, G. T. claims that F. J. was “so ravished in Extasies with continual remembrance of his delights that he made an Idoll of hir in his inward concypte,” and his comments about the poems which follow indicate that he finds it hard to deal with a relationship that is no longer contemplative. Without mentioning his own lost perspective in his literary criticism, G. T.'s language makes it clear that his critical reserve has been shattered. He suggests, for example, that a critical reader might find “A Moonshine Banquet,” which celebrates the consummation, “a dyddeldome,” and is himself so confused by F. J.'s blatantly sexual allusions in “Beautie shut up thy shop” that he declares “either hee was than in an extasie or els sure I am nowe in a lunacie.” His confusion is further made manifest when he tries desperately to explain that poem's reference to Helen of Troy, and decides that she was a former love of F. J. and that the young man merely adapted a previously written poem to suit Elynor, to “so make it serve both their tunes, as elder lovers have done before and still do and will do world without end. Amen.” Of the three remaining poems G. T. reveals that two are translations from the Italian (and points out how “The Italians do most commonly offend in the superlative”), while the third, which lewdly treats of Elynor's husband's horns of cuckoldry, tastes so much of “Rye” that he advises the reader who “liketh it not” to “turn over ye leaf to another.” At this point G. T. announces he must break off with his literary criticism altogether, “untill I have expressed how that his joyes being now exalted to the highest degree, began to bend towardes declination.”

G. T.'s role in the discourse as a self-conscious literary critic is important, because it offered Gascoigne the opportunity both to comment ironically on his own poems while in the process of presenting them, and to suggest through G. T.'s peculiar manner that he is far from being an “objective” narrator. Because Gascoigne was the author of the first critical treatise in English on the art of poetical composition (which, incidentally, he included in the second edition of this work as Certayne Notes of Instruction), we might expect the literary criticism in The Adventures to be of some value. Instead G. T.'s ironically pedantic intrusions serve only to call attention to their own intrusiveness, and reinforce the comic ambiguity of his character as it becomes evident in the language of the narrative. But the comedy becomes more sinister when we realize that the poems and letters are designed to appear as the “real” correspondence of actual lovers. By assuming the role of the detached literary critic in several of his prose links, G. T. inadvertently leads us to feel that perhaps he is unable to deal with evidence of real passion in any other way.

This inability to face the passionate events of life in any way but a literary fashion is ironically undercut by the manner in which G. T. handles the narrative details of the affair. As one who insists most vehemently that he has never been in love himself, G. T.'s efforts to satirize F. J.'s courtly techniques become highly ambiguous. Previous commentators have shown how almost every move F. J. makes as a lover can be traced back in some form to the courtly love tradition, and the story itself can be read most enjoyably as a sarcastic treatment of the courtly love code. Frank Fieler, for example, in his excellent study “Gascoigne's Use of Courtly Love Conventions in The Adventures Passed by Master F. J.,” demonstrates how F. J. woos his mistress according to script, with letters and poems full of Petrarchan conceits, and postures adapted from The Romance of the Rose:

He regards her as a paragon of virtue—the source of all goodness; he suffers; he becomes bedridden with love sickness; he loses, regains, and once more loses his appetite; he cannot sleep whenever his mistress has shown him some disdain; he trembles in her presence, sighs frequently, swoons once, and is thrown into a trance no less than four times by something she has said. In fact … each of the twelve injunctions laid down by Cupid to the lover in The Romance of the Rose is conscientiously followed by F. J.4

And as Fieler goes on to show, the events of the story reveal the overwhelming inadequacies of courtly convention in face of flesh and blood reality, since in the end F. J. repudiates both the courtly code and his unfaithful mistress by violently raping her. While Fieler is certainly correct in so far as he goes, it seems to me that he fails to appreciate the full significance of G. T.'s role in the satire. For instead of providing “The truth of events and of character,” as Fieler suggests, it is my contention that G. T. repeatedly calls his own perspective into question by the intensely self-conscious language in which he presents his point of view. By constantly intruding on F. J.'s story to comment on the action as it is taking place and by revealing a fascination with the illicit sexual activities he is supposed to be condemning, G. T. undermines his narrative and moral positions even as he struggles to establish them. In the end, instead of providing us with “a mirror of perfecte life,” G. T. can give us only the reflection of his own imperfect self, frightened by what attracted him and confused by the way he described it.


It is, of course, in his treatment of the sexual details of the affair that G. T.'s performance becomes most ambiguous, and it is here that our suspicions about his role in the discourse are confirmed. We must keep in mind the fact that he is telling the story, creating incidents around the fragmented material of the letters and poems. Yet when he comes to speak of the physical circumstances of the affair, G. T. pretends he is unable to do so directly: he can only suggest and imply in a kind of language that is best described as leering. His treatment of these scenes is shocking, not because it is so different from the courtly nature of the letters and poems, but because it is G. T. the narrator who is shocked by his recreations of them. At the same time it is G. T. who strips Elynor down to her shift, and it he who tells how she shrieked “but softly.” After all the finely stylized action and language of the first part of the story, informed by the standards of traditional courtliness, G. T. presents the following scene, which takes place when F. J. encounters Lady Elynor in a gallery near her chamber:

The dame (whether it were of feare in deede, or that the wylyness of womanhode had taught hir to cover hir conceites with some fyne dissimulation) stert backe from the Knight, and shriching (but softly) sayd unto him. Alas servaunt what have I deserved, that you come against me with naked sword as against an open enemie. F. J. perceyving hir entent excused himselfe, declaring that he brought the same for their defence, & not to offend hir in any wise. The Ladie being therwith somewhat appeased, they began wt more comfortable gesture to expell the dread of the said late affright, and sithens to become bolder of behaviour, more familier in speech, & most kind in accomplishing of comon comfort.

G. T.'s suggestive reticence is consistently undercut by his elaborate and quite vivid conceit concerning the “naked sword,” and is further confounded by the leering presentation which follows, in which the narrator addresses the reader directly, as a sexually experienced man of the world, only to confess with mock shyness that he must refrain from too much realism “for lacke of like experience”:

But why hold I so long discourse in discribing the joyes which (for lacke of like experience) I cannot set out to ye full? Were it not that I know to whom I write, I would the more beware what I write. F. J. was a man, and neither of us are sencelesse, and therefore I should slaunder him, (over and besides a greater obloquie to the whole genealogie of Enaeas) if I should imagine that of tender hart he would forebeare to express hir more tender limbes against the hard floore. Suffised that of hir curteouse nature she was content to accept bords for a bead of downe, mattes for Camerike sheetes, and the night gowne of F. J. for a counterpoynt to cover them, and thus with calme content, in steede of quiet sleepe, they beguiled the night.

G. T.'s shyness, of course, is too deliberately coy to be taken seriously, particularly when considered in counterpoint with the highly charged language he employs to portray the sexual encounters. He pretends to be shocked by the scenes he must describe, yet he takes immodest delight (and adds considerably to our enjoyment) in vividly retelling their most intimate details. It is G. T. who emphasized the hardness of the floor, just as it is he who has Elynor refer to herself as an “open” enemy. In addition to this scene, there are the suggestive metaphors of the earlier incident in which G. T. tells how F. J. entered Elynor's bedroom to “stop hir bleeding,” and his description of the later encounter between Elynor and her paramour the secretary, who “having bin of long time absent, & therby his quils & pennes not worn so neer as they were wont to be, did now prick such faire large notes, yt his Mistress liked better to sing faburden under him, than to descant any longer uppon F. J. playne song.” The sexual puns and suggestive conceits are quite intentional, and they work to indict not only the illicit lovers, but also the self-conscious narrator who indulges himself with them.

The renewed activity between Elynor and her former paramour incites F. J.'s jealousy, and at something of a climax in the tale he violently rapes her, demonstrating graphically enough the inadequacy of the courtly code and G. T.'s fascination with the manner in which it was repudiated. Our narrator describes how Elynor came to F. J.'s bed expecting to make love, not at all embarrassed by her knowledge that F. J. knew of her other affairs. He, still insisting on courtly “trouthe” between lovers, demands they discuss their differences, and G. T. intrudes with his opinion as well, in the following fashion:

Now, here I would demaund of you and such other as are expert: Is there any greater impediment to the fruition of a Lovers delights, than to be mistrusted? Or rather, is it not the ready way to race all love and former good will out of remembrance, to tell a gilty mynd that you doe mistrust it? It should seeme yes, by Dame Elynor, who began nowe to take the matter whottely, and of such vehemency were hir fancies, That shee nowe fell into flat defiance with F. J. who although hee sought by many faire wordes to temper hir chollerike passions, and by yeelding him selfe to get the conquest of an other, yet could hee by no means determine the quarrell. The softe pillowes being present at these whot wordes, put forth themselves as mediatours for a truce betwene these enemies, and desired that (if they would needes fight) it might be in their presence but onely one pusshe of the pike, and so from thenceforth to become friends again for ever. But the Dame denied flatly, alleadging that shee found no cause at all to use such courtesie unto such a recreant, adding further many wordes of great reproche: the which did so enrage F. J. as that having now forgotten all former curtesies, he drewe uppon his new professed enimie, and bare hir up with such violence aginst the bolster that before shee could prepare the warde, he thrust hir through both hands, and &c. wher by the Dame swooning for feare, was constreyned (for a time) to abandon hir body to the enemies courtesie.

G. T.'s language is almost always a part of a process of self-aggrandizement: G. T. is as narrator who competes with his material, struggling to declare his own presence even at the most private moments of his story. The first-person intrusions (“But why hold I so long discourse in discribing the joyes,” “now, here I would demaund of you,”), the suggestive metaphors (F. J.'s “naked sword,” the secretary's “quils and pennes,” the “pusshe of the pike”), and the self-consciously literary allusions (the desperate reference to the “whole genealogie of Enaeas” for support), all serve to restore our attention to G. T.'s unique “methode and maner of writing,” especially when they are present at the expense of the adventures themselves. At the same time there is a kind of self-parody going on, as G. T.'s obsessive interest in the physical details of the love scenes, and the sensuous language in which he describes those details, consistently belie the detached moral perspective he claims to possess as narrator. Like a voyeur G. T. watches too closely, and we look in vain for the “right rewardes of vertues, and the due punishments for vices” he promised in his preface. On the one hand he needs morally to condemn Elynor for her wantonness, hypocrisy, and deceit, but on the other he too seems fascinated with her as sex object, full of “flitting fantasie,” “girlish garishness,” and “hot dissimulation.” The scenes that stay with us long after the work is over, those invested with the most imaginative invention, are precisely the scenes we are meant to condemn, those intended to reveal F. J.'s foolish infatuation and the clearer, more balanced viewpoint of the narrator. Ironically, their effect is to diminish G. T.'s moral perspective while he is still in process of declaring it.

By altogether obliterating any distinction between events and his own analysis of them, G. T. serves as both a self-parodying surrogate for Gascoigne himself as writer, and an ironic caricature of the moralistic commentators found in the work of the early Tudor Humanists. As previous studies have shown, for Erasmus, Vives and Roger Ascham the function of fiction was the direct presentation of ideal modes of conduct, and the few fictional works produced between 1500 and the publication of Gascoigne's tale in 1573 amounted for the most part to treatises or dialogues using stories to prove a moral point. In The Adventures of Master F. J., however, it is not only G. T.'s moral position in retelling F. J.'s affair that is satirized, but also the strange sort of relationship he has with the material of his story in general. For in addition to his ambiguous performance when describing sexual matters, it soon becomes apparent that Gascoigne has made G. T. appear uncomfortable as narrator with the plot of The Adventures as a whole. He is forever interrupting himself to provide prior information about his characters, or to indicate, as moral commentator, future turns in events which will put the present moment in its proper moral perspective. When F. J. celebrates the return of Elynor's husband with some brutally lurid verses about his newly acquired cuckold's horns, for example, G. T. abruptly breaks into the narrative to assure us that “in the end his [F. J.'s] hap was as heavie, as hitherto he had bene fortunate.” Or earlier, when he first introduces us to Fraunces, Elynor's rival for F. J.'s attentions, G. T. is careful to set her apart from Elynor in virtue, “least the Reader might bee drawen in a jelouse suppose of this Lady.“The effect of these intrusions is both to lead the reader by the hand to the desired interpretation, and at the same time to suggest G. T. is not altogether sure of himself as narrator. Occasionally G. T. even interrupts his narrative of F. J.'s adventures to tell a different story himself, both to stall the action a little to keep the reader in suspense and to allow himself the chance to comment upon his own plot allegorically. After F. J. takes to his bed in a “feavor” of jealousy, for instance, G. T. remarks sympathetically that the young lover lacked sufficient instruction about this “monster” suspicion, and for the next three full pages allegorically describes the “hellish bird” with a story borrowed form Ariosto, “for I think you have not red it.’” He returns to his main narrative almost as self-consciously as he departed from it, declaring “nowe then I must thinke it high time to retorne unto him.” Through the use of borrowed sources, G. T. tries to reinforce his narrative position and secure the major points of his discourse, but the borrowed scaffolding and anachronistic asides serve instead to underline G. T.'s essential insecurity with his story and his own role as writer.

G. T.'s relationship with his story becomes even more ambiguous when we consider his treatment of the character Fraunces, and the interesting course of action he has her pursue in The Adventures. Previous readers have been right in showing how she operates as a foil to Elynor, but it is more important, I believe, to see her a foil to G. T. as well. For the narrator, the Lady Fraunces represents an ideal of womanhood, full of virtue, integrity and “temperate fidelity.” Though she loves F. J. and would provide him with the security and companionship of marriage, she is too self-conscious to reveal her love openly. Instead she becomes F. J.'s confidante, and manipulates his relationship with Elynor believing that once he has discovered the latter's infidelity he will turn to her. In the course of the adventures G. T. presents Fraunces as something of a romantic heroine, constantly frustrated in her halfhearted efforts to win F. J. for herself, and in the second edition she eventually dies from unrequited love. Her strategy too is somewhat romantic in the way she invents a series of complicated riddles for F. J. to solve, hoping that through them F. J. will see the folly of his ways and change the course of his behavior. Like the narrator, she structures her efforts with allegory and names F. J. her “Trust” and herself his “Hope.” She enlists the help of Dame Pergo, another gentlewoman of the house, and together they tease F. J. with allegorical puzzles about love and infidelity, hoping he will see the light. Unfortunately Fraunces' campaign fails, because reality denies her allegorical categories, and, as G. T. himself sadly admits, because F. J. realizes “the one [Elynor] is overcome with lesse difficultie then that other.”

Throughout the adventures Fraunces involves herself in the plot as G. T. himself might, and, as Richard Lanham points out, her constant presence makes us follow the adulterous love affair with the alternative of a better, more positive relationship always in mind.5 For G. T. the affair with Elynor causes the disruption of a story which could have had a happy conclusion, and his displeasure with events and F. J.'s choice greatly colors his narrative. Yet at times G. T.'s language raises questions about Fraunces' morality as well, as in the bawdy scene in which she spies F. J. leaving Elynor's company with “the poynt of his naked sworde glistring under the skyrt of his night gowne.” The Lady Fraunces, “being throughly tickled now in all the vaynes,” enters his bedroom where “his naked sworde presented it selfe to [her] handes,” and she borrows it for a while before returning it to Elynor and later back to F. J. On one level the incident is meant to be a practical joke Fraunces plays on F. J. to embarrass him, but when read against the suggestive context which G. T. has constructed around F. J.'s “sworde,” the joke is at Fraunces' expense too. She is no longer the temperate moral heroine G. T. had previously made her out to be, but becomes for the moment almost as sexually playful as Elynor. My point is that our narrator never knows when to quit, and we, as readers, are often hard pressed to decide exactly where he stands in relation to his plot. On the one hand he morally disapproves of the promiscuous behavior of his characters, and on the other he is more than willing to provide us with graphic accounts of their encounters. In the end G. T. is so thoroughly confused that he feels obliged to “make an end of this thriftlesse History” with an apology, not for the “two or three wanton places” noted by the printer, but rather for his own “barbarous style in prose.”

It is this tension between style and moral purpose that ultimately indicts G. T., and makes us aware of Gascoigne's major intention in The Adventures of Master F. J. In a sense, Gascoigne writes in order to question the authenticity of what G. T. is doing, and uses the language of his narrator to suggest that G. T.'s enterprise of writing is “thriftlesse,” as limited and limiting as his method of satirizing the courtly love tradition. Unfamiliar with the ways of love himself, G. T. insists he cannot describe its joys “for lacke of like experience.” Yet he struggles to portray events in a moral context, as F. J. attempts to woo Elynor by means of an outdated courtly code. At the same time his language reveals that his own “morality” is as debased as F. J.'s courtliness, and in the process of questioning the one he ironically undercuts the other. In the revised edition this process of self-parody is less obvious, because G. T. is absorbed into the discourse as its informing intelligence, and the story, as he sees it, becomes the story as it really was. The rape scene is cleaned up a bit and the account of Elynor's husband's horns is omitted, but the moral commentary and the peculiar language remain ambiguous. The setting is changed to avoid libel, but the story, for all intents and purposes, stays the same. The most important revision, however, and one meant to clinch the moral argument of the work is the epilogue to the second edition, which is wonderfully ironic in the way it involves the narrator in its generalizing sweep, and instead of releasing him from the charge of moral ambiguity, works to include him in his own judgment:

Thus we see that where wicked lust doeth beare the name of love, it doth not onelye infecte the lyght-minded, but it maye also become confusion to others which are vowed to constancie. And to that ende I have recyted this Fable which maye serve as ensample to warne the youthful reader from attempting the lyke worthles enterprise.6

Gascoigne leaves it to the reader's sensibility to decide whether this “worthles enterprise” refers to F. J.'s attempts to make love in terms of an outmoded courtly love code, or B. T.'s efforts to write about it from the ambiguous moral position he has chosen to assume.


  1. Since I am concerned chiefly with the ambiguity of G. T.'s performance as a narrator, most of my remarks are based on the first edition of the work. The second edition is not as interesting to me as the first, because it incorporates the narrator into the tale as its central intelligence, and reduces the ironic ambiguity of his role. All quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from C. T. Prouty's George Gascoigne's“A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers,” (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1942).

  2. In their efforts to read the tale primarily as a satire on the courtly love system, critics have consistently overlooked the ambiguity of G. T.'s role in the discourse. Most have followed the position first taken by Robert Adams in “Gascoigne's Master F. J. as Original Fiction,” PMLA, LXXIII (September, 1958), pp. 315-326, that G. T.'s role is basically “to distance us from the action by means of his own unsympathetic attitude toward it.” Frank Fieler, in “Gascoigne's Use of Courtly Love Conventions,” Studies in Short Fiction, I (Fall, 1963), pp. 26-32, claims the narrator provides “the truth of events and of character,” but fails to consider how G. T.'s performance often calls these “truths” into question. Leicester Bradner, whose important early work “The First English Novel: A Study of George Gascoigne's Adventures of Master F. J.,PMLA, XLV (June, 1930), pp. 543-552, did not concern itself with the narrator, maintains in “Point of View in George Gascoigne's Fiction,” Studies in Short Fiction, III (Fall, 1965), pp. 16-22, that G. T. “is obviously a man of intelligence and experience, one who not only has the requisite knowledge about the story he is telling but also understands its significance.” Richard Lanham, in “Narrative Structure in Gascoigne's F. J.,Studies in Short Fiction, IV (Fall, 1966), pp. 42-50, correctly asserts that the reader's point of view cannot altogether coincide with the narrator's, but I think he is wrong when he says that G. T.'s “plain style … fails to express attitude.” Merrit Lawlis, in his introduction to The Adventures in Elizabethan Prose Fiction (New York: The Odyssey Press, 1967), pp. 31-34, somehow finds both “tact and delicacy” in G. T.'s point of view, despite the self-conscious intrusions and sexually charged asides. The most recent commentary, Lynette McGrath's “George Gascoigne's Moral Satire,” in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, LXX (July, 1971), pp. 432-450, speaks of “The essentially static role assigned to G. T.,” and contends that “G. T. keeps himself withdrawn from the possibilities of anarchy and unreason that love implies.” One of the few studies that begin to consider the ambiguity of G. T.'s role, Walter Davis' Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), is unfortunately based on the second edition, and his remarks are somewhat limited as a consequence.

  3. Adams, p. 318.

  4. Fieler, pp. 28-29.

  5. Lanham, pp. 46-47.

  6. This quotation from the second edition is from John W. Cunliffe's George Gascoigne's “The Posies,” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907).

Roy T. Eriksen (essay date summer 1984)

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SOURCE: Eriksen, Roy T. “Two Into One: The Unity of George Gascoigne's Companion Poems.” Studies in Philology 81, no. 3 (summer 1984): 275-98.

[In the following essay, Eriksen suggests that Gascoigne arranged the poems in his works in certain combinations to reflect various themes.]

George Gascoigne often combined and arranged his shorter poems into sequences or larger units of poetry, a compositional technique variously reflected in The Adventures of Master F. J., his poems written on given “theames,” his translation from Orlando furioso, and in the first Elizabethan sonnet sequences.1 His companion poems, “Gascoignes good morrow” and “Gascoignes good nyghte” and the versification of Psalm 130, printed as such a sequence in The Posies of George Gascoigne (1575), had obviously been intended to function as such earlier in A Hundreth sundrie Flowres (1573).2 These three religious lyrics, which originally had “verie sweete notes adapted unto them,” are unique among Gascoigne's sequential “inventions” in being designed to reflect the harmony inherent in God's two works of creation and salvation. As I have argued elsewhere, the metrical version of the penitential Psalm 130 to no little extent depends on Augustine's “Enarratio in psalmo cxxix” (Vulgata) for its elaboration of biblical imagery and use of particular rhetorical schemes.3 That poem is notable for its studied deployment of multiple anaphoras, varied line lengths, and rhymes to reinforce the idea of a resolution of spiritual discord. It is the purpose of this article to draw attention to the rhetorical organization the poet employs in “Gascoignes good morrow” and “Gascoignes good nyghte” when giving form to his praises to God. Even though these poems can hardly be said to match his best poetry in smoothness or tone of voice, they are remarkable for their textual structures, which permit form to accompany and reinforce theme—a formal tour de force that was later to appeal to Ben Jonson, George Herbert, and Henry Vaughan. The latter, as I will later discuss, closely patterned his own companion poems, entitled “The Morning-watch” and “The Evening-watch,” on a formula similar to that employed by Gascoigne.

It is my contention that Gascoigne's companion poems—in their capacity as “worldly toys”—imitate God's plan of regeneration through structural analogies. As he refers to the meeting between God and man on the Day of Judgment, Gascoigne's phrases point to these parallels:

And of such haps and heauenly joys,
As when we hope to hold,
All earthly sights, all worldly toys,
Are tokens to behold.

“Gascoignes good morrow,” 33-6.

Elsewhere in the poem we discover that the “haps,” which are so crucial that everything on earth is found to prefigure them, are the basic Christian events climaxed by the meeting “face to face” on Judgment Day, when man must put on “immortalitie” (29-32). At this point Gascoigne echoes I Corinthians, 13:12 and 15:52-3, suggesting that his poetic “tokens” are patterned in accordance with the visible signs God left in His works for our understanding of what is invisible (Romans 1:20). In focusing on this doctrine of “signs” in lines 21-4 and 33-6, Gascoigne similarly invites us to consider how his own verbal signs display his subject.4

That poetry should contain the same harmony as musical compositions is a commonplace in the Renaissance. Gascoigne himself frequently makes such observations,5 but rarely as emphatically as Thomas Campion, who asserts that “the world is made by Simmetry and proportion, and is in that respect compared to Musick, and Musick to Poetry.”6 Campion here alludes to the ideological basis for the comparison of two arts—both of which are related to the music of Heaven. As Campion seems to suggest, poetry is less directly linked with that higher music than practical music, which “held its place in an interdependence with celestial harmony,”7 but “simmetry and proportion” in poetry stem from the same source. The central metaphor here is of course derived from Augustine's description of the world as God's pulcherrimum carmen (De civ. Dei, XI, 18): Augustine's main point is that the divine song or poem is put together according to a rhetoric of opposita or antitheta, that is, according to figures similar to those first described in classical rhetoric. (Augustine's examples, though, are from the Bible.) These rules were developed for creating a perfect periodos, or a thematically unified and cyclically arranged sentence which, in its most elaborate form, would include verbal repetitions to link its beginning, middle, and end.8 This is why a periodos could be taken to possess the same numerositas as the universe. Some of Augustine's works (e.g., De vera religione and De musica) present an aesthetic system that incorporates classical rules of composition into a distinctly Christian framework; the resulting poetic theory gained great prominence in the Renaissance.9 In this Christianized poetics the mimetic view entailed imitating not only the visible world but also (and especially) the ideal pattern which sustains it and gives it form. In the sixteenth century Torquato Tasso is a key figure in the development and practice of this redefined, Christian version of a basic aesthetic principle. Tasso favors antithetic, chiastic, and graded arrangements in his poetry, notably in La Gerusalemme liberata (1581), and he connects these textual structures explicitly with Augustine's metaphor when he writes that “the art of composing a poem resembles the plan of the universe, which is composed of contraries, as that of music is.”10

Recent scholarship has illustrated the degree to which many Italian and English poets applied these structural principles, but so far little has been done to examine English poetry prior to The Shepheardes Calender (1579) from what may be called a topomorphical point of view.11 Yet, as I hope to show, the basic techniques practiced by Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton had already been tested on a large scale by Gascoigne, who—to quote Thomas Nashe—“first beate the path to that perfection which our best Poets haue aspired to since his departure; whereto he did ascend by comparing the Italian with the English as Tully did Graeca cum Latinis.12 If we try to compare “the Italian with the English,” can it be shown that Gascoigne's structural felicities reflect on Italian practice? Let us consider the case of Torquato Tasso.

Although Tasso explained his choice of stanza (the ottava) for La Gerusalemme liberata in terms of numerological symbolism,13 composition by number plays a subordinate role in his fashioning of larger textual segments. (Indeed, in the Renaissance numerology plays so modest a role in the compositional technique that it is entirely misleading to use the term “numerology” in reference to literary analyses of textual structures.) Chiasmus (recessed symmetry), antithesis, and graded arrangements are Tasso's preferred schemes of disposition; when comparing important episodes or events in his poem he often deploys carefully placed repetitions of rhymes and keywords to point a contrast or to draw a parallel. A good example of this technique is afforded by the precise correspondences which exist in La Gerusalemme liberata between Armida's perverted mass in x, 64-5 (stanzas 15-14 from the end of that canto) and the two stanzas where the crusaders receive absolution (xi, 14-15). The rhymes of x, 64 (/densa/chiare/mensa/care/dispensa/mare/) are echoed in xi, 14 (/l'altare/mensa/appare/accensa/care/pensa/) and reinforce the striking contrastive parallel between Armida, who assumes the role of the mythical witch and swineherd, Circe (x, 65-6), and Guglielmo, who as “Pastore” performs the role of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist (xi, 15).14 Italian poets repeat rhymes less readily, however, than their English followers, which surely is due to the polysyllabic nature of Italian; George Chapman condemned the language because of the supposed harshness of polysyllables.15 However, another possibility was to place reiterated words and phrases within the lines to mark points of structural importance.

In a treatise published in 1563,16 Girolamo Ruscelli examines an ottava by Giovan Andrea dell'Anguillara which affords a telling example of this technique. The stanza describes the elements, and all four are listed in each line, but in various sequences: (The numbers added in the margin indicate their order.)

1 2 3 4 Pria che 'l ciel fosse, il mar, la terra, e 'l foco,
4 3 1 2 Era il foco, la terra, il cielo, e 'l mare,
2 1 3 4 Ma 'l mar rendeua, e 'l ciel, la terra, e 'l foco,
4 1 3 2 Deforme il foco, il ciel, la terra, e 'l mare,
3 1 2 4 Ch'iui era, e terra, e cielo, e mare, e foco,
1 3 4 2 Doue era, e cielo, e terra, e foco, e mare,
3 4 2 1 La terra, il foco, e 'l mar era nel cielo,
2 4 3 1 Nel mar, nel foco, e ne la terra il cielo.

(I, ii, 1-8)

We observe how the poet in lines 1-3 establishes a symmetrical pattern, which consists of two interlaced chiasmus (/terra/foco//foco/ terra/cielo/mare//mare/ciel/terra/foco/). He then gradually disentangles (“deforme,” [4]) this pattern in lines four to eight to restore the original chaos. Ruscelli thinks the poet “fece con infinita lode la stanza, che oltre al modo di dir marauigliosamente la confusione del Caos, con la testura della stanza.”17 “The texture of the stanza,” as Ruscelli puts it, is designed to illustrate how the elemental forces are in conflict. As Marlowe was to put it in Tamburlaine's famous speech, they are “warring … for regiment.”18 To this must be added the observation that dell'Anguillara keeps within the restraints imposed by the ottava-form and honors a rule which Gascoigne was to formulate as follows: “Your inuention being once deuised, take heed that neither pleasure of rhyme, nor variety of deuice, do carry you far from it.”19 Dell'Anguillara adds an extra finesse, though, when he permits the stanza's first noun (“'l ciel” [1]) to become its final rhyme (“il cielo” [8]). This “witty” solution, which appealed to Chapman,20 establishes a circular “frame” around his otherwise chaotic stanza, creating “un picciolo mondo” in the manner suggested by Tasso.

Tasso claimed that the principle of composition which turns a poem into a discorde concordia by analogy with the cosmos applies to all genres, and a number of recent studies of his compositional technique shows that he applied these principles in epic poetry when arranging entire episodes, a single stanza, or groups of stanzas.21 In England, Chapman refers to this structural ideal in his description of the way poetry works “all subjects exactly … / Till all be circular, and round as heaven.”22 His contemporary, Samuel Daniel, offers valuable, explicit information about the role of rhyme in the process of shaping a poem into “an Orbe of order and form.”23 Daniel begins his Defence of ryme (1603) by defining rhyme:

it is likewise number and harmonie of words, consisting of an agreeing sound in the last silables of seuerall verses, giuing both to the Eare an Eccho of a delightfull report & to the Memorie a deeper impression of what is deliuered therein.

(pp. 7-8)

The phrase “a deeper impression” indicates that, like Sidney before him, Daniel considers rhyme not simply in terms of pleasing sound effects. He actually attributes more important functions to rhyme than modern readers have realized, for to him it is “comparable to the best inventions of the world” and begets “conceit beyond expectation” (p. 16). Then, too, a proper use of rhyme actually invests a poem with enargia, a quality Renaissance poets and theorists attributed to those literary artifacts which reveal harmony, order, and proportion.

Enargia requires glossing today. In his discussion of “ornament poeticall,” Puttenham explains that this term refers to the “glorious lustre and light” that unites the “outward shew” and the “inward working” of figurative language (III, iii, 142-3).24 This twofold function of verbal ornament is identical with the double effect Daniel attributed to rhyme: the “delightfull report … to the Eare” and the “deeper impression … to the Memorie.” The key words in this context are Daniel's “report” in the sense of “repetition” and Puttenham's “glorious lustre and light,” a phrase which reminds us that lumen and lux were commonly used to denote a rhetorical figure. Enargia (illustratio) therefore refers to the impact made by the configuration of rhetorical figures (lumina) in a given text. Although Daniel begins his argument by referring to the effect upon the ear, his and Puttenham's other terms (“shew,” “lustre,” and “light”) and indeed the etymology of enargia, presuppose “that verbal vision is possible.”25 Puttenham and Daniel both offer examples of how “figure breedeth … light” and “vertuous operation” (Puttenham) in poetry; but for convenience of illustration I shall turn to the latter's Platonizing description of how “the unformed Chaos” of the imagination may be “wrought into an Orbe of order and forme … by the divine power of the spirit.”26

The terms Daniel employs to describe poetry characterized by a proper use of rhymes—“Orbe,” “girum,” “circuit,” and “periode”—all suggest that he favored cyclical textual arrangements. He implies that the method he advocates has been successfully practiced in “some” of his sonnets and he indicates that using it entails breaking up established, or rather expected, rhyme schemes. He also argues that a “manumission from bondage” is achieved when rhyme is reduced “in girum, and a iust forme” (p. 16). The sonnets Daniel alludes to are Delia, IX and XXXVIII, both of which have circular rhyme schemes and display various verbal figures. If we briefly consider Delia, IX, we observe that rhymes and key words are arranged to underline the mythological image (Sisyphus) placed at the center:

If this be loue, to drawe a weary breath,
Paine on flowdes, till the shore, crye to th'ayre:
With downward lookes, still reading on the earth;
The sad memorials of my loues despaire.
If this be loue, to warre against my soule,
Lye downe to waile, rise vp to sigh and grieue me:
The neuer-resting stone of care to roule,
Still to complaine my greifes, and none releiue me.
If this be loue, to cloth me with darke thoughts,
Haunting vntrodden pathes to waile apart;
My pleasures horror, Musiques tragicke notes,
Teares in my eyes, and sorrowe at my hart.
If this be loue, to liue a liuing death;
O then loue I, and drawe this weary breath.

The circular rhyme scheme (/breath/grieue me/releiue me/breath/) creates a verbal circuite which gives prominence to the sonneteer's never-ending hardships (“The neuer-resting stone of care to roule” [7]). Like the repeated rhyme words in “The Roundell or Spheare” quoted by Puttenham (II, xi, 98-9), Daniel's rhymes produce enargia. Gascoigne's poetic “tokens” should be seen as prompted by similar concern for the integration of inward and outward.

When Daniel compares his rhymed orbs to well-ordered rooms (p. 17), thus introducing architectural metaphors into his discourse, he provides a clue for a better understanding of Gascoigne's theory of rhyme. For Gascoigne clearly associated the idea of working from a plan—as in architecture—with his caveat against “rime without reason” in poetry:

my meaning is hereby that your rime leade you not from your first Invention, for many wryters when they have layed the platforme of their invention, are yet drawen sometimes (by ryme) to forget it or at least to alter it.

(Works, I, 469)

Gascoigne's skilful handling of this rule (and related formal issues) earned for him the splendid epitaph from E. K. that he was “the very chefe of our late rymers,”27 and it is interesting to see that the laudatory poems prefaced to The Posies, in fact do praise “the golden ground, / Of Gascoigne's plat” (I, 27) and his ability “to shape in ryme” (I, 23). Moreover, the poetic homage includes the point that this apparent formal ingenuity did not prevent him from putting together (texare) religious lyrics which “harmonise” with Scripture (“sua themata texant, / Consona scripturis sacris” [I, 30]).

In terms of theme, however, “The good morrow” and “The good nyghte” do not strike us as particularly original in the modern sense of this word. Gascoigne frequently introduces half-quotes from and allusions to the Bible throughout his poems; but this evident reliance on scriptural commonplaces, couched in strongly alliterative and sometimes disappointingly plain verse, must not be allowed to obscure the fact that these poems mark an important stage in the development of devotional poetry. The companion poems present a pattern of meditation, a Christian “conduct-book,” which explains how to interpret “worldly toys” in anticipation of death. The choice of a complete diurnal cycle turns the poems into an emblem of the cycle of life and death, or indeed of time itself. It is worth recalling that Vaughan employed similar structural devices in “The Morning-watch” and “The Evening-watch.”28

Today Gascoigne's companion poems seem almost morbidly preoccupied with man's preparations for death; but we should connect them with the tradition of the ars moriendi, and with treatises like Thomas Becon's astonishingly popular The Sicke Mannes Salue (1561).29 Instead of merely providing deathbed advice, Becon addresses himself to the healthy and the ill alike. His praise of the “godly minded” Epaphroditus is typical:

For in you as in a cleare mirroure we behold our selues, and se what shall become of us hereafter. Of you as of a liuely scholemaster do we learne, how we shall behaue our selues, when God layeth the crosse on us. And we most humbly besech God to geue us like pacience and thankfulnes.

(fol. 279v)

Gascoigne takes the same stance when he describes his “glasse wherein we may beholde / Eche storme that stoppes our breath” (“The good morrow,” 21-2), addressing himself first to those who “haue spent the silente nighte / In sleepe and quiet reste” (1-2) and later on to those suppressed by “care” (9) and “sickenesse” (10). The poem's first three stanzas summon these categories of men to praise God, inviting them to interpret sleep and human hardships as images of future death (“Our bedde the graue, our cloathes lyke molde, / And sleepe lyke dreadfull death” [23-4]). After this advice which today seems so depressing, stanza four presents more optimistic and consoling images; just as the night is conquered by the dawn, “so muste we hope to see Gods face, / At laste in heauen on hie” (29-30). Invigorated by this prospect, Gascoigne offers a six-stanza exegesis of “all earthly sightes,” seeing them as “tokens” of what to believe in and what to avoid. The catalogue of natural phenomena includes the day, the sun, the skies, the earth, the rainbow, misty clouds, the crow, and little birds. All occupy different levels in a typology of nature, where the sun in the sky is likened to “the Sonne of man” enthroned in heaven, and where “the carrion Crowe … the Deuill resembleth playne” (38-9, 57, 60). The “goonshot of beliefe” (64) with which we may overthrow the devil represents, I believe, an attempt to adopt the current Italian fashion of using firearms—cannons, bombshells, etc.—as emblems of prudence and heroic virtue.30 To Gascoigne's contemporaries this image must surely have appeared less alien to the context in which it occurs than to modern readers, who have no similar association of ideas. (It is appropriate at this point, I think, to correct Ronald C. Johnson's claim that Gascoigne in the companion poems and in Psalm 130 “does not mention hell or evil,” but that he almost exclusively concentrates on realistic descriptions of physical death.31 It is true that death is very insistently present in these poems, especially in “The good nyghte,” but they certainly do not lack reference either to hell, the devil, or to sin.32)

Each of the six stanzas (v-x) which expound the system of correspondences in nature leads logically on to the next, until we reach the concluding, tenth stanza of “The good morrow.” At this point Gascoigne leaves the rigid and repetitive pattern of similes which has dominated so far, turning instead from description in the present tense to prayer and to the imperative mood: “Lorde for thy mercie lende us myghte / To see that ioyfull daye” (79-80). He thus returns to the mood which dominates his admonition to “you” in stanzas one and two, but whereas the emphasis then was on man's “ioy to see the cheerefull lighte / That riseth in the East” (3-4), here it falls on the hope that “wee may still enioy that light, / Whiche neuer shall decaye” (77-8). Gascoigne thus repeats the poem's first image, but transposed as it were into a higher key. Similarly, the first couplet of “The good nyghte,”

When thou hast spent the lingring day in pleasure and delight,
Or after toyle and wearie way, dost seeke to rest at night,

returns to the first lines of its companion piece (“You that haue spente the silente nighte / In sleepe and quiet reste” [1-2]). This construction heralds an admonition to the Christian (“you”) at this point, too, but instead of inviting him “to prayse the heauenly King” (“The good morrow,” 8), Gascoigne now urges him to search his “secret thoughts” to see whether he has committed sins for which to ask forgiveness (5-6). This conjunction of the acts of praising and repenting draws attention to the theological commonplace, as expressed by Augustine, that “when we confess our sins, we praise the glory of God.”33 And when Gascoigne in the spirit of I John, 1:18 warns the Christian against believing that he has done nothing “amisse,” or that his sins are slight, his indebtedness to Augustine's “Enarratio in psalmo cxxix” again is perceived. In his warning to the Christian who thinks he has “lived in perfect righteousness” and therefore “waiteth fruitlessly” for judgment, Augustine had stressed the point that “this life cannot be without sin”:

He therefore considering how many minute sins man daily committeth, if nothing else, at least by his thoughts and tongue, heeds how many they be; and if he heed how minute they be, he seeth that by many minute sins a great heap is produced.

(VI, 66)

For Augustine, then, “human weakness itself places man in the depth of sin so that it is highly appropriate to wake and to sing with the words of the psalmist: ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord’” (Psalm 129:1). Gascoigne shares this concern for the accumulated burden of sins hidden in “secret thoughts” (5) and “daily deedes” (11), urging the poem's “you” to “beware and wake, for else thy bed, which soft and smoothe is made, / May heap more harm upon thy head, than blows of enemies blade” (15-16). The bedtime advice Gascoigne offers the sinner who, after confessing his sins, has found his “ease,” entails singing “soberly” about the scriptural connection between sleep and death (18-19).

This analogy is exploited in many religious works available to Gascoigne, but the context in which it occurs here suggests that the second half of “The good nyghte” (18-38) may have been inspired by Augustine's comment on the phrase “even unto night” (Psalm 130 (129):6). “How far,” he asks, is our soul to wait, and he provides the following answer:

Even unto night: until we die; for all our carnal death is as it were sleep. Thou hast begun to hope since the Lord rose again, fail not to hope until thou goest forth from this life.

(VI, 68)

Gascoigne focuses first on the analogy between sleep and death in a detailed and almost absurdly grotesque amplificatio, seeing “patterns to the pangs of death” (24) in the sleeper's “streking arms,” his “yauning breath,” “bed,” “sheetes,” “clothes,” “hungrie fleas,” and finally in the “Cocke” which wakes him up in the morning. The many correspondences he finds between sordidly realistic details in the individual's life and the life hereafter present thematic and structural parallels with the manifold correspondences considered in the last six stanzas of “The good morrow.” In these concluding stanzas Gascoigne listed the “tokens” God has distributed in nature, or in the macrocosmos, but in the sequel he pursues his search for “patternes” into the microcosmos, or the life of the individual, and in so doing illustrates what Vaughan later calls “the great Chime / and Symphony of nature” (“The Morning-watch,” 17-18).

In the last eight lines of “The good nyghte” (31-8) the poet connects the idea of rising from sleep with the hope of being resurrected after death, at the same time that he shows that he responds positively to Augustine's advice concerning the necessity of keeping constant vigil “until thou goest forth from this life.” The concluding couplets confidently summarize his hopes for the future:

Thus will I wake, thus will I sleepe, thus will I hope to ryse,
Thus will I neyther wayle nor weepe, but sing in godly wyse.
My bones shall in this bed remayne, my soule in God shall trust,
By whom I hope to ryse agayne from death and earthly dust.


While the first stanza of “The good morrow” had stressed the need “to prayse the heauenly King,” Gascoigne's persona can now sing, unaided and with confidence, about his trust in God. The style of his song is disenchantingly simple and plain. Gascoigne himself employs the phrase “to sing … soberly” about poetry which is deliberately and appropriately humilis as far as poetic diction is concerned. His lines acquire fluency and smoothness only occasionally where this would be appropriate (e.g., “The good morrow,” 25-32 and 65-80). Gascoigne checks even his typical metaphoric inventiveness, which appears briefly in phrases like “the goonshot of beliefe” (“The good morrow,” 64) and the suggestive “thy wading wyll maye trye, how far thy soule may sink” (“The good nyghte,” 14).

Although the style of these poems may fail to impress modern readers, Gascoigne nevertheless commands respect for the way in which he shapes the various stages of his poetic ars moriendi into a whole. In “The good morrow” the distribution of themes within the body of the text is signposted by his handling of the rhyme scheme, inviting us to consider the poem's formal aspects. The poem has ten stanzas, each consisting of eight iambic lines of four plus three beats—thus each stanza could be said to contain two ballad stanzas. This choice may seem somewhat disappointing, and Gascoigne was never to repeat it, but the Sternhold-Hopkins psalter had established the ballad stanza as the preferred poetic form for “Psalmes and Himpnes.”34 On this point, therefore, Gascoigne complies with current practice. All stanzas have an a/b/a/b/c/d/c/d/ rhyme scheme, with the exception of the fourth stanza which has three rhymes only, grouped in a symmetrical pattern: /a/b/a/b/b/c/b/c/. That this sudden departure from the metrical norm displays no lack of skill nor constitutes a breach of the poem's rhyme-based “platforme of … inuention,” becomes evident upon considering the close relationship between theme and textual form in this stanza.

Gascoigne here attempts to compare the conquest of “deadly nyghte” by “heauenly daye” to the resurrection of man on Judgment Day:

Yet as this deadly nyghte did laste,
But for a little space,
And heauenly daye nowe night is paste,
Doth shewe his pleasant face:
So muste we hope to see Gods face,
At laste in heauen on hie,
When we haue chaung'd this mortall place,
For Immortalitie.

(23-32; my emphases)

The repetition of the same rhyme word “face” in consecutive lines (28-9) is a structural juxtaposition which literally mirrors the union “face to face” to which it alludes. We note, too, that the stanza has been given a chiastic textual form focused on its two central lines: the idea of “deadly nyghte” which did not last (25-6) balances the idea of a “chaung'd … mortall place” (31-2), thus completing the rhetorical retrograde formed by the words “heauenly,” “face,” “face,” and “heauen” (27-30).35 In this way the texture and the greater art of this stanza (cf. the prominence given to the pentasyllabic “Immortalitie,” [32]), suggest its importance within the structure of “The good morrow.”36 Gascoigne not only places his two references to the scriptural doctrine of signs on either side of the fourth stanza (21-4 and 33-6), he also makes it the focal point of a symmetrical rhyme structure which spans the poem as a whole. This structure is as follows (identical rhyme words are underlined):

stanzas rhyme words/lines
I nighte/1
III beholde/21
IV space/26
V holde/34
X lyght/77

If we consider the distribution of topoi in “The good morrow,” while bearing in mind this structure created by the repetition of identical rhyme words, we discover that the three formally similar stanzas which precede stanza four (i-iii) share one topos and that this is true also of the six stanzas which succeed it (v-x). The three initial stanzas focus on the sphere of man and see sleep as an image of death, while the six concluding stanzas concentrate on the sphere of nature and on daytime phenomena. The intervening fourth stanza which gives meaning to these exegetical efforts on the part of the speaker thus divides the poem into a graded sequence of three, one, and six stanzas, so that the poem displays the ratio of the diapason (1:2). Augustine had explained the crucial event described in this pivotal stanza—that man receives immortality through the intervention of Christ—in terms of this harmonious ratio:

For the death of the sinner, which deservedly comes from the necessary condemnation of God, has been taken away by the death of the Just Man, which comes from His will to show mercy, while His single death corresponds to our double death. This correspondence, agreement, consent, or whatever other word may be appropriate for describing how one is joined to two, is one of the greatest importance in every fitting-together of the creature. … It just now occurs to me, that which I mean by this co-adaptation is what the Greeks call harmonian (harmony).37

Because Augustine argues that this consonantia … unum ad duo is appropriate to all kinds of creations, and not exclusively to God's two works of creation and re-creation, it is consequently highly appropriate that a poem which praises these works should exhibit this harmonious proportion. One of the poems prefaced to Gascoigne's Posies finds it praiseworthy that the “texture” of Gascoigne's themes agrees with Scripture (“sua themata texant, / consona scripturis sacris” [I, 30]) and this statement may perhaps be an allusion to Gascoigne's various ways of incorporating the diapason in the companion poems and in “Gascoignes De Profundis.38 What is certain, moreover, is that Gascoigne's verbal and structural “tokens,” the “outward shew” of “The good morrow,” so accord with its “inner substance” and theme that the poem displays enargia.

