The Allegorical Content in John Skelton's 'Bowge of Court'
The Allegorical Content within John Skelton's Bowge of Court
Whether we as humans realize it or not, our reactions to situations going on in our lifetimes are displayed in various ways through our speech or our writing. But in America, freedom of speech is a key point in not needing to worry about consequences of writings we may produce. During the Renaissance period of literature, this was not the case. A writer living in this time period had to be very conscious of the way he/she wrote his/her words down on paper. Many different strategies were used to get around being held accountable for personal writings, including writing an introduction denouncing what followed, or an explanation of why it was written asking not to judge the author for portraying others' thoughts. One way of hiding the real context of the purpose of a story or the meaning of a story in renaissance literature was the use of allegory in the naming of characters. John Skelton's "Bowge of Court," is a prime example of the use of allegory to convey a moral while simultaneously mocking court life of the time period. What do the characters of these stories stand for and do they fulfill their names by their definitions? "Bowge of Court" is written in seven line stanzas, and Drede, the narrator of the poem, encounters seven different people while on his journey on the boat. In analyzing these characters, one can find that the true purpose within the text of Skelton's work was to portray a moral through surface level reading of the text, and mostly to parallel the crimes handled by the Court of the Star Chamber, and which was begun by King Henry VII, under whom he served for years, and portray the issues of the constant threat of treason in any monarchy.<o:p></o:p>
John Skelton was a very knowledgeable man, "beneficed clergyman", and friend of the court during the reign of Henry II, even tutoring his son, the soon to be Henry VIII (Rollins & Baker, 66-67). "Bowge of Court" is assumed to be written before 1509.<o:p></o:p>
Henry VII, also known as Henry Tudor, ended up becoming the first Tudor king after defeating Richard 1iI. King of England from 1485 to 1509, found a ways to keep the powerful barons of England under control, who owned their own private armies. The barons would rent out the armies to whoever offered the highest payment. Henry VII, in the start of his rule, developed three ways in which to cause the barons to be powerless and within his grasp and control. $y banning all private armies, heavily taxing the barons, and finally creating the Court of Star Chamber, he was on his way to being in total control of the barons, who would then be no threat to him (Henry VII ). Here stood the beginning of the Court of Star Clamber, said to be called this because the room where the men met was decorated with star paintings. No one but a select few, seven to be exact during Henry VIPs reign were able to enter, and the Chamber was "answerable only to the king" (Henry VII). The Star Chamber was higher than any court of law and could overturn any ruling by another court of law. The act of 1487 (3 Hen. VII) created a court composed of seven persons, the chancellor, the treasurer, the keeper of the privy seal, or any two of them, with a bishop, a temporal lord and two chief justices, or in their absence two other justices. It was to deal with cases of unlawful maintenance, giving of licenses, signs and tokens, great riots, and unlawful assemblies, in short with all offenses against the law which were too serious to be dealt with by the ordinary courts (Star Chamber) This allowed the council to supersede the ordinary courts of law in cases where they were too corrupt and weak to act. This was s strong central court brought about by the king, which was able to administer verdicts without complaint, and could even have been a mode of tyranny. The Court of Star Chamber was an efficient, somewhat arbitrary arm of royal power. It was at the height of its career in the days of he Tudor and Stuart kings. Star Chamber stood for swiftness and power: it was not a competitor of the commonlaw so much as a limitation on it - a reminder that high state policy could not safely be entrusted to a system so chancy as English Law" (Friedman) The literary device of allegory, asks that the text be read on two distinct levels: "firstly as a simple narrative or description, and secondly, as having another, more covert, signification, which is imbued with greater resonance and power by the very fact that it has been partially sealed" (Zunder 8z Trill 22). To read into allegory one has to be skilled enough to realize the back ground of its meaning is snore than what is on the surface, which is far different from the normal way a reader understands a piece of writing. Allegory is a form of ambiguity. When "static interpretation" is used while reading it is labeled as symbolism, but as soon as there is movement through "time, space, and dreams", the literary device is labeled as allegory (27). "Poetic language trust be analytical as much as it is celebratory, laying bare the basis of power and the ways - good or bad, successful of flawed - that it is wielded by the poet. (29) Allegory demonstrates this togetherness of dialect perfectly because it is able to portray, at the same time, both voices by means of its own convention (29-30) Overall allegory is interpreted temporarily and morally by the reader, depending on views and the place in time they are reading the allegorical piece. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms Describes allegory as this: The presentation of an abstract idea through snore concrete means. The typical allegory is narrative, whether it be prose, verse, or drama, that has two levels of meaning. The first is the surface level story line, which can be sumnned up by saying who did what to whom and when. Although allegories have plots, their authors expect readers to recognize the existence of a second, deeper level of meaning, which may be moral, political, philosophical, or religious. (Murfin; Ray 8) Within an allegorical text, authors have a tendency to give their characters qualities of the subjects they are writing about. The category of allegory that Skelton's "Bowge of Court" falls into is the category of political and historical allegory. Contained in "Bowge of Court," are seven allegorical characters: Drede, Favel, Suspicion, Harvey Hafter, Disdain, Dissimulation, and Disceit. As the reader can see all of these seven allegorical characters in the "Bowge of Court" live up to their names. Starting with the poet, Drede, throughout the story he is constantly being praised and asked for friendship froth the others, along with warnings of others. During all of these occurrences he remains modest throughout, which only proves he has lived up to his allegorical name, Drede, which means, "modesty." Favel, is an extreme flatterer of Drede and with flattery comes jealousy and bad intentions. Flattery is not a good sign coming from someone. Flattery is too many compliments and not enough criticism. When one flatters you know there is an ulterior motive. Then appears Suspicion who is of course suspicious of everything and does not trust people too easily. He warns Drede to be suspicious of flattery and needs Drede to promise to keep secrets before he discloses them. With an allegorical name like Suspicion the reader wonders whether his name means he is a suspicious person by nature, or should people be suspicious of him. Next comes along Harvey Hafter who seems to have a normal name, and appears to be a "normal everyday Joe," but him acting this way causes us to have doubt. Next Drede comes across Disdain, after having overheard a plot by Disdain and Hafter to kill him. Disdain alone, means having the quality of being arrogant, or the feeling of despising. In this sense Disdain truly lives up to his allegorical name. He is very arrogant and is very scornful toward Drede. Following a talk an upset talk with Disdain, Dissimulation comes unto the picture. To Dissimulate means to change or modify appearance to prevent true recognition of identity and character. Hear we see that Dissimulation has three faces all different, with all different expressions. We are not sure whether each face stands for a feeling at a specific moment in trine, but at the tithe he speaks to Drede lie has the honest face and tells him of the deceit within the court. The last allegorical character that Drede encounters is Deceit. Deceit means the act of deceiving and deception. Here, at the end of the story, this allegorical character of Deceit represents everything that had been going the ship all along. He is just the last to do it by distracting Drede so the others can over take and surround All of these characters live up to their names in the texts, but how might they live up their names dealing with King Henry VII and his Star Chamber. The Star Chamber took notice and dealt with riots, murder, forgery, felony, perjury, fraud, libel and slander, duels and acts tending to treason, as well as some civil matters, such as disputes between English and foreign merchants, and testamentary cases (Star Chamber. It is clear within the text that the six characters Drede encounters while aboard the "Bowge of Court," allegorically symbolize these crimes which faced the Star Chamber during Henry VIPs reign and following. Favel, meaning flattery, within the text represents the crimes of fraud and perjury brought forth to the Star Chamber. Fraud represents falsehood and fake-mess, whether it be a document or a mannerism, where as perjury is the practice of lying and untruthfulness. Froth the very first time Drede comes across this allegorical character, Favei is telling Drede he will not fail in his journey and he is well suited for the trip. Ye be apt man as ony can be found To dwell with us and serve my lady's grace; Ye be to her, yes, worth a thousand pound. (Skelton, litres 155-157 Ye may not fall, trust me, ye may not fail. (lines 170-171)& Between these chosen lines, Favel also tells Drede he can be faithful in him and not to worry. The reader and Drede notice Favel's fraud and perjury when he is seen and heard talking to Suspect(Suspicion). Favel has lied to Drede's face about his praises and now labeled him "sullen freak" to Suspicion (line 187). Harvey Hafter is the character Drede commes across who allegorically symbolizes the threats of treason within the King's governing bodies. Drede has met thus man who has a normal name, and seems to want very much to be his friend, and have Drede take him in as a close companion. He is not like the others Drede has met so far and he is very energetic and senus trustworthy. Treason is the act of willful violation to the allegiance. of one's country. One who commits treason is labeled as a traitor. All too many times within the reigns of various monarchs, they were overthrown by the people they believed were their closest comrades and companions. A traitor committing treason usually tries to get as close as they can with their victim so nothing is suspected until it is too late. Harvey Hafter is a prime example of this description of the steps of one whose goal is treason. Harvey Hafter comes across as a very flighty, noticeable character. He is described by Drede as having a fix gown, a long goats beard, and constantly singing. Although Harvey asked Drede numerous questions when he first met him, Drede was not able to answer any of them. Harvey Hafter was nice to Drede from the start and even told him he looked familiar. Harvey asked Drede to be his friend aboard the ship. He was very willing to do anything for Drede to make him comfortable. "Sir God you save! Why look ye so sad? What thing is it that I may do for you? (Skelton, lines 239-240) "Where bath your dwelling been ere ye came here? For, as I trow, I have seen you indeed-And ye be welcome, sir, so God save me. I hope hereafter a friend of your to have (lines 247-266) As soon as Harvey Hafter leaves Drede he is seen