Benjamin Ratskoff

"I Know Where is an Hynde"

Wyatt’s rebellious (sub)version of masculine erotics

  • Faculty Advisor

    Laurie Shannon

Published On

May 2014

Originally Published

NURJ 2013-14

1. Richard Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 104.

Who so list to hounte I know where is an hynde

but as for me helas I may no more

the vayne travail hath weried me so sore

I ame of theim that farthest cometh behinde

yet may I by no meanes my weried mynde

drawe from the Diere but as she fleeth afore

faynting I folowe I leve of therefor

sethens in a nett I seke to hold the wynde

Who list her hount I put him owte of dowbte

as well as I may spend his tyme in vain

and graven with Diamondes in letters plain

There is written her faier neck rounde abowte

Noli me tangere for Cesars I ame

and wylde for to hold though I seme tame [1]

A white doe on the green grass appeared to me, with two golden horns, between two rivers, in the shade of a laurel, when the sun was rising in the unripe season.

Her look was so sweet and proud that to follow her I left every task, like the miser who as he seeks treasure sweetens his trouble with delight.

“Let no one touch me,” she bore written with diamonds and topazes around her lovely neck. “It has pleased my Caesar to make me free.

And the sun had already turned at midday; my eyes were tired by looking but not sated, when I fell into the water, and she disappeared.[2]

2. Francesco Petrarca, Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics, trans. Robert M. Durling (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976), 336.

III. The Failure of Petrarchan Desire

While marking a shift from the pensive woodland idiom of Petrarch, the sonnet’s royal forest preserve and the hunting performed therein evoke a different sylvan trope central to the Mediterranean tradition of erotic verse: the Greco-Roman myth of Diana and Actaeon, crystallized in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The sixteenth-century development of Anglophone humanism demonstrates the specific relevance of Ovid’s text to Henrician manuscript poetry. Deliberately reconstructing a literary lineage with classical Greek and Roman texts, Renaissance humanists, of whom Petrarch may represent the first important student, spread classical studies from Italy to Northern Europe.[3] Joanna Martindale has argued that “the classics perhaps reached the zenith of their influence on European culture in this period,” since endorsements and imitations of classical life and letters appear so explicitly.[4] Thomas Elyot’s The boke named the gouernor offers one of the first English accounts of humanist pedagogical method and exalts the importance of Ovid’s text. After Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, Elyot “wolde set nexte unto [a young gentleman] two bokes of Ouid / the one called Metamorphoses…the oether is intitled De fastis…bothe right necessary for the understandynge of poetes,” revealing a probable interface between Ovid’s tropes and the high-born writers and readers of “Who so list to hounte.”[5] The classical Greek narrative unfolds within the woodlands reigned over by the huntress-goddess Artemis where she and the hunter Actaeon encounter each other. In Ovid’s retelling, Diana functions as the Latin equivalent of Artemis, endowed with a palimpsest of determinations networked to Greek and Roman mythologies. As a woodland huntress-goddess of the Greco-Roman imaginary, her virginal sexual status serves, Harrison argues, as a metaphor for the purity of her spatial domain: she “belonged to those dark and inaccessible regions where wild animals enjoyed sanctuary from all human disturbance except the most intrepid hunters…Her virginity does not suggest so much asexuality as the primordial chastity of this sylvan retreat.”[6] The mythology sexualizes the woodland space by correlating the disturbing force of those “intrepid hunters” (read: Actaeon) with a sort of masculine penetration.

3. Joanna Martindale, ed. English Humanism: From Wyatt to Cowley, World and Word (Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985), 19.

4. English Humanism: From Wyatt to Cowley, 20.

5. Thomas Elyot, Sir, The Boke Named the Gouernour / Deuised by [Sir?] Thomas Elyot Knight (London: Tho. Bertheleti, 1531), Electronic reproduction of microfilm, 34.

6. Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 25.