Historically, Gascoigne's poetic diapason belongs to a mode of composition which antedates Christianity and which probably originates in Greek, possibly Alexandrian, poetry. It is perhaps symptomatic that the earliest examples in Latin poetry are found in poems corresponding to the Alexandrian genre of the paraclausithyron, as in Ovid's Elegy, I, vi, and in epithalamia.39 Two medieval poems of vastly different length, both of which display a similar graded structure, are Geoffrey de Vinsauf's “Luctus Ricardi” and Dante's La Divina Commedia.40 The only Renaissance theorist who comes close to describing this particular structural refinement is Scaliger. In the Poetices (1561), he refers to numerical ratios to illustrate how “repetimus etiam per proportionem” (my emphasis),41 but if we turn to Renaissance poetry we will find that several major poets employed this technique. Two recent articles by Mother M. C. Pecheux and Sibyl Lutz Severance, respectively, show that Milton and Jonson created structural diapasons in their devotional poetry.42

Gascoigne's choice of ten stanzas, grouped in a sequence of three, one, and six, is in theory no different from Ovid's distribution of lines in Elegy I, vi (48:2:24), and it is one which may have influenced the topomorphical structure of Spenser's Prothalamion.43 However, Gascoigne seems to be the first English poet to combine two related poems with the two structures creating a diapason. “The good morrow” and “The good nyghte” are certainly complementary both in terms of theme and structure. The latter poem lacks nearly all of the “outward” ornaments which characterize its companion piece, but it possesses a well-balanced thematic structure in which the initial admonition to the Christian (1-18) exactly balances the Christian's song (19-36). The final couplet (37-8) is a coda in the form of a song within the song, which in turn is a song within the song which is the poem itself. Apart from these signs of thematic and narrative planning, the style is plain, its alliterations and occasional parallelisms (6-7, 19-20, and 35-6) being wholly within the framework of the couplet structure.

The apparent absence of verbal “lights” may be appropriate in a poem entitled “The good nyghte,” but because here we have to do with what Ben Jonson refers to as “the reverse” in a two-poem unit,44 we should look for verbal figures which relate to the poem as a whole. For although the companion poems can be read as two separate works, the close integration of theme and form invites us to consider them jointly. Gascoigne himself groups them together, referring to them as “these good Morowe and good nyght,” when he lists the various poems which “haue verie sweete notes adapted vnto them.”45 This could perhaps be taken to suggest that the same piece of music was intended for both, and the chosen verse form supports this interpretation: both are written in the same basic ballad metre. The great difference in graphic outline experienced upon considering the printed page is fictitious: a ballad stanza could be rendered either as a four-three-four-three-beat stanza or as a seven-beat couplet. When Gascoigne combines two four-line stanzas to form an eight-line configuration in “The good morrow” and compresses the same stanza to two seven-beat couplets in its sequel, it may be a conscious move to illustrate the thematic harmony between the two poems. While there is only one rhyme word per line in “The good morrow,” there are two in its companion poem, and the reverse applies—two lines in the former correspond formally to one line in the latter. This is a simple but nevertheless quite effective way of expressing the consonantia unum ad duo which the poems purport to praise. Gascoigne's skilful deployment of rhymes at the point of transition between the two poems encourages such a view.

The four last rhyme words of “The good morrow” (/lyght/decaye/myghte/daye/) are echoed in the first four of its sequel (/day/delight/way/night/). The final rhyme word of the first poem (“daye,” [80]) is identical with the first in the second poem (“day,” [1]) and the very phrase in which it occurs—“the lingring day”—reinforces the idea that “The good nyghte” continues where its companion poem left off: that is, in the contemplation of “dayly deedes,” (11). Here again Gascoigne seems deliberately to draw on rhyme to score a thematic point and to invest the passage in question with enargia as he lets his rhymes “linger” on, as it were. Moreover, one wonders if it could be a product of chance that the exact numerical center of the poems by line-count falls within this knot or nexus of identical rhymes, and that it coincides precisely with the only example in the poems of a prayer addressed directly to God:46

Lorde for thy mercie lende us myghte
To see that ioyfull daye.


What is certain is that “The good nyghte” consists of thirty-eight fourteeners, which makes it fall two lines short of the “perfect” total of eighty half-lines in “The good morrow.”47 In view of the fact that these are companion poems we would have expected forty fourteeners to match eighty half lines, so that the unexpected total of 118 half-lines must be the result of “conceit beyond expectation,” or what Gascoigne himself refers to as “construing” (“Gascoignes counsell to Douglasse Diue,” 64). He must have expected his readers to scrutinize his poetry in search of “deep” devices, and in view of his reputation among his contemporaries, I think we owe him the courtesy of honoring his advice. “If,” he says,

Thou chaunce to fall on construing, whereby some doubtes may grow,
Yet grant this only boone, peruse it twise or thrise,
Digest it well eare thou condemne the depth of my deuise.
And use it like the nut, first cracke the outward shell,
Then trie the kirnell by the tast, and it may please thee well.


This advice presupposes a literary climate where readers of poetry would focus all their attention on a text qua text so that they would meditate on the pattern presented on the printed page. To such attentive readers the graphic appearance of Gascoigne's printed poems would seem to give an added bonus. When considering the companion poems from this point of view, we cannot fail to notice that “The good morrow” appears less “black” than its accompanying piece on the page. Its shorter lines and the white spaces which separate its stanzas go well with its title, whereas the black and massive block of thirty-eight fourteeners may be said to provide a graphic expression of the theme of “The good nyghte.” This effect is admittedly less refined than the more familiar effects produced by Herbert's pattern poems, but it represents a kind of poetic “Augenmusik,” which also appealed to Vaughan. Vaughan's companion poems, “The Morning-watch” and “The Evening-watch,” exploit a similar opposition between an “airy” and a “compact” graphic outline. It may well be that this, too, was one of the devices Vaughan adapted from Gascoigne's companion poems. In “The Passion” Milton possibly alludes to this fairly unusual typographical effect when he wishes that “the leaves should all be black whereon I write” (34).48 The reading technique which was cultivated to capture such effects and interpret various verbal signs reminds us of Andrew Weiner's view that “instructions for reading the scriptures might well form the basis of our study of the poetry Sidney is defending,” that is, we should pay attention to “the signs which may be imbedded in” the narrative.49 If we examine the signs Gascoigne has imbedded in his texts, we shall see how “the outward shell” supports the claim that he intends us to read the companion poems as one unified poem, but this time the signs do not occur exclusively in rhyme position. Gascoigne has, it is true, forged a rhyme-link at the point of transition between the two poems; but when he encourages readers to connect the last part of “The good nyghte” with the first part of “The good morrow,” he does so more emphatically by repeating key images situated mainly within the lines.

The first indication that Gascoigne may have wanted to create what Daniel calls “an Orbe of order and forme,” surfaces when he repeats the rhyme words (/breath/death/) at the same time that he echoes the idea that sleep is an image of death and “a glasse wherein we maye beholde / Eche storme that stoppes our breath” (“The good morrow,” 21-2). In “The good nyghte” he puts it this way: “the yauning breath, which I to bedward use, / Are patternes of the pangs of death,” 23-4), thus drawing attention, so it seems, to the way in which he reiterates some of his images. Taking this clue for our starting-point, a close scrutiny of “The good nyghte” reveals that it incorporates three phrases from “The good morrow” (19 and 23). They are as follows: “My bed itself is lyke ye graue” (27), “My clothes the moulde” (28), and “sluggishe sleepe” (33). It is worth noticing that these repetitions create a chiastic pattern, as does the reference to joyous resurrection which completes this pattern: the first stanza of “The good morrow” describes the Christian's “ioy to see the cheerfull lighte / That riseth in the East” (3-4) while its sequel concludes by echoing this expression of joy climactically—the speaker hopes “to ryse ioyfully, to Judgement at the laste” (34; my emphasis). The references to singing on these occasions reinforce the thematic movement from a description of the dawn to one which depicts the “dawn” of the resurrection of man. Thus “eche willyng wighte” is summoned by the persona of “The good morrow” (7), who urges all to “helpe me nowe to sing” (6), but this plea remains unanswered until we reach the inset song in “The good nyghte” (19-38). More particularly, the speaker displays the desired willingness only when we reach the very end of that song:

Thus will I wake, thus will I sleepe, thus will I hope to ryse,
Thus will I neyther wayle nor weepe, but sing in godly wyse.

(35-6; my italics)

This sudden focus on the persona's reformed will tells us that the sole instance of truly “godly” singing occurs in the concluding song within the song (37-8). This strategy of arranging song within song within poem accompanies the movement from the persona's address to his fellow men (“you”), via a meditation related to the collective “we” (“The good morrow,” 1-24 and 25-80), and then through yet another address, this time directed to an individual “thou” before the poems conclude with two songs in the first person singular, one within the other (“The good nyghte,” 1-18, 19-36, and 37-8). These parallel patterns seem to be designed to give added force to the probing journey into the Christian's conscience, to his quest for spiritual renewal or regeneration. It is possible that “the verie sweete notes” originally set to the companion poems further enhanced the “harmonious” solution of this quest, but concerning the precise nature of the relationship between poetry and music we can only guess.

What is certain is that the close integration of theme and formal elements in “The good morrow” and “The good nyghte” proves Gascoigne's ability to use rhyme creatively. Although each poem possesses a well-defined thematic and textual structure of its own, so that each is a poem in its own right, each nevertheless gains in depth and in importance when we perceive how they are subsumed into a greater unity. Together they constitute a carefully patterned meditation on how to die well, and in so doing they repeatedly insist that we interpret the signs (“tokens,” “shapes,” and “patternes”) they provide. Once we have penetrated the deceptively plain “outward shell” of the poems, we can appreciate the way in which Gascoigne distributes rhymes and key concepts to draw attention to the underlying topomorphic structure, or his “platforme of … inuention,” to use the poet's own term. He not only reduces rhyme “in girum” (Daniel's phrase), but he also exploits various other schemata verborum to create structural diapasons in tribute to divine harmony. The “consonantia … unum ad duo” which takes place when God and man meet “face to face” (“The good morrow,” 25-32) may also have inspired the ratio (1:2) which arises from Gascoigne's different deployment of the ballad stanza in the two poems. But more important than such examples of formal finesse is the manner in which Gascoigne so distributes topoi and reiterates verbal “tokens” that his materials combine to create, to use Marlowe's phrase, “one poem's period,”50 a unified artifact where spatial design and linear movement act as complementary forces. The resulting poetic “orb” is one of the earliest sustained attempts to transfer Italian compositional techniques into Elizabethan verse, and although they constitute a hybrid form, “The good morrow” and “The good nyghte” make a major contribution to the kind of religious lyric which was later more elaborately developed in the poetry of George Herbert and Henry Vaughan. Gascoigne's “fair, order'd lights” (“The Constellation,” 1) succeed in producing enargia at the same time that they reflect what Mary E. Hazard calls “the central Renaissance concern for the re-integration of inward and outward, mind and body, reason and feeling, in post-lapsarian men.”51


  1. For an approach to Gascoigne's “novel” which emphasizes its symmetrical design, see Alfred Anderau's challenging study George Gascoignes The Adventures of Master F. J.: Analyse und Interpretation (Bern, 1966), pp. 76ff. I would like to add that Gascoigne's short translation from Orlando furioso and his two sonnet sequences (in A Hundreth sundrie Flowres (London, 1573; Scolar Press reprint: Menston, 1970), pp. 294-5, 336-8, and 360-3), have rhetorical structures which reveal that Gascoigne considered each as one poem.

  2. Only the introductory sonnet to Psalm 130 and its title appear in A Hundreth sundrie Flowres (pp. 372-3). The reason for the omission of the psalm itself is probably a misunderstanding on the part of the printer, who may have seen the introductory sonnet and the psalm as two separate poems and therefore suppressed one, the wrong one, in order to avoid exceeding the advertised “good rounde vollume” of one hundred poems (flowers). The three religious lyrics are printed in sequence in the “Flowres” section of The Posies (1575), see The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, 2 vols., ed. J. W. Cunliffe (Cambridge, 1907-10), I, 55-62.

  3. “Typological Form in ‘Gascoignes De Profundis,’” pp. 1-20 (forthcoming in English Studies).

  4. This doctrine of signs was firmly established in the works of Origen and Augustine and became one of the basic elements of medieval theology and aesthetic thought. Alan of Lille's often-quoted verses succinctly state its basic metaphors: “Omnis mundi creatura / quasi liber et pictura / nobis est in speculum, / nostrae vitae, nostrae sortis, / nostri status, nostrae mortis / fidele signaculum” (see John Steven's exposition of these verses in Medieval Romance: Themes and Approaches (London, 1973), p. 27. It is important to note, I think, that at the root of a word like signaculum is signum, which among other things signifies a rhetorical figure and a star. By implication, then, the created universe is like a book adorned with rhetorial figures.

  5. See for instance Gascoigne's discussion of “Ceasures” in Certaine notes of Instruction (Works, I, 471) and the lively account of the way in which music influenced his poetry in “The Griefe of Joye,” iv, 13-28 (Works, II, 550-3).

  6. Thomas Campion, Observations in the Art of English Poetry (1602), I quote from The Works of Thomas Campion, ed. Walter R. Davis (London, 1969), p. 293.

  7. Diana Poulton, John Dowland (London, 1982), p. 195.

  8. See Heinrich Lausberg's treatment of the periodos, “die vollkommenste Vereiningung mehrer Gedanken in einem Satz,” in Handbuch der Literarischen Rhetorik, 2 vols. (München, 1973), I, 458. Useful classical and Renaissance accounts are: Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, ed. J. H. Freese (London, 1926), III, ix, 386-95, and Julius Caesar Scaliger, Poetices libri septem (Lugduni, 1561), IIII, xxv, 197a-8a.

  9. Maren-Sofie Røstvig has defined and discussed the impact and persistence of this structural aesthetic in a number of articles, e.g., in “Ars Aeterna: Renaissance Poetics and Theories of Divine Creation,” in Chaos and Form, ed. Kenneth McRobbie (Winnipeg, 1972), pp. 101-19, and “Structure as Prophecy: The Influence of Biblical Exegesis Upon Theories of Literary Structure,” in Silent Poetry, ed. Alastair Fowler (London, 1970), pp. 32-72.

  10. Torquato Tasso, Discourses on the Heroic Poem, trans. M. Cavalchini and I. Samuels (Oxford, 1973), p. 78.

  11. As I define it, the term topomorphics and its cognates refer to the study of literary artifacts, where poets have arranged their themes (topoi), or textual segments devoted to particular topoi, according to a predetermined plan or conceptual form (morphe). This method may apply to individual textual segments within a work, to groups of such segments, or to the whole configuration of all constituent segments in a work. Poets often combine an overall plan with individually patterned segments, as is the case in “Gascoignes De Profundis,” such segments then usually holding a particularly important theme or episode. For a fuller account see M.-S. Røstvig's article “The Topomorphical Approach” in the forthcoming Spenser Encyclopedia.

  12. The Works of Thomas Nashe, 3 vols., ed. R. B. McKerrow (London, 1910), III, 319.

  13. Discourses on the Heroic Poem, p. 201.

  14. Fredi Chiappelli comments upon Tasso's use of chiasmus and antithesis in “Struttura inventiva e struttura espressiva nella Gerusalemme liberata,ST, XV (1965), 5-33. For Tasso's use of graded arrangements (the diapason), see M.-S. Røstvig, “Canto Structure in Tasso and Spenser,” SSt, I (1980), 177-200. For an exposition of Tasso's rhyme technique in relation to his aesthetic ideal of “mixed unity,” see Roy T. Eriksen, The Forme of Faustus Fortunes (diss. Oslo, 1983), pp. 7-24.

  15. In his poem “To the Reader” prefaced to The Iliads, Chapman compares English to French and Italian:

    Our Monosyllables, so kindly fall
    And meete, opposde in rime, as they did kisse:
    French and Italian, most immetricall;
    Their many syllables, in harsh Collision,
    Fall as they brake their necks. …


    I quote from Poems, ed. P. B. Bartlett (New York, 1941), p. 394.

  16. Del modo di comporre in uersi nella lingua italiana (Vinegia, 1563), pp. 42-3. Do we discern an echo of Ruscelli's title in the title of Gascoigne's Certaine notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English? It is worthy of notice that Gascoigne says that he wrote his notes for the benefit of an Italian.

  17. P. 43.

  18. Tamburlaine's famous speech (Part One, II, vi, 12-29) on the human “frame” composed of warring elements possesses a similar circular structure; see Eriksen, The Forme of Faustus Fortunes, pp. 210-14.

  19. Works, I, 466.

  20. Chapman imitates dell'Anguillara's dance of the elements in “Hymnus in Noctem,” 36-49 (Poems, pp. 20-1). Røstvig analyzes Chapman's use of a circular verbal pattern in this particular passage, see “‘Figures and Numbers’: On the Poetics of George Chapman,” in Dikt og Idé, ed. Sverre Dahl (Oslo, 1981), pp. 91ff.

  21. See above at note 14 and also Andrew Fichter, “Tasso's Epic of Deliverance,” PMLA, XLIII (March, 1978), 265-74.

  22. The lines occur in the “Epistle Dedicatorie” (120-3) to The Iliads (Poems, p. 387). They belong within a large textual segment which, as Røstvig has pointed out, has been given a circular verbal pattern in order to reinforce its description of “circular, and round” poetry (123), see “‘Figures and Numbers’: On the Poetics of George Chapman,” p. 95.

  23. A Defence of ryme (1603), in Elizabethan and Jacobean Quartoes, 14, ed. G. B. Harrison (Edinburgh, 1966), p. 16.

  24. The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589), eds. Gladys D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge, 1970).

  25. Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford, 1979), p. 29.

  26. A Defence of ryme, p. 16. Daniel's terms call to mind Ficino's description of the creation: “although in the beginning the matter of this world lay a formless chaos without the ornament of forms, attracted by innate love, it turned toward the Soul and offered itself submissively to it, and by the mediation of this love, it found ornament, from the Soul, of all the forms which are seen in this world; and thus out of a chaos was made a world”; Commentary on Plato's Symposium, trans. S. R. Jayne (Columbia, Missouri, 1944), p. 129. We note that Ficino, too, employs rhetorically colored language when discussing the creation (cf. “the matter of this world … without the ornament (ornamentum) of forms”).

  27. I quote from E. K.'s comment on Gascoigne's skill in The Shepheardes Calendar (London, 1579), “Nouember glosse” (Sig. 48r).

  28. Vaughan's companion poems are close enough in terms of theme, phrasing, and partly also in choice of formal effects to suggest direct influence, even though Gascoigne rarely achieved the swift smoothness of Vaughan's style. In “The Morning-watch” Vaughan reverses the modes as found in “The good morrow,” when he makes lines 1-18 hymnic and shifts to meditation or petition in 19-33. Similarly, the changing voices in “The good nyghte” (“Thou” and “I”) become a dialogue between “Body” and “Soul” in Vaughan's “The Evening-watch.” Vaughan, too, creates a structural pun on the diapason by a clever disposition of rhymes: when we add the line totals of the two poems (33 and 16), we find that the seventeenth (and central) line of “The Morning-watch” occupies the pivotal position of a diapason of 16: 1: 32 lines. Moreover, its rhyme (“Chime”), which occurs in a self-referring passage (“Thus all is hurl'd / In sacred Hymnes, and Order, The great Chime / And Symphony of Nature” [16-18]), crops up again in the concluding couplet of “The Evening-watch” (“time” [15] and “Prime” [16]). We note that Vaughan italicizes the two rhyme-words which hold the structurally important positions within his diapason of visible signs. I have used The Works of Henry Vaughan, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford, 1957), pp. 424-5. Vaughan's adherence to the Augustinian doctrine of ascent from the visible to the invisible is a well-established fact that sets up a clear ideological link between his poetic practice and Gascoigne's (see L. L. Martz, The Paradise Within: Studies in Vaughan, Traherne, and Milton [New York and London, 1964], pp. 17ff.).

  29. N. L. Beaty offers a most useful account of this work in The Craft of Dying: A Study in the Literary Tradition of the Ars Moriendi in England (New Haven and London, 1970), pp. 108-56.

  30. See Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (Harmondsworth, 1967), pp. 108-12.

  31. R. C. Johnson, George Gascoigne (New York, 1972), p. 70.

  32. Gascoigne mentions hell in “The good morrow,” 72 and “Gascoignes De Profundis,” 4, the devil in “The good morrow,” 60 and 63, and sin in “The good nyghte,” 14.

  33. Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 6 vols., trans. Members of the English Church (Oxford, 1847-57), IV, 387.

  34. Gascoigne defines two kinds of ballads in Certaine notes of Instruction (Works, I, 471) adding that “the long verse of twelue and fourteene sillables, although it be now adayes used in all Theames, yet in my iudgement it would serue best for Psalmes and Himpnes” (I, 473).

  35. Tasso adorns the stanza which describes Mount Olivet (La Gerusalemme liberata, XI, 10), the scene of the sacrificial ceremony in which the crusaders re-establish the link between God and themselves, with a similar rhetorical pattern, focused on the anaphoric repetition of “Monte” (10, iv-v). This stanza occupies the exact middle of the epic poem by stanza-count (968-1-968).

  36. Gascoigne favors a poetic style which displays an unusually high degree of monosyllables (see Certaine notes, § 5; Works, I, 468), sometimes creating special effects by the variation of monosyllabic and polysyllabic words. After a barrage of monosyllables, he may end a stanza emphatically with a choice word like the pentasyllabic “Immortalitie.” Similar instances occur in “Gascoignes De Profundis,” 12, 55, and 85, and should not be seen as examples of “Inkehorne” terms (Works, I, 468).

  37. The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna (Washington, 1970), pp. 133-4. Augustine goes on to relate this concept of harmony to Pythagoras' experiment with “a properly-adjusted monochord” (p. 134). Another striking instance of this symbolism occurs in his exposition of Psalm 58. 7 (Expositions on the Book of Psalms, IV, 94).

  38. I refer to the unexpected doubling from four initial anaphoras in VII, 1-4 to eight in VIII, 1-8, which accompanies the described appeasement of “our discorde” (VIII, 4). Gascoigne briefly mentions Augustine's mixed attitude to music in The Grief of Joye (IV, xvi, 7).

  39. Ovid's Elegy I, vi recounts how a lover complains before the beloved's closed door. The poem falls into two main sections (1-48 and 51-74), separated by a distich (49-50). In the first section the lover still hopes to gain entrance but it ends, like his hope, when he wrongly thinks he hears the door open: “Fallimur, an verso sonuerunt cardine postes, / Raucaque concussae signa dedere fores?” (49-50; my italics). This false beginning precedes the final section where he has no hope (“quam longe spem tulit aura meam;” 52). Ovid adorns the different stages of his graded thematic arrangement partly with repeated homeouteleuton (in 1-2, 24-5, 47-50, and 73-4), partly with repetitions within the lines (in 1-2, 49-50, and 73-4). Also, we note the witty pun (typical of Ovid) on poetico-musical terminology in the pivotal distich. Paradoxically, Augustine was to draw on the imagery of the paraclausithyron in his passionate quest for union with God: “quibus quasi manibus invisibilibus ad invisibilem ianuam pulsatis, ut invisibiliter vobis aperiatur, et invisibiliter intretis,” Psalmus CIII. i (104:1) in Enarrationes in psalmos, 3 vols., eds. D. E. Dekkers and I. Fraipont (Turnholti, 1956), III, 1474. Similarly, this genre influenced poems like Geoffrey de Vinsauf's “Sanctae Crucis querela” (Poetria nova, III, 469-507), a prosopopeia which recalls the door's complaint in Propertius' Elegy, I, xvi. For the octave proportion in epithalamia, see Alastair Fowler (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 159-60. I quote Geoffrey de Vinsauf's text from Ernest Gallo, The Poetria Nova and Its Sources in Early Rhetorical Doctrine (The Hague and Paris, 1971), which also provides an excellent translation of de Vinsauf's text.

  40. The “Luctus Ricardi,” Poetria nova, III, 326-67, consists of three sections: an apostrophe to England and praise of King Richard (326-35), a warning that death will overcome even the strong (335-47), and, finally, a recognition that God alone can foretell the future with a list of de casibus “exempla” (347-67). Within this graded arrangement of 10:12:20 lines, the references to fate (i.e., Providence) and the way in which day must turn into night divide the poem into a second graded sequence where line 339 is the pivot: “Nubila fata diem, ducentque crepuscula noctem (my emphases). This line is echoed in the two last lines: “nox et vicina diei. / Haec aliena docent, sed te tua fata docebunt” (365-6; my italics). Additionally, the sequential repetition of words at 330-2 (speculum, columna, fulmen) and at 340-2 (rumpetur speculum, rupta columna, cessabit fulminis ictus) reinforces the pivotal character of line 339.

    La Divina Commedia is too comprehensive a subject to be considered in a footnote, but it should be remarked that the prophetic and transitional canto, where we witness the final purification of Dante before he begins his ascent to the Paradiso (Purgatorio, 33), divides the epic into a graded sequence of 66:1:33 cantos. The rhetorical and thematic “circle” of the Paradiso has been fully documented, but similar thematic and verbal repetitions link the opening terzine of Inferno 1 and the concluding terzine of Purgatorio 32, the link being their strong emphasis on allegorical beasts encountered in a “selva oscura.” I intend to discuss this structural enactment of what Dante himself calls “la prima cagion” at more length elsewhere.

  41. Poetices libri septem, III, xli, 313.

  42. Mother M. C. Pecheux, “‘At a Solemn Musick’: Structure and Meaning,” SP, LXXV (1978), 331-46; and Sibyl Lutz Severance, “‘To Shine in Union’: Measure, Number, and Harmony in Ben Jonson's ‘Poems of Devotion,’” SP, LXXX (1983), 183-99.

  43. See the entry “George Gascoigne” in the forthcoming Spenser Encyclopedia, where the graded arrangement of “The good morrow” is compared to those of Spenser. Prothalamion, too, exhibits a pivot (VII) with fewer rhymes arranged symmetrically. Alastair Fowler first pointed out that “the proportion between the (poem's) zodiac-garlands is 6:3 or 2:1, that is, the harmonious proportion of the octave conventional in epithalamium division.” Conceitful Thoughts (Edinburgh, 1975), p. 75.

  44. Ben Jonson's poem “The Ghyrlond of the blessed Virgin MARIE” has a matching poem of equal length entitled “The Reverse on the backe side.” The Works of Ben Jonson, 11 vols., eds. C. H. Herford, P. and E. Simpson (Oxford, 1947), VIII, 412-14.

  45. A Hundreth sundrie Flowres, p. 372.

  46. If we apply this approach to Milton's “L'Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” which similarly have slightly different totals, 152 and 176 lines respectively, we discover that the apostrophe to “Melancholy” occupies the textual center: “But hail thou Goddess, sage and holy, / Hail divinest Melancholy,” “Il Penseroso,” 11-12. The Poems of John Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire (Oxford, 1961), p. 24.

    Another example is found in Philippe de Vitry's two-part motet “Garrit Gallus-In nova fert-Neuma,” where the apostrophe in lines 18-20 (“O Gallorum garritus doloris”) holds the textual center. I quote the text from James Anderson Winn, Unsuspected Eloquence (New Haven and London, 1981), p. 108. The author discusses de Vitry's multiple uses of the 3:2 proportion (pp. 107-10).

  47. Just for the record, and because Gascoigne glances in the direction of divine numbers in his version of Psalm 130, it is perhaps worth noting that the numbers eighty and thirty-eight, found in the poems' line totals, traditionally were associated with meanings relevant to the themes of Gascoigne's poems. Referring to Luke 16, Pietro Bongo tells us that the number eighty means the resurrection of the Lord; Mysticae numerorum significatione liber (Bergamo, 1585), p. 122. According to Augustine's opinion in Tractatu 17 in Iohannem, so Bongo informs us, the number thirty-eight refers equally well to feebleness and sluggishness as to the delivery from such weakness (“At vero quomodo praesens numerus ad languorem magis spectet, quam ad sanitatem accurate docet Aurelius Augustinus” [p. 89]). We remember Gascoigne's phrase “when sluggishe sleepe is paste, / … hope I to ryse ioyfully” (The good nyghte,” 33-4).

  48. The Poems of John Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire (Oxford, 1961), p. 13. In this context it is perhaps worthwhile considering the possibility that “On the Morning of Christs Nativity,” “The Hymn,” and “The Passion” originally were planned as a sequence with a graded frame.

  49. “Moving and Teaching: Sidney's Defence of Poesie as a Protestant Poetic,” JMRS, II (1972), 277.

  50. Tamburlaine the Great, Part One, V, ii, 169, The Plays of Christopher Marlowe, ed. Roma Gill (Oxford, 1971).

  51. “An Essay to Amplify ‘Ornament:’ Some Renaissance Theory and Practice,” SEL, XVI (1976), 21.

Roy T. Eriksen (essay date August 1985)

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SOURCE: Eriksen, Roy T. “Typological Form in ‘Gascoignes De Profundis.’” English Studies 66, no. 4 (August 1985): 300-9.

[In this essay, Eriksen examines the typological form of “Gascoignes De Profundis,” lauding its innovative qualities.]

Gascoigne's translation of the penitential Psalm 130 provides an early and hitherto unnoticed example of an attentiveness to typological shape and pattern that we more readily associate with George Herbert, or in a rather more rudimentary form with the metrical psalms of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney. As Louis L. Martz has observed, ‘Sidney's translation of the Psalms represents … the closest approximation to the poetry of Herbert's Temple that can be found anywhere in the preceding English poetry’, an observation which was qualified somewhat when John Rathmell pointed out that Martz's ‘remark applies equally well to his sister's share in the work’.1 It is the aim of this article to argue that Gascoigne's employment of a complex eleven-line stanza with an artful pattern of long and short lines is not simply the product of ‘curious’ art: this particular pattern is to be related to a contemporary mode of rhetorical and numerological composition and to the view put forward by St. Augustine that Psalm 130 (Vulgata 129) is designed to enact, as it were, the re-establishment of concord between the despairing sinner and a merciful God.

George Gascoigne (1539-77) was an innovator in nearly everything he turned to. His list of merits is long: he wrote the first English novel, he translated the first Greek tragedy into English, he wrote the first English prose play, he composed the first treatise on English metre, and so on. His poetry is equally innovatory, although its quality varies almost as often as his stanza forms and rhyme schemes. In spite of his important role as a pioneer, it is regrettable that Ronald C. Johnson's words are still valid: ‘Of all the writers of the sixteenth century, George Gascoigne … is perhaps the least understood and is certainly the most underrated’.2 And though it is true that Gascoigne's contribution to the English novel has been more adequately appreciated in recent years, his poetry is still greatly underestimated.3

‘Invention’ is the keyword behind all of Gascoigne's literary endeavours and it is especially true of his poetry. He opens his discussion of poetry in Certayne notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English by stating that

The first and most necessarie poynt that ever I founde meete to be cōsidered in making of a delectable poeme is this, to grounde it upon some fine invention.4

The term ‘invention’ as Gascoigne employs it here relates not merely to a theme or a conceit, but to an entity which combines both theme and form. We will see this when reading Gascoigne's caution against ‘rime without reason’. ‘My meaning’, he writes, ‘is hereby that your rime leade you not from your first Invention, for many wryters when they have layed the platforme of their invention, are yet drawen sometimes (by ryme) to forget it, …’ (my italics).5 If we understand him correctly, every invention (or theme) is first to receive a form (or platforme) which is capable of expressing its inner rationale. This is the very same impulse that we find reflected in the incredibly rich variety of stanza forms of the ‘Sydneian psalmes’,6 or indeed in the stanza form of ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’.

The stanzaic pattern he decided on for Psalm 130 consists of eight iambic pentameters, two iambic dimeters, and a concluding iambic pentameter (10-10-10-10-10-10-10-10-4-4-10)—eleven verses in all. Gascoigne was obviously pleased with his invention, judging by the fact that he used it in three different poems and also by his own somewhat self-important gloss on it:

This Ballade, or howsoever I shall terme it, … hath great good store of deepe invention, and for the order of the verse, it is not common, I have not heard any of like proporcion. …7

In the case of ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’, this kind of ‘uncommon’ proportion anticipates what George Puttenham later was to term ‘ocular proporcion’, which arises when a poet ‘by his measures and concordes of sundry proportions doth counterfait the harmonicall tunes of … Musickes’,8 but Gascoigne also exploits other types of rhetorical schemes when devising his ‘deepe invention’. An initial sign of his intention to employ special artifice is given in a prefatory sonnet,9 where he promises to ‘frame’ his weary Muses ‘To write some verse in honour of [God's] name’ (12-13). (To ‘frame’ here means to invent an artful metrical and stanzaic pattern.) Despite the occasional infelicities of Gascoigne's unashamedly simple and homely diction, the highly conscious artifice of this pattern is already evident in the psalm's opening stanzas:


From depth of doole wherein my soule doth dwell,
From heavy heart which harbours in my brest,
From troubled sprite which sildome taketh rest,
From hope of heaven, from dreade of darksome hell,
O gracious God, to thee I crye and yell.
My God, my Lorde, my lovelye Lord aloane,
To thee I call, to thee I make my moane.
And thou (good God) vouchsafe in gree to take,
This woefull plaint,
Wherein I faint.
Oh heare me then for thy great mercies sake.
Oh bend thine eares attentively to heare,
Oh turne thine eyes, behold me how I wayle,
Oh hearken Lord, give eare for mine availe,
O marke in mind the burdens that I beare:
See howe I sink in sorrowes everye where,
Beholde and see what dollors I endure,
Give eare and mark what plaintes I put in ure.
Bende wylling eare: and pittie therewithall,
My wayling voyce
Which hath no choyce,
But evermore upon thy name to call.


The first indication that Gascoigne did indeed desire to ‘frame’ his verse is the use of anaphora in the opening lines (1-4 and 12-15), the many alliterations (‘depth of doole … soule doth dwell’ [1]); ‘From hope of heaven, from dreade of darksome hell’ [4]), and the unusual stanza form. The anaphoric opening may have been suggested by Wyatt's thrice repeated ‘from’ (1-3) in initial position which characterizes the first terzina in his version of the psalm:

From depth of sinne and from a diepe dispaire,
From depthe off deth, from depth off hartes sorow,
From this diepe Cave off darknes diepe repayre,
The have I cald o lord to be my borow


The particular stanza form which Gascoigne chose may on the other hand have been inspired by Italian experiments with extended sonnets, as practised for example by Ariosto and Tasso. The latter's spiritual dialogue ‘Dove rivolgi, o lusinghier fallace’ consists of four quatrains, where each displays the same variation between eleven and eight-syllable verses (11-8-8-11). In two instances the reduction in verse length and the subsequent return to a full hendecasyllable emphasize the expressed idea of changed appearances (9-11 and 15-16): thus the ideas of transformation (‘Deh mutiamo sembianti’) and of dying (‘Hoggi languisce, e more’) coincide with the shorter couplets.11 In this manner Tasso introduces into his devotional poetry formal effects which earlier poets like Ariosto and Tansillo had exploited in their love lyrics. The rhyme-scheme, the introductory sonnet, and the variation between long and short lines in Gascoigne's psalms all suggest that he, too, was familiar with these formal effects.

The surprising and clever use of the dimeter couplets (e.g. 9-10 and 19-20) is further evidence of his concern with such invention. Gascoigne uses the radical reduction in verse length to emphasize what the words say. When the poet speaks of fainting (9-10), the verses, too, fail to reproduce the full pentameter pattern established in the first eight lines. However, when he invokes God's ‘great mercies’ (11, my italics) in the first stanza's concluding line, Gascoigne appropriately re-establishes the full pentameter as a kind of prosodic tribute to God's greatness. Similar instances of mimetic verse manipulation occur also in the second, sixth, seventh, and eighth stanzas.

Gascoigne's choice of an eleven-line stanza seems a highly conscious one, judging by the connotations of this number and by its implicit connection with Psalm 130 (Psalm 129 in The Vulgate). In the standard Renaissance handbook on the meaning of numbers in Scripture, Mysticae numerorum significatione liber (1585), Pietro Bongo explains that eleven ‘is said to be the number of sinners and penitents’ (my trans.).12 The basis of this interpretation, he tells us, is Psalm 11 and Psalm 129 (in The Vulgate), the latter being the eleventh psalm of degrees.13 Bongo quotes the authority of Augustine five times and Bede as many as six times in support of this attribution, but he also offers a purely mathematical explanation: Eleven is evil, he says, simply because it exceeds the perfect number ten.14

Gascoigne builds his eleven-verse stanza on the number of syllables in each line (pentameter and dimeter), so that each stanza consists of three unequal groups of eighty, eight, and ten syllables. These ‘harmonious’ numbers may be said to temper the disharmony implied by eleven. This kind of number lore seems pointless and even ludicrous today, but as many recent studies have shown numerological composition was a highly respected technique during the middle ages and in the Renaissance, particularly in religious poetry.15 Given the firm link between Psalm 130 and the number eleven in patristic thought, it is certain that some such numerological jeux d'ésprit are part of Gascoigne's ‘deep’ invention as he created this particular stanza. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Wyatt, too, chose a total of eleven units in his terza rima version of this psalm. But to put the balance right, we must not forget that Gascoigne used the same stanza and the same rhetorical effects in one of his most cheeky poems. In ‘A Mooneshine Banquet’ (8-11) he utilizes the variation in verse length to give added weight to the moon's ‘eclipse’, when F. J. narrates the moon's reaction to his mistress's beauty:

For when she spied my Ladies golden rayes,
Into the cloudes,
Hir head she shrouds,
And shamed to shine where she hir beames displayes.

(A Hundred Sundry Flowres, p. 236)

The concentration of such formal artifice in ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’ clearly indicates that we here witness a literary masterpiece in the original sense of the word, that is, a poem written in order to prove the poet's command of his medium. Gascoigne's acute attention to form seems curiously at odds with his studiously simple and often monosyllabic poetic diction.

Gascoigne was particularly fond of monosyllables and in his Certayne notes of Instruction he found it fit to ‘forewarne … that you thrust as few wordes of many sillables into your verse as may be’ (p. 468). ‘The more monasyllables that you use’, he continues, ‘the truer Englishman you shall seeme’, adding the view that ‘wordes of many syllables do cloye a verse’ (p. 469). This preference is apparent in ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’, where sixty-seven out of eighty-eight rhymewords are monosyllabic. The poem contains only three words of four syllables (all of non-‘English’ derivation). An obvious case is the occurrence of ‘contin(u)allye’ (coupled with the trisyllabic ‘co(n)fidence’) in stanza five:

My soule desires with thee to be plaste,
And to thy worde (which can no man deceyve)
Myne onely trust,
My love and lust
In co(n)fidence contin(u)allye shall cleave.


Following upon basically regular iambic verses, which as it were express by their rhythm (in the two dimeters in particular) the firm faith of the persona, the final verse expresses the idea of continual ascent. Its polysyllabic words could be said to deviate from the metrical and rhythmical pattern of the preceding, mainly monosyllabic, short lines. The idea of continuity is reinforced by the prominent alliterations in the final lines and perhaps also by the transitions from diphthongs and low-pitch vowels (in the dimeters) to a cluster of high-pitch vowels in the concluding pentameter. These elements all concur to form a striking pattern of metaphoric sound. The careful transitions from short to long verse, from iambics to a freer rhythm, from low to high pitch, prove that, at his best, Gascoigne was a master choreographer in full command of the ‘dance of his words’—to borrow Professor J. E. Stevens's happy phrase.16 Of course, Gascoigne does not surround all of his polysyllables with such artifice, but a lot can be said for his choice of ‘attentively’ (12) and of ‘plenteouslye’ (85), as well.

The psalm's final stanza presents a climactic example of Gascoigne's rhetorical skill. This is the eighth time he repeats his harmonious stanza pattern (80 + 8 + 10 syllables), but on this occasion he adds an extra ‘musical’ touch:

Hee wyll redeeme our deadly drouping state,
He wyll bring home the sheepe that go astraye,
He wyll helpe them that hope in him alwaye:
He wyll appease our discorde and debate,
He wyll soone save, though we repent us late.
He wyll be ours if we continewe his,
He wyll bring bale to joye and perfect blisse,
He wyll redeeme the flocke of his electe,
From all that is
Or was amisse,
Since Abrahams heyres did first his Lawes reject.


As we observe, Gascoigne changes the established pattern of four initial anaphoras to as many as eight (78-85), and he draws further attention to his invention by introducing a chiasmus: the three first words of lines one and two are repeated in inverse order in lines seven and eight (‘redeeme’ [78], ‘bring’ [79], ‘bring’ [84], and ‘redeeme’ [85]). This is a small-scale variant of the ‘symmetrical design’ Gascoigne used when ordering the narrative phases in The Adventures of Master F. J., as shown by A. Anderau.17

Anaphoras were sometimes compared to the musical repetitions referred to as ‘reports’.18 Gascoigne's own comments about the relationship of his poetry to music would therefore seem to support the view that the anaphoras in ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’ were intended to function ‘musically’: In The Grief of Joye (1576), he confesses to having often wanted to ‘tune (his) words’, being so captured by music ‘that some reporte, continually dyd ring, / Within (his) eares, and made (him) seeme to singe’ (IV, xxi, 1 and XXIV, 6-7).19 We shall probably never discover evidence showing exactly how the ‘verie sweete notes adapted vnto’ Gascoigne's psalm20 may relate to the anaphoric lines of the eighth stanza, but we do know that his anaphoras are made to sing ‘continually’ in eight consecutive verses. However, more important than a possible numerical allusion to the harmonious number eight is the ratio of 2:1. Gascoigne creates this proportion by doubling the number of anaphoras when he passes from stanza seven to stanza eight. This sudden and unsuspected increase, suggests, I would argue, that he deliberately wanted to create a structural expression of the diapason, the proportion inherent in the octave. The key, as it were, to this ‘deep’ diapason is found in Augustine's seminal ‘Enarratio in psalmo cxxix’.

Judging by Gascoigne's reference to ‘Austine’ in The Grief of Joye (IV, xvi, 7), he was aware of the fact that Augustine had favoured the higher kind of music which is inherent in the creation, God's carmen pulcherrimum (De civ. Dei, XI, xviii). Augustine's preference for such Pythagorean-Platonic musica speculativa may well have caused Gascoigne to award him the affectionate epithet ‘a dreaming dadd’ (IV, xvi, 6). However this may be, it is interesting to note that Augustine constantly employs musical terminology when he discusses theology, as for example in his ‘Enarratio in psalmo cxxix’, where he stresses the point that man must love his enemy and harmonise his mind and actions with the word of God. The crucial word is harmonise, concordare in Latin, as appears in the following:

lex caritatis … in via non deserit comitem, comes fit ei quem ducit in via. Sed concordandum est cum adversario, dum es cum eo in via. … Est enim sermo Dei adversarius tuus, quamdiu cum illo non concordas. Concordas autem, cum coeperit te delectare facere quod dicit sermo

(cap. iii, 1891-2; my italics)21

This passage shows how Augustine, a former professor of rhetoric, uses carefully constructed chiastic phrases to underline the central idea of concord between man and the deity. The chiastic phrasing harmonises the words of his own sermo with the idea it conveys (/sermo/concordas/concordas/sermo/). Gascoigne puts forward exactly the same idea in his De Profundis, where he admonishes the repentant to ‘feede styll upon his worde,/ And put your trust in him with one accorde’ (VII, 4-5). And as we have just seen, he constructs two chiastic patterns in the very stanza which states that ‘he wyll appease our discorde’ (VIII, 4; italics added). But where does the diapason come into this? Even though the transition from discorde to accorde here involves converting two into one, Augustine is more explicit than Gascoigne's terminology suggests.

When discussing how God annuls sins of the past and raises the dead through the intervention of his son, Augustine refers to the miracles of Christ. Lazarus and the little girl are born anew, he tells us, when Christ reverses the pattern inherent in the human life-cycle: For they who had been born once, had died twice, that is, in body and soul semel nati sunt, sed bis mortui sunt; ix, 1895). Augustine explains this theological use of the diapason at length in his De trinitate, IV, ii, referring his example back to Pythagoras's well-known experiment with the monochord. I quote the Latin text:

Merito quippe mors peccatoris veniens ex damnationis necessitate soluta est per mortem iusti venientem ex misericordia voluntate dum simplum eius congruit duplo nostro. Haec enim congruentia (sive convenientia vel concinentia vel consonantia commodius dicitur quod est unum ad duo), in omni compaginatione vel si melius dicitur coaptatione creaturae valet plurimum. Hanc enim coaptationem, sicut mihi occurrit, dicere volui quam graeci ἁρμον ίαν vocant. Sed hoc ut demonstretur longo sermone / opus est; ipsis autem auribus exhiberi potest ab eo qui novit in regulari monochordi.

(IV, ii, 164-5; my italics)22

The musical basis of this theology of proportion, used also in Augustine's ‘Enarratio in psalmo cxxix’, would be apparent to Gascoigne who would have no difficulty in identifying the ideas involved, nor to exploit them poetically. He could rely on the authority of ‘Austine’ that the consonantia … unum ad duo, expressed the mystery of redemption. The various verbal parallels between Augustine's commentary on Psalm 130 (129) and ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’ suggest that Gascoigne may have been familiar with it,23 and so do the prominent and unexpected formal changes in the final stanza of his version of the psalm.

The first of these changes, the eight anaphoras (78-85), creates a strong visual pull to ‘the top left’ which almost threatens to divide the stanza into two unequal parts of anaphoric and non-anaphoric verses. Gascoigne's countering of this threat is subtle: in the stanza's chiastic central verse (‘He wyll be ours if we continewe his’; 83) he initiates a sound pattern which counterbalances the increase in anaphoras. Stanza eight has four rhymes (a-b-b-a-a-c-c-d-c-c-d), compared to five in the preceding seven, which allows the four c-rhymes (‘his’ [83], ‘blisse’ [84], ‘is’ [86], and ‘amisse’ [87]) to create a strong pull to ‘the bottom right’, as it were. Hence eight anaphoras (78-85) relate to four identical rhymes (83, 84, 86, and 87) in the proportion of 1:2.24 The unity of the stanza in terms of sound is ensured by the fact that both anaphoras and rhymes (homeoteleuton) respectively begin and end with the same vowel sound (i [ē]), as in the thematically crucial line: ‘He wyll be ours if we continewe his’ (83), which by way of its rhetoric illustrates how God encompasses and protects the faithful. Moreover, the same sound (ē), and indeed one of the same words (‘his’), reappears almost in rhyme-position in lines eighty-five and eighty-eight so as to emphasize, as it were, the idea of consonance and unity. We also note that the final rhyme of the psalm (‘electe’/‘rejecte’) is subsumed under this euphony. Thus the combination ‘perfect blisse’ (84) could be said to concord in terms of sound with ‘his electe’ (85) and with ‘his Lawes rejecte’ (88). A series of sibilants in the poem's last line seals up this well-tuned finale, by picking up the s-sound from the preceding rhymes. All these formal manipulations seem especially designed to capture the movement from disharmony and despair to hope and harmony on the thematic level.

