Background on Epitaphe

Connected Background


Introduction and Background to

Skelton’s Epitaphe can be found in Marshe’s edition of Skelton Workes from 1468 (Scattergood 417). The poem was copied for the University of Cambridge in 1507, so the poem must have been composed at that time.

Looking at the title it becomes clear that the poem laments the death. An ‘epitaph’ is “an inscription upon a tomb. Hence, occasionally, a brief composition characterising a deceased person, and expressed as if intended to be inscribed on his tombstone” (OED).

The poem is almost entirely written in Latin except for a couple of Middle English lines in between. The epitaph is directed to two dead men: John Clarke and Adam Uddersale. Each man has his own epitaph and, therefore, the poem is divided into two parts. Information about Uddersale is scarce; however, the will of Clarke has survived and states that he died on 14 April 1506. It is unclear when Uddersale died but according to Scattergood, it must have been around the same date. Both men have alternative names. Clarke is also called John Jaybeard, perhaps “because he wore his beard in a particular style or perhaps to associate him with the jay which, like Clarke, had a reputation for ostentatious display, and noisy chatter” (Scattergood 417). Uddersale’s alternative name is ‘Adam all a Knave.’

The two men, moreover, link the poem to Diss, Norfolk, where Skelton resided after becoming rector of the place: “two knaves somtyme of Dis” (l. 2). Scattergood states: “The epitaph’s normal laudation of a life well spent is here replaced by vicious personalized invective” (ODNB).