‘Lyke Chaucers boye’: Poetry and Penitence in Gascoigne’s Grief of Joye


Kevin Laam
Oakland University

Kevin Laam. "‘Lyke Chaucers boye’: Poetry and Penitence in Gascoigne’s Grief of Joye".  Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May, 2008) 8.1-26<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-1/article7.htm>.

1.   In The Renaissance Chaucer, Alice Miskimin argues that the cult of Chaucer in Elizabethan England was built on readers’ naïve disregard for the polysemous textures of medieval allegory.  According to Miskimin, the rhetorical principle of significatio through which medieval allegorists such as Chaucer were able to weave in and out of multiple fictional personae was subsumed in the Renaissance by the rival principle of decorum, which held allegorical representation to a crippling standard of consistency.  Miskimin traces a devolving history through which Chaucer is coaxed to slough off his thorny medieval skin and, in the interest of full disclosure apropos to the Renaissance, to reveal himself as the ‘I’ of his poems.  “The study of Chaucer’s reputation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,” she writes, “reveals the gradual conflation of his various poetic identities into a composite personality, the synthetic ‘Chaucer’ praised by his publishers (Caxton, Thynne, and finally Speght), and venerated by his imitators” (1).

2.   At first blush George Gascoigne might seem to synthesize Chaucer as crudely as his Elizabethan contemporaries.  Gascoigne repeatedly heralds Chaucer as his “father” and “master”, and gripes that none among his peers has taken Chaucer’s contrite example to heart:  

And the more pitie, that amongst so many toward wittes no one hath bene hitherto encouraged to followe the trace of that worthy and famous Knight Sir Geffrey Chaucer, and after many pretie devises spent in youth, for the obtayning a worthles victorie, might consume and consummate his age in discribing the right pathway to perfect felicitie, with the due preservation of the same (2).

Gascoigne’s most recent editor notes that this conception of Chaucer was more likely inspired by Troilus and Criseyde than by the Retraction to The Canterbury Tales, which did not appear in Thynne’s 1532 edition (3).  The Gascoigne-Troilus connection has been explored at length by M. R. Rohr, who identifies in The Adventures of Master F. J. a “Chaucerian matrix” through which Gascoigne, under the pseudonym “F.J.”, plays the parts of both the “protagonist” Troilus and the “detached manager and spectator” Pandarus (4).  Within this matrix, Gascoigne pays his debt to his “master Chaucer” first by identifying with, then advancing beyond, the Troilus prototype.  “The Gascoigne of the period of The Adventures,” argues Rohr, “is a mature man who looks at his earlier Troilus-like self (and his earlier self in general) with disenchantment, and who at the same time tries to assert himself exclusively as a writer” (5). 

3.   Gascoigne’s writerly aspirations were frustrated in the short term when his first major collection, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573), sparked a scandal at court for its “sundrie wanton speeches and lascivious phrases” (6) and its amended version, The Posies (1575), failed to calm the fires.  Soon after publishing The Posies, he salvaged his literary career by announcing a turn from courtly jeux d’esprit to satire, elegy, and moral philosophy (7).  The first work he produced during the course of this late-career reinvention was The Glasse of Government (1575), a Dutch-influenced prodigal son play whose starkly antithetical rendering of vice and virtue sought to atone for the moral equivocations of The Adventures.  Gascoigne continued producing works in the moralist vein until his death in 1577, including The Complaynt of Phylomene, The Droomme of Doomes day, and A delicate Diet, for daintiemouthde Droonkardes.   

4.   Exceptional among this group of writings was The Grief of Joye, a poetic metaphrase of Petrarch’s De remediis utriusque fortunae that Gascoigne presented to Queen Elizabeth on New Year’s Day, 1577 (8).  Petrarch’s work consists of 254 dialogues containing Reason’s instructions to steer a steady course through fortunes both good and bad.  In the first book of dialogues, Reason counsels Joy in the ways of sorrow; in the second, Sorrow is counseled in the ways of joy.  In The Grief of Joye, Gascoigne retains the Stoic themes of De remediis while adapting the dialogic form of the work into a sequence of songs on four types of grief-in-joy: youth, beauty, strength, and activity.  While it is scarcely surprising that Gascoigne chose to adapt a text steeped in the language of Stoic consolation, his ambivalent handling of the subject in The Grief of Joye suggests that the poet had not altogether thrown off the worldly attachments that he had held as an aspiring courtier.  Gascoigne’s thinly veiled reportage of the Elizabethan court milieu in The Grief of Joye stands in marked contrast to the generic and anonymous works that he had published the prior year. 

5.   I would like to suggest that Gascoigne’s turnabout from flesh-averse moralism in The Grief of Joye may be understood as an instance of Chaucerian self-fashioning.  Gascoigne, I will argue, understood Chaucer’s penitent persona; identified with Chaucer’s concerns for his legacy; and was savvy enough to merge these Chaucerian elements into his own poetic gestalt.  Chaucer’s influence appears in the courtly poems that Gascoigne produced before his reformation, but nowhere is it more evident than in the second song of The Grief of Joye, which traffics in the knotty secular fictions that he had publicly renounced after the Posies debacle.  This is not to suggest that the poem matches or even aspires to the delirious ironic heights of The Adventures—but neither is it the work of “lugubrious moralism” that it has been made out to be (9).  Where the poem moralizes, it does so with an ambivalence that recalls the eleventh-hour lamentations of Chaucer in the Troilus palinode, “Adam Scriveyn,” and of course, the Retraction.  Chaucer’s fabled writer’s remorse finds expression in the hazy space between personal confession and allegorical invention; Gascoigne’s, in following his master’s dubious lead. 


