William Dunbar Analysis

Other literary forms

There is no evidence that William Dunbar wrote in any genre other than short poetry.


William Dunbar has traditionally been grouped with Robert Henryson, Gavin Douglas, Sir David Lyndsay, and James I of Scotland, author of The Kingis Quair (1423-1424; The King’s Choir), as a “Scottish Chaucerian,” because he often used Geoffrey Chaucer’s metrical forms and poetic conventions. He may also be considered a Chaucerian in the sense that he and his contemporaries, both in England and Scotland, acknowledged a large debt to Chaucer, the “flower of rhetoricians,” who, they believed, raised the English language to a status equal to that of Latin and French, where it could be used for both philosophy and literature. Thus, the Chaucerians felt that one of their important duties was to consolidate this new status by practicing a highly ornate rhetoric, and Dunbar’s rhetoric was as self-consciously artful as anyone’s. At the same time, however, Dunbar was never a slavish imitator of the great English poet. Indeed, there are more than a few differences between them. Whereas Chaucer was an accomplished storyteller, Dunbar wrote mainly short lyrical poems. Whereas Chaucer was a sensitive creator of literary characters, Dunbar’s interests lay elsewhere, and so his characters are never as fully developed. Finally, although Chaucer wrote warm human comedy, the tone of his work is quite different from that of Dunbar’s raucous grotesqueries.

One of Dunbar’s most noticeable poetic qualities is his professionalism, for he...

(The entire section is 594 words.)


Bawcutt, Priscilla. Dunbar the Makar. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. A comprehensive critical study of Dunbar’s works. Includes a bibliography and an index.

_______. “William Dunbar and Gavin Douglas.” In The History of Scottish Literature: Origins to 1660 (Medieval and Renaissance), edited by R. D. S. Jack and Cairns Craig. Vol. 1. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1988. Demonstrates the poet’s debt to his Scottish predecessors. Notes the differences between Dunbar and Douglas, who were similar in terms of the lengths of their works, the subjects about which they wrote, and the total works they composed. Includes notes and works for further reading and lists primary and secondary sources.

Baxter, J. W. William Dunbar: A Biographical Study. 1952. Reprint. St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1971. Perhaps the seminal introductory volume of commentary on Dunbar, this work traces the poet’s life and comments on his poems. Each of its sixteen chapters is highlighted by additional notes. This volume contains six appendixes that range from Dunbar’s textual sources to examinations of poems believed to be composed by Dunbar. Contains an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources and two indexes. The first index refers to individual poems in the volume; the second is a general index....

(The entire section is 584 words.)