Thomas Wyatt Criticism - Essay

Richard Tottel (essay date 1557)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Tottel, Richard. “The Printer to the Reader.” 1557. Reprinted in Wyatt: The Critical Heritage, edited by Patricia Thomson, p. 32. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

[In the following excerpt, which was originally published in Tottel's Songs and Sonettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other, the printer credits Wyatt with helping improve the beauty and power of the English language.]

That to haue wel written in verse, yea & in small parcelles, deserueth great praise, the workes of diuers Latines, Italians, and other, doe proue sufficiently. That our tong is able in that kynde to do as praiseworthely as the rest, the honorable stile of the noble earle of Surrey, and the weightinesse of the depewitted sir Thomas Wyat the elders verse, with seuerall graces in sondry good Englishe writers, doe show abundantly. It resteth nowe (gentle reder) that thou thinke it not euill doon, to publish, to the honor of the Englishe tong, and for profit of the studious of Englishe eloquence, those workes which the vngentle horders vp of such treasure haue hereto enuied thee. And for this point (good reder) thine own profit and pleasure, in these presently, and in moe hereafter, shal answere for my defence. If parhappes some mislike the statelinesse of stile remoued from the rude skill of common eares: I aske help of the learned to defend their learned frendes, the authors of this work: And I exhort the vnlearned, by reding to learne to be more skilful, and to purge that swinelike grossenesse, that maketh the swete maierome not to smell to their delight.

George Frederick Nott (essay date 1816)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Nott, George Frederick. “An Essay on Wyatt's Poems.” 1816. Reprinted in Wyatt: The Critical Heritage, edited by Patricia Thomson, pp. 47-89. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

[In the essay below, originally published in the second volume of Nott's 1815-16 edition of The Works of Henry Howard Earl of Surrey and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, the critic charges that Wyatt lacked originality and skill with language. In the endnotes following this essay, Nott's original notes appear within parentheses; all others are Thomson's.]

What has been already observed concerning the Earl of Surrey, that though he was eminent for his virtues and personal...

(The entire section is 18199 words.)

Kenneth Muir (essay date 1963)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Muir, Kenneth. “Wyatt's Poetry.” In Life and Letters of Sir Thomas Wyatt, pp. 222-60. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1963.

[In the excerpt below, Muir analyzes the canon of Wyatt's poetry, concluding that his original lyrics are his finest writings.]


Some account of the manuscripts, apart from a recently discovered one, in which Wyatt's poems appear will be found in all recent editions of his poetry. By far the most important is Egerton MS. 2711 (E) in the British Museum, which contains 101 of his lyrics, as well as the satires and the psalms. The early part of the manuscript is in the hand of a scribe,...

(The entire section is 12313 words.)

Joost Daalder (essay date 1973)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Daalder, Joost. “Wyatt and ‘Liberty’.” Essays in Criticism XXIII, No. 1 (January 1973): 63-7.

[In the following essay, Daalder examines the numerous appearances of the word “liberty” throughout Wyatt's works and maintains that the word is charged with “a profound emotional significance” for the poet and “indicates a psychological freedom from nervous tension.” A postscript to this essay, published in 1985, is reprinted below under that date.]

It is easy, too easy, to think of the word ‘liberty’ in Wyatt's poems as representing merely a state in which the lover is not a ‘thrall’ who is ‘bond’ to a woman he ‘serves’ according...

(The entire section is 1595 words.)

Stephen Greenblatt (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Greenblatt, Stephen. “Power, Sexuality, and Inwardness in Wyatt's Poetry.” In Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, pp. 115-56. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

[In the following excerpt, Greenblatt analyzes the “intimate relationship between Wyatt's poetry and the forces that shape his identity,” notably politics, religion, and sexuality.]

There is no translation that is not at the same time an interpretation. This conviction, stamped indelibly in the mind by the fact that men went to the stake in the early sixteenth century over the rendering of certain Greek and Latin words into English, lies at the heart of virtually...

(The entire section is 21253 words.)

Dennis Kay (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Kay, Dennis. “Wyatt and Chaucer: They Fle From Me Revisited.” The Huntington Library Quarterly 47, No. 3 (Summer 1984): 211-25.

[In the following essay, Kay analyzes the Chaucerian elements in Wyatt's “They flee from me,” in an effort to understand the effect of the poem on its original audience.]

Wyatt's poems, as Alastair Fowler has observed, are “so rooted in their society that their survival is incomplete”: many of the characteristic qualities of the world from which they sprang are, inevitably, lost beyond hope of recovery.1 To read his poems intelligently is to realize that the past, or at least the early Tudor court, is a...

(The entire section is 5804 words.)

Joost Daalder (essay date 1985)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Daalder, Joost. “Wyatt and ‘Liberty’: A Postscript.” Essays in Criticism XXXV, No. 4 (October 1985): 330-36.

[In the essay below, Daalder explores the influence of Seneca on Wyatt, arguing that “Wyatt is the first major Senecan among Renaissance writers in England.” The first part of this essay, which first appeared in 1973, is reprinted above.]

In 1973, I argued in these pages1 that the word ‘liberty’ in Wyatt

… indicates a psychological freedom from nervous tension which I believe he saw as part of the quietude of mind, security and satisfaction which he so consistently and insistently longed...

(The entire section is 2473 words.)

Alexandra Halasz (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Halasz, Alexandra. “Wyatt's David.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 30, No. 3 (Fall 1988): 320-44.

[In the essay below, Halasz examines the importance of political and religious concerns in the Paraphrase of the Penitential Psalms.]

