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Torti, Anna.  The Glass of Form : Mirroring Structures from Chaucer to Skelton.
Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 1991.  107-132.

Reality -- Mirror -- Allegory: John Skelton

John Skelton is a very difficult author to define and for this reason he has been labelled from one critical standpoint as completely medieval and from another as a forerunner of the new cultural climate of the Renaissance. His life spans the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century; except however for his taking the side of the conservatives with regard to the teaching of Latin, he does not seem to have been affected by More's and Erasmus' concern with a new kind of education and a new role for the intellectual in society. His works are classified both as personal satire (because of his persistent anti-Wolsey obsession) 1 and as allegorical narrative (because of his return to the dream-vision tradition in some of his more significant long poems). 2

An analysis of the structure mid language of two of his fundamental works, The Bowge of Courte and Speke Parott, 3 can contribute to the understanding of this complex, many-sided author. The choice of these

1 On the possibility of interpreting Skelton's work in terms of the tradition of satire, see A. R. Heiserman, Skelton and Satire ( Chicago, 1961) and P. D. Psilos, ' "Dulle" Drede and the Limits of Prudential Knowledge in Skelton Bowge of Courte', The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 6 ( 1976) 297-317. On satire in general, cf. A. Brilli, ed., La Satira. Storia, tecniche e ideologie della rappresentazione ( Bari, 1979).
2 S. J. Kozikowski, "Allegorical Meanings in Skelton's The Bowge of Courte", Philological Quarterly 61 ( 1982) 305-15, analyses the influence that the dream allegory tradition had on Skelton. See also J. M. Berdan, Early Tudor Poetry 1485-1547 ( New York, 1931), pp. 95-8 and A. Swallow, "John Skelton: The Structure of the Poem", Philological Quarterly 32 ( 1953) 29-42, p. 31. J. S. Larson, "What is the Bowge of Courte"?, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 61 ( 1962) 288-95, holds that the poem is a parody of medieval allegory. M. Pollet, John Skelton: Poet of Tudor England ( London, 1971) and I. A. Gordon, John Skelton. Poet Laureate ( Melbourne and London, 1943) see Skelton as a transitional poet between the Middle Ages mid Humanism.
3 The edition of Skelton's poems I have used is John Skelton: The Complete English Poems, ed. J. Scattergood ( Harmondsworth, 1983); John Skelton. Poems, ed. R. S. Kinsman ( Oxford, 1969) has also been taken into consideration.


two works, at a first reading very different from each other, is motivated, as we will see, by thematic similarity.

As I have already mentioned, and as many critics have noted, 4 Skelton makes use of material taken from Chaucer and the Chaucerians. In his hands this material takes a different shape, but his poetry is not unambiguously forward-looking. It is certainly, however, the sign of a crisis in values and of the impossibility of presenting this crisis in traditional language, which explains the need to experiment with new forms of expression.

Drede's inability to see through and guard against the subtle guile of the Tudor court, the components of this trickery being personified in morality play characters, leads us to an awareness of the desolation of England brought about by the abuses of the age. It is Parott who denounces these abuses in accordance with the classical figure of prosopopoeia. Drede, with all his 'lytterkture' (449) not only cannot manage the matter he is dealing with but in the end gets himself tangled up in it. Under the protection of metaphor and allegory Parott, however, expresses his indignation at corruption and his frustration at only being able to hurl invective from his place of captivity -- even if in a gilded cage -- at Wolsey, the person mainly to blame for this state of affairs.

Skelton has much in common with other authors of his time: 5 he bases his works on the classical models of Ovid, Boethius and Chaucer, and he elaborates such themes as the fickleness of Fortune, criticism of contemporary reality and the transference of individual inner conflict and social evils into an allegorical world. He goes back to the form of the dream-vision poem and resorts to the personifications of the morality play which he himself helped to secularize with his Magnyfycence. As in Lydgate and especially in Hoccleve, in Skelton's work uncertainty is the dominant note: uncertainty with regard to the fate of society and of the individual, and particularly with regard to the poet's role.

Whereas Hoccleve had divided his Regement of Princes into two parts, the mirror of the poet's miserable life and the ideal mirror of the sovereign, Skelton in the Bowge of Courte (which may have been a preliminary study for Magnyfycence) 6 uses the speculum tradition negatively.

4 See for example, among others, M. Evans, English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century ( London, 1967), p. 59 and S. E. Fish, John Skelton's Poetry ( New Haven and London, 1965), pp. 55-65.
5 Fish, Skelton's Poetry, pp. 55-8.
6 According to L. Winser, "The Bowge of Courte: Drama Doubling as Dream", English Literary Renaissance 6 ( 1976) 3-39, the work was conceived not only to be read but


The Bowge of Courte opens with a Prologue which narrates a dream the poet had while he was staying at a friend's house in Harwich. In the dream he sees a large ship guided by Fortune and surrounded by a crowd of merchants wishing to go aboard. The owner of the ship, Dame SansPareille, is sitting like a queen, guarded by Danger and Desire. The poet, Drede, wishes to be in the ship, but he is poor and knows no one. Then Desire offers him the talisman Bonne Aventure. Once aboard, Drede notices seven 'persones' who terrify him in several ways despite their feigned indications of friendship. Drede becomes more and more alarmed at some figures behind him. When he hears the word 'murder', he is ready to leap into the sea, but he wakes up and dismisses his dream as a nightmare, although he is aware that sometimes dreams come true. The Bowge of Courte is the mirror of the courtiers' wickedness and dishonesty; at the same time it is the mirror of Drede's inability not only to get himself received and accepted at court, but also, as narrator, to learn from his experience as dreamer.

The first four stanzas clearly suggest the idea of uncertainty and instability both as regards the setting of the dream and the nature of the first-person narrator. Indeed, the predominant isotopy is expressed continually and obsessively in the 'mutabylyte' (3) of the Moon, 7 in its 'scorne' (5), in the 'foly and . . . unstedfastnesse' (6) of the human condition, and in the description of Mars preparing for war. The second stanza.

I, callynge to mynde the great auctoryte
Of poetes olde, whyche, full craftely,
Under as coverte termes as coude be,
Can touche a troughte and cloke it subtylly
Wyth fresshe utteraunce full sentencyously;
Dyverse in style, some spared not vyce to wrythe,
Some of moralyte nobly dyde endyte; (8-14)

raises in all its gravity the problem of the loneliness and inability to communicate of the narrator, the 'I', who remains by ellipsis syntacti-

also to be enacted, as various examples of linguistic evidence show, one of them line 534, in which the poet addresses those 'that shall it see or rede'. In the Bowge Skelton combines elements taken from theatrical forms like the Disguising, Farce, Morality Play, and Pageant. On the typing of the vices in the morality play, cf. B. Spivack, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil ( New York, 1958), pp. 251 ff.
7 On the influence of the moon in dreams, see W. C. Curry, Chaucer and the Mediaeval Science ( London, 1960), pp. 210-11.


cally isolated at the beginning of the line, since with the participle 'callynge to mynde' (8) there is a shift of interest to the authority of the ancient poets, their skill in writing 'of moralyte' (14) and their lasting fame.