In terms of theme Gascoigne has elaborated considerably upon The Geneva Bible version of this psalm, at the same time adding some ideas from Augustine's ‘Enarratio in psalmo cxxix’, most notably Augustine's musico-theological imagery and the concept of a typological cycle of redemption: ‘The law of love giveth forgiveness to sins, blotteth out the past, warneth concerning the future’ (IV, 64). The latter is reflected in Gascoigne's last verses in ‘De Profundis’ (for which there is no source in the original psalm) where the poet declares his belief in God's redemptive power in times past, present, and future:

He wyll redeeme the flocke of his electe,
From all that is
Or was amisse,
Since Abrahams heyres did first his Lawes rejecte.


In this artfully inverted passage, he uses the three tenses—the future (‘He wyll redeeme’), present (‘all that is’), and past (‘was amisse’)—in that order, to illustrate how God's love heals and ‘comely doeth … order all things’ (Wisdom, 8. 1). A last finesse that calls to mind Machaut's famous motet (i.e. ‘Mon commencement est ma fin, et ma fin est mon commencement’) is Gascoigne's reference in the psalm's last verse to the biblical past as ‘first’. Thus Gascoigne's fin is not merely his own commencement, but that of all fallen men.

It is only in the last stanza that the explicit agreement or analogy is made between the fate of the Old Testament ‘electe’ (85) and that of all Christians (‘we’), an agreement which reveals a typological mode of thinking. It has been carefully prepared for, however, by the constantly changing points of view. Thus the psalm opens with two stanzas which focus on the individual (‘I’). In stanzas three and four it moves on to the society of all fallen men (‘we’). It returns to the concerns of the individual in stanzas five and six, and finally concludes with two stanzas on the Old Testament ‘chosen sheepe’ (69), and the type of the universal church of God (stanza eight). This typological interpretation is wholly in the spirit of Augustine and the gloss in The Geneva Bible: The psalmist, so the gloss explains, ‘sheweth to whome the mercie of God doth apperteine: to Israel, that is, to the Church, and not to the reprobate’.25

In this manner ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’ can be seen to progress through stages of ever increasing explicitness; it begins by considering the distress of the individual repentant sinner (i-ii), who is moved to admit that his place is among all sinners, but that God's mercy extends to all who believe in Him. Stanzas five and six focus on the persona's itinerarium mentis in Deum: ‘My soule … / In confidence continu(a)llye shall cleave’ (55), whereas the two final stanzas (vii-viii) celebrate the realization that Christians are as much God's chosen people as was the ‘broode’ (68) of Abraham: ‘He wyll redeeme the flocke of his electe, / From all that is, / Or was amisse, / Since Abrahams heyres did first his Lawes rejecte’ (85-8). It may well be that it was this almost Herbertian sensitiveness to the typological dimension, delivered in highly sophisticated and well wrought verse, that attracted Mary Sidney to ‘Gascoignes De Profundis’.26 For Gascoigne's remarkable attempt to fashion a poetic form capable of rendering the inner rationale of the penitential psalm marks a first decisive step in the development towards Herbert's superbly refined ‘pictures’ of spiritual conflict.


  1. Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in the English Religious Lyric of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven and London, 1954; revised ed. 1962), p. 273; and John Rathmell, The Psalms of Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke (New York, 1963), p. xii.

  2. Ronald C. Johnson, George Gascoigne (New York, 1972), p. 5.

  3. See for example Robert P. Adams, ‘Gascoigne's Master F. J. as original fiction’, PMLA LXXIII (1958), 315-26, and Alfred Anderau's challenging study George Gascoignes The Adventures of Master F. J.: Analyse und Interpretation (Bern, 1966).

  4. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, 2 vols., ed. by J. W. Cunliffe (Cambridge, 1907-10), I, 465.

  5. Works, I, 469.

  6. John Rathmell, The Psalms of Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke, p. xvii.

  7. The Aduentures of Master F. I., in A Hundred Sundry Flowres (London, 1573; Scolar Press reprint: Menston, 1970), p. 238.

  8. The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589), ed. by Gladys D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge, 1936; rpt. 1970), II, x (pp. 85 and 84).

  9. The sonnet occurs in A Hundred Sundry Flowres (1973), p. 373, but without ‘the translated Psalme of De Profundis' though it is announced. The psalm obviously belongs together with the thematically similar hymns, ‘Gascoignes good morrow’ (pp. 368-71) and ‘Gascoignes good nyghte’ (pp. 371-2), printed immediately before the announced translation.

  10. See Collected Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt, ed. by Kenneth Muir and Patricia Thompson (Liverpool, 1969), p. 20.

  11. I quote from Luigi Tansillo ed altri, Le Lagrime di S. Pietro … con nuova giunta (Genova, 1587), p. 165 v (sig. V 3v). See also Ariosto's ‘La bella donna d'un si bel foco’, where the octave has the same rhyme scheme as Gascoigne's first eight lines; in Rime di M. Lodovico Ariosto (Vinegia, 1560), p. 21 (r-v).

  12. Pietro Bongo, Mysticae numerorum significatione liber (Bergamo, 1585), ‘De numero XI’, ‘Ideo numerus peccatorum, & paenitentium dicitur’ (p. 16).

  13. Bongo, ‘De numero’, ‘… in gradu vndecimo collocatus (gloss: Psal. 129 Beda) Propheta Regius paenitentia se satisfactione prosternit’ (p. 16).

  14. Bongo, ‘De numero XI’, ‘Omne n. peccatum est vndecinarium, quia dum perverse agit, praecepta decalogi transit’ (p. 16). He quotes Beda in Luc. c. 3 on this point: ‘Vndecimus autem numerus denarij transgressionem significat’.

  15. It suffices to mention only a few of the important articles which have appeared since 1970: Maren-Sofie Røstvig, ‘The Influence of Biblical Exegesis Upon Theories of Literary Structure’, in Silent Poetry, ed. by Alastair Fowler (London, 1970), pp. 32-72, and by the same author ‘Canto Structure in Tasso and Spenser’, Spenser Studies, I, 177-200, ed. by Patrick Cullen and Thomas P. Roche (Pittsburgh, 1980); Thomas P. Roche, ‘The Calendrical Structure of Petrarch's Canzoniere’, SP, LXXXI (1974), 152-72; Jerry Leath Mills, ‘Spenser and the Numbers of History: A Note on the British and Elfin Chronicles in The Faerie Queene’, PQ, 55 (1976), 281-7 and ‘Prudence, History, and the Prince in The Faerie Queene, Book Two’, HLQ, 41 (1978), pp. 83-101; Mother M. Christopher Pecheux, ‘“At a Solemne Musicke”: Structure and Meaning’. SP, LXXV (Summer, 1978), No. 3, pp. 331-46; and Sibyl Lutz Severance, ‘“Some Other Figure”: The Vision of Change in Flowres of Sion, 1623’, Spenser Studies, II (1981), 217-28 and ‘“To Shine in Union”: Measure, Number, and Harmony in Ben Jonson's “Poems of Devotion”’, SP, LXXX (Spring, 1983), No. 2, pp. 183-99.

  16. ‘The Old Sound and the New: An Inaugural Lecture’, (Cambridge, 1982), p. 21.

  17. George GascoignesThe Adventures of Master F. J.: Analyse und Interpretation (Bern, 1966), pp. 76-80.

  18. See Gregory G. Butler, ‘Music and Rhetoric in Early Seventeenth-Century English Sources’, The Musical Quarterly, LXVI, i (1980), pp. 57-8. Butler quotes Henry Peacham the younger, The Compleate Gentleman (1622): ‘Yea, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind (than music); nay, hath not music her figures, the same which rhetoric? What is a revert but antistrophe? her reports, but sweet anaphoras? …’ (p. 331). A similar but less precise connection was made by the elder Peacham in The Garden of Eloquence (1577), who praises ‘Figurative Flowres, both of Grammer and Rhetorick … such as delight the eares as pleasant reports, repetitions, and running poyntes in Musick’ (sig. A ii v; my italics).

  19. Works, II, 551. The fourth song, ‘The vanities of Activityes’, deals with music in stanzas 13-28 (pp. 550-3).

  20. A Hundred Sundry Flowres, p. 372.

  21. Enarrationes in psalmos, ed. by D. E. Dekkers and I. Fraipont (Turnholti, 1956), in Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, XL, 1891. In an English rendering the passage reads: ‘the law of love … forsaketh not its companion by the way, becometh a companion to him whom it leadeth on the way. But it is needful to agree with the adversary, whilst thou art with him in the way. … For the Word of God is thine adversary, as long as thou dost not agree with it. But thou agreest, when it has begun to be thy delight to do what God's Word commandeth’; Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 6 vols, trans, by Members of the English Church (Oxford, 1847-57), VI, 64.

  22. Stephen McKenna translates this passage as follows: ‘For the death of the sinner, which deservedly comes from the necessary condemnation of God, has been taken away by the death of the Just Man, which comes from His will to show mercy, while His single death corresponds to our double death. This correspondence, agreement, consent, or whatever other word may be appropriate for describing how one is joined to two, is of the greatest importance in every fitting-together of the creature, or perhaps it would be better to call it, in every co-adaptation of the creature. It just now occurs to me, that which I mean by this co-adaptation is what the Greeks call harmonian. … It would require a long treatise, however, to prove this, but one familiar with the subject can demonstrate it to the ear itself on a properly-adjusted monochord’ (my italics); The Trinity (Washington, 1960; rpt. 1970), pp. 133-4. Even though the translator plays down the musical terminology, the musical basis of the argument is quite evident.

  23. I am here referring to the idea of sinking in a sea of sorrows (ii, 5), which Gascoigne repeats in the penitential poem ‘Dan Bartholomew's libell of request to Care’: ‘In depth of hell I drowned was indeed’ (ii, 4); Works, I, 118. The source is Augustine's commentary on Psalm 130 (129), 1-3 (Expositions, VI, 61-2), where he refers to Jonah and the whale. When Gascoigne refers to God's punishment and ‘what sinnes are daylye done’ (iii, 2), he closely reproduces Augustine on verse 5: ‘He therefore considering how many minute sins man daily commiteth, … heeds how many they be’ (Expositions, VI, 66). Other echoes are discussed on pp. 306 and 308-9.

  24. A similar ‘ocular’ diapason is of course found in the final three verses of each stanza, where the two short verses are followed by a single long verse. Sibyl Lutz Severance discusses related structural uses of the diapason in her thoughtful study ‘“To Shine in Union”: Measure, Number, and Harmony in Ben Jonson's “Poems of Devotion”’, SP, LXXX (Spring, 1983), No. 2, pp. 183-99. An early example of such musica speculativa is the play on the proportion 3:2 (diapente) in Philippe de Vitry's motet ‘Garrit Gallus-In nova fert-Neuma’, where different verse lengths are important. See the discussion by James Anderson Winn, Unsuspected Eloquence: A History of the Relation between Poetry and Music (New Haven and London, 1981), pp. 107-110.

  25. The Geneva Bible: A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition, ed. by Lloyd E. Berry (Madison, Milwaukee, and London, 1969), p. 263 (v).

  26. The influence comprises choice of stanza, rhetorical ornament, rhyme-words, and of diction, as I argue in a forthcoming article entitled ‘Gascoigne's and Mary Sidney's Versions of Psalm 130’.

Nancy Williams (essay date spring 1986)

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SOURCE: Williams, Nancy. “The Eight Parts of a Theme in ‘Gascoigne's Memories: III.’” Studies in Philology 83, no. 2 (spring 1986): 117-37.

[In the following essay, Williams illuminates the themes of the poem “Gascoigne's Memories: III.”]

In 1565 George Gascoigne, deeply in debt and searching for a way out, decided to “abandon all vaine delightes and to returne unto Greyes Inne, there to undertake againe the studdie of the common Lawes.” To celebrate the occasion of his return to the Inns of Court, five of his friends challenged him to write “in verse somewhat worthye to bee remembred, before he entered into their fellowshippe … five sundrye theames, whiche they delivered unto him.” Their challenge to his versatility must have pleased him, because he boasted that in meeting its terms, he “devised” one hundred and fifty-eight lines of verse in his head during a three-day journey on horseback. Since he committed none of the lines to paper “until he came at the end of his Journey,” and then wrote them all from memory, he called his tour de forceGascoigne's Memories.1 These five poems, each in a different verse form, include some of his best work, in particular “Gascoigne's Memories: III,” beginning “The common speech is, spend and God will send.”

In “Memories III” Gascoigne develops a theme presented to him by one of those friends who had challenged him, John Vaughn: Magnum vectigal parsimonia [frugality is the best revenue]. Although the poem is not explicitly autobiographical, the fact that he was struggling with debt when he wrote it suggests the source of its urgent tone. The poem has had its praise: Charles T. Prouty admires its “earthy realism”; Douglas L. Peterson finds in it “both skill and profound seriousness”; and Yvor Winters regards it as one of the finest poems of the mid-sixteenth century, “a piece of moral analysis, nourished with moral perception.”2

Gascoigne is often at his best in those poems in which his powers of structure are displayed at their fullest, in “Gascoigne's Woodmanship,” for instance, and in “Memories III.” Winters' phrase “moral analysis” gives us a good place to begin a discussion of “Memories III” because Gascoigne discovered a structure which enabled him to do just that, to analyze the moral implications of debt. His discovery was this: that he could adapt certain principles of Latin classical rhetoric to English verse. He organized “Memories III” as a theme according to the rules for prose composition in Latin which he and boys like him among the educated gentry learned at a very early age. By adapting the theme to verse he extended the capacities of the short moral poem to address contemporary experience and to analyze the nature of lived experience in ways that are new to English poetry.

In order to understand the transforming power of Gascoigne's innovative use of the theme in “Memories III,” we shall need to look at his rhetorical techniques quite closely, and that is my intention in this essay. I shall first place the poem within its English tradition of moral verse in order to suggest a certain kind of literary continuity that exists between the late Middle Ages and the middle of the sixteenth century. Then I shall discuss those classical elements of the poem which have to do with its structure. After examining both the English and the classical elements in the poem we shall understand certain of Gascoigne's innovations in detail, and we shall appreciate that his adaptation of a classical structure, the theme, enlarges the capacities of moral verse to develop thought, to shift its ground from precept and practical didacticism to experience, to analyze experience in some detail and to achieve artistic unity.


“Memories III” shares some of the attributes of the medieval tradition of versified admonishment. Its origins lie in that body of short poems of moral intent which flourished throughout the late fourteenth, the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries and which include some of the distinguished single poems in the language, Chaucer's “Fle fro the Prees,” for instance, and Dunbar's “Lament for the Makeris.” The tradition is exemplified in the sixteenth century by such poems as Thomas More's “If Thou Wilt Mighty Be,” Thomas, Lord Vaux's “Of a Contented Mind” and “The Aged Lover Renounceth Love,” Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's “Laid in My Quiet Bed,” George Turberville's “That All Things Are As They Are Used,” Chidiock Tichbourne's “Elegy,” Sir Walter Ralegh's “The Lie,” and Thomas Nashe's “In Time of Plague.”

Moral verse of the admonitory type employs principles of composition which except in terms of refinement remain virtually unchanged over some two hundred years. It is written in stanzas and in rhyme. It employs plain, “rude” language, reflecting a belief in the stylistic efficacy of plain words to convey universal truths and common sense. Its usual means of organization is amplification. Typically, a moral poem offers for contemplation a proposition of some sort, then amplifies that proposition by various means, most often by a series of examples. Moral verse is concerned with subjects of practical human significance, and it is moral, J. V. Cunningham writes, “in the simple, old-fashioned meaning of that term.”3 These principles form such a consistent pattern over such a long period of time that we may think of them as constituting a literary convention.

It is a convention with which Gascoigne is thoroughly at home in one of his most appealing poems, his autobiographical “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy.” This poem exemplifies the moral convention, and its structure so exactly conforms to the convention that it will give us a clear comparison when we come to examine Gascoigne's innovations in “Memories III.”

The poem is written in six-line stanzas in Poulter's measure, Surrey's choice of meter, too, in “Laid in My Quiet Bed,” and Vaux's in “Of a Contented Mind.” It uses plain English words, predominantly monosyllables. It offers a series of examples—love, the court, farming, hunting, poetry, music and war, one to a stanza—which amplify the proposition, set forth in the first stanza, that the poet renounces Fancy because he has learned its fickleness. Beyond amplification by example, the poem is unified by the refrain, a ubiquitous device in the convention, and by the suggestion of a narrative in the approximate chronology of the poet's life. It begins with the disillusionment of the present moment, then traces those events which lead the poet to reject Fancy:

Fancy (quoth he), farewell, whose badge I long did bear,
And in my hat full harebrainedly thy flowers did I wear.
Too late I find, at last, thy fruits are nothing worth;
Thy blossoms fall and fade full fast, though bravery bring them forth.
By thee I hoped always in deep delights to dwell,
But since I find thy fickleness, Fancy (quoth he), farewell.
Thou madst me live in love, which wisdom bids me hate;
Thou bleardst mine eyes and madst me think that faith was mine by fate.
By thee those bitter sweets did please my taste alway;
By thee I thought that love was light and pain was but a play.
I thought that beauty's blaze was meet to bear the bell,
And since I find myself deceived, Fancy (quoth he), farewell.
The gloss of gorgeous courts by thee did please mine eye;
A stately sight me thought it was to see the brave go by,
To see there feathers flaunt, to mark their strange device,
To lie along in ladies' laps, to lisp and make it nice;
To fawn and flatter both I liked sometimes well,
But since I see how vain it is, Fancy (quoth he), farewell.

The next two stanzas give the examples of farming and hunting, then the poem continues:

A fancy fed me once to write in verse and rime,
To wray my grief, to crave reward, to cover still my crime,
To frame a long discourse on stirring of a straw,
To rumble rime in raff and ruff, yet all not worth a haw;
To hear it said, There goeth the man that writes so well;
But since I see what poets be, Fancy (quoth he), farewell.

Two stanzas devoted to music and planting follow, and then the poem concludes:

Fancy (quoth he), farewell, which made me follow drums,
Where powdered bullets serves for sauce to every dish that comes;
Where treason lurks in trust, where Hope all hearts beguiles,
Where mischief lieth still in wait, when fortune friendly smiles;
Where one day's prison proves that all such heavens are hell,
And such I feel the fruits thereof; Fancy (quoth he), farewell.
If reason rule my thoughts, and God vouchsafe me grace,
Then comfort of philosophy shall make me change my race;
And fond I shall it find that fancy sets to show,
For weakly stands that building still which lacketh grace below.
But since I must accept my fortunes as they fell,
I say, God send me better speed; and, Fancy, now farewell!(4)

The primary source of unity in poems like this one lies in the obvious relationship of each example to the proposition. Each example—usually one or two to a stanza but sometimes a catalog—directly amplifies the proposition. No internal logic demands that the examples be presented in a particular order, no one example takes precedence in an order of importance and no single example bears a necessary relationship to any other.

Unity is sustained in generality. For example, Sir Walter Ralegh in “The Lie” offers the proposition, in the form of a conceit, that because he must die, his soul is set free to expose deceit wherever it exists in the world. Subsequent stanzas enumerate examples of deceit one after another. The examples—the court, the church, beauty, youth, law, physic and so on—are general in nature and are related not one to the other but rather to a general idea of the world. The amplification of a proposition by example is a very old way to write a poem, and “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy” is organized in precisely the same way, relying upon a general notion of experience to unify such disparate examples as the ladies of the court and the pigs of the farm.5

Within the general proposition which contains them, the ordering of details is not of primary importance, nor is the development of thought which a principle of order might make possible. We cannot know from the terms of Gascoigne's poem, for instance, that soldiering and poetry were far more important to his life than music and farming, since each of these examples amplifies the proposition with equal emphasis. In the absence of an order of importance, poems of this type tend to remain static, since tone and tempo can rise and fall only within the strictures of language—elevated diction, for example—or of such figures as exclamation and apostrophe.

Within the limits of the convention Gascoigne makes certain refinements, however. His conception of fancy is larger in scope and suggestiveness than those commonplaces we find earlier in the tradition. To lend depth to the idea of fancy he plays upon the figure anaclasis, the repetition of a word in two or more senses, and makes fancy connote whim and caprice as well as illusion of the senses and delusive imagination. Fancy also implies self-deception, and Gascoigne strikes a nice balance between the given, which is the fickleness of the world, and his self-confessed responsibility for his engagement with the world.

The fact that the world plays us false is exemplified in verse again and again from Chaucer's time onward and remains no less true for repetition. Gascoigne's thinking is typical of his times in its enchantment with the world and its concern to establish moral grounds for the active life. But, in contrast to verse written earlier in the tradition, he brings his moral concerns into the poem upon the assumption that moral truth is not linear—as a catalog of aphorisms or examples might suggest—but manifold. Moral truth does not reside in a realm outside the poem, something other than ourselves, disembodied, guiding our conduct from a distance, and this is a significant advance in a convention whose known, recurrent truths remain unspecified by the terms of a given poem, so that such verities as the fading of youth or the turning of fortune's wheel are appealed to but seldom conceptualized. When Gascoigne reveals himself to us, as when he longs to hear it said, “There goeth the man that writes so well,” he establishes within the poem a relationship between moral truth and a human life.

The principal effect of “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy” and poems like it in the moral convention is cumulative. Referring to the moral poem in the sixteenth century, John Williams writes that “on the simplest level of structure, the poem is additive and accretive … the details of the poem being ordered by the mere presence of the subject that includes them; this ordering may be clumsy and mechanical … or it may be almost unbearably powerful, as it is in such a poem as Ralegh's The Lie.6 Such poems as “The Lie” and “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy” epitomize the moral convention, representing at once the most that can be achieved within it and its real limitations.

As powerful as these poems can be, they tend to state moral certainties and their meanings tend to be explicit: fancy deceives, the court “glows and shines like rotten wood.” It is a poetry, J. V. Cunningham says, that “can handle obvious subjects, uncomplicated feelings, eternal truths and simple sin.”7 If the cumulative effect of a particular poem is indeed powerful, then the reader has only to accept its truths; he has little part to play in the realization of the poem. Implied meaning, analysis, dynamic tempo and the development of thought lie beyond the capacities of a convention in which thought is co-terminal with the stanza and is characterized by generality.


One might wish to demonstrate artistic “growth” from “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy” to “Gascoigne's Memories: III.” However, even if the relative dates of composition could be determined with precision, they would reveal little about the poet's development because Gascoigne was a man proud of his versatility who could and did choose to write in a number of literary “kinds,” and, as a member of a society which prized authority, he valued fidelity to tradition perhaps more than departure from it. Even so, in “Memories III” he does depart from the moral convention by employing a new structure which enables him to analyze the experience of debt.

Insofar as he follows the moral convention, he uses familiar elements available to him within it: he offers for contemplation a moral observation upon which he elaborates by example; he gives us practical advice; he uses baldly plain diction to convey moral matter. He transforms these elements radically, however, when he abandons the structure which was determined by the stanza and orders his poem according to the classical strategy for the development of a theme.

The theme was an exercise in prose composition, an exercise not so very different from the one which most of us encountered in the schoolroom when we were called upon to “write a theme,” and which, D. L. Clark writes, “must have been a torment to schoolboys from remote antiquity.” In Gascoigne's day the theme was only one of several different kinds of discourse which the young scholars had to master in Latin and which included fable, epistle, ecphrasis, encomium, thesis, and at an advanced level of study, forensic oration. The theme was next in difficulty after the fables with which the boys began their training, and it required them to develop a chreia or a proverb “by iteration, enthymeme, contrast, illustration, example and the testimony of authority.”8

At an elementary stage Gascoigne almost certainly studied the composition of the theme in the Progymnasmata of Aphthonius, which was published in some twenty-five translations (into Latin) between 1500 and 1560.9 It was the most popular textbook of its day and was a favorite with teachers because it contained “a graded series of exercises” for the boys to practice.10 When we turn to the Progymnasmata we find described there a structure identical to Gascoigne's under the heading “Oration made upon a sentence.”

Richard Rainolde, in his English adaptation of Aphthonius, called The Foundacion of Rhetorike (1563), defines the figure sententia, or “sentence,” as a saying “in fewe woordes, shewing a godlie precept of life, exhorting or diswading.” He then lists the eight parts by which the theme upon a sentence is to be developed:

1. The praise of the authour

2. The exposition of the sentence

3. A confirmation in the strength of the cause

4. A conference of the contrarie

5. A similitude

6. The example

7. The testimonie of aucthors, shewing the like

8. Then adde the conclusion.11

Gascoigne adapts to verse these eight parts, and in this exact order; they become the principle of structure by which he analyses the experience of debt.

For him, as for the Tudors in general, debt could mean starvation. If we wish to read the poem sympathetically, we need to remember the implications of debt at a time when there existed no banking system, when wealth meant land, when inflation was rampant but was not understood except in terms of God's wrath, and when the English system of primogeniture meant that debt could and occasionally did reduce old and important families such as Gascoigne's to nothing. Before we begin a discussion of the poem, let us turn to the text, for whose eight parts I have provided a diagram:


The common speech is, spend and God will send; [proverb]


But what sends he? A bottle and a bag, [attributes of a beggar]
A staff, a wallet, and a woeful end
For such as list in bravery so to brag. [desire; finery]
Then if thou covet coin enough to spend,
Learn first to spare thy budget at the brink,
So shall the bottom be the faster bound;


But he that list with lavish hand to link
(In like expense) a penny with a pound,
May chance at last to sit aside and shrink
His harebrained head without Dame Dainty's door. [outside]
Hick, Hob, and Dick, with clouts upon their knee, [patches]
Have many times more goonhole groats in store [coins]
And change of crowns more quick at call than he, [gold coins]
Which let their lease and took their rent before.
For he that raps a royal on his cap, [spends a gold coin on his cap—Apperson,]
Before he put one penny in his purse, [English Proverbs]
Had need turn quick and broach a better tap, [tap a cheaper cask]
Or else his drink may chance go down the worse.


I do not deny but some men have good hap
To climb aloft by scales of courtly grace [ladders, esp. for assault]
And win the world with liberality;
Yet he that yerks old angels out apace [gold coins
And hath no new to purchase dignity, [buy an office or title]
When orders fall may chance to lack his grace; [when an office comes vacant]
For haggard hawks mislike an empty hand. [falcons trained for sport]


So stiffly some stick to the mercer's stall,
Till suits of silk have sweat out all their land;
So oft thy neighbors banquet in thy hall,


Till Davie Debet in thy parlor stand
And bids thee welcome to thine own decay.
I like a lion's looks not worth a leek
When every fox beguiles him of his prey;
What sauce but sorrow serveth him a week,
Which all his cates consumeth in one day? [purchased sweets]
First use thy stomach to a stand of ale,
Before thy Malmesey come in merchant's books, [imported sweet wine; account books]
And rather wear for shift thy shirt of mail,


Than tear thy silken sleeves with tenter-hooks; [hooks used for stretching cloth]
Put feathers in thy pillows great and small,
Let them be prinked with plumes, that gape for plums; [decked out; long for luxuries]
Heap up both gold and silver safe in hooches, [hutches]
Catch, snatch, and scratch for scrapings and for crumbs,
Before thou deck thy hat on high with brooches.
Let first thine one hand hold fast all that comes,
Before that other learn his letting fly:
Remember still that soft fire makes sweet malt;
No haste but good, who means to multiply:
Bought wit is dear, and dressed with sour salt;
Repentance comes too late; and then say I,


Who spares the first and keeps the last unspent,
Shall find that sparing yields a goodly rent.(12)

I intend to limit the following discussion to the structure of “Memories III,” with some exploration of the ways in which it affects Gascoigne's verbal figures. By structure, I mean the ways in which the various parts of the poem fit together and how they are related to each other and to the work as a whole. I agree with Leonard Nathan, who says that in our discussions of sixteenth-century poetry our nearly exclusive concern with stylistic discriminations has “obscured other ways of making useful distinctions” and that one of those ways, structure, “has been treated, if at all, in a most gingerly fashion.”13

Classical rhetorical strategies are meant to help the orator present an argument fully and persuasively and are not intended as hard and fast rules. Gascoigne, however, follows the order of the theme exactly, and even his syntax and punctuation set off the eight parts. Such close adherence to the eight-part scheme does not suggest that he wrote versified rhetoric but rather that he found useful strategies within the scheme. It is possible, I think, that the eight parts were a habit of mind with Gascoigne, a way of approaching a subject long after the rules of the classroom were forgotten.

He sets forth the sentence “Spend and God will send” in the first line, which comprises the exordium (1). The exordium is simply the beginning, and in this case it is very brief because it refers to something everyone in his audience knows, a common saying or proverb. The fact that the author of the sentence is unknown makes “praise of the author” impossible, a technicality which, Rainolde says, is “a small matter of difference.”14

The exposition (2) has the purpose, according to Rainolde, to “expound the meaning” of the sentence; that is, the exposition explains what the sentence means and interprets it in some particularity.15 Gascoigne explains the sentence “Spend and God will send” by looking beyond its apparent meaning to its real implications: “But what sends he? A bottle and a bag, / A Staff, a wallet and a woeful end.” In place of the sentence he offers a contrary proposition: “Learn first to spare thy budget.”

Thomas Wilson writes in The Arte of Rhetorique (1553) that the confirmation (3) is “a declaration of our owne reasons, with assured and constant proofes.”16 In the confirmation Gascoigne offers three proofs, two bad and one good, arranged with careful symmetry: he that links a penny with a pound; Hick, Hob and Dick who collect their rents before spending them and who, by implication, live better, because more frugally, than men higher placed in society; and he who spends lavishly before he saves a penny for the future. These cautionary examples offer particular cases to confirm the general rule, “Learn first to spare thy budget.”

The refutation (4) is designed to take account of possible or hypothetical opposing arguments. Edward Corbett explains that there are two general ways in which a proposition may be refuted: “we can prove the contradictory” or we can “demolish the arguments by which the [opposing] proposition is supported.”17 Gascoigne does both. He first concedes the point (“I not deny”) that some men, with luck, can get away with lavish spending and can “win the world” thereby. He then disposes of the opposition by implying that its argument leaves too much to chance. He proves the contrary by arguing that spenders risk everything and by introducing the metaphor of the predatory haggard hawks. I shall return to the haggard hawks later.

The similitude (5) is defined by Thomas Wilson as “a likeness when two things … are so compared and resembled together that they both in one property seem like,” and he says that similitudes “help well to set out the matter,” especially for the sake of dilation.18 Gascoigne likens the case of other men to our own case, and he underscores his similitude with anaphora, parallel syntax (“So stiffly … so oft”) for parallel cases. Just as some men lose their land to pay for suits of silk, similarly we entertain our neighbors to the brink of ruin. The point can hardly escape us in the sudden shift to the second person “thee” that the moral lesson is intended not just for those others who sweat out their land: it is for thee.

In the example (6), Rainolde says, we must “shewe the like of some, that spake the like or did the like.”19 Edward Corbett explains that an example is “especially useful in defining abstractions.”20 Davie Debet bodies forth abstract debt and drives the lesson home, literally, to our parlor, where he stands the example of ruin.

Next follows the weight of testimony (7), eighteen lines of swiftly following sententiae, the heaping up of which is designed to make the argument irrefutable. For the Tudors, sententiae, maxims and proverbs were indispensible aids to argument because they carry the authority of age-old, universal experience. Gascoigne's testimony serves the end of persuasion, for how can we deny the wisdom of the ages marshalled in behalf of his argument?

Finally, the transition, “and then say I,” announces the brief conclusion (8).

Gascoigne's adaptation of a classical structure to verse represents a change in the nature of the moral poem itself. Classical theories of discourse supplant the didactic, admonitory character of moral verse so that practical advice to a general, unspecified audience gives way to reasoned argument and emotional appeal intended to persuade an educated audience. Amplification gives way to analysis, stasis to climax, copiousness of examples to selection of detail, embellishment to function, explicit meaning to implication, precept to experience. An inquiry into some of the classical strategies in “Memories III” reveals how these changes come about and suggests something of their revolutionary character.

As he develops his theme Gascoigne proceeds from assumptions which have their origin in classical rhetorical theory. He assumes that his poem is a discourse of one kind presupposing at least two participants who are actively engaged in verbal interchange toward some end. His audience is known to him; it is of the educated gentry with whom he shares a humanist education and a particular system of values. The directness of his tone reflects his confidence in the intelligence of his reader, and he speaks from his own voice as one reasoning man to another, whom he wishes to persuade to join him in a mutual investigation of the truth of his argument. His share of the discourse requires him to win the reader's favorable attention, to maintain his interest and to arous his emotions, and he must lead the reader toward a conclusion, since without a conclusion the discourse would have neither point nor purpose.

Classical oratory appeals first of all to reason, and the eight parts of the theme give scope to reasoned argument by leading the mind from point to point in orderly fashion. Gascoigne takes us through his argument by degrees in planned sequence; each step has a well-defined function and each is, in Cicero's phrase, “closely knit with the rest of the speech as a limb to a body.”21 This progression of thought means that his idea can be analyzed, because it can be considered from several angles as it is explained, interpreted, compared, exemplified and so on. Drawing upon these resources for sound argument, Gascoigne analyzes debt in its particulars, implications and consequences, and his thought is not restricted to the general level of “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy,” but progresses from the material realm, which is debt and social ruin, to the spiritual, which is the jeopardy of the immortal soul.

Because its structure leads the mind forward in time toward a conclusion, “Memories III” does not remain static but rises to the climactic appearance of Davie Debet, then falls away rapidly with the series of testimonial sententiae. The passing of time is not explicit, but its dynamics are implied by the urgency of Davie's presence, which makes us feel that we must hurry to put our houses in order before we are overtaken by the moment of reckoning. It is largely owing to his eight-part structure that Gascoigne can bring his moral lesson to life with dramatic effect. When we compare this structure to that of “The Green Knight's Farewell to Fancy” and others in the convention, we recognize that when the elements of a poem are equal in importance and presented with equal emphasis, a single dramatic climax is not possible, for a dramatic climax presupposes tempo, progression toward an end, and a sense of the passing of time.

The development of the theme also provides a principle of selection whereby details must be chosen for their direct bearing upon the argument and not, in contrast to the method of amplification by enumeration, for their copiousness, variety and ingeniousness. Gascoigne selects details which tend to be more concrete than those we find earlier in the tradition, with the result that he scrutinizes debt in some particularity. When he specifies the experience of debt down to the last “angel” (i.e., coin) in our pocket, he suggests that experience itself, and not merely precept, must inform moral choice. Similarly, his details of daily commerce—buying, selling, drinking and feasting—specify the social nature of debt and suggest that debt is a city dweller and a social, as well as a personal, evil. This represents an advance in the tradition, which earlier reflects very little social sense at all.

Since the eight-part development of the theme requires selection of appropriate detail, the poet no longer has the luxury of displaying his copious fund of the “colores” of style; instead, he must make fewer figures do more work. A discourse must go forward toward its conclusion, and it cannot linger upon figures, no matter how splendid, which might vitiate the force of the argument or impede its progress by calling too much attention to themselves. Figures must serve the argument.

Gascoigne selects his figures—sententia, allegoria and metaphor—not to embellish his thought but to embody it, and his economy with them is such that he makes them carry his meaning forward. Davie Debet, for example, sets up several relationships. As the sixth part of the theme, the example, he exemplifies every warning in the poem. As allegory, he is less the personification of abstract debt than the physical realization of our fears. He is, as Yvor Winters says, “the bailiff, the new host, decay itself and moral judgment … he is pure terror.”22 But Davie carries the argument even further, raising it from the moral realm to the spiritual by suggesting the abyss that awaits the soul.

Gascoigne's long series of sententiae also carries his meaning forward on several levels. The sententiae set the level of diction for the poem and exploit the contrast between plain language and fancy spending. These are techniques for which Gascoigne could have found precedent in Heywood, or in Skelton, who often unified his diction at the level of homely sayings and in such poems as Colin Clout and Why Come Ye Not to Court used a blunt, rude idiom to castigate Cardinal Wolsey's high-flown corruptions. Gascoigne's sententiae also lend the authority of age-old wisdom to his argument and, as the seventh part of the theme, they bring universal experience to bear upon it. Gascoigne's figures, then, do not illustrate his meaning so much as they become his meaning.23

Gascoigne also uses his figures to move our emotions, since, like the orator, he must engage our feelings if he is to be persuasive. Quintilian says that the primary requisite in moving an audience emotionally is that the speaker himself be moved (Inst. Ora., 6.2, 26), and from what we know of Gascoigne's life, it is clear that he felt the terror of debt as he would move us to feel it. Quintilian further says that the speaker's chief means of moving the feelings is his ability to call up vivid images, “images by which the representation of absent objects is so distinctly represented to the mind that we seem to see them with our eyes, and to have them before us. Whoever shall best conceive such images, will have the greatest power in moving the feelings” (Inst. Ora., 6.2, 29-30).24

Gascoigne not only arouses but also directs our feelings with images which figure forth the terror of debt. We can only deduce from Gascoigne's practice what Quintilian's conception of enargia meant to him. By images Quintilian means, in part, description and “visions,” but he also mentions Cicero's words “illumination” and “actuality” (Inst. Ora., 6.2, 27-33). Davie Debet frightens us because the straightforward rationality of the argument has not, until we reflect upon it, prepared us for the leap into the irrational unknown which he represents, because of his physical immediacy, because he is active—gesturing and smiling, we imagine—as he bids us welcome, and because he richly recalls medieval allegory. However Gascoigne interprets Quintilian's theory of moving the emotions, or whether he had Quintilian in mind when he composed “Memories III” (and it would not have been easy for him to forget his rhetorical training), his success in moving us to terror depends upon his making Davie “actual” by placing him within the eight-part structure in such a way that the reasoned argument to stay out of debt is bodied forth in the example of Davie.

The power of the haggard hawks to move our emotions is also enhanced by their position within the argument of the poem. Gascoigne places the metaphor of the haggards in a crucial position structurally, seizing the necessity to refute opposing arguments as an opportunity to arouse emotion with a vivid image. He needed a strong argument to overcome opposition and found an unanswerable one in the natural violence implied by the metaphor of the haggards.

His readers among the gentry recognized the term “haggard,” virtually a household word to them, from their passion for falconry. Hawks used for sport were not bred in captivity but were taken in the wild, and birds captured at maturity, called haggards, were more difficult to tame than young birds taken from the nest (eyasses). Once the haggard was trained, however, the falconer had “no amateur … but … a professional expert that cannot be defeated by the shifts and artifices, or left behind by the speed, of any feathered fowl.”25 The metaphor of the haggards refers to the courtier, who, like the hawks, climbs aloft, and it suggests the predatory, barely-tamed character of the court. Should the courtier lack money “to purchase dignity” (i.e., to buy an office or title), the court would be finished with him, “For haggard hawks mislike an empty hand.”

Davie Debet and the haggards move us in ways which are substantially new in English poetry. This is true not only because of their placement within the theme structure and not only because Gascoigne is a master of figures; it is true also because the reader is actively engaged in the discourse which is the poem and participates in its successful realization. The reader does not receive moral wisdom passively but is called upon to join the poet in an investigation of the truth. Because Gascoigne confidently addresses an audience which can think and feel and imagine, he need not spell out the entirety of his moral lesson but can imply meanings which the reader interprets for himself from his own experience. The contrast in moral richness between proverb (“a penny saved is a penny earned”) or precept (“frugality is the best revenue”) and the drama of Davie and the haggards is in part the difference between explicit and implied meaning.

The theme, which puts rhetorical theory into practice, is by its nature a unifying method, and Gascoigne takes every advantage of it to present “Memories III” as a unified whole. His eight-part framework requires him to envision and plan a completed discourse from its inception and affords him a way to make close interconnections among the parts. The theme structure extends the possibilities for unity even further to the relationships between speaker and audience, thought and emotion, statement and implication, and so on in combinations relating poet, poem and reader. If we compare the meager resources for unity available earlier in the convention, when it sometimes appears that only the refrain staves off incoherence, then we appreciate the transforming power of Gascoigne's structure.

His discovery that he could adapt a rhetorical form to poetic ends means that Gascoigne uses the resources available to him in the theme in compelling and new ways to achieve unity. He draws the various elements of the poem into close relation to the whole with an economy that does, indeed, make them “as limbs to a body.” But his sense of artistic unity is his own. It is not, after all, because he uses the theme, but because he is an artist using the theme, that he succeeds in presenting a unified whole—that is, a poem.


In the literary evolution from the practical didacticism of the moral convention to the moral richness of such a poem as “Memories III,” poets discovered and perfected new forms. Gascoigne is not the first or the only poet to experiment with classical forms, as we know from Tottle's Miscellany, for example. But he is the most skilled of the mid-century poets and he is the first poet in English, as nearly as I can discover, to adapt the eight-part strategy to verse, something he does elsewhere, too, in “Gascoigne's Woodmanship” and in “The Fruits of War.”

In “Memories III” Gascoigne achieves moral wisdom of a rough and rather formal sort. He does not so much teach a lesson as explore the implications of lived experience with the result that experience, rather than precept, becomes his moral ground. By creating terror within the poem he establishes a relationship between moral consequence and our own lives. He brings experience to bear upon abstract truth and analyzes relationships between them; indeed, as Leonard Nathan observes, he “sees complex relationship itself as a vital subject for poetry.”26

“Memories III” is a new kind of poem, one that is suggestive, I believe, of the nature of the revolution in style which took place in the middle of the sixteenth century. As the moral poem changes, its meanings are no longer given by a source, a literary tradition, exterior to the poem. The Latin rhetorical tradition, as it was taught by the Tudor humanists, makes available a means to think coherently in verse and to develop a thought as fully as its nature permits. Thus, the subject of a poem begins to shape the poem, and meaning and form become interdependent in ways that could not be realized so long as the stanza remained a primary structural determinant of the poem and thought was co-terminal with the stanza.

The poet is no longer bound to repeat literary formulas in ingenious ways. He can gather meanings from other than literary sources, from society and its values, from his readers' experience and his own, and can combine them in ways that are, or can become, uniquely realized in the poem. Though he does not abandon tradition, he is no longer entirely determined by it, and his poem can become not a repetition of its tradition but a unique expression of it. And since he is engaged in discourse with us, the poet finds ways to reveal his own character and voice more fully than the generalities of the moral convention formerly allowed.

There comes to be written a more accessible kind of poem, one addressed to an audience whose members share a Christian humanist education, a particular system of values, an enthusiasm for the world and a preoccupation with moral stance in relation to the world. The poem may take a public form, perhaps one of the several kinds of classical discourse, and it may address our social nature. Moral concerns are extended, then, from the realm of private conduct to our relationships with others and with society at large.

A technical discovery is sometimes a spiritual discovery; a new method of writing means that something new can be said. Gascoigne's discovery of the possibilities for achieving poetic ends by classical rhetorical strategies gave him a new kind of freedom in thinking about experience. Certain aspects of Christian humanism entered English poetry not all at once but slowly, by the poets' steady working through new forms within the context of an old, native literature. Gascoigne's innovations are important to our literary heritage because, together with the poets who were his contemporaries, he introduced and perfected some of the means by which the New Learning made its way into English poetry.


  1. Gascoigne gives the occasion of the poems and the circumstances of their composition at the beginning and the end of “Gascoigne's Memories”; The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, Esquire, ed. J. W. Cunliffe, I (Cambridge, 1909), pp. 62, 70.

  2. Prouty, George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier and Poet (New York, 1942), p. 125; Peterson, The English Lyric from Wyatt to Donne (Princeton, 1967), p. 153; Winters, “The 16th Century Lyric in England,” 1939; rpt. in Elizabethan Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Paul J. Alpers (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), pp. 98-9.

  3. “Lyric Style in the 1590's,” in The Problem of Style, ed. J. V. Cunningham (Greenwich, Conn., 1966), p. 163. For Professor Cunningham's description of the moral style see this essay, and “The Revolution in Style” in The Renaissance in England, ed. J. V. Cunningham (New York, 1966), pp. xxvii-xliii.

  4. English Renaissance Poetry, ed. John E. Williams (Garden City, N.Y., 1963; rpt., 1974), p. 92. I follow Williams' modernization of spelling and punctuation for this poem and for “Memories III”; for his method see his preface, p. xxix.

  5. Compare the structure of this fifteenth century representative of the type (No. 186 in The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse):

    God be with trewthe wher he be!
    I wolde he were in this contree.
    A man that shuld of trewthe telle,
    With grete lordes he may not dwelle;
    In trewe story, as clerkes telle
    Trewthe is put in low degree.
    In ladyes chaumbers cometh he not
    Ther dare trewthe setten non fot;
    Though he woulde, he may not
    Commen among the high menee.
    With men of lawe he hath none space;
    They loven trewthe in one place;
    Me thinketh they han a rewly grace
    That trewthe is put at swich degree.

    The next two stanzas offer the examples of holy church and religious orders, then the poem concludes with a surprise:

    A man that shuld of trewthe aspye,
    He must him seeken esilye
    In the bosom of Marye,
    For ther he is, forsoothe, pardee!
  6. Williams, p. x.

  7. The Renaissance in England, p. xlii.

  8. “The Rise and Fall of the Progymnasmata in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Grammar Schools,” Speech Monographs XIX (1952), 259, 260.

  9. Clark, p. 262.

  10. Clark, p. 260. For the central place of Aphthonius in the curriculum see Thomas W. Baldwin, Shakespere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke (Urbana, 1944), vol. I, passim; also Francis R. Johnson's introduction to The Foundation of Rhetorike, note 12; also Donald Lemen Clark, note 9. Henry VIII sanctioned the use of Aphthonius; one can imagine that his approval carried the force of a virtual command.

  11. Fol. xx, recto (rpt. New York, 1945). For Rainolde's fidelity to his sources see Francis R. Johnson's introduction to this facsimile. The theme differs from the forensic oration, which may have as few parts as five and as many as eight: entrance, narration, division, proposition, confirmation, confutation, conclusion and peroration. Cicero and Quintilian offer wider latitude to the discretion of the orator than seems to be the case with Aphthonius's rules for the theme, since every law case is different and has its own requirements for development. Gascoigne develops “Gascoigne's Woodmanship” and “The Fruits of War” as forensic orations.

  12. Williams, p. 70.

  13. “Gascoigne's ‘Lullabie’ and Structures in the Tudor Lyric,” in The Rhetoric of Renaissance Poetry, ed. Thomas O. Sloan and Raymond B. Waddington (Berkeley, 1974), p. 58.