6.   In The Arte of English Poesie, George Puttenham acknowledges Gascoigne among the Elizabethan “crew of Courtly makers” whose innovations of the English tongue deserve to be duly recognized (10).  But Chaucer, he holds, ranks above them all; Puttenham commends him for his learned translations (The Romaunt of the Rose); his pleasant wit and inventions (The Canterbury Tales); and his decorous meter (Troilus and Criseyde) (11).  Notwithstanding the scope of his contributions to English prosody, Chaucer is commended most profusely in The Arte for his rhetorical dexterity.  Puttenham’s exposition of “sententious figures” in Book III of The Arte works from the premise that the poet’s art should be supported by tropes that stimulate both the ear and the mind (12).  Among the most pliable figures that Puttenham classifies as sententious is hypotyposis, or the “counterfeit representation” (13).  Hypotyposis, he suggests, fills absence with vivid illustrations that captivate the imagination; as the “figure of representation,” it demands from the poet a level of skill proportional to the immediacy and veracity of the thing represented: 

The matter and occasion leadeth vs many times to describe and set foorth many things, in such sort as it should appeare they were truly before our eyes though they were not present, which to do it requireth cunning: for nothing can be kindly counterfait or represented in his absence, but by great discretion in the doer.  And if the things we couet to describe be not naturall or not veritable, than yet the same axeth more cunning to do it, because to faine a thing that neuer was nor is like to be, proceedeth of a greater wit and sharper inuention than to describe things that be true (14).  

The chief counterfeiter according to this standard is none other than Chaucer, as Puttenham subsequently compresses three allusions to Chaucer into his discussion of the several varieties of hypotyposis.  Puttenham cites the faithful depictions of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales to demonstrate Chaucer’s facility with prosopographia, the figure that represents the attributes of a person who is absent or departed.  He cites the taut allegorical fictions of The Romaunt of the Rose to illustrate that Chaucer is equally masterful with prosopopeia, or the attribution of human features to non-existent persons or insensible things.  Lastly, the evocative descriptions of Saluzzi in the Clerk’s Tale are cited to show Chaucer’s deft handling of topographia, the counterfeit of place. 

7.   The quick succession of Chaucer allusions that occur beneath the heading of hypotyposis betrays Puttenham’s partiality toward the “sententious” Chaucer, the poet-as-rhetorician.  Gascoigne’s short treatise on English prosody, Certayne notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English, holds Chaucer in similar esteem.  In Certayne Notes, which first appeared in the 1575 Posies, Gascoigne prefaces his remarks on the importance of invention by paraphrasing the speech of Chaucer’s Parson.  The Parson informs his audience that while he cannot recite his tale in the pleasing tones of alliteration, he will deliver pleasure in the plainness of his speech and the truth of his sentiments.

I kan nat geeste ‘rum, ram, ruf,’ by lettre,
Ne, God woot, rym holde I but litel bettre;
And therfore, if yow list – I wol nat glose –
I wol yow telle a myrie tale in prose
To knytte up al this feeste and make an ende. (15)
Gascoigne appropriates the Parson’s words toward radically different ends: cannily taking the Parson as Chaucer’s mouthpiece, Gascoigne states that “it is not inough to roll in pleasant woordes, nor yet to thunder in Rym, Ram, Ruff, by letter (quoth my master Chaucer) nor yet to abounde in apt vocables, or epythetes, unlesse the Invention have in it also aliquid salis” (Works, I. 465).  Gascoigne’s “aliquid salis,” his insistence that some wit complement the auricular pleasures of poetic language, substitutes thick layers of invention for the plain speech of the Parson.  The rhetoric of courtly love, for instance, he stocks with tropes of secrecy and self-deflection:


Likewise if I should disclose my pretence in love, I would eyther make a straunge discourse of some intollerable passion, or finde occasion to pleade by the example of some historie, or discover my disquiet in shadowes per Allegoriam, or use the covertest meane that I could to avoyde the uncomely customes of common writers.  (Works, I. 466)

What Gascoigne describes is an exercise in sententious figuration.  He supplies the tropical repertoire that Puttenham deems necessary to amplify and to beautify the language; he measures success by his ability “to avoyde the uncomely customes of common writers.”  Curiously, it is the Parson’s admission that he cannot “‘rum, ram, ruf,’ by lettre”—his generic turn to, of all things, prose—that Gascoigne uses to affirm the necessity of invention.  Even more curiously, Gascoigne understands this admission not as the Parson’s failure but rather as Chaucer’s success; nowhere is the Parson identified by name, let alone questioned for the soundness of his deliberately irrhetorical appeal. 

8.   That Gascoigne must go through the unnamed Parson to get to the sententious Chaucer seems a roundabout line of descent from pupil to “master”; his extraction of figural variety from anti-figural speech laces the relationship with additional irony.  C. Jan Swearingen’s analysis of St. Augustine’s ambivalent attitudes toward secular rhetoric helps to put Gascoigne’s own threshold for figural play into perspective.  Swearingen’s thesis is that Augustine was critical not of rhetoric per se, but of mendacity, of the intentional deceit encouraged and applauded in the rhetoric classroom.  After converting to Christianity, Swearingen explains, Augustine undergoes a second conversion, where occurs to him the corruption that words suffer when conceived exclusively for persuasive ends, not for their inherent worth.  Thus Augustine resolves, in De Doctrina Christiana, to reform existing rhetorical models to serve the ends of scriptural truth, and the success of his new model depends as much on the author’s intent as on the reader’s intent not to be deceived.  According to Swearingen, Augustine’s sensitivity to the social contexts within which meaning was produced enabled him to effectively counter two rival critics of figural representation: secular Manichees, who viewed scripture as fiction, and Biblical literalists, who opposed secular learning altogether.  In turn, the elevated standard to which he holds the audience in De Doctrina not only allows for but demands a wide inventory of rhetorical strategies through which one may discern truth from deceit.  However, as Swearingen points out, the same strategies are susceptible to corruption: 

Augustine does not attack the speaker’s manipulation of an audience’s gullibility as singularly as Plato does in the Phaedrus, Gorgias, and Sophist.  Instead, he charges the audience with willful allegiance to a self-contradictory set of critical standards, with tastes that demean self and other alike.  Audiences titillate themselves; they enjoy seeing if they can be deceived.  If they are, they praise the cleverness of the deceiving speaker who has eluded detection (16). 