The impression of stability only lasts for a moment, however: Ignorance, a character found in morality plays of a humanistic stamp, 8 introduces the commonplace of affected modesty, and this plays its part in eliminating all traces of certainty. He also exhorts the poet to forget his vain hopes of modelling his writings on the ancient poets. Knowing Skelton and the buoyant confidence he had in his skill as a poet, this would seem merely to be a reiterated use of the commonplace. The fourth stanza may, because of its function of amplificatio -- with proverbs on the impermanence of Fortune, 9 one of the dominant themes -- be defined as a bridge passage. After this, however, comes the motif of the narrator's anguish; he falls into a sleep that according to Macrobius' classification is perhaps a 'somnium animale.' 10

Criticism has often stressed the eccentricity of the ending of the Bowge of Courte, 11 so little in keeping with the expectations of readers used to painless awakenings: but the beginning is just as complex and unusual. We may set beside it for comparison the incipit of the Regement of Princes and that of the Temple of Glas:

Mvsyng vpon the restles bisynesse
Which that this troubly world hath ay on honde,
That othir thyng than fruyt of byttirnesse
Ne yeldeth nought, as I can vndirstonde, (1-4) 12

10 For an analysis of the type of dream the Bowge of Courte belongs to, cf. A. C. Spearing , Medieval Dream-Poetry ( Cambridge, 1976), pp. 197-202, and Heiserman, Skelton and Satire, pp. 31-4.
11 See, among others, Fisk, Skelton's Poetry, pp. 74-5.
12 For Hoccleve the edition used is F. J. Furnivall, ed., Hoccleve's Works: III. The Regement of Princes and Fourteen of Hoccleve's Minor Poems, EETS ES 72 ( London, 1897).
8 See for example The Nature of the Four Elements by John Rastell and Wit and Science by John Redford.
9 On the role of Fortune in medieval literature, cf. H. R. Patch, The Goddess Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature ( Cambridge, Mass., 1927). On the theme of Fortune in the Bowge of Courte see J. Scattergood, 'Insecurity in Skelton Bowge of Courte', in P. Boitani and A. Torti, eds., Genres, Themes and Images in English Literature: From the Fourteenth to the Fifteenth Century (Tübingen and Cambridge, 1988).


For thou 3 t, constreint and greuous heuines,
For pensifhede, and for hei 3 distres, To bed I went nov bis obir ny3t. (1-3) 13

The cause of Hoccleve's and Lydgate's restless sleep -- be it financial problems or a difficult love story -- is, so to speak, 'outside' the poet as narrator. While Skelton, on the other hand, makes use of the commonplace of restlessness and anguish, involving even tossing and turning in his steel), he introduces as the effective cause of his anxiety his inability to write as the 'poetes olde' did (9) and to gain access to the right of immortal 'renome and . . . fame' (15). If we accept Tucker's dating of 1480 for The Bowge of Courte, 14 the poem may be taken to reflect, chronologically as well as thematically, Skelton's dissatisfaction with a court that, corrupt though it might be, attracted him, and his awareness of the futility of pursuing the experience of past poets in a language by now sterile. Skelton handles different genres such as dream allegory and psychomachia, and uses the topoi of fickle Fortune and of the court as a ship at the mercy of the winds. 15 This treatment of conventional materiat can be explained by Skelton's intention both to associate himself with the tradition that had grown up from Chaucer through his followers and to show the progressive loss of the values belonging to that tradition.

In the Bowge of Courte, the 'prologue' and the 'lytell treatyse' itself reflect the court world in a play of reciprocal mirrorings. The prologue can be divided into two parts: the first presents the waking experience of the narrator in a season that is probably late autumn, while the second is the dream setting proper. Here we find the ship owned by Dame SauncePere, a most beautiful lady seated on a throne draped with precious stuffs and with Daunger and Desyre at her service. Fortune, who is at the ship's helm, is presented in Desyre's words.

13 The Temple of Glas quotation comes from J. Norton-Smith, ed., John Lydgate: Poems ( Oxford, 1966).
14 The suggestion put forward by M. J. Tucker, "Setting in Skelton's Bowge of Courte. A Speculation", English Language Notes 7 ( 1970) 168-75, of an 'early' dating of the work is confirmed, although with a difference of two years (its composition presumably dates from 1482 and not 1480) by F. W. Brownlow, The Date of The Bowge of Courte and Skelton's Authorship of "A Lamentable of Kyng Edward the IIII, English Language Notes 22 ( 1984) 12-20. According to the two critics, on the basis of a Skelton-John Howard association and astronomical data, Skelton's description of court circles refers to the reign of Edward IV and not Henry VII.
15 The theme of the 'ship of fools', apart from appearing in S. Brandt, Narrenschiff (1494) and in the Latin version of Locher, Stultifera Navis (1497), is already present in Jacquemart Gielé, Renard le Nouvel (1288).


As early as the prologue we are given an idea of how the allegorical vision of reality, with the theme of Fortune central to it, has a different meaning that is implied by the very words used by the poet to recount his dream. The reader is aware that the dream experience is circular: when he reaches the end of the poem, therefore, it is natural for him to go back to the beginning and put the opening into its chronological place after the succession of events in the dream. And he thus comes to understand the exact value of terms like 'full craftely' (9), 'coverte termes' (10), 'cloke it subtylly' (11). From the start these are not simple 'innocent' expressions, indicating the allegorical approach of ancient poets, but clear references to the actions of the seven characters Drede is about to meet. The ambiguity of the language is further emphasized by the description of Fortune, to enjoy whose favours Drede must possess 'Bone aventure' (102). This is tautological, because the expression indicates one of Fortune's aspects. Fortune is not only threatening because of her proverbial changeableness, but also and above all because of the realistic incarnation of her negative qualities in the courtiers that oppose Drede. 16

The rhetorical subtleties of the ancients, which Drede thought himself capable of equalling at the beginning of the poem, are shown to be ineffective and useless in a world that laughs at his knowledge and where, in Favell's words, 'there were dyverse that sore dyde you manace' (159). The members of this court world maintain the traditional traits of the characters in the Psychomachia, but they are locked in double opposition -- that of courtiers against Drede and that of courtiers against one another. In this context is it language itself, exploited in all its allusive potential, that is the chosen weapon. 17

Drede realizes that he is unacceptable at court because of his meagre financial resources, since he is obliged to confess 'I have but smale substaunce' (94). Moreover he is taken unawares and becomes more and more confused when he perceives that words, the tools of trade for a man of letters, are used by the seven characters against him to increase his insecurity to the point of desperation. All of them, in fact, abuse

16 On the Fortune-courtiers relationship see S. J. Kozikowski, "Allegorical Meanings", pp. 306-7 and also, by the same author, "Lydgate, Machiavelli and More and Skelton's Bowge of Courte", American Notes and Queries 15 ( 1977) 66-7.
17 For an interpretation of Skelton after Bakhtin, see B. Sharratt, 'John Skelton: Finding a Voice -- Notes after Bakhtin', in D. Aers, ed., Medieval Literature. Criticism, Ideology & History ( Brighton, 1986), pp. 192-222; on The Bowge of Courte cf. in particular pp. 197-200.


language. Favell 'of wordes. . . . had full a poke' (179), and is ready to spew out: words of hypocrisy and deceit as the occasion demands. Suspycyon himself is worried about what Favell. may have said about him and promises; Drede he will entrust important secrets to him, always postponing the actual moment of telling. Even Hervy Hafter advises him not to repeat a single word of his and he and Dysdayne put their heads together to think up a threat that the latter carries out, first by deed and then by word, against Drede, using every means to try to frighten him. And it is Dysdayne who for the first time identifies himself and the others with the court world:

It is greate scorne to see suche a hayne
As thou arte, one that cam but yesterdaye,
With us olde servauntes such maysters to playe. (327-9)

The definition of life at court is then given by Ryote who, introducing an atmosphere of self-indulgence, loose-living and vulgarity, expresses himself as follows: 'This worlde is nothynge but ete, drynke and slepe' (384).

