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Stephen Hawes

Poet; b. in Suffolk about 1474; d. about 1523. Very little is known of his life

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Hawes, STEPHEN, poet; b. in Suffolk about 1474; d. about 1523. Very little is known of his life. He was educated at Oxford, and afterwards travelled and visited some foreign universities. He seems to have studied English literature as well as foreign languages, and on his return from abroad became groom of the chamber to Henry VII. According to Anthony a Wood’s account, he was noted for his wit and his great memory, being able to repeat by heart many of the English poets, especially Chaucer and Lydgate. While attached to the court he wrote, about 1506, his best-known poem, “The Passetyme of Pleasure”, which went through several editions during the next half century. It is an allegory written, with the exception of a few heroic couplets, in the seven-line stanza known as rime royal, and consists of nearly six thousand lines in forty-five divisions or chapters. The poem is an attempt to revive the type of medieval allegory which had its origin in the “Romaunt of the Rose” and which had almost passed away. Its matter, “an allegory of the life of a man”, shows the poet’s learning and some ingenuity in fashioning allegorical detail. Its versification marks, on the whole, the extraordinary low ebb which poetry at this date had reached, though here and there stanzas of some charm appear. Hawes wrote also some shorter poems, amongst which are “The Example of Virtue“, another allegory; “The Conversion of Swearers”, an exhortation against swearing by the Body of Christ; and a coronation poem on the accession of Henry VIII. John Bale’s remark upon the life of Hawes, virtutis exemplum, is agreed with by all who judge the poet from his writings.

Works.—”The Passetyme of Pleasure”, ed. Wright, Percy Society (London, 1845); “The Conversion of Swearers”, ed. Abbotsford Club (Edinburgh, 1865); “A joyfull Medytacyon to All Englande of the Coronation of Henry VIII“, ed. Abbotsford Club (Edinburgh, 1865).

K. M. WARREN


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