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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

IV. Barclay and Skelton

§ 10. Speke, Parrot

At the end of Colyn Clout, Skelton had declared the intention to let his pen rest. Nevertheless, he began his next satire, Speke, Parrot, a very short time afterwards. Written down, probably, at intervals, and preserved in a greatly multilated condition, it is the most incoherent of all his poems, and in parts, absolutely unintelligible. Parrot, the pet bird of a noble lady, of fabulous origin and a wonderfully clever linguist, after some other satirical remarks, says unpleasant things about Wolsey, who had been the object of the poet’s satire at the end of Colyn Clout. He is characterised as the all-powerful favourite, who rules even the king, his master. Many of the satirical hints are incomprehensible; but they seem to bear some relation to certain of Wolsey’s political missions (in 1521?). He is called “a malyncoly mastyf” and “mangye curre dog,” because he was said to be the son of a butcher at Ipswich, and appears as a senseless busybody, undertaking too much and spending large sums of money to no effect. The king is warned emphatically against him. “His woluys hede, wanne, bloo as lede, gapythe over the crowne,” says the poet. The poem ends in a general satire on the time.

Skelton’s invectives against Wolsey in Colyn Clout and Speke, Parrot were strong enough, but there was more in store. Between November, 1522 and January, 1523, he wrote another “lytell boke” against Wolsey, called Why come ye nat to courte, by far the most pungent and most daring satire he ever composed. It is a crushing judgment upon Wolsey’s whole life and character. Again the poet asserts how dangerous it is to leave the rule of a whole realm to one man, and shows the fatal effect of that measure in Wolsey’s special case. Everything is wrong now in England. The old trustworthy men have withdrawn from court, where the wilful upstart reigns despotically, bullying the nobles and respecting not even the orders of the king, who trusts him blindly. The failures in foreign policy, the general poverty, caused by heavy taxation, the reigning injustice—all are Wolsey’s doing. There is a striking picture of the cardinal’s haughty behaviour in the Starchamber, where nobody dares contradict him. At last, the poet comes to the conclusion that the most appropriate place for Wolsey would be in Hell, on Lucifer’s throne. He even appears as “Of Jeremy the whyskynge rod the flayle, scourge of almighty God” (1160), and, finally, is dismissed with a hearty: “God sende him sorowe for his sinnes!” Skelton’s method is the same here as in Colyn Clout. There are some tiresome digressions in the poem; but, on the other hand, there are passages of really dramatic vivacity.