Sir John Suckling Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Between 1637 and 1641, Sir John Suckling completed three plays: Aglaura (pr., pb. 1638), The Goblins (pr. 1638), and Brennoralt (pr. 1646). The Sad One, an unfinished fragment, was written sometime earlier. Aglaura was published in 1638 in folio format; none of the other plays was printed during the poet’s lifetime. Most of Suckling’s fifty-odd letters are personal in subject matter, but two of them—one to “A Gentleman in Norfolk” and one to Henry Jermyn—are essentially political tracts dealing with the Scottish Campaign of 1639 and the opening of the Long Parliament in 1640, respectively. Suckling was also the author of “An Account of Religion by Reason,” a defense of Socinianism that attempts to reconcile biblical revelation with the mythologies of the ancients. Suckling’s letters and “An Account of Religion by Reason” have been collected by Thomas Clayton in The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Non-Dramatic Works (1971).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

During his lifetime, Sir John Suckling’s reputation as courtier and rakehell overshadowed his literary endeavors. His attacks on the Neoplatonic amatory conventions of the 1630’s led him into poetic skirmishes with Edmund Waller and a swarm of lesser poets; his much vaunted dislike of the aged and ailing Ben Jonson earned him the enmity of the Sons of Ben. In his satire “The Wits,” Suckling took on the entire Caroline literary establishment, with a good word for no one but Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland. Such combativeness, joined with the theatricality of his personal life, isolated Suckling from his fellow poets, and his work elicited few of the usual encomia from contemporaries. The raciness and adolescent flippancy that are the hallmarks of his style, moreover, constitute a reaction against the prevailing Caroline tastes that was little appreciated in his own day.

Suckling’s style, however, was precisely suited to the poets of the succeeding generation, and the Restoration wits found in him a model for their own aspirations. In John Dryden’s Of Dramatic Poesie: An Essay (1668), Eugenius argues that the ancients “can produce nothing so courtly writ, or which expresses so much the conversation of a gentleman, as Sir John Suckling”; William Congreve and John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, both praised his ease and naturalness. Restoration poets eagerly imitated “The Wits,” using it as the pattern for their own literary squibs;...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Beaurline, L. A. “’Why So Pale and Wan?’: An Essay in Critical Method.” In Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by William R. Keast. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Beaurline sees the poem as a dramatic lyric with a “facetious” (in the sixteenth century sense) narrator whose wit reflects unity in situation, character, argument, and language. Beaurline also discusses the poem as a response to the more complex Metaphysical poetry.

Bloom, Harold, ed. The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Frost. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Contains some poems by Suckling, selected by Bloom and with commentary by Bloom.

Clayton, Thomas. “’At Bottom a Criticism of Life’: Suckling and the Poetry of Low Seriousness.” In Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982. Clayton’s essay provides an overview of Suckling criticism and proceeds to analyze four poems: the early “Upon St. Thomas’s Unbelief,” “An Answer to some Verses made in his praise,” “Why so pale and wan, fond Lover?” and “Love’s Clock.” Places Suckling’s work in its literary context.

Squires, Charles L. Sir John Suckling. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Squires covers Suckling’s life, plays, poems, prose, and literary reputation. He also provides careful readings of several poems, and his criticism of the four plays is detailed. Suckling emerges as the spokesperson for the Cavalier era. Includes a chronology and bibliography.

Van Strien, Kees. “Sir John Suckling in Holland.” English Studies 76, no. 5 (September, 1995): 443. Suckling traveled in the Low Countries in the early seventeenth century yet left no record of his journeys. A letter written by Suckling and additional material are pieced together to develop a picture of the writer during a little-known period of his life.

Wilcher, Robert. The Discontented Cavalier: The Work of Sir John Suckling in its Social, Religious, Political, and Literary Contexts. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2007. Endeavors to examine the works of Suckling in the context of his times—in his social circumstances and position, the religious and political views of the time, and the literary world, including the Cavalier poets.