Robert Henryson Analysis

Other literary forms

Robert Henryson most likely did not write in any genre other than poetry.


For centuries, the reputation of Robert Henryson rested on a mistake. His poem The Testament of Cresseid, which concludes or rounds out the events of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (1382), was mistakenly credited to Chaucer and printed as Chaucer’s (in an “Englished” version, smoothing out the Scottish dialect) for several generations. Thus, although his work drew admiration, the poet himself was little known.

Henryson was rediscovered by antiquarians in the eighteenth century, and for about one hundred years was a subject of interest among the Scottish literati, leading to editions of his poetry by David Laing (1865) and G. G. Smith (1906-1914). Today, Henryson is regularly studied, along with Gavin Douglas and William Dunbar, as one of the Scottish Chaucerians. Both Chaucer and John Lydgate can be seen to have influenced Henryson greatly. Although his own direct influence extends, perhaps, only to the English and Scottish lyricists of the early sixteenth century, he is now generally admired as a witty and learned man whose response to his sources (Aesop, Chaucer, and classical myth) reveals an interesting mind at work and earns him the right to be included among early Renaissance humanists. He vies with Dunbar for the distinction of being the preeminent Scottish poet before Robert Burns.


Gray, Douglas. Robert Henryson. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1979. This study begins with a background chapter on Henryson’s world, but the bulk of the book (three chapters) is a detailed reading of the Fables. Contains separate sections on The Testament of Cresseid, “Orpheus and Eurydice,” and the shorter poems. Includes illustrations and a good basic bibliography.

Henryson, Robert. The Complete Works. Edited by David J. Parkinson. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2008. Contains a lengthy introduction that provides information about Henryson. The shorter poems are divided into two groups, those with stronger and weaker attributions.

_______. The Poems of Robert Henryson. Edited by Denton Fox. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1981. This fine collection is accompanied by a full introduction that reviews Henryson’s life and reputation, the texts, the manuscripts, and the individual works. The poems are given extensive commentary and an excellent Middle Scots glossary makes reading easy and enjoyable.

Kindrick, Robert L. Henryson and the Medieval Arts of Rhetoric. New York: Garland, 1993. A rhetorical study of Henryson’s work that details Henryson’s use of the ars poetria, ars dictiminis, ars...

(The entire section is 415 words.)