Monday, September 24, 2007


'But I, that knew what harboured in that hed': Thomas Wyatt and his posthumous 'interpreters'

Dr Cathy Shrank, Reader in Tudor Literature, University of Sheffield
Chair: Professor Ann Moss, FBA, University of Durham

Wednesday 31 October 2007
5.30pm - 6.30pm, followed by a drinks reception The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AH

Free Admittance

In their elegies composed after Wyatt's death in 1542, John Leland and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, seek to forge an equation between his poetry and his character, transforming him and his verses into moral exempla. In doing so, they are indicative of later trends of Wyatt editing and criticism, with their tendency towards biographical readings and frequent attempts (from Wyatt's first editor, Richard Tottel, onwards) to fit his poems into a narrative. With their insistent use of the word 'self' and display of discretion (hinting at secrets behind the verse), it is perhaps inevitable that Wyatt's poems have invited such interpretations, yet in this lecture I suggest that Wyatt's works also resist biographical readings, thanks to their deliberate opacity, deployment of paradox, and extraction (in the case of his Petrarchan translations) from a biographical narrative which is forcefully se! t out in Wyatt's likely source (Vellutello's Il Petrarcha). Moreover, as Wyatt points out in his Defence, composed after he stood accused of treason in 1540, a plain style - for which Wyatt is habitually celebrated - is not necessarily any more sincere than ornamentation: both are 'garments' to be donned as occasion requires. This lecture consequently also argues that the virtues for which Wyatt is recurrently lauded - steadfastness, honesty, plain speaking - require re-examination in the light of contemporary understandings of these terms: the honesty which Wyatt articulates in his letters and poetry is informed by an awareness of the importance of 'circumspection', and constancy is (paradoxically) achieved by an ability to change.

Dr Cathy Shrank is the author of Writing the Nation in Reformation England, 1530-1580 (Oxford University Press, 2004). Her forthcoming work includes essays and articles on John Bale, Henrician dialogues about Purgatory, mid-Tudor sonnets, cheap print and the politics of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Telephone enquiries: 020 7969 5246 / Email:

Please note our ticketing and seating policy:

British Academy Lectures are freely open to the general public and everyone is welcome; there is no charge for admission, no tickets will be issued, and seats cannot be reserved. The Lecture Room is opened at 5.00pm, and the first 100 audience members arriving at the Academy will be offered a seat in the Lecture Room; the next 50 people to arrive will be offered a seat in the Overflow Room, which has a video and audio link to the Lecture Room. Lectures are followed by a reception at 6.30pm, to which members of the audience are invited.


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