By the 20th century, Robert Henryson was considered the most well-known and critically important of the Middle Scots poets, a group which usually contains Henryson, James I of Scotland, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas, along with some other minor names. However, Henryson's birth and death dates are unclear mainly because he was neither a well-known nor a popular writer while alive. Indeed, while most scholars' best guess is that his major period of production was around 1475, it can only be said with certainty that his work was in circulation sometime during the last half of the 15th century. Henryson lived in Dunfer-mline, in Fife, and he was master of the grammar school in the Benedictine abbey there. Dunbar's "Lament for the Makaris" was published in 1508 and refers to Henryson's death, causing scholars to estimate it to around 1506.
During his life, three of Henryson's major poems— The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian (a collection of fables demonstrating his facility with both allegory and realism), The Testament of Cresseid (a response to Geoffrey Chaucer's work on the same subject), and Orpheus and Eurydice (a unique contribution to the orpheus tradition)—were certainly in circulation and known outside of the small group of Scottish poets. But even these were not always attributed to Henryson himself—The Testament of Cresseid, for example, was often mistakenly ascribed to Chaucer. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Henryson's reputation grew considerably with the publication (for the first time) of the rest of his poems, including one of his most studied oeuvres, "Robene and Makyne" (a love poem, influenced by the pastourelle).
Along with William Dunbar, Henryson is considered the most heavily influenced by Geoffrey Chaucer of the Middle Scots poets and hence is one of the Scottish Chaucerians. In addition, Henryson's work is often compared to Chaucer's because of his use of iambic pentameter and rhyme royal in his three long poems (Morall Fabillis, Cresseid, and Orpheus), as well as his "Chaucerian" use of irony in his narratives. But Henryson also shows facility with other techniques, such as alliteration, throughout his poetry. The extent of Chaucer's influence on Henryson and his poetry has been and continues to be a point of debate among critics.
Henryson's influences clearly include, in addition to Chaucer, religious exegesis, the notion of courtly love and chivalry, and the new ideas of the Renaissance being imported from Italy and France. His educated background is reflected in his use of different poetic styles as well as his sophisticated use of Latin in the Morall Fabillis, his direct allusions to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde in his own Cresseid, and his use of Boethius in Orpheus. He is also clearly influenced by the Scots literary tradition and language, and his poetry reflects an understanding of local Scottish dialect and how that can intermingle with aureation and educated diction.
While literary criticism of Henryson's poetry really only began to flourish at the end of the 19th century, it has continued to grow exponentially. Early Henryson scholarship barely looked critically at Morall Fabillis and Cresseid, focusing instead on his short poems and their relationship to Scottish history or to Chaucer. Indeed, early 20th-century scholarship considered
Henryson mainly a humorist who presented a naïve outlook on everyday life in the Middle Ages. But the 1950s signaled a turning point where critics began to look at Henryson's work as multifaceted and more literary than had previously been considered. By the early 21st century, Henryson was often cited as the greatest of the Middle Scots poets. With every year, it seems that more and more scholars are evaluating Henryson and his work, revealing at each step how truly complex this Middle Scots poet actually is.
Was this article helpful?
Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.