John Skelton, the bowge of courte (1499?)

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© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. This chapter discusses John Skelton’s The Bowge of Courte in relation to its status as a transitional work both within Skelton’s career and within literary history more generally. Equal parts dream vision, court poem, moral allegory, and psychomachia, the poem draws these forms together in an effort to confront the persistent problem of the ethics of the court as well as anxieties about the sufficiency of poetry as a medium for ethical instruction. The speaker of the poem’s frame narrative hopes to be able to write poetry characterized by a clear allegorical method that in turn conveys a confident moral authority. Drede, the speaker’s dream persona, finds himself within an allegorical court landscape that simultaneously invites and resists the moralistic interpretation that the speaker hopes to enact poetically. Drede is confronted by seven shadowy figures he is not able to comprehend fully, because their speech and behavior frustrate the capacity of allegory to provide interpretive certainty. Unable to arrive at a stable understanding of language or allegory and fearing for his safety, Drede leaps out of the dream, awakening the speaker, who turns uneasily, like Chaucer and Langland, toward advocating a more fully collective and deliberative approach to interpretation. The chapter concludes with a short account of critical studies of the poem, primarily in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

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Handbook of English Renaissance Literature

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