The worst is still to come, however, in the form of the merging of Dyssdayne's and Dyssymulation's wickedness, synthesized in this telling image:

But there was poyntynge and noddynge with the hede,
And many wordes sayde in secrete Wyse;
They wandred ay and stode styll in no stede. (421-3)

But the two villains do not stop at words spoken in secret, because Dyssymulation carries a knife in one sleeve and a spoonful of honey in the other. On the latter sleeve is written "A false abstracte cometh from in fals concrete" (439). This line, which is often overlooked by critics because it is seen as just a play on words, is instead the starting-point for an approach, if not to the meaning, to at least one of the meanings of the poem. The sentence rings out as a twofold warning to Drede in his double role of aspiring courtier and poet: the wrong evaluation of concrete reality leads to the formulation of wrong abstractions.

Without going so far as to postulate -- as Russell does 18 -- a strong nominalistic emphasis in the Bowge of Courte, the new epistemological

18 J. S. Russell, 'Skelton's Bouge of Court: A Nominalist Allegory', Renaissance Papers ( 1980) 1-9. Russell considers the problems raised by the Bowge as closely


climate introduced by Ockham must have had a more or less direct influence on Skelton, especially if we take into account that of necessity he associated with intellectuals at Cambridge and Oxford. 19

The sentence written on the sleeve is meant to remind us that abstractions cut off from the concrete reality of an individual should not exist. Drede believed that by using the old allegorical method he could bring a world of shades and abstractions to life again, and that these alluded to the world he was living in. In reality the abstractions have shown themselves in the course of the poem as increasingly concrete and threatening entities (the courtiers themselves who try to bar the poet's reception at court, a reception that is refused to those who wish to 'speak' of such abstractions). It is significant that the philosophical proposition relative to the interdependence of abstract and concrete is pronounced by Dyssymulation, who by his very nature is given to lying. The warnings that this character gives Drede are veritable harbingers of ruin, but they are deceitfully obscure and indirect, for example: 'Ryghte now I spake with one, I trowe, I see --' (458), 'I maye not tell all thynge' (459), and the reference to the mysterious, unknown 'teder man' (484). The latter sums up in his dumb isolation and his threatening unknowableness the negative qualities of the characters that have gradually formed a group round Drede:

Naye, see where yonder stondeth the teder man!
A flaterynge knave and false he is, God wote.
The drevyll stondeth to herken, and he can.
It were more thryft he boughte him a newe cote;
It wyll not be, his purse is not on-flote.
All that he wereth, it is borowed ware;
His wytte is thynne, his hode is threde-bare. (484-90)

connected to Ockham's nominalist philosophy, and sees the poem as the emblem of the subversion of allegory in the Renaissance.
19 A clear picture of late medieval innovations is offered by G. Leff, The Dissolution of the Medieval Outlook. An Essay on Intellectual and Spiritual Change in the Fourteenth Century ( New York, 1976). See also by Leff William of Ockham ( Manchester, 1975). On the various differentiations within Nominalism as a philosophical movement, cf. H. A. Oberman, "Some Notes on the Theology of Nominalism", Harvard Theological Review 53 ( 1960) 47-76. On the implications of nominalist issues in Chaucer, see the interesting essay by R. A. Peck, "Chaucer and the Nominalist Questions", Speculum 53 ( 1978) 745-60. On the theory of knowledge in the Middle Ages and on perspective in medieval poetry, cf. respectively: M. L. Colish, The Mirror of Language. A Study in the Medieval Theory of Knowledge ( Lincoln and London, 1968) and R. A. Peck, "Public Dreams and Private Myths: Perspective in Middle English Literature", PMLA 90 ( 1975) 461-7.


If we accept the meaning of 'the other man' 20 for the man Dyssymulation refers to, we will understand then how the illusion of being able to use words for the twofold purpose of condemning and being admitted to court now appears as an impossible goal to Drede.

On the realistic plane the 'teder man' in his lack of identity represents what the 'coverte termes' (10) and the 'fresshe utteraunce' (12) of the prologue represent on the allegorical plane in their indefiniteness -- the void. Heiserman rightly holds that the 'confusion of the real with the apparent, of the false with the true, of ends and means' can be found in other authors as well, such as John of Salisbury, Walter Map, Langland, Chaucer, Dunbar, Brandt. 21 But in Skelton the result is not so much a sophisticated 'anti-court satire' 22 as an attempt to find his own way of expressing himself. Skelton, spurred on by the need to write, to take 'penne and ynke' (532), recounts his own experience, confused though it be because of the twining of abstract with concrete strands, using a method that is both allegorical and realistic. 23 He does not realize that the fact that the allegorical form is in transformation has made this method more difficult to practise. The contents are no longer the Seven Deadly Sins of traditional homiletics but real court personages who are even allowed to retain their individuality.

An intellectual could not help being influenced by the fact that the certainty of the strict interdependence of language and truth had been undermined, so that he therefore had to come to terms with the ambiguity that had entered into linguistic models. 24 Drede/ Skelton learns to his cost that the ability to write, his 'vertu and . . . lytterkture' (449), are not enough to re-create a poem in the manner of the ancient poets,

. . . the great auctoryte
Of poetes olde, whyche, full craftely,
Under as coverte termes as coude be,
Can touche a troughte and cloke it subtylly
Wyth fresshe utteraunce full sentencyously. (8-12)

20 On the different possible meanings of the Teder Man, see Winser, "The Bowge of Courte",, pp. 19-24. On the general atmosphere of unease in the Bowge, see C. S. Lewis , English Literature in the Sixteenth Century ( Oxford, 1954), p. 135.
21 Heiserman, Skelton and Satire, p. 12.
22 Ibidem, p. 65 .
23 In his "Chaucer and the Nominalist Questions", Peck defines the analogous experience of the dreamer in the Book of the Duchess by pointing out that no mental construction can be: adequate to experience, p. 757.
24 On the impact of Nominalism, see H. W. Boucher, "Nominalism: The Difference for Chaucer and Boccaccio", Chaucer Review 20 ( 1986) 213-20, especially pp. 214-15.


This is not so much owing to his inadequacy as owing to the differentiation that by now exists between the linguistic realities that are spoken of in the work of art and the objective realities of existing things. 25

On the one hand the text aims to use allegory to illustrate the evils of humanity personified in courtiers, on the other, it tries to present life at court in a concrete way. The opposition between allegory and mimesis persists right to the end of the poem. The following stanza is particularly significant:

And as he rounded thus in myne ere
Of false collusyon confetryd by assente,
Me thoughte I see lewde felawes here and there
Came for to slee me of mortall entente.
And as they came, the shypborde faste I hente,
And thoughte to lepe; and even with that woke,
Caughte penne and ynke, and wroth this lytell boke.

Disceyte's words 'of false collusyon' (527) 26 confusedly evoke an objective, threatening reality. 27 At the approach of this reality the first-person narrator, Drede, grasps the side of the ship he had boarded at the beginning of the dream, i.e. he takes hold of the Court and at the same time of the allegory of the Court (the ship). At this point he jumps down from the ship, thus attempting to abandon the dream object and the means (allegory) used to convey it -- which he is now about to use to convey it. It is significant that at this crucial moment he wakes up: Dread gets the better of the dreamer and, with the start typical of dreaming, causes him to wake. The fiction of the dream is thus interrupted, but it is replaced by the poetic re-creation of the dream itself, i.e. by a fiction of a fiction.

