Background on Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell

Connected Background



Introduction and Background to

Garlande of Laurell can be found in one manuscript: London, British Library Cotton Vitellius E.X, ff. 208-225, and Fauke’s printed edition of A Goodly Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell from 1523. It was composed during different times in Skelton’s appointment as a poet laureate, between 1495 and 1523.

Skelton’s Garland combines autobiographical experiences with mythological conventions. Yet these two are sometimes problematic to distinguish, as the seemingly factual information has been proven inaccurate. A major problem is the astronomical dating in the first part of the poem, which was found out to be inaccurate by Owen Gingerich in 1969. The dates in the poem matter for the identification of the woman who bestowed Skelton the title ‘laureate’. Before 1969, it was generally thought that this was done by Skelton’s patroness Elizabeth Howard, née Stafford. However, M.J. Tucker made a case against this idea by linking Gingerich’s dates to historical events and considering many possible candidates like the countess of Surrey, Catherine Tylney (Tucker 334). However, she concludes her article without providing a definite solution to the actual patroness.

Skelton’s Garlande of Laurell bears an obvious resemblance to Chaucer’s House of Fame, though Skelton’s dependence on Chaucer is disputed. An attempt to point out that Skelton definitely borrowed from Chaucer was undertaken by Albert Cook in 1916. He notes, among other things, that the trumpeter’s identification as Eolus is a clear correspondence between the two texts, as well as the presence of Orpheus, and some architectural imagery (Cook 12-3). In all, Cook lists ten scenes from Chaucer’s poem which receive a similar treatment in Skelton’s. Considering Skelton’s admiration for the poet, it seems plausible enough to accept that Skelton indeed referred to the House of Fame in composing Garlande of Laurell.

In lines 1503-6, where the list of Skelton’s own works is concluded with the Garlande of Laurell itself, the poet presents his latest work as his magnum opus. The constant allusions to classical rhetoric and imagery make the Garlande of Laurell a decidedly humanist poem, and Skelton’s awareness of his own authority and puts himself forward as “the point of origin for England’s early modern literary genealogy” (Breen 349). Because identity plays a key role in the Garlande of Laurell, Dan Breen’s argument centres on Skelton’s “laureation”: becoming a ‘poet laureate’ through the adaptation and emendation of classical conventions. He addresses the significance of the laurel in Antiquity, the interaction between Skelton’s dreamer and the Queen of Fame, and the poem’s correspondence to the mythological tales of Apollo and Daphne. Breen finishes his argument by discussing the importance of Skelton for Thomas Churchyard, who wrote a panegyric poem to accompany his publication of Skelton’s works. In his appraisal of Skelton, Churchyard builds further on the identity Skelton created for himself. As Breen concludes, Skelton’s idea of laureation is as follows: “The work of writing is undertaken in service of this tradition, and the more adept and prolific the poet is, the greater his obligation becomes” (Breen 366).