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George Gascoigne

George Gascoigne

A playwright who is thought to have influenced Shakespeare, a poet who pioneered the sonnet form, and a man who failed at most of his endeavors—George Gascoigne (1535-1577) lived a turbulent life. His poetry was censored by the queen not once but twice, he was taken as a prisoner of war, and he spent time in prison for large sums of debt. Regardless of his personal struggles, Gascoigne was largely responsible for revolutionizing poetry into the genre it is today.

George Gascoigne – Biography

George Gascoigne was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire, England, sometime between 1535 and 1539. His father was a respectable landowner and farmer, and Gascoigne's first appearance at court was as an almoner at Elizabeth I's coronation. He attempted to establish himself as a courtier for much of his life but was unsuccessful.

As an almoner at the queen's coronation, Gascoigne gathered up all of the leftover food and drink after the celebration and distributed it to the poor. He was also responsible for protecting the queen's safety and preserving the dignity of the coronation as he kept observers a safe distance away during her procession.

Gascoigne attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and studied law at Gray's Inn in 1555. Around that time, Gascoigne was reportedly disinherited after being associated with a discreditable lawyer. He was imprisoned for debt, and his brothers took him to court for their own grievances.

There are four Inns of Court where one could prepare to become a barrister in London. The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn was considered the most aristocratic in Gascoigne's time, but today it is the smallest. The peak of the Inns prosperity was during Elizabeth I's reign, as she herself was a patron.

George Gascoigne, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Gascoigne served as a member of Parliament for two years while attempting to find success at court.

Beginning in 1557, though, Gascoigne served as a member of Parliament for two years. That provided him with social and legal immunity during a time when his reputation for disorderly living and extravagance was developing. Gascoigne attempted reelection in 1571 for the same protection, but his election for Midhurst was denied because of his debts, reputation, and manslaughter charge.

With a tarnished reputation and few prospects, Gascoigne volunteered to fight in the Netherlands serving William the Silent, the Prince of Orange. Gascoigne was taken as a prisoner of war during the Siege of Leiden but was returned to England in 1574.

His most famous poetry collection, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, was published in 1573. This book hinted at courtly scandal and was thus confiscated by the queen's officers. Gascoigne republished the book under the title The Posies of George Gascoigne in 1575. It had revisions that apologized for the offense the first book caused. This collection, too, was ruled offensive and subsequently seized. Most of Gascoigne's work was published after his return to England following the war.

In 1575, Gascoigne helped to provide entertainment for Queen Elizabeth I at Woodstock. He read a prose speech before the queen and presented her with a manuscript of Hemetes The Hermit. Gascoigne enjoyed some success in the royal court during this time. He died in 1577, just when his luck seemed to be turning around.

George Gascoigne, Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Gascoigne performed for Queen Elizabeth I at Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

George Gascoigne – Books

Gascoigne is most famous for his poetry collections A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) and The Posies of George Gascoigne (1575). He also wrote the book The Steele Glas (1576) and the novel The Adventures of Master F.J. (1573).

A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573)

First published anonymously in 1573, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres was highly controversial in Gascoigne's time. This poetry collection is considered by many scholars to be the first major sonnet sequence in English. It is a linked sonnet sequence meaning the last line of one sonnet makes up the first line of the succeeding one. The book is presented as a collection of poems by various courtiers gathered by anonymous editors. The collection is filled with scandal, expertly censored using posies, or tags, and initials instead of actual names. Regardless of the censorship, the book was considered offensive and banned by the queen.

The Posies of George Gascoigne (1575)

A revised edition of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, The Posies of George Gascoigne, was Gascoigne's attempt to appease the queen and remedy the offense he caused the court. It contained new additions, careful deletions, and an authorial note apologizing for the first collection. This effort was, however, ineffective, and this book was also seized.

The Steele Glas (1576) and The Adventures of Master F.J. (1573)

The Steele Glas is a satirical book that attacks the futility of war. It was partly inspired by Gascoigne's own experiences fighting in the Netherlands. The Steele Glas was also one of the first works to use blank verse for an original piece of writing.