Augustine’s vision of audiences grown fat on self-delusion portends the bind in which a secular poet such as Gascoigne finds himself when he fails to deliver the goods.  Following the Hundreth Sundrie Flowres controversy, Gascoigne may go the route of the Parson and disclaim responsibility to deliver pleasure on all rhetorical fronts—or he may decide with Chaucer to re-enter the fray of courtly makers, in the hopes that he may yet reach the gaudy heights of his master (17).  Gascoigne warns his protégé in Certayne Notes that “what Theame soever you do take in hande, if you do handle it but tanquam in oratione perpetua, and never studie for some depth of devise in the Invention, and some figures also in the handlyng thereof: it will appeare to the skilfull Reader but a tale of a tubbe” (Works, I. 465).  Like Augustine, Gascoigne is keenly aware of the social contexts that produce meaning, and almost painfully aware of his audience’s ability to sniff out the work of a hack—hence his schemes to make his love appear exotic.  Unlike Augustine, Gascoigne is not concerned for his spectators’ souls but for his own sense of shame.   

9.   The two years that lapse between the appearance of the Posies and The Grief of Joye witness a dramatic downsizing of Gascoigne’s literary ambitions.  Chastened by the failure of the Posies to make sufficient amends for the sins of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, Gascoigne turns his hand to moral discourses that assay little of the rhetorical subterfuge advised in Certayne Notes.  In the dedicatory epistle to The Droomme of Doomes day, he attributes his change of course, in large part, to flattery fatigue.  Long flanked by companions “who had sundrie times served me as an Eccho with prayses & common suffrages, affirming that I deserved a Lawrel Garland,” Gascoigne at last realizes that “that it is not suffycient for a man to have a high flying Hawke, unlesse he doe also accustome hir to stoupe such Quarries as are both pleasant and profitable” (Works, II. 212).  The glib didacticism of the metaphor strains against the poet’s sly suggestion that he can do—and by many accounts, has done—better than he will show in The Droomme.  And yet the Gascoigne who compromises artistically thrives professionally: he participates in entertainments before the queen at Kenilworth and Woodstock in 1575, and caps the year by presenting her with an expensively wrought manuscript of The Tale of Hemetes the Heremyte on New Year’s Day.  The poet is even more prolific the following year, and in August 1576 he is awarded a royal appointment to report on events in the Low Countries (18). 

10. The Grief of Joye, which Gascoigne claims to have composed during the “Interims and vacant howres” of his summer at Antwerp, thus concludes the most sustained period of prosperity of the poet’s career.  It also departs, albeit gingerly, from the astringent formula that had served him well in his pursuit of patronage.  In the poem Gascoigne meshes predictably penitent tones with lingering glances at his former ways; his past follies are allowed ample representation before being swept up by reason.  C. T. Prouty speculates that Gascoigne sought “to convince the Queen of his serious purpose in a poem which had a recognized literary sanction in Petrarch” but hesitated to weary her with the “heavy-handed asceticism” of his recent works (19).  Robert Coogan questions Prouty’s low estimation of Elizabeth’s taste, suggesting instead that Gascoigne combed Petrarch’s work for sententiae most conducive to the ends of courtly satire (20).  Coogan’s analysis rightly corrects Prouty’s oversight by examining Gascoigne’s serious, deliberate engagement with Petrarch’s text.  What is also important to note, however, is that Gascoigne stakes his credentials in The Grief of Joye as much on Petrarch as he does on Chaucer:     

But if some Englishe woorde, herein seme sweet,
Let Chaucers name, exalted be therefore,/
Yf any verse, doe passe on plesãnt feet,
The praise thereof, redownd to Petrarks lore/  (Works, II., 518)  

The passage may be understood, on the one hand, as an orthodox posture of authorial self-negation, comparable to Chaucer’s motion to shift praise to Christ for the better parts of the Canterbury Tales (21).  Gascoigne deflects credit for any pleasure one might derive from his poem to the masters of the laurel: Chaucer for his diction, Petrarch for his prosody.  And yet Gascoigne’s insistent invocation of Chaucer alongside the poet who provides the actual source material for The Grief of Joye betrays an allegiance that runs deeper than words.  The peculiar nature of that allegiance is suggested in the poem’s other reference to Petrarch and Chaucer, when Gascoigne vows “Yn barreyne verse, to doe the best I can,/Lyke Chaucers boye, and Petrarks jorneyman” (Works II., 517). 

