George Puttenham
George Puttenham was a sixteenth-century English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 writer, literary critic, and notorious rake. He is generally considered to be the author of the enormously influential handbook on poetry and rhetoric, The Arte of English Poesie (1589).

Family and early life

George was the second son of Robert Puttenham of Sherfield-on-Loddon in Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

 and his wife Margaret, the daughter of Sir Richard Elyot
Richard Elyot
Sir Richard Elyot, SL was an English landowner and judge. He held large estates in Wiltshire and in 1503 became serjeant-at-law and Attorney-General to the Queen consort, Elizabeth of York...

 and sister of Sir Thomas Elyot
Thomas Elyot
Sir Thomas Elyot was an English diplomat and scholar.-Early Life:Thomas was the child of Sir Richard Elyot's first marriage with Alice De la Mare, but neither the date nor place of his birth is accurately known...

. He had an elder brother, Richard. He matriculated from Christ's College, Cambridge
Christ's College, Cambridge
Christ's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge.With a reputation for high academic standards, Christ's College averaged top place in the Tompkins Table from 1980-2000 . In 2011, Christ's was placed sixth.-College history:...

, in November 1546, aged 17, but took no degree, and was admitted to the Middle Temple
Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...

 on 11 August 1556.

In late 1559 or early 1560 Puttenham married Elizabeth, Lady Windsor (1520–1588), the daughter and coheir of Peter Cowdray of Herriard, Hampshire. She was the widow of both Richard, brother of William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester
William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester
Sir William Paulet was an English Secretary of State and statesman who attained several peerages throughout his lifetime: Baron St John , Earl of Wiltshire , and Marquess of Winchester .-Family origins and early career in Hampshire:William Paulet was eldest son of Sir John Paulet of...

, and William, Baron Windsor
Baron Windsor
There have been several titles created in the name of Windsor.The first was that of Baron Windsor, in the Peerage of England, created by writ of summons in 1529 for Sir Andrew Windsor of Stanwell...

. She brought a substantial dowry to the marriage. They had at least one daughter.

Somewhere around 1562, George travelled abroad to purchase Sherfield House from his elder brother Richard. He immediately quarreled at Sherfield House with Lady Windsor's brother-in-law, Thomas Paulet, for inciting others to steal a goshawk from him; Paulet admitting to having confronted Puttenham with a dagger and wounding him twice. His circle of enemies notedly widened when Lady Windsor separated from him, suing him for divorce in 1566.

Domestic disputes and later legal troubles

Much of the information known about George's later personal and professional life stems from court records of the dissolution of his marriage and of his attempt to get out of debt by wresting control of Sherfield House from his niece Anne Morris and her husband, Francis. These documents paint a decidedly troubled picture of George Puttenham as a compulsive adulterer, a serial rapist and a wife-beater. In addition he seems to have followed his elder brother's precedent in having at least one child with his maidservants. One he took to Flanders and abandoned. One of the more lascivious stories asserts that when Puttenham was forty-three, he also had his servant kidnap a seventeen-year-old girl in London and bring her to his farm at Upton Grey
Upton Grey
Upton Grey is a village and civil parish in Hampshire, England.-Roman times:The village is on the line of an ancient Roman road, the Chichester to Silchester Way.-Norman times:...

 near Sherfield, where he raped her and kept her locked up for three years.

While the veracity of these court records should reasonably be questioned (given the particularly nasty nature of Puttenham's divorce and the tendency of early modern court cases to present the most fantastical accounts of their participants), surprisingly little was said in defense of Puttenham's character. It is, perhaps, telling that the neutral observer Richard Horne, Bishop of Winchester, reacted with surprise and disdain to Puttenham's appointment as a Justice of the Peace, writing to William Cecil, Lord Burghley hoping that it "be not true, for his evil life is well knowne."

In 1579 he presented to Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 his Partheniades (printed in a collection of manuscript Ballads by F. J. Furnivall
Frederick James Furnivall
Frederick James Furnivall , one of the co-creators of the Oxford English Dictionary , was an English philologist...

), and he wrote the treatise in question especially for the delectation of the queen and her ladies. He mentions nine other works of his, none of which are extant. George Puttenham is said to have been implicated in a plot against Lord Burghley in 1570 and in December 1578 was imprisoned. In 1585 he received reparation from the privy council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

 for alleged wrongs suffered at the hands of his relations. His will is dated September 1, 1590.

Authorship of The Arte of English Poesie

The Arte of English Poesie was entered at Stationers' Hall in 1588, and published in the following year with a dedicatory letter to Lord Burghley written by the printer Richard Field
Richard Field (printer)
Richard Field was a printer and publisher in Elizabethan London, best known for his close association with the poems of William Shakespeare, with whom he grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon.-Life and career:...