The Adventures of Master F.J. (1573) is a novel that may be partly autobiographical. It is considered one of the earliest examples of prose fiction.

George Gascoigne, Helmets and armor scattered on the ground, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Steele Glas attacks the futility of war.

George Gascoigne – Poems

Two of Gascoigne's most successful poems are "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" (1573) and "Fie, Pleasure, Fie!" (date unknown).

"For That He Looked Not upon Her"

In the poem "For That He Looked Not upon Her" (1573), the speaker refuses to love again after experiencing the pain of failed love. He addresses a beautiful woman but won't allow himself to even look at her. He knows she probably thinks it's strange he avoids her gaze, and he admits he doesn't enjoy avoiding her. He compares himself to a mouse that has just escaped a trap and a fly that has survived nearly getting burned alive.

Just like those creatures wouldn't go back to the thing that nearly killed them, he won't go back to love. He knows that grief and pain follow wherever desire leads. He won't look at her because the passion in her eyes is the source of his torment.

George Gascoigne, Man looking at ground, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The speaker looks down at the ground so he can avoid the woman's gaze and the pain that comes with love.

"Fie, Pleasure, Fie!"

In "Fie, Pleasure, Fie!" (date unknown), the speaker is suspicious and wary of his constant state of happiness. He has been gorged on pleasure to the point where he can't feel any other emotion. His lover is so good, wise, honest, and true, and her perfection makes him feel ill. In fact, she is so beautiful she diminishes the beauty of every other woman around her. The speaker distrusts his relationship because he knows the happier he is now, the worse it will hurt when that happiness comes crashing down. He tells pleasure that he wants to change the constantly happy state of his relationship to protect himself. He distrusts the effect pleasure has on his life.

George Gascoigne – Other Works

In addition to poetry and prose, Gascoigne also wrote the play Supposes (1566) and was responsible for translating several important poems.

Supposes

Supposes was Gascoigne's first play, performed at Gray's Inn in 1566. It was loosely based on I Suppositi by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). Some scholars have called it the first English prose comedy. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is thought to have used it as inspiration for a subplot in his own play, The Taming of the Shrew.

Translations

Gascoigne was a prolific translator. He translated Jocasta by the ancient Greek Euripides from Italian into English. He also translated Hemetes into Latin, Italian, and French as a present for the queen. In 1575, he translated La Venerie (1561) by Jacques du Fouilloux into English, entitling it The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting (1575).

George Gascoigne – Quotes

Below are some of Gascoigne's most famous quotes.

„The Raynbowe bending in the skye,

Bedeckte with sundrye hewes,

Is lyke the seate of God on hye,

And seemes to tell these newes:

That as thereby he promised,

To drowne the worlde no more,

So by the bloud whiche Christe hath shead,

He will oure health restore"

This quote is taken from the poem "Gascoignes Good Morrow" in the collection A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573). Most of Gascoigne's writings were not religious, although scholars believe he was a Protestant. This poem, reprinted in The Posies, was one of three lyrical poems that spoke to religion. It reveals Gascoigne's devotion to God.

The mouse which once hath broken out of trap
Is seldom ’ticèd with the trustless bait,
But lies aloof for fear of more mishap,
And feedeth still in doubt of deep deceit.
The scorchèd fly, which once hath ’scaped the flame,
Will hardly come to play again with fire,
Whereby I learn that grievous is the game
Which follows fancy dazzled by desire"

This quote is an excerpt from "For That He Looked Not Upon Her." It described the wary relationship the speaker has to love. He believes he narrowly escaped the last time his heart was broken and would be condemning himself if he tried again. The quote compares a man in love to a mouse and a fly, showing he thinks men who are under love's influence are no better than lowly animals. The speaker has a cynical view of love and believes it always leads to pain.

