In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section George Gascoigne

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Editions
  • Bibliographical Articles
  • Biography
  • The Glasse of Government
  • The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting
  • The Steele Glas, The Complaynte of Phylomene
  • Presentation Manuscripts (Hemetes the Heremyte, The Griefe of Joye)
  • The Princely Pleasures, at Kenelwoorth Castle
  • Soldier-Poet, Military Service
  • Gascoigne and Music
  • Influence

British and Irish Literature George Gascoigne
Gillian Austen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0040


George Gascoigne (b. c. 1534–d. 1577) is a far more important writer than is generally acknowledged. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries, who were fully aware of the value of his many literary innovations. His work influenced all of the later Elizabethan writers, from the many writers of lyric poetry, sonnet sequences, and prose fictions to Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare. Yet his modern reputation has been tainted by his portrayal as a Reformed Prodigal, an authorial self-presentation that originates with Gascoigne himself but was only one of many authorial and poetic identities which he adopted. Seen as a reformed moralistic writer, the individual works are persuasive, but that model of his career does not convince: he wrote and anonymously published highly accomplished courtly works, and performed for Queen Elizabeth, at the same time as publishing stern moralistic works under his own name. Gascoigne produced a substantial and varied body of work, most of it in less than four years (from his first publication in 1572/1573 to his last, in 1576). There is evidence that he was active in literary circles much earlier, from his time at Gray’s Inn (1555–1569), writing short amatory poems. His earliest dateable work is his poem “Eyther a nedelesse or a bootelesse comparison between two letters,” which belongs to early 1562. His last two literary works are both presentation manuscripts, dated 1 January 1577, and offered as New Year’s gifts. One is The Griefe of Joye, presented to Queen Elizabeth, and the other is the letter to Sir Nicholas Bacon, the only extant example of a set of letters with emblematic devices which Gascoigne presented to “all my lords and good frendes in Cowrte,” p. 3. Despite clear signs of courtly success (the Queen’s favor; the patronage of the Earl of Leicester) he was still clearly struggling financially. He died on 7 October the same year, 1577. Since the early 1970s, critical attention has been given mostly to Gascoigne’s experimental prose fiction, A Discourse of the Adventures passed by Master F.J. Nonetheless, he made significant innovations across many genres including comedy, tragedy, satire, essays, reportage, versification, and sonnet sequences, as well as prose fiction. Although his moralistic translations are of little literary interest (The Droomme of Doomesday, A Delicate Diet) much of his other work warrants more attention. Gascoigne’s work deserves to be part of the mainstream study of Elizabethan literature: he is certainly a writer that English literature undergraduates should be aware of.

General Overviews

There are only four book-length studies of Gascoigne’s work. Schelling 1893 identifies a number of sources for the works but was largely superseded by Prouty 1942 (cited under Biography), which also contains an overview of Gascoigne’s work. Johnson 1972 looks at most of Gascoigne’s work and includes an especially interesting chapter on Gascoigne and Petrarch. Austen 2008 attempts a comprehensive reinterpretation of his career, to counter the image of him as a failed courtier and a sincere Reformed Prodigal, showing that this was just one of his authorial self-presentations. However, several of the articles and chapters are also comprehensive: Hamrick 2008 introduces his special issue of Early Modern Literary Studies with an insightful overview; Heale 2003 sets Gascoigne’s career in context of his contemporaries and their strategies for authorial self-presentation. Helgerson 1976 presents him as a Reformed Prodigal and has been challenged subsequently but his view was highly influential and still needs to be taken into account. Pooley 1983 was the first to propose a more pluralistic view of his authorial identities. Austen 2008, Hamrick 2008, and Shannon 2009 refute the view of him as a failure and point to his successes.

  • Austen, Gillian. George Gascoigne. Woodbridge, UK: Brewer, 2008.

    Discusses all of Gascoigne’s work, including his woodcuts, performances, manuscript works, and published work. In chronological order, Austen shows how he worked simultaneously in different styles and under contrasting authorial identities. Explains why some of the published work is named and some anonymous. Offers a reinterpretation of his career, showing Gascoigne as a successful courtly writer who plays with his authorial identities and adapts them according to his presumed readership.

  • Hamrick, Stephen. “‘Thus Much I Adventure to Deliver to You’: The Fortunes of George Gascoigne.” Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1 (2008): 1–22.

    Hamrick introduces his collection of essays on Gascoigne (a special issue of Early Modern Literary Studies) with a well-informed overview, providing a reassessment of Gascoigne’s career and adducing the many signs of his success.

  • Heale, Elizabeth. Autobiography and Authorship in Renaissance Verse: Chronicles of the Self. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    Fits Gascoigne into her overall argument about the self-presentation of Elizabethan authors, especially pp. 125–144, but also throughout the book. Shows “autobiography” to be an anachronistic term for the 16th century but argues that, in their first-person narratives, Elizabethan writers created themselves as authors. Offers a chapter on Gascoigne’s Master F.J. and Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella.” Also discusses “Certayne Notes of Instruction,” “Dan Bartholmew,” “Dulce bellum inexpertis,” and “Gascoigne’s Voyage into Holland.”

  • Helgerson, Richard. The Elizabethan Prodigals. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

    Highly influential. Adopts Gascoigne as his principal Elizabethan Prodigal and sees his penitence as sincere, while recognizing that the Reformed Prodigal was a strategic form of self-fashioning for a literary career in the 1570s.

  • Johnson, Ronald C. George Gascoigne. New York: Twayne, 1972.

    Written by a poet-academic and from a poet’s point of view. The tone of the criticism is rather dated, but Johnson discusses almost all of Gascoigne’s poetic work, as well as the plays and Master F.J.

  • Pooley, Roger. “George Gascoigne: An Advocacy.” Poetry Nation Review 10 (1983): 57–58.

    This short article is highly significant because it is the first to recognize the Reformed Prodigal as one of a range of authorial identities and suggest that Gascoigne used them as an actor might adopt different roles—a cast of characters—for different purposes.

  • Schelling, F. E. The Life and Works of George Gascoigne. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1893.

    Schelling was a key champion of Gascoigne’s significance at the turn of the 20th century. Although dated, this work is significant because Schelling identified a number of sources for Gascoigne’s translations (including “A Delicate Diet for Daintiemouthde Droonkardes,” and the “Maske for Viscount Montacute”).

  • Shannon, Laurie. “Minerva’s Men: Horizontal Nationhood and the Literary Production of Googe, Turbervile, and Gascoigne.” In The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature 1485–1603. Edited by Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank, 437–454. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Looks at Gascoigne in the context of the literary milieu of the Inns of Court and shows how crucial that setting was to the nascent sense of nationhood and its vernacular literature. Shows how the societies fostered political, literary, and cultural awareness.

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