, who professed ignorance of the writer's name and position. However, alterations to the text made during the press run indicate that the author must have been alive and that Field must have known his identity. The first reference to the work was made in the preface to Sir John Harrington's translation of Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which has exerted a wide influence on later culture. The earliest version appeared in 1516, although the poem was not published in its complete form until 1532...

(1591) in reaction to Puttenham's view of translators as mere versifiers
Poetaster, like rhymester or versifier, is a contemptuous name often applied to bad or inferior poets. Specifically, poetaster has implications of unwarranted pretentions to artistic value. The word was coined in Latin by Erasmus in 1521...

. Harrington disparages Puttenham's assertion that poetry is an art rather than a gift, holding up Puttenham's own poetry as proof because "he sheweth himself so slender a gift in it." Although Harrington does not name Puttenham, in a surviving manuscript note concerning the publication of his own book, he asks Field to publish it "in the same print that Putnams book is", which he did.

In an essay published in the second edition of William Camden
William Camden
William Camden was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms. He wrote the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.- Early years :Camden was born in London...

's Remaines (1614), Richard Carew writes, "…look into our Imitations of all sorts of verses by any other language, and you shall finde that Sir Phillip Sidney, Maister Puttenham, Maister Stanihurst, and divers more have made use how farre wee are within compasse of a fore imagined impossibility in that behalfe". Around the same time, in his Hypercritica (not published until 1722), Edmund Bolton
Edmund Bolton
Edmund Mary Bolton , English historian and poet, was born in 1575.-Life:Nothing is known of his family or origins, although he referred to himself as a distant relative of George Villiers. Brought up a Roman Catholic, he was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Bolton then lived in London at the...

 writes of "the elegant, witty, and artificial book of the Art of English Poetrie, (the work as the fame is) of one of [Queen Elizabeth's] Gentleman Pensioners, Puttenham". Since George Puttenham received two leases in reversion from the queen in 1588, this seems to clearly identify him as the author.

Certain biographical details in The Arte may point to a Puttenham as the author. He was educated at Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

, and at the age of eighteen he addressed an eclogue
An eclogue is a poem in a classical style on a pastoral subject. Poems in the genre are sometimes also called bucolics.The form of the word in contemporary English is taken from French eclogue, from Old French, from Latin ecloga...

 entitled Elpine to Edward VI
Edward VI of England
Edward VI was the King of England and Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death. He was crowned on 20 February at the age of nine. The son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty and England's first monarch who was raised as a Protestant...

. In his youth he had visited Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, and was better acquainted with foreign courts than with his own.

There is no direct evidence beyond Bolton's ascription to identify the author with George or Richard Puttenham, the sons of Robert Puttenham and his wife Margaret, the sister of Sir Thomas Elyot
Thomas Elyot
Sir Thomas Elyot was an English diplomat and scholar.-Early Life:Thomas was the child of Sir Richard Elyot's first marriage with Alice De la Mare, but neither the date nor place of his birth is accurately known...

, who dedicated his treatise on the Education or Bringing up of Children to her for the benefit of her sons. Furthermore, since Bolton's ascription occurs fifteen years after George's death and four after Richard's neither man would have been able to either accept or reject the attribution. Both made unhappy marriages, were constantly engaged in litigation, and were frequently in disgrace. One fact that points towards George's authorship is that Richard was in prison when the book was licensed to be printed, and when he made his will in 1597 he was in the Queen's Bench Prison. He was buried, according to John Payne Collier
John Payne Collier
John Payne Collier , English Shakespearian critic and forger, was born in London.-Reporter and solicitor:...

, at St. Clement Danes, London, on July 2, 1601. Richard Puttenham is known to have spent much of his time abroad, whereas George is only known to have left England a single time, to get the deed for Sherfield House from his brother. This agrees better with the writer's account of himself; but if the statement that he addressed Elpine to Edward VI when he was eighteen years of age be taken to imply that the production of this work fell within that king's reign, the date of the author's birth cannot be placed anterior to 1529. At the date (1546) of his inheritance of his uncle, Sir Thomas Elyot's estates, Richard Puttenham was proved in an inquisition held at Newmarket to have been twenty-six years old. The history of the Puttenhams is discussed in H. H. S. Croft's edition of Elyot's Boke called the Cover nour. A careful investigation brought him to the conclusion that the evidence was in favour of Richard. There are other modern editions of the book, notably one in Joseph Haslewood
Joseph Haslewood
Joseph Haslewood , was an English writer and antiquary. He was a founder of the Roxburghe Club.Haslewood was born in London, the son of Richard Haslewood and his wife Mary Dewsbery. He was an author and editor of many books, and assisted the bibliographer Sir Egerton Brydges...