conspiring with Disdain in secret. Throughout their dialogue, they plan to lure Drede over board with bait. "By God," quode Harvey, "and it so happen might. Let us therefore shortly, at a word, Fund some mean to cast him over bord." "By him that me bought," than quod Disdain, "I wonder sore he is in such conceit." "Turd!" quod Hafter, "I will thee nothing sain; There must for him be laid some pretty bait. We twain, I trow, be not without deceit. First pick a quarrel and fall out with him then, And so outface him with a card of ten." (Skelton, lines 292-301) As believed, one can see, Harvey Hafter is portraying all the characteristics of a keen person ready to commit treason, another of the crimes dealt with inside the Star Chamber that Skelton chooses to allegorically portray through the character of Harvey Hafter. The allegorical character of Disdain within the text represents the Star Chamber's crime of libel and slander. Harvey and he have already decided that Disdain was to pick a fight with Drede in front of everyone, with false accusations. The term libel is itself represents defamation and slander and slander is the expression of false malicious statements about someone. Disdain, when he confronts Drede with the false accusations, says: Rememb'rest thou what thou said yesteriright? Wilt thou abide by thy words again? By God, I have of thee now great dispite! I shall the anger ones in every vain; It is great scorn to see such an hain As thou art, one that came but yesterday, With us old servants such maisters to play. (Skelton, lines 309-315) Here Disdain is clearly accusing Drede of something that he has not done or said, and therefore he is acting out the crime of libel and slander in accordance with Harvey Hafter's crime of treason. Forgery is yet another crime handled by the Star Chamber in Skelton's time and thus word is defined as a fraudulent imitation; something fake and false. The allegorical character, Dissimutlation, now appears within the "Bowge of Court," and not only hides his appearance and is fake, but is involved in the treason. To dissimulate is to change or modify appearance to prevent true recognition of identity and character. Dissimulation has three faces, all different; each portraying a different expression. Drede is not sure whether each face stands for a feeling at a specific moment in time, but at the tune Dissimulation speaks to Drede, he has the honest face, and tells him of the deceit within the court on the boat. I would each man were as plain as I. It is a world, I say, to hear from some. I hate this feigning, fie upon it, fie! A nuui cannot wote where to be come. Iwis I could tell - but humlery, home! I dare not speak, we be so laid await, For all our court is full of deceit ... (Skeleton, lines 333-339) Dissimulation represents the conscious of the act of treason. He represents the member of the court who was threatened to commit treason against the governing body [King], had wanted to confess all along, but did not have the courage to until it was too late. The final allegorical character Drede comes across is Deceit, which means deceiving and deception. Deceit's role in the act of treason is to have tricked Drede. Deceit, as Skelton's Allegorical character represents everything that had taken place on the ship all along. Every character of the court had been involved in the crimes towards Drede. Deceit was just the last character to be the one to put together the pieces of the treason and crime towards Drede treason by distracting him with his speech whine the others of the ship/court surrounded him. But to hear the subtilty and the craft As I shall tell you, if ye will hark again, And, whan I saw the whoresons would you haft. To hold mind hond, by God, I had grate pails. For forthwith there I had him slain But that I dread morder would come out. Who dealeth with shrews hath need to look about. (Skeltol4 lines 4 t4-427)Here in a way, Deceit is telling Drede lie should have seen the signs of his fate, and if he put them all together he might have prevented his fate. It is a shame that he did not notice them, and was not able to connect what was going on to what would happen., but now that he has realized his fate too late, he must stand up to it and face the fate to come. the person who will read this work to be careful in who they trust and who they do not trust. Sometimes the most trustworthy person can turn around and betray you. Sometimes the only person you can. trust is yourself, and yourself alone. Having to do with court treason and deceit, there is always signs that are prevalent that something is not right within lie court. If the leaders of the court open their eyes they can see the problems, whether they are preventable is another story, but to be utterly blind to any misdoings is a sin in itself, and then the one the wrong doings are against deserves what they will experience through the characters and their names. Each of their characteristics were an allegory of specific crimes handled by the Court of the Star Chamber of England. Through the allegorical level of reading and thinking, one can clearly see the double purpose of this piece of work called, "The Bowge of Court" by John Skelton, and through cunning and wit, he has portrayed two ways to read this story; morally and allegorically. http://www.geocities.coi-n/tdior.ge,o/starelmniber.htnil (I Dec, 2000) Murfui, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. Skelton, John. "The Bowge of Court." The Renaissance in England: Non-dramatic Prose and Verse of the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Hyder E. Rollins and Herschel Baker. Prospect Heights, 1992.68-73. "Star Chamber." Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), Vol XXV. P. 795. http://www.geocities.coin/ttlim.geo.starcl=lber.btml ( I Dec, 2000)
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Last update: Monday, October 7, 2002 at 11:25:56 AM.
|Dr. Janet Wright Starner || Writing Center Director || Assistant Professor/English || Wilkes University|