After Actaeon (perhaps accidentally) spots Diana bathing nude in the forest, Diana punishes this voyeuristic violation of her body by transfiguring his body into that of a stag.[7] Underscoring the transformation of Actaeon is a marked loss of speech and bodily dismemberment by the teeth of his previously subordinate hounds. Diana declares to Actaeon, “Now make thy vaunt among thy Mates, thou sawste Diana bare. / Tell if thou can: I give thee leave: tell hardily: doe not spare,” whereupon his hounds “did gainecope him as he came, and held their Master still / Untill that all the rest came in, and fastned on him too. / No part of him was free from wound.”[8] With his body metamorphosed into that of a stag, Actaeon is unrecognizable to his hounds and his hunting cohort; Actaeon proves incapable of disclosing his identity to them, and, moreover, he cannot “tell hardily” of Diana’s naked body. In other words, “in a realm governed by appearances,” as Harrison terms it, Actaeon’s invisible self becomes entirely incapacitated, powerless to prevent his violent death.[9] And highlighting the implications of a scopophilic model of erotic desire, the transformation bars Actaeon from verbally continuing his voyeuristic assault on Diana’s nude body. Still, the silencing dimension of the punitive metamorphosis from man to beast does not explain Actaeon’s particular transfiguration into a deer. The woodland setting works as a key determinant here, since the metamorphosis occurs where “Great slaughter had bene made / Of sundrie sortes of savage beasts one morning”—not the legalized forest of the Wyatt sonnet but certainly its sylvan locale.[10] While illuminating assumptions on the nexus between speech and manhood, the metamorphosis to a stag enables Actaeon’s hounds to tear him apart, as they had been trained to do. Reversing the sovereign agency ascribed to the male gaze, Diana creates a disabled, dismembered figure of masculinity.

7. Ovid, Ovid's Metamorphoses, trans. Arthur Golding (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2000), 67, ll. 224-30.

8. Ovid's Metamorphoses, 67, ll. 227-8; 69, ll. 83-5.

9. Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, 25.{C} Harrison elaborates, “Human vision is privative in nature; it does not see directly into the nature of things but sees only the outward surface of phenomenal appearances,” which is linked to the post-Socratic redefinition of “the essence of phenomena…in terms of form or outward appearance (eidos), and no longer in terms of elemental matter.” See: Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, 27.

10. Ovid, Ovid's Metamorphoses, 65, ll. 165-6.

Petrarch employs a poetic strategy directly responsive to the Diana-Actaeon myth in order to subvert the imagined silencing and dismemberment consequent to his voyeuristic lyric. Vickers[2] notes, “Diana’s pronouncement simultaneously posits telling (description) as the probable outcome of Actaeon’s glance and negates the possibility of that telling…What awaits him is annihilation through dismemberment.”[11] Because Petrarch’s poems rely heavily on scopophilic descriptions of a desired, female body, the Petrarchan speaker appropriates and extends the very voyeuristic valences punished by Diana in the Ovidian myth. He even embodies Actaeon as lover-poet in a handful of Rime sparse poems, and Vickers argues his “response to the threat of imminent dismemberment is the neutralization, through descriptive dismemberment, of the threat. He transforms the visible totality [of his beloved] into scattered words, the body into signs.”[12] The female beloved, whose fragmented body parts are continually fetishized by the Petrarchan speaker, becomes entirely voiceless through the poet’s writerly transformation of her into abstracted signs, for “bodies fetishized by a poetic voice logically do not have a voice of their own; the world of making words, of making texts, is not theirs.”[13] In turn, the Petrarchan speaker rescues his manhood, under imagined assault by a punitive silencing, in demonstrating that the world of making texts is resolutely his. The result of this descriptive dismemberment is a mute beloved whom the lover effectively violates through poetry, representing a defenseless, female object of desire whose body may be routinely read/violated by a host of male readers. Vickers goes further, claiming that these readers “will enter into collusion with, even become, yet another Actaeon,” and in turn men are represented as the autonomous producers of manhood.[14] That the reader, both rhetorically and historically positioned as upper-class male, is immediately implicated in the poem’s erotic politics seems an appropriate paradigm against which one may interpret the relationship between speaker and reader established in the Wyatt sonnet’s convening declaration, “Who so list to hounte I know where is an hynde.”