  14. Fol. xx, recto. It is the difference between a chreia, a phrase borrowed from a known author or a famous person, and a proverb.

  15. Fol. xvi, verso.

  16. Ed. G. H. Mair (London, 1909), p. 7.

  17. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (New York, 1965), p. 298. For the versatility of the refutation as Gascoigne adapts it to literary uses, compare the refutation in “Gascoigne's Woodmanship,” which consists of forty-six lines beginning “He cannot climb as other catchers can” and ending “Yet can they hit the marks that I do miss, / And win the means which may the man maintain.” It is a passage which owes much to Wyatt's “Mine own John Poyns.”

  18. Wilson, pp. 188-9.

  19. Fol. xvii, recto.

  20. Corbett, p. 43.

  21. De Inventione, I, xviii, 26. trans, H. M. Hubbell, The Loeb Classical Library, Cicero, vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).

  22. Winters, p. 99.

  23. Compare Wyatt's less economical use of the figure sententia in the opening lines of “Satire 3: To Sir Francis Brian,” to which “Memories III” seems to owe a great deal. Wyatt uses proverbs to “enter” his poem, a standard rhetorical practice; thereafter, he does not establish a relationship between them and his subject, corruption at court, but instead abandons them.

  24. Trans. John Selby Watson, Bohn's Classical Library, vol. 2 (London, 1856 and later). Quintilian is speaking of the forensic oration, not the theme.

  25. I follow Gerald Lascelles in Shakespeare's England, ed. Sidney Lee and Walter Raleigh (Oxford, 1916; rpt., 1962), II, pp. 351-66.

  26. Nathan, p. 69.

Dale B. Billingsley (essay date summer 1993)

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SOURCE: Billingsley, Dale B. “The Pastime of Master F. J.” Renaissance and Reformation 17, no. 3 (summer 1993): 5-18.

[In this essay, Billingsley suggests that The Adventures of Master F. J. portrays reading as leisure pastime that is also a mode for the attainment of power.]

To one class of literary works, variously descended from the Platonic dialogue, the representation of leisure is a necessary prerequisite. Without it, philosophical conversation in the gymnasium or at dinner parties is impossible; night-long discourse about the best courtier, unlikely; garden-talk about perfect societies, merely utopian. For another class of works, leisure is a central problem. Where philosophy provides no occupation, leisure transforms itself from luxury into burden. Faced with empty hours, the characters must either fall into lassitude or find a pastime. Many of these characters turn for such a pastime to sorting out—or, in some cases, complicating—their relationships with others. The readers' task, undertaken in turn partly to fill their own leisure, is the re-creation and re-sorting of the relationships presented in the work, so that the pastime and the work of fiction are paradoxically identical. The problem of ‘pastime,’ therefore, grounds a broad range of literary fiction. The development of modern understanding of play in general has largely shaped the directions that literary criticism has taken in the treatment of specific texts in which pastime is important.1

George Gascoigne's Discourse of the Adventures passed by Master F. J. (1573) displays well the paradoxes of serious play in Elizabethan literature. George Gascoigne (c. 1533-1577), a remarkably versatile writer, was a prolific poet, playwright of the Supposes (1566, the first surviving English prose play), author of an instructive critical essay, and an innovator in prose fiction: the Adventures is generally regarded as the earliest English work in which the outlines of a novel form can be perceived. Gascoigne's productive career may be taken as typical of literary (if not financial) success in the period just before the great age of Elizabethan poetry and drama. Modern commentary on the Adventures has emphasized the seriousness of the pastimes in the work, particularly in relation to its literary context. Both as a critique of misread romances and as a review of humanist assumptions about literary education, the text expresses a conspicuously modern attitude toward the art and the act of reading.2 These linguistic, rhetorical and social pastimes can thus be seen as moves in a serious game of access to power, and the Adventures, therefore, as an ironic ‘institute’ for the transformation of the individual.3

In outline, the story is a familiar one. F. J., a young man untried in the ways of love, spends the summer at a castle in northern England. There he meets the lord's wanton daughter-in-law, Elinor. In the absence of her usual paramour, she and F. J. have an affair, which he chronicles in a series of poems. Frances, the lord's innocent (but hardly naive) daughter, falls in love with F. J. Her indirect warnings to him are useless, and she watches as Elinor makes a fool of him: casual flirtation leads to adultery; Elinor's ardor cools and dies; F. J. at last realizes his foolishness and departs, wiser but embittered. The story is told by F. J.'s friend G. T., who “reduce[s] … into some good order” F. J.'s poems and account of their composition.4 In G. T.'s telling, pastime is a key word, for virtually every scene and episode occurs as a pastime for the otherwise unfilled summer days. Dances, dinners, walks and rides in the park offer the occasion for the ‘discourse’—very often mere idle talk—that gives the affair its life, while the pastime is occasionally formalized in actual games (pp. 87-94, 97-101). In G. T.'s version of the affair, F. J. and the other characters occupy their leisure with a particular pastime of love.

These players occupy themselves with mutual deceits that complicate the affair so that its moves and counter-moves require considerable ingenuity.5 F. J. first commits himself to the pastime by writing a letter (“this telltale paper”) that Elinor acknowledges at a dance (p. 52). To all appearances, F. J. and Elinor are already involved in a pastime, the ‘braule’ or dance that the castle's residents perform. Elinor uses this pastime, however, as a cover for her counter-move to F. J.'s letter, an apparently decorous rejection of his suit. F. J., committed to the love-game, breaks up the pastime of the dance, thus breaking the cover that Elinor had chosen. The attempted deceit of the company therefore collapses and instead becomes an invitation for Frances and Pergo, an older woman, to join later in the new pastime of love. In the sequel, this social deceit has a private aspect: Elinor takes up the game by offering a gambit of her own, so that her apparent rejection of F. J. turns out to be deceptive.

Underlying the apparent pastime that F. J. and Elinor devise is a twofold problem of communication: conveying the love messages and interpreting their meaning. In the earlier part of the Adventures, up to the seduction of Elinor (p. 69), F. J.'s occupation is to discover the rules by which this pastime is conducted. In a world of deceit, his inexperience makes it difficult for him to sort out truth and falsehood. When Elinor re-opens the game, F. J. mistakenly takes her at her word:

Walking in a garden among divers other gentlemen & gentlewomen, with a little frowning smyle in passing by him, she delivered unto him a paper, with these words. For that I understand not (quoth she) th'intent of your letters, I pray you take them here againe, and bestow them at your pleasure … F. J. somewhat troubled with hir angrie looke, did sodenly leave the companie, & walking into a parke near adjoyning, in a great rage began to wreake his mallice on this poore paper, and the same did rend and teare in peeces. When sodenly at a glaunce he perceaved it was not of his own hande writing, and therewithall abashed, uppon better regard he perceyved in one peece therof written (in Romaine) these letters SHE: wherefore placing all the peeces therof, as orderly as he could, he found therin written these fewe lynes …

(pp. 52-53)

To the others present, Elinor's remark seems to explain the paper she passes to F. J. His inability to understand her deception leads him through several stages of confusion. At first he takes the letter to be his own returned, then to be an answer from her, and finally to be evidence of collusion with another person unknown, to whom F. J.'s first letter is an actual “telltale paper” (p. 53). In the succeeding letter, F. J.'s reference to “this endles Laberinthe” (p. 54) may be applied to the affair itself and to the complicated paths of communication that the would-be lovers follow. The notes and messages that occupy these early stages of the affair are all “a doubtfull shewe” and “written in counterfeit” (p. 53), so that in each case the true message is buried under one or more possible misprisons.6

F. J. proves his mastery of deceptive utterance at Elinor's sickbed (p. 57). In the same series of actions, he deceives the audience of other attendants, furthers his suit with Elinor, secures her consent—and cures her nosebleed. Finally, he achieves such expertise that he can declare his love aloud, albeit in covert form, before the company, by singing an impromptu tinternel that Elinor can hear through the closed door of her chamber (p. 62). Having once mastered such deception, F. J. uses it consistently to confuse others or to obscure their understanding of his intentions and actions. His lending a bugle to Elinor's husband, for example, is the occasion of a bawdy poem in which puns on seed and horns imply cuckholdry (pp. 78-79). Direct communication, however expedient it might be, is no pastime for the castle's denizens. They occupy themselves instead with indirect or evasive utterances so that the pastime of love is drawn out by the necessity of sorting “into some good order” all the apparent messages that they send back and forth. F. J.'s mastery of this duplicitous style of communication allows him to become a real player of the pastime, no longer forced by his inexperienced directness to retreat in a huff so as to sort out his confusion. By the middle of the Adventures, one sees that the pastime itself holds the community together, making the consummation of an affair almost incidental to the elaboration of the deceits it requires.

If all this business is nothing more than a pastime, and if that pastime has priority over other kinds of activity, then F. J.—not Elinor—is the villain of this story. As long as the players recognize the pastime and accept its rules, all goes well. F. J. can enjoy Elinor's favors without penalty as long as he takes the affair merely as a pastime. When his jealousy grows beyond bounds (that is, when he fails to recognize others' claim to pastime), he breaks the rules.7 At the end of the affair, as G. T. foretold, “his hap was as heavie, as hitherto he had bene fortunate” (p. 78). Frances tries one last time to correct F. J.'s misunderstanding of the game (p. 104) before Elinor flatly rebuffs him. Having overheard “the parting of his Mistresse and his Secretary, with many kind words: wherby it appeared that the one was very loth to departe from the other,” F. J. confronts her with “this despitefull trechery:”

and she as fast denied it, untill at last being still urged with such evident tokens as he alleged, she gave him this bone to gnawe uppon. And if I did so (quod she) what than?

(p. 104)

In the end, the importance of the pastime makes its rules absolute. If once a player breaks them, he must be excluded or the pastime is destroyed. “What than? Whereunto F. J. returned none answere, but departed …” (p. 104). The moral of the tale, such as it is, seems direct and blunt: play the game or get out. F. J. departs to the cold comfort of his muse, getting what revenge he can by passing on the tale of the affair to his understanding friend.

F. J.'s unhappy experiences form the first level of the reader's adventures with this text, adventures that, although usually treated as a literary excursion, have also important social—or, perhaps more accurately, political—significance. F. J. resembles those courtly arrivistes whose careers and talents have been subject to recent scrutiny. As presented by G. T., F. J. is, first of all, without antecedents. G. T. begins his story in medias res—“The said F. J. chaunced once in the north partes of this Realme to fall in company of a very fayre gentlewoman” (p. 51)—but never returns to fill in the background, leaving his hero with a biographical lacuna as blank as the earlier history of F. J.'s many real contemporaries at the center (and the edges) of political power. Plunked down in a rule-bound court, F. J. is ignorant of the rules, apparently because he is without the social or familial foundations that should have prepared him for the situation. Like his counterparts, he has filled up the gaps in his past by recourse to books, tools newly available to his class, that both undermined the stability of the old order and reshaped the avenues to power. Unlike those real counterparts, however, he chose mistakenly from the texts available. The faults of the old chivalric-romance rules lie in the damage they do to persons, as F. J. learns to his sorrow, although without awareness of the humanist alternative that seems to shape the motives of the larger work. In sum, F. J.'s liabilities are ironically captured in the characterization of Elyot's ‘governor’ as “a gentleman, a fluent denizen of the urban court, whose textual hero was not Lancelot but Cicero.”8 F. J. is in the wrong place (“the north partes of this Realme,” not the central urban court) with the wrong literary guide and textual hero, and—in his choice of Elinor over Frances—with the wrong object in view. A successful affair with Frances might at any rate have meant greater access to the unnamed lord of the castle, where adultery with Elinor provided nothing permanent at all. Even though life at the central court was hardly a pleasant or assured avenue to power, contemporary courtiers might easily find even their poor lot in London superior to F. J.'s troubles.9

Finally, as F. J.'s technical competence and fluency increase, his misprision of the game at hand is made ironically more obvious. Rather than using his adultery as a means of moving to the center of power, F. J. takes the affair as an end in itself; he realizes the ideals of his literary models, only to be told that those models no longer obtain in his world. And to compete primarily with a secretary who had been lately to London, “though his absence were unto [Elinor] a disfurnishing of eloquence” (p. 58): as F. J. is a diminished Lancelot, so his competitor is a partial, reductive avatar of those whose practice of the ars dictaminis led eventually both to eloquence and to power in the central court.

Much of this very broad critique of F. J.'s behavior is expressed or implied by G. T., although that narrator is ultimately shown to be mistaken as well. G. T. makes F. J.'s romance a comedy, a conversion of genre that betrays G. T.'s appearance of sympathy with the young man.10 To F. J., G. T. has at least seemed sympathetic enough to be entrusted with the poems that he wrote during his affair, some account of its course and perhaps a general sense of the company at the castle (pp. 50-51). It is G. T.'s re-creation of the affair, however, that the reader follows in the Adventures, which G. T. augments with information unavailable to F. J. (e.g., his comparison of Elinor and Frances [pp. 66-67], and his characterization of Pergo [p. 87]). Occasionally G. T. lets the reader see the distortion that F. J.'s perspective creates, as in the description of the secretary's appearance:

to make my tale good, I will (by report of my very good friend F. J.) discribe him unto you. Hee was in height, the proportion of two Pigmeys, in bredth the thicknesse of two bacon hogges, of presumption a Gyant, of power a Gnat, Apishly witted, Knavishly mannerd, & crabbedly favord, what was there in him to drawe a fayre Ladies liking? Marry sir even all in all, a well lyned pursse, wherwith he could at every call, provide such pretie conceytes as pleased hir peevish fantasie, and by that means he had throughly (long before) insinuated him self with this amorous dame. This manling, this minion, this slave, this secretary, was nowe by occasion rydden to London. …

(p. 58)

Here the reader, warned by the initial parenthesis, has the unedited F. J. telling his story to G. T. The hyperbolically unflattering description is F. J.'s own style, contrasting sharply with G. T.'s. In the steady declension from manling to secretary, however, G. T. modulates back into his own plainer, less rancorous style that makes F. J.'s ‘report’ of the secretary doubtful: G. T.'s parenthetical note of the source of the description implies that the describer might not be entirely credible—the secretary may be no ugly pigmy after all. G. T.'s mixture of sympathy and criticism (and, perhaps, envy) is the response of Pygmalion: F. J. as presented in the text is the creation of the older narrator, and the two coexist for the reader as father/son and as old/young manifestation of the same essential being. G. T. is both paternal and patronizing, however, and his complex attitude is finally the reductive source of the reader's detachment not only from F. J. himself but also from the choices and preferences (including that for chivalric romance over courtly eloquence) that he expresses. G. T.'s contribution requires from the reader a critical movement from F. J.'s choices and a displacement of F. J.'s pastimes with another game of interpretation, parallel to but on a different level from the chivalric-romance pastime that is the object of criticism.

The quality of G. T.'s contribution to F. J.'s adventures is partly revealed by the texture of verbal play in his re-creation. In many places, G. T. imposes metaphors of pastime on the basic narrative. Elinor, for example, receiving one of F. J.'s poems in the form called terza sequenza, is said to have “retossed every card in this sequence” (p. 57) as if sorting through a hand at cards to find its value. On a larger scale, whole passages are based upon verbal play that arises from G. T.'s reticence and unwillingness to make every joke explicit: recognizing and resolving the ambiguities present the reader with a more difficult problem of interpretation. Thus, when F. J. takes his sword to his first nighttime tryst with Elinor (p. 69), G. T. delivers his account with an apparently decorous circumlocution that ironically emphasizes the peculiarity of F. J.'s behavior. At one level, F. J. is merely imitating the courtly Lancelot, who carries his sword to a similar tryst with Guinevere in Malory's Morte d'Arthur (Book XIX, chap. 6). At another, Elinor's response to the sword, qualified by G. T.'s parenthetical remarks, intimates a sexual double meaning that remains ambiguous through Frances' discovery of F. J.'s stealthy return to his chamber:

the ladie Fraunces being no lesse desirous to see an issue of these enterprises, then F. J. was willing to cover them in secresy, did watch, & even at the entring of his chamber doore, perceyved the poynt of his naked sworde glistring under the skyrt of his night gowne: wherat she smyled & said to hir selfe, this geare goeth well about.

(pp. 69-70)

G. T.'s re-creation of events goes beyond the information that F. J. could have provided, even in retrospect, to include Frances' remark to herself, in which the salient geare carries a secondary signification of ‘organs of generation;’ significantly, only Frances seems to be aware of the double meaning she invokes. When G. T. tells how Frances stole F. J.'s actual sword out of his chamber (p. 70), the ambiguous usage appears to be resolved, but only until Frances' later joke on F. J. (pp. 72-74), during which she hints that she knows of the tryst.11

The construction of the various episodes, their articulation with the poems, and a series of structural parallels show the subtlety of G. T.'s invention. G. T. uses the license of hindsight to enlarge F. J.'s chronicle of the affair. Besides beginning the story in medias res, he places the various poems so that they reveal F. J.'s state of mind at the time of composition, rather than their effect upon Elinor. Thus the occasion of the first poem in the text, “Fair Bersabe, the bright” (p. 52), is Elinor's apparent rejection of F. J.'s suit during the ‘braule,’ but “before [F. J.] coulde put the same in legible writinge, it pleased the sayd Mystresse Elinor of hir curtesie thus to deale with him” (p. 52), by passing her own letter to him in the garden. In the form that G. T. gives the affair, ‘legibility’ is for awhile a major concern. F. J. tears her letter to bits but reconstructs it, only to set himself a problem in literary criticism: “For as by the stile this letter of hirs bewrayeth that it was not penned by a womans capacitie, so the sequell of her doings may discipher, that she had mo ready clearkes than trustie servants in store” (p. 53). He answers this problem by setting Elinor one of his own: “he thought not best to commit the sayde verses [i.e., ‘Fair Bersabe’] willingly into hir custodie, but privilie lost them in hir chamber, written in counterfeit” (p. 53). In G. T.'s construction of events, F. J. and Elinor afford each other complementary problems in ‘decipherment:’ the right hand but the wrong style, and the right style but the wrong hand. The question of legibility resolves itself at the moment when written communication becomes moot, with F. J.'s acceptance as an acknowledged lover (pp. 54-55). The lovers do not part, however, until Elinor secures F. J.'s letter (“these blabbing leaves”), seemingly as a ‘bottom’ for winding her silk. F. J. is free to construe her meaning as the desire for yet another love-token, and the reader to see it retrospectively as the desire for another trophy in her collection of fools' works. G. T. himself merely records the exchange, passing over its interpretation in silence.

At a larger structural level, G. T. uses repeated narrative motives and parallel incidents to bind the narrative together. The midnight tryst, for example, in which the characters' nightgowns play a role both as costume and as bedding (p. 69), is foreshadowed by a martial simile also involving apparel:

[F. J.'s] chaunce was to meete hir alone in a Gallery of the same house: where (as I have heard him declare) his manhood in this kind of combat was first tryed, and therein I can compare him to a valiant Prince, who distressed with power of enemies had committed the safeguard of his person to treaty of Ambassade, and sodenly (surprised with a Camnassado in his own trenches) was enforced to yeeld as prisoner. Even so my friend F. J. lately overcome by ye beautifull beames of this Dame Elynor … was at unwares encountered with his friendly foe. …

(p. 54)

In its immediate context, this simile shows G. T.'s ironic support of F. J.'s romance fiction. Given F. J.'s general behavior and his conduct of the affair, the only way by which he can be considered a ‘valiant Prince’ is by a forced comparison; rather than demonstrating how ineffective F. J. is as a romance hero, G. T. chooses this unlikely comparison as a means of ironic deflation. The parenthetical addition to the simile seems excrescent in the immediate context, but in the sequel its appropriateness is evident. The camnassado—or, as one editor has it, camisado—is literally “‘an attack in one's shirt’ … a fairly common Renaissance military term meaning a surprise night attack in which the attackers wore shirts over their armor to recognize each other.”12 As forecast by this simile, the seduction scene is an actual camisado, except for the ironic detail that both parties wear nightshirts, obscuring the roles of seducer and seduced.

Likewise, in the earlier part of the Adventures, F. J. visits Elinor to heal her of “a great bleeding of the nose” (pp. 56-57). After F. J. falls into his jealous illness, a parallel situation occurs when Elinor attempts to cure him with perfume (p. 86). When this comedy fails, she attempts another: “Yes servaunt (quod she) I will see if you can sleepe any better in my sheets: and therwith commaunded hir handmayd to fetch a paire of cleane sheetes” (p. 90). The obviously provocative remark is passed over, but later the lady herself arrives to share the sheets with F. J. in his bed (pp. 91-92). Elinor miscalculates the efficacy of her remedy, however, and the seduction she had apparently planned turns into a rape, which G. T. once again describes in military terms (p. 92). These parallel incidents are landmarks in the course of the affair, and show the shifting roles of the two principals in the pastime of love.

The wealth of verbal play, the repeated narrative motives and parallel incidents, especially those that rest of G. T.'s own invention, appear in the narration with little evidence that the narrator is aware of them, but this apparent blindness is intentional. At the outset, G. T.'s letter to H. W. expressed his design. His re-creation of F. J.'s affair is also a recreation: the Adventures is itself a kind of pastime for him, and he intends it to be used by H. W. for “recreation” (p. 51)—in the same double sense. This recreation requires of H. W. (and other readers) the same intellectual activity that occupies characters within the story. The gossip and voyeurism that occupy the characters within the story become, albeit at two removes, the pastime of G. T.'s readers. They must re-create (and to some extent, re-order) the relationship of the poems to the story, and they must recognize the structural parallels and repetition in order to comprehend the pattern of the narrative. Finally, the deceits practiced by Elinor and F. J., which include gaining possession of and interpreting written works, are manifestly compounded by G. T.'s passing his narrative to H. W. G. T. makes pastime for himself and his readers by betraying F. J., just as Elinor does, and in comparison, Elinor's use of F. J.'s ‘telltale paper’ seems a petty treachery. Since G. T.'s parade of learning proves to be riddled with error and ignorance, it is a trap for the unwary or unlearned reader who embraces G. T.'s doctrines too uncritically.13 Finally, the reader's game lies in the search for a reliable direction to take in judging the sometimes contradictory voices in the text. F. J.'s affair and G. T.'s narration are but the first two of several competing interpretations through which the reader moves in the elaborate critical pastime constructed by George Gascoigne.

This pastime of criticism is both formal and substantial. From the ‘valiant Prince’ metaphors and the questioni d'amore, the reader learns to class the Adventures with chivalric romances, even though the work itself ironically revises their conventions. Italian influences—Petrarch's rime, Boccaccio's novelle, Ariosto's epic, and (at a further remove) Castiglione's dialogue—reveal vistas of the literary tradition that reader and author share and make not only the Adventures but also its formal models the objects of fun. Criticism also adds substance to the pastime of the work. Within the Adventures, the most fervent critic is G. T., who can hardly restrain his commentaries on the poems, even though he is not a particularly apt student of Gascoigne's critical theories, set out in Certaine notes of Instruction (1575).14 At the expense of detaining the narrative, G. T. follows the poems with sometimes obtuse criticisms of their invention, appropriateness, diction or occasion. As long as the plot is taken as primary, these commentaries are vexatious, just as the inset stories told by Frances and Pergo seem to be (pp. 87-94, 97-101). Like the storie, however, the relevance of which F. J. ignores to his loss, these critiques are notes of instruction for the reader—who must beware that they sometimes act as cautionary examples of what not to do. These apparent digressions are disruptive only as long as the reader mistakes the pastime that Gascoigne has constructed, for to mistake the pastime is to judge it by the wrong rules. By the rules that Gascoigne follows, the apparent digressions enrich the text by enlarging the pastime it represents.

Although G. T. and Gascoigne evidently speak with different voices and different ideas, the role of the one and the action of the other blend in this pastime, which thus becomes critical in another sense. The sorting out of human relationships and motivations—which is only dimly perceived by G. T. and scarcely recognized in his critiques—becomes the vital necessity that Gascoigne forces on the reader. To do what Gascoigne requires, the reader must himself undertake the pastime that occupies the narrative's characters in such various ways. F. J.'s reassembling a shredded letter, Elinor's retossing every card in a poetic sequence, G. T.'s re-ordering and re-creating the documents and the history of an affair—all are models within the text of the reader's activity outside it.

What the reader learns, therefore, although central to the text, achieves importance also through its extratextual applications. Such potentially dangerous applications may partly explain the bowdlerized version, The pleasant Fable of Ferdinando Jeronimi and Leonora de Valasco, translated out of the Italian riding tales of Bartello, published in the 1575 Posies. In addition to considerable alteration of the story itself, the revision omits the original parerga and the character of G. T.,15 which together account for “an ingenious and almost too successful hoax on the 1573 reader,” who is led in stages to a “self-induced acceptance of the ‘discourse’ … as a disguised form of historical reality—perhaps autobiographical.”16 Gascoigne's 1575 prefaces demolish this original complex structure of fictional compilators, placing the work explicitly with the cautionary “Weedes to be avoyded” in the three-part moral division of the Posies (p. 17) and claiming that the alterations are necessitated by the bawdiness of the original. These nominally offensive elements, however, are scarcely altered in the 1575 version. Instead, Gascoigne redefines the relationship between the central character and the narrator, an adjustment that finally says more about the broadly political implications of the original than about the proper conduct of love affairs or the moral decorum of the text.

In 1575, the full expansion of the central character's name implicates the fictional world created in the text. The scene is translated from the anonymous English castle to an Italy where local habitations and names are both exotic and insistent. F. J. himself is transformed from the unpedigreed youth of 1573 to “a young gentleman of Venice, and was come into Lombardie to take the pleasures of the countrie”—a man of sufficient parts to merit Lord Valasco's consideration as a possible spouse for his elder daughter (p. 383). Through virtually the same series of incidents, Ferdinanda and his companions come to far more specific ends than the 1573 version proposed: Ferdinando to a dissolute life, Frauncischina to a languishing death, and Elinor to “long continuance … of hir accustomed change” (p. 453).

If this story is, as the narrator claims, a “pleasant and profitable” but cautionary “Fable” of lust's excesses (p. 453), it is oddly unimproving. Elinor, the most flagrantly lustful character, suffers not at all, while the constant, virtuous Frauncischina dies, her heart broken by an inept, self-centered and finally stupid boy. Rather than correcting the bawdy story, then, the 1575 revisions alter the salient political elements of the fiction. The central figure is not an arriviste in courtly circles but a “young gentleman” already accepted and entertained; the connection between Lord Valasco and Ferdinando is explicitly related to the marriage of the Lord's elder daughter, changing the young man from a chance vagrant into a dynastic satellite; and the scene is shifted from northern England—with its obviously and dangerously local application—to Italy, where people were notoriously reputed capable of any depravity.

Changes in the fictional framework accompany these alterations in the story. Most obviously, the fallible voice of G. T. is replaced by a virtually omniscient (but still chatty and critical) anonymous narrator, whose voice is itself the construct of ‘Bartello,’ the putative author of the ‘Fable’ that Gascoigne allegedly translates for the Posies (pp. 384, 453). This shift in narratorial stance has a complex effect that might be reckoned as an inverse proportion between the locale of the action and Gascoigne's willingness to be associated with the text: when the story is set in England, Gascoigne obscures his presence behind the parerga, as if to sanitize his relationship to a doubtful show, but the shift to Italy allows him to be more explicit about his own presence in the work (although this presence is also obscured by his claim to serve merely as translator). This changed fictional frame is announced in the changed genre-marker of the title—from ‘discourse’ to ‘fable’—which implies also a change in the quality of the reader's work. The former title implies the discursive, evaluative reading that is required to sort out and judge the many speakers (the printer, H. W., G. T., F. J.), whereas the latter suggests a much less demanding program: a ‘fable,’ insofar as it is accepted at all, is accepted all of a piece on the authority of the central character. The 1575 version thus flattens the discursive ridges that run through the 1573 text, in which readers are asked to reconcile contradictions between competing textual voices. The early description of Elinor's secretary, for example, which G. T. carefully and conspicuously notes as F. J.'s rather than his own [the parenthetical “by report of my very good friend F. J.” (p. 58)], is differently qualified in 1575 [“by the same words that Bartello useth” (p. 392)]. The change implies Gascoigne's awareness of the different truth-claims made by the respective remarks. Where G. T. ironically diminishes F. J.'s rhetoric from his own, the 1575 narrator asserts the accuracy of his translation: the former asserts independence of, the latter announces submission to another authority over the text.

If these, then, are the various pleasures of the text, wherein lies the profit asserted by the 1575 narrator's concluding Horation formula (p. 453)? F. J.'s failure in 1573 is, at least superficially, a warning against even the attempt to break into a superior social class on the presumption of one's learning. If F. J. had been truly educated, he would have known to choose Cicero over Lancelot. The 1573 version holds out some comfort to courtly readers that their established power is proof against the incursions of upstart nonentities. The 1575 version, however, removes the implied tension between the classes: Ferdinando, Elinor, and Frauncischina are already social equals, and the story conveys little comfort for those whose established power was perceptibly threatened by actual persons who challenged tradition with the new learning—more intelligent versions of F. J., that is, and more ambitious secretaries. At the plot level, then, the two versions point similar if not identical morals that reinforce—or, at any rate, leave unchallenged—the security of the class order.

As a whole, however, the pastimes of the text are subversive, and in their subversiveness is their profit. To better qualified readers—that is, to the aspiring secretaries—the full range of pastimes exercise exactly those skills of rhetorical and cultural interpretation that promise promotion and success in the slippery world of the court. Gascoigne's achievement in the story of Master F. J. is to point out for those who can see how they may actualize their potential according to their capacities as interpreters, independent of pedigree or rank. The competence of the reader thus shapes the work, making it—regardless of the explicit label—either a comfortable ‘fable’ for the established or a ‘discourse’ for the aspiring, depending upon the self-consciousness of the mind that works through the intricate pastimes of Master F. J.


  1. See Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 3rd ed. (Basel, 1938), and Hugo Rahner, “Der spielende Mensch,” Eranos-Jahrbuch 1949 (Zurich, 1949).

  2. The two principal lines of criticism are well-represented by Walter R. Davis, Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton, 1969), pp. 94-109, who concentrates upon the romance influences; and by Arthur F. Kinney, Humanist Poetics: Thought, Rhetoric, and Fiction in Sixteenth-Century England (Amherst, 1986), pp. 89-117, who discusses the humanist critique. Recent work in social history and rhetorical theory is brought to bear on the interpretation offered here: see Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley, 1984). Interested readers will also wish to consult these studies cited by Whigham: Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford, 1965), and “Social Mobility in England, 1500-1700,” Past and Present, XXXIII (1966), 17-55; and Wallace MacCaffrey, “Place and Patronage in Elizabethan Politics,” in Elizabethan Government and Society, eds, S. T. Bindoff, Joel Hurstfield, and C. H. Williams (London, 1961), pp. 95-126.

  3. ‘Institute’ is a modern name given to that class of works, including courtesy books, that aim to instruct persons in the right behavior for access to power. The Adventures may be so considered if ironic inversion of the general form is allowed. See Whigham, Ambition, pp. 25-31, and Thomas M. Greene, “The Flexibility of the Self in Renaissance Literature,” in The Disciplines of Criticism: Essays in Literary Theory, Interpretation, and History, eds., Peter Demetz and al. (New Haven, 1968), pp. 241-64.

  4. George Gascoigne'sA Hundreth Sundrie Flowers, ed. with introduction and notes by C. T. Prouty, University of Missouri Studies, vol. 18, no. 2 (Columbia, 1942), p. 51.

  5. Davis, Idea, pp. 104-07; and Frank B. Fieler, “Gascoigne's Use of Courtly Love Conventions in The Adventures Passed by Master F. J.,Studies in Short Fiction, I (1963), 26-32.

  6. Jane Hedley, “Allegoria: Gascoigne's Master Trope,” English Literary Renaissance, XI (1981), 148-64; and George E, Rowe, “Interpretation, Sixteenth-Century Readers, and George Gascoigne's The adventures of Master F. J.,ELH, XLVIII (1981), 271-89.

  7. An alternative pastime is open to F. J. if he would take up the proper love that Frances offers, but he consistently rejects that course. In the oblique way typical of the castle's residents, Pergo and Frances offer the questioni d'amore that speak to his situation with Elinor, but he either refuses or is unable to see their application. See Richard A. Lanham, “Narrative Structure in Gascoigne's F. J.,Studies in Short Fiction, IV (1966), 44-45; Charles W. Smith, “Structural and Thematic Unity in Gascoigne's The Adventures of Master F. J.,Papers on Language and Literature, II (1966), 99-108.

  8. Whigham, Ambition, p. 13.

  9. For a graphic description of the anxieties and dangers of a courtier's life, see Lacey Baldwin Smith, Treason in Tudor England: Politics and Paranoia (Princeton, 1986), esp. pp. 36-71.

  10. R. P. Adams. “Gascoigne's Master F. J. as Original Fiction,” PMLA, LXIII (1958), 315-26; Leicester Bradner, “Point of View in George Gascoigne's Fiction,” Studies in Short Fiction, III (1965), 18-22. For a darker reading of G. T.'s role, see Gregory Waters, “G. T.'s ‘Worthless Enterprise’: A Study of the Narrator in The Adventures of Master F. J.,Journal of Narrative Technique, VII (1977), 116-27.

  11. In the ‘dream’ Frances invents to intimate her knowledge of F. J.'s tryst, she transforms the actual sword into a decorative motif on the “tall Gentleman's” nightgown. The dream has a sexual significance, as Frances hints in the remainder: “he recomforted me saying, be not afrayd Lady, for I use this garment onely for myne own defence: and in this sort went that warlicke God Mars what time he taught Dame Venus to make Vulcan a hamer of the newe fashion” (p. 73). The close verbal correspondence between the dream-figure's remark and F. J.'s comment to Elinor is an instance of G. T.'s inventing a narrative link that a mere recorder of the affair could not have used. The mythological comparison points up the adultery of the affair, although its effect is ironic.

  12. Merritt Lawlis, Elizabethan Prose Fiction (Indianapolis, 1967), p. 43, n. 18; and Prouty, ed., Sundrie Flowers, p. 244.

  13. Kinney, Poetics, pp. 99-109.

  14. In George Gascoigne, The Posies, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge, 1907), pp. 465-473. See also Penelope Scambly Schott, “The Narrative Stance in The Adventures of Master F. J.: Gascoigne as Critic of His Own Poems,” Renaissance Quarterly, XXIX (1976), 369-77; but cf. Rowe, “Interpretation.”

  15. For an analysis of the differences between the two versions, see Prouty's biography, George Gascoigne (New York, 1942), pp. 189-212; Bradner, “Point of View,” pp. 20-22.

  16. Adams, “Original Fiction,” p. 316; for an extended discussion of the hoax, see pp. 315-19. Adams's view, which directly contradicts Prouty's ‘autobiographical’ interpretation in Gascoigne, pp. 189-212, is the more useful and elegant interpretation, depending as it does on the idea that The Adventures, whatever their relationship to Gascoigne's personal life, is still an original fiction.

William E. Sheidley (essay date spring-summer 1996)

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SOURCE: Sheidley, William E. “George Gascoigne and The Spoyle of Antwerpe (1576).” War, Literature, and the Arts 8, no. 1 (spring-summer 1996): 49-64.

[In the essay below, Sheidley contends that The Spoyle of Antwerpe is one of only a few contemporary works that has a direct appeal to modern readers.]

On Sunday, November 4, 1576, some 6,000 mutinous Spanish soldiers, angry over lack of pay and pillage, poured down from their citadel and burst through the defenses of the wealthy and beautiful Dutch city of Antwerp. Over a period of several days they rampaged through the town, stealing or extorting its portable riches, raping and murdering its inhabitants, burning many of its houses and public buildings, and turning the Bourse or mercantile exchange into a gambling hall. On hand to witness these atrocities, which shocked all Europe and remained notorious for decades, was the English poet George Gascoigne, himself a veteran of the Lowlands wars, having served a few years earlier with a company of English volunteers sent to aid the Protestant cause and subsequently as an independent officer under Prince William of Orange. Gascoigne's account of the so-called “Spanish Fury” was written just days after the event as a report to the Privy Council and published in pamphlet form within the month. The Spoyle of Antwerpe, “Faithfully reported, by a true Englishman, who was present at the same,” provides what is for its time a uniquely vivid and disturbing treatment of a subject the author found difficult to fit into his culture's accepted categories of understanding. His struggle to make sense of what he saw temporarily renewed him as a writer, yielding a narrative which, like the best of his early writings and unlike the conventional moral tracts of his later years, retains power and interest for the reader of today.

Gascoigne himself (1539-1577) fits the stereotype of the versatile “Renaissance man.” He was a courtier, farmer, student of the law, member of parliament, linguist, love poet, critic, dramatist, satirist, proto-novelist, moralist, soldier, and government agent. It was his custom to sign his writings with a Latin motto, most often after he went to war “Tam Marti quam Mercurio”—as much a soldier as a scholar. By his own report, however, and contrary to the stereotype, Gascoigne did not succeed in his manifold endeavors with the easy sprezzatura characteristic of someone like his younger contemporary Sir Philip Sidney. In the best of several rueful autobiographical poems, “Gascoignes Woodmanship” (Flowres, 181-84; Works 1: 348-52), he analyzes his life as a sequence of missed shots by an archer who “shootes awrie at almost every marke” (Works 1: 348) and could “never learne the feate / To hitte the whytes [bullseyes] whiche live with all good lucke” (Works 1: 352). As the poem develops, however, Gascoigne concludes that the targets of worldly success at which he has been shooting are truly of no value: “they glister outwardely like golde,” but “Are inwardly but brasse …” (Works 1: 351), and he turns from them in disgust and self-loathing. Perhaps most disappointing and repellent for Gascoigne of his attempted careers was his stint as a volunteer in the Dutch wars (1572-74). Hoping that “long limmes led by a lusty hart, / Might yet suffice to make him rich againe” (Works 1: 347-48), he discovered that “the warres yeeld no such gaine” (Works 1: 350). Although here he claims he failed because he was unwilling to participate in the graft and exploitation that could have filled his pockets as an officer, the facts as reported elsewhere were more complex: he quarreled with his colleagues, fell under suspicion of being a spy because of a letter sent him by a woman in the Hague with whom he had an affair, and was imprisoned for a number of months after his unit basely surrendered to the Spanish before Leyden (Prouty 72-76).

Gascoigne enlarged upon his military experiences in a long poem entitled “The Fruites of Warre, Written uppon this Theame, Dulce Bellum Inexpertis” (Works 1: 139-84). The theme, borrowed from the Adages of Erasmus, was translated by Richard Taverner in 1569 as “Batell is a swete thinge, to them that never assayed it” (63r). Gascoigne's poem combines a bookish and abstract development of this thesis characteristic of common Renaissance school assignments, which seems in fact to have been written earlier as just such an exercise, with a bitter, satiric account of the author's participation in a series of ineptly managed and very unheroic battles in the Netherlands. This part of the poem has been justly praised as “an extraordinarily vital narrative” that asserts “the value of the individual judgment” (Prouty 234); for Gascoigne, although he professes himself ready to follow the drum again if need be (Works 1: 183), the fruits of his war experience boiled down to the conclusion that war is best avoided.

The modulation in this poem from book-learned formulas in the first half to a tonally complex rendering of decidedly unexemplary but convincingly realistic personal experience and finally to a seemingly disingenuous expression of conventional sentiments recapitulates a striking and often observed evolution or disjunction in Gascoigne's writings over his career. His richest and most exciting works for the modern reader are mostly those included in his first collection, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573). It contains unmoralized explorations of his amatory and other experiences, including a prose narrative, The Adventures of Master F. J., that has a strong claim to the title of the first English romantic novel.1 In these works, Gascoigne laughs at his own foibles, takes credit for his successes, and strives to develop an understanding of his life, fictionally projected, by reference to values intrinsic to the experiences he presents, while at the same time, through the complexity and brilliance of his rhetoric, to demonstrate his fitness for preferment at court.2 Far from impressing the authorities, however, Gascoigne shocked them. His book was banned and he fell into serious disfavor. He hastily prepared a new edition, The Posies, which offered most of the same contents behind a moralizing facade. When this effort likewise failed to please and was banned, Gascoigne learned a lesson, and, with the partial exception of The Spoyle of Antwerpe, the numerous works he produced in the few years of life that remained to him mainly advance conventional wisdom in an unequivocal manner not likely to raise objections from the severest guardians of the morals of the young.3

His immediate reward was a job his patrons procured for Gascoigne that sent him back to Holland (Prouty 93), where he became caught up in the disaster at Antwerp. When he arrived in mid-October, 1576, via Paris, on assignment for Lords Burghley and Walsingham (Prouty 93-97), he found that the wealthy town had caught the attention of mutinous Spanish troops and their German mercenary allies, who had suffered without pay and adequate provision for a number of years and who now, in the absence of effective leadership resulting from the recent death of the Governor-General Don Luis de Requesens, had resolved to take matters into their own hands (Gelderen 44-47; Parker, 203). Gascoigne's vivid and realistic pamphlet reporting what then transpired, although he struggles to present it by reference to the kinds of preformulated wisdom he had recently been purveying, marks a return to his earlier literary mode, in which a complex and morally indeterminate experience animates an equally complex and indeterminate narration. It constitutes Gascoigne's most penetrating contemplation of warfare.

His efforts to frame the narration reveal the difficulty Gascoigne faced in trying to moralize what he had seen. In the opening paragraph, he mentions several thematic angles he might adopt. He could “write maliciously against the vanquishers,” or he could “undertake to moove a generall compassion, by blazynge abroade the miseries and callamities of the vanquished …” (Works 2: 590). The body of his report does in fact accomplish both these ends, but he disavows them. It was Queen Elizabeth's policy to seek a negotiated settlement in the Netherlands (Black 335-41), so Gascoigne could not simply demonize the Spanish invaders. In his introductory remarks “To the Reader” he is at pains to exempt the Spanish leadership from blame, stressing that very few Spanish “of name” were involved in the rampage (Works 2: 589). And he goes on politely to express the wish that the Spanish king will take appropriate measures to compensate certain English merchants who were robbed and injured so that “the amytye betweene our moste gracious Soveraigne and him, shal remain also firme & inviolate …” (Works 2: 589). In claiming to eschew using rhetorical heightening to stir a slanted emotional response, Gascoigne sets his narrative in opposition to other reports of the battle already in circulation, which he calls “manyfolde light tales whiche have been engendred by feareful or affectionate rehersals” (Works 2: 590). “But as I sayd before,” he insists, “mine onely entent is to set downe a plaine truthe …” (Works 2: 590). As Gascoigne's earlier works reveal, however, experiential truth is likely to be obscure and complex, however plain and simple conventional moral teachings might be. His effort “to set downe a plaine truthe” about what happened in Antwerp undermined his effort to fit it into an acceptable didactic framework.

Standard Renaissance ideas of historiography provided Gascoigne with three possible approaches to the little stretch of history he had just lived through. In the traditional Christian view, history traces the unfolding of God's Providence, so that specific events must be understood in an eternal perspective (Rivers 58). According to the classical view imbibed by Renaissance writers from antique models such as Plutarch, history could serve as a compendium of profitable examples to guide future conduct (Rivers 57). In the British development of these ideas favored by Tudor historians, there was a “moral concatenation” to historical events, so that good or evil outcomes could be traced to previous virtuous or immoral deeds (Tillyard 42). Gascoigne entertains all these ways of making meaning, but with unsatisfactory results, as he sometimes acknowledges. From the Christian historical viewpoint, the remarkable victory of the Spanish and the unimaginable suffering of the citizens of Antwerp must have been the result of “Gods just wrath powred upon the inhabitants for their iniquitie” (Works 2: 599), but “if the wickednesse used in the sayde towne, doo seeme unto the wel disposed Reader, a sufficient cause of Gods so just a scorge and Plague” (Works 2: 590), Gascoigne never specifies what wickedness that was and how it merited “the furie of the vanquishers,” which seemed “more barbarous and cruell, then may become a good christian conqueror …” (Works 2: 599). Unless their wealth itself constitutes a sin, the only evidence of iniquity on the part of the citizens Gascoigne can offer is the fact that they were punished. In any event, Gascoigne submits, the spoil of Antwerp provides “a profitable example” (Works 2: 590) from which we can learn several things: “to detest & avoyde those [unspecified] synnes, and prowde enormyties, which caused the wrath of God to be so furiouslye kindled and bent against the Town of Antwerpe,” “to detest the horrible cruelties of the Spanyeardes,” and, in practical terms, “to looke better about us for good order & direction” in our own defenses (Works 2: 599). Because, like his recent moralistic works, his pamphlet teaches such lessons Gascoigne can claim that it fulfills the purpose for which “all stories and Chronicles are written” (Works 2: 590), but though he pronounces them at the beginning and the end of his narration, labeling them fire gathered from the flint and honey gathered from the thistle (Works 2: 590), the lessons are uncomfortably imposed upon rather than derived from the intense experiences they pretend to account for.4

To even the battle-tempered Gascoigne, the “sackyng and spoyle of Antwerpe” remained at root “so pitteous a spectakle” that it simply had to be reported (Works 2: 590). Like the Renaissance travel narratives about the wonders of previously undiscovered worlds studied by Stephen Greenblatt in his book Miraculous Possessions, Gascoigne's account of the Spanish Fury is less “interesting at the level of sustained narrative and teleological design” than it is “gripping at the level of the anecdote” (Greenblatt 2). In Greenblatt's terms, “anecdotes are registers of the contingent,” recorded on the supposition that they will be “significant in terms of a larger progress or pattern” that is “perennially deferred” (3). Gascoigne, as we have seen, does not hesitate to assert a larger pattern derived from ideas mostly extrinsic to the experiences he narrates, but his anecdotes, like those of Greenblatt's voyagers, repeatedly register his wonder in face of contingencies he has difficulty understanding. “It was a straunge thing,” he says, to see all the citizens of Antwerp throwing up their ill-fated trenches (Works 2: 592). When the Spanish troops, who had “marched all day and night the day before,” made good on their vow not “to eat nor drinke untill they mighte eate and drinke at liberty and pleasure in ANTWERP,” it was “contrary to all mans reason and expectation” (Works 2: 593). Most uncanny of all was the ease with which the Spanish won the trenches:

I must needs confesse, that it was the greatest victory, and the roundlyest executed, that hath bene seene, red, or heard of, in our age: and that it was a thyng myraculous, to consider, how Trenches of such a height should be entred, passed over, and won both by Footemen, and Horsemen.

