Thomas Campion Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Thomas Campion (KAM-pee-uhn) wrote a critical essay of poetics, Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602), and a book of music theory, A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counter-point (c. 1617), the one work of his that remained in print throughout the seventeenth century.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

England has always had a strong claim to one of the finest literatures in the West. Most critics agree, moreover, that the literature of the late English Renaissance—stretching from Edmund Spenser through William Shakespeare to John Milton—was the true golden age. With music, however, it is a different story; usually England imported rather than exported musical ideas. The Germans, George Frideric Handel (later naturalized as a British subject) in the eighteenth century and Felix Mendelssohn in the nineteenth, dominated English music. For two brief periods, however, England was Europe’s musical innovator—the mid-fifteenth century, when John Dunstable’s music taught Continental composers the new style, and the decades spanning the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Thomas Wheelkes, and especially John Dowland ushered in England’s musical golden age. Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528; The Courtier, 1561) advises the Renaissance gentleman to be adept at both poetry and music, and most educated persons had some level of expertise in both, but only one man in that twin golden age deserves to be called both a first-rate poet and a first-rate composer: Thomas Campion. Most composers would either set words by others, as John Dowland did—often producing truly moving music to inferior words, as in his famous “Come heavy sleep”—or they would write their own words with even worse literary results, as Campion’s friend Philip Rosseter did in his half of A Booke of Ayres, which he jointly produced with Campion. Most poets would entitle a work, hopefully, “Song” and wait for a composer to do his share—as John Donne did, for example, in “Song: Goe and Catch a Falling Star.” Campion, however, wrote both words and music and thus is the distillation of the English Renaissance.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Booth, Mark W. The Experience of Songs. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981. Booth’s chapter “Art Song” is an exhaustive reading of the musical and lyrical aspects of Campion’s “I Care Not for These Ladies,” an “anticourtly” pastoral song. While he devotes some attention to the music of the poem, Booth focuses on the lyrics, finding them more complex than earlier critics had believed.

Coren, Pamela. “In the Person of Womankind: Female Persona Poems by Campion, Donne, Jonson.” Studies in Philology 98, no. 2 (Spring, 2001): 225-250. Analysis of the use of the female persona in Campion’s “A Secret Love or Two, I Must Confesse.”

Davis, Walter R. Thomas Campion. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Devotes separate chapters to Campion’s biography, poetry, music, theory, masques (the Renaissance “multimedia show”), and reputation. Contains a two-page chronology, extensive notes, a selected bibliography with brief annotations, and an index. Essential for Campion scholars.

Lindley, David. Thomas Campion. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1986. Discusses Campion’s poetry, his music, the relationship between his music and poetry, and his masques. Provides literary, musical, and political contexts but focuses on the works. Contains extensive analyses of individual masques and poems and a select bibliography.

Lowbury, Edward, Timothy Salter, and Alison Young. Thomas Campion: Poet, Composer, Physician. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1970. Despite its title, the book stresses music. Reviews Campion’s critical reputation, provides a biographical chapter, discusses the relationship between music and poetry, and examines his masques, his poem/songs, and his literary and music criticism. Six pages are devoted to “interactions.” Select bibliography.

Ryding, Erik S. In Harmony Framed: Musical Humanism, Thomas Campion, and the Two Daniels. Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Publishers, 1993. Contrasts the poetic and musical work of the Daniel brothers, John and Samuel, with Thomas Campion. The author categorizes Campion with the Renaissance humanists. Includes bibliography.

Wilson, Christopher. Words and Notes Coupled Lovingly Together: Thomas Campion, a Critical Study. New York: Garland, 1989. Contains a biographical outline, a review of Campion’s scholarship, an examination of the Campion canon, brief discussions of the poetry and the music, and thorough treatments of Observations in the Art of English Poesie and his musical theories. Includes an extensive commentary on the masques and a comprehensive bibliography.