11. Nancy J. Vickers, "Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme," Critical Inquiry 8, no. 2 (1981): 269.

12. "Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme," 273.

13. "Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme," 277.

14. "Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme," 274.

Like readers of Petrarch who come to embody another Actaeon—and are thereby positioned as both masculine and heterosexually desirous—readers of the Wyatt sonnet are promptly involved in the pursuit. Yet, unlike the securely-empowered Actaeon-reader, whose security and empowerment is guaranteed by the muting and dismemberment of the desired woman, the readers of the Wyatt sonnet are beckoned to by the speaker only for an ultimate experience of futility. In other words, the speaker asks for the reader’s participation only to reveal finally that such participation was in vain, that such engagement in the pursuit can only end with the monarch’s (violent) censure. The speaker calls forth to an ambiguous plurality of bodies with the first words, announcing, “Who so list to hounte I know where is an hynde.”[15] No direct or individuated address appears in the poem, nor does an unequivocal reference to the reader, but the opening “Who so” conjures a wide field of potential parties. By sharing knowledge of the desired object’s location, the speaker calls to a mass of hunters who may or may not choose to hunt her. And the ambiguity of address asks the reader to deliberate on the topic: Is he talking to me? Do I desire to hunt a hind? Implicating its reader in the poem’s drama, the sonnet masculinizes him/her within a heterosexual and aristocratic frame, and, in the process, hunting mirrors the reading of erotic verse; the opening address conjoins the courtly practices of organized reading coteries and the ritual hunt.[16] Unlike the threatened Petrarchan speaker and readers, these masculinized, heterosexually desirous, aristocratic readers need not fear dismemberment, for there exists no seen woman; from the sonnet’s very first line, the female object of desire appears only as a hind of the royal forest, possessed by the monarch and disconnected from the eventual violence enacted on her body.

15. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, l. 1.

16. On this position of the masculinized reader, Marguerite Waller writes, “Sir Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet ‘Whoso list to hunt; I know where is an hind’ inscribes a very obvious absence…This absence is so obvious that when it is missed, or unselfconsciously repeated, I suspect that a nontrivial ideological operation is taking place. This textual effect, which is often repeated but rarely ‘seen’ in the criticism of the poem over that last forty years, is none other than the denial of the position of any reader who is not male, heterosexual, and politically privileged. Or rather, if a position cannot be denied which was never implied, then a great many readers of this poem, be they sixteenth-century aristocratic or twentieth-century American women, contemplate an image of their own nonidentity or noncoincidence with themselves when they try to read themselves as readers of this poem” in Marguerite Waller, "Academic Tootsie: The Denial of Difference and the Difference It Makes," Diacritics 17, no. 1 (1987): 5-6.

Notwithstanding the prolific tradition of sonnet-writing that emphatically constitutes itself as the poetry of erotic desire, the scale and force of the hunt-conceit camouflages the Wyatt sonnet’s erotic valences by sequestering them entirely to an allegorical register. Yet the speaker’s language functions undoubtedly as the language of desire—with far more resentment than Petrarch—and the remaining question concerns how the conceit constitutes and animates this desire. The sonnet’s octave and sestet commence with the nearly identical phrases, “Who so list to hounte,” and “Who list her hount,” drawing attention to their echo and in turn the seemingly minute changes between them.[17] These changes occur between “Who so” and “Who,” and “to hounte” and “her hount,” such that the only term of desire—“list”—remains constant.[18] One can argue further that the metrical placements of “list” solidify the force of desire, rendering it stable. Regardless of the various scansions possible for the first line, “list” moves from the milder weight of the second stressed syllable to, in the ninth line, the robust force of the first stressed syllable. The shifts surrounding “list”—“Who so” to “Who;” “to hounte” to “her hount”—also serve to heighten both the speaker’s and the readers’ sense of directional desire by compressing affective desire, the desired object, and the activity of the pursuit. The alliteration achieved through the compression, “Who list her hount,” displays the active desire through prosodic contrast; the move also displaces the initial ambiguity of the addressed mass by closing in on those who have since decided they “list her hount” and “corrects” the metrical ambiguity of the first line. The speaker effectively shapes the subjective desires of his readers, for the reader is implicitly included in this second group, with or without his/her consent.