(Works 2: 595)

The whole battle, in fact, seems to Gascoigne in his conclusion “miraculous and past mans capacitie, to comprehend how it should be possible …” (Works 2: 599). How could 5,000 mutineers have overcome “trenches made againste them of suche height as seemed invincible,” have defeated “fifeteene or sixteene thousand able fighting men well armed” in three hours, and have “sacked or raunsomed” every house in the city “at the uttermost vallew” in under six hours (Works 2: 599)? Gascoigne punctuates most of these expressions of wonder with formulary suppositions that God's hand was at work scourging the sinful Dutch, but as Greenblatt and Tzvetan Todorov point out, the expression of wonder in face of what seems unprecedented may mark not surprise at the alien but recognition of the familiar, as the narrator encounters in his new experience the accustomed norms, categories, and values that he himself projects upon the scene (Greenblatt 22-23, 86-88, 134-35).

For Gascoigne, and for Elizabethan culture generally, a value more cherished even than the religion that was used to support it was order, here appearing in the form of military discipline, which Gascoigne calls “good order & direction” (Works 2: 599), a concept that includes having a well-conceived plan of action and the courage to stick to it. While his esteem for good order and direction may have been based on established doctrine, Gascoigne had seen it confirmed in his own previous military campaigns. In “The Fruites of Warre” he heaps scorn on the disorderly behavior of Dutch units he accompanied in a series of ignoble encounters and reports that he finally became so outraged that he resigned his office:

                                                                      I could not seeme to serve,
In regiment where no good rules remayne,
Where officers and such as well deserve,
Shall be abusde by every page and swayne,
Where discipline shall be but deemed vayne,
Where blockes are stridde by stumblers at a strawe,
And where selfe will must stand for martiall lawe.

(Works 1: 163)

Self-will and insubordination characterize the Spanish mutineers, but in The Spoyle of Antwerpe Gascoigne finds reason to blame both sides for lack of discipline. The defenders of the town were guilty of “carelessenesse and lack of foresyght”; they did not have “sufficient Generals & directors”; and some came to the battle drunk (Works 2: 594). His sympathy for the victims of the Spanish rampage tempers his scorn for their disorderly behavior, but Gascoigne's ambivalence about the Spanish themselves is much greater. As virtually leaderless mutineers, these troops epitomized the breakdown of military order, but in fact they carried out their operation in an exemplary manner: “the Spanyerds were to be honored for the good order and direction which they kepte” (Works 2: 594). One example among many is that during the attack the cannon in the citadel, “upon a signall geven, ceased to shoote any more, for feare to hurt their owne men” when the Spanish broke through the town's defenses, “wherin I noted their good order which wanted no direction, in their greatest furye” (Works 2: 593).

The paradoxical yoking of order and fury marks Gascoigne's presentation of subsequent events. It troubles him that so disciplined an army in battle can have been guilty of such disorderly conduct in the captured city, a phenomenon that tends to problematize military discipline as a value itself: is it always a manifestation of the ideal of order, or can it be, as with the mutineers, merely a pragmatic expression of desperation, brutality, and greed? “[W]hen the blood is cold,” Gascoigne complains, “and the fury [of battle] over, me thinkes that a true christian hearte should stand content with victory, and refrayne to provoke Gods wrath by sheadding of innocent blood” (Works 2: 596).

Confronted by circumstances that challenge not only such a priori principles as divine justice and a “moral concatenation” in historical events but also the value, learned from experience, of military discipline itself, Gascoigne resorts to some of the tonal and rhetorical complexities that distinguish his earlier works. He reasserts his belief in “good order and direction” in the style and structure of his narration, using in addition to paradox techniques such as rhetorical patterning, irony, sarcasm, and grim humor to surround and control the disturbing implications of his subject matter—without, however, ignoring or denying them, as he tends to do in his moralistic works written to please the authorities. Here, for example, a simple reverse parallel antithesis negates the horror by encapsulating it in a pat summation: “And surely, as their vallyaunce was to be much commended, so yet I can much discommende their barbarous cruelty …” (Works 2: 596).

The horror is encapsulated, but nonetheless dispensed for the reader to consume. The following remarks about irony by J. Hillis Miller apply as well to all Gascoigne's stylistic techniques for coping with the violence he describes:

Irony is truth-telling or a means of truth-telling, of unveiling. At the same time it is a defense against the truth. This doubleness makes it, though it seems so coolly reasonable, another mode of unreason, the unreason of a fundamental undecidability. If irony is a defense, it is also inadvertently a means of participation.


Gascoigne's account of an event preliminary to the battle reflects this doubleness. Less than two weeks earlier, the Spanish-occupied citadel had shelled the town for what Gascoigne sees as no good reason: ostensibly because the town had not fired on some ships that were bringing it much needed “Grayne and victualles” (Works 2: 591). This first Spanish irrationality Gascoigne controls with a proverb: “But alas,” he observes, “it is easy to finde a staffe, when a man woulde beate a dogge” (Works 2: 591). The unreason of the Spanish is, in fact, the lamentable human norm.

After the Spanish had swarmed over the trenches and into the city streets, Gascoigne finds their tactics admirable: “In their chase, as faste as they gained any crosse streate, they flanked the same with their Musquets, until they saw no longer resistance of any power: and then proceeded in chase, executing all such as they overtooke” (Works 2: 594). But the bitter irony established by anaphora in the following passage evinces Gascoigne's difficulty attributing “good order” to the perpetrators of what soon became a most disorderly riot: “In this good order they charged and entred: in this good order they proceded: and in as good order their lackeyes and Pages followed with Firebrands, and wyldfyre, setting the houses on fyre, in every place where their maysters had entred” (Works 2: 594).

Turning to his own part in the battle, Gascoigne masters what must have been a harrowing confrontation with chaos and danger by resorting to a version of the self-ironic and ambivalent stance that marks The Adventures of Master F. J. and many of his best poems, such as “Woodmanship” or Dan Bartholmew of Bath. He portrays himself as a kind of Chaplinesque victim in a slapstick comedy routine, a man of conventional expectations who has stumbled into a seemingly insane environment. The chaos erupted while he was calmly taking his midday meal with some “Marchauntmen of my Countrey” (Works 2: 594) in his chamber at the English house. Observing several fires inside the trench lines, he grabbed his cloak and sword and hurried toward the Bourse. On the way he met a multitude of soldiers fleeing the Spanish advance and marveled to see “the townsemen stand every man before his doore with such weapons as they had” (Works 2: 594). When a young Walloon trumpeter on horseback rallied a few troops with a call to defend the honor of their country, Gascoigne followed them. “But alas,” he continues, “this comforte indured but a while” (Works 2: 594), for soon he encountered the main body of the city's defenders in full flight, “with their heads as close together, as a skoule of yong frye, or a flock of Sheepe” (Works 2: 594-95). This grotesque stampede “bare me over backwardes, and ran over my belly and my face” (Works 2: 595), which caused him, after he had finally regained his feet, to wonder what he was doing in Antwerp anyway. “And whilest I stoode thus musing, another flocke of flyers came so fast that they bare me on my nose, and ran as many over my backe, as erst had marched over my guttes” (Works 2: 595). Deciding, “like a tall [courageous] fellow” (Works 2: 595), as he ironically puts it, to join the retreat, Gascoigne returned to the English house, darting across a street raked by Spanish crossfire on the way. Self-deprecation distances this close brush with death, transforming the intense fear for his life Gascoigne must have felt to a more comfortable but still unsettling wry laughter at his own folly.

The same pattern recurs when Gascoigne, just locking the gate of the English house, confronted a group of Spanish soldiers demanding entry. They fired “fyve or sixe Musquette shotte at the grate where I aunswered them, whereof one came very neare my nose …” (Works 2: 595). The Spanish were too intent on slaughter to come in for the moment, and when he tells of their return to extort what they could from the English, Gascoigne drops his humorous tone. His outrage is barely restrained as he reports that the Spanish slew four Englishmen, confiscated the wealth and goods of all, and left those whose lives they spared in desperate straits in the ruined city.

In several passages where he attempts to convey an overall impression of the mutineers' rampage, Gascoigne's rhetoric struggles hardest to control his emotions of shock and dismay, and thus conveys what troubled him most forcefully. Here, for example, he tries a series of parallel phrases to fence in his feelings: “they neither spared age, nor sexe: time nor place: person nor countrey: profession nor religion: yong nor olde: rich nor poore: strong nor feeble …” (Works 2: 596). But these generalized terms prove too bland, so he goes on to flesh out the list of topics he has set forth:

For age and sex, yong and old, they slew great numbers of yong children, but many more women more then fowerscore yeares of age: For time and place, their furye was as great ten dayes after the victory, as at the tyme of their entry: and as great respect they had to the church and churchyeard, (for all their hipocriticall boasting of the catholique religion) as the Butcher hath to his shambles or slaughter house. …

(Works 2: 596)

The tension between outrage and restraint reaches a culmination in Gascoigne's liberal exploitation of the figure occupatio or paralipsis, where one pretends to refuse to say what one is thinking, thus asserting the illusion of control over one's subject matter, while in effect saying it anyway, thus revealing the power of the unspeakable images over one's mind. In these passages Gascoigne presents unusually vivid accounts of the atrocities, almost too vivid, according to one critic (Prouty 94). “I refrayne,” he begins, “to rehearce the heapes of deade Carcases which laye at every Trench … : the thicknesse whereof, did in many places exceede the height of a man” (Works 2: 596). The scene, which Gascoigne says he will forbear from describing, outdid Michelangelo's “tables of Doomes day”:

I list not to recken the infinite nombers of poore Almains [these Germans employed by the Dutch], who lay burned in their armour: som thentrailes skorched out, & all the rest of the body free, some their head and shoulders burnt of[f]: so that you might looke down into the bulk & brest and there take an Anatomy of the secrets of nature. Some standing uppon their wa[i]ste, being burnte of[f] by the thighes: & some no more but the very toppe of the brain taken of[f] with fyre, whiles the rest of the body dyd abide unspeakable tormentes.

(Works 2: 596)

Likewise, he will not tell us about the “ougly & filthy polluting of every streete with gore and carcases” (Works 2: 596) that lay unburied, but he “may not passe over with sylence” (Works 2: 597) the destruction of the town hall with its monuments and records nor the rapes of “sundry honest Dames & Virgins” (Works 2: 597). “It is a thing too horrible to rehearse,” he claims as he rehearses it, “that the Father and Mother were forced to fetche their yong daughter out of a cloyster (who had thether fled as unto Sanctuary, to keepe her body undefyled) & to bestowe her in bed betweene two Spaniards, to worke their wicked and detestable wil with her” (Works 2: 597).

The same stylistic techniques Gascoigne uses to control his emotions of outrage also enable him to recount events that directly challenge his esteem for good order and direction while reasserting those assumptions in the process of narration. In their chaotic fury, the Spanish obliterated rational distinctions: “they spared neither friende nor foe: Portingal nor Turke. … The ryche was spoyled because he had: & the poore were hanged because they had nothing …” (Works 2: 596). As a writer, Gascoigne naturally relishes these ironies, as in this summary glimpse of what the city has been reduced to:

… within three daies Antwarpe, which was one of the rychest Townes in Europe, had now no money nor treasure to be found theirin, but onely in the hands of murderers and strompets: for every Dom Diego must walk jetting up & downe the streets with his harlotte by him in her cheine and bracelettes of golde. And the notable Bowrce which was wont to be a safe assemblie for Marchaunts, and men of all honest trades, had nowe none other marchaundize therein, but as many dycing tables as might be placed round about it al the day long.

(Works 2: 597)

No simple formula of praise or blame, no pious effusion about divine justice would be sufficient to account for the shocking revelations about human nature and institutions implied by the transformation of the Antwerp exchange into something so unlike yet very like its former self.

In another anecdote, Gascoigne shows what happened to one man who tried to deal with the Spanish in an orderly and reasonable way. The servant of an English merchant produced 300 crowns to ransom his master's goods, but the Spanish hanged him “untyl he were halfe dead” because he was 200 crowns short. When he recovered he begged leave to “trye his creditte” in town. “At his returne because he sped not (as indeed no money was then to bee had) they hong him again outright: and afterwards (of exceeding curtesie) procured the Friars Minors to bury him” (Works 2: 597).

Just as the sarcastic parenthesis “(of exceeding curtesie)” at the end of this anecdote screens from view the recognition that the Englishman was a fool to keep his word and return empty-handed, so does Gascoigne's sarcasm in his concluding appraisal of the Spanish divert attention from the unsettling implications of the truth it expresses:

And this must I needs say for them, that as theyr continual training in service doth make them expert in all warrelyke strategeme: so their daily trade in spoiling hath made them the cunningest ransackers of houses, and the best able to bring a spoyle unto a quicke market, of any Souldiors, or Mastertheeves that ever I heard of.

(Works 2: 599)

For his part, Gascoigne would like to reject the Spanish version of military order without abandoning the ideal of order itself: “Men wyll boast of the Spanierds that they are the best & most orderlye Souldiours in the world: but sure, if this be their order, I had rather be coumpted a Besoigner [a lowly, raw recruit], then a brave souldiour in such a bande …” (Works 2: 597).

The patterned alliterations of s and b suggest that something has been resolved, but of course that is not the case. Gascoigne and his readers are still left with the undigestible anomalous contingency of a Spanish victory won by the combined order and fury of mutinous, undisciplined troops. In quest of closure, Gascoigne returns to the same moralizations of history with which he started and which, as we have seen, the facts just narrated call into serious question. God will punish the Spanish “when hee thinketh good and convenient,” Gascoigne promises (Works 2: 599); we English should avoid the sins of the Dutch (whatever they were), prepare our defenses, and pray to God to protect us. These formulas enable the text to end, but they do not generate its vitality, which derives instead from the energy of the violence and chaos it struggles simultaneously to express and control.

Gascoigne did not live long enough to hypothesize a “moral concatenation” between the Spanish Fury of 1576 and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 or to join with those who saw God's scourging hand at work in it. With the fearful images of the spoil of Antwerp seared into his mind, he made a narrow escape from the city (he was mistaken for a Walloon, and all Walloons were being killed on sight) and took up his pen to record his experience for the Privy Council and the English reader. For the ten months of life that remained to him, he returned to his project of writing pious works of moral instruction, issuing his final book, entitled The Grief of Joy, a series of poems elaborating on the vanity of human wishes. In The Spoyle of Antwerpe, spurred by his confrontation with the astonishing realities of war, Gascoigne had briefly resorted to his earlier literary techniques for exploring actual experience in all its complexity. Despite its ill-fitting moralistic frame, the pamphlet should be ranked, along with Gascoigne's best poems and The Adventures of Master F. J., among the small group of early Elizabethan writings that anticipate a modern vision and appeal directly to a modern—or post-modern—sensibility.


  1. On the quasi-autobiographical nature of Gascoigne's narrative and certain other Elizabethan works, see Gottfried.

  2. For a thorough discussion of Gascoigne's career in these terms, see McCoy.

  3. For an account of the struggle of Gascoigne and others of the early Elizabethan younger generation with the moralism of the established authorities, see Helgerson.

  4. A similar disjunction between a providential and moral framework and an actual narrative of the Dutch wars also marks A Description of the Warres in Flaundres, by Thomas Churchyard (1578).

Works Cited

Black, J. B. The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1959.

Churchyard, Thomas. A Description of the Warres in Flaunders (1578). Norwood, NJ: Walter J. Johnson, 1976. STC 5239.

Gascoigne, George. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne. Ed. John W. Cunliffe. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1907; rpt. New York: Greenwood, 1969.

———. A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres [1573]. Ed. C. T. Prouty. 1942. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1970.

Gelderen, Martin van. The Political Thought of the Dutch Revolt, 1555-1590. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

Gottfried, Rudolf. “Autobiography and Art: An Elizabethan Borderland.” Literary Criticism and Historical Understanding. Selected Papers from the English Institute. Ed. Phillip Damon. New York: Columbia UP, 1967. 109-34.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991.

Helgerson, Richard. The Elizabethan Prodigals. Berkeley: U of California P, 1976.

McCoy, Richard C. “Gascoigne's ‘Poemata castrata’: The Wages of Courtly Success,” Criticism 27.1 (Winter 1985): 29-55.

Miller, J. Hillis. “Heart of Darkness Revisited.” Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness”: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989. 209-24.

Parker, Geoffrey. The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1972.

Prouty, C. T. George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet. New York: Columbia UP, 1942; rpt. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1966.

Rivers, Isabel. Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.

Taverner, Richard, ed. and trans. Proverbs or Adages by Desiderius Erasmus (1569). Ed. DeWitt T. Starnes. Gainesville: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1956.

Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare's History Plays. New York: Macmillan, 1947.

Susan C. Staub (essay date 1996)

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SOURCE: Staub, Susan C. “The Lady Frances Did Watch: Gascoigne's Voyeuristic Narrative.” In Framing Elizabethan Fictions: Contemporary Approaches to Early Modern Narrative Prose, edited by Constance C. Relihan, pp. 41-54. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Staub explores how voyeurism in the The Adventures of Master F. J. offers insights on gender roles of the Elizabethan era.]

One of the most crucial scenes for an understanding of the complexities of George Gascoigne's Adventures of Master F. J. (1573) has been virtually ignored by scholars. This scene occurs fairly early in the narrative, shortly after the hero, the courtier-poet F. J., has successfully bedded his mistress, the Lady Elinor. “Content to accept boards [the floor] for a bed of down,” the two “beguile the night,” as another figure, Elinor's kinswoman, Frances, lurks in the shadows: “not much perceived, yet the Lady Frances being no less desirous to see an issue of these enterprises, then F. J. was willing to cover them in secrecy, did watch, and even at the entrance of [F. J.'s] chamber door, perceived the point of his naked sword glistering under the skirt of his nightgown: wherat she smiled and said to herself, this gear goeth well about.”1 By having a woman watch the object of her desire make love to another woman (Frances is in love with F. J., who has apparently been brought to the castle as a suitable match for her), Gascoigne puts a woman in the place usually occupied by the male poet-lover. In the more conventional love triangle, the male poet sees his mistress in the arms of a rival. As I will show, Frances's intrusion in this scene begins to undermine Gascoigne's carefully constructed male readership and effectively inverts the power relations implied in the commonplace masculine spectator/feminine spectacle paradigm. Thus he deprivileges the male gendered gaze, creating a site of potential gender anxiety.

Early modern literature is filled with scenes of characters secretly watching other characters in private moments—making love, bathing, undressing, sleeping, even praying. Although not always, typically the spectator is male, the spectacle female. The spectator observes from a safe distance, deriving pleasure and knowledge from his look. Voyeuristic sight, then, would seem to be a gendered activity, intimately connected with issues of power and control. As John Berger portrays it, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”2 But how do we account for instances such as this one when women look and derive pleasure from that look?

The act of seeing for both men and women seems far more complicated than Berger's analysis reveals, as the many retellings of the Orpheus story suggest.3 Voyeuristic looking may elicit a guilty pleasure, yet such an act is also fraught with anxiety. Nonetheless, although there were prohibitions against men's looking (and many a cautionary tale to illustrate the dangers of such looking), far more of the prescriptive literature deals with the curtailing of female sight. Woman's vision is particularly disruptive and threatening and must be carefully regulated. Gascoigne's portrayal of Frances vividly depicts this threat.

The scene continues with Frances's reaction to what she has witnessed. Although unmarried and thus presumably sexually uninitiated, Frances takes a prurient delight in the sexual intrigues of the household. “Tickled in all the veins” as she spies the tip of F. J.'s “naked sword glistering under the skirt of his nightgown,” she decides to play a trick on him by stealing his sword as he sleeps. The obvious connection between the sword and the penis strikingly betrays the anxiety female sight—and hence power—evoked. In this instance, because Frances steals F. J.'s sword—a clear symbol of male prowess and sexuality—sight is linked with castration. In fact, psychoanalytic theory often equates the woman's look with castration: “If the woman looks,” Stephen Heath explains, “the spectacle provokes, castration is in the air.”4 Ironically, then, the scene in which the courtier-poet has finally won his standoffish lady is accompanied by a symbolic emasculation. This intrusion into one of the most private moments of the narrative manages to turn all the courtly posturings and lovesick declarations that preceded it into a bawdy joke.

Although scholars have commented upon the comic bawdiness of this scene and the symbolic castration it enacts, no one has fully considered the role Frances plays. Much admired as a character, Frances has been called “the ideal of womanhood” and “the only realist in the book,”5 but she has received no extended treatment. After G. T., the fictional editor of the volume, it is her voice that predominates in shaping the direction of the narrative and in exposing the posturings of both male narrators (F. J. in the poetry and G. T. in prose). By examining her actions using the lens provided by feminist discussions of spectatorship, we come to realize just how crucial to the narrative she is. The appearance of Lady Frances in the doorway further complicates an already complex work, adding yet another perspective to the multitiered narrative. Although I oversimplify, it is enough for now to point out that the story is told twice, once by F. J. through his poems and again in prose by a putative editor, G. T., who claims only to relate what he has been told by F. J. Most basically, Frances's presence adds to the comic distancing created by G. T.'s older, more sophisticated voice. While the text makes much of the clandestine nature of the rendezvous, F. J.'s inability to carry off the liaison in secret clearly shows him to be a somewhat bumbling and naive courtier. But it is not just the privacy of the two lovers that has been disrupted.

What is Gascoigne doing here? Why add yet another perspective to the text, especially since Frances's intrusion works to destroy the illusion that the narrator is only retelling the story he heard from F. J.? Since F. J. is in the throes of passion as Frances peers through the doorway and is asleep when she steals the sword (the text tells us that she is “unperceived by anybody, saving that other gentlewoman which accompanied her” [70]), this is information the narrator cannot possibly be privy to if F. J. is his only source. Is this just a narrative slip on Gascoigne's part? I don't think so. Although the scene seems to defy the logic of the text, I will argue that it actually provides the key to reading Gascoigne's tale.

This episode is significant for two reasons. First, it reproduces the relationship of the reader to the text, and second, it indicates Gascoigne's anxieties about that relationship. Frances's role here is exactly the role Gascoigne has constructed for the reader—that of voyeur. As I will show, Frances's vicarious delight as she watches the two lovers recreates our experience of reading the text.

But second, and perhaps more important, the stealing of the sword articulates the anxieties about gender rife in early modern England. The fear of emasculation is inextricably linked to anxieties about publishing and censorship. The burgeoning of print culture brought with it increasing misgivings about the writer's place within that system. Authors writing at this time were just beginning to evolve an awareness of the potential—and perhaps the threat—offered by the fixity of print. The printing press looms large in their imaginations, emphasizing their vulnerability as writers. “To come to the presse,” Dekker laments in News from Hell, “is more dangerous than to be prest to death, for the payne of the Tortures last but a few minutes, but he that lyes upon the rack in print, hath his flesh torn off by the teeth of Envy, and Calumny.” Moreover, as Mary Ellen Lamb has suggested, writing became an increasingly gendered activity in the period.6 This gendering is clear throughout Gascoigne's works, where male sexuality and literary power seem inextricably linked. In one particularly telling instance, Gascoigne takes Philomela (the archetypal female poet who refuses to be silenced) as his persona; in another, he becomes the hermaphrodite Satyra, whose tongue is brutally cut out. And in The Adventures of Master F. J., the pen and the sword, both symbols of phallic power, are conflated. The stealing of the sword metaphorically enacts the writer's greatest fear, the confiscation of his pen. Gascoigne's choice of imagery, then, suggests what happens when literary power is suppressed. Paradoxically, the man who loses generative literary power becomes like a woman.

That Frances serves as a kind of stand-in for the reader becomes clear when we look at the overall structure of the work. The entire narrative insists on casting the reader in the role of voyeur; everything is calculated to give the illusion of an illicit and forbidden text. Instead of a straightforward introduction, the work is framed with a series of letters, “the Printer to the Reader,” “H. W. to the Reader,” and “G. T. to his very friend H. W. concerning this work.”7 Although authors often circulated their poems among the gentlemen at court to display their rhetorical prowess, I know of no other text from the period that actually illustrates this process within its pages. Each letter writer seeks to deny guilt for ignoring the author's wishes by making the work public, and each emphasizes the need for discretion on the part of the reader: “I require your secrecy herein,” G. T. insists (51). And H. W. seeks to protect the author at all costs—“I cover all names”—and implores the reader to be discreet. The letters and initials serve to eroticize the reading process, creating what Wendy Wall calls a “voyeuristic text.”8 Even the exaggerated reticence of the narrator, who modestly glosses over certain scenes, contributes to this effect. The reader becomes a spectator intruding on the private conversations and moments of the narrative.

Of course, such authorial dodges and disavowals were conventional. Authors typically surrounded their texts with prefatorial disclaimers to avoid the “stigma of print”9 and to evade responsibility should their work meet with unsympathetic censors. But Gascoigne's use of these letters far exceeds the convention. By multiplying the authorial disclaimers, Gascoigne calls attention to them, deliberately titillating the reader. As each letter writer stresses the need for secrecy, the act of reading becomes increasingly illicit. Further, if, as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have suggested, in the masculine tradition of writing the text is a woman,10 here the text seems prostituted and hence its value cheapened as it passes from hand to hand until it is finally exposed to the public and sold. The prostituting of the text becomes clear as the language of the marketplace begins to creep into its wording. Although the Printer purports to publish the work for instructive reasons, claiming that the reader can “take example by the unlawful affections of a lover bestowed upon an unconstant dame” (47) and that “the well-minded man may reap some commodity out of the most frivolous works that are written,” he twice uses the word “commodity” to describe the work, hinting that his real interest is in fattening his purse. And H.W. outdoes the Printer in his self-interestedness, using the word “commodity” three times and speaking of “procur[ing] these trifles” for publication. Nonetheless, he minimizes his pimping of the text, dubbing himself “but half a merchant” because he has delivered only copies to the publisher to print and sell. This framing works to eroticize the text, provoking the reader with a kind of verbal striptease, with layers that must be peeled away to get at the real meaning.11

This textual peep show continues throughout the work. Later in the narrative the pages are described as “telltale” and as “blabbing leaves of betraying paper” (54). Even the subterfuge of initials taunts the readers to find true-life connections and adds to the feeling that they are trespassing on private correspondence. As Wendy Wall explains in her discussion of voyeuristic texts, such strategies “both [seduce] the reader and [force] him/her into the position of a voyeur; someone who must read to seek out information that is forbidden or withheld, to find what the text makes clear should not be known. It is a game of power and desire.”12 Oddly enough, although the construction of voyeurs displaces responsibility for the text onto the reader, it is also a great source of anxiety for the writer because he has ceded control over his text. Just as he cannot control where the voyeur looks, likewise he cannot control the reader's interpretations. Nor can he dictate who reads his work after it is published. Once let loose upon the marketplace, it is subject to the judgment of anyone who can afford to buy it, regardless of learning or taste. This lack of control is, I think, what Frances in part represents.

When we get to the actual story itself, composed of a series of poems and letters chronicling the courtship between F. J. and Elinor, we realize that the narrative is more closely related to the sonnet sequence than to anything else. This genre creates voyeurs of its readers, constructing them as intruders upon an ostensibly private seduction. Read as a sonnet sequence, Gascoigne's narrative offers a clear example of the kind of forbidden text Wall describes.

Yet Gascoigne's version of the sonnet sequence differs markedly from the tradition as derived from Dante's Vita nuova and Petrarch's Canzoniere. Typically, sonnet sequences exist unmediated and, at least in theory, are directed toward a resistant female reader. Here virtually everything in Gascoigne's narrative structure conspires to figure this voyeuristic reader as male. The text comes to us through not one but three male readers and is heavily weighted with the commentary of one of these. The stress placed on G. T.'s point of view serves at once to satirize the courtly posturings of the lovers and to confine the reader to the male vision of events. The letters preceding the narrative and the addition of the fictional editor both work to exclude the female reader who ostensibly is the raison d'être of the poetry. It is not Elinor's reactions to F. J.'s poetry that take precedence here but G. T.'s, and beyond him, H. W.'s and the Publisher's.

Further, as in any sonnet sequence, the poetry works to undercut the power of the female reader by fetishizing and verbally dismembering her in the way it describes her.13 This strategy allows F. J. to control his mistress even while feigning subservience to her: “Hir haire of gold, hir front of Ivory, / (A bloody hart within so white a brest) / Hir teeth of Pearle, lippes Rubie, christall eye, / Needes must I honour hir above the rest” (77). She is an eye, a cheek, a lip, anything but a whole woman. This fragmenting of the sonnet lady effectively neutralizes her power over the sonneteer. The sonnet sequence plays out metaphorically the technique used literally in modern pornography, where the female body is displayed, exposed, and, frequently, mutilated.

Although the correspondence is not exact, recent feminist film theory dealing with female spectatorship and the gaze provides a useful framework for discussing the role of the lady in the sonnet sequence. Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane, E. Ann Kaplan, and others have shown that classic Hollywood cinema typically denies female pleasure by privileging the male gaze and constructing desire in ways that objectify and fetishize women.14 Women are recreated as “spectacles in a theatre of male scopophilic desire.”15 As Mulvey explains in her now classic essay, “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema,” pleasure is rooted in a patriarchal system in which the “bearer of the look” is male and the “object of the look” is female. This system offers little room for female curiosity and desire. Kaplan writes, “The gaze is not necessarily male (literally), but to own and activate the gaze, given our language and the structure of the unconscious, is to be in the masculine position.”16 The female gaze is cut off because it is perceived as dangerous. There is a power in looking, a power that affords the man mastery over the woman, who in the Freudian view is always seen as threatening because of her “lack” of a penis. The Petrarchan erotics of the sonnet sequence is also grounded in the male gaze. The lady in the sonnet sequence exists to be looked at and displayed; she is passive, exposed, and silent. F. J.'s first poem to Elinor suggests as much.

Ironically, F. J.'s poetic campaign to win the lady Elinor begins with a reference to a disastrous instance of male looking, one that results in adultery and, ultimately, murder. Here F. J. presents himself as David and Elinor as Bathsheba:

Fayre Bersabe the bright once bathing in a Well,
With deawe bedimmd King Davids eyes that ruled Israell. …
What wonder seemeth then? when starres stand thicke in skies,
If such a blasing starre have power to dim my dazled eyes?


Any Elizabethan reader would surely know that David loses his son and his kingdom in a series of events set in motion by his spying on the bathing Bathsheba; hence the reference recoils on F. J., foreshadowing his own downfall and forewarning the reader of the dangers of gazing on forbidden sights. Interestingly, the story of David and Bathsheba is often used as a precaution admonishing men to eschew feminine wiles and seductiveness. Although the Bible says nothing of Bathsheba's culpability for David's downfall, many of the commentaries place the blame squarely on her shoulders: “Who led astray David the holy and led wise Solomon astray with sweet charm so that the one turned adulterer and the other committed sacrilege—who but seductive woman?” one medieval churchman queries.17

Elinor seems exactly the kind of powerful and beautiful woman that the prescriptive literature condemns and that the sonnet sequence seeks to control. She is no ordinary sonnet lady and refuses to be contained within its courtly parameters. Although willing to play the courtly game when it suits her to do so, unlike her Petrarchan counterparts she does not remain silent. She is not the stereotypical virgin, and several times she lures F. J. to her bedroom; we learn early in the narrative that she has no scarcity of ready lovers. Further, she seems a willing participant in F. J.'s seduction game, succumbing to his pitiful entreaties after only five poems. As a woman fully aware of her desires and sexual power, she is, as we might expect, granted dubious moral status. Nonetheless, although she does so willingly, she basically plays the role scripted for her by the courtly discourse of the genre. She is alternately disdainful and kind, haughty and loving. And she seems conscious of herself as a spectacle, relishing her role as a visual object on display for the male viewer. For example, the afternoon after she and F. J. have consummated their love and F. J. has celebrated the occasion with the poem entitled “A Moonshine Banquet,” Elinor appears in the garden with the word “contented” printed on a piece of paper and pasted across her forehead. Here she seems to objectify herself as a text to be read and gazed upon. Although the spectacle contains the power to arouse and stimulate, we soon discover that this power has its consequences. Elinor seems caught in exactly the double bind film theorist Teresa deLauretis describes: she is “doubly bound to that very representation which calls on her directly, engages her desire, elicits her pleasure, frames her identification, and makes her complicit in the production of her womanness.”18 By playing into the courtly tradition that depends so completely on the worship and display of women, Elinor finds that she is bound by its dictates. If she is only a body to be gaped at and possessed, she has little say in who looks upon her and who judges her.

Even the antitheatricalists' arguments prohibiting women's attendance at the theater have at their roots a recognition of the power of sight. Women at the theater are at once threatened and a threat, spectacle and spectator. Curiously, a correspondence is made between spectacle and whore in many of these tracts; for the woman to be looked at in a public space suggests she can be possessed and owned by men other than her husband. As Stephen Gosson cautions, “Thought is free; you can forbidd no man, that vieweth you, to noute you and that noateth you, to judge you, for entring to places of suspicion.”19 As Jean Howard explains, “In Gosson's account the female playgoer is symbolically whored by the gaze of many men, each woman a potential Cressida in the camp of the Greeks, vulnerable, alone and open to whatever imputations men might cast upon her. She becomes what we might call the object of promiscuous gazing.”20 Similarly, the sonnet lady is exposed and “whored” by the gaze of her many male readers once the sonnet sequence is circulated for public consumption. This effect of the gaze, combined with the fact that Elinor is a known adulteress, perhaps explains why her subsequent rape is so easily dismissed.21 But the woman in the theatrical arena, like Frances in Gascoigne's tale, is intimidating as well because she has the power to return the look. (Women seem damned whether they are merely looked upon or actually do the looking. The author of the Ancrene Riwle [ca. thirteenth century], for example, tells the story of Dina, a woman who dared to leave her house to see “the strange women.” “What happened, do you think as a result of that looking? She lost her maidenhood and became a harlot. Later, as a result of it, the promises of great patriarchs were broken, and a great city burned to the ground, and the king and his son and the men of the city were killed and the women led away; her father and her brothers, noble princes though they were, were outlawed. This is what came of her looking.”22 A hard price to pay for a little curiosity!)

The most extreme evidence of the vulnerability inherent in playing the spectacle occurs toward the end of the tale, when F. J. reacts to Elinor's rejection of him by raping her. The viciousness of this scene brutally uncovers the underlying misogyny of the narrative and of Petrarchan poetics in general. Although Elinor seems unique among sonnet ladies, she is nonetheless assimilated into the patriarchal ethos of the Petrarchan discourse. Although she manipulates the representation to suit her own interests, Elinor plays out the constructions of femininity depicted in the love poetry of the day. Frances, on the other hand, interrogates the Petrarchan stance, poking gentle fun at F. J.'s misguided posturings.

Although Frances might seem at first to provide a positive counterpart to the wanton Elinor, allowing Gascoigne to complete the virgin/whore dichotomy, we soon detect that she, too, is suspect. Despite G. T.'s glowing appraisal of her as “a virgin of rare chastity, singular capacity, notable modesty, and excellent beauty,” her prurient interest in the sexual dealings of F. J. and Elinor suggests a character far more complex. She constantly watches the two at their lovemaking and, at one point, even offers herself as a substitute for Elinor: “Although percase I shal not do it so handsomly as your mistres, … if you vouchsafe it, I can be content to trim up your bed in the best maner that I may, as one who would be glad as she to procure your quiet rest” (100-101). In fact, Frances, not Elinor, poses the real female threat to F. J., controlling and creating a narrative of her own as she allegorizes F. J. as Trust and herself as Hope. The doubleness of her character is implied in Gascoigne's choice of a name for her—the name Frances means “open,” suggesting at once her role as F. J.'s confidante and her sexual receptiveness.23

And it is Frances who undermines the Petrarchan rhetoric of the sequence and is empowered by the narrative. In the scene with which I began this essay, Frances's gaze represents an inversion; the woman turns the tables on the masculine gaze that is intrinsic to the sonnet sequence. She breaks the code of modesty by not averting her eyes as the prescriptive literature commands her in the name of chastity to do. Constraints on the female spectator are everywhere present in the literature of the day. Conduct book after conduct book warns women of the dangers of sight:

Eyes are the casements of the body, and many times by standing too much open, let in things hurtful to the mind. A wanton eye is the truest evidence of wandering and unsteadfast thoughts; we may see too much, if we be not careful in governing our eyes, and keeping them from going astray, and returning with vain objects to the fancy and imagination. … Therefore, ladies, to prevent the malady, which like a spreading contagion disperses itself into most societies, you must keep your eyes within compass, from wandering as much as possible. … Consult chastity and modesty … give no occasion then, ladies, for any to tax your eyes with anything that is not modest, comely, and allowable.24

The belief holds that sight is particularly dangerous because thoughts that enter through the eyes are especially uncontrollable.

In Gascoigne's narrative not only does the woman look, but she takes an erotic pleasure in her look. The odd thing is that, in a narrative largely about male desire and conquest, female desire is foregrounded—at least in this particular scene. By usurping the male rights to the gaze, Frances transforms F. J., the writer of the sequence, into the spectacle. As the spectacle rather than the spectator, he loses his position of mastery and control; he is emasculated, as Gascoigne suggests by having Frances take his sword. I would argue that Frances's gaze represents Gascoigne's own anxiety about the inability to control his readers after publishing his work. The power no longer resides in the author but in the reader. That this reader is figured as female makes her all the more terrifying. In fact, in a letter complaining about the disastrous reception of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, the volume in which The Adventures of Master F. J. first appeared, he describes his newly edited works as “gelded” and “poemata castrata.25

What happens, then, when the woman looks? In this case, she begins constructing her own narratives, taking up the pen that she has symbolically appropriated from F. J. when she steals his sword. Visual power brings with it a corresponding verbal or narrative power. Once F. J. realizes that his sword is missing, Frances casts him as a central character in a tale of her own devising. Here she structures her story as a dream vision: “I dreamt this night that I was in a pleasant meadow alone, where I met a tall Gentleman, apparelled in a night gowne of silke all embroadered about with a gard of naked swords” (73).

And later, toward the end of the work, as F. J. and Elinor's relationship begins to turn sour, she concocts a witty little parable to teach F. J. the error of his ways. Interestingly, this tale within the tale provides another example of voyeurism in the text. Here a husband watches through the keyhole as his wife makes love with her suitor. The husband is at least temporarily emasculated by what he sees. For six months he will not—or cannot—sleep with his wife. The only way he has of regaining the control he lost when he peered at his wife through the keyhole is to treat her as a common prostitute. Again, the woman is whored by a look. (Obviously, Frances is not completely subversive. She seems to accept some of the patriarchal configurations of woman as she figures the Elinor character in her story as a whore.) “At last … [when] he fell agayn to company with his wife as other men do … he used this pollicy: everytime that he had knowledge of her, he would leave either in the bed, or in the cushencloth, or by hir looking glasse, or in some place wher she must needes find it, a piece of money” (98). The wife finally asks her husband his meaning and, when told, falls on her knees begging forgiveness. The two, we are led to believe, live happily ever after. Frances's story should reveal to F. J. that his desire to keep Elinor as his mistress is misdirected, but it does not. Although F. J. answers the riddle posed by Frances correctly (“Whose perplexity is greatest, that of the husband discovering his wife through the keyhole, that of the wife receiving the slips of money from her husband, or that of the lover whose mistress abandons him?”), he fails to recognize himself in the tale. Ironically, F. J., who has the least insight into his own situation, is designated the judge of the question, and equally ironically, he answers correctly. Nevertheless, he fails to perceive the similarity between his situation and the one described by Frances. If he did, he would see how misguided his own actions were. As Frances instigates the game, in fact, this seems precisely her goal, a goal very similar to that which G. T. ascribes to literature: “we could … devise some like pastimes to trie if your malladie would be cured with like medicines” (87). Like Rosalind educating Orlando about the verities of real as opposed to literary love, Frances seeks to show F. J. the limitations of his courtly posturing.

But Frances also uses her story to gain the upper hand in her relationship with F. J., hoping that he will see himself in the tale she tells and turn his attentions to her. Of course, one of the central reasons that Frances retains her power throughout the narrative is precisely because F. J. does not desire her. He is not in love with her and never approaches her as lover to lady; therefore, she is not caught up in the scopic economy that defines Elinor. Frances enjoys a freedom and perspective denied to the other characters in the narrative who allow their actions to be completely dictated by the roles they have chosen.

As Frances's verbal power increases, F. J.'s decreases. At this point in The Adventures F. J.'s poems have lost their ability to persuade Elinor. Since the text equates writing with sexual conquest, once Elinor rejects F. J., the poet seems to have lost both his sexual and his literary power. By the end of the narrative, his poetic voice is reduced to mocking the woman as he hurls Elinor's words back at her in anger. Paradoxically, her voice becomes his. His final poetic effort is a poem centered around Elinor's retort when F. J. ironically accuses her of unfaithfulness: “And if I did, what then?” The voice of the narrator also seems cut off. G. T. abruptly ends his story, saying, “I will cease, as one that would rather leave it unperfect than make it to plaine” (105). With these words, Gascoigne refuses to end his tale, moving instead to other poems in the collection.

More than just a foil to the sonnet lady, Frances thus occupies a subversive place in the text. She defines a space for herself, creates fictions, and ultimately wrests language from the dominant male speakers of the narrative. Even more than G. T., Frances exposes the artificiality, silliness, and even danger of taking Petrarchan rhetoric too seriously. Frances embodies recalcitrant “female autonomy” and represents the author's failure to allay his anxieties about reading and writing, anxieties that seem inextricably connected with sexuality and gender. Her power is exactly the kind of mysterious power described by Gilbert and Gubar “of the character who refuses to stay in her textually ordained ‘place’ and thus generates a story that ‘gets away’ from its author.”26

One final note: when Gascoigne revised The Adventures of Master F. J. in 1576 for publication in The Posies, he did complete the tale. F. J. (now called Ferdinando) “tooke his leave, and without pretense of returne departed to his house in Venice: spending there the rest of his dayes in a dissolute kind of life: & abandoning the worthy Lady Fraunc[ischin]a [Frances], who (dayly being gauled with the grief of his great ingratitude) dyd shortlye bring hir selfe into a myserable consumption: wherof (after three yeares languishing) she dyed: Notwithstanding al which occurrence the Lady Elinor lived long in the continuance of hir accustomed change.”27 Our unruly woman is finally punished for her transgression and is killed off.


  1. George Gascoigne, The Adventures of Master F. J. in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. C. T. Prouty (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1942) 69-70. All subsequent quotations from Master F. J. are from this edition and are noted parenthetically within the text.

  2. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Viking, 1973) 47.

  3. For an interesting discussion of the repercussions of male voyeurism and Petrarchan poetry as a kind of counterattack to assure the woman's role as spectacle, see Nancy Vickers's discussion of the Actaeon myth in “Diana Described: Scattered Women and Scattered Rhyme,” Critical Inquiry 8 (1981): 265-79.

  4. Stephen Heath, “Difference,” Screen 19.3 (1978): 85.

  5. Walter R. Davis, Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969) 104.

  6. Mary Ellen Lamb, Gender and Authorship in the Sidney Circle (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1990) 27.

  7. Modern editors, anxious to relay the story itself and present Master F. J. as a precursor of the modern novel, often excise these letters and begin as Hyder E. Rollins and Herschel Baker do: “F. J. chanced once in the north parts of this realm to fall in company of a very fair gentlewoman, whose name was Mistress Elinor, unto whom, bearing a hot affection, he first adventures to write this letter following” (The Renaissance in England [Boston: D. C. Heath, 1966] 702). Such an introduction moves the story along but does nothing to account for the narrative structuring that makes the work so unique and sophisticated.

  8. Wendy Wall, “Disclosures in Print: The ‘Violent Enlargement’ of the Renaissance Voyeuristic Text,” SEL 29 (1989): 35-59. My reading of Gascoigne's narrative has been greatly informed by Wall's essay.

  9. See J. W. Saunders, “‘The Stigma of Print’: A Note on the Social Bases of Tudor Poetry,” EIC1 (1951): 139-64. See also Arthur Marotti, John Donne, Coterie Poet (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1986) 3-24, and Margaret Ezell, The Patriarch's Wife (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1987) 64-100.

  10. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (New Haven: Yale UP, 1984), 12-13.

  11. Wall 52-53.

  12. Wall 51.

  13. See Vickers, “Diana Described.”

  14. See, for example, Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18; Mary Ann Doane, “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator,” Screen 23.3-4 (1982): 74-87; E. Ann Kaplan, “Is the Gaze Male?” Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson (New York: Monthly Review P, 1983) 309-27; Teresa deLauretis, Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984); and Linda Williams, “When the Woman Looks,” Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Mary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellincamp, and Linda Williams (Los Angeles: American Film Institute, 1984) 83-99.

  15. Sarah Stanbury, “Feminist Film Theory: Seeing Chretien's Enide,” Literature and Psychology 36 (1990): 47.

  16. Kaplan 319.

  17. Marbod of Rennes, “The Femme Fatale,” from The Book with Ten Chapters (ca. 1123), Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, ed. Alcuin Blamires (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992) 101. For further commentaries on Bathsheba, see pp. 8, 15, 32-33, 75, 95-96, 105-6.

  18. DeLauretis 15.

  19. Quoted in Jean E. Howard, “Scripts and/versus Playhouses: Ideological Production and the Renaissance Public Stage,” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 224.

  20. Howard 224.

  21. For further discussion of the rape scene, see my “‘A Poet with a Spear’: Writing and Sexual Power in the Elizabethan Period,” Renaissance Papers (1992): 1-15.

  22. Quoted in Blamires, [Alcuin, ed. Woman Defamed and Woman Defended. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992,] 95.

  23. Staub, [Susan. “‘A Poet with a Spear’: Writing and Sexual Power in the Elizabethan Period.” Renaissance Papers (1992): 1-15,] 9.

  24. The Ladies Dictionary (1694) quoted in The Whole Duty of a Woman: Female Writers in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Angeline Goreau (Garden City: Dial, 1985) 57-58.

  25. “To the Reverende Divines,” George Gascoigne, The Posies, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1907) 6.

  26. Gilbert and Gubar 28.

  27. “The Pleasant Fable of Ferdinando Jeron[i]mi and Leonora de Valasco,” in The Posies 453.

A version of this paper was presented at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in October 1992.

Gregory Kneidel (essay date fall 1998)

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SOURCE: Kneidel, Gregory. “Reforming George Gascoigne.” Exemplaria 10, no. 2 (fall 1998): 329-70.

[In the essay which follows, Kneidel asserts that Gascoigne intentionally depicted himself in his writings as an internally divided individual.]

George Gascoigne returned to England from an undistinguished tour of military duty in the Low Countries to find that the publication of his A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) had created a minor scandal at court.1 Designed to attract patrons and secure employment, this anthology of amatory verse, two translated plays, and the epistolary novella The Adventures of Master F. J. had in fact proven “perillous to [his] credite.”2 Gascoigne then produced The Posies (1575), a revised and expurgated version of his Flowres, which ultimately did little to help him regain his footing at court.3 In 1576, after publishing his long verse satire The Steele Glas, Gascoigne's career seems to have changed course altogether. He began to translate flesh-hating moral diatribes. By the end of the year, he had secured from Lord Burghley a long-sought appointment as a foreign ambassador.4 Richard Helgerson extracts this moral from Gascoigne's life: “The lesson seems to be that only those who vociferously disdain the world can share in its riches, while those who delight in beauty and romance lose even the small share of worldly goods which they may have had.”5 (Or, as one of Gascoigne's favorite mottoes, suffused with the fashionable pathos of a Petrarchan lover, puts it, “Si fortunatus infoelix.”) In any case, Gascoigne did not long exemplify this rather discomfiting lesson; he died early in 1577.

