George Gascoigne Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to his masques and plays, George Gascoigne wrote in a number of genres in verse and prose. Whatever the genre, his style is generally direct, lucid, and idiomatic. Several of his works were the first of their kind in English literature.

Gascoigne’s later moralistic writings, however, lack interest for most students of literature. In prose, these works include The Droomme of Doomes Day (1576) and A Delicate Diet, for Daintiemouthde Droonkardes (1576), and, in rhyme royal, The Grief of Joye (1576).

Two expository works in prose have special importance. Gascoigne’s eyewitness account The Spoyle of Antwerpe (1576), originally written as a government report, is perhaps the best journalistic writing of the Elizabethan “Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse,” included in The Posies of George Gascoigne Esquire (1575), is the earliest extant treatise on poetry in the English language.

Also included in that collection, and of even greater interest, is the prose narrative The Discourse of the Adventures Passed by Master F. J. (1573), revised and reissued as The Pleasant Fable of Ferdinando Jeronimi and Leonora de Valasco (1575). With lyric poems spaced throughout the prose, the experimental narrative tells the story of a young man’s disillusioning love affair with a more experienced woman who is also having adulterous relations with her...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

George Gascoigne died in 1577, when a new generation of writers such as John Lyly, Sir Philip Sidney, and Edmund Spenser were beginning an outburst of literary creativity that lasted from 1578 to the start of the Commonwealth period in 1642. Comparison of Gascoigne’s works to the great literature that followed shortly afterward causes Gascoigne to be considered, and perhaps correctly, a minor writer, but his literary achievements won recognition during his own time and strongly influenced the development of English poetry and drama. At least some of his pieces may still be read with enjoyment.

That Gascoigne achieved stature as a writer during his own time is shown by his dealings between 1572 and 1577 with some of the great nobility. He seems to have enjoyed at least some patronage from Lord Grey of Wilton, later a patron to Spenser. Recognition of his ability is implied by Gascoigne’s having been asked by the family of Viscount Montague to provide the masque for the Montague-Dormer wedding, and even more by his being chosen by the earl of Leicester to provide entertainment for the queen’s visit to Kenilworth. The poet’s appointment to government service very likely resulted from favorable notice by the queen herself.

Modern scholars continue to be interested in Gascoigne primarily because of his contributions to the development of English poetry and drama. During his lifetime, serious English writers, confronted by native and foreign...

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Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The first two volumes of the poetry of George Gascoigne (GAS-koyn) also contain many of his most popular prose works. Among these is “Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse” (1575, also found in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres Bounde Up in One Small Poesie), an important work of literary criticism that is said to be the first of its kind in the English language. Also found in the early volumes are a number of full-length plays, all types never before presented in English, as well as some interesting masques and royal entertainments.

Gascoigne also experimented with fictional and nonfictional narrative. One of these works, The Spoyle of Antwerpe (1576), is a rare example for the times of detailed and honest journalistic reporting about the war. The Discourse of the Adventures Passed by Master F. J. (1573; revised as The Pleasant Fable of Ferdinando Jeronimi and Leonora de Valasco, 1575) is a work of prose fiction that has received considerable attention from scholars and critics. Also among these works are several long didactic prose pieces that are moralistic in tone.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

George Gascoigne tried his hand at many forms of literature, with an innovator’s quick eye for literary forms not used before in England or in English. Writing as a gifted amateur at the court of Queen Elizabeth and turning near the end of his life toward writing as a profession, Gascoigne presented a notable list of first achievements. He wrote the first work of English literary criticism and presented in England the first ancient Greek tragedy and the first translation from Italian prose comedy. His verse satire The Steele Glas, a Satyre, itself an important early example of social satire, was the first English poem (not including translations) that employed nondramatic blank verse.

Gascoigne was also innovative in narrative modes, presenting in The Discourse of the Adventures Passed by Master F. J. what many call the first work of prose fiction in English. For a time he was followed by a school of imitators, including George Whetstone and Nicholas Breton. Gascoigne seldom brought his work to a fine polish, however, and this lack of finish together with an archaic style in diction and meter have produced a modern assessment that his works are valuable merely for their innovative literary attempts, rather than their actual achievements.

This opinion has undergone some revaluation. Later critics have stressed Gascoigne’s serious commitment to moral themes, his patriotic determination to form a distinctively English...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bowman, Silvia E. George Gascoigne. New York: Twayne, 1972. A fascinating and informative survey, with specific comparisons of Gascoigne and Petrarch and a discussion of The Steele Glas as satire. “The Love Lyrics,” The Discourse of the Adventures Passed by Master F. J., and Gascoigne’s three plays are also discussed. Supplemented by a chronology, notes, a select bibliography, and an index.

Hughes, Felicity A. “Gascoigne’s Poses.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 37, no. 1 (Winter, 1997): 1-19. Questions the claim that in The Posies Gascoigne corrected his writings in conformity with the wishes of censors who found his writing offensive. Gascoigne did not succumb to the pressure. His “revised” edition of 1575 is no cleaner than the first edition, and it represents an attempt to brazen it out with the censors rather than placate them.

Johnson, Ronald C. George Gascoigne. New York: Twayne, 1972. An ample discussion of Petrarch and Gascoigne precedes separate chapters on the love lyrics and the other poems. The Steele Glas is discussed for its satire, The Discourse of the Adventures Passed by Master F. J. for its variety of narrative devices, and the three plays for their relationship to dramatic traditions. Includes a brief biography and a short annotated...

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