11. Petrarch is every bit the equal to Chaucer in his influence over Gascoigne’s poetics in The Grief of Joye.  What distinguishes the two pairings is that Gascoigne identifies himself as Chaucer’s “boye,” a term that surpasses “jorneyman” in its semantic possibilities.  In becoming Chaucer’s “boye,” Gascoigne positions himself not only as Chaucer’s heir and apprentice but also as his scribe, the infamous “Adam Scriveyn” who cannot be trusted with his master’s text:

Adam scriveyn, if ever it thee befalle
Boece or Troylus for to wryten newe,
Under thy long lokkes thou most have the scalle,
But after my maykyng thow wryte more trewe;
So ofte adaye I mot thy werk renewe,
It to correcte and eke to rubbe and scrape,
And al is thorugh thy negligence and rape.  (22)

Although something of a curiosity in the Chaucerian canon, this short lyric has elicited vast attention for its insights into Chaucer’s attempts to shape his poetic legacy (23).  Britt Mize, for instance, observes a powerful comic tension that runs through the poem—the comedy arising from Adam’s association with a long line of long haired “Chaucerian dandies,” the tension from the speaker’s realization that “at some point, the capricious undoing of what had originally been done carefully, perfectly, will not be set right again” (24).  According to Mize, Chaucer’s speaker worries for the time when he will be parted from his manuscripts for good.  In the meantime, he is resigned “to rubbe and scrape,” to undo the damage wrought by hands unfit to handle his legacy. 

12. Amid the proprietary anxieties to which “Adam Scriveyn” gives utterance, the poem lays open the strength of the position in which Chaucer’s speaker finds himself.  As long as he retains the service of the inept scribe, he also retains the privilege of revising his own script; he comes to depend upon the scribal violence—the “negligence and rape”—that occasion repeated acts of self-reparation.  The poem pivots on Chaucer’s ability to transpose the vagaries of manuscript production onto concerns for his authorial sovereignty, and then to impersonate those concerns in the figure of the flighty Adam.  In admonishing Adam, the speaker performs a dramatic monologue in which the reader is compelled to redress the silence of the addressee with knowing sympathy.  The poem begs us neither to hold the poet in esteem nor the scribe in contempt—merely to respect the fact that the concerns it articulates are endemic to the project of writing one’s canon. 

13. As the foil through whom Chaucer contrives both a sympathetic audience and a mandate for continued productivity, Adam the scribe comprises a powerful fiction, one whose utility to the poet seeking to reinvent himself goes without saying.  The brilliance of Gascoigne’s use of Adam is the looseness of the identification.  As “Chaucer’s boye” Gascoigne may alternately represent the heir apparent to Chaucer or the enfant terrible.   He, like Chaucer, is the master poet whose works have been abused.  Like the hapless scribe, he will assuredly heap similar abuse on Chaucer’s good name: “[F]aults must swarme,” he admits, “where little skill doth reigne” (518).  Yet perhaps the most powerful role that Gascoigne inhabits in making himself “Chaucer’s boye” is that of Chaucer’s reader, the third party who completes the poem’s circuit of exchange. Unlike many readers, Gascoigne has the requisite sympathy that Chaucer’s situation demands.  He knows the story of Chaucer and Adam through experience, such that he may insert himself into it with minimal difficulty.  In doing so, Gascoigne models just the sort of reader that might eventually redeem his own work from the violence of reckless handlers.  

14. Following the opening allusion to Chaucer, there is little in the first song of The Grief of Joye to indicate that Gascoigne’s aspirations for his legacy run beyond the corrective.  The song sees Gascoigne return to one of his enduring preoccupations—his “lusty yowthe”—from the perspective of a man who has learned that old age will mock and punish youthful joie de vivre.  It is not clear that Gascoigne has learned any of this through experience, however: when he writes the poem he is in his mid-to-late thirties, years removed from senescence.  “[T]hough I be not olde, yet trust to me,” he advises, reasoning that one closer to his youth “[m]aie better serve, to handle youthe aright,/Then crooked age” (Works II., 523).  Yet Gascoigne fails to make up for what he lacks in gravitas with the sort of revealing self-disclosure that might demonstrate his capacity to empathize: “I shame to shewe, the deepe deceitfull driftes,/Whiche lovers use” (Works II., 525).  Instead he sticks to the formulaically Stoic script left by Petrarch, thus living down to expectations for moralist writing. As Richard Helgerson observes of Gascoigne’s later works, “The recital of precept, much of it translated from the works of Church Fathers, takes the place of autobiographical poetry and proves his submission to the severest conventional wisdom” (25). 

15. Helgerson concedes that The Grief of Joye presents a “slight relenting” from Gascoigne’s zealous moralizing; I would suggest that the change is more than slight.  To appreciate the poem’s remarkable lack of contempt for the affairs of the world in The Grief of Joye, it is first important to note the structure of the poem.  Gascoigne does not treat the four subjects into which the poem is divided equally.  The first song’s observations on youth and age serve as the organizing principle for the three remaining subjects: beauty, strength, and activity.  Youth sustains all three of them, and age defeats them in turn—it is the inevitability of this cycle that brings out the grief inherent in every joy.  In the third song, for instance, the poet warns that the mythic strength of Milo and Hercules could not save them from tragic ends; he wishes he had been born a weakling, if only to soften the blow of eventually finding himself diminished beyond recognition.  The fourth song submits diversions such as song and dance to the same treatment.  By the song’s end, finding unusual examples of grief in joy becomes a sport unto itself; the poet himself seems surprised that such activities as running, wrestling, and riding translate so readily into moral exempla. 

16. Gascoigne’s fidelity to the Stoic master text notwithstanding, there are strong indications in The Grief of Joye that the poet entertains literary ambitions exceeding his stated business of Petrarchan imitation.  As the first song comes to a close, he claims to have scarcely begun the work of developing topics that will substantiate his thesis on youth (26).  In the final stanza, he writes:       

Of Bewties blaze I have a song to sing/
Of strength lykewise, and Active quallities/
But synce my lute, hath broke the treble string,
Let pawse a whyle, untyll I maie devise,
Some newfownd notes, to chãnt in cherefull wise./
My playnesong tunes, (I feare) to long have bene,
And I wax hoarce, to sing before a Queene.  (Works II., 525)

 As the speaker pauses to replenish his topoi, one can picture Gascoigne literally gathering the nerve to broach matters to which Queen will respond favorably.  If we take him at his word, the best is yet to come.