25 Peck, "Chaucer and the Nominalist Questions", p. 760.
26 It must be remembered that one of the characters in Magnyfycence is precisely Clokyd Colusyon, who by his own admission has duplicity and falseness as his dominant traits:

Two faces in a hode covertly I bere;
Water in the one hande and fyre in the other.
I can fede forth a fole and lede hym by the eyre;
Falshode in felowshyp is my sworne brother.
By cloked colusyon, I say, and none other,
Comberaunce and trouble in Englande fyrst I began.
From that lorde to that lorde I rode and I ran. ( Magn., 710-16)

27 Note the connection between 'false collusyon' and the 'lewde felawes'.


The final stanza summarizes and complicates, in its ambiguity, the subtle and continual effort of interpretation required of the reader:

I wolde therwith no man were myscontente;
Besechynge you that shall it see or rede,
In every poynte to, be indyfferente,
Syth all in substaunce of slumbrynge doth procede.
I wyll not saye it is mater in dede,
But yet oftyme suche dremes be founde trewe.
Now constrewe ye what is the resydewe. (533-9)

By submerging the entire fabric of fiction and the real in sleep ('Sith all in substaunce of slumbrynge doth procede' -- 536), the reader is asked to apply impartial and neutral hermeneutics, while there is a simultaneous assertion of the irreality ('I wyll not saye it is mater in dede' -- 537) and the truth ('But yet oftyme suche dremes be founde trewe' -- 538) of the narrative account, and this is completely open to the same interpretation. There is an implicit effort, therefore, to reconcile the condemnation of the court world as it appears to him in dream and/or reality and his definition of his own worth as a poet, without his running any personal risk.

If the court is characterized by duplicity -- an ironic version of Boethius' doctrine of opposites, 28 the poet, who needs that world if he is to live and write, must protect himself by exploiting his literary skill in affirming and at the same time denying what he has written. To prevent anyone being 'myscontente' (533), the reader or the spectator is left free to 'construct' for himself the 'resydewe' (539), the meaning, the sententia he prefers, and thus to remain indifferent to the atmosphere of growing fear, especially in the ending.

The motif of doubleness is to be found in the hypothetical reader/spectator whose presence Skelton creates in this poem, since this double figure, who is free to interpret: as he chooses, may accept the nightmare as true or reject it as false; or he may -- and the poet seems to want to make this clear -- evaluate the two categories, falsity/truth as belonging to language, which is increasingly autonomous with respect to the two spheres of reality and truth. Literature is no longer or is not just

28 Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae IV, pr. 2. References to the ruling duplicity at court are very frequent: "Garder le fortune que est mauelz et bone"' -- 67; "That lyned was with doubtfull doublenes" -- 178; "Than, in his hode, I sawe there faces tweyne" -- 428.


ethics, and the story Skelton presents to us is not just an exemplary tale, 29 even if at the beginning he tries to follow the path trodden by others with the intention of representing the evil of court life behind the veil of allegory. As the narrative proceeds, the two planes of the Bowge of Courte, the literal and the allegorical, merge with each other, and they are often reduced to empty words that allude -- not to a higher truth -- but to nothingness.

The tentative method of the Bowge of Courte is improved on in Speke Parott, which is certainly the most complex of Skelton's poems. 30 In Magnyfycence Skelton aims at putting the young Henry VIII on his guard against the evils that associating with wicked counsellors can bring in its train, and he exhorts the sovereign to practise the virtues of fortitude and liberality according to the particular tradition of specula principum 31 that Lydgate and Hoccleve belong to. In the Garlande of Laurell, the mixture of attraction and repulsion inspired in him by the court is a thing of the past and with the confidence given him by his reconciliation with Wolsey, Skelton can give full rein to his self-satisfaction by presenting the reader with his long list of works. Between the above two poems comes Speke Parott -- chronologically as well as formally -- representing an important landmark in Skelton's production. The poem deals with various themes voiced by the bird Parott. He speaks in veiled language against Wolsey. References to the Bible are frequent together with contemporary proverbs. Then a second persona, Galathea, comes forth and asks the bird to recite the lament sung by

29 On medieval poetic conception see J. B. Allen, The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages: A decorum of convenient distinction ( Toronto, Buffalo, London, 1982).
30 Cf. P. Green, John Skelton ( London, 1978), p. 29 and A. C. Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry ( Cambridge, 1985), p. 265, which offers a clear exposition of the problems raised by Speke Parott, pp. 265-77, and to which the present analysis is indebted. For a detailed examination of Biblical and literary references in general, see H. L. R. Edwards, Skelton. The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet ( London, 1949), pp. 182-99. On the structure of Speke Parott, cf. J. Holloway, The Charted Mirror: Literary and Critical Essays ( London, 1960), pp. 21-2.
31 Skelton was tutor to Prince Arthur and probably later on to the young Henry, and it was for them that he wrote a Speculum Principis, edited by F. M. Salter, "Skelton's Speculum Principis", Speculum 9 ( 1934) 25-37. On Skelton's position at court see, among others, R. F. Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages ( Toronto, 1980), pp. 76-9 and 193-4, and G. Kipling, 'Henry VII and the Origins of Tudor Patronage', in G. F. Lytle and S. Orgel, eds., Patronage in the Renaissance ( Princeton, 1981), pp. 117-64, especially pp. 128-33, in which the intensity of cultural exchange between English intellectuals and the Franco-Burgundian men of letters present at court is given particular attention.


Pamphilus. Several envoys follow, in which Parott condemns Wolsey's policy at Calais and his own ignorant detractors who do not understand his language. At the end of the poem the bird bursts into general satire. His lament for the time is a lament for all times, thus emphasizing the difficulties inherent in the struggle against evil.

A number of critics have stressed how difficult it is to grasp the meaning of Speke Parott, which P. Green defines as 'an enigma, a nightmare, a nest of bewildering ambiguities'. 32 Parott, a bird of Paradise from exotic climes, able to quote the Bible for his own ends, skilled in the use of the most diverse tongues, a lover of mirrors, is undoubtedly a manysided character -- and Skelton seems to want to invest his persona with a series of contradictory meanings. In spite of the various interpretations put forward with regard to Parott as a character, 33 and with respect to the structure 34 and the satirical background to the poem, the meaning of Speke Parott remains obscure. 35 Almost every line has been subjected to careful examination and the various sources and analogues have been minutely analysed; but the basic ambiguity remains -- and perhaps this is Skelton's message. We have already noted that language plays a very important role in the Bowge of Courte in overlapping in various ways the literal and allegorical planes and in creating an atmosphere of real menace for Drede; in Speke Parott, the language is the protagonist, the focal point of a narrative that discusses itself and its theoretical premises.

I shall not enter into the vexed question of the dating of Speke Parott, since others have made their contributions to this. 36 I agree with Edwards, however, when he states that Skelton is ready in this work to exploit the potentialities of language and of poetic communication to represent, in the person of Parott, the poetic gift itself. 37 The fragmentary nature of the text, 38 the multiplication of the Envoys, the appearance of the mysterious Galathea, the presence within the one poem of different genres, from satire to elegy, with the juxtaposition of Biblical passages to be interpreted according to their typology and of overt at-

32 Green, John Skelton, p. 29.
33 Cf. D. Lawton, "Skelton's Use of Persona", Essays in Criticism 30 ( 1980) 9-28, which examines Skelton's most important poems. On Speke Parott, pp. 19-27.
34 Cf. F. W. Browntow, "The Boke Compiled by Maister Skelton, Poet Laureate, Called Speake Parrot", English Literary Renaissance 1 ( 1971) 3-26.
35 Cf. Heiserman, Skelton and Satire, pp. 141-5 and N. O. Wallace, The Responsibilities of Madness: John Skelton, "Speke, Parrot", and Homeopathic Satire, Studies in Philology 82 ( 1985) 60-80.
36 On the. dating cf. W. Nelson, John Skelton. Laureate ( New York, 1939), pp. 158-84.
37 Edwards, Skelton, p. 191.
38 Cf. Nelson, John Skelton, pp. 158-84.


tacks on Wolsey and his politics, are all elements that make this a difficult poem to approach. Yet Skelton offers us a complicated but fascinating key to an understanding of the work, as long as we agree to do as Parott does, and look through the mirror -- a metaphor for the poet and poetry, while poetry, in its turn, is a metaphor for the contemporary, contingent world, but also for the domain of the eternal.

