Skelton's perspective: the maner of the world
Henry, C. Jeanne
Master of Arts
The popular and still current picture of the poet John Skelton -- scholar, satirist, priest and rogue -- is little, more than a "superficial epitome-effigy" of the man as he appears in his poetry. At the center of his work is a serious, orthodox purpose and perspective which may be discovered by examining several of his most characteristic works. The group of religious poems which precede his entrance into Holy Orders provide a sufficient basis for the statement that there is in Skelton's work, as there is in most medieval poetry, a core, kernel, or "pyth" of faith and devotion to the Church, which in Skelton becomes a devotion to truth. This strain may be traced through poems representative of his attitude toward all aspects of the world with which he is familiar, a world which encompassed a wide range of humanity, from court nobles to peasants. He uses his satire as a weapon against the evils he finds gnawing at the roots of all levels of society. An early poem, "The Maner of the World Now A Dayes," serves as a framework to the body of Skelton's work, since it incorporates the themes of most of his later poems. In "Elinour Rumming" and a group of early secular lyrics, which are poems in the tradition of medieval grotesquerie, Skelton attacks the vices of women; in "The Bowge of Courte" he points out the folly of that august gathering; "Colin Clout" walks a middle line between the apparent corruption within the Church, especially the bishops, and the equally apparent error of the heretical, "reforming" element. Skelton's long-time enmity to Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal and Chancellor of England, is expressed in several poems, of which "Why Come Ye Nat to Courte?" is the most explicit. In all of these, Skelton comes back again and again to what he considers a bad and worsening situation, the "maner of the world." Finally, at the end of a lifetime as an "uncomfortably unorthodox" thorn in the side of those at whom he directed his satire, Skelton affirms his dignity as a poet and defends his right to take his place beside Philosophers and theologians as protector and defender of the truth. He sees himself as vates, prophet, and this function is the source of his perspective. "A Replycacion" records what has already been found in Skelton's other poetry -- the dedication of his life and work for one purpose: to reveal to itself the "maner of the world," and to convince its inhabitants that We have exiled veritie.