's Ancient Critical Essays (1811–1815). For editions with critical apparatus see Willcock and Walker's Cambridge edition of 1936 and Whigham and Rebhorn's new critical edition (Cornell UP, 2007).

The Arte of English Poesie

Whoever the author may have been, there is no doubt about the importance of the work, which is the most systematic and comprehensive treatise of the time on its subject. It is "contrived into three bookes: the first of poets and poesies, the second of proportion, the third of ornament." Puttenham's book covers a general history of the art of poetry, and a discussion of the various forms of poetry; the second treats of prosody, dealing in turn with the measures in use in English verse, the caesura
thumb|100px|An example of a caesura in modern western music notation.In meter, a caesura is a complete pause in a line of poetry or in a musical composition. The plural form of caesura is caesuras or caesurae...

, punctuation, rhyme, accent, cadence, proportion in figure, which the author illustrates by geometrical diagrams, and the proposed innovations of English quantitative verse; the section on ornament deals with style, the distinctions between written and spoken language, the figures of speech
Figures of Speech
Figures of Speech is a hip hop group consisting of MCs Eve and Jyant. They performed at the Good Life Cafe in the early 1990s and were featured on the Project Blowed compilation....

; and the author closes with lengthy observations on good manners. He deprecates the use of archaisms, and although he allows that the purer Saxon speech is spoken beyond the Trent
River Trent
The River Trent is one of the major rivers of England. Its source is in Staffordshire on the southern edge of Biddulph Moor. It flows through the Midlands until it joins the River Ouse at Trent Falls to form the Humber Estuary, which empties into the North Sea below Hull and Immingham.The Trent...

, he advises the English writer to take as his model the usual speech of the court, of London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and the home counties.

Book I, "Of Poets and Poesie," contains a remarkably credible history of poetry in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, Latin and in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

. All subjects, including science and law, were in primitive times written in verse, and the types of poetry number in the dozens. Because it is decorated with versification and figures of speech, poetry is a more persuasive and melodious form of language, and is very much given to structure and accuracy. The countless examples of dignities and promotions given to poets throughout history, and the numerous examples of royal poets, show up the ignorance of Renaissance courtier
A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

s who suppress their poetry or publish under a pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...


In Book II, "Of Proportion Poetical," Puttenham compares metrical form to arithmetical, geometrical, and musical pattern. He adduces five points to English verse structure: the "Staffe," the "Measure," "Concord or Symphony," "Situation" and "Figure".

The staff, or stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

, is four to ten lines that join without intermission and finish up all of the sentences thereof. Each length of stanza suits a poetic tone and genre. Each is overlaid by a closed rhyme scheme. This latter, termed "band" (65) and "enterlacement" (70), is of primary concern to Puttenham. He views English as having solely a syllabic
Syllabic may refer to:*Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, a family of abugidas used to write a number of Aboriginal Canadian languages.*Syllabary, writing system using symbols for syllables...

 system of measure, or metre. The length of lines may alternate in patterns that support the rhyme scheme, and so increase the band. Syllabic length is a factor but accentuation
Accent (poetry)
In poetry, accent refers to the stressed syllable of a polysyllabic word, or a monosyllabic word that receives stress because it belongs to an "open class" of words or because of "contrastive" or "rhetorical" stress. In basic analysis of a poem by scansion, accents are represented with a slash...

 is not. Caesura should occur at the same place in every line; it helps to keep up distinctness and clarity, two virtues of civil language.

"Concord, called Symphonie or rime" (76) is an accommodation made for the lack of metrical
Meter (poetry)
In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study of metres and forms of versification is known as prosody...

Foot (prosody)
The foot is the basic metrical unit that generates a line of verse in most Western traditions of poetry, including English accentual-syllabic verse and the quantitative meter of classical ancient Greek and Latin poetry. The unit is composed of syllables, the number of which is limited, with a few...

 in English versification. The matching of line lengths, rhymed at the end, in symmetrical patterns, is a further accommodation. A number of graphs are shown to illustrate the variety of rhyme schemes and line-length patterns, or situation. The poet who can work melodiously within the strictures of versification proves a "crafts master," a valuable literary virtue. Proportion in figure is the composition of stanzas in graphic forms ranging from the rhombus
In Euclidean geometry, a rhombus or rhomb is a convex quadrilateral whose four sides all have the same length. The rhombus is often called a diamond, after the diamonds suit in playing cards, or a lozenge, though the latter sometimes refers specifically to a rhombus with a 45° angle.Every...

 to the spire
A spire is a tapering conical or pyramidal structure on the top of a building, particularly a church tower. Etymologically, the word is derived from the Old English word spir, meaning a sprout, shoot, or stalk of grass....


