Background on Ware the Hawke

Connected Background


Introduction and Background to

This shorter poem occurs in three print witnesses: Certayne bokes printed by Kynge and Marshe, Lant’s 1545 edition of this book, and Marshe’s 1568 Workes. The poem is dated between 1503 and 1512, Skelton’s period of exile.

Most scholars have taken the poem Ware the Hawke seriously: Gordon (1934) calls it a prelude to Collyn Clout, Edwards (1949) considers it an insightful look into Skelton’s period of exile in Diss, and Lloyd (1938) comments on Skelton’s channeling of anger through the poem (Fish 93). Skelton as the speaker describes the ridiculous events with such earnest that the poem can be interpreted both as plea and parody. Stanley Fish, moreover, suggests we keep “in mind that Skelton the poet is laughing at his fictional representative even as we do” (93).

The events recorded in Ware the Hauke are unverifiable; even though Skelton asks the reader to look into “officialles bokes” for confirmation, Edwards has shown there is no trace of the event (Edwards qtd. Fish 89). Fish further notes how the hawking parson is stock character, and the fact that the intruder remains nameless suggests the whole situation is a fiction (89). At first sight, the earnesty with which Skelton employs rhetoric makes his poem read like a second plea, suggesting the first attempt got rejected in court. Eight Latin imperatives that make up the thema of the plea originate from the artes praecandi, an instruction manual for priests. They “emphasise the urgency of an appeal which is to be immediate as the reader is asked to respond both as auditor and Christian” (Fish 89). Nevertheless, Skelton later contradicts himself as he commits the same vices he first condemns: hostile behaviour and lack of self-control (Fish 90). Skelton’s subversion of the traditional Ciceronian rhetoric, which he knew so well, makes the poem closer to a medieval burlesque than a realistic indictment. Yet, as Fish concludes, the “poem raises more questions than answers […] there is in Ware the Hawke no clear moral focus; no position with which can fully sympathise” (97).