From the very beginning the mirror appears as a complex, polysemic metaphor: in his cage, the parrot has 'A myrrour of glasse, that I may tote therin' (10) and since he is inside the cage, Parott can see the world in the mirror. The cage may allude to court favour as a form of gilded prison: the location of the cage is in fact with 'greate ladyes of estate' (6); it is the gathering-place of delightful maidens who joke and play with Parott, and in it the mirror reflects its surroundings -- the court. Later on the parrot adds further information about the value of the mirror:

The myrrour that I tote in, quasi diaphonum,
Vel quasi speculum, in enigmate,
Elencticum, or ells enthimematicum. (190-2)

With Parott's speeches Skelton offers us a series of possibilities for the interpretation not only of this poem but of all his poetry; Parott is the poet who, despite his God-given inspiration, 39 can only partly make his prophecy, because, in accordance with I Corinthians 13: 12 man on earth is enshrouded in darkness. The confusion that derives from Parott's clouded vision is 'Confuse distrybutyve' (198); it is orderly, containing the possibility of being understood by whoever wants to understand it. Parott still has to defend himself by means of 'metaphora, alegoria' (202), so as not to be condemned on account of the truths he first tries to communicate to the maidens, then to Galathea and lastly to his readers. But it is clear that, given the polysemic weight of the mirror metaphor, this is only one of the planes on which it can be read. To take the quotation from I Corinthians fully into account, we must observe that the passage paraphrased by Parott is followed by a long discussion of prophecy (I Cor. 14: 1-25) dealing specifically with the difference between the gift of tongues and that of prophecy, and leading up to Paul's

39 As Brownlow, "The Boke Compiled", p. 8, n. 16, notes, Parott's reference to Melpomene alludes to poetry's power to cause its listeners to fall 'in a softe slepe of contemplatyf delectacion' ( Skelton, Bibliotheca Historica of Diodorus Siculus, eds. F. M. Salter and H. L. R. Edwards, EETS 233 -- London, 1956 for 1950, p. 359).


condemnation of the deliberate obscurity of language: 'Ita et vos per linguam nisi manifestum sermonem dederitis: quomodo scietur id quod dicitur? eritis enim in aera loquentes' (So likewise you, except you utter by the tongue plain speech, how shall it be known what is said? For you shall be speaking into the air; I Cor. 14: 9). The Apostle then adds: 'Et ideo qui loquitur lingua, oret ut interpretetur' (And therefore he that speaked by a tongue, let him pray that he may interpret; I Cor. 14: 13). 40

On his own admission Parott seems to have something of both tendencies in him: he is pure breath, pure sound, a mere relayer, on the one hand; on the other he is a special bird, the offspring of Deucalion, bird-man, and bird of Paradise that 'dothe not putrefy' (213) -- poetry as truth. If we take into account and accept this antinomy, we understand the originality of a poem that, more explicitly than the rest of Skelton's works, offers us a synthesis of his experiments in combining and/or transcending tradition and innovation in the field of poetic expression.

Speke Parott can be read in various ways. In the allegory the reader, and especially the reader of Skelton's times, accustomed as he was to uncovering other meanings behind the literal one, clearly recognizes Wolsey as the target for Skelton's satire. Parott's polyglot jargon and the reference to the Grammarians' War are directed at Wolsey and his intense activity both in international affairs and in the field of education. 41 Thus the complex typological allusions to Wolsey made by men tioning Aaron (59) and Melchizedek (60) and other Biblical figures and events, with reference to the contemporary political situation (64-7), and the use made of the languages of the countries -- France, Spain, and Flanders -- where Wolsey was actively negotiating at the time, open up one plane of interpretation.

As we have already clearly seen, the poem is not a unified whole; it is divided into different, apparently unconnected, parts: Parott's poem, with the appearance of Galathea, the four Envoys and the Laucture de Parott. Again, Parott's poem can be subdivided into: (a) introduction of the speaker, (b) attack on Wolsey by means of Biblical episodes, (c) assumption of attitude towards the Grammarians' War and (d) a ballad dedicated to Galathea taken from a popular love poem. There is no

40 On the prophecy/gift of tongues relationship, cf. N. Frye, The Great Code ( London, Melbourne, Henley, 1982), p. 127 and p. 219. On the way I Corinthians is used in Speke Parott, see Fish, Skelton's Poetry, pp. 152-7; the analysis of the poem is particularly interesting from the point of view of style (pp. 135-76).
41 Cf. Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 273-5.


doubt that the most interesting part is lines 141-232 (part c). First Parott enters into the controversy about the teaching of Greek, since Skelton had sided with the 'Trojans' in the diatribes between these and the 'Greeks', not so much because he was against Greek as because he was against the method used to teach it at Cambridge and Oxford. 42 There is perhaps also a brief polemical reference to Erasmus' translation of the New Testament: 'For ye scrape out good scrypture, and set in a gall: / Ye go about to amende, and ye mare all' (153-4). Parott expresses his concern as to 'How the rest of good lernyng is roufled up and trold' (168), because Greek is about to oust Latin and the argumentations of Scholastic philosophy, to the extent of relegating the liberal arts to a sphere of secondary importance; he then comes to grips with the arguments central to the Grammarians' War. Parott, Skelton's mouthpiece, denounces the rejection of the traditional method of teaching Latin and the resulting neglect of basic grammatical texts, like Donatus' and Priscian's; and he insists that classical writers should be approached by normative means rather than by the direct method of imitation.

The two stanzas that follow are Parott's self-defence of his way of speaking:

The myrrour that I tote in, quase diaphonum,
Vel quasi speculum, in enigmate,
Elencticum, or ells enthimematicum,
For logicions, to loke on, somwhat sophistice;
Retoricyons and oratours in freshe humanyte,
Support Parrot, I pray you, with your suffrage ornate,
Of confuse tantum avoydynge the chekmate.

But of that supposicyon that callyd is arte,
Confuse distrybutyve, as Parrot hath devysed,
Let every man after his merit take his parte;
For in this processe, Parrot nothing hath surmysed,
No matter pretendyd, nor nothyng enterprysed,
But that metaphora, alegoria withall,
Shall be his protectyon, his pavys and his wall. (190-203)

His obscure form of speech is deliberate, in that it serves to protect him from any attack that might be made on him by Wolsey, and it is at the

42 On the so-called Grammarians' War and on the polemics regarding the teaching of languages, cf. Nelson, John Skelton, pp. 148-57. On Humanism in England, cf. R. Weiss , Humanism in England During the Fifteenth Century ( Oxford, 1967).


same time the consequence of the literary tradition that Skelton inherits from the past. The mietophora and the alegoria that Parott hides behind are no different from the 'coverte termes' of the Bowge of Courte.