George Gascoigne - Key takeaways

  • George Gascoigne was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire, England, between 1535 and 1539.
  • He attempted to establish himself as a courtier and farmer, but those efforts failed.
  • He was a member of Parliament, but he had a poor reputation due to his debts and extravagant lifestyle.
  • He is most famous for his poetry collections A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) and The Posies of George Gascoigne (1575).
  • Two of his famous poems are "For That He Looked Not upon Her" (1573) and "Fie, Pleasure, Fie!" (date unknown).

Frequently Asked Questions about George Gascoigne

George Gascoigne was an English poet, playwright, and soldier. 

George Gascoigne lived in the mid-16th century, from 1535-1577. He was thought to have influenced Shakespeare. 

George Gascoigne is famous for being one of the most important poets in the early Elizabethan era. 

He fought under the Prince of Orange in the Netherlands. 

Gascoigne is famous for his books A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573), The Posies of George Gascoigne Esquire (1575), and his poem "For That He Looked Not upon Her." 

Final George Gascoigne Quiz

Question

Who was George Gascoigne? 

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Answer

George Gascoigne was an English poet, soldier, translator, and playwright in the 16th century. 

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Question

When was George Gascoigne born? 

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Answer

He was born between 1535 and 1539. 

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What famous poet/playwright is George Gascoigne thought to have influenced? 

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Answer

Scholars believe he influenced Shakespeare, specifically the famous play Taming of the Shrew

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What did George Gascoigne do aside from his literary career? 

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Answer

Member of Parliament and soldier

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True or false: George Gascoigne was an avid supporter of war? 

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Answer

False

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Question

Where did George Gascoigne fight in the war? 

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Answer

He fought in the Netherlands under the Prince of Orange. 

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Question

Which of George Gascoigne's poetry collections were seized by the queen? 

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Answer

A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres and The Posies of George Gascoigne 

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Question

True or false: George Gascoigne was charged with manslaughter, which was part of the reason he was not reelected to Parliament? 

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True

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Question

What kind of opinion did George Gascoigne's speaker express about love and happiness in his famous poems "Fie, Pleasure, Fie!" and "For That He Looked Not Upon Her"?

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Answer

They were both suspicious and reluctant of love and happiness. In "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" this speaker refused to allow himself to feel love again after being scorned before. The speaker in "Fie, Pleasure, Fie!" was sick of always being happy with his lady. 

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What other literary works did George Gascoigne complete? 

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Answer

He was known for his play Supposes and his work as a translator. 

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What type of sonnet is "For That He Looked Not Upon Her"?

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Answer

"For That He Looked Not Upon Her" has 14 lines, is written in iambic pentameter and has a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. It is an English sonnet.

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To what or who is "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" addressed? 

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Answer

Gascoigne uses apostrophe in "For That He Looked Not Upon Her". The speaker addresses the woman who hurt him and who he is now trying to avoid. 

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Line 9, "The scorchèd fly, which once hath ’scaped the flame" from the poem "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" is an example of what type of imagery?

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Visual imagery

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Which of the following lines shows the poem begins in apostrophe? 

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"You must not wonder, though you think it strange"

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Which line from "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" is a metaphor? 

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"The scorchèd fly, which once hath ’scaped the flame, / Will hardly come to play again with fire"

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Where does the shift in the poem "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" occur? 

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Answer

The shift or volta in the poem happens in line 13, with the word "so." 

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"For That He Looked Not Upon Her" uses all of the following literary devices except

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Allusion

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What is the meaning of "For That He Looked Not Upon Her"? 

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Answer

The meaning of the poem is revealed in the last couplet. The woman addressed has hurt the speaker and he would rather avoid looking at her because she has caused him much sorrow. 

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What themes are explored in "For That He Looked Not Upon Her"? 

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Answer

The central themes of deceit and disappointment are explored in the poem "For That He Looked Not Upon Her."

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What diction from the poem "For That He Looked Not Upon Her" best communicates the speaker's attitude? 

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Answer

"my bale have bred"

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