John Skelton Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In addition to the poems listed above, John Skelton wrote a play, or, more properly, an interlude (a short allegorical morality play), called Magnyfycence (1516), which counsels monarchs against excessive liberality. Skelton also participated in a popular form of court entertainment called “flyting,” in which two courtiers trade insults before an audience of their peers. In particular, Skelton flyted one Christopher Garnish, and some of his “insults” persist in the Poems Against Garnish (1513-1514).

Finally, Skelton translated a significant number of works and had a reputation as an excellent Latinist. His translations apparently included the works of Diodorus Siculus, Cicero’s Ad familiares (62-43 b.c.e.; The Familiar Epistles, 1620) and Guillaume Deguilleville’s La Pélerinage de la vie humaine. The latter two works, mentioned in The Garlande of Laurell, do not survive. Skelton also composed a moral guidebook: Speculum Principis (1501, also known as A Mirror for Princes).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Modern readers find John Skelton’s work hard to understand and appreciate. He lived and wrote just as the literary Renaissance and political Reformation began to reshape England. Skelton reveals in The Garlande of Laurell that he perceived himself to be the heir of the medieval poets Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and John Lydgate. His language resembles the Middle English of these three forebears, but like the English of his contemporary Sir Thomas Malory, borders on what is now termed Modern English (the conventional boundary date between Middle and Modern English is 1500). The difficulty in reading Skelton, then, comes not from the archaic quality of his language but from its deliberate, often playful, polyglot tendencies and its unusual metrical properties. Skelton intermingles French and Latin words and phrases in many of his poems, often producing the kind of interlingual mix known as macaronic verse. He also loads his poems with allusions to the Bible and to contemporary political events. Metrically, Skelton’s poetry surprises readers used to the iambic pentameter line that became the norm for English poetry after William Shakespeare. In many poems, Skelton uses trimeter (six-syllable) couplets with irregular rhythm. This meter is so characteristic of his poetry that it has become known as Skeltonic.

In his lifetime, Skelton was well rewarded and admired, although perhaps not as completely, or as consistently, as he might have liked. He...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Carlson, David R. John Skelton and Early Modern Culture: Papers Honoring Robert S. Kinsman. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008. A collection of essays on Skelton that analyze his writings in terms of the time in which he lived.

Carpenter, Nan Cooke. JohnSkelton. New York: Twayne, 1968. This overview contains a preface, a chronology, and an outline of Skelton’s life. Carpenter discusses all his important poetic works and highlights the poet’s intimate technical knowledge of music, dance songs, and popular song tags. Skelton’s reputation and influence is also discussed. Includes notes and references.

Griffiths, Jane. John Skelton and Poetic Authority: Defining the Liberty to Speak. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. This work reassesses Skelton’s place in English literature and links his work as a translator and writer to his poetic theory.

Kinney, Arthur F. John Skelton, Priest as Poet: Seasons of Discovery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Maintaining that Skelton’s primary vocation, the priesthood, was fundamental to his literary work, Kinney attempts to give a comprehensive evaluation of his poetry. Includes notes and an index.

Richardson, J. A. Falling Towers: The Trojan Imagination in “The Waste Land,” “The Dunciad,” and “Speke parott.” Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992. Examines Skelton’s Speke, Parrot and compares and contrasts it with T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) and Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad (1728-1743).

Scattergood, V. J. Reading the Past: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Portland, Oreg.: Four Courts Press, 1996. Includes a critical essay on the works of Skelton, bibliographical references, and an index.

Walker, Greg. John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520’s. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Discusses the political and social views of Skelton and gives a history of English political satire as well as a view of the politics and government in England during the first half of the sixteenth century.