That Gascoigne left (and fared better professionally after leaving) his mistress's “lovely nutbrowne face” to beat the Droome of Domesday has invited suspicion from admirers and critics alike. Did Gascoigne really experience what he calls the “reformation of [his] minde” (1:7)? Was his conversion from prodigality sincere? The assessment of Gascoigne's biographer, C. T. Prouty, is sympathetic yet inconclusive: While it may be “unwise to assume that all men are Machiavellis when they discuss their personal view of spiritual and ethical matters” and while we perhaps “should not at once accuse Gascoigne of hypocrisy,” even Prouty admits that ultimately he is in no position to say whether Gascoigne's repentance “was truthful and honest or mere subterfuge.”6 Helgerson, drawing out Stephen Greenblatt's notion of “histrionic impersonation,” detects a parallel between the “pattern of prodigality” that links the fiction and biographies of a generation of writers, the early Elizabethan prodigal poets, with the role-playing and self-dramatization of figures like More and Raleigh.7 More recently, critics have recognized Gascoigne's bold self-presentation as an important model for Edmund Spenser and the next generation of Elizabethan poets. At the same time, faith in Gascoigne's conviction has dwindled even farther. Arthur F. Kinney has intimated that Gascoigne's “vowed repentance” is “suspect” and Kinney approves of the view that, in tone at least, it borders on “an act of contempt.”8 Jane Hedley, in documenting Gascoigne's use of allegory, deems the dedicatory epistles to The Posies, epistles in which Gascoigne first proclaims his reformation, a “transparent piece of special pleading.” Daniel Javitch doubts that Gascoigne ever sought, as he would later claim, to display his “oratorical proficiency.” Rather, for Javitch, Gascoigne's rhetorical strategies are designed to display his “aptitude for indirection and hidden persuasion.” Finally, in the best discussion of Gascoigne's career since Prouty's biography, Richard C. McCoy observes that Gascoigne was “assuming the persona of a penitent prodigal in the mid-1560's” in poems that “predate his official reformation by ten years.” For McCoy, Gascoigne's late recourse to grim moralism points to his poetic emasculation, his “loss of authorial control” even as he made inroads at court.9

My contention is that neither sincerity (“he meant it” versus “he faked it”) nor theatricality captures the type of expectations Gascoigne's contemporaries had of him or the choices he had to make. Taking as my starting point Richard Lanham's observation that during the Renaissance “personality theory formed on the analogy of rhetorical theory,” I will argue that Gascoigne defended the unexpected reformation of his personality by invoking the rhetorical principle of decorum.10 I have chosen to examine decorum specifically through Renaissance theories of epistolary rhetoric. Gascoigne owed much to the epistolary form, but I have selected epistolary theory primarily because it lays bare the philosophical presumptions of decorum in a pragmatic, professional context. Epistolary theorists also delineate the mechanics of decorum with a clarity unequaled in the period's poetic treatises and courtesy books or, for that matter, in current historicist criticism.11 Thus, in the first part of this essay, I will show that Renaissance epistolary theory constructed a notion of decorum as a negotiation between a truthful representation of the self and the decorous accommodation of the moral values and psychological propensities of an audience. To do this, an adept letter-writer had to shape each letter to respond to minute but measurable changes in the perceived relationship between the subject at hand, the recipient's character, and the sender's own character. As a result, epistolary rhetoric required of secretaries what I shall call ethical capacity: the capacity to conform one's character to a diverse range of audiences and subjects in accordance with the guidelines of decorous self-presentation.

So, while decorum demands self-knowledge, it also forces the writer to reform this known self to the exigencies of every specific rhetorical occasion. In other words, being decorous opens the writer up to the very charge of moral impropriety that Gascoigne faced during his lifetime and still faces today. In the second half of this essay, I will argue that Gascoigne responds to this charge by adapting a notion of decorum to an autobiographical narrative which underscores the ethical capacity he derives from his worldly experiences. The principle of decorum becomes a nexus where Gascoigne can, within the bounds of conventional rhetorical theory and of orthodox Protestant theology, conceptualize and announce his newly reformed self. Gascoigne's most characteristic rhetorical strategy is to arrogate moral authority precisely because he possesses and can articulate the conflicting character traits of a despondent Petrarchan lover, an off-target hunter, and a repentant prodigal youth. When he promises to serve the Queen “with a penne in my righte hand, and a sharpe sword girt to my lefte syde, in utramque paratum” (2:477) or chides himself for being an “olde babe,” Gascoigne intentionally depicts himself as internally-divided, as paradoxically opposed to himself. He does so, I will argue, first, to advertise the scope of his ethical capacity and his ability to be decorous in a variety of rhetorical situations; and second, to express in personal terms the paradoxical experience of spiritual reformation. For Gascoigne, the two objectives are deeply linked. In both cases, the principle of decorum regulates the process through which poems and letters and also moral selves get reformed—manipulated and reshaped as external circumstances change. This principled and integrated view of decorum, then, can help to resolve many of the apparent contradictions—his use of both a plain “poetical didacticism”12 and allegorical “indirection”; his prematurely announced reformation; his defensive practice of reminding his readers of his youthful verse even when introducing his later, drearily moralistic translations—that recur in discussions of Gascoigne's poetry and of his poetic self-presentation. Moreover, this view of decorum as rhetorically and morally credible exposes one aspect of the intimate connection between the arts of discourse and Protestant theology. Once we understand how Gascoigne makes rhetorical and moral objectives compatible and complementary, we can reform our own critical evaluation of his life, work, and influence.


The authors of medieval artes dictaminis or letter-writing manuals were preoccupied with introductions.13 They divided the introduction into two parts, the salutation and captatio benevolentiae, or the securing of goodwill. The salutation in particular received an extraordinary emphasis. For example, over one-third of Rationes dictandi, published anonymously in 1135, some fifty years after Alberic of Monte Cassino published the first ars dictaminis, is given over to prescriptions of correct terms of address, even the correct disposition and inflection of these terms, for both sender and recipient according to their relative political, ecclesiastical, familial, and pedagogical status.14 At its extreme, this preoccupation with salutational formulations led to “highly schematized dictaminal works,” such as one manual which “provides not only basic epithets of address for ten levels of society (from Papa down to hereticos), but alphabetical lists of 142 verbi bona and 167 verbi mala for use in letters.”15 That “very often the largest part of the securing of goodwill is in the course of the salutation” reveals the rhetorical impetus of the strictly standardized forms and terms of address.16 In classical oratory, the same rhetorical objective was achieved by means of ethical argumentation, by lauding one's own or assailing one's opponent's good intentions and credibility. Without an opponent to disparage, however, letter-writing manuals construed the use of proper salutations as itself a recognition of precise social status and thus as evidence of good faith.

The need to secure goodwill is derived partially from the innate tension between an individual letter-writer's desire to modify highly-regimented medieval social structures and the social ideals of order and degree that official letters helped to establish. Thomas Kranidas discusses the same sort of tension in his brief compendium of formulations of decorum from antiquity through the seventeenth century.17 Plato, Kranidas argues, contributed the “idea of decorum as the harmony of ideally realized parts in an ideally realized whole. There is a double pressure, then, on each part; it must be ‘achieved’ in itself, but not beyond its function in a larger whole.”18 The carefully graduated salutations enumerated in the medieval ars dictaminis realized divinely-ordained social hierarchies by facilitating communication between the hierarchies' different ranks. Decorous salutations could, in theory, be devised that allowed decorous communication between a subject and a monarch, a heretic and the Pope. In an epistolary context, defying convention suggested a desire to transcend the sender's “function in a larger whole.” Hence, contentiousness was to be eschewed. This desideratum even compelled manual writers to codify an epistolary style. Many of the letter-writing manuals insisted that “the level of style is a function of the relative place of the correspondents in the social hierarchy.”19 But the epistolary formula for verbal rhythmic patterns known as cursus, which strives for melodiousness and heightened aural effects to appease any type of audience, quickly gained in popularity and could be applied in virtually any epistolary situation. As with salutational phrasings, the manual writers discouraged stylistic innovation and variation in favor of convention and compliance.

Moreover, decorum came to be equated with ethical persuasion since the other means of persuasion identified in classical rhetorical theory, argument by pathos and by logos, ill-serve the epistolary mode. Two factors uniquely accentuated in epistolary discourse—the distance between writer and recipient and the unalterability of an epistolary appeal—nullify the rhetorical potential of appeals to either pathos or logos. In his brief discussion of style, Aristotle remarks:

For popular speaking, we see, the style is in every way comparable to the painting of scenery in large. The greater the crowd, the more distant is the point of view; so that, in the speech and sketch alike, minute touches are superfluous, and blur the effect.20

Here, a public speaker should use the “open hand” of persuasion on a “mixed” audience, marshaling a full range of stylistic and argumentative effects. His audience is farther away (literally and figuratively) from the speaker and thus more susceptible to rhetorical pyrotechnics, to grand gestures and visceral incitements to action. The recipient of a letter, however, is far away but hardly “mixed.” Consequently, pathos is rarely recommended, and sometimes discouraged, in the ars dictaminis. For example, Vives explains that, for an unjustifiable or embarrassing request, a letter writer should appeal to the natural and known benevolence of the recipient, yet “not in such a way as to seem that we wish to display our misfortune to excess and almost cry out that we are worthy of pity (miseriam), giving the impression that we are too weak and too helpless to bear our hardships.”21 In Erasmus's view, posited in his influential De conscribendis epistolis, the better strategy for a letter-writer is to adduce evidence of a benign, credible ethos: “[I]f our message is somewhat unpleasant … we shall attempt to capture [the recipient's] favour through the argument from persons.”22 He goes on to list dozens of epistolary ice-breaking techniques, ways of forging a contrived and expedient bond of friendship through art.

As for logos, or strictly logical argumentation, the peculiarly static nature of epistolary communication renders dependence on logic as risky as brazen emotional appeals. According to Aristotle, the “forensic style is more elaborate in detail; still more so the style intended for a single judge” (Rhetoric 1414a). A speaker should, in these cases, use the “closed fist” of logical demonstration. But a letter often cannot bear the scrutiny that dialectical reasoning invites. What is more, as Erasmus observes, while an orator can change his speech “on the spot,” “a letter, once delivered, cannot adjust to the mood of the reader, and a person who is offended by something in writing usually becomes more incensed on a further reading.”23 A letter-writer must address a single judge or critic (even if the letter is later made public) without overemphasizing logical demonstration, and must negotiate the physical and spiritual distance between writer and recipient without the aid of overt pathetic appeals. (If a recipient is notoriously sentimental or rational, however, appeals to pathos or logos are appropriate.) Ethos becomes, if only by process of elimination, the overriding argumentative imperative of letter-writers.

While medieval and Renaissance letter-writing manuals alike overcame the inherent rhetorical limitations of epistolary communication by positing the efficacy of a decorous self, the means of demonstrating this self and of adhering to epistolary decorum changed considerably between the periods. The discovery of Cicero's familiar letters (Petrarch found Ad Atticum in 1345; Coluccio Salutati found Ad familiares in 1392), along with the recovery of important classical rhetorical treatises, “inaugurated a new epoch in the history of ars dictaminis in Western Europe.”24 Ronald Witt has argued that this “new epoch” differs from its medieval predecessor in two ways, and each had a profound effect on the function of epistolary decorum. First, Renaissance letter-writing manuals gave more attention to persuasive techniques. Earlier theorists had often attempted to integrate classical rhetoric with epistolary technique, but with only limited success. “Only the salutatio identified [the letter] as a distinct genre”25 from the oration, but the salutation was the most vital part of the letter. Some parts of an oration, like divisio, narratio, and refutatio, were omitted or greatly altered in most medieval artes dictaminis. But, as economic growth allowed for more social mobility and as feudal order began to disintegrate, manual writers embraced techniques of controversy for the purpose of persuasion. Letters became more properly rhetorical rather than contractual. Second, letter-writers now had classical precedents that allowed them to address a wider range of topics with a greater variety of styles to a larger number of possible recipients. In modifying the medieval ars dictaminis, Renaissance letter-writers paid heed to Petrarch's dictum: “Infinite are the differences between men nor are their minds any more alike than the shapes of their foreheads.”26 Erasmus's opening remarks on the kinds of letters, in De conscribendis epistolis, echo Petrarch's sentiment: “To expect all letters to conform to a single type … is in my view at least to impose a narrow and inflexible definition on what is by nature diverse and capable of almost infinite variation.”27

In an attempt to provide some guiding principles for confronting and managing the “infinite variation” (and to provide a standard by which peers and potential employers could judge their work), Renaissance theorists drew heavily and more directly on the aesthetic concept of decorum. For Angel Day, who published the first edition of his Erasmian The English Secretorie in 1586, producing a decorous self on command is the professional trademark. Speaking of the concerns whereby an “Epistle by aptness of wordes may be measured and composed,” Day concludes: “Hereon lyeth the chiefest waight & burthen of each mans discretion, whereunto oportunitye also seemeth a thing so necessary to be adioyned, as laboring the one perfectly, and attending the other circumspectly.”28 Day's meaning here is itself (if perfectly measured) very circumspectly composed, but he seems to be asserting that a secretary's general sense of the aptness must be adjoined to a more insightful awareness of the rhetorical exigencies of a specific situation or “oportunitye.”

These two operations, measuring and composing, correspond roughly to the two definitions of a letter available during the Renaissance. Combined these two definitions point to the central tension in the Renaissance epistolography between the faithful representation of the letter-writer's mind with the decorous accommodation of the recipient's. Erasmus gives one definition, gleaned from Cicero's familiar letters: a letter “is a mutual conversation between absent friends.”29 The small amount of attention paid to the epistolary form in classical times dealt primarily with finding a “plain” style suitable for such an amicable conversation. Ideals of friendship from antiquity onward held that a friend is another self. As a means of spiritually uniting separated friends, Erasmus asserts, “the epistolary form favours simplicity, frankness, humour, and wit.”30 No decoration or pretense should veil the perfect measurement and communal appreciation of one another's virtues.

In the other definition, a letter is not a friendly reunion but an ambassadorial visit. As the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives writes, a “letter is a conversation by means of the written word between persons separated from each other. It was invented to convey the mental concepts and thoughts from one person to another as a faithful intermediary and bearer of commission.”31 Likewise, Day defines a letter “as a faythfull and secrete Ambassadour … of him from whome the foremost title hath had his direction and framing.”32 Since the letter was to function as a messenger and ambassador, Renaissance manual writers realized that a friendly rapport between writer and recipient does not necessarily exist. The temporal and spatial gap between the two signifies a gap in intimacy that decorum is designed to navigate. This idea of decorous convenience—of coming together, meeting, closing gaps—emerges in Puttenham's suggested synonyms for decorum: “we call it also comelynesse for the delight it bringeth comming towards us, and to that purpose may be called pleasant approche.33 (One thinks here also of Puttenham's numerous accounts of ineffectively executed embassies as examples of indecorum.) In fact, Vives, explaining why the writer must immediately outline his relationship to the recipient, remarks:

Frequently you must plead in excuse that you write as a complete stranger or as a mere acquaintance. … This must be made clear from the beginning, for it is a natural tendency that once the letter is opened and the writer's name is read, the recipient of the letter will wonder whether it is sent by a stranger or by someone not especially endeared to him, or by an enemy.34

Vives's presumption that friends converse face-to-face in ordinary terms underlies this advice. Unless some indication of goodwill is extended immediately, “in his mind, [the recipient] condemns the writer right from the start for impudence, temerity, arrogance or insanity with the result that he does not so much repudiate the letter as conceive a dislike for its author.”35 It seems that only enemies and petitioners, people you don't really want to hear from, send letters unexpectedly. Overcoming this reflexive distrust requires delicacy from the epistolary ambassador; by seeking to fabricate an familiar identification with the recipient, the sender compensates for not speaking in a more immediate fashion.

In effect, a competent secretary must satisfy the criteria of both definitions of epistolary self-presentation, friend and ambassador. “I see no reason,” concludes Day, “but he that can frame him selfe to the varietie of these [specific epistolary situations], may with greater facilitie reache unto the reste, the better to enhable him selfe hereafter if aduauncement draw him to it to become a Secretorie.”36 Employment and privilege are the rewards, but how is a writer to fabricate a decorous self? Decorum regulates epistolary style by measuring the relationship of three variables: subject, recipient, and writer. Of the subject or “cause,” Day advises: “Needefull shall it be … that the cause be evermore measured according to the parties appearance, his credite or worthinesse, that the validitie therof be aunswerable unto the one & the others goodnesse or greatnesse.”37 In reality, the cause of the letter is more or less predetermined, and its separation from the recipient's character is nominal at best. The first evaluation to be made is of the recipient's character. Initially, letter-writing manuals restrict this ethical evaluation to traditional topoi of praise: family background, “things,” deeds, education.38 Cite a shared ancestry or a common alma mater, for instance, then dwell on it. Renaissance manual writers, confronting an increase in epistolary possibilities, went one step farther and demanded ethopoeia—“the necessity of adapting words and style to differences of age, sex, and rank.”39 As book 2 of Aristotle's Rhetoric attests, “age, sex, and rank” were traditionally taken as crucial determinants of an individual's temperament. Epistolary decorum now concerned itself with individual psychology, not just social status.

Thus, the manuals require that a letter-writer understand the recipient's disposition, humors, and emotional traits, so as to conform the letter's length and style to them. On the length of a letter, Vives asserts: “It is very important that you adapt yourself [te accommodari] to the character of the one to whom you are writing and according to the nature of the material.”40 Style is a more flexible component and hence the most efficient means of equating the sender's ethos with the recipient's. Vives's remarks on accommodating one's style are exacting and become representative of later Renaissance epistolary theory: “To a learned man, use a style more consonant with the ancient writers; to a busy man, be brief; to man of leisure, write in a sprightly manner; to a kindly person, be less anxious about detail; to a severe person, gloomy.”41 And so on. To recipients with less than admirable demeanors—a haughty, disagreeable, or dull-witted man—one must strive, as would a true friend, to compensate for and not to duplicate this trait (or perhaps the idea is to replicate what the recipient “thinks” he is like, reserved, not stern, frank, not unsophisticated). In any event, Vives's catalog intimates the importance of knowing one's recipient, because each ethos has a decorous style that corresponds to it. He goes on to counsel that when writing to “an uncertain friend,” whose character is unknown, one should

be more cautious, but in such a manner that he thinks he is loved and that you truly love him. This is the law of nature, this is what Christ commands, more valid than the law of nature, with the result that one who does not love in return will be deservedly condemned for ingratitude.42

Vives invokes the ideal of love, under no less authority than Christ's great commandment, to give some religious teeth to the ideals informing the Ciceronian familiar letter. Vives intimates that God will revenge unrewarded and unappreciated decorousness.

This decorous accommodation of style operates rhetorically at an ethical level. As Kranidas remarks, “in its commonest Renaissance usage decorum … refer[s] to the depiction of character.”43 The equation of ethos and style is classical in origin. Quintilian proclaims: “a man's character is generally revealed and the secrets of his heart are laid bare by his manner of speaking.”44 Quintilian's statement had great currency during the Renaissance. Puttenham writes that “this continuall course and manner of writing or speech sheweth the matter and disposition of the writer's minde.”45 Puttenham goes on to state the assumption underpinning the minute prescription of epistolary styles: “For if a man be grave, his speech and stile is grave: if light-headed, his stile and language also light.”46 Style does not merely dress the matter of a speech, it reveals the “disposition of the writer's mind.”

Ultimately, then, in the process of advancing ethical arguments and of capturing goodwill, secretaries must both faithfully bare their thoughts as if to a intimate friend and accommodate the ethos of their letters' recipients as would a skillful ambassador. That is what being decorous is. Kenneth Burke calls this tactic the rhetoric of “identification or consubstantiality.” It is “perhaps the simplest case of persuasion”: “You persuade a man only insofar as you talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his.”47 But the disparity between, to use Day's terms, the perfect measurement of a situation and the circumspect composition of a letter explains why Burke recognizes bald flattery as a version of the rhetoric of identification. In the judgment of an impartial third party, a secretary's reliance on decorous accommodation can be taken as mere sycophancy or insincerity. Erasmus notes the fantastic demands that the rhetorical goal of variety places on the individual writer in the epistolary mode:

At the same time the style will also keep in mind the writer and not merely the recipient or the purpose for which it was sent. Therefore it will play the part of a Mercury, as it were, transforming itself into every shape required by the topic at hand, yet in such a way that amid great variety it retains one feature unaltered, namely that of being always refined, learned, and sane.48

For Erasmus, the figure of Mercury represents the secretarial ideal during the Renaissance. But the messenger of the gods occupied an ambivalent place within Renaissance's discourse of rhetoric: Mercury was the god of eloquence, but also of deception and transgression.49 In this duplicitous role, Mercury confirms Annabel Patterson's observation that at “no time during the Renaissance are aesthetics discussed in isolation from ethics, and any valid theory of imagination always carries with it the implicit context of moral action.”50 Gascoigne's motto “Tam Marti quam Mercurio” is thus doubly ironic: his self-proclaimed failings as a soldier undermine his martial persona, and the complex cultural significance of Mercury casts the shadow of moral corruption upon his not inconsiderable poetic abilities.

As we shall see, in his efforts to overcome doubts concerning his sincerity and moral probity, Gascoigne exploits what Joel Altman calls “the marriage effected between moral reformation and sophistic argumentation” during the sixteenth century.51 Altman is speaking specifically about the moral implications of the rhetorical technique of disputatio in utramque partem, debating on each side of a given issue. This practice, ingrained into the thought patterns of English students throughout their training in rhetoric and dialectic, pretends to allow an orator to perceive better the probable means of persuasion. Aristotle, for one, argues that by understanding an opponent's argument, a rhetorician comes to a better understanding of the arguments at his or her disposal. Despite condemning sophistic rhetoric, Aristotle states:

In Rhetoric, and in Dialectic, we should be able to argue on either side of a question; not with a view to putting both sides into practice—we must not advocate evil—but in order that no aspect of the case may escape us, and that if our opponent makes unfair use of the arguments, we may be able in turn to refute them.

Rhetoric 1355a

In Quintilian's view, the skilled orator must not seek persuasion or a specific psychological effect, as such; the ideal orator is a good man speaking well. Although he elevates the ideal orator above the sophistic goal of persuasion at any cost, Quintilian does implicate the orator in a process of knowing the opposite of his goal:

the nature of virtue is revealed by vice, its opposite, justice becomes yet more manifest from the contemplation of injustice, and there are many other things that are proved by their contraries.

Institutio Oratoria 12.1.35

Altman, reflecting on the consequences of training students to be proficient in this skeptical discernment of truth and virtue, concludes: “Surely one result must be a great complexity of vision, capable of making every man not only a devil's advocate but also a kind of microcosmic deity … who can see all sides of the issue.”52 The project of the orator in classical rhetorical theory was to become just such a deity, but to use only those arguments that bring about good, good usually defined (in conservative rhetorics, at least) not as personal triumph but as public benefit. According to Aristotle, “we must not advocate evil”; according to Quintilian, the ideal orator will not abuse this epistemological advantage, because he seeks virtue and eloquence, not persuasion; and, according to Cicero, even though the fertile mind contains weeds as well as flowers, civic virtues like seemliness dictate that these weeds be, if not eradicated, at least concealed. In short, ancient rhetoricians, championing rhetoric against both sophistry's abuses and logic's criticisms, devised built-in, definitional restraints for their orators, whose personal virtues place them above the society they serve and preclude the possibility of demagoguery. They know evil; they do good. They do good so much the better because they know evil.

The influence of the practice of disputatio in utramque partem and the epistemological relativism behind it can be seen in Renaissance discussions of epistolary style and brevity. With its unique emphasis on stylistic effects, however, epistolary theory modifies this form of disputation, applying it to stylistic accommodation rather than the invention of arguments. For example, in the first chapter of De conscribendis epistolis, Erasmus writes:

There is no one more verbose than one who is inarticulate. For the sake of the pupils I wish to expose the folly of those charlatans who cloak their inability to speak with the word “laconic” though all the while they do not know what the words “brevity” and “abundance” really mean; yet both qualities belong to one and the same writer. For just as in Plato Socrates concludes that the best forger of lies is also the best teller of the truth, similarly no one will earn credit for brevity who cannot also express himself in a more ample style.53

Erasmus himself draws the analogy between decorous brevity and honesty and thus between stylistic accommodation and quasi-sophistic deception. Furthermore, Erasmus contends that opposite styles, in effect, prove a letter writer's skill, thereby pointing to the presence of a third party (a humanist scholar or a potential employer, for example) who samples a single writer's epistolary output. Much as arguing both sides of a given issue demonstrates rhetorical ability, writing letters in opposite styles, now severe, now blithe, now terse, now verbose, advertises proficiency in epistolary rhetoric.54

Moreover, decorum not only heralds the letter-writer's competence, it excuses her or his weaknesses. Patterson has commented that decorum was “on the tip” of every sixteenth-century poet's tongue “as an excuse for technical errors or clumsiness.”55 Hence, Erasmus writes: “If [a letter] is somewhat verbose, we shall say that it was written either for an inquisitive person or a man of leisure.” He goes on to correlate several other styles with their appropriate characters and then concludes:

In short, whatever would not have escaped criticism in other forms of writing can be defended here either in consideration of the topic, or the person of the writer, or the character, condition, or age of the recipient. In fact, variation and unevenness of style and subject-matter which would merit condemnation elsewhere here have a peculiar charm.56

As Erasmus recognizes, decorum, the tonic for poetic ineptitude, performs the same service as the letter-writer's ethos. Defects in a letter evince familiarity, confidence, and trust. Decorum justifies the promulgation of a variety of selves in letters, not all of them virtuous or upright in an absolute sense. The model is Cicero's familiar letters. Petrarch “wept at their revelation of Cicero's psychological nakedness, his failure to maintain philosophical detachment, his seduction by political life.”57 The numerous styles and topics of Cicero's familiar letters belied his meticulously-groomed image as the consummate public statesman. Yet, all of his styles and all of the psychological states they denote are excusable, as long as the recipient is correctly chosen.

In Renaissance epistolary theory, then, the principle of decorum provided a method of measuring and coordinating a range of potentially conflicting styles to various types of recipients and subjects. “Framing” a persuasive ethos entailed replicating the recipient's ethos as closely as possible by delicately adjusting the variable components of a letter—even if this ethical accommodation meant employing, over time, inconsistent, even contradictory modes of speech. Furthermore, because of the deep-seated belief in the correspondence of external representation and interior moral state, aesthetic and rhetorical considerations could not be divorced from issues of morality. Just as style reveals the self, epistolary decorum regulates ethical and moral decision-making and self-presentation. The inference that can be made from these two observations—that some notion of decorum can be invoked to valorize ethical and moral “errors and clumsiness”—provides the foundation for Gascoigne's defense of his work and of the reformation (and employability) of his mind.


In an insightful article, Judith Rice Henderson has argued that, for humanists trained according to the precepts of Renaissance lettter-writing manuals, “letters were not trivial or informal or personal or even necessarily honest. … Letters were art.” As for the classical topos that a letter's style reveals the mind of its author, she observes: “The humanist did not bare his soul in his letters, even when he quoted the classical topos. Instead he presented an image, an ethos, of himself as he wished readers present and future to see him.”58 I will argue in the second part of this essay, however, that George Gascoigne modifies his epistolary rhetoric in order to bare his soul, the soul of a regenerate Christian, to his audience. At important junctures in his poetic career, Gascoigne turns the convention of epistolary frankness into a means of moral self-representation and, in so doing, claims that the diversity of his worldly experiences make him more qualified to accommodate diverse audiences on moral and ethical topics.

Gascoigne, of course, did not publish a letter collection like the ones Professor Henderson examines. But the epistolary form was one of Gascoigne's favorites.59 His novella, The Adventures of Master F. J., consists of verse and prose epistles, written mostly by F. J. during his ill-fated courtship of “a very fayre gentlewoman whose name was Mistresse Elinor.”60 Interposed (in the original version of the story) are the comments of the intrusive narrator, G. T. The front matter for The Adventures—a series of letters explaining exactly how the novella came into G. T.'s possession, took the shape it did, and found its way to press—signals what some critics see as Gascoigne's overarching strategy of “indirection,” although I agree with Susan C. Staub that these letters playfully expose the artificiality of Gascoigne's invention more than they obscure the identity of the novella's real author.61 In the course of The Adventures, Gascoigne mentions some of the stock notions of epistolary rhetoric that I have just been discussing. For example, of Elynor's first, rather dispassionate letter to F. J., G. T. observes that “the stile this letter of hirs bewrayeth that it was not penned by a womans capacitie, so the sequell of hir doings may discipher, that she had mo ready clearkes then trustie servants in store.”62 After transcribing her next letter, more enticing than the first and written in a different hand, G. T. reveals that the first letter was in fact written by Elynor's unnamed secretary, the “ready” clerk who left for London after the first exchange. This secretary turns out to be F. J.'s rival for Elynor's affections and his return from London near the end of the novella sets in motion the demise of F. J.'s liaison.63 Two years later, Gascoigne would rectify this negative depiction of secretaries: Phylotimus, one of the hard-witted yet virtuous younger brothers in Gascoigne's prodigal son play, The Glasse of Government (1575), exceeds his father's and schoolmaster's expectations by gaining employment as a “Secretarie unto the Palsegrave” (2:5). The other younger son, Phylomusus, becomes a “famous preacher in Geneva.” Presumably Phylotimus and Phylomusus hold equally virtuous offices.

But Gascoigne's indebtedness to epistolary rhetoric extends far beyond these fictional characters. In fact, epistles would best suit Gascoigne's need to explain, largely for the purpose of soliciting employment, both the method of his writing and the story of his reformation. “Gascoignes Woodmanship” (1:348-52) is perhaps his most celebrated poem. Addressed to Lord Grey of Wilton, who would later become Spenser's friend and patron, the poem takes Gascoigne's marksmanship (or lack thereof) as its primary conceit. Most interpretations of the poem concentrate on the first section, in which Gascoigne draws an analogy between his poor performance on a recent hunt with Lord Grey and his aborted forays into academics, legal training, and courtiership. These readings focus our attention on Gascoigne's use of allegoria and his ability to “turn an unpropitious occasion to his advantage” through his “rhetorical dexterity”64 While I agree that the poem brilliantly displays Gascoigne's “rhetorical dexterity,” I think the emphasis on subtlety and on allegory is misleading if not inaccurate. The poem is a skilled piece of argumentation, but it is manifestly about Gascoigne, and its pleas for employment are overt. Moreover, good stretches plainly denounce contemporary vices. The poem is better understood, I think, in terms of decorum. In The Scholemaster, Roger Ascham asserts that as decorum

is the hardest point, in all learning, so is it the fairest and onlie marke, that scholars, in all their studie, must alwayes shote at, if they purpose an other day to be, either sounde in Religion, or wise and discrete in any vocation in the common wealth.

As Thomas M. Greene argues, this statement reveals “a continuum properly aligning style, thought, judgment, and action.”65 Gascoigne's project, I will argue, is to show that he is capable of maintaining just such a continuum should Grey see fit to provide him with the opportunity.

The poem's first lines announce its three related topics:

My woorthy Lord, I pray you wonder not
To see your woodman shoote so ofte awrie,
Nor that he stands amased like a sot,
And lets the harmlesse deare (unhurt) go by.
Or if he strike a Doe which is but carren,
Laugh not good Lord, but favoure such a fault.


Gascoigne throughout the poem attempts to control what Grey sees and how Grey reacts to what he sees. Not the least important thing Grey sees is Gascoigne seeing or not seeing well. In the first section, on his shooting “so ofte awrie,” Gascoigne recounts his youthful misadventures as those of a third-person “woodman.” This “he” is Gascoigne's past. Gascoigne explains that he shot awry because “His eyes have bene so used for to raunge, / That now God knowes they be both dimme and darke” (15-16). Gascoigne quickly tells how, at the university, his “wanton wittes went all awrie” (20); during his legal training he “winked wrong, and so let slippe the string” (31); and at court he “much mistooke the place, / And shot awrie at every rover still” (35-36). By line 39 Gascoigne has effectively dispelled Grey's disbelief: “No wonder then although he shot awrie, / Wanting the feathers of discretion” (39-40). But the section does not end here. Gascoigne next offers images of himself that are more difficult to explain, and easier to wonder at. Gascoigne complains: “Yet more than them [i.e., the feathers of discretion], the marks of dignitie, / He much mistooke and shot the wronger way” (40-42). Here Gascoigne's task is to explain why he “mistooke” and chose the targets he did. Lines 59-60 hint that Gascoigne was right on target, but still shooting “awrie,” when he took a shot at becoming a prodigal and flattering courtier. The details of the lines 49-56 betray Gascoigne's intimate knowledge of the fop's trade.

With “But now” (61), however, the poem moves into the present of 1573. Gascoigne in his age has decided on a career in the military. He was, in fact, in the Low Countries on a military expedition when the poem was first published in his Flowers. Acknowledging the incongruity between his age and his current occupation, Gascoigne insists that he is still trainable, still worthy of Grey's patronage (69-72). To prove this thesis and to conclude the first section, Gascoigne lists not what he can do but what “he cannot”:

He cannot climbe as other catchers can.
.....He cannot spoile the simple sakeles man,
.....He cannot pinch the painefull souldiers pay,
.....He cannot stoup to take a greedy pray [i.e., rob a cohort]
.....He cannot pull the spoyle from such as pill
And seeme full angrie at such foule offense


—this catalog owes something to Sir Thomas Wyatt's poem “Myne own John Poyntz”; but Wyatt's moral outrage takes the form of “I cannot” statements. This contrast in pronoun choice indicates that the source of moral authority in Gascoigne's poem is not derived from a morally-centered self, but is that of a socially astute fictive third person, ever exposed to the scrutiny of potential critics and employers like Grey. Gascoigne thus depicts his own past before Grey's eyes as a (thinly veiled) vehicle for the censure of society's vices. Now, the most accurate marksmen are the least moral: “And nowe adayes, the man that shootes not so, / Maye shoote amisse, even as your Woodman dothe” (85-86). The “nowe adayes” puts Gascoigne's poem in the classical dies mali sunt tradition of moral satire. But it is also coordinated with the “But now” of line 61; the implication is that society has set up targets that the unscrupulous can easily tag but that the more mature Gascoigne finds repulsive. The focus of this first section thus shifts from Gascoigne's failings to society's. Gascoigne achieves this effect by differentiating between lacking “feathers of discretion” and hitting “marks of dignitie.” As the narrative progresses from Gascoigne's youthful past to Grey's present, Gascoigne as the “he” has presumably gained the moral authority that comes with “feathers of discretion.” Unfortunately, this discretion brings with it inhibitions against shooting at easily hit but morally reprehensible targets.

Gascoigne begins the poem's second section by again attending to Grey's perception of him: “But then you marvell why I lette them go, / And never shoote, but saye farewell foresooth” (87-88). The shift to the first person marks the transition from past, known failures to the present and near future. Why does Gascoigne refrain from shooting? Quite simply, he can't see straight. But again, the poem gradually transfers the blame for Gascoigne's blurred vision from himself to society. Reflecting on “youthfull yeares myspente,” Gascoigne confesses that

My mynde is rapte in contemplation,
Wherein my dazeled eyes onely beholde,
The blacke houre of my constellation.


Initially, cosmic forces are blamed for Gascoigne's fate, and his amazement replaces Grey's amused incredulity. But the apologetic line 97, “Yet therewithall I can not but confesse,” hints that he will soon start pointing fingers at others: “For thus I thinke, not all the worlde (I guesse,) / Shootes bet than I, nay some shootes not so well” (99-100). This claim is a reasonable “vayne presumption.” Frustration, not embarrassment or regret, now makes Gascoigne's “heart to swell” (98).

Implicitly invoking the analogy between woodsmanship and decorum, Gascoigne continues:

In Aristotle somewhat did I learne,
To guyde my manners all by comelynesse,
And Tullie taught me somewhat to discerne
Betweene sweete speeche and barbarous rudenesse.


The lines do not disclose exactly what subject or what book—on ethics, politics, poetry, or rhetoric—first instilled the value of decorum in Gascoigne. The lack of specificity is telling, however, for to Gascoigne's mind (as to Ascham's), the exigencies of decorum cross the boundaries between rhetoric, morality, and esthetics. “The craftie Courtiers” that Gascoigne names in the next lines disregard this continuum.

Yet can not these [courtiers] with manye maystries mo,
Make me shoote streyght at any gaynfull pricke,
Where some that never handled such a bow,
Can hit the white, or touch it neare the quicke,
Who can nor speake, nor write in pleasant wise,
Nor leade their life by Aristotles rule,
Nor argue well on questions that arise,
Nor pleade a case more than my Lorde Mairs mule,
Yet can they hit the marks that I do misse,
And winne the meane which may the man mainteyne,
Nowe when my mynde doth mumble upon this,
No wonder then although I pine for payne:
And whiles myne eyes beholde this mirrour thus,
The hearde goethe by, and farewell gentle does:
So that your Lordship quickely may discusse
What blindes mine eyes so ofte (as I suppose.)


As he did in the first section of the poem, Gascoigne here foists responsibility onto others who would divorce shooting properly from hitting the proper target. The two lines, “Yet can not these” and “Yet can they,” delineate Gascoigne's competitors' abilities. They cannot use decorum, whether this means speaking and writing “in pleasant wise” or following the Aristotelian ethical mean or arguing persuasively in court. The repetition of “nor” encourages us to consider these acts as connected, if not interdependent, projects. But Gascoigne frames this critique of their shortcomings with reminders that, indeed, they can “hit the white” and “hit the markes that I do misse” (112, 116). This injustice causes Gascoigne's mind to “mumble.” And even as he writes, even as his “eyes beholde this mirroure thus, / The hearde goethe by.” The irony is evident: the poetic mirror of Gascoigne's own devising blinds him to the passing herd. He is a victim both of feckless competitors for employment and of his own considerable powers of satiric description.

The next two lines, “But since my Muse can to my Lorde reherse / What makes me misse, and why I doe not shoote” (125-26), signal the transition to the poem's third section. More importantly, however, they force Grey to reflect once more on exactly what Gascoigne has been rehearsing for him. Gascoigne's youthful escapades dazzle Gascoigne's own eyes, yet he lucidly and vigorously sets the same images before Grey's eyes. By drawing Grey's attention to what “my Muse can to my Lorde reherse,” Gascoigne shows himself as a poet deftly giving form (via visual images and rhymed verse) to the same material that left him in debt and without employment. In short, Grey sees clearly how and why Gascoigne did and does not see clearly.

Critics often note that in the third section Gascoigne regains control over both “what occurs and what is signified.”66 But Gascoigne has throughout the poem been asserting his ability to put images of what has occurred before Grey and to influence Grey's interpretation of them. Moreover, Gascoigne's most assertive statement, “Let me imagine” (127), can as easily be taken as a request as an exhortation. The logic of this last section, then, follows that of the first two as Gascoigne negotiates between deference towards Grey and a growing sense of poetic authority. First, Gascoigne describes an indecorous or unbecoming action, here the slaughter of a pregnant doe. Then, he hints that he himself might be to blame: “Some myghte interprete by playne paraphrase, / That lacke of skill or fortune ledde the chaunce” (133-34). He then names a different, transcendent cause—“I saye Jehova did this Doe advaunce, / And made hir bolde to stande before mee so”—all the while building his own moral authority (“I say …”). In the poem's first two parts Gascoigne finds himself hampered or distracted, even as he writes, by his biographical vignettes and his satiric description of “craftie Courtyers.” But now his sight is deflected with quite different results. The doe is held up as an image so

That by the sodaine of hir overthrowe,
I myght endevour to amende my parte,
And turne myne eyes that they no more beholde,
Suche guylefull markes as seeme more than they be;
And though they glister outwardely lyke golde,
Are inwardly but brasse, as men may see.


Again Gascoigne presents himself as affected by the image he himself has imagined. Previously, his wonder, frustration, and disgust led to social satire. Now he takes the image of the doe as a cause of his own reformation. He decides to “amende” his “parte” and to “turne” his “eyes.” The parallelism with “amende” hints that the decision to turn his eyes requires both moral and physical effort. Gascoigne is almost behind himself, manually redirecting his sight, his visual aim. He turns his eyes away from outwardly glistening marks, recognizing and dismissing their actual baseness. Here the passage verges on a rejection of outwardness, on a sort of contemptus mundi stance. But by making his perception common (or potentially common) to “men,” the tag phrase “as men may see” deflates the tone of moral superiority and reincorporates Gascoigne into the affairs of perceptive men. Gascoigne also hopes that “men may see” his own amendment and his own perceptiveness. Gascoigne's newly-realized usefulness contrasts with the pathetic worthlessness of the doe, whose lactating “teate” is proof that she is indeed carren (5) and unfit for consumption.

Finally, Gascoigne imagines the dying doe telling him:

                                                            olde babe now learne to sucke,
Who in thy youth couldst never learne the feate
To hitte the whytes whiche live with all good lucke.


These lines capture Gascoigne's almost paradoxical strategy for self-presentation.67 Gascoigne is now an “olde babe” who must learn a simple, instinctual act, however nourishing or obsequious it may be. The parallelism of “now learn to sucke” and “couldst never learne … to hitte” reverses the chronological movement of the poem. In this final image of himself, Gascoigne has reverted, psychologically if not physically, back to his infancy. At one level, this ending substantiates McCoy's argument that courtly success entails a surrender of masculine power by Gascoigne. Yet the image of Gascoigne as an “olde babe” can be more positive. The phrase encapsulates Gascoigne's programmatic attempt to reform classical models of decorous self-representation according to the guidelines of Christian morality. He has transposed the notion of a puer senex, the youth old in wisdom. He has adopted a more Christian pose, the pose of an aged courtier who has become like a little child in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say unto you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”68 Throughout the poem, Gascoigne claims moral authority and rhetorical prowess for himself precisely because, not in spite, of his misspent and ill-fated youth. He even reminds Grey of his failures in the poem's last lines. “Olde babe” would suggest that Gascoigne can embrace in controlled verse apparently contradictory modes of self-presentation.69 He can do both styles, and anything in between. He can embody the same sort of ethical capacity that Renaissance secretaries were expected to utilize for their employers.

Like Ascham, Gascoigne argues that one must understand how decorum links morality and rhetorical efficacy. Gascoigne differs from Ascham, however, in his attitude towards the value of poetic examples of immorality. For Ascham, the schoolmaster's duty is not “so moch, in teaching [his charges] what is good, as in keping them from that, that is ill.”70 Similarly, Ascham takes a strong stance against experience: “Learning teacheth more in one yeare than experience in twentie”; he distinguishes sharply between his “example in yougth” and his “councell in aige.”71 Gascoigne, on the other hand, consistently dwells on and asks his readers to contemplate the errors of his youth. He wants to be seen reforming his youth, not refuting it. The reason, I think, is that Gascoigne is more interested in demonstrating his ability to accommodate a variety of audiences, including youthful ones, than in establishing his mastery of moral imperatives.

The three prefatory epistles appended to The Posies show Gascoigne undertaking the same project—polishing his reputation, resuscitating his fortunes at court, reiterating his hopes for employment—that had preoccupied him from the publication of his Flowres onward. In his epistle to the “reverende Divines,” Gascoigne takes up the task of valorizing experience and of explaining the interdependence of virtue and vice. As befits his audience, his style is subdued. He does, however, recognize the need to capture the goodwill of the “divines.” Compelled by the uneasy circumstances of his return from the Low Countries if not by the demands of epistolary convention, he addresses them in intimate terms, “My reverende and welbeloved” (1:4). He introduces the body of his argument with a preamble “too the ende I maye thereby purchase youre pacience” (1:4). Witty salutations and stylistic effects may not affect the sober divines. The structure of his argument is also rather legalistic and straightforward. First he lays out the five charges made against him; he then responds to them in order. But Gascoigne's epistolary rhetoric still revolves around making his ethos credible, and he strikes a proudly penitent pose throughout the letter. In his preamble, Gascoigne narrates the events of the publication of his Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, and then states that he has “learned that although there may be founde in a Gentleman whereby to be reprehended or rebuked, yet ought he not to be woorthie of reproofe or condemnation” (1:3, emphasis mine). Because his sins are not equivalent to his worth, Gascoigne can frankly own up to his misspent past. He vaunts, not the consistency or piety of his thought, but his ethical capacity and self-knowledge. The clothes make the man and Gascoigne is, by his own admission, wearing a “new patched cote” (1:8). Despite this self-effacement, Gascoigne anticipates that readers will question his sincerity: “For many a man which may like mine outwarde presence, might yet have doubted whether the qualityes of my minde had bene correspondent to the proportion of my bodie” (1:5). Gascoigne conceives of this objection in terms of decorum, in terms of the proportional representation of his mind and body. Answering this objection and explaining why he chose to republish, with only cosmetic changes, the work that brought him so much disrepute, he remarks “I must take the Foord as I finde it: Sometimes not as I woulde, but as I may” (1:6). This concession resembles the sort of frank ethical evaluation of self that the writers of medieval and Renaissance artes dictaminis insist upon for the sake of decorum. Gascoigne punctuates the prefatory epistles with such moments—“I persuade myself,” “I assure my selfe”—of introspection.

After the shock of the discovery of Cicero's familiar letters, Renaissance writers understood more clearly that classical decorum was a personal virtue demanding consistent, meticulous self-presentation. Cicero's insistence on the indivisibility of prudence and rhetorical efficacy depends upon the presumption that the orator's (if not the plebeian masses') fecund mind contains the “innate seeds of virtue”—hence his ability to perform virtuous actions despite adhering to skeptical beliefs about truth and virtue as ideals.72 Gascoigne, on the other hand, recognizes that “a generall reformation of maners were necessarie to be taught” (1:4). This reformation implies a prior deformation. Elaborating on his decision to conjoin the vain “flowers” with didactic “herbs” and “weeds,” Gascoigne writes that the latter “passing (cheeke by cheek) with the other, muste of necessitie persuade both the learned, and the light minded, that I could aswell sowe good grain, as graynes or draffe” (1:5). Here the language of fecundity and of separating “good grain” from “graynes of draffe” registers a scripturally-based evangelical mission.73 Gascoigne highlights the shamefulness of his past experiences in order to demonstrate his spiritual progression (and underscore his productiveness). Unlike Cicero, the Christian orator must acknowledge the stain of original sin. Placed in a Christian context, the ethical evaluation that is necessary for decorum to be upheld involves a recognition of original sin, of one's own debased humanity, of the need for spiritual justification. The allowances given to the virtuous ideal orator in classical times now apply to a whole range of moral as well as ethical actions.

