Henryson, Robert


Henryson, Robert
(ca. 1425–ca. 1505)
   Robert Henryson was the outstanding Scottish poet of the 15th century, and author of one of the finest late medieval narrative tragedies, The Testament of Cresseid. For centuries Henryson was classified among a group of poets known as the “Scottish Chaucerians,” a group that included King JAMES I, Gavin DOUGLAS, David LINDSAY, and William DUNBAR. That term is no longer used with Henryson, since it implies his poetry is derivative, which it is not, and ignores his originality, which is significant.
   For such a well-known poet, Henryson’s biography is almost a complete mystery.We know that he was dead by 1508, when Dunbar mourned his death in his elegiac Lament for the Makars. He probably was born in the 1420s or early 1430s. He lived in Dunfermline, where he is believed to have been a schoolmaster at the grammar school in the Benedictine abbey in that city. It has also been suggested that he was a notary with some legal training, which would mean that he had studied at one of the Scottish universities (possibly Glasgow) or, as some have proposed, in Italy at Bologna. The only thing that is certain is that he was well read in the church fathers, in BOETHIUS, and in Aristotle, a fact that is evident in his poetry.
   Henryson’s first major work was The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, a collection of 13 beast fables in the manner of Aesop, written probably in the 1480s. It is the oldest collection of fables in the Scots language, and is probably based chiefly on a 13th-century collection attributed to a certain Walter the Englishman. In this work, Henryson’s morals are far more complex than Aesop’s, and encourage his readers to think carefully about the implications of the tales. At the center of the collection is the fable of “The Lion and the Mouse,” which Henryson introduces with a DREAM VISION prologue in which Aesop visits the dreamer to discuss the importance of fables. In the tale, the trapped Lion is saved by the Mice who gnaw on the ropes that have snared him. In his moral, Henryson argues that the fables should be interpreted politically, suggesting that the Lion signifies the king, and the Mice the common people, so that the fable indicates the mutual dependence of all segments of society. In the significant fable that follows, called “The Preaching of the Swallow,” the birds are all warned by the Swallow that the Fowler is growing flax to snare them, but they ignore the warning and follow their own immediate passions. The citizens of the commonwealth, the fable seems to say, must be prudent. Henryson’s Moral Fables are based on the common medieval assumption that in the created world in general, and in animals in particular, are lessons for human behavior. In Henryson’s case, he is most interested in lessons for the political realm, which in Henryson’s Scotland was beginning to disintegrate.
   Some of Henryson’s other poems include Orpheus and Eurydice, a retelling in RHYME ROYAL stanzas of the classical legend, based on Book 3, meter 12 of Boethius’s CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY. Like the Fables, the story ends with a moral, which Henryson sets off by composing it in couplets.He interprets the tale allegorically, equating Orpheus with the intellect and Eurydice with the appetite. Orpheus’s journey to hell to rescue Eurydice is an image of the intellect trying to recover the passions enticed by the physical world. Of his 12 other shorter poems, one that stands out is the poem called The Bludy Serk, a poem in BALLAD-like stanzas that narrates the story of a knight who is killed while rescuing a maiden from a giant, and who gives the maiden his bloody shirt as a memento. Henryson interprets the story as an ALLEGORY of Christ’s sacrifice. Another allegory is The Garmont of Gud Ladeis, in which the allegorical garment is constructed of a variety of virtues.Another minor poem,Robene and Makyne, is a pastoral poem in eight-line stanzas.But Henryson’s most important poem by far is his Testament of Cresseid, an alternative ending to Chaucer’s TROILUS AND CRISEYDE. Henryson’s poetry is fresh, vivid, witty, and sometimes powerful. As an artist, he owes a great deal to Chaucer, but was skilled himself in the use of dramatic irony and in the use of colloquial dialogue to create a sense of immediacy. As a Scotsman in a period of discord between the king and barons, conflict with England, economic and social turbulence, and political uncertainty, Henryson was also particularly interested in morality, politics, and the good society.
   Bibliography
   ■ Benson, C. David. “O Moral Henryson,” in Fifteenth-Century Studies, edited by Robert F. Yeager. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1985, 215–236.
   ■ Fox, Denton, ed. The Poems of Robert Henryson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.
   ■ Gray, Douglas. Robert Henryson. Leiden: Brill, 1979.
   ■ MacQueen, John. Robert Henryson: A Study of the Major Narrative Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
   ■ Patterson, Lee.“Christian and Pagan in The Testament of Cresseid,” Philological Quarterly 52 (October 1973): 696–714.
   ■ Powell,Marianne. “Fabula Docet”: Studies in the Background and Interpretation of Henryson’s Fables. Odense, Denmark: Odense University Press, 1982.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Henryson, Robert — • Scottish poet, born probably 1420 1430; died about 1500 Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Henryson, Robert — ▪ Scottish author Henryson also spelled  Henderson   born 1420/30? died c. 1506       Scottish poet, the finest of early fabulists in Britain. He is described on some early title pages as schoolmaster of Dunfermline probably at the Benedictine… …   Universalium

  • HENRYSON, ROBERT —    an early Scottish poet, flourished in the 15th century; most of his life was spent as a schoolmaster in Dunfermline; his chief works, which are full of pathos, humour, and a fine descriptive power, include Testament of Cresseid, a continuation …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Henryson, Robert — (1430? 1506?)    Scottish poet. Few details of his life are known, even the dates of his birth and death being uncertain. He appears to have been a schoolmaster, perhaps in the Benedictine Convent, at Dunfermline, and was a member of the Univ. of …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • Robert Henryson —     Robert Henryson     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Robert Henryson     Scottish poet, born probably 1420 1430; died about 1500.     His birthplace, parentage, and place of education are unknown, but it is conjectured that he may have been at some… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • HENRYSON (R.) — HENRYSON ROBERT (1429 env. env. 1508) L’œuvre la plus importante d’Henryson est le recueil intitulé Les Fables morales choisies d’Ésope le Phrygien, en noble et riche langage écossais (The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, Compylit in… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Robert Henryson — was a poet who flourished in Scotland in the period c.1460 – 1500. Counted among the Scots Makars, he lived in the historic city of Dunfermline and is a distinctive voice in the northern renaissance at a time when Scotland was on a cusp between… …   Wikipedia

  • Henryson —   [ henrɪsn], Robert, schottischer Dichter * 1430 (?), ✝ 1506 (?); neben W. Dunbar der prominenteste Vertreter der schottischen Chaucer Nachfolge. Sein bekanntestes Werk ist »The testament of Cresseid«, eine bittere und tragische Fortsetzung von… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Robert Henderson — may refer to:*Robert Henryson, a Scottish poet *Robert Henderson (cricketer), an English cricketer *Robert Henderson (writer), an English political writer *Rob Henderson, an English and Irish rugby union footballer *Robert Henderson (prospector) …   Wikipedia

  • Henryson (Henderson), Robert — (?1430 ?1506)    The details of his birth are sketchy, but it can be judged from his writings that he was a schoolmaster of Dunfermline, Fifeshire, possibly at the Benedictine school at Dunfermline Abbey. He appears among the dead poets in… …   British and Irish poets


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