Interpreting Sir Thomas Wyatt's Whoso List

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Interpreting Sir Thomas Wyatt's Whoso List to Hunt:
August 24, 2006 by Gwen Wark Gwen Wark Published Content: 1 Total Views: 0 Favorited By: 0 CPs Full Profile | Subscribe | Add to Favorites Recommend (37)Multiple pages Font SizePost a comment Volatile 16th Century Politics and Scandal Meet Art Head on Throughout the reign of the volatile Henry VIII, writers were posed with a very sensitive problem: how to convey a message to their intended audience without giving offense to the ruler. This problem was addressed most directly in a passage from Sir Thomas More’s work Utopia, in which it is written: “[B]y the indirect approach you must seek and strive to the best of your power to handle matters tactfully...” (710)

More’s work then goes on to deliver scathing political commentary while seeming on the surface to be an instructive story about a “nowhere” country, written in a style that mimics the popular travel diaries of the period. Another example of this indirect method of addressing a subject can be seen in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s translation of Francesco Petrarch’s sonnet 190, to which Wyatt added the title “Whoso List to Hunt”. In comparing Wyatt’s translated version of this sonnet to Petrarch’s original work the reader can note where Wyatt’s own emotions have colored the interpretation, while still managing to remain within the boundaries of translation.

With the careful selection of form and the manipulation of the poem’s translated content Wyatt uses the sonnet as an instrument for the conveyance of his message, ultimately leaving it as the reader’s task to decide how to interpret the piece. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet “Whoso List to Hunt” is an example of More’s “indirect approach” because it uses Petrarch’s sonnet 190 as a vehicle to present the writer’s personal opinions while on the surface still functioning as a translated Italian sonnet.

Wyatt demonstrates the ability to create a sonnet that can be read and interpreted on multiple levels; he deviates from his source in order to manipulate the translation and force it to convey his own message. Wyatt’s manipulation can be seen in his choice of what to include from Petrarch’s content, the form in which he phrases his translation, and the choice of words he uses. These differences and similarities are what indicate to the reader that “Whoso List to Hunt” has a second meaning being indirectly conveyed.

Wyatt’s work uses the content of Petrarch’s sonnet 190 as a basis and develops as a translation of that sonnet; however, it is the specific treatment of the original content that establishes Wyatt’s second meaning. The poet has used the original substance of Petrarch’s sonnet to his advantage, lifting the symbols and ideas from the original and causing them to be reinterpreted by the reader.

For example, just as the deer in Petrarch’s poem represented an unattainable mistress, so too does Wyatt’s “hind”; however, the women symbolized by the pursued deer are very different. Petrarch is using the image to symbolize his mistress, while Wyatt uses that same image to represent his own lady. By using the original content of the sonnet to his advantage, Wyatt ensures that his poem operates on the surface as a translation while still containing his own message.

Another point in the sonnet where Wyatt has invested his translation with multiple layers of meaning is the description of the words of Caesar, written about the deer’s neck. In both Petrarch’s original sonnet and Wyatt’s translation the quarry has been protected from capture by ownership, and this image works to Wyatt’s advantage. Wyatt uses the line “Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am.” to denote that the quarry is the property of someone more powerful than the speaker; this line is similar to that of Petrarch’s original.

There is another meaning to this line, however, in that the woman who is symbolized by the deer belongs to another, more powerful, man. Wyatt uses this concept...
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