17. I use these stanzaic structural terms loosely since, although the Petrarchan sonnet form generally follows an octave/sestet pattern, the Wyatt sonnet shows little strict allegiance to this structure.

18. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, ll. 1, 9. The Oxford English Dictionary glosses list as “to desire, like, wish, to do something” in Oxford English Dictionary, "List, V.1" (Oxford University Press). According to the sole extant concordance of Wyatt’s poetic oeuvre (as demarcated by A.K. Foxwell in the 1914 The Poems of Sir Thomas Wiat), “list” appears at least once in thirty-nine different works of poetry; see: Eva Catherine Hangen, ed. A Concordance to the Complete Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), 250-1. The term’s extensive use for describing a variety of affective activities foregrounds the general fungibility of desire and its developing specificity in “Who so list to hounte.”

These shifts that surround “list” effectively move the hind from the role of an ancillary body necessary for whoever may “list to hounte”—a general object required by the sport—to that of the specified, disembodied object of desire, pursued by masculine agents. In this process of displaying active desire and specifying the desirers, the hind transforms into “her,” a gendered pronoun wedged between “list” and “hount.”[19] The effect suggestively conflates those “who list her” with those “who list her hounte,” disclosing the (heterosexual) desire operating through the conceit. Additionally, replacing the initial “Who so list to hounte” with “Who list her hounte” results in tighter rhythmic parallels between “list” and “hounte.”[20] Mirroring the two activities of desiring and hunting in a kind of staccato, the tighter rhythm results from a lack of the metric ambiguity exhibited in the first line. “List” also works here as a pun on the prescribed language used to incite the hounds of the hunt: “When [a huntsman’s] co[m]paignions shall heare him beginne to hallowe [that is, call the hounds to action], they shall uncouple their houndes & crie, lyst hallow, hyke hallow, lyst, lyst, lyst.”[21] The repetition of the term in the sonnet thus solidifies the parallel between the active hunt and the active desire, inciting the pursuit in its deployment. By slowly guiding the masculinized reader from the routine act of hunting to the identified pursuit of a disembodied female, the speaker shapes and positions the masculinized reader’s desire for the fetishized object. At first, the speaker simply discloses the hind’s location to whoever may engage in the hunt; subsequently, this speaker attaches the desired body, abstracted into a gendered pronoun, as a sort of target, an achieved telos, to the masculinized reader’s line of pursuit, or vector of desire.

19. “list” appears at least once in thirty-nine different works of poetry; see: Eva Catherine Hangen, ed. A Concordance to the Complete Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), 250-1. The term’s extensive use for describing a variety of affective activities foregrounds the general fungibility of desire and its developing specificity in “Who so list to hounte.”Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, l. 9.

20. The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, l. 9.

21. George Gascoigne, The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting : Vvherein Is Handled and Set out the Vertues, Nature, and Properties of Fiutene Sundrie Chaces Togither, with the Order and Maner How to Hunte and Kill Euery One of Them. Translated and Collected for the Pleasure of All Noblemen and Gentlemen, out of the Best Approued Authors, Which Haue Written Any Thing Concerning the Same: And Reduced into Such Order and Proper Termes as Are Vsed Here, in This Noble Realme of England. The Contentes Vvhereof Shall More Playnely Appeare in the Page Next Followyng. (London: Henry Bynneman, for Christopher Barker, 1575), Electronic reproduction of microfilm, frontispiece; 31.

