According to George Puttenham, presumptive author
"ASSYRIANS' KING IN PEACE WITH FOUL DESIRE, THE'" 33
of The Art of English Poesie, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, went to Italy and brought back the verse forms that make them "the first reformers of our English meter and stile" (49). The introduction of these new Italian forms, in turn, necessitated the flurry of Renaissance poetry manuals by George Gascoigne, Samuel Daniel, Charles Webb, Sir Philip Sidney, and Puttenham, among others.
Book I, "Of Poets and Poesie," contains a remarkably credible history of poetry in Greek, Latin, and English. All subjects, including science and law, were written in verse in primitive times, and the types of poetry number in the dozens. Because it is decorated with versification and figures of speech, poetry is a more persuasive and melodious form of language and is very much given to structure and accuracy. The countless examples of dignities and promotions given to poets throughout history, and the numerous examples of royal poets, show up the ignorance of Renaissance courtiers who suppress their poetry or publish under a pseudonym.
In Book II, "Of Proportion Poetical," Puttenham compares metrical form to arithmetical, geometrical, and musical pattern. He adduces five points to English verse structure: The "Staffe," the "Measure," "Concord or Symphony," "Situation," and "Figure." The staffe, or stanza, is four to 10 lines that join without intermission and finish all of the sentences thereof. Each length of the stanza suits a poetic tone and genre. Each is overlaid by a closed rhyme scheme. This latter, termed "band" (65) or "enterlacement" (70), is of primary concern to Puttenham. He views English as having solely a syllabic system of measure (meter). The length of lines may alternate in patterns that support the rhyme scheme and, so, increase the band. Syllabic length is a factor, but accentuation is not. "Concord, called Symphonie or rime" (76) is an accommodation made for the lack of metrical feet in English versification. The matching of line lengths, rhymed at the end, in symmetrical patterns, is a further accommodation. Putten-ham includes a number of graphs to illustrate the variety of rhyme schemes and line-length patterns, or situation. Proportion in figure is the composition of stanzas in graphic forms ranging from the rhombus to the spire.
Book III, "Of Ornament," which comprises a full half of the Arte, is a catalog of figures of speech. Put-tenham believes that language, since it is inherently artificial, not natural, is suitable for the added artifice of figures. Figures give more "pithe and substance, subtilitie, quicknesse, efficacie or moderation, in this or that sort tuning and tempring them by amplification, abridgement, opening, closing, enforcing, meek-ening or otherwise disposing them to the best purpose" (134). This definition is followed by a catalog of the various figures of speech, which Puttenham analyzes. His book concludes with a lengthy analysis of "decency," and the artificial and natural dimensions of language.
ASKEW, ANNE See "Ballad Which Askew Made and Sang When in Newgate, A."
ASSONANCE Assonance occurs when vowel sounds are repeated in words that are next to or near each other. The sounds may be identical or similar, but in all cases the vowels will be accented. Scholars often call assonance vocalic rhyme, since it is more of a sound effect than a rhyme proper: the words sit and bit rhyme, but sit and bin reflect assonance. The reader's expectation that a rhyme may occur, especially within a line of poetry, enables poets to produce varied effects via assonance. For instance, a number of poems from the 14th-century alliterative revival employ assonance and alliteration simultaneously, with striking results.
"ASSYRIANS' KING IN PEACE WITH FOUL DESIRE, THE" Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1557) This sonnet was first published in Tottel's Miscellany, 10 years after the execution of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. This angry and critical poem is deeply imbedded in its own time.
Surrey was born into a well-established and powerful family, the Howards. As he matured, he saw himself as a champion of tradition and as an enemy of those he saw as newly made, many of whom had become close advisers to Henry VIII during the latter part of his reign and who were, to Surrey's way of thinking, corrupting the king. During his short life, Surrey sometimes fell afoul of the king and his advisers and was jailed more than once. It is no wonder, therefore, that many critics have understood this poem as an implicit criticism of Henry VIII, though we have no direct evidence to support this conjecture.
The poem's rhyme scheme is that of the English sonnet; however, unlike the vast majority of Surrey's other sonnets, which deal with amatory themes, this poem's theme is civic. The speaker is disgusted by the unnamed king's lack of self-control, the unnamed king being King Sardanapalus, a legendary king of Assyria whom earlier authors such as John Gower and John Lydgate had used as an exemplum of degenerate kingship. Throughout the poem, Surrey masterfully uses antithesis, a common Renaissance rhetorical figure, to illuminate the degeneracy of this king. For example, the opening quatrain contrasts corrupted peace (ll. 1-2) with dignified war (ll. 3-4). The Assyrians' king has yielded to sloth, living "in peace with foul desire" (l. 1), and has shown no interest in nobly defining himself through "martial art" (l. 4). This personal irresponsibility is significant because Renaissance theories of kingship identified the king's personal body with the body politic. If the king permitted his body to degenerate through irresponsible living, the body politic would inevitably follow suit.
The second quatrain employs an even more tightly focused antithetical structure. on each side of the four lines' caesuras, Surrey places contrasting images: swords and kisses (l. 5); the king's "lady's side" and his "targe [his shield]" (l. 6), "glutton feasts" and "soldier's fare" (l. 7), and finally contrasting the weight of the king's helmet to "a garland's charge [weight]" (l. 8). The quatrain also manages to appeal to all five senses: Not only do we clearly see all that the speaker describes, we also hear the "dint of swords," feel the "lady's side," taste the "glutton feasts," and smell the king's garland.
The final quatrain again employs an antithetical structure, this time making more explicit what the second quatrain implied: The king has become dangerously effeminate. He "scace [scarcely]" retains "the name of manhood" (l. 9), because he has permitted himself to be "Drenched in sloth and womanish delight" (l. 10). His less than manly approach to living (read less than Stoical) has left him "Feeble of sprite, impatient of pain" (l. 11) and as a result he has "lost his honor and his right" (l. 12). The couplet finishes on an ironical note, given that only by means of suicide does the king "show some manful deed" (l. 14).
Surrey has been called the quintessential courtierpoet because he was not only a nobleman of great intelligence and learning, he was also a man of action, who, when on good terms with Henry VIII, led the king's troops into battle against the French and served on numerous occasions as Henry's personal ambassador to other monarchs. In short, he lived a dutiful life—the absolute antithesis of the life lived by the Assyrians' king.
Session, William A. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Twayne's
English Authors Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986. Kantorowicz, Ernst. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957.
Surrey, Henry Howard, earl of. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey: Selected Poems. Edited by Dennis Keane. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Richard J. Erable
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