  17. Indeed, in the second—and by far the longest—song of The Grief of Joye, Gascoigne aggressively ups the ante on what is admissible in the confines of moralist discourse.  The conceit of the song is that the poet must apologize for his Muse’s reckless comments on beauty.  In exposing the vanities of beauty, the Muse has bred fury among its most distinguished exemplars: the ladies of the Elizabethan court.  As the ladies horde angrily about her, the poet mediates by issuing an extended roll call in which they are recognized for their beauty and identified variously by name, initial, pun, and other associations (27).  The “swarme” of ladies is headed by the Queen, who receives the most spirited defense from the poet and in turn prompts his sternest challenge to the Muse: “Well well (my muse) yf thou resolve to fight,/I the advise, some better weapons bend” (Works II., 527).  In the short term, the Muse has no better weapons to wield in her defense.  One by one the poet calls out the ladies he has seen, known, and loved—and they uniformly resist the charge that their beauty will someday fade.   

18. The pretext of pitting one’s own Muse against a bevy of assailants plucked from the Queen’s court results in a poem that is, on some level, terrifying in its specificity.  Gascoigne repeatedly second-guesses his decision to stock the poem with non-fictional characters, as evidenced by his recurrent fixation on names and naming in the second song.  In the twelfth stanza, not long after having commenced his pageant of beautiful ladies, the poet confesses that the art of courtly compliment is vexed by particulars:       

But why do I, streyne curtesey to tell,
The proper names, of such as fame deserve?
Three worthie dames, next these I see full well,
Whiche threalten sore, thy carping tongue to carve/
Yf gentle words, for warning maie not serve/
Howardes they be/ but wch dothe shine most bright,
Were needeles (now) in makebate verse to wryte.  (Works II., 528)

 The poet knows that he need not pause to name those worthy of fame, yet he cannot help himself.  In addition to identifying the “three worthie dames” by the surname Howard in the text, he also identifies them by first initial in the left margin: K., F., & M.  The identities of the ladies are thus revealed as Katherine , Frances , and Martha, the daughters of William, Lord Howard of Effingham (28).  Seemingly as an afterthought, the poet considers which of the three sisters “dothe shine most bright,” only to bury the question as swiftly as he raises it. 

19. The pattern is typical of the controlled hermeneutic of the second song, where Gascoigne lets slip enough detail to “streyne curtesey” but recovers in time to preserve the stable dialectic of grief and joy.  The term “courtesy” had been used earlier by Gascoigne as a means of encouraging readers seeking idle pleasure in his works to respect his turn to serious themes and lofty ambitions: “Of curtesie, yet pardone hym which clymes,/To purchase praise, although, he fynd but skornes” (Works II., 518).  Here in the second song Gascoigne’s concern is ostensibly for the reputations of others; he implies that it strains courtesy to match names to pretty faces, as if beauty were incriminating.  The term “courtesy” is semantically fraught, as Catherine Bates explains in an illuminating study on Elizabethan courtship rhetoric.  As a model of communication premised on the delicate balance of suggestion and restraint, it can denote exclusive intimacy between the persons privy to its codes, but it can just as easily be manipulated into a crude cover for contrary codes.  Bates traces the progress of “courtesy” in The Adventures of Master F. J. from its origins in “the courteous qualities of hospitality, grace, and yieldingness” that initially frame the relationship between F.J. and Elinor to its disfigured ends in shame, adultery, and rape (29).  As far as I can tell, Gascoigne wants nowhere near such “courtesies” in The Grief of Joye, and so the act of naming becomes the central mechanism through which his overtures to the opposite sex are kept under surveillance: beauty always has a name. 

20. The exception to this rule occurs when the poet sights upon a second “troupe of Dames,” headed by a lady whom Gascoigne identifies by three names: Ferenda Natura, Livia, and “The Hollow tree.”  The character of Ferenda first appears in Gascoigne’s verse narrative Dan Bartholmew of Bathe, where she plays the faithless Crisedye to Bartholmew’s lovesick Troilus.  The “reporter” who handles narrative duties in Dan Bartholmew does not scruple to foist the appellative “Ferenda Natura” upon her: “I can appoint hir well no better name,/Than this where in dame Nature bears the blame” (Works I., 98).  However, when the same Ferenda reappears in The Grief of Joye, the speaker is hard pressed to reduce her to a single name.  Instead, she is shrouded in allegorical multiplicity:       

My Sweetest sowre, my Joy of all my griefe,
My Frendly foe, myne ofte Reviving death,
My first Regreate, my right and last Reliefe,
My frewtfull cropp, and yet my Barreyne heath,
My store and stocke, wch spares & spends my breathe/
My Hope forlorne, my Heyght of all my Happe,
My Love first lulled, in golden fancies lappe.  (Works II., 530)

As Jane Hedley has noted, allegoria is Gascoigne’s “master trope”—and his typical preference is for what Puttenham calls “mixed allegory,” which differs from “full allegory” by making certain components of the metaphor explicit to the reader (30).  The paradoxes and antitheses to which Ferenda is compared in the twenty-second stanza support the thesis that the speaker states up front: that she is beauty incarnate, the joy of all his grief.  But she is allegorized differently in the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth stanzas.  Instead of taking up beauty’s vendetta against the Muse, she lays down her arms and confronts the poet directly.        

