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John Skelton, poetry, courtly environment


John Skelton's 1514 flyting "Agenst Garnesche" has been subject to little critical scrutiny. This neglect can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Christopher Garnesche's contribution is missing, but it is also characteristic of the relative neglect accorded to the flyting as a genre, a neglect that has also colored the interpretation of many of Skelton's more abusive poems. One critic, for example, has dismissed the poem as being "nothing but personal abuse of a particularly virulent type . . . adorned with a singular collection of epithets and incomprehensible allusions, which serve only to befog and irritate the reader." One way others have defended Skelton from such charges has been by appealing to the generic constraints of the flyting and its possible relationships to the French tenson or the humanist invectiva. But while these considerations are important to any informed interpretation of the poem, they threaten to reduce it to a merely literary exercise, instead of seeing these traditions as part of the complex court contexts that produced the poem. A more profitable line of approach is to locate the poem within the courtly environment and within the context of Skelton's poetic career.