Yet, in a classic pivot that thwarts our expectations, the repetition of the opening declaration, while constituting the reader’s desire, also asserts the pursuit’s futility by reversing the speaker’s demonstrated agency. Establishing his agential position, the speaker calls forth to others in the opening declaration to disclose that he “know[s] where is an hynde.”[22] The speaker constitutes his autonomous knowledge by posing it against the ambiguous, and theoretically unknowing, mass. Even though he qualifies this assertion with, “but as for me helas I may no more,” the speaker does not apparently discourage others from embarking on such a pursuit.[23] Yet at the second declaration, the speaker summarily asserts the vanity of the hunt’s activity: “Who list her hount I put him owte of dowbte / as well as I may spend his time in vain.”[24] Tracing the repetition here, the opening assertion, “I know where is an hynde,” becomes “I put him owte of dowbte,” the implication in the latter ironically being that the hunters, without doubt, might as well “leve of” as the speaker has decided.[25] The very knowledge offering certainty of the kill metamorphoses into a knowledge that reveals with certainty the pursuit’s futility. This change suggests to the hunter-reader, whose reading thus far has been guided by the speaker’s implicit (and misleading) promise to disclose the hind’s location, that the very act of reading the sonnet similarly functions as a useless exercise, in Petrarchan terms. There certainly lies within it no capture; and, in the absence of capture, the sonnet also lacks the descriptive dismemberment that would satisfy the masculinized, voyeuristic reader.

22. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, l. 1.

23. The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, l. 2.

24. The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, ll. 9-10.

25. The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, ll. 1, 9, 7.

Instead, the female object of desire in the figure of the hind serves to confirm the futility of this exercise in the face of “ordeyned” possession.[26] The reader who “as well as [the speaker] may spend his tyme in vain” wonders whether the time spent refers to the hot pursuit itself or the sonnet-reading ensued from the first line—or both.[27] Thomson has argued that describing the pursuit (whether physical or readerly) as time spent “in vain” serves “to aim a blow at the foundation of the sentiment of courtly love common to Petrarch and the Petrarchans,” itself a trope traced to late medieval Provençal poetry and informed by the feudal relationship between great lady and servant.[28] In light of such criticism, it seems the sonnet’s ultimate frustration of masculine desire troubles arguments that men living within an intensely rigid hierarchy animated by prescribed behaviors of courtly love may sublimate their desire for heteropatriarchal power through writing. Arthur Marotti argues that Petrarchan lyric poetry worked as “imaginative heterocosms within which ambitious men would fantasize a kind of mastery they lacked in their actual experience.”[29] Yet the sonnet examined here, on the contrary, explicitly and dramatically asserts that the structure of Petrarchan desire fails to provide a fantastic heterocosm, instead offering only a painfully repetitive microcosm of the Henrician court. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet, for example, follows the cyclicality of the Petrarchan octave (ABBA ABBA) but displaces the growing momentum of the Petrarchan sestet (CDE CDE) with the abrupt monotony of rhyming couplets (CDD CDD), coinciding with the abrasive revelation of the monarch’s possession of the hind. In its demonstration of the futility of Petrarchan desire, the sonnet simultaneously attempts to persuade its readers to abandon Petrarchan assumptions and reconsider masculine erotics.

26. Gascoigne, The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting, 49.

27. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, l. 10.

28. Patricia Thomson, Sir Thomas Wyatt and His Background (Suffolk: Richard Clay and Company, Ltd, 1964), 197, 12.

29. Arthur F. Marotti, ""Love Is Not Love": Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences and the Social Order," ELH 49, no. 2 (1982), 398.