O Bartholmew, (saithe Shee) where be thy wytts,
And where the skyll, wch wont to guyde thy penn?
Shall world conclude, that fancy comes by fytts?
Wilt thow be founde, as fonde as other menn,
Who dotingly, do dally nowe and then?
Can light conceipt (in thy mynd) reasone chase,
From thate which proofe, hathe often put in place.  (Works II., 530)

Ferenda reveals the speaker as the titular hero of Dan Bartholmew, who apparently has learned little since she plunged him from triumphant joys into abject sorrows.  At the beginning of that poem he is described as one who has learned “good rules to bridle fantasie”—but also as one so vulnerable to beauty’s charms “[t]hat at the last he quite forgat his bookes,/And fastned fansie with the fairest lookes” ( Works I. , 97).  Ferenda now chides him for having resumed the fitful fancies of the stricken lover, for employing a Muse where learned knowledge, or “proofe,” ought to suffice.   

21. In the twenty-fifth stanza, Ferenda delivers the harshest blow by not using force with the Muse.  Ferenda simply “turnes her face, and weepes wth woofull cheare” (Works II., 531), ceasing to yield her visage as ammunition for beauty’s assault on the Muse.  In refusing to indulge the martial conceit through which the poet has been able to make beauty at once the object of a courtly spectacle and a cautionary fable, Ferenda brings the poem to a virtual standstill.  She foils the poet’s ploy to paint the Muse and the ladies of the court as foes; her tears of “woofull cheare” cement the détente of grief and joy in her own person.  The poet, outed as “Bartholmew”, in turn must announce that he is not the impartial observer that he has pretended to be.  On the contrary, he has stoked the feud to provide cover for his still passionate love for Ferenda.  As he is soon forced to confess, “I played wth some, theire pacience for to prove,/But Livia (in earnest) had my love” (Works II., 531). 

22. The true-to-life identity of Ferenda has confounded scholars, with perennial speculation that she represents Gascoigne’s wife, Elizabeth Bacon Bretton (31) —but she is figured so diversely in Dan Bartholmew and The Grief of Joye that it seems to me counterintuitive to try to solve the mystery of her identity.  The surfeit of names she is given reflects more powerfully on the motivations of the poet who is determined to keep her identity a secret.  Initially he deploys her to expose his own trickery; she reveals that he has instigated the war on the Muse for no greater purpose than to create visual pageantry.  Once the poet is held to task for his obsequious ways, he may then make amends by letting the truth about beauty be known.  For the remainder of the second song, the poet ceases to play beauty’s advocate—the Muse speaks her mind, and the ladies are appeased.  Ironically, his turn away from the idle enjoyments of physical beauty is prompted by the most devastating beauty of all: Ferenda.  She so outpaces her courtly companions that the poet can scarcely summarize her beauty in a name.  The greatest courtesy he can afford Ferenda is to name her without giving her away—that is, to acknowledge her distinction among the throng of courtly beauties while keeping her actual identity close to the vest. 

23. The poet’s protective gestures inevitably veer toward the darker side of courtesy—the side where unspoken truth is used to license unspeakable aberrations from that truth.  Following the twenty-eighth stanza of the second song, where Ferenda’s praises are sung once more, she is never again mentioned.  She quietly disappears from the poem amid a third wave of attacks on the Muse, and does not return even when the situation is pacified.  Presumably she has paid a pivotal role in ending the war on the Muse, but she plays no visible role in brokering the peace.  It may simply be the case that Ferenda’s work is done, that the poet has learned his lesson.  It may also be that he makes her disappear.  To absent her from the poem exempts her from the logic that beauty withers with age, and enables the poet to draw a wedge between the Stoic beliefs he has been compelled to profess and the fantasy he harbors of an ageless, all-joyous Ferenda.  

24. It is this ambivalent brand of moralism in The Grief of Joye that ultimately links Gascoigne to Chaucer.  At the behest of a self-identified “Cressides heire” (Works I. 126), Gascoigne’s speaker accepts the challenge to put his errant ways behind him, but the mode of retraction—arch, evasive, meandering—leaves his motives in doubt.  Chaucer’s retractions invite the same scrutiny, largely because of how much they seek to retract.  To take Chaucer’s Retraction at his word, one must believe that the poet disowns all of his works but Boece and a few devotional pieces; to read Troilus correctly, one must trust that the belated triumph of divine love forgives the sins of description that the poem commits at length.  Chaucer himself avers that this is much to ask: he cites Troilus first among the “translacions and enditynges of worldly vanitees” that he wants purged from his canon of works, as if convinced that the poem’s adulterous preoccupations were beyond redemption (32). 

25. Among the myriad penitent gestures through which Chaucer and Gascoigne attend to their legacies in their poetry, the common denominator is the sense that experience demands nothing less than honest reflection.  Even the severest of their rebukes acknowledge that youth retains a high tolerance for error.  Chaucer’s Troilus is among the best examples: he remains hemmed in by earthly vanities until his death, acquiring a proper disdain for earth only when he transcends it.  As the poem draws to a close, his successors are hastened toward the same realization: 

O yonge, fresshe folkes, he or she,
In which that love up growth with youre age,
Repeyreth hom fro worldly vanyte,
And of youre herte up casteth the visage
To thilke God that after his ymage
Yow made, and thynketh al nys but a faire,
This world that passeth soone as floures faire.  (33)

The exhortation is predictably steeped in the spirit of contemptus mundi, but almost unconsciously reverts to carpe diem at the stanza’s end, as the poem directs “yonge, fresshe folkes” to such experience as can only be had during their short time on earth.  Gascoigne’s poem likewise hints that a penchant for idle attractions is not the shame of youth but the very definition.  In The Grief of Joye, when pressed to explain why earthly beauty should not be seen as God’s most prized handiwork, the poet responds in terms that are stern but knowing:        