Gascoigne even cites one of the reverends' own number as a model for his own reformation.

But I delight to thinke that the reverend father Theodore Beza, whose life is worthily become a lanterne to the whole worlde, did not yet disdaine too suffer the continued publication of such Poemes as he wrote in youth. And as he termed them at last Poemata castrata, So shal your reverend judgements beholde in this seconde edition, my Poemes gelded from all filthie phrases, corrected in all erronious places, and beautified with addition of many moral examples.


Beza republished his youthful erotic poetry in 1569, some twenty years after he converted from Catholicism and well after he had established himself as a leading figure in Calvin's Genevan church. Beza defended his erotic verse by insisting that readers adhere to generic considerations, by rejecting any autobiographical or didactic claims for his nugae. But Gascoigne, clearly lacking Beza's extra-poetic credentials, wishes to do exactly the opposite. For Gascoigne, poems written for any occasion do indeed reflect the character of their poets. Only from this assumption can Gascoigne argue that he, like his poems, is now reformed. Instead of merely manipulating this knowledge of evil and vice for the good of his audience, he publicizes his experience with evil and vice as an inevitable prior condition to his regeneration. By conflating a version of individual spiritual regeneration with this secular, chronological development, Gascoigne is able to exploit the religious implications of being reformed. Stressing reformation over consistency, he grafts Protestant ideology onto the classical and epistolary ideal of comeliness in speech and behavior.

Gascoigne begins his next letter “To al young Gentlemen, and generally to the youth of England” with a sound strategy for securing their goodwill. First, he adduces a shared heritage: “Gallant Gentlemen, and lustie youthes of this my native Countrey.” This minimal link established, he then acknowledges the purpose of his letter: he is publishing the

Posies and rymes as I used in my youth, the which for the barbarousness of the stile may seeme worthlesse. … So that men may justly both condemne me of rashnesse, and wonder at my simplicitie in suffering or procuring the same to be imprinted.


As Gascoigne states it, the condemnation of his youthful verses on charges of “barbarousness of the stile” and the criticism of his rashness and simplicity in deciding to republish them—these are charges amounting to a condemnation of the ethos and style of a young man. Gascoigne's strategy, in this first paragraph, is to align his writing with the style typical of “lustie youthes.”

By the time Gascoigne confronts his accusers, he has subtly articulated the likeness of his ethos with that of his letter's recipient. Gascoigne never neglects this constructed sense of ethical similarity, and his terms of address—“lustie yonkers,” “my good gallants,” “my lustie Gallants,” “my yong blouds”—become increasingly colloquial, even possessive as the letter progresses. Having gained through accommodation some measure of goodwill, Gascoigne takes on his critics, dividing them into three sorts: “curious Carpers, ignorant Readers, and grave Philosophers” (1:10). Gascoigne doth “but very little esteeme the two first.” The “curious Carpers” do not comprehend the very concept of artistic decorum. Such a person “(being a simple Sowter) will finde fault at the shape of the legge: or if they be not there stopped, they wil not spare to step up higher, and say, that Apelles paynted Dame Venus verie deformed or evill favoured” (1:10-11). Apelles's painting of Venus was often invoked in discussions of artistic representation of divine excellence in human form. But Gascoigne combines this standard of artistic achievement with a proverb ascribed to Apelles by Pliny, “Let a shoemaker stick to his last,” reenforcing his argument that his critics lack the informed understanding upon which negative judgments, especially, must be based.75 They “woulde seeme to see verie farre in a Mylstone.” The spatial metaphor helps to underscore the absence of proportionality and measuredness.76 Next, the “ignorant Readers” misunderstand literary conventions and generic decorum. They fail to see that Gascoigne's “areignment and divorce of a Lover” was written “in jest,” that the debate between “maister Churchyard and Camell” was written as an allegory, and that “the noble Erle of Surrey” could assume the guise of a “Shepeherd” thanks to generic convention (1:11). “[T]hey take Chalke for Cheese,” wanting credit for being perceptive while poorly appraising contrary substances.77

Gascoigne deals with these first two sorts of critics rather brusquely, quite as a lusty youth might. He allegorizes them and exaggerates their cavils; he acts as if he is sharing a joke with his friends: “Laugh not at this (lustie yonkers)” (1:11). He is less cavalier with the “grave Philosophers,” who find “just fault in [Gascoigne's] doings at the common infection of love” (1:11). The issue is one of propriety, morality, and poetic irresponsibility:

They wysely considering that wee are all in youth more apt to delight in harmefull pleasures, than to digest wholesome and sounde advice, have thought meete to forbid the publishing of any ryming tryfles which may serve as whetstones to sharpen youth unto vanities.


In his own defense, Gascoigne invokes first the ideal of natural variety and then the excuse of decorum. Perhaps his poems enjoyed particular favor among youths and perhaps his poems stirred “in all yong Readers a venemous desire of vanitie.” Conceding these points, Gascoigne nevertheless insists,

in all this discourse I see not proved, that either the Gardener is too blame which planteth his Garden full of fragrant flowers: neyther that planter to be dispraysed, which soweth all his beddes with seedes of wholesome herbes: neyther is that Orchard unfruitfull, which (under shew of sundrie weedes) hath medicinable playsters for all infirmities.


Gascoigne is using familiar metaphors. Images of natural botanical fecundity are as old as the rhetorical ideal of variety of thought and speech. Flowers and gardens appear as metaphors throughout the perennial debate over the relative superiority of art and nature. The medicinal analogy dates at least back to Plato's famous denunciation of rhetoric in the Gorgias.78 In casting himself as a gardener, Gascoigne may have had Cicero's ideal orator in mind:

Nothing is more fruitful than the human mind, particularly one which has had the discipline of education. But just as fruitful and fertile fields produce not only crops but harmful weeds, so sometimes from these [topics] arguments are derived which are inconsequential, immaterial or useless. And unless the orator's judgment exercises a rigid selection among these, how can he linger and dwell on his strong points, or make the difficulties seem slight, or conceal what cannot be explained away, and even suppress it entirely, if feasible, or distract the attention of the audience, or bring up some other point which if brought forward can be established more easily than the one which he feels will stand in his way?79

The role of discretion is prominent in both paragraphs. Faced with the variety of styles and argumentative strategies that occur naturally in the human mind, Cicero's orator needs the “rare judgment and great endowment” of discretion.80 In De officiis, Cicero deems this process of decorous selection, the precondition to all discreet speech and behavior, to be one of four civic virtues. More pragmatically, “harmful weeds” impede the progress of a persuasive oration, they distract the audience, they distort the speaker's emphasis. “Rigid selection” must occur before the argument is laid out for an audience. Victoria Kahn contends that in

Cicero's view … the faculty of prudence is inseparable from the ideal practice of the orator. Both the orator and the prudent man are concerned with the domain of probability, and both know that they can only be effective in this domain by acting according to the rhetorical standard of decorum.81

Indecorum for Cicero is inexcusable; decorum for Gascoigne is the excuse. Gascoigne's gardener is all the more competent because he recognizes and utilizes nature's ineluctable variety. Decorum becomes less a matter of censorship and restraint than of targeting and accommodation. Gascoigne is being frugal and efficient by prescribing the most effective medicine for each type of reader. He enjoys the obvious advantage—the same one exploited by medieval notaries and Renaissance secretaries—of being able (or claiming to be able) to segregate his audience according to their psychological and spiritual needs. The “grave Philosophers” do not comprehend that, after this evaluation of an audience's needs has been made, a harmful matter prescribed decorously amounts to a virtuous action. “[A]s many weedes are right medicinable, so may you find in this none so vile or stinking, but that it hath in it some vertue if it be rightly handled” (1:13). All writing, if “rightly handled,” is edifying.82

Gascoigne may have derived this view of poetry from Plutarch, who, in “On the Study of Poetry” from his Moralia, writes that poetry

is an imitation of the manners and lives of men, who are not perfect, pure, and irreproachable, but involved in passions, false opinions, and ignorance—though they often indeed improve themselves through their natural goodness.83

Gascoigne shares Plutarch's conviction that all poetry which imitates properly can be instructive. Ugliness, Plutarch says, “cannot become beautiful, but imitation is commended if it achieves likeness, whether of a good or a bad object”; consequently, “we must accustom ourselves to commenting with confidence, and saying ‘wrong’ and ‘inappropriate’ as often as we say ‘right’ and ‘appropriate.’”84 Young readers of poetry learn to recognize bad, and thus to avoid it in real life. In the course of representing his reformation, Gascoigne will depart from Plutarch. In the process of becoming a trustworthy guide for the proper study of poetry, Gascoigne presents himself as the “bad object” and, by adding Christian resonances to Plutarch's “ignorance” and “natural goodness,” he will insist that his moral ugliness can change and has changed.

Typically, then, Gascoigne does not claim to have excised offensive passages nor does he disavow his prodigal youth. Instead, he insists that at the time of their initial publication, these passages did not seem excessive.

For the most of them being written in my madnesse, might have yeelded then more delight to my frantike fansies to see them published, than they now do accumulate cares in my minde to set them forth corrected: and a deformed youth had bene more likely to set them to sale long sithence, than a reformed man can be able now to protect them with simplicitie.


Gascoigne's willingness to set forth “corrected” verses composed during his “deformed youth” actually proves that he is a “reformed man.” Throughout the prefatory epistles, Gascoigne deftly manipulates the multiple valences of the word “form” and its various cognates. In the Prologue to The Glasse of Government, Gascoigne posits the same antithesis in the same terms, although here the subject is genre and style, not moral identity. Contrasting sixteenth-century didactic literature to satiric drama in ancient Rome, he states:

Deformed shews were then esteemed much,
Reformed speeche doth now become us best,
Mens wordes muste weye and tryed be by touche
Of Gods owne worde, wherein the truth doth rest.


“Reformed speeche” is decorous and persuasive because it conforms to and is measured by the eternal truth found in God's Word. But this reformation can proceed by approximation or “touche” and not by any mathematical formulas or logical syllogism. In like manner, propriety of form bolsters the didactic claims of moral art and the moral artist. In Gascoigne's Posies, a reader and potential employer “may finde great diversitie both in stile and sense, so may the good bee incouraged to set mee on worke at last, though it were noone before I sought service” (1:14). Gascoigne repeatedly connects the praise of diversity with pleas for employment, thereby transforming past sins into future rhetorical success.

In the course of these epistles, the breadth of his experience, his poem's “diversitie both in stile and sense” and the didactic capabilities of his “Floures, Hearbes, and Weedes” take on a moral as well as ethical dimension. As we have seen, the sophistical method of arguing on each side of an issue, for which rhetoric was often condemned, not only entitles one to know of flowers and weeds, but to exploit this knowledge in argumentation. The fact that “both qualities belong to one and the same writer,” and the proximity of deception to truth and vice to virtue, led Gascoigne to elevate lived experience as a vital faculty to adjudicate between opposites. Thomas Sloane has discovered an iconographic connection during the Renaissance between fraud as Janus-faced rhetoric (which looks in opposing directions with its two heads) and prudence as a multi-faced, multi-generational portrait of one person (who looks forward eagerly in youth, backward sagely in old age, balancing both anticipation and reflection in the maturity of life).85 Ascribed to one person and arranged chronologically, the styles that constitute the letter-writer's ethical capacity argue for the secretary's prudence: writing like a young person one day, an old person the next, the range of ethical impersonation spans the periods of an individual's intellectual development.

Even in his most apologetic moments, Gascoigne presents himself to potential employers in exactly the same fashion. For instance, in the dedicatory epistle to The Dromme of Doomes Day, Gascoigne relates how, heeding the advice of a friend who suggested that he take his spade to the ground of “either Devinitie or moral Philosophie,” he at last decided to take up “seryous travayle”:

And thereupon (not manye monethes since) tossyng and retossyng in my small Lybrarie, amongest some bookes which had not often felte my fyngers endes in xv. yeares before, I chaunced to light upon a small volumne skarce comely covered, and wel worse handled.


The Dromme, Gascoigne acknowledges, consists of translations, and this discovery in the library stands in for the “invention” that Gascoigne deemed so crucial to poetic process.86 But the temporal progression of the passage circles back to Gascoigne's pre-poetic and pre-reformation stage. This “small volumne” is in fact something Gascoigne pored over (very thoroughly, it seems) some fifteen years earlier. Not exactly a new direction for Gascoigne. In the dedicatory epistle to The Tale of Hemetes the Heremyte, Gascoigne underscores the fact that he has translated the tale into four languages. Again, his emphasis is not on novelty or invention, but on form and decorum, on how the text is handled. (The “tossying and retossyng” of his library and the phrase “not often felte my fyngers” stress the repetitive and tactile nature of his task.) The book's physical condition exactly matches Gascoigne's moral condition: once “skarce comely,” it is made—thanks to some reforming by Gascoigne—into a decorous volume of moral instruction.

Thus, Gascoigne once again casts himself (or at least his reading habits) as an “olde babe,” returning to the texts of years gone by, but with the important difference that he can now handle or reform them more adeptly. Similarly, the chief difference between Gascoigne and the prefatory epistle's “lustie youthes” is that he is “a man of middle years; who hath to his cost experimented the vanities of youth, and perill passed them.” Gascoigne has experience. Experience, even immoral experience, turns out to be his greatest asset because examples are the best means of conveying a proper sense of decorum. Explaining his use of anecdotes of indecorous behavior to illustrate the virtues of decorum, Puttenham states: “I see no way so fit to enable a man truly to estimate of decencie as example.”87 Contrasting examples to “a rable of scholastical precepts which be tedious,” Puttenham observes:

[O]lde memories are very profitable to the mind, and serve as a glasse to looke upon, and behold the vents of time, and more exactly to skan the trueth of every case that shall happen in the affairs of man. … In which respect it is alwaies said, one man of experience is wiser than tenne learned men, because of his long and studious observation and often trial.88

Gascoigne often exhibited the powers of his memory: Gascoignes Memories consists of five poems that he composed extemporaneously after being given five different sententiae by five different friends (1:62-70). Each poem reveals Gascoigne's fertile wit, the numerous examples he can locate for each saying and also the decorum of style to subject he maintains in each case: “And thus this foolish jest, I put in dogrell rime, / Bicause a crosier staffe is best, for such a crooked time” (1:70). In The Glasse of Government, the schoolmaster Gnomaticus instructs his charges to “frame” his maxims on virtue and obedience in rhymed verse in order to “better imprint them in your memorie” (2:47). Gnomaticus's poetics savor of Gascoigne's: “terminations and ceasures,” that is, rhyme and meter, “serve for places of memorie, and help the mind with delight to carie burthens” (2:47-48). Gascoigne's and Puttenham's praise of the didactic superiority of “trial” and thus of memory reveals one inherent paradox in the application of decorum in writing, speech, and behavior. Although decorum rests upon abstract principles of order and harmony, although it had often been reduced to “scholastical precepts” such as formulaic salutations, without experience or instruction by example this conceptual understanding proves hopelessly inadequate. In this vein, Lawrence Manley argues that

like the moral and political arts, the arts of speech in sixteenth-century England witnessed the gradual displacement of the criterion of natural fitness by the idea that rectitude arises from the often arbitrary and unpredictable character of experience engendered by the power of human habit.89

Gascoigne tries to convince the “grave Philosophers” that, while natural variety in and of itself may not be virtuous or fit, variety coupled with experience gives rise to an understanding of proportion and decorousness. Using this logic, Gascoigne arrogates moral authority on the premise that whoever has the most experience being indecorous is the best negative or cautionary example of decorous behavior. Hence, Gascoigne foists the responsibility for the use of his poems onto his young admirers. Any unfortunate consequences remain solely the fault of the student reader: “Beware therefore, lustie Gallants, how you smell to these Posies.” “Make me your myrrour,” he commands (1:14). In doing so, he strengthens the epistolary sense of ethical identification and poetic presentness or enargia to such an extent that he embodies the period's speculum malorum literature. He is at once appealing to the sympathy of a friend (“Please behave, I really need a job”) and underscoring the experiential differences between them.

Gascoigne further manipulates the logical connections between moral reformation, ethical accommodation, and decorous speech in the last prefatory epistle to The Posies, “To the Readers generally a generall advertisement of the Authour.” He faces the obvious challenge of capturing goodwill and demonstrating ethical credibility without being able to conform his argument and style to the particular psychological needs of his audience. This “advertisement” lacks some distinguishing formal characteristics of the other two epistles, notably salutational terms of address and the valedictory phrase, like “From my poore house at Walthamstow in the Forest the second of Januarie. 1575.” This type of valediction seems to signal the spatial and temporal distance that separates the recipient from the writer and that underscores the spiritual meeting of the minds that a letter is meant to achieve. The simple “Farewell” with which this last letter ends suggests that Gascoigne is not as far from his audience as in the other letters. His need to bridge this communicative space depends less on artful self-presentation than on the recognition of a condition shared by all of humankind, namely a depraved, postlapsarian spiritual estate. This is the common denominator—the need to be saved and to be persuaded to do good—and it is in this context that Gascoigne fully integrates Christian theology with epistolary decorum.

Gascoigne starts by adducing biblical warrants for the epistolary mercurial self. From Romans, he cites Paul's statement that “All that is written is written for our instruction” (1:15). This text bolsters the whole of Gascoigne's argument. Gascoigne fancies himself the humanist bee gathering literary nectar from all sorts of flora, all of which yield some positive didactic nectar. A bit later, he elaborates:

I am of opinion, that in every thing which is written (the holy scriptures excepted) there are to be founde wisedome, follie, emulation, and detraction. For as I never saw any thing so clerkly handled, but that therein might be found some imperfections: So coulde I never yet reade fable so ridiculous but that therein some morallitie might be gathered.


According to this humanist position, all writing is flawed but all writing also contains some “morallitie.” It is the reader's (or schoolmaster's) responsibility to gather it. But it is also the writer's responsibility to assist in the gathering through decorous accommodation. At the very beginning of the letter, Gascoigne again relies on Paul to prove the propriety of ethical accommodation for evangelical purposes.

[Paul] could (as it were) transform himself into all professions, therby to winne all kinde of men to God: saying that with the Jewes he became a Jew: with them that were under the law, he seemed also under the lawe: with the feeble, he shewed himselfe feeble. And to conclude, he became all things to all men, to the ende that hee might thereby winne some to salvation.90


In addition to 1 Corinthians 9, Gascoigne could have also invoked St. Augustine, who, in his famous defense of Christian rhetoric in book 4 of On Christian Doctrine, asserts: “A certain kind of eloquence is more fitting for youth, and another is more becoming for old age; so much so that we should not call it eloquence if it is not appropriate for the person of the speaker.”91 The testimony of two of the Christian church's most famous converts and of the Reformation's central apostolic and patristic authorities demonstrates that “all is one if [the preacher] prove readie and well mouthed.” In case their examples seem too sacrosanct for him to imitate, Gascoigne notes the currency of this method of accommodating one's audience in Renaissance pedagogy. After mentioning the tactics employed by his “Schoolemaster”—“some schollers he woonne to studie by strypes, some other by fayre means, some by promises, some other by prayses, some by vainglorie, and some by verie shame”—Gascoigne concludes: “But I never hard him repent him that ever he had persuaded any schollar to become studious, in what sort soever it were that he woonne him” (1:15). The pedagogical ends justify the rhetorical means. One senses Gascoigne smarting a bit here: Paul was “all things to all men” and his “Schoolemaster” was “readie and well mouthed.” Why should Gascoigne alone be condemned for accommodating his audience?

In the rest of this brief letter, Gascoigne rehearses many of the same stock humanist arguments that he advances in the two previous epistles. He insists throughout that his goal has been to capture goodwill: “I have not ment heerein to displease any man, but my desire hath rather bene to content most men” (1:16). This statement shows Gascoigne self-consciously presenting himself and his abilities to potential employers. The nuanced repetition of his motives, not “to displease any man,” but “to content most men” (the figure is, in Puttenham's terms, an antitheton) alerts us to Gascoigne's desire both to appease the individual reader and, from the vantage point of someone surveying all of his works, to “frame him self” to a heterogeneous readership. This desire to accommodate his particular and general audience involves providing “the divine with godly Hymnes and Psalmes, the sober minde with morall discourse, and the wildest will with sufficient warning” (1:16). Gascoigne's poetic garden contains the remedy for all types of spiritual ills.

But, departing from Cicero, he insists that he not only knows these remedies, he has also tested them on himself throughout the course of his spiritual development. He sees no shame in owning up to the “wildest will” of his youth, nor to the fact that he has had to re-edit the poems produced during that period.

And by that it proceedeth, I have so often chaunged my Posie or worde. … And yet (as you see) I am not verie daungerous to lay my selfe wide open in view of the worlde. I have also sundrie tymes chaunged mine owne worde or devise. And no marvaile: For he that wandereth much in those wildernesses, shall seldome continue long in one minde.


Gascoigne is not exactly standing naked before God, but he is presenting himself to the judgment of his readers—“wide open in view of the worlde”—in a similar fashion: unabashed by his sinfulness and by his inconsistency, for, as he continues, “it were follie to bewayle things which are unpossible to be recovered, sithence Had-I-wist doth seldome serve as a blasone of good understanding.” With the biblical metaphor of wandering in the wilderness Gascoigne adds a spiritual dimension to his desire to negotiate the distance between himself and his readers, between his past and his future. Gascoigne finds the experience of the journey more edifying than its end because it appeals to more people, expresses more states of ethical and moral development. The self-knowledge required by decorum entails, for Gascoigne, a recognition of his wanton past; but, rather than concealing this past, he converts it into evidence of his ethical and now moral capacity, his ability to capture the goodwill of his audience by reforming himself to accommodate its ethical and moral needs. In making himself morally present and visible, he makes himself rhetorically useful.

To return briefly, then, to the original question of Gascoigne's sincerity: If he is being insincere, he is doing so in a complex, principled way. He can, at the very least, appeal to decorum to justify his poetic deviance, ethical capacity, professional ambitions, and even moral deficiencies; he can cite Beza and Paul as models; he can, it seems, lay himself “wide open in view of the worlde” and still be assured not only of his own spiritual estate but of his merit as a potential employee. Gascoigne does not claim to have experienced a conversion in the Pauline sense of being struck blind by God. His conversion occurs over time. Still, it is not his moral substance but his moral “form” and its prefixes—its “con-,” “de-,” and “re-”—that change. In these epistles and throughout his work, Gascoigne configures his humanist beliefs about decorum so that they operate consistently within literary, ethical, professional, and even moral discourses. He tracks in himself the moral development of Erasmus and Day's mercurial secretary. If his arguments are not brilliant, they are deployed in a thorough and ingenious fashion. And if Gascoigne can so completely integrate decorum into every facet of literary self-presentation, perhaps sincerity is too much, or simply the wrong thing, to demand.


  1. C. T. Prouty, George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet (New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1942), especially 78-84. All of the facts and dates about Gascoigne's life come from Prouty's biography. See also Ronald C. Johnson, George Gascoigne (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972).

  2. George Gascoigne, Complete Works, ed. J. W. Cunliffe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907; reprinted New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1974), 1:3. All subsequent quotations of Gascoigne's work from this edition and will be given parenthetically in the text with volume and page number.

  3. For a discussion of these revisions, see Arthur F. Kinney, Humanist Poetics (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), chapter 3. Also see Felicity A. Hughes, “Gascoigne's PosiesStudies in English Literature, 1500-1900 37.9 (1997): 1-19. Hughes's interesting article came out too late for me to address it fully. Her thesis is that the “supposedly expurgated volume of 1575 is no ‘cleaner’ than the first and that it represents an attempt to brazen it out with the censors rather than placate them.” On this readings, it seems, Gascoigne's attitudes towards revising resemble those of Theodore Beza (see note 74 below), who bases his argument, at least, on a strong sense of decorum, that is, that certain kinds of writing are invariably appropriate in certain venues, for certain audiences, and by certain authors. Hughes's reading also accords, I think, with my argument that Gascoigne has a vested professional and moral interest in not hiding or erasing his past misadventures.

  4. I use this term advisedly. Prouty insists that Gascoigne was an agent of Burghley's, not an ambassador. He rejects G. Ambrose's argument (made in “George Gascoigne,” Review of English Studies 2 [1926]: 168) to the contrary. Ambrose's claim is based on the letters that Gascoigne sent to Burghley and on “A Catalogue of English Ambassadors in Foreign Countries” found in a manuscript in the British Museum. Gascoigne's involvement in the affairs described in the letters is indeed limited to simple reportage. Upon whose authority he is included in the “Catalogue” I have not been able to discern. Nonetheless, Gascoigne's persistent pleas for employment all express a hope for more active participation in governmental affairs. The possibility that Gascoigne's office did not meet his expectations (at least by the time of his early death) is in keeping with the profound and often ironic sense of disappointment so frequently articulated in his work.

  5. Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 50.

  6. Prouty, George Gascoigne, 83-84.

  7. Helgerson explains the decision of so many writers in this period to turn from amorous, youthful verse to more serious, adult literary production (or to simple inactivity): “If the player speaks more lines or other lines than are set down for him, even if they win him some brief applause, he will eventually be regarded and will perhaps eventually regard himself with contempt. And if the play contains another part which allows him to express his repentance, he may well claim it as his own,” Elizabethan Prodigals, 4. See Stephen Greenblatt, Sir Walter Ralegh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973). For the supposed link between “histrionic impersonation” and Thomas More's sense of self, see Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), chapter 1.

  8. Kinney, Humanist Poetics, 112-13; see also Charles W. Smith, “Structural and Thematic Unity in Gascoigne's The Adventures of Master F. J.,Papers on Language and Literature 2 (1966): 99-108.

  9. Jane Hedley, “Allegoria: Gascoigne's Master Trope,” English Literary Renaissance 11.2 (1981): 152; Daniel Javitch, “The Impure Motives of Elizabethan Poetry” Genre 15.1-2 (1982): 229, 231; and Richard C. McCoy, “Gascoigne's ‘Poemata castrata’: The Wages of Courtly Success” Criticism 27.1 (1985): 32-33. Helgerson's emphasis on “histrionics” ill-suits Gascoigne: he was never really on center-stage at court (and when he was, he did not excel; see McCoy, 29-30). Furthermore, Javitch's distinction between courtly and oratorical proficiency effectively precludes the possibility of demonstrating rhetorical or epistolary proficiency. Gascoigne is endlessly requesting employment for his “pen” and he thought of himself very much as a writer. Hence, we need not doubt Gascoigne when he says he is publishing his writing and advertising his argumentative skills in the hopes of gaining employment (as opposed to simple preferment).

  10. Richard Lanham, The Motives of Eloquence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 161.

  11. Seminal studies in the growing body of criticism that connects decorum to “social tropes” of courtly deference and dissembling include Daniel Javitch, Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), and Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

  12. For Gascoigne's plain style, see Yvor Winters, Forms of Discovery (Denver: Swallow Press, 1967), 15-19.

  13. My understanding of medieval and Renaissance epistolography is derived primarily from: James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); Ronald Witt, “Medieval ‘Ars Dictaminis’ and the Beginnings of Humanism: A New Construction of the Problem,” Renaissance Quarterly 35 (1982): 1-35; and the many articles by Judith Rice Henderson, especially “Defining the Genre of the Letter: Juan Luis Vives's De conscribendis epistolis,Renaissance and Reformation 7.2 (1983): 89-105; “Erasmus on the Art of Letter-Writing,” in Renaissance Eloquence, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); and “Erasmian Ciceronians: Reformation Teachers of Letter-Writing,” Rhetorica 10.3 (1993). I have also benefited from the introductions to the various letter-writing manuals I will discuss.

  14. Rationes dictandi, trans. James J. Murphy, in Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 1-26.

  15. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages, 259.

  16. Rationes dictandi, 17.

  17. My understanding of decorum has been strongly influenced by Wesley Trimpi's brilliant reconstruction of its origins as an aesthetic principle in Muses of One Mind: The Literary Analysis of Experience and its Continuity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982). Throughout, I have borrowed much of Trimpi's vocabulary for talking about decorum. See also Debora K. Shuger, Sacred Rhetoric: The Christian Grand Style in the English Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), especially 193-240. This essay is, in one sense, an attempt to understand how decorum as an aesthetic principle gets transformed into a rhetoric imperative.

  18. Thomas Kranidas, The Fierce Equation: A Study of Milton's Decorum (The Hague: Mouton, 1965), 16.

  19. Witt, “Medieval ‘Ars Dictaminis’ and the Beginnings of Humanism,” 12.

  20. Aristotle, The Rhetoric of Aristotle 1414a, trans. Lane Cooper (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1932), 219.

  21. Juan Luis Vives, De conscribendis epistolis (1536), trans. Charles Fantazzi (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989), 45.

  22. Erasmus, De conscribendis epistolis, trans. Charles Fantazzi, Collected Works of Erasmus 25 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 76. On the use of Erasmus's De conscribendis epistolis as a school text in England, see T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere's Small Latine and Less Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944), chapter 38.

  23. Erasmus, ibid., 74-75.

  24. Witt, “Medieval ‘Ars Dictaminis’ and the Beginnings of Humanism,” 31.

  25. Henderson, “Defining the Genre of the Letter: Juan Luis Vives's De conscribendis epistolis,” 93.

  26. Quoted in Witt, “Medieval ‘Ars Dictaminis’ and the Beginnings of Humanism,” 29.

  27. Erasmus, De conscribendis, 12. I should point out that, for pedagogical reasons, Erasmus does accept the traditional division of letters into the deliberative, judicial, demonstrative, and (the Renaissance's contribution) familiar types. He also adds to these four the scholarly letter, but his purpose in maintaining these definitions is solely heuristic.

  28. Angel Day, The English Secretorie, ed. R. C. Alston (Menston, England: Scolar Press Limited, 1967), sig. A3r.

  29. Erasmus, De conscribendis, 20.

  30. Ibid.

  31. Vives, De conscribendis, 20.

  32. Day, The English Secretorie, A1r-v.

  33. George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (1589), ed. G. D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 262.

  34. Vives, De conscribendis, 29.

  35. Ibid.

  36. Day, The English Secretorie, A3r.

  37. Ibid., B3v-B4r.

  38. See, for example, Vives, De conscribendis, 29.

  39. Kranidas, Fierce Equation, 24.

  40. Vives, De conscribendis, 27.

  41. Ibid., 35.

  42. Ibid.

  43. Kranidas, Fierce Equation, 35.

  44. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 1.11.30, trans. H. E. Butler, 4 vols., Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann, 1921-22). Martin Elsky discusses this notion in Authorizing Words: Speech, Writing, and Print in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). See also Nan Johnson, “Ethos and the Aims of Rhetoric,” in Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse, ed. Robert J. Connors et al. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), 98-114.

  45. Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, 148.

  46. Ibid., 149.

  47. Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950), 55.

  48. Erasmus, De conscribendis, 19.

  49. For Mercury's place in the Renaissance's “discourse of rhetoric,” see Wayne Rebhorn, The Emperor of Men's Minds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

  50. Annabel M. Patterson, Hermogenes and the Renaissance: Seven Ideas of Style (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 41. Other works exploring the nature of poetic decorum in the Elizabethan period include T. McAlindon, Shakespeare and Decorum (London: Macmillan Press, 1973); and Rosemond Tuve, Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947).

  51. Joel B. Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 31.

  52. Ibid., 43.

  53. Erasmus, De conscribendis, 13.

  54. Compare Horace's advice to writers of satire in his Satires 1.10: “You need a style which is sometimes severe, sometimes gay, now suiting the role of an orator or poet, now that of a clever talker who keeps his strength in reserve and carefully rations it out” (11-14). I quote from Horace, Satires and Epistles, trans. Niall Rudd, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1987).

  55. Patterson, Hermogenes and the Renaissance, 34.

  56. Erasmus, De conscribendis, 19-20, italics added.

  57. Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 204.

  58. Judith Rice Henderson, “On Reading the Rhetoric of the Renaissance Letter,” in Renaissance-Rhetorik/Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. Heinrich F. Plett (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993), 158, 155. On the rhetoric of humanist letter collections, see also Lisa Jardine, Erasmus, Man of Letters (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

  59. On Gascoigne's preference for the epistolary form, see Gordon Charles Harvey, “‘My Maistre & C.’: The Rhetoric of Epistolary Verse from Chaucer to Jonson” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1988), chapter 7. Harvey notes helpfully that Erasmus, in De ratione studii (1511), recommends that, aside from being trained in the various types of letters by using classical models, “students ‘should be regularly instructed to turn verse into prose and at different times prose into verse’” (216). (In The Glasse of Government, Gascoigne would have Phylomusus and Phylotimus memorize and assimilate Gnomaticus's precepts by putting them into rhymed verse, 2:54-58.) Harvey also argues that Gascoigne does not seem to have been influenced by classical, Horatian models of epistolary verse (253).

  60. Gascoigne, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers, ed. Charles T. Prouty, University of Missouri Studies 17 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1942), 51.

  61. Susan C. Staub, “‘According to my source …’: Fictionality in The Adventures of Master F. J.,Studies in Philology 87.1 (1990): 111-19.

  62. Flowers, ed. Prouty, 53.

  63. Angel Day's second, expanded edition of his English Secretorie (1599) reveals the tension between thinking of a secretary as a trusted, intimate friend (Day goes on at length about the “secret” and intimate nature of the employer-secretary relationship) and of a secretary as loyal servant (Day also narrates a heroic tale of a self-sacrificing secretary). The gender implications of the secretary's employment by Elynor are quite intriguing. Gascoigne wrote several poems with a female persona. One might think here of the hermaphrodite “Satyra” in The Steele Glas and of Gascoigne's description of his revised poems as “Poemata castrata.

  64. Hedley, “Allegoria,” 153. For Javitch, the poem “is an appeal for patronage not simply based on its subtle disclosure of the speaker's integrity, but by its implication that the speaker's masterful use of allegoria to make such veiled pleas on his behalf could be equally employed to advance the patron's own interests,” (“Impure Motives,” 231).

  65. Roger Ascham, English Works, ed. J. A. Giles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904), 247. See Thomas M. Greene, “Roger Ascham: The Perfect End of Shooting,” English Literary Renaissance 36.4 (1969): 609-25. Aristotle uses terms from archery to discuss poetic and ethical decorum. See Janel Mueller, “The Mastery of Decorum: Politics and Poetics in Milton's Sonnets,” Critical Inquiry 13.3 (1987): 488.

  66. Hedley, “Allegoria,” 155.

  67. For the centrality of paradoxes to Reformation theology, see Bryan Crockett, The Play of Paradox: Stage and Sermon in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).

  68. Revised Standard Version. Elsewhere, Gascoigne achieves the same effect, again with distinctly Christian overtones: In the epilogue to The Glasse of Government, Gascoigne distinguishes between the man “Who falles on his face, [and] hath elbowes hands and all, / To save himselfe, and therewith eke to rise” and the man who falls on his back and “cannot rise againe in any wise” (2:89). Ironically, by reverting back to his infancy in the last lines of the “Woodmanship,” Gascoigne falls forward towards a second youth. He shows himself ever ready to rise and to be of use.

  69. In his detailed structural analysis of “Gascoignes good morrow” and “Gascoygnes good night,” Roy T. Eriksen explains that many of Gascoigne's companion poems trace out a Christian narrative of “creation and salvation” and “imitate God's plan of regeneration”; Roy T. Eriksen, “Two into One: The Unity of George Gascoigne's Companion Poems,” Studies in Philology 81.3 (1984): 275-76. This structural pattern is also evident in the “Lover” poems, which proceed from an “anatomie” to a “divorce” to a “recantation.” In these companion poems, Gascoigne underscores the breadth of his experience, which is both progressive and cumulative. Even in individual poems, he deploys the rhetoric of authority derived from, not diminished by, conflict or contradiction. In his amorous poems, this rhetorical strategy takes the form of a Petrarchan lover who is healed and hurt, who lives and dies, who burns and freezes by the same stimulus and at the same time. But Gascoigne uses very much the same rhetorical strategy when redressing social ills or when discussing his own life. Nancy Williams has argued that Gascoigne was one of the first English writers to structure a poetic satire according to the guidelines of classical oratory. See Nancy Williams, “The Eight Parts of a Theme in ‘Gascoignes Memories: III,’” Studies in Philology 83.2 (1986): 117-37. Medieval satire operates by accretion: the satirist accumulates examples, piles them one on top of another (Gascoigne himself would use this form in long sections of The Steele Glas). But many of Gascoigne's poems conform to oratorical models that include division, refutation, and recapitulation. Williams is exactly right when she says that this “technical discovery” can be a “spiritual discovery” because, as in his “Woodmanship,” Gascoigne typically takes up his own life, his own moral shortcomings in much the same manner. He refutes his youth, but he never fails to address it. Only then is his self-presentation properly formed and illustrative of his rhetorical skills.

  70. Ascham, English Works, 209-10.

  71. Ibid., 214-15.

  72. Victoria Kahn, Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985), 34.

  73. Compare John the Baptist's prophecy in Matt. 3:12 and Luke 3:17.

  74. Dogged by criticism from French Catholics and Protestants alike, Beza eventually renounced his juvenilia. His defense of his licentious verse rested upon Catullus's poem 16: “For the sacred poet ought to be chaste himself, though his poems need not be so,” “nam castum esse decet pium poetam / ipsum, verisulos nihil necessest,” Catullus, Tibullus, and the Pervigilium Veneris, ed. and trans. Francis Warre Cornish, Loeb Classical Library, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 22-23. See Kirk Summers, “Theodore Beza's Reading of Catullus,” Classical and Modern Literature 15.3 (1995). Beza, however, does not seem to have used the term “castrata,” which probably comes from Martial's epigram 1.35.14-15: “and don't try to emasculate my little books. There's nothing uglier than a neutered Priapus,” “nec castrare velis meos libellos. / gallo turpius est nihil Priapo,” Epigrams, ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), vol. 1, 64-65. Gascoigne may be making a bad pun on “castum” and “castrare.” I would like to thank Professor Summers for his help in tracking down these citations. For Beza's role in reforming the English church, see C. M. Dent, Protestant Reformers in Elizabethan Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

  75. For the anecdote about Apelles and the shoemaker and the genesis of the proverb “Ne sutor ultra crepidam,” see Pliny, Natural History 35.36.85, trans. H. Rackham, 11 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), vol. 9. It is perhaps not insignificant that Apelles had redone his painting after the shoemaker criticized Apelles's representation of the subject's sandals. Only when the shoemaker went higher did Apelles rebuke him. I would like to thank Professor Joshua Scodel for steering me to this passage. On Apelles in discussions of artistic representation, see Trimpi, Muses of One Mind, 143-62.

  76. This phrase too has biblical echoes, especially of seeing the motes in others' eyes but not the beam in one's own, Matt 7:3-4 and Luke 6:41-2.

  77. Compare Stephen Gosson's use of this phrase in his attack on his own hypocritical detractors: “and I looke for some like auditors in my Schoole, as of rancour will hit me, howsoever I warde, or of stomake assaile mee, how soever I bee garded; making black of white, chalke of cheese, the full moone of a messe of cruddes”; Stephen Gosson, The Schoole of Abuse (1579), reprinted in Early Treatises on the Stage (Piccadilly: The Shakespeare Society, 1853), 7.

  78. On the garden metaphor, see Derek Attridge, Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), chapter 1; and Rebecca Bushnell, A Culture of Teaching (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996); on the physician metaphor, see Stanley E. Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), chapter 1.

  79. Cicero, Orator 15.48-49, in Orator, Brutus, ed. and trans. H. M. Hubbell and G. L. Hendrickson. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971).

  80. Ibid., 20.70.

  81. Kahn, Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance, 41.

  82. Handling for Gascoigne connotes not just skill but repeated use and manual familiarity. Compare line 111 of “Gascoignes Woodmanship” in which he complains about “some that never handled such a bow” but who still hit the targets he misses. The idea of handling is important to Gascoigne's habit of thinking of poems and persons alike as reformable and virtuous because reformed. It seems to embrace both the medieval notion, to use the title of Robert Mannyng's fourteenth-century confession manual, of “handlying synne,” which instructed Christians on how to articulate and expiate their sins; and (although Gascoigne does not seem to have followed it) the Horatian notion (“versate diu,” Ars poetica 39) that the poet, like a craftsman, should refine and polish his poems before presenting them to the public.

  83. Plutarch, “On the Study of Poetry,” trans. D. A. Russell, in Ancient Literary Criticism, ed. D. A. Russell and M. Winterbottom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 527. Sir Thomas Elyot advances similar arguments in The Boke Named the Governour, ed. Ernest Rhys (London: J. M. Dent, 1907), chapters 10 and 13.

  84. Plutarch, ibid., 513, 527.

  85. Thomas O. Sloane, Donne, Milton, and the End of Humanist Rhetoric (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), chapter 1.

  86. Gascoigne begins his Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse by asserting: “The first and most necessarie poynt that ever I founde meet to be considered in making of a delectable poeme is this, to grounde it upon some fine invention,” 2:465.

  87. Puttenham, Art of English Poesie, 263. On Puttenham's didactic use of examples, see Victoria Kahn, “Humanism and the Resistance to Theory” in Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts, ed. Patricia Parker and David Quint (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).

  88. Puttenham, ibid., 264.

  89. Lawrence Manley, Convention, 1500-1750 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 139.

  90. For Paul's decorum, see Erasmus, Ecclesiastes, in Opera omnia 5.4-5 (Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers, 1969), 64-68.

  91. Quoted in Kranidas, Fierce Equation, 26.

Rayna Kalas (essay date spring 2002)

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SOURCE: Kalas, Rayna. “The Technology of Reflection: Renaissance Mirrors of Steel and Glass.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 32, no. 3 (spring 2002): 519-42.

[In the following essay, Kalas examines the symbolic importance of the mirror in Gascoigne's The Steele Glas.]

In 1576, just a few years after the newly invented crystal glass pocket mirror was first available as a novelty import in England, George Gascoigne published a verse satire conspicuously titled The Steele Glas. The poem is an estates satire for the sixteenth century and as such levels its invective on all of society. Yet as its title indicates, the poem orchestrates its censure around a single paradigmatic object, the crystal glass mirror. In everything from its manufacture to its exchange to its use, the crystal glass mirror signals social and material changes that contravene the modes of production and signification that Gascoigne identifies with the traditional steel glass.

The crystal glass mirrors that Gascoigne bemoans were not the first mirrors made from glass, but they were the first that rivaled steel “glasses” made entirely of alloyed metal. Convex glass mirrors had been produced in Germany and Holland and exported to England as early as the fourteenth century. These convex or pennyware mirrors were made from forest glass—a thick and slightly greenish-tinted glass—that was blown into globes and lined with lead. Pennyware mirrors needed no maintenance, whereas steel mirrors, because they oxidize with exposure to air, required regular polishing.1 But the convex surface of the mirror did considerably distort the proportions of its reflection. Although convex mirrors were relatively inexpensive, the majority of mirrors imported and sold in England, well into the sixteenth century, were steel and silver mirrors. Before the introduction of the crystal glass mirror, high quality steel glasses seem to have been preferred over convex glass mirrors.2

The crystal glass mirror was the product of two distinct innovations: a perfectly clear glass and a light metal tain. In 1500, Flemish mirror makers developed a new process for silvering the glass of convex mirrors, using an alloy of quicksilver and tin rather than lead. The new tain of quicksilver and tin made for a lighter mirror, both in its weight and in the brightness of its reflection. The practice was picked up by Venetian glassmakers who used the process to silver pieces of cristallo. Cristallo glass, an absolutely colorless transparent glass, was itself a recent innovation: fifteenth-century Venetian glassmakers discovered that the addition of barilla soda yielded a molten glass batch that could be blown very thin.3Cristallo was used primarily for the production of delicate and ornate tableware, but it also proved an ideal recipe for sheet glass.4 When blown into a cylinder that was then cut open and laid flat to harden, cristallo offered a thin, clear, and flat surface for silvering.5 This silvered crystal glass, thin and light enough to be fashioned into portable mirrors, reflected a clear, undistorted image and never needed polishing. By 1570, crystal mirrors were being produced in Venice, Antwerp, and Rouen and imported by goldsmiths into England.6

The new crystal mirrors were both wildly popular and widely sanctioned. Crystal pocket mirrors were comparatively expensive items and were frequently worn tied to the waist like jewels.7 The French moralist Jean des Caurres railing against the practice of wearing mirrors at the girdle, seems most offended by the fact that they are even worn in church.

O Dieu! helas, en quel malheureux regne sommes nous tombez? de voir une telle deprauité sur la terre que nous voyons, iusques à porter en l'Eglise les mirouers de macule pendans sur le ventre. Qu'on lise toutes les histoires diuines, humaines, & profanes, il ne se trouvera point, que les impudiques & meretrices les ayant iamais portez en public, iusques à ceiourd'huy, que le diable est dechainé par la France: ce qui est encore plus detestable deuant Dieu & deuant les hommes, que toutes les autres abominations. Et combien qu'il n'y ait que les Courtisans, & Demoiselles masquees, qui en vsent, si est ce qu'auec le temps n'y aura bourgoise ny chambriere (commes elles sont, dés à present) qui par accoustumance n'en vueille porter.

[Oh Lord! Alas, under what evil influence have we fallen? to see such depravity on earth as we see, to the point of bringing to church these mirrors of corruption hanging from the belly. Were one to read all the histories—divine, human, and profane—it would never be found that and meretricious women had worn mirrors in public until this day, when the devil is set loose in France: which is more detestable before god and before men than all other abominations. And though none but courtisans and masqued damsels use them, if these times are any indication, every last bourgeois woman and chambermaid (as there are, even at present), by force of habit, will want to wear one.]8

The crystal glass mirror was neither a distorted reflection, nor required polishing, and thus in no way served as a reminder that God alone sees and judges each person as he or she truly is. Indeed the clarity of the reflection seems to have been perceived by some as a usurpation of divine vision. Wearing a mirror to church flaunts this usurpation in the very place where one should be most conscious of being seen by God. The mirror had for so many centuries served as a figure of God's divine creation that it was an affront, or so it seemed, that any bourgeois citizen could produce in an instant, and without any effort or travail, a counterfeit image of crystal clarity.