Skelton has a much more ambitious programme here, however. He intends to exploit the Pauline metaphor of the mirror and that of the gift of tongues to communicate to his readers the difficulties and dangers of writing at court -- or just writing in general. Indeed, even if the poet makes overt reference only to the metaphor of the mirror, the presence of the parrot openly characterized by notable multilingualism and by the gift of prophecy automatically sends the reader back to Chapter 14 of I Corinthians and to the distinction between language and prophecy mentioned above. Parott's knowledge can only be obscure and his vision indirect because he is on earth and shut in the cage that is the court. What he has said and what he will say is confused, confuse tantura, but also confuse distrybutyve, a confusion that can be made orderly by poetry ('arte' -- 197) to a degree corresponding to the ability of the listener or reader to interpret correctly. Parott would seem to speak in two ways: he possesses the gift of tongues -- to use Paul's definition -- in that he is capable of emitting various sounds in 'Latyn, Ebrue, Caldee, Greke, Frenshe, Dowche, Spaynyshe', and also of imitating the sounds made by animals, and he shows himself to be a prophet in asking to be listened to and understood: 'Make moche of Parrot, the pogegay ryall' (217). By attributing to Parott's persona qualities and functions which are often contradictory on a literal level, Skelton tries to exploit to the utmost the metaphorical possibilities of this prosopopoeia. To go back to the Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul's exhortation to them to make use of all means of communication yields a significant analogy with Parott's method of recounting reality; Paul says: 'Cum convenitis, unusquisque vestrum psalinum habet, doctrinam liabet, apocalypsim. habet, linguam habet, interpretationem habet: omnia ad aedificationem fiant' (When you come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation: let all things be done to edification; I Cor. 14: 26). And in the course of the poem Parott makes reference to the Psalms, makes a great show of his ability to quote the Bible and of his knowledge of languages and, finally, offers the reader an apocalyptic vision of the contemporary world in the Laucture.

Syntagmatically, then, the poem has a linear movement as an amalgam of various compositions attributable to different literary genres, from the narrator/protagonist's presentation of himself to the final picture of the miserable condition England had been brought to by Wolsey.


Paradigmatically the poem functions as a progressive, even though insufficient, clarification, by means of a complex selection of Biblical episodes, both historical and apocalyptic, of the basic theme of the work, which is the conflict between the traditional and right way (according to Skelton) of wielding authority in all fields and in all forms, and the new high-handed way of doing so. If 'In mesure is tresure, cum sensu maturato: / Ne tropo sanno, ne tropo mm' (62-3), then Wolsey's exceeding his office and the sovereign's allowing his authority to be usurped are both to be condemned in the name of equipoise and moderation, virtues Skelton had already praised in Magnyfycence. The politics of self-aggrandizement attributed to Wolsey 43 had caused many ills and the weakening of the country.

To attack Wolsey 44 and get away with it, Parott uses parables:

For trowthe in parabyll ye wantonlye pronounce,
Langagys divers; yet undyr that dothe reste
Maters more precious than the ryche jacounce.(364-6)

His way of expressing himself can have two consequences: Parott's talk can be considered absolute nonsense by those who do not understand (by those who do not share Skelton's alarm); or his parables may make hard reading, the allusions becoming clear only after the elements of comparison have been found in the texts from which the parables have been taken. As far as the question of the folly of Parott -- and of the world in general -- is concerned, 45 this -- together with the question of wisdom -- is posed from the very beginning: indeed Parott is foolish and wise at the same time. 'Phronessys for frenessys may not hold her way' (47), but only because of people who refuse to grasp the meaning hidden in the parrot's words. The gift of tongues, 'To lerne all langage and hyt to speke aptlye' (45), may be judged as madness if the person the message is addressed to is not an 'initiate', if he has no code in common with the

43 See the episode (309-12) of the Great Seal that Wolsey took with him to Calais, thus causing considerable administrative problems.
44 Skelton's hatred of Wolsey is, however, excessive if the role he did indeed play as patron of the arts is taken into account. Cf. in this regard W. G. Zeeveld, Foundations of Tudor Policy ( Cambridge, Mass., 1948), pp. 18-26 and 57ff.; Zeeveld examines the close relationship between culture and the sovereign in the early Tudor period. On Wolsey's patronage see J. K. McConica, English Humanists and Reformation Politics under Henry VIII and Edward VI ( Oxford, 1968), pp. 8, 54, 58, 63, 70, 122, 270.
45 On Parott's madness, cf. Wallace, "The Responsibilities of Madness", pp. 74ff. On inspired frenzy, like Parott's divinus furor, see M. West, "Skelton and the Renaissance Theme of Folly", Philological Quarterly 50 ( 1971) 23-35, pp. 34-5.


utterer of the message. Failure to understand the message is a likely outcome of reading if the poet's criticism of the exponents of the New Learnirig is well grounded. They are slated with being too ready to deviate from the norm and with having created a scandalous situation: 'Set Sophia asyde, for every Jack Raker / And every mad medler must now be a maker' (160-1).

To solve the enigma of Parott's apparent madness we need to examine the Envoys. In Lenvoy primere Parott who represents the signifier (the indistinct phonemes of his rigmarole) and the signified (the 'parabyll' derived from the Bible) is identified with the message itself, 'Go, litelle quayre, nainyd the Popagay' (278). Narrator and narrative are one and the same. Only madmen can think that 'ye arre furnysshyd with knakkes, / That hang togedyr as fethyrs in the wynde' (292-3). Indeed 'whoo lokythe wyselye in your warkys may fynde / Muche frutefull mater' (296-7). In the Secunde Lenvoy the idea is renewed that 'nodypollys and gramatolys of smalle intellygens' (318) will deny the value of the poem, or rather of the 'poemys' (316). The use of the plural form, like 'warkys' (296) a few lines before, allows the poet to be lexically identified with Parott by means of his works. In a situation of total ignorance, due to the new educational ideas that the 'new men' have introduced into the schools and universities To rude ys there reason to reche to your sentence' -- 319), the message will not be shared.

Parott's 'natural' folly is contrasted with the 'artificial' folly of Wolsey, who is never mentioned directly but is always there by allusion. 46 Wolsey's conduct is such as to seem against all reason and completely mad: 'To suche thynges ympossybyll, reason cannot consente; / Muche money, men sey, there madly he hathe spente' (334-5), and such as to involve the whole country: 'Frantiknes dothe rule and all thyng commaunde; / Wylfulnes and Braynles now rule all the raye' (420-1). Parott's 'good' craziness is hard to interpret, because the deliberate obscurity of the allegory makes its meaning hard to decipher; Wolsey's 'evil' senselessness is at times quite open and evident, but in the long run it is identified with the general complaint about the ills of the time, a stereotyped genre of wide circulation and as such involving little risk. When the attack would appear to be coming out into the open, it takes cover behind the commonplace, which is reassuring and protective.

46 The distinction between 'natural' and 'artificial' folly is introduced by R. L. Ramsay, ed., Magnyfycence by John Skelton, EEFS ES 98 ( London, 1908), pp. xcvii ff., which contrasts Fancy with Folly; Fancy is represented as whimsical and simple, whereas Folly actively incarriates the principle of sin.