          Era intagliato lì nel marmo stesso
lo carro e' buoi traendo l'arca santa
per che si teme officio non commesso.

(Purgatorio 10.55-57)

Sir Thomas Wyatt's Paraphrase of the Penitential Psalms consists of the seven penitential psalms set into a narrative drawn from the biblical story of David. In a sonnet inserted as a preface to the Paraphrase, Henry Howard,...

(The entire section is 10487 words.)

Raymond Southall (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Southall, Raymond. “‘Love, Fortune and my mind’: the Stoicism of Wyatt.” Essays in Criticism XXXIX, No. 1 (January 1989): 18-28.

[In the essay which follows, Southall explores how the precarious life at court influenced Wyatt's poetry.]

Writing in these pages nearly twenty-five years ago, I argued against D. W. Harding's suggestion that Wyatt's poetry was an unconscious reflexion of his insecurity as courtier and diplomat and Patricia Thomson's opinion that it was arrogant and cynical.1 Both of these views, it seemed to me, were likely to detract from the achievement of someone who was ‘coming to be seen as the most important figure in...

(The entire section is 3582 words.)

Marguerite Waller (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Waller, Marguerite. “The Empire's New Clothes: Refashioning the Renaissance.” In Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism, edited by Sheila Fisher and Janet E. Halley, pp. 160-83. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Waller argues that in “Whoso list to hunt” “male selfhood” is achieved through the “denigration and exclusion” of women.]


Recently, at the University of California, San Diego, where I had been visiting, two “new historicist” Renaissance scholars spoke on two successive days. The first day...

(The entire section is 9727 words.)

Jan Lawson Hinely (essay date 1992)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hinely, Jan Lawson. “‘Freedom through Bondage’: Wyatt's Appropriation of the Penitential Psalms of David.” In The Work of Dissimilitude: Essays from the Sixth Citadel Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Literature, edited by David G. Allen and Robert A. White, pp. 148-65. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

[In the excerpt below, Hinely places Wyatt's psalms at the center of the canon of his works and explores their thematic relation to his secular lyrics.]

Critics in general, perhaps discouraged by Tillyard's comment that they are “academic exercises, penitential not merely in matter but to those whose task it is to read...

(The entire section is 7093 words.)

Michael Holahan (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Holahan, Michael. “Wyatt, the Heart's Forest, and the Ancient Savings.” English Literary Renaissance 23, No. 1 (Winter 1993): 46-80.

[In the following essay, Holahan argues that Wyatt's translations of Petrarch's works altered them from private love poems to public declarations of allegiance.]

My Lord, I see I must be your homager and hold land of your gift; but do you know the manner of doing homage in law? Always it is with a saving of his faith to the King and his other lords; and therefore, my Lord, I can be no more yours than I was, and it must be with the ancient savings.

—Francis Bacon to the...

(The entire section is 14935 words.)

Christopher Z. Hobson (essay date 1997)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hobson, Christopher Z. “Country Mouse and Towny Mouse: Truth in Wyatt.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 39, No. 3 (Fall 1997): 230-58.

[In the essay below, Hobson contends that Wyatt employed concealment and evasion in his poetry as necessary means to present difficult truths.]

Truth is a crucial term in the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt. The word and its derivatives, with closely related terms like “trust” and “faith,” and their derivatives and opposites, appear in nearly 50 percent of his poems. These terms frequently clump together, three and four to a poem, although it is equally true that there are major poems raising the issue of truth...

(The entire section is 12891 words.)

Elizabeth Heale (essay date 1997)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Heale, Elizabeth. “‘An owl in a sack troubles no man’: proverbs, plainness, and Wyatt.” Renaissance Studies 11, No. 4 (December 1997): 420-33.

[In the following essay, Heale explores how proverbs influenced Wyatt's verse, particularly the poem “A spending hand.”]

Wyatt's third satire, ‘A spending hand’, addressed to Sir Francis Bryan, begins and ends with a proverb and uses proverbs throughout. Appropriately, for such a discourse of wise saws, the speaking voice identifies itself as a giver of counsel, ‘I thowght forthwith to write, / Brian, to the, who knows how great a grace / In writing is to cownsell man the right’.1 The poem...

(The entire section is 7323 words.)

John Watkins (essay date 1998)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Watkins, John. “‘Wrastling for this world’: Wyatt and the Tudor Canonization of Chaucer.” In Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance, edited by Theresa M. Krier, pp. 21-39. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.

[In the essay below, Watkins investigates the many levels on which Wyatt's works engaged Chaucer's.]

For more than four hundred years, critics have honored Wyatt as the first representative of an English Renaissance conceived as an absolute break with the Middle Ages. Surrey eulogized him as the “hand … / That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit,” and Puttenham later canonized him with Surrey as one of the “two chieftains” of a...

(The entire section is 7838 words.)

James Simpson (essay date 1999)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Simpson, James. “Breaking the Vacuum: Ricardian and Henrician Ovidianism.” The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 29, No. 2 (Spring 1999): 325-55.

[In the essay which follows, Simpson contends that Wyatt and Surrey were writers operating within specific literary traditions, rather than the radical innovators they are often depicted to be.]

Thomas Wyatt, who was born 1503, died of natural causes in October 1542. In 1536, and again in 1541, he had come very close to dying of a sharp-bladed unnatural cause. In 1536 he was implicated in the series of executions surrounding the fall of Anne Boleyn, and in 1541 his enemies profited from the execution in...

(The entire section is 13448 words.)