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LYDGATE, JOHN (ca. 1370-ca. 1450) Along with Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, John Lydgate was one of the most widely read and highly esteemed poets of the 15th century. Born in the village of Lydgate (or Lidgate) in Suffolk, he entered a Benedictine abbey at Bury St. Edmunds around 1386 and was ordained in 1397. At some point he attended Gloucester Hall, the Benedictine college at oxford. There he studied rhetoric and composed his first verses, a translation of Aesop's Fables. In 1423, Lydgate was appointed prior of Hatfield Broadoak in Essex, a post he subsequently relinquished in 1432. Absent from England from 1426 to 1429 as a member of the duke of Bedford's retinue in France, Lydgate returned to England, and in 1433 he moved to the abbey of St. Edmunds, where he remained until his death.

Lydgate's canon is remarkably diverse and expansive. It has been estimated that he wrote about 145,000 lines of verse over the course of his lifetime, covering many genres, including short didactic poems, devotional poetry, hagiography, romances, dream visions, and historiography. He also acquired a variety of patrons, among whom were members of royalty and nobility as well as rural gentry, members of religious orders, and craft guilds.

Among Lydgate's first significant works is the Troy Book, a translation in couplets of Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae, which supplements the original poem in order to produce a full narrative of the fall of Troy. The Siege of Thebes, Lydgate's next major work, is framed as a Canterbury tale and functions as a precursor to Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale." While abroad in France, Lydgate composed Pilgrimage of the Life of Man (1428) and the Danse Macabre (ca. 1430), a translation of a French text inscribed on the cloister walls of the Church of the Holy Innocents in Paris.

Upon returning to England, Lydgate wrote a number of highly dramatic occasional works, including mummer plays for the guilds of the Goldsmiths and the Mercers and poems celebrating the coronation of Henry VI. It was also during this period that he was commissioned by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, to

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