Thomson also aptly notes the general, though not absolute, absence of women in Wyatt poetry, as an abstract object of desire or fragmented body. She argues, “the aureate speciality, the description of a mistress’s beauty and virtue, is almost entirely lacking in Wyatt,” which raises questions on how exactly the object of desire does figure in this verse categorically representing the erotic pursuit.[30] “Who so list to hounte” continues to draw the reader forth to the desired hind by explicitly introducing a “written” text to him/her.[31] After demonstrating the pursuit’s doubtless vanity, the speaker tells, “graven with Diamondes in letters plain / There is written her faier neck rounde abowte,” literally framing the final approach as one towards a written text.[32] Although the historical, Alexandrian image of the collared hind and the described engraving of the diamond letters no doubt suggest a collar in the Wyatt sonnet, the conspicuous absence of any term for collar magnifies the desired hind’s body, now localized or fragmented into the neck, as the site of writing.[33] In doing so, the speaker fragments the female object of desire into a dismembered body part, but that part is a text on which her captivity is written. The fragmented body part becomes the figurative manuscript paper for the forthcoming text, representing writing as an inscription of captivity that veils the inevitable kill. This representation works to clarify the simultaneous counsel to forsake Petrarchan assumptions: writing cannot provide (erotic) sublimation if it locks the object of desire into impenetrable captivity.

30. Thomson, Sir Thomas Wyatt and His Background, 130.

31. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, l. 12.

32. The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, ll. 11-12.

33. Although I read these implications as figurative and do locate a collar in the sonnet’s narrative, I do not wish to preclude the possibility of reading the diamond letters as directly engraved onto the hind as a sort of flamboyant branding of her body.

The speaker represents the enclosed text itself with bitter irony, revealing a disjuncture between the written production of text and its read meaning. He first introduces the “letters” by their specific means of production, “and graven with Diamondes,” before using the broader term “written” in the following line.[34] The letters cut into the collar and emblazoned in diamond simultaneously suggest a violent process of inscription and a visual display of wealth, power, and betrothal. The very process of writing the collar’s text appears as incision and ornamentation at once.[35] Yet, at the end of the line, the speaker somewhat bluntly describes these emblazoned diamonds as “letters plain.” The description of the letters as apparently both diamond and plain creates irony out of the latter adjective’s multiple denotations. Plain most obviously suggests letters that are “not embellished, adorned, or elaborate,” instantiating the contradiction with the description of the diamond adornments.[36] Yet plain may also describe a surface as “smooth, even; free from roughness, wrinkles, etc.,” which would suggest the skillful mastery of the collar’s engraver.[37] This denotation introduces yet another intermediary between the speaker and the hind; no longer does solely the monarch’s voice, layered onto the hind, intervene between the speaker and his desired object; one must now consider the implied engraver whose material labor has produced the written text and, though subordinate to the monarch, speaks for him! A third meaning, however, reorients the text towards the reader. Plain signifies that the meaning of the letters “is evident; simple, easily intelligible, readily understood.”[38] Alongside the speaker’s representation of the written text as an incised embellishment and itself the material labor of yet another (male) writer, the speaker reassures the reader that his[4] interpretive capabilities will suffice—the meaning, so says the speaker, is utterly obvious. The extravagance and mastery invested in the writing by multiple men of various accesses to power, the accumulated mediation so to speak, therefore has little effect on the letters’ allegedly self-evident meaning. And in a visual or scopophilic dynamic, in which the speaker and reader can never “have” or touch the object of desire, reading at a distance should allow the speaker and reader to grasp metaphorically what they cannot grasp physically.

34. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, l. 11-12.

35. Another poem attributed to Wyatt in the Egerton manuscript, “Marvaill no more,” exhibits the only other use of “graven” in Wyatt’s poetic oeuvre. See: Hangen, A Concordance to the Complete Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt, 180. Interestingly, the speaker uses the term similarly to describe the inscription of letters, emphasizing the material force of the incision: “And in my hert also/is graven with l[ett]res diepe/a thousand sighes & mo/a flod of teeres to wepe” in Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 144, ll. 5-8. The use of “with” here—“graven with l[ett]res”—helps clarify “graven with Diamondes” by suggesting that the inscription does not accompany the diamonds but is formed by them.

36. Oxford English Dictionary, "Plain, Adj.1" (Oxford University Press).

37. "Plain, Adj.1".

38. "Plain, Adj.1".