Parott, apart from his gift of the gab, his double-talk and repetition of what others say -- and hence what the poet says -- also has the gift of the teacher who, if only obscurely, can point to some of the problems then afflicting England. To do this a new dialogic relationship is established between Parott and Galathea, a character who appears unexpectedly on the scene. There have been various critical interpretations of Galathea. 47 Lawton's suggestion 48 that she is an 'open persona' with the function of making the meaning of the poem clear in her verbal exchanges with Parott, is the most valid. It confirms the need Skelton felt to introduce the imaginary audience into the poem, the audience that could construct, as happens at the end of the Bowge, the sense of the message. Galathea refers us back, of course, to the nymph beloved of the Cyclops 49 but above all, as the marginal gloss shows, 50 to the early twelfth-century Latin comedy Pamphilus, which had such a wide circulation in England that it had been raised to the height of auctoritas by the middle of the same century. 51 Just as in Pamphilus the love story between Pamphilus and Galathea develops by means of a series of dialogues between the two and between the characters and the anus, 52 so in Skelton's poem Galathea's function consists in solving, even if only partially, through dialogue with Parott, the enigma of what the parrot has said up to that point. And the enigma is not to be understood purely in the Pauline sense of limited human knowledge against the total, complete knowledge of the hereafter, but also as a rhetorical figure. It is to be understood as a self-contained allegory, whose basic idea can be grasped, even though with difficulty, if the social and psychological situations of the speaker are known in precise detail. 53 Parott's talk can be considered an enigma, in that it is in a still less accessible form than

47 On the meaning of Galathea, cf. Wallace, "The Responsibilities of Madness", pp. 74-6; Edwards, Skelton, pp. 191-9; Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 272-3.
48 Lawton, "Skelton's Use of Persona", p. 27.
49 Ovid, Metamorphoses XIII, 11. 737-899.
50 'Hic occurrat memorie Pamphilus de Amore Galathee' ( Scattergood, John Skelton, p. 460).
51 On Pamphilus and on its influence on European literature in general, see S. Pittaluga, Commedie latine del XII e del XIII secolo, III ( Genova, Istituto di Filologia classica e medievale, 1980) 11-137, especially pp. 13-18 and 41-4; on the early dating of the work, see P. Dronke, "A Note on Pamphilus", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 42 ( 1979) 225-30.
52 On the structure of Pamphilus, see P. Dronke, 'Narrative and Dialogue in Medieval Secular Drama', in P. Boitani and A. Torti, eds., Literature in Fourteenth-Century England (Tübingen and Cambridge, 1983), pp. 99-120.
53 For the definition of enigma, cf. H. Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik ( München, 1960), It. trans. Elementi di retorica ( Bologna, 1969), p. 235.


metaphora; it is alegoria, and a way to get to the bottom of it is suggested by the few lines given to Galathea. 54

If we agree with Skelton's position, according to which 'arte' is 'supposicyon' (197), we can then apply to art what nominalistic logic predicates of suppositio -- of the denotative meaning of the terms found in the proposition. In this sense, because suppositio is a sign's 'standing for' something else, 55 what Parott says may be read as standing for something else, as a 'metaphors,alegoria withall' (202) behind which various meanings are concealed. The suppositious relationship that exists in art between the sign and what it refers to requires an interpretative elaboration that does not give one answer only, but several, according to the various levels of participation. As Parott says: 'Let every man after his merit take his parte' (199). Only very few men, and these only by strenuous effort, are able to understand the message.

Up until Galathea's appearance, Parott has spoken in an obscure, sibyllirre way, using ambiguous rhetorical figures like the elenchus and the entkymenw that logicians, suspecting Sophistic implications, are wary of. In his arguing Parott has used premises without reaching any conclusion, or he has even skipped a premise. In lines 113-23, for example, there are references to Biblical episodes taken from Jeremiah, Exodus, Judges and Psalms, and a possible association among them and with Wolsey comes from the fact that all the persons spoken of, even though they lived in different periods, were enemies of Israel that no one stood up against because all of Israel's champions were dead. The following lines (124-30) deal with a personal problem of Skelton's, in that they allude to Wolsey's intention to change the laws governing sanctuaries, and Skelton, as we know, lived in the sanctuary of Westminster.

54 L. Ebin, "Poetics and Style in Late Medieval Literature", in L. Ebin, ed., Vernacular Poetics in the Middle Ages, Studies in Medieval Culture XVI ( Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1984), pp. 263-93, especially pp. 283-93, points out the transformation in the relationship between poetry and style evident in Skelton's and Stephen Hawes' works. Hawes manipulates various stylistic forms in his later works in order to create a sense of obscurity and mystery in line with his conception of the poem as prophecy. According to, Ebin, Skelton too passes from the utmost dissatisfaction with the traditional style in the Bowge of Courte to the clear expression of his dilemma between past and present in Speke Parott. Here Parott tries out various stylistic possibilities without finding complete satisfaction in my of them until he reaches the 'clear, unadorned and vigorous medium of the concluding stanzas' (p. 287). It is my opinion that the expressive tension in Skelton is never relieved, not even at the end, which is not so much an innovation as a return to the commonplace of the complaint.
55 The term suppositio must be understood, especially after the fourteenth century, in the sense, of nommalist logic. See Peter of Spain's Summulae Logicales 6.03 and Ocham Summa Logicae I, 63.


Even if his way of doing so is indirect, the poet's intention to draw a parallel between Biblical episodes and contemporary history is clear. Skelton followed this procedure throughout the first part of Speke Parott but he then gradually gave it up, because it could cause confusion and could thus make interpretation impossible.

The invitation extended to the rhetoricians and orators to support Parott with their 'suffrage ornate' (195) so as to avoid utter confusion appears like an attempt to exploit the very means used by the proponents of the New Learning with the aim of showing how the unconventional use of language can be extremely dangerous and sterile. Shortly before (141-82) Parott had illustrated the negative consequences and the unreasonableness of the new approach to languages in contrast with the traditional Scholastic method. Parott, like some rhetoricians and orators, expresses himself in figures that the logicians considered not entirely orthodox; the clear distinction postulated between confuse tantum and confuse distrybutyve shows that the method of communicating by obscure allusions is no longer seen as correct, because there is the danger of its creating ambiguous associations between the object of the satire and the satirist. To avoid this danger Skelton introduces into the poem -- which was certainly written over a considerable period of time -the persona of Galathea, whose appearance (on stage?) is immediately preceded by the admonition 'Candidi lectores, callide callete, vestrum fovete Psitacum, etc.' (232 b). The identification of Pamphilus' complaint with a pious allegory that sees Christ in Pamphilus (meaning 'all-lover') and humanity in Besse, 56 limits the sense of the passage to the purely moral plane, and the multiplicity of allusions, for which the following Envoys again provide the substratum, is lost. It is true that Galathea exhorts Parott to get rid of his various sophisms -- 'Nowe, Parott, my swete byrde, speke owte yet ons agayn, / Sette asyde all sophysms, and speke now trew and playne.' (447-8) -- and that she urges him to utter a long tirade against the ills of the time. It should be pointed out, however, that paradoxically, from the point of view of the satire, the last part of the complaint is less clear, because it is vaguer, more stereotyped, more in line with the tradition of admonitions to the sovereign. In Lenvoy royall Parott takes up the allusion to Pamphilus again and invites the poem, which has become identified with the name of Parott, to 'Go, propyr Parotte, my popagay, / That lordes and ladies thys pamflett may behold, / With notable clerkes' (357-9). For an attempt to

56 Edwards, Skelton, p. 193.


establish, Galathea's identity, the use of the word 'pamflett', taken from the same play and having the same meaning of brief literary composition, is interesting, as is the choice of the verb 'behold', which would seem to imply, as we have seen in the Bowge of Courte, 57 a likely theatrical performance of the work. Indeed the dramatic way Parott presents himself -- 'My name ys Parott, a byrde of Paradyse, / By Nature devysed of a woriderowus kynde, / Deyntely dyetyd with dyvers delycate spyce' 1-3), the use of the deictic, exophoric, 'These maydens' (11), the request for food 'Now a nutmeg, a nutmeg, cum gariopholo (183), and the interlocutory function of Galathea -- all these elements, added to Skelton's theatrical competence, make us think of a dramatic substratum to the poem. But this is just one of the possible readings, and just as Galathea, within the text, represents the participating reader that asks Parott for explanations, so the reader and/or spectator is called on to do his share in clarifying the obscurity that reigns in the work: 'Thus myche Parott hathe opynlye expreste; / Let se who dare make up the reste' (381-2). In a different setting, what is required of the reader is analogous to what is required of him in the Bowge of Courte: 'Now constrewe ye what is the resydewe' (539).

