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William Dunbar

Dunbar, William, c.1460–c.1520, Scottish poet. After attending the Univ. of St. Andrews he was attached for some time to the Franciscans, probably as a novice. By 1491 he seems to have been connected with the court of James IV as a poet and minor diplomat. Writing in the traditions of Chaucer and the medieval Scottish poets, Dunbar is notable for the liveliness of his verse, his virtuosity in metrical form, his variety of mood, and his caustic satire. Most of his best poetry seems to have appeared between 1503 and 1508. "The Thistle and the Rose," celebrating the marriage of James IV and