Book III, "Of Ornament," which comprises a full half of the Arte, is a catalogue of figures of speech, in the tradition of Richard Sherry
Richard Sherry
-Life:He was born about 1506 in the neighbourhood of London. In 1522 he became a demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, and graduated B.A. on 21 June 1527 and M.A. on 10 March 1531. In 1534 he was appointed headmaster of Magdalen College School. He held this post until 1540, when he was succeeded by...

, Henry Peacham
Henry Peacham
Henry Peacham is the name shared by two English Renaissance writers who were father and son.The elder Henry Peacham was an English curate, best known for his treatise on rhetoric titled The Garden of Eloquence first published in 1577....

, Abraham Fraunce
Abraham Fraunce
Abraham Fraunce , was an English poet.-Life:A native of Shropshire, he was born between 1558 and 1560. His name appears in a list of pupils of Shrewsbury School in January 1571, and he joined St John's College, Cambridge, in 1576, becoming a fellow in 1580/1...

, and Angel Day
Angel Day
Angel Day was an Elizabethan rhetorician and scholar chiefly known for his The English Secretary , the first comprehensive epistolary manual to employ original English rather than classical models...

. Since language is inherently artificial, and "not naturall to man" (120), the added artifice of figures is particularly suitable. Figures give more "pithe and substance, subtilitie, quicknesse, efficacie or moderation, in this or that sort tuning and tempring them by amplification, abridgement, opening, closing, enforcing, meekening or otherwise disposing them to the best purpose ..." (134). From page 136 to 225, Puttenham lists and analyzes figures of speech. His book concludes with a lengthy analysis of “decency,” and the artificial and natural dimensions of language.

Influence of The Arte of English Poesie

Many later "poetics" are indebted to this book. The original edition is very rare. Edward Arber
Edward Arber
Edward Arber was an English academic and writer.Arber was born in London. From 1854 be 1878 he worked as a clerk in the Admiralty, and began evening classes at King's College London in 1858. From 1878 to 1881 he lectured in English, under Prof. H...

's reprint (1869) contains a clear summary of the various documents with regard to the authorship of this treatise. According to George Puttenham, presumptive author of The Arte of English Poesie, Sir Thomas Wyatt
Thomas Wyatt
Thomas Wyatt may refer to:* Thomas Wyatt , English poet* Thomas Wyatt the younger , rebel leader* Thomas Henry Wyatt , British architect...

 and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, KG, , known as The Earl of Surrey although he never was a peer, was an English aristocrat, and one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry.-Life:...

, "trauailed into Italie" (49) and brought back the verse forms that make them "the first reformers of our English meter and stile" (49). The introduction of these new Italian forms in turn necessitated the flurry of Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 poetry manuals, by George Gascoigne
George Gascoigne
George Gascoigne was an English poet, soldier, artist, and unsuccessful courtier. He is considered the most important poet of the early Elizabethan era, following Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and leading to the emergence of Philip Sidney...

, Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel was an English poet and historian.-Early life:Daniel was born near Taunton in Somerset, the son of a music-master. He was the brother of lutenist and composer John Danyel. Their sister Rosa was Edmund Spenser's model for Rosalind in his The Shepherd's Calendar; she eventually married...

, Charles Webb, and Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

, in addition to Puttenham's Arte. There is currently debate about Puttenham's relative authority in comparison to these other figures.

Further reading

  • Steven W. May, "George Puttenham's Lewd and Illicit Career," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 2008.
  • Frank Whigham and Wayne A. Rebhorn (eds.). The Art of English Poesy: A Critical Edition. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007.
  • Walter Nash, "George Puttenham," The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 281: British Rhetoricians and Logicians, 1500-1660, Second Series, Detroit: Gale, 2003, pp. 229–248.
  • G. D. Willcock & A. Walker, eds., The Arte of English Poesie, Cambridge: University Press, 1936, pp. ix-cii.
  • W. K. Boyd, ed., Vol. 9 of Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots, 1547-1603, Glasgow: Hedderwick, 1915, pp. 356–388.
  • J. Bruce & A. J. Crosby, eds., Accounts and papers Relating to Mary Queen of Scots, Westminster: Nichols & Sons, 1867, pp. 257–279.

External links

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