Edwards, Anthony S. G., ed. Skelton, the Critical Heritage.
London and Boston: Routledge/Kegan Paul Press, 1981. Kinney, Arthur. John Skelton, Priest as Poet. Chapel Hill, N.C.
and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Walker, Greg. John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520's. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
SKELTONICS As the term suggests, Skeltonics is a verse form associated with the court poet and satirist John Skelton (ca. 1460-1529). Consisting of two accented syllables and an irregular number of unaccented syllables, the short lines proceed rapidly, almost breathlessly. This hurried effect is compounded by the frequent presence of alliteration and rhyming couplets and triplets; sometimes as many as a dozen consecutive lines end on the same rhyme. When used to interrupt other metrical forms, Skeltonic passages often feature catalogues similar to a Blazon, emphasizing the comic, even grotesque, features of the verse's subjects. Though rejected by George Puttenham in his art of English poesy as "short measures pleasing onely the popular eare," the simple meter was praised by Auden as wonderfully akin to the rhythm of natural speech.
See also Garland of Laurel; "Philip Sparrow."
"SO CRUEL PRISON" ("WINDSOR ELEGY," "ELEGY ON THE DUKE OF RICHMOND," "PRISONED IN WINDSOR, HE RECOUNTETH HIS PLEASURE THERE") Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1537) This poem by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey concerns his imprisonment at Windsor Castle in 1537, probably for striking Sir Edward Seymour, the new queen's brother. Surrey, a member of the powerful Howard family, had spent his youth at Windsor Castle in the company of Henry Vlll's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond. With the king's marriage to Jane Seymour, the Howard family's influence had waned while the Seymour family's influence had grown. Additionally, Surrey's friend Richmond had died the year before. Surrey thus expressed his double bereavement, personal and political, through this poem.
Although not a sonnet, the form of this poem grows out of the sonnet model. It has 14 stanzas, echoing the sonnet's 14 lines. Like an English sonnet, all the stanzas are quatrains, except for the closing couplet. Surrey would place his sonnets' volta in line 9, and in "So Cruel Prison" the volta is in the ninth stanza. This expanded sonnet form indicates that this poem may be connected to "When Windsor Walls," a sonnet also concerning his 1537 imprisonment.
"So Cruel Prison" may be read simultaneously as an elegy, a statement on the political climate, and, to some scholars, a love poem. The poem begins with a personal cry lamenting Surrey's situation. He recalls his youth at Windsor as passed "In greater feast than Priam's sons of Troy" (l. 4). In the next seven quatrains, Surrey focuses on the activities he and Richmond participated in during their youth—hunting, wrestling, jousting, playing games, riding, courting—and describes the places connected with each activity. All these activities emphasize the stark contrast between Surrey's experience as the friend of the king's son and that of prisoner. His depiction of his earlier experience highlights the courtliness of the youthful activities and perhaps indicates that such a noble era has passed, along with Richmond and the influence of the venerable Howard family, and been replaced by the upstart Seymour family. Thus, this poem of personal loss is also a reflection of the changes in English society.
"So Cruel Prison" does not include the elegaic concern that the audience should not only lament the dead subject of the poem, but also emulate his or her virtue. Surrey's aim is solely to lament Richmond's death and the loss of the way of life he represented. In this, the poem is in line with the pastoral elegy, which proposes no solutions but instead proposes a concrete setting for posing questions and diffusing grief. This connection between the setting of Windsor and the loss of Richmond emphasizes that to Surrey the two are inseparable.
Recently, "So Cruel Prison" has been interpreted as a love poem. The catalogue of pursuits recounted in the first eight stanzas also provides insight into the nature of Surrey and Richmond's relationship. All of these physical contests serve as an acceptable way for two young males to demonstrate their love for each other.
Starting with the volta in stanza 9, the poem takes a more personal turn from describing diurnal chivalric activities in a stylized way to expressing personal grief. Mentioning the nights the two spent together in "sweet accord" (l. 35), Surrey goes on to describe "The secret thoughts imparted with such trust, / The wanton talk, the divers change of play, / The friendship sworn, each promise sworn . . ." (ll. 37-39). The closeness of the personal relationship is emphasized, as well as the inviolable world that has passed with Richmond's death.
Stanza 12 marks a shift in the poem's language and is Surrey's apostrophe to Windsor Castle. The abrupt change in diction results in an unsatisfactory ending to an elegy but can also reinforce the love poem reading. The final stanzas echo the lament of Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus for the lost Criseyde with its connection between place and person. This echo both connects the end of the poem to the allusion to Troy in line 4 and indicates the depth of the relationship between Surrey and Richmond.
At the end Surrey fully recognizes the horrible reality of his condition. The final couplet offers comfort that is no comfort at all: His pain at the loss of his dear friend and possible lover and the loss of a way of life will offer relief from the much lesser grief of his incarceration.
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