Gullinge Sonnets Sir John Davies

(1590s) Though difficult to date with precision, the Gullinge Sonnets of Sir John Davies were fashioned as a direct commentary on the saccharine sonnet sequences in vogue during the 1590s. The Sonnets consist of nine poems and a dedicatory verse to Sir Anthony Cooke.

In the dedicatory poem, Davies warns that throughout this sequence, his "camelion Muse" will assume "divers shapes of gross absurdities," such that "if some rich, rash gull these Rimes commend, / Thus you may sett his for all witt to schoole, . . . / and beg him for a fool" (ll. 12-14). The purpose of these poems thus was to both satirize the writers of bad sonnets and expose those readers who pretend to have good taste by commending technically proficient but fundamentally flawed sonnets.

The wit of the opening two sonnets is contained in the sudden transition of the terminal couplet away from the expected—and overused—conceits and metaphors regarding love to a comic resolution. The first sonnet is written in the third person, which allows Davies to criticize an external object. Here he is the lover whose endurance of his mistress's love is transformed "Into a patiente burden-bearinge Asse" (l. 14). In the second sonnet, Davies compares the "poysonous beauty" of a lover to a "contagious yll" that decimates a flock of sheep (ll. 7-8).

Sonnet 3 is a satire on the rhetorical trope of reduplication, where the end of one phrase is repeated at the beginning of the next. Though technically proficient, the sonnet says very little and shows no progress of narrative or thought, which is the point. The octave of Sonnet 4 compares love to the workings of a gun, only to change the overarching metaphor at the volta to that of a lamp, as though the sestet and the octave were from different poems.

Sonnet 5 mocks trick poetry and list poetry, which relied on the poet's ability to find synonyms rather than create good verse. Sonnet 6 clothes a personified "love" in the attire of an Elizabethan gentleman rather than that of a mistress. Sonnets 7-9 are heavily laced with legal conceits and jargons, which is perhaps unsurprising from a man who later became a great lawyer. These three sonnets, though, are a direct attack on the writings of students at the Inns of Court that were laced with legal terminology quite foreign to a love poem.

As much of the humor is drawn from a very narrow historical and legal context, the satirical wit of the Gull-inge Sonnets can be difficult for readers today to recognize. Nevertheless, they stand as a self-conscious reflection on the poetic standards and fashions of the late Elizabethan period.

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