Yet the meaning so manifest to the sonnet’s speaker is of course that the hind exists as the exclusive possession of the monarch. After his illustrative preface to the reader, the speaker (re)writes the text on the collar: “Noli me tangere for Cesars I ame / and wylde for to hold though I seme tame.”[39] These words prevent any man, including the reader, but the monarch from possessing the hind. But the Latin literacy required of the reader reveals a potential unintelligibility incongruous with the speaker’s previous assertion that the meaning is “plain”: the very edict constituting the pursuit’s futility requires knowledge of Latin. This departure from the Petrarchan text, which consistently deploys the vernacular Italian, unequivocally positions the reader as educated in the humanist tradition, and therefore an implied member of the educated circles around the Henrician court. However, Cathy Shrank confronts the problematic Latin by arguing, “The immediate answer is that those are the words used in the commentary,” that is, Vellutello’s biographically-arranged Il Petrarca; for “not only was it the work which Wyatt was probably using…it was also the means by which his Tudor readers were likely to receive their Petrarch.”[40] Nonetheless, that the speaker previously reassured the reader of his interpretive capabilities only reinforces the claim that the speaker speaks quite deliberately to courtly men; and even if a Petrarchan editor initially made the move from the vernacular to the Latin, the reproduction of such bilingualism in the English imitation deserves attention. Martindale notes, “Boys learnt to read and to write English, Latin and Greek, generally in that order and with the greatest attention being paid to Latin…The aim of the [humanist] system was rhetorical expertise…Hence all the innumerable exercises in translating from one language to another.”[41] As a “translation” from Italian, the sonnet itself functions as the product of a humanist exercise; the collar’s switching between Latin and English within the sonnet requires humanist expertise of its reader, implying that the text of the prohibition intentionally addresses courtly men, closest among men to the monarch’s sphere of power.

39. Harrier, The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry, 104, ll. 13-14.

40. Cathy Shrank, "'But I, That Knew What Harbred in That Hed': Sir Thomas Wyatt and His Posthumous 'Interpreters'," in 2007 Lectures, ed. Ron Johnston, Proceedings of the British Academy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 392-4. Why Vellutello chose to write these words in Latin remains a mystery. However, Susan Brigden suggests an alternative basis for the Latin text: “It was probably during his first visit to the English court that Holbein painted his dramatic, sublime Noli me tangere. In the garden at first light, Mary Magdalen encounters her Saviour. As she reaches out to Him, incredulous, imploring, He draws back…Uncertainty surrounds this work, but there is reason to believe that Holbein painted it in 1526-8, the time when Henry Wyatt and Henry Guildford were his patrons,” in Brigden, Thomas Wyatt: The Heart's Forest, 161.

41. Martindale, English Humanism: From Wyatt to Cowley, 27.

Emphasizing rhetorical ability as the mark of inclusion, the conceit of the hunt underscores the exclusive character of the speaker’s drama and intimates the speaker’s attempts at situating Petrarchan desire within the Henrician court. The expected “rhetorical expertise” also recalls Berry’s description of hunting as a “verbal sport, and one in which the mastery of words implied both power over nature and society.”[42] The mastery required of hunters ranged from “The termes of the treading or footing of all beastes of chace and Venerie” to “The Sundrie noyses of houndes, and the termes proper for the same,” demanding a nuanced, intricate attention to language. Despite their shared stress on rhetorical skill, the nobility initially posed hunting and humanism as opposing practices. In Humanism and the Social Order in Tudor England, Fritz Caspari notes a dinner table argument first recorded in 1517—just as Wyatt commenced his studies at Cambridge—between Richard Pace, Henry VIII’s secretary of state, and a courtly gentleman: the gentleman declared, “gentlemen’s sons ought to be able to blow their horn skillfully, to hunt well, and to carry and train a hawk elegantly; but the study of letters is to be left to the sons of peasants,” to which Pace purportedly replied, “then you and other noble men must be content, that your children may wind their hornes and keepe their Haukes, while the children of meane men do manage matters of estate.”[43] The sonnet speaker’s exasperation with the hunt and his representation of its endgame logic takes Pace’s argument one step further, deploying humanism to demonstrate the “vayne travail” of the ritual hunt, and in turn suggesting the vanity of Petrarchan pursuit.