To a moralist like des Caurres, the crystal mirror signaled a disregard for both the hierarchy of social estates and the estate of man before God. Even to less strident critics, crystal mirrors were identified with vanity, flattery, social climbing, and moral lassitude. In Cynthia's Revels, Amorphus, after referring to the face as an index of the mind, says: “Where is your page? call for your casting bottle, and place your mirror in your hat, as I told you: so. Come, look not pale, observe me, set your face and enter.”9 And Charles Fitzgeffery's 1617 Notes from Black Fryers describes a “spruse coxcomebe” who “never walkes without his looking-glasse / In a tobacco-box or diall set / That he may privately conferre with it.”10

The material history of the mirror seems to offer empirical confirmation of the Renaissance as an age of secularization, humanism, individualism, and emergent subjectivity. In Benjamin Goldberg's history of the mirror, the Renaissance was the point at which the Pauline doctrine that human knowledge of God is seen “as through a glass, darkly” came into conflict with the “clear mirror of humanistic philosophy.” Sabine Melchior-Bonnet, who is sensitive to the technical innovations in the mirror and the modern “banalisation de l'objet,” also identifies the Renaissance as the time at which the mirror ceased to be invested with magical properties and instead became emblematic of the modern subject. In his compendious study, The Mutable Glass: Mirror-Imagery in Titles and Texts of the Middle Ages and English Renaissance, Herbert Grabes claims that between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries—a period he is tempted to call “the Age of the Mirror”—the mirror metaphor shifted. Once a figure of divine ideality, the mirror became a metaphor for human consciousness and originality.11

Deborah Shuger, however, resists the tacit link between the invention of the glass mirror and the emergence of modern subjectivity. Admitting that she set out to establish that very connection, Shuger concludes instead that the presumption is false, at least with respect to the Renaissance mirror. She quite rightly observes that the Renaissance mirror was more transitive than reflexive: the mirror was meant to direct the viewer's gaze toward a moral or spiritual lesson rather than back upon the viewer's self. The mirror may ultimately coincide with modern subjectivity, but it is not the invention of the glass mirror per se that brings about this effect. In fact, Shuger's conclusion that the Renaissance mirror “functions according to an ontology of similitude” effectively recasts the mirror as the image of a medieval mindset.12

The conclusion that the Renaissance mirror—be it steel, convex, or crystal—“functions according to an ontology of similitude” avoids making the Renaissance mirror modern before its time. But it also entirely dismisses the question of technical innovation. That the glass mirror did not directly inaugurate modern subjectivity does not of course mean that its material innovations were insignificant. Registering the impact of those innovations, though, requires a shift in focus away from the subject-object relation and toward the relation of matter to meaning. Grabes's important scholarship on the preponderance of mirror titles suggests that the key question in understanding the Renaissance mirror is not how the mirror as an object led to the formation of the subject, but rather how the mirror as an object informs the mirror as a metaphor.

Gascoigne's Steele Glas directly addresses the impact of technical and material innovation on the conventional metaphor of the book as a mirror. Although the poem may seem, by its title, to be a nostalgic, if not reactionary, throwback, in fact it rather fully apprehends the particular phenomenon of the mirror in the sixteenth century. With its assertions that the crystal glass mirror is emblematic of, if not instrumental in, broad ranging social and poetic changes, the Steele Glas chronicles the dynamic relationship of matter to meaning in the mirror metaphor. And in so doing, the poem demonstrates the role of materials and technology in a metaphor that for centuries had served not only as a figure of divine ideation, but also as a practical instrument for human contemplation of the divine logos.


Specifying that his text is a steel glass, Gascoigne aligns his poem with a tradition of scriptural exegesis that would, over and against the worldly vanity of a novelty item like the crystal glass, reveal its shadowy truths according to the Pauline example, “as through a glass darkly.” The mirror title is a convention that presents the text as a didactic exemplum, leading its reader through the process of contemplation to a moral or spiritual truth. The initial appearance of mirror titles dates to the speculum titles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries—Speculum mundi, Speculum ecclesiae, Speculum iudiciale—and may have coincided with the invention of convex mirrors.13 The metaphor of the book as a mirror linked figurative language to material invention long before the innovation of the crystal glass.

Patristic and scholastic commentators had described Scripture as a mirror, though other “texts” were believed to mirror the divine as well: in some cases all of created nature was a text, in others it was the human mind or the life of Christ that presented a textual mirror of divinity.14 A person looking in an actual mirror might have seen in his or her image not an independent subject but rather a miraculous divine scheme of creation elaborated in the person's every feature—eyes, nose, lips, skin—and in the substance of the mirror itself. Sixteenth-century writers maintained that knowledge of the divine was accessible to human reason through nature. A more immediate perception of the divine was possible through revelation, and the mirror stood for revelation as well; at least in the cabalistic and hermetic traditions in the sixteenth century, mirrors and crystal balls were believed to have magical properties of vision and prognostication.15 From Scripture to nature, from the human mind to the crystal ball, what all of these permutations of divine text share—what makes them all mirrors—is that they reflect both sensible reality and eternal truth. These mirrors, like Scripture, reflected divine ineffability in the shapes of worldly things that were accessible to the temporal and sensory limitations of human understanding.16 The mirror title was an important device not because it likened the book to a mirror per se, but because mirror, text, and nature were interchangeable and indeed inextricable expressions of the divine logos.

A text was deemed creditable if it could be said to mirror the divine idea and, in turn, mirrors were creditable if they enabled viewers to “read” their own images correctly. This was true of actual mirrors, and not just mirrors as metaphors. Heinrich Schwartz has observed that, at a time when large numbers of pilgrims were journeying to Aachen for the display of its four most sacred relics, Landgraf Ludwig Hessen returned from his pilgrimage to Aachen of 1431 with “mirrors and signs,” the latter being small metal emblems, as mementos of his journey. He also notes that Gutenberg was involved in a mirror-making venture at roughly the same time that he was involved in a printing enterprise. Schwartz believes that Gutenberg and his associates were making convex mirrors to sell to these pilgrims, who bought mirrors and held them up in order to capture the fleeting glance of the sacred relics as they were displayed. The display of relics, it appears, was not only something to see, but something to be seen by: the mirror betokened that moment when the pilgrim had a vision of and was visible before the sacred relic. Every subsequent glance at this mirror memento might serve to remind the believer of that glimpse of sacred divinity.17 The mirror captured a reflection of the divine which could be discerned not through any immediate image in the glass, but only by seeing past the transitory reflection of the body to contemplate or “read” the divine image of the self that is held by God.

The appearance of a mirror or a glass in a book title signaled that the text was both a reflection of divine ideation and a practical instrument through which that ideal might be emulated. This kind of contemplation was considered to be an active craft. In medieval discourses on devotion, the mirror is evoked as a figure for pious contemplation and private study. In her discussion of the art of memory, Mary Carruthers cites Gregory the Great, as he paraphrased Augustine: “holy scripture presents a kind of mirror to the eyes of the mind, that our inner face may be seen in it.” Carruthers argues that, in late medieval writings, memory is an active process and ideas pass through the body to be quite literally digested: “the full process of meditative study is complete … when what we read is transformed into our very selves, a mirror of our own beauty or ugliness, for we have, like Ezekiel, eaten the book.”18

By referring to his own text as a glass, Gascoigne seeks to invoke the tradition of discerning shadowy spiritual truths through the active craft of contemplation. But the mirror metaphor in and of itself no longer conveys that “full process of meditative study.” To recapture that sense of the labor of contemplation and reflection, Gascoigne must specify that his is a steel glass, a glass that requires the effort of polishing, some labor on the part of its user, before it can be expected to render a proper image.


This attention to the divine authority that inheres in things—texts, mirrors, nature—de-emphasizes poetic authority, for it means that the poet is also a reader of divine text. Gascoigne presents the didactic exemplum of the steel glass for his own benefit as much as that of his readers. Having earned a reputation for concupiscence on the page and off in his “riotous youth,” Gascoigne heralded his reformation with the publication of The Steele Glas.19 He declares in the dedicatory epistle his newfound intent to match the “magnanimitie of a noble mind” with “industrious diligence.”20 Whereas his earlier work had dallied in sexual and poetic license, The Steele Glas occupies itself with properly productive labors.21 This is not Gascoigne the translator and purveyor of Italian rhetoric, but Gascoigne the devoted countryman, using the late medieval convention of estates satire to reflect upon the state of domestic industry in England. Disdainful of poetic conceits that have entered English verse just as any fancy new import like foreign cloth or the crystal glass mirror might enter the English marketplace, Gascoigne touts instead an invention, “from ancient cliffs conveyed,” that is both inherited and wrought. The Steele Glas, Gascoigne writes, presents “words of worth … With this poore glasse, which is of trustie Steele, / And came to me by wil and testament / Of one that was, a Glassmaker in deede.” The glassmaker “in deede” is the classical satirist Lucilius, who bequeathed the steel glass to those who would see themselves as they are “Bycause it shewes, all things in their degree” and the glass mirror to those who “love to seme but not to be” (55).

Gascoigne's steel glass links the poem with its past, consolidating its relation not only to the tradition of scriptural exegesis, but to the recovery of classical texts as well. Gascoigne laments that in these “our curious years,” everyone has a glass, but very few actually see themselves.

That age is deade, and vanisht long ago,
Which thought that steele both trusty was and true,
And needed not a foyle of contraries,
But shewde all things, even as they were in deede.
In steade whereof, our curious yeares can finde
The cristal glas, which glimseth brave and bright,
And shewes the thing, much better than it is,
Beguylde with foyles, of sundry subtil sights,
So that they seeme and covet not to be.


Appearances in a glass mirror “beguyle” and delude the viewer. The glass mirror is detached from “true” and “trusty” matter, showing things as they seem to be but are not. Gascoigne does refer to the materiality of the glass mirror: a “foil” was the tin and mercury alloy that was used as the backing of a glass mirror, and “site” denoted the curved plate of glass before it was silvered. But his material references are also puns and thus his solid references melt into conceits: the metal foil is a “foyle of contraries,” and glass sites “Beguylde with foyles” become “subtil sights” or views. Gascoigne's punning language demonstrates how, in the all too perfect reflections of a glass mirror, the material composition of the instrument drops away, leaving the viewer to a mere impression of the image in the glass.

This propensity toward the mere impression, toward “things [that] are thought which never yet were wrought,” is evidence, for Gascoigne, that “pevishe pryde doth al the world possesse.” And peevish pride is itself to blame for the fact that “every wight will have a looking glasse.” Thus Gascoigne also expresses the concern that a “glasse of common glass” can only turn back on itself, begetting pride from pride, and circumventing worldly dependencies in human thought and behavior with its hasty and immaterial reflections. “This is the cause,” the verse continues, “that realmes do rewe, that kings decline … that plowmen begge … that souldiours sterve,” and so on for eighteen more lines whereupon he concludes, “This is the cause (or else my Muze mistakes) / That things are thought which never yet were wrought, / And castels buylt above in lofty skies” (55).

Gascoigne's muse of trusty steel can reveal that the glass mirror is a mark of “curious years” that are characterized by “pevishe pryde” and “weening ouer well” (54). The glass mirror cannot reveal pride, but can only, like a conceit, recirculate pride in a new disguise. Gascoigne is careful to establish that the glass mirror works its effects only in the realm of human fantasy. The glass mirror can aggrandize the pride that makes “the world goeth awry,” but it has no bearing on the realm of temporal cause and effect. Gascoigne wants to point out that the glass mirror is not causal, but only conceited. In the lines immediately preceding the passage cited above where the glass mirror is first mentioned, Gascoigne seeks to explain the state of “this weak and wretched world”:

As I stretch my weary wittes to weighe
The cause thereof, and whence it should proceede
My battred braynes (which now must be shrewdly brusde,
With cannon shot, of much misgovernment)
Can spy no cause, but only one conceite,
Which makes me thinke, the world goeth stil awry.

(54, my emphasis)22

The glass mirror provides no purposiveness, no telos for how “wittes … should proceede.” Looking for the cause of the world's decline, Gascoigne finds instead only a conceit, an immediate or incontinent cause rather than a temporal one. Looking for solid evidence, something to “weighe” his wits, Gascoigne finds only a figure, a trifling thought, a bit of fancy.

The glass mirror has no proper place in the temporal order of matter: it is either a castle in the air or a crass material luxury. The glass mirror is thus quite literally a conceit, since conceit denoted not only an inventive rhetorical trope, but also a fancy article or trifle. Thomas Starkey, for instance, writes of “merchants which carry out things necessary and bring in again vayn tryfullys and conceipts.”23 Gascoigne himself remarks that “daintie fare” has quickly led to “excesse on Princes bordes, / [Where] euery dish, was chargde with new conceits, / To please the taste of uncontented mindes” (59); and later he applauds the emperor who cared not “For Baudkin, broyderie, cutworks, nor conceits” but only “such like wares, as served common use” (71). Conceit, from the Italian concetto, a word that has been so central in describing the fanciful inventions distinctive to the sonnet tradition, simultaneously refers to precious and persuasive trifles, objects that have too much significance attached to them.24 In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Egeus accuses Lysander of having “stol'n the impression of [Hermia's] fantasy / With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats—messengers / Of strong prevailment in unhardened youth.”25

The glass mirror is an object associated not with “cause” but with “conceit”: it produces “fantasy,” “prevailment,” or as Gascoigne puts it, a “foyle of contraries.” Unlike the steel glass, which offers a decorously imperfect reflection of divine intent in the causation of the material world, the glassy mirror proves to be not only a false reflection of reality, but also a false instrument within it. The glass mirror, instead of manifesting divine ideality and its social embodiment, provokes self-generated ideas in the minds of mortals. As a steel glass, poetic invention gathers and reflects the wisdom of its predecessors and polishes anew the spiritual and ethical reflections that may illuminate the conditions of the present. A poesy that would liken itself to the innovation of the crystal glass mirror obscures these intersections of past and present, reading and writing, of creation and consumption, and offers only topical conceits that are tied to neither a fixed place nor a temporal value. Rather than an object wrought by a known craftsman situated by his trade within a stable social network of material production, the crystal glass is a rarified conceit: an object that accrues meaning incontinently as it is exchanged.


Gascoigne fashions The Steele Glas as the didactic exemplum of a commonwealth of estates, a social order that linked a person's status on earth with his or her standing before God, and a person's land or station with his or her labor or vocation. Gascoigne's poem favors principles of social organization that are, quite literally, continent, grounded, stationary. Rendering his poem as a steel glass, Gascoigne chooses a mirror whose particular substance calls to mind England's natural resources and mining industries of tin, copper, and lead. He chooses a mirror whose particular substance must be polished with each use before it will yield an honest and true, if not perfectly glistening or sharp, working reflection. And he chooses a mirror whose particular substance will link the poetic mirror with the patriotic sword, and thus his career as a poet with his career as a soldier. The steel glass reveals even the poet's own labors of scouring the work of his predecessors. With this material specification, Gascoigne effectively foregrounds the active labor that comprises social tropes of birth, property, and use or consumption.

Above all, the particularity of Gascoigne's steel glass specifies what it is not: a new-fangled import, the crystal glass mirror. Whereas the steel glass is identified with the estates of the realm, with land and domestic resources, with social custom and degree, the crystal glass is identified with mercantile trade, with fluid and artificial value, with sudden social mobility. For Gascoigne, the crystal glass is commodious and useful only in the most fleeting and provisional of senses: in its exchange and consumption, it shows neither a coherence with the past nor a continuity with temporal causation. It is, rather, a conceit in both sixteenth-century senses of the word: a luxury item and a fanciful idea. The particular substance of the crystal mirror is the guarantor, for Gascoigne, that the reflections of the glass mirror are not grounded or continent like the steel glass, but utterly incontinent, in the multiple senses of that word. That is to say, the crystal glass mirror is fluid, effeminate, unrestrained, unmoored from terra firma, and—a meaning of incontinent that is now obsolete—immediate, sudden, without temporal interval.26

The crystal glass mirror would have seemed incontinent in both its consumption and its production. Crystal glass mirrors were not produced in England until 1624. At the time that Gascoigne was writing, crystal glass mirrors were imported primarily from Venice, though also occasionally from Antwerp.27 The manufacture of glass mirrors could not be tied to any English sense of place. These new glass mirrors, unbound to any continent land in England, were imported from overseas and valued, as products of mercantile exchange, according to the liquid media of money. The manufacture of these foreign imports was especially mysterious since they were the result of recent technological innovations and since the Venetian Council of Ten was especially strict in guarding the trade secrets of the glass industry in Murano, the primary site of glass production in Venice.28 Glassmaking also tended to be a family trade, so that the secrets of the craft were handed down from one generation to the next, rather than shared among members of a guild.29

What was known about the origins of these objects made them smack all the more of incontinence. One might trace the glass mirror to its place of production, but that place proved to be no less continent terrain than Venice. Nor could glass production in Venice be explained by the presence of any earth-bound material. The raw materials used in the Venetian glass industry were all shipped in from elsewhere: quartz-rich stones from the Ticino river, soda ash from the Near East.30 Indeed what appears to have made the glass industry succeed in Venice has nothing whatsoever to do with land resources and everything to do with the supremacy of Venetian maritime trade.31

Finally, glassmakers do not appear to have labored according to degree in any traditional sense at all. Because of the hard physical labor involved, it would seem that glassmakers would be classed as mechanical or artisanal laborers. In fact, most glassmakers had an unusually elevated status as compared with other artisans.32 Until the seventeenth century in most parts of Europe, England notwithstanding, glassmakers owned the glasshouses where they practiced their craft. Glassmakers in Normandy and Lorraine solicited, and were granted, noble rights and privileges on the basis of their craft. It even seems that these glassmakers were resented for their upward class mobility, for Godfrey reports that other members of the lesser nobility refused to integrate them into the feudal establishment through allegiances of intermarriage.33 In Venice, the daughters of glassmakers were permitted to marry Venetian nobles, and the average wages of master glassblowers exceeded by threefold the average wages of other skilled artisans.34

Glassmaking was anomalous among artisanal trades because glassmakers were bound neither to manorial estates nor to the corporate guild structures in towns. The tricks of the trade may have been as closely guarded as the secret arts or “misteries” of any guild, but most glassmakers practiced their trade independent of guild regulation. When governed at all, glassmaking was regulated by contract law and legislative governance. This is evident from legal documents in the case involving Gutenberg's mirrormaking partnership: the documents reveal that the partners were seeking to protect the technical secrets of their craft after the death of one of the members.35

Medieval glassmaking had not fallen under guild regulation because it was primarily an itinerant trade. Furnaces for the production of the crown glass used in stained glass windows were set up near cathedrals during construction. The need for a steady supply of wood as fuel was another reason for the transience of glassmakers. In England, glassmakers continued to move about well into the sixteenth century, often making special arrangements with aristocratic landowners for rights to build temporary glasshouses and to burn wood on the property.36

That glassmakers continued to move about even when they had been granted noble rights and privileges indicates that the social and economic capital of glassmakers did not inhere so much in their property, as in the more portable asset of trade secrets. The trade secrets of glassmaking were often, like property, passed down through bloodlines, but unlike real property, they were mobile assets. The first patent for the production of cristallo vessel glass in England was issued in 1567 to Jean Carré, who had previously emigrated from France to the Netherlands before finally settling his practice in London. Furthermore, during the sixteenth century, cristallo production had inflated the social status of the glassmaker by identifying the work as a creative, imaginative, and noble craft. Hugh Tait reports that when Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, son of Emperor Ferdinand I, set up his own personal glasshouse at Innsbruck in 1563, he requested that the Venetian Council of Ten select for his workforce “whichever of the glassblowers had the most ‘fantasy in him.’”37 Glassmakers relied on autonomous rather than corporate trade secrets and gained credibility through personal rather than collective ingenuity.

The rapid innovations in glassmaking during this period, combined with the secrecy and relative autonomy of individual glassmakers, meant that glassmaking privileged imaginative technical inventions—inventions, not in the classical sense of refashioning or finding anew, but in the more modern sense of unique and novel ingenuity. The craft practice that produced crystal mirrors was not circumscribed by the traditional order of social estates. The conveyance of and demand for the crystal glass connoted fluidity and lack of restraint. But what made the crystal glass especially suspect to someone like Gascoigne was that it was incontinent in both its production and its consumption. The crystal glass could produce an immediate reflection without effort and without any temporal interval elapsing.

The material specificity of Gascoigne's metaphor is indicative of his general lament in The Steele Glas, that a commonwealth of local production is being supplanted by a newer model of specialized manufacture and overseas trade. But it also indicates Gascoigne's awareness that this new form of economic production and exchange simultaneously alters the way that a society perceives and represents itself. Whereas the steel glass, the object and the poem, are products of a domestic industry based on traditional estates and vocations—in which both the production and the use of the object can be situated in time and space—the crystal glass mirror belongs to an economic model that not only dissociates the object from the labor involved in its production, but also from the labor involved in its consumption. In this poem, material production and economic exchange are indivisible from the production and exchange of ideas. Instead of an object that truly reflects social reality in a collaboratively wrought image, the crystal glass, from Gascoigne's perspective, reflects the fanciful conceits of the private consumer.


Acknowledging that his classical bequest must be “scowrde” for its present satirical purpose, Gascoigne writes, “I see you Peerce, my glass was lately scowrde” (78). The poem polishes up an ancient legacy to reflect the estates satire of Piers Plowman, which in turn reflects Gascoigne's England as a system of social estates so overtaxed and disarrayed that petty vanities and corruption threaten to render the whole system obsolete. Gascoigne's solution is neither to embrace the new economic system of trade privileges nor to hold fast to an outmoded feudal order, but to preserve the principle of a commonwealth of estates through honest labor and duty, in accordance with degree. It is the job of the poet to link how things could be with how things are, to link thought and imagination with matter. And it is for this reason that Gascoigne insists on the mediated materiality of verse that is a steel glass.

The poem imagines the possibility of an ideal commonwealth, but only by way of negative example, as the inverse of actual labor and vocation in England. Through an exhaustive catalogue of occupations, the speaker imagines a time “when brewers put, no bagage in their beere, … When printers passe, none errours in their bookes, … When goldsmiths get, no gains by sodred crownes” (79-80), all the while enumerating the vices tradesmen and professionals and inveighing against the deleterious effects of pride at every level of human society, from priests and kings, to peasants and soldiers. The poem can indeed imagine things better than they are “in deede,” but unlike the false perfect glimmering of the crystal glass, Gascoigne's poem, as a steel glass, reflects that imagined ideal only through the tarnished surface of present vices.

Gascoigne is equally careful not to overemulate the past. Gascoigne “scowres” his glass to reflect Piers Plowman. And in so doing, he relies on a polished image of the past to reveal present vices. But he also invokes the history of satire as a tarnished genre, in order to turn the corrosive wit of his predecessor onto his own nostalgia. For Gascoigne derides poetry that would “bite men's faults, with Satyres corosives, / Yet pamper up her owne with pultesses” (77). By the poem's own admission, the social estates it would conserve are already outnumbered and obsolete. The last hundred lines of the poem contain a litany of the very merchants and tradesmen who had always troubled—and did so increasingly at the time that Gascoigne was writing—the division of the population into the three pat categories of peasant, knight, and priest. And the poem lists four instead of the customary three estates. Gascoigne's retrogressive posture, rather than nostalgia pure and simple, should perhaps be read in terms of the resurgent interest in Piers Plowman among sixteenth-century radical reformers who urged economic reforms to remedy the burdens that the decrepit feudal system placed on the commonwealth. As Lorna Hutson has pointed out, however, those same reforms very quickly enabled new forms of economic and social privilege.38 Gascoigne laments that aspect of feudal society which, in principle, had guaranteed all persons a sense of place in society and before God: the notion of goodly labor according to degree. Yet in virtually the same breath, his satire acknowledges that the monopolies and trade privileges that make him wistful for the past are nothing more than feudal inequities in a new guise.

The poem invokes the system of three estates—lords spiritual, lords temporal, and commoners—normally identified with feudal social organization, but in a strangely altered form. “I see within my glasse of steel / But foure estates … the King, the Knight, the Pesant and the Priest” (57). Instead of the traditional three estates, Gascoigne lists four. He has added the king as an estate, separate from the lords temporal. In addition, Gascoigne notes that the priests are “the last that shewed themselves” in his glass (74). Though the enumeration of four such estates is an oddity, there is a precedent in John Hooker's 1572 Order and Usage of the keeping of a parlement in England, which lists four estates: king, nobles, commons, and clergy. Hooker consolidates the three classical estates of mixed government—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—with the three medieval estates of peasant, knight, and priest.39 And Gascoigne follows suit, positing a social organization that amalgamates classical legacy and medieval custom. Consistent with the mirror that reflects it, this image of society is both an alloy and an old substance polished up for new purposes.

Gascoigne's ordering of the estates is not so much a critique of the church as a commentary on its loss of estate. Recognizing that the Crown's seizure of church lands diminished the priestly estate in England, Gascoigne nonetheless holds the office of the priest in high estimation. And on this point, Gascoigne is careful to distinguish offices as godly deeds rather than entitlements. “Although they were the last that shewed themselves, / I saide at first, their office was to pray” (74). Lamentable though it may be that the church is no longer the landed estate it once was, it is the godly duty of the clergy to maintain an estate through the office or practice of prayer.

Office is a double-edged word for Gascoigne. Well aware that the proliferation of secular offices and entitlements is nothing more than feudal privilege in a new form, Gascoigne inveighs against offices that delude men—men who are in truth no more than peasants—into believing that they have elevated themselves above their mean estate. Even so Gascoigne advocates the performance of one's offices or deeds, insofar as offices denote the labor of one's estate. Priests are listed last, but the most tenuous estate in Gascoigne's text is the peasantry. Nowhere is the decline of feudal society more pronounced than among peasants, and no longer is the plowman the representative peasant. Rather than dispensing with this estate altogether, Gascoigne enlarges the category of peasant to accommodate merchants, artisans, and tradesmen. The marginal caption “Strange Peasants” sums up the passage on peasants, opening with, “All officers, all advocates at lawe, / Al men of arte, which get goodes greedily, / Must be content to take a Peasants rome” (68). The poem closes with an appeal to priests to pray for the tradesmen who abuse their offices with occupational misdeeds like shoddy craftsmanship and pilfering. But these abuses pale in comparison to Gascoigne's disdain for those strange peasants whose offices are newly created and seem to have no relation to the provision of necessities.

Gascoigne describes the estate of peasants as “strange indeed” because their work no longer ties them primarily to the land, but rather identifies them with a dizzying array of “offices.” Some of these “strange” peasants would have been strangers indeed, given the number of foreign artisans working in England, for the new mercantile economy prompted the overseas exchange of both goods and workers.40 And Gascoigne also counts English merchants among his list of peasants. In fact, Gascoigne devotes as many lines to merchants as he does to all other peasant officers and advocates combined. It is no surprise that Gascoigne's satire is at its most biting when he addresses merchants, that class of peasants which, at least to his mind, is least bound to the land, and least beholden to the system of estates. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that Gascoigne presents the merchant as an inverted priest. After reproving the merchant suppliers, their luxurious trifles, and the vain desires of their consumers, Gascoigne says that in truth he cannot even see these mercantile tricks or chimeras in his steel glass.

These knackes (my lord) I cannot cal to minde,
Bycause they show not in my glass of steele.
But holla: here I see a wondrous sight,
I see a swarme, of Saints within my glasse:
Beholde, behold, I see a swarme in deede …
Not deckt in robes, nor garnished with gold,
But some unshod, yea some ful thinly clothde,
And yet they seme, so heavenly for to see,
As if their eyes, were al of Diamonds,
Their face of Rubies, Saphires, and lacincts,
Their comly beards, and heare of silver wiers.


Here, Gascoigne truly shows his meaning “as through a glass darkly.” For where Gascoigne's steel glass clouds over in mists, his poetic mirroring is in its fullest effect. A swarm of saints takes the place of the indiscernible merchant. Heavenly profit proves the mirror opposite, down to the last figurative gem, of the merchant's lucrative gain, for the saints are “not deckt in robes, nor garnished with gold.” But in the steel glass of the poem, their “thinly clothde” humility is comparable to the most priceless gems.

The merchant, like every member of Gascoigne's society, faces the choice of performing his offices in his own self-interest or in the interest of society. But the vices of other tradesmen—the vintner who mixes water with wine, or the pewterer who infects tin with lead—amount to little more than a predictable nuisance: “Tush are toys, but yet my glas sheweth al” (80). But the merchant, as the converse of the priest, has the power to effect negatively every estate in the realm. Merchants, by the misuse of their offices, threaten to dissolve the system of estates, whereas priests, by their offices of prayer, promise the maintenance of men's estates.

The merchant is also the converse of the poet. The offices of the merchant can disrupt the very fabric of society, and can even cloud the perception of vice that is so crucial to proper moral action. What the merchant obscures with “knackes,” the poet must reveal in figures of truth. If it is the office of the priest to pray for the preservation of man's estate before God, it is the office of the poet to make visible the decadence of man's estate on earth. In the final lines of the poem, Gascoigne elides the offices of poet and priest with the plea “I pray you pray for me” that “together we may show all colours in their kinde.”

And yet therin, I pray you (my good priests)
Pray stil for me, and for my Glasse of steele
That it (nor I) do any minde offend,
Bycause we shew, all colours in their kinde.
And pray for me, that (since my hap is such
To see men so) I may perceive myselfe.
O worthy words, to ende my worthlesse verse,
Pray for me Priests, I pray you pray for me.


The poetics of the steel glass, rather than proliferating conceits as so many crystal glass repetitions of pride, ends with the repetitive verbal incantations of prayer. In the simple repetition of the word pray, the poem consolidates the voice of the poet with that of the priest and suggests, perhaps, that in the steel glass of satire, invective is a tarnished form of prayer.


The Steele Glas ends with the conspicuous repetition of a single word: it ends, that is, by calling attention to its own medium of language. The steel glass, a duller and less precise instrument of reflection than the crystal glass mirror, always reveals that its reflection is conditioned by its medium. Because it oxidizes with exposure to air and must be polished for use, a steel glass requires the application of labor to produce a true reflection. A poem must likewise be read and digested before the fullness of its depiction emerges. The steel glass, as both object and poem, links production and consumption with reading and writing. A glass mirror indicates the extravagant immediacy of both poetic and commercial conceits, whereas the poetics of a steel glass, in its very substance, bespeaks a model of making and consumption, as Gascoigne puts it, “in deede.”

At a manifest level, Gascoigne's poem reveals the reorganization of social estates and the simultaneous emergence of mercantile economies taking place as he wrote. But Gascoigne's poem also seeks to explicate the dynamic relationship between those socioeconomic formations and specific discursive inventions. The steel glass is identified with a stable system of professional trades, the crystal class with merchants and social mobility; the steel glass with land and national strength, the crystal glass with fluidity and global commerce; the steel glass with divine authority and worldly temporality, the crystal glass with human agency and fleeting vanity; the steel glass with labor and causation, the crystal glass with conceit and incontinence. For Gascoigne, imaginative inventions are perforce material and causal: language and human imagination are part of the divinely fashioned temporal register. Like the metaphor of the mirror that is calibrated to material changes in the physical object, Gascoigne's poetics express the material facticity of historical change, rather than the progress of human thought.

Gascoigne was not alone in registering the impact of the crystal glass mirror on the mirror metaphor. Stephen Batman, for one, embraces the new invention, titling his 1569 book of moral emblems A Christall Glasse of Christian Reformation. He explains in the epistle to the reader that he means the book to be

This cristall glasse wherein we may learne godly reformation, whose brightness shineth not the beholders therof in this world a light to every christian man, but in the world to come a most precious and everlasting brightnes in endles felicitie. As I sayd, a manifest shew of all coloured abuses that raigne in every state, and set in the frame of most plentiful and christian examples. The substance wherof is the perfect glasse of godley reformation beautifed with the cristall light of all celestial vertues, right fruitful for every man to carry and most nedeful for this our present tyme.41

For Batman, the crystal glass perfectly figures for the reader an ideal reformation: its reflection shows the abuses of the world while its substance makes the reader mindful of the crystalline spheres of heaven.

For the puritan Thomas Salter, writing in 1579 his Mirrhor of Modestie, the glass mirror is so negatively identified with worldly pride that it can in no wise evoke the celestial spheres, least of all in its glassy surface. Salter explains that the Mirrhor is a manual for matrons on proper religious training for young women.

In my iudgemente there is nothyng more meete, especially for young Maidens, then a Mirrhor, there in to see and beholde how to order their dooyng, I meane not a christall Mirrhor, made by handie Arte, by whiche Maidens nowadaies, dooe onely take delight daiely to tricke and trim their tresses, standyng tootyng twoo howers by the Clocke, lookyng now on this side, now on that, least any thyng should be lackyng needeful to further Pride, not suffering so muche as a hare to hang out of order, no I meane no such mirrhor, but the Mirrhor, I mean is made of another matter, and is of muche more worthe than any Christall Mirrhor, for as the one teacheth how to attire the outwarde bodie, so the other guideth to garnishe the inwarde mynde, and maketh it meete for vertue, and therefore is intituled a Mirrhore meete for Matrones and Maidens, for matrones to knowe how to traine up such young maidends how to behave them selves to attaine to the feate of good fame.42

Like Gascoigne, Salter avers that his text is decidedly not a glass mirror. But unlike Gascoigne, who disdains the crystal glass in favor of a steel glass, Salter favors an entirely abstracted mirror metaphor, one that “guideth to garnishe the inwarde mynde.” Salter strips his metaphor of physical attributes until it is only as material as the language that conveys it: the word mirrhor itself, for instance, or the book that goes by that name. Salter compares spiritual contemplation not to any actual mirror, but to an idea evoked by the word mirrhor.

With the invention of the crystal glass mirror, the time-honored metaphor of the book as mirror seems to have become too material, too attached to worldly thought and reflection. Acknowledging the incursion, both Batman and Salter qualify their use of the mirror metaphor, distinguishing the worldly crystal glass from a more spiritual heavenly reflection in order to exhort their readers toward spiritual contemplation. But there are notable differences in the means by which each author qualifies the mirror metaphor to satisfy the ends of spiritual contemplation. In Batman's 1569 text, the mirror metaphor functions allegorically, referencing two hierarchically ordered levels of meaning: the reflection of worldly vices on the one hand and the contemplation of celestial matters on the other. These levels of reference resemble one another not through any moral, ethical, or ideal similitude, but rather through the crystalline substance of the metaphor that links them, a substantive resemblance that ultimately points up their true differences. Salter's mirror metaphor, by contrast, divorces itself from any material resemblance, from any actual experience of doing up one's hair in a given mirror, for instance, to establish a correspondence between spiritual contemplation and the book that directs that purpose. For Salter, the metaphor of the mirror is itself closer to spiritual contemplation precisely because it is absent of any material signs or shows. Salter establishes a conceptual parity or resemblance between language and contemplation by excising the metaphor of any material references. Salter's metaphor is thus semiological rather than allegorical in its functioning.

Gascoigne's Steele Glas, on the other hand, reflects an image of Renaissance poetics that is neither allegorical nor semiological, but mediated or tempered. For Gascoigne, the crystal glass mirror holds forth the false promise of ideation divorced from material and temporal causation. What distinguishes the steel glass is its capacity to reflect temporality, to reflect, that is, the passage of time as a particular property of the divinely created universe of physical matter. Using a metaphor of tempered steel to reflect temporal matter, Gascoigne describes in his own words the meanings already inherent in matter. For Gascoigne, only the conspicuously material metaphor of the steel glass, which is both reversionary and prospecting, and both imaginative and mundane, can define the present moment in its relation to both the past and the future, as a moment of historical change.


  1. William Salmon gives advice on the polishing of a steel glass in his 1701 Polygraphice: “If these Glasses are sullied or made dull with Air or any thick Vapour, you must clear them by rubbing, not with Woolen or Linnen, but with a piece of Deer or Goats Skin, wiping it in an oblique line”; quoted in Geoffrey Wills, English Looking Glasses (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1965), 144.

  2. Eleanor S. Godfrey, The Development of English Glassmaking, 1560-1640 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 235; and R. W. Symonds, “English Looking-glasses,” The Connoisseur 25, no. 515 (Mar. 1950): 8-9. Godfrey says that pennyware mirrors produced a “small but well-defined image”; Symonds, on the other hand, claims that the prevalence of steel and silver mirrors was due to the poor quality of these early glass mirrors.

  3. Patrick McCray, Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 1999), 62, 122-23.

  4. On the production of broad or plate glass, see R. J. Charleston, English Glass and the Glass Used in England, circa 400-1940 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1984), 38-39, 71-80.

  5. See chap. 1 of Sabine Melchior-Bonnet, Histoire du Miroir (Paris: Hachette Littératures, 1998), recently translated as The Mirror: A History, trans. Katharine H. Jewett (New York: Routledge, 2001), 9-34.

  6. Godfrey, Development of English Glassmaking, 236. On the history of mirrors, see also W. A. Thorpe, English Glass, 2nd ed. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1949); Geoffrey Wills, “From Polished Metal to Looking-Glass,” Country Life (23 Oct. 1958): 939-43; and H. Syer Cuming, “On Mirrors,” Journal of the British Archaeological Association 17 (1861): 279-88.

  7. Herbert Grabes, The Mutable Glass: Mirror-Imagery in Titles and Texts of the Middle Ages and English Renaissance, trans. Gordon Collier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 71.

  8. Jean Des Caurres, Œuvres Morales et Divers (Paris, 1584; Ann Arbor: University Microfilms 3907), 603. I am grateful to Suzanne Verderber for checking my translation here.

  9. Ben Jonson, Cynthia's Revels, in The Oxford Ben Jonson, ed. Ian Donaldson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), II. iii. 53-55.

  10. Cited in Cuming, “On Mirrors,” 286-87.

  11. Benjamin Goldberg, The Mirror and Man (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985), 146-47; Melchior-Bonnet, Histoire du Miroir, 12; Grabes, Mutable Glass, 15.

  12. Deborah Shuger, “The ‘I’ of the Beholder: Renaissance Mirrors,” Renaissance Culture and the Everyday, ed. Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt (Phildelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1998), 21-41, esp. 37.

  13. On the preponderance of speculum titles, see Sister Ritamary Bradley, “Backgrounds of the Title Speculum in Medieval Literature,” Speculum 29 (1954): 100-115. On mirror book titles, see Grabes's Mutable Glass; and also Melchior-Bonnet, Histoire du Miroir, 113-15.

  14. On the mind as a reflection of the divine mens, see Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 150. On the mirror as an image of the analogic correspondence between the world and the book, see Michael Bath, Speaking Pictures: English Emblem Books and Renaissance Culture (London: Longman, 1994), 122-23. For an account of classical epistemology within Christianity from the patristic period through the end of the thirteenth century, see Marcia Colish, The Mirror of Language: A Study in the Medieval Theory of Knowledge (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983).

  15. At its most extreme, this association of the mirror with magic meant that the mirror was often depicted as “the devil's glass.” Mechoir-Bonnet has an excellent chapter “Les Grimaces du Diable,” in Histoire du Miroir, 189-220.

  16. Frederick Goldin traces the mirror in the writings of Augustine and, noting the ideal and material significance of the mirror, argues that medieval literature, even secular love literature, uses the mirror to join the ideal and the material. See The Mirror of Narcissus in the Courtly Love Lyric (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967). See also Benjamin Goldberg's chapter 7 on the medieval mirror, which charts the mirror in scholastic commentary and ends with a focus on mirrors in The Divine Comedy, in The Mirror and Man, 112-34.

  17. Heinrich Schwarz, “The Mirror of the Artist and the Mirror of the Devout,” Studies in the History of Art Dedicated to William E. Suida on His Eightieth Birthday (New York: Phaideon for the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1959), 90-105, esp. 102.

  18. Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 168-69, and 186; see also her Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

  19. Gascoigne continued, in other writings, to see satire as the critical turning point in his personal reformation from prodigal youth to reformed maturity. In a later epistolary bid for Elizabeth's patronage, he appealed to her to “Behold here (learned pryncesse) nott Gascoigne the ydle poett, wryting tryfles of the green knighte, but Gascoigne the Satyricall wryter, medytating eche Muse that may expresse his reformacion.” See the dedicatory epistle to Hemetes the Heremyte in Posies (London, 1575). For an account of the censorship of An Hundreth Sundry Flower and Gascoigne's attempts to regain a favorable “estate,” see R. W. Maslen, Elizabethan Fictions: Espionage, Counter-Espionage, and the Duplicity of Fiction in Early Elizabethan Prose Narratives (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 114-57. On the trope of the reformed prodigal, see Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).

  20. All citations from The Steele Glas are taken from George Gascoigne, Certayne notes of instruction in English Verse … The Steele Glas … The compleynt of Philomene …, in English Reprints, vol. 3, ed. Arber (1869; repr. New York: AMS Press, 1966), here 42-43. Page references will subsequently appear parenthetically in the text.

  21. The 1573 edition of A Hundreth Sundry Flowers came before the high commission and was partially confiscated even after revisions were made in 1576. See Prouty's 1942 edition of the 1573 text, George Gascoigne, A Hundreth Sundry Flowers, ed. Charles Taylor Prouty (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1942); and Prouty's biography, George Gascoigne (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942).

  22. This passage is an interesting example of the hermaphroditic conjunction of Gascoigne and Satyra in the poem's speaker. Satyra, though not strictly ancient, is a classical figure insofar as she is associated with Philomel. Lamenting that “the world goeth stil awry,” this voice seems to speak from the vantage point of the past. But the metaphor of cannon shot locates the speaker in the present and suggests a speaker familiar with sixteenth-century warfare, as Gascoigne would have been from his military service.

  23. Thomas Starkey, England in the Reign of Henry VIII, a dialogue between Cardinal Pole and Thomas Lupset (1538), EETS e.s. 32, ed. Sidney J. Herrtage and J. M. Cowper (London, 1878), I.iii.80.

  24. See Erwin Panofsky's discussion of concetto in Idea: A Concept in Art Theory, trans. Joseph J. S. Peake (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1968), 66, 82, 118-19.

  25. The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd. ed., ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), I.i.33.

  26. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, incontinent can mean immediately, suddenly, “in continuous time.” An incontinent or immediate event happens in continuous time, but it happens too fast to be explained causally; thus it is almost hypercontinuous in that it seems to disrupt proper temporal causation.

  27. Eleanor Godfrey, Development of English Glassmaking, 235.

  28. McCray, Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice, 130-32.

  29. Glaziers are mentioned as early as the thirteenth century, and a Glaziers Company was first formed in 1328 under Edward III, but in general glazing refers to the cutting, annealing, and fitting of quarrels and other cut pieces of glass into lead frames, rather than glassblowing per se. The first published manual for glaziers is Walter Gedde, A booke of Sundry Draughtes, principally serving for glasiers and not impertinent for plasterers, and gardiners besides sundry other professions whereunto is annexed the manner how to anniel in Glas and also the true forme of the Fornace and the secretes thereof (London, 1615). The book offers patterns and instructions for outfitting leaded window frames, as well as for painting and firing images onto glass, or annealing. In addition to glaziers, there was a company of glass-sellers in England, but there was no glassblower's guild.

  30. McCray, Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice, 56.

  31. The Venetian glass industry is a prime example of “import substitution,” whereby a locale that is involved in the transport and resale of goods assumes production of those selfsame goods, transforming an import commodity into an export commodity. Italian states also did this with the trade in textiles. See Herman van der Wee, “European Long-Distance Trade, 1350-1750,” in The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long Distance Trade in the Early Modern World, 1350-1750, ed. James D. Tracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 25. See also van der Wee's The Rise and Decline of Urban Industries in Italy and in the Low Countries: Late Middle Ages-Early-Modern Times (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1988).

  32. Godfrey, Development of English Glassmaking, notes that the “cheapness of the ingredients, the high value of the product, and a tightly guarded monopoly of skill brought glassmakers prosperity and a high social status.” Members of the lesser nobility in France, Bohemia, and Italy not only owned glasshouses but worked as craftsmen at their own furnaces (4). Godfrey goes on to note that by 1640 the tradition of the owner-craftsman glassmaker had all but died out in England due to Sir Robert Mansell's administration of the glass monopoly (253). Still, glass was perceived as a “polite” and noble substance. Merret's translation of Neri states that “Its use in drinking vessels and other things profitable to mans service is much more gentle, graceful, and noble than any metall or whatsoever stone fit to make such works”; both the crafting and the of glass objects were identified with gentlemen. Christopher Merret, Arte of Glasse (London, 1662), sig. A1r, translating Antonio Neri, Ars Vitraria (Venice, 1612).

  33. Godfrey, Development of English Glassmaking, 7.

  34. McCray, Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice, 22-25, 126-32.

  35. The evidence that Gutenberg was involved in mirror-making stems from a law suit brought against the partnership. Douglas McMurtrie, The Gutenberg Documents (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941), 93-126. All of the known legal documents pertaining to Gutenberg have been collected and translated by McMurtrie in this collection. The proceedings that mention mirror-making were the result of a suit filed by George Dritzehen on behalf of his deceased brother Andrew, who was one of four original partners (the others being Gutenberg, Heilmann, and Riffe). The suit seeks either remuneration of Andrew's original investment by refund or admission into the partnership. The defense was based on a written partnership contract, which said that in the case of death all tools and implements of art and all works perfected by the instruments were to remain in the partnership. Gutenberg made two contracts with these partners. The first, in 1438, concerned “the polishing of stones and the manufacture of looking glasses.” The second does not specify the product of manufacture but stipulates that it is to be in force for five years (1438-43) and that its objective, “the exploitation of other ideas,” depends upon Gutenberg instructing his partners “in new arts.” McMurtrie surmises that printing may be one of those arts on the grounds that one witness gave testimony that he was hired by the partners to assist in a printing operation. We can assume, because the use of lead is mentioned by one of the witnesses, that the partnership was indeed also making glass “pennyware” mirrors as planned. These partnership agreements, protecting the arts and instruments for a period of five years, seem to be more concerned with protecting trade secrets than with rights to the initial investments, since they agree that, in the case of death, the initial investment will be disbursed to the heirs of the deceased after the period of five years. The council of Strasbourg ordered Gutenberg to pay 15 gulden (all that Andrew had paid of his promised investment of 100 gulden) to Andrew's brothers.

  36. Godfrey, Development of English Glassmaking, 178-79.

  37. Hugh Tait, ed., Five Thousand Years of Glass (London: British Museum Press, 1991), 174. On the private glass industry in Tyrol, see Reino Liefkes, ed., Glass (London: V& A Publications, 1997), 56-57, 60.

  38. See Lorna Hutson, Thomas Nashe in Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), esp. 173.

  39. Michael Mendle, Dangerous Positions: Mixed Government, the Estates of the Realm, and the Answer to the xix Propositions (Birmingham: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 56-59.

  40. I am grateful to Tyler Smith here for his insight that “strange” might be a punning commentary on the oddity of foreign peasants.

  41. Stephen Batman, A Christall Glasse of Christian Reformation wherein the godly maye behold the coloured abuses used in this our tyme (London, 1569), sig. A3r.

  42. Thomas Salter, A mirrhor mete for all mothers, matrones, and maidens, intituled the Mirrhor of Modestie [1579], ed. J. P. Collier, Illustrations of Old English Literature, Ser. 4, no. 5 (London, 1866), 5.

I am grateful to Margreta de Grazia for her comments on this article.


George Gascoigne Poetry: British Analysis