Not I allone, but noombers infinyte,
Of toward yowthes, have roone theire race awrye,
By glañce and gasing, at things apposite,
Which helde them fast, and would not let thẽ flye,
To perfect poyntes, wch placed are on heighe/
Thes whites and markes, wch glister here by lowe,
Are shootes (for shyft) but for a baser bowe./  (Works II., 534)

The sentiment recalls not only the Troilus palinode but also Gascoigne’s own “Woodmanship” poem, in which he treats his poor marksmanship as a metaphor for his history of professional shortcomings: “He shootes awrie almost at every marke” (Works I., 348).  In The Grief of Joye the purview of the metaphor is expanded from personal experience to universal truth; the poet is joined in failure by “toward yowthes” in “noombers infinyte”.  He holds up a mirror to the foibles of youth and, gratefully, sees more than the solitary image of himself. 

26. With this gesture of commiseration, Gascoigne acknowledges that his plight is nothing unique: it is the lot of the courtly aspirant to be undone by his basest inclinations.  Yet he simultaneously refuses to give the sundry embarrassments that dot his courtly career the final word on his legacy as a poet.  Given the discrepancy between Gascoigne’s claims to have reformed himself and the contrary indications that persist in his work—The Grief of Joye in particular—it is not surprising that the poet continues to be dogged over questions of sincerity.  While these questions have been iterated with progressively greater sophistication and awareness, it is unlikely that they will soon be exhausted (34).  In the final, incomplete stanza of The Grief of Joye, Gascoigne leaves the door open on his future literary prospects: 

I can rehearce yett many myschieves mo,
And sundry greeves, that &c. &c.  (Works II., 557)

The last published lines in Gascoigne’s poetic canon point two possible ways.  Literally, it seems that the poet has been silenced prematurely and that, in keeping with the promise of the dedicatory epistle, he plans to resume the task of adapting of De remediis as circumstances permit.  The other possibility is that the future is wider open, that in the dual et cetera he reserves the right to rehearse his final reformation indefinitely.  In neglecting the particulars Gascoigne is his own Adam Scriveyn; in seizing the opportunity left by that neglect, he is his own master Chaucer.  And in showing that the poet must shape his legacy by unsettling it, Gascoigne is unmistakably Chaucer’s boy.


1 Alice S. Miskimin, The Renaissance Chaucer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), 90.  See also John M. Steadman, The Lamb and the Elephant: Ideal Imitation and the Context of Renaissance Allegory (San Marino, Ca.: The Huntington Library, 1974).

 2 George Gascoigne, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. G. W. Pigman III ( Oxford : Clarendon Press, 2000), 143.

 3 Pigman, commentary to Gascoigne, Hundreth, 559.

 4 See M. R. Rohr, “Gascoigne and ‘My Master Chaucer’,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 67 (1968): 20-31.

 5 Rohr, “Chaucer,” 29.

 6 George Gascoigne, The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, 2 vols., ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907), 3.  Subsequent references will be identified in the text by the title Works, followed volume and page number.

 7 C. T. Prouty, George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), 241.  Unless otherwise noted, all biographical information on Gascoigne is derived from Prouty.

  8 B. B. Gamzue, in “Elizabeth and Literary Patronage” (Papers of the Modern Language Association 49 [1934]: 1041-49), notes that there is no evidence that Gascoigne’s performance before the queen net him tangible rewards.

 9 Richard McCoy, “Gascoigne’s ‘Poëmata castrata’: The Wages of Courtly Success,” Criticism 27 (1985), 47.

 10 See George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 1970), 75.  Gascoigne is credited specifically “for a good meeter and for a plentifull vayne” (77).

 11 Puttenham, Arte, 75-76.

 12 “Sententious” follows “auricular” and “sensible” in the threefold division of figures that Puttenham proposes to support a courtly model of poetic instruction: “[S]ince to such manner of mindes nothing is more combersome then tedious doctrines and schollarly methodes of discipline, we haue in our owne conceit deuised a new and strange modell of this arte, fitter to please the Court then the schoole…” (Arte, 170).

 13 Puttenham, Arte, 245.  See also The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, 4 vols., trans. H. E. Butler (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1959), in which Quintilian defines hypotyposis as “any representation of facts which is made in such vivid language that they appeal to the eye rather than the ear” (3:397).

 14 Puttenham, Arte, 245.

 15 The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., gen. ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 287.

 16 C. Jan Swearingen, Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 204.

 17 I use the term “courtly makers” to denote Gascoigne’s poetic aspirations, not his actual proximity to the Elizabethan court.  Steven W. May, in The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: The Poems and Their Contexts (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1991), notes that Gascoigne was not one of the queen’s courtiers but instead belonged to that group “of professional out-of-court poets…whose genuine ties to the court failed to elevate them to courtier status” (5).

 18 See Prouty, Gascoigne, 87-96.

 19 Prouty, Gascoigne, 264.

 20 See Robert Coogan, “Petrarch’s De Remediis and Gascoigne’s Griefe of Joye,” Salzburg Studies in English Literature 71.2 (1981): 32-46.  Coogan’s article provides a sustained investigation of Gascoigne’s innovative and selective interpolations of Petrarch’s text.

 21 The first sentence of the Retraction reads: “Now preye I to hem alle that herkne this litel tretys or rede, that if ther be any thyng in it that liketh hem, that therof they thanken oure Lord Jhesu Crist, of whom procedeth al wit and al goodnesse” (Riverside Chaucer, 328).