42. Edward Berry, Shakespeare and the Hunt: A Cultural and Social Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 17.

43. Fritz Caspari, Humanism and the Social Order in Tudor England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), 136-37.

If one notes humanism’s role in constituting a particular Renaissance manhood, the literal rehearsal of humanist practice in the sonnet appears to establish both the speaker’s and his readers’ manhood through the bilingual disclosure of the monarch’s ownership of the hind. Martindale emphasizes the importance placed on language by Renaissance humanists by pointing to Erasmus’s argument in Opera Omnia that “language is the basic civilizing act, which distinguishes man from beast.”[44] Thus, the speaker’s use of a mute hind as the female object of desire dramatizes the pursuit’s constitution of a Renaissance masculinity while also exposing the elaborate “traffic in women” necessitated by such a constitution.[45] The speaker’s appropriative representation of the king’s language mutes the desired “woman” for a mock demonstration of humanist proficiency between the king and the men of court, representing men as the only producers of masculinity and locating the desired “woman’s” body as the site of that production; she is manuscript rather than penning hand. By writing the collar’s words in the sonnet’s final couplet, the speaker guides the masculinized reader’s desire to the fetishized object only to ask the reader to read his exclusion from the capture, rendering the readerly pursuit a useless practice when unattainability moves from the imaginative to the legal. Like the speaker, the reader may tell and tell and tell of the hind but to what end? Unlike the sublimation achieved by the Petrarchan speaker and readers who may continually tell and read of the desired and seen woman’s body, the desires of the speaker and readers of the Wyatt sonnet experience continual frustration, thwarting, and obstruction—even as they are complicit in the pursuit.

44. Martindale, English Humanism: From Wyatt to Cowley, 22.

45. Gayle Rubin’s term, “the traffic in women,” evolves out of her anthropological discussion of kinship systems as they relate to a given society’s sex/gender system, describing “ethnographic and historical examples” in which “women are given in marriage, taken in battle, exchanged for favors, sent as tribute, traded, bought, and sold,” and in which “it is the men who give and take [the women] who are linked, the women being a conduit of a relationship rather than a partner to it.” While I do not wish to rehearse the universalism of superimposing anthropological structures at whim, I do think Rubin’s concept may help to illuminate the gender politics dramatized in the sonnet. Furthermore, the phrase gains traction considering that hunted venison, like courtly women, was used as a gift to solidify alliances and relationships. See: Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women," in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. Julie and Michael Ryan Rivkin (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 779; Berry, Shakespeare and the Hunt: A Cultural and Social Study, 21.

Appendix: “190” by Francesco Petrarca

Una candida cerva sopra l’erba
verde m’apparve con duo corna d’oro,
fra due riviere all’ombra d’un alloro,
levando ‘l sole a ;a stagione acerba.

A white doe on the green grass appeared to me, with two golden horns, between two rivers, in the shade of a laurel, when the sun was rising in the unripe season.

Era sua vista sì dolce superba
chi’ I’ lasciai per seguirla ogni lavoro,
come l’avaro che ‘n cercar Tesoro
con diletto l’affanno disacerba.

Her look was so sweet and proud that to follow her I left every task, like the miser who as he seeks treasure sweetens his trouble with delight.

“Nessun mi tocchi,” al bel collo d’intorno
scritto avea di diamanti et di topazi.
“Libera farmi al mio Cesare parve.”

“Let no one touch me," she bore written with diamonds and topazes around her lovely neck. "It has pleased my Caesar to make me free.

Et era ‘l sol già vòlto al mezzo giorno,
gli occhi miei stanchi di mirar, non sazi,
quand’ io caddi ne l’acqua et ella sparve.

And the sun had already turned at midday; my eyes were tired by looking but not sated, when I fell into the water, and she disappeared.


Benjamin Ratskoff