illustrated portrait of Anne Boleyn, the subject of Wyatt's poem

Whoso List to Hunt

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

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Discuss the criticism of courtly love in "Whoso List to Hunt."

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In "Whoso List to Hunt," the narrator speaks to the futility of courtly love. In the poem, the narrator writes of hunting a female deer who is always out of reach and, ultimately, is already claimed, with Caesar's collar around her unattainable neck.

One can certainly interpret this poem as the narrator complaining about his lack of success in courting women and his desire to give up the "hunt" of women altogether. The narrator seems to acknowledge his failure of hunting down women like prey, although he appears to lament his lack of success rather than criticize the culture and misogyny of this courtship.

Indeed, the narrator complains that when and if this female deer is caught, one may find that she is already owned by a man more powerful than he and not so "tame." She is untouchable, unattainable, and the pursuit of her is futile; yet the narrator cannot help but breathlessly follow behind her as she flees, both stuck in a loveless, degrading cycle of hunter and hunted.

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