 22 Riverside Chaucer, 650.

 23 See, for example, Seth Lerer, Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 116-46; John Scattergood, “The Jongleur, the Copyist, and the Printer: The Tradition of Chaucer's ‘Wordes unto Adam, His Own Scriveyn’,” in Courtly Literature: Culture and Context, ed. Keith Busby and Erik Kooper (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1990), 499-508; and Jane Chance, “Chaucerian Irony in the Verse Epistles ‘Wordes Unto Adam,’ ‘Lenvoy a Scogan,’ and ‘Lenvoy a Bukton’,” Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 21 (1985): 115-28.

 24 Britt Mize, “Adam, and Chaucer’s Words unto Him,” The Chaucer Review 35 (2001), 364.

 25 Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 49.

 26 My understanding of Renaissance rhetoric has been aided instrumentally by Brian Vickers’s Classical Rhetoric in English Poetry (Carbondale, Il.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989).  In this concise and instructive study, Vickers attributes the prevalence of topoi in Renaissance literature to the influence of Aristotelian rhetoric, which added the example and the enthymeme to the list of ways to support a claim’s probability (63).

 27 For a complete listing of the identities of the ladies mentioned in The Grief of Joye, see Prouty, Gascoigne, 325-28.

 28 Prouty speculates that the ‘M’ stands for Martha (the fourth daughter), not Mary (the second daughter), since “Gascoigne is here listing the youngest daughters and those presumably unmarried at the time” (325).

 29 Catherine Bates, The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 3.

 30 See Jane Hedley, “Allegoria: Gascoigne’s Master Trope,” English Literary Renaissance 11 (1981), 153; and Puttenham, Arte, 198.

 31 See Felix E. Schelling, The Life and Writings of George Gascoigne with Three Poems Heretofore not Reprinted (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1893), 52; Prouty, Gascoigne, 219-20; and Rohr, “Chaucer,” 28 n.

 32 Riverside Chaucer, 328.  Melissa Furrow, in “The Author and Damnation: Chaucer, Writing, and Penitence” (Forum for Modern Language Studies 33 [1997]: 245-57), takes Chaucer at his word when he gestures to retract.  “[G]iven that moral responsibility for how a work was used rested on the author, not the reader,” she argues, “it is not at all unlikely that Chaucer actually took steps to suppress his own writings” (253).

 33 Riverside Chaucer, 584.

 34 To see how the sincerity question has been re-contextualized in terms of sixteenth-century rhetorical practice, see John Stephens, “George Gascoigne’s Posies and the Persona in Sixteenth Century Poetry,” Neophilologus 70 (1986): 130-41; and Gregory Kneidel, “Reforming George Gascoigne,” Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 10 (1998): 329-70.




Bates, Catherine. The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Chance, Jane. “Chaucerian Irony in the Verse Epistles ‘Wordes Unto Adam,’ ‘Lenvoy a Scogan,’ and ‘Lenvoy a Bukton’.” Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 21 (1985): 115-28.

Coogan, Robert. “Petrarch’s De Remediis and Gascoigne’s Griefe of Joye.” Salzburg Studies in English Literature 71.2 (1981): 32-46.

Furrow, Melissa. “The Author and Damnation: Chaucer, Writing, and Penitence.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 33 (1997): 245-57.

Gamzue, B. B. “ Elizabeth and Literary Patronage.” Papers of the Modern Language Association 49 (1934): 1041-49.

Gascoigne, George. A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres. Edited by G. W. Pigman III. Oxford : Clarendon Press, 2000.

Gascoigne, George. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne.  Edited by John W. Cunliffe. 2 volumes. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1907.

Hedley, Jane. “Allegoria: Gascoigne’s Master Trope.” English Literary Renaissance 11 (1981): 148-64.

Helgerson, Richard. The Elizabethan Prodigals. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1976.

Kneidel, Gregory. “Reforming George Gascoigne.” Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 10 (1998): 329-70.

Lerer, Seth. Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

May, Steven W. The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: The Poems and Their Contexts. Columbia , Mo. : University of Missouri Press, 1991.

McCoy, Richard “Gascoigne’s ‘Poëmata castrata’: The Wages of Courtly Success.” Criticism 27 (1985): 29-55.

Miskimin, Alice S. The Renaissance Chaucer. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1975.

Mize, Britt. “Adam, and Chaucer’s Words unto Him.” The Chaucer Review 35 (2001): 351-377.

Prouty, C. T. George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet. New York : Columbia University Press, 1942.

Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesie. Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 1970.

Rohr, M. R. “Gascoigne and ‘My Master Chaucer’.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 67 (1968): 20-31.

Scattergood, John. “The Jongleur, the Copyist, and the Printer: The Tradition of Chaucer's ‘Wordes unto Adam, His Own Scriveyn’.” In Courtly Literature: Culture and Context. Edited by Keith Busby and Erik Kooper. Amsterdam : John Benjamins, 1990, 499-508.

Schelling, Felix E. The Life and Writings of George Gascoigne with Three Poems Heretofore not Reprinted. Boston : Ginn & Co., 1893.

Steadman, John M.  The Lamb and the Elephant: Ideal Imitation and the Context of Renaissance Allegory. San Marino , Ca.: The Huntington Library, 1974.

Stephens, John. “George Gascoigne’s Posies and the Persona in Sixteenth Century Poetry.” Neophilologus 70 (1986): 130-41.

Swearingen, C. Jan. Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1991.

The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian. Translated by H. E. Butler. 4 volumes. Cambridge , Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1959.

The Riverside Chaucer.  3rd edition. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Vickers, Brian. Classical Rhetoric in English Poetry. Carbondale , Il.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.


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© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).