It can be stated in conclusion that Skelton in Speke Parott, as in The Bowge of Courte, more or less consciously intends to stress the sense of uncertainty typical of a period of transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, of the passage from medieval literary, models to more typically Renaissance ones. 58 Skelton's response to this difficulty is such that his works show us not only his interest in the new -- the study of languages, especially Greek, and his desire to ensure himself lasting fame 59 -- but also his ties with the poets of the past, whose worthy disciple he considers himself to be, and with their metaphorical and allegorical methods.

Let us now go back to the key image in Speke Parott -- the mirror as metaphor of language and reality. Parott's mirror has a double function, passive and active, as does a material mirror: it gives a reflection in so far as it represents the original in all its parts, while it is also an image because it offers something new and distinct from the original, with the loss of certain characteristics of the original such as its physical dimen-

57 Cf. note 6.
58 S. Medcalf, "On Reading Books from an half-alien culture", in Medcalf, The Later Middle Ages, pp. 1-55, especially pp. 45-6.
59 On Skelton's full awareness of his own value as a poet, see R. Skelton, "The Master Poet: John Skelton as Conscious Craftsman", Mosaic 6 ( 1973) 67-92.


sions. 60 In this sense Speke Parott is a mimetic representation of contemporary society, with its disorder, confusion and uncertainty about the great political issues and with regard to culture; yet it cannot help but constitute as well an image of a reality -- specific, shattered, deconstructed -- in which every constituent element helps to form something profoundly different from that reality. At times the language too reproduces a sense of deconstruction, cutting itself loose from the relationship of adaequatio to the reality it represents and degrading itself to mere sounds and incomprehensible sound sequences, as in the attempt to reproduce the parrot's rigmarole:

'But ware the cat, Parot, ware the fals cat!'
With, 'Who is there? A mayd?' Nay, nay, I trow!
Ware, ryat, Parrot, ware ryot, ware that!
'Mete, mete, for Parrot, mete I say, how!'
Thus dyvers of language by lernyng I grow:
With, 'Bas me, swete Parrot, bas me, swete swete;'
To dwell amonge ladyes, Parrot, is mete. (99-105)

or in the reply to Galathea, characterized by the build-up of words that clinch the condemnation of Wolsey's excesses:

To jumbyll, to stombyll, to tumbyll down lyke folys;
To lowre, to droupe, to knele, to stowpe and to play
To fysshe afore the nette and to drawe polys.
He maketh them to bere babylles, and to bere a lowe sayle;
He caryeth a kyng in hys sleve, yf all the worlde fayle;
He facithe owte at a flusshe with, 'Shewe, take all!'
Of Pope Julius cardys, he ys chefe Cardynall. (425-31)

Allegory in the Bowge of Courte is a pre-text for representing the dangerousness of court life, but it is also a con-text in which the problematic nature of a new interaction between consciousness and abstraction is delineated. 61 In Speke Parott, allegory is by Parott's definition 'his protectyon, his pavys and his wall' (203), that is, a veiled, enigmatic way of comprising the whole of reality, the reality of England's condition -- of

60 On the imagery of the mirror in medieval and Renaissance literature, cf. Introduction.
61 Cf. Russell, "Skelton's Bouge of Court", especially pp. 4-6.


the senseless behaviour of men and of Wolsey in particular, and of the frenzy of Parott-poet, who aims at presenting a satirical meditation that is almost a political pamphlet (a predominant form from the end of the sixteenth century onwards). 62 On looking in the Pauline speculum, however, he finds himself also having to come to terms for a moment with his identity as poet-prophet, who with God's inspiration must correct men and himself, because he too is a man.

Despite their thematic similarity, the difference between the Bowge of Courte and Speke Parott is quite clear. In the former poem the allegorical approach is such that Dredesuffers the transformation of the allegory and does not take into account that at the basis of knowledge lies the observation of phenomena and that reality is therefore vigorous and compelling by comparison with abstraction; in the latter poem Parott, by centring so many meanings on himself, is the subject and object of the narration. He is its subject in that his purpose, notwithstanding his deliberate obscurity, is to teach and present a mirror-image of the reality of the age; and its object in so far as Parott himself, with his imitation of language-sounds and the crazy behaviour of men, feels he shares in the world's folly, if only to show it up the more clearly. 63 Speke Parott's innovation compared with the Bowge of Courte is thus above all formal. The allegory in the Bowge of Courte is more metaphorical in the sense that the characters have a tendency towards abstraction, whereas the allegory in Speke Parott is more metonymical, since Parott/Narrator does not represent a quality incarnate in a person but a series of Biblical and contemporary figures and events. Some of these, by being located contiguously in the poem, allude to real persons, and ultimately to one real personage, Wolsey. 64 And it is precisely in Speke Parott that Skelton, by his own admission working within the canons of allegory -- or even more precisely of Biblical typology, to the extent of making Wolsey out to be a kind of Antichrist 65 -- is more innovative, because he makes use of

62 For the use of the mirror metaphor in satire, see Grabes, The Mutable Glass, pp. 99-403.
63 On the homeopathic function of folly, cf. again Wallace, "The Responsibilities of Madness", especially pp. 78-80.
64 On metaphorical and non-metaphorical (metonymic) allegory see the interesting essay by H. W. Boucher, "Metonymy in Typology and Allegory, with a Consideration of Dante's Comedy", in M. W. Bloomfield, ed., Allegory, Myth, and Symbol, Harvard English Studies 9 ( Cambridge, Mass., London, 1981), pp. 129-45, which contains a carefial analysis of the question.
65 Cf. ll. 444-5: 'Ryn God, rynne Devyll! Yet the date of Owur Lord / And the date of the Devyll dothe shurewlye accord', where the proverbial expression alludes to Wolsey and his usurpation of authority.


allegory not as simple recovery of a medieval tradition but as a means whose potentialities he exploits to transmit his vision of a confused, disorderly, crazy world. It is the function of poetry, however, to show the de-composition of this vision and to re-compose it, even if differently, just as the mirror does with the reflected image. The reader is called on to participate in this work of re-composition -- that is, of interpretation of a multiform reality that eludes definition and of a language that is often inadequate to this task.

In the persona of Parott, Skelton succeeds in activating three planes pertinent to a literary text: the rhetorical (or plane of persuasion); the poetic (or mimesis of the imaginaire); the hermeneutic (or plane of interpretation). Parott is a laudator temporis acti and Wolsey's implacable accuser; he uses language to imitate the reality that surrounds him and, divinely -- inspired persona that he is, he succeeds in transferring reality into the text in the form of metaphor -- metaphor open to interpretation even though this involves the utmost difficulty. In the multiplicity of functions he performs, Parott is therefore the epitome of Skelton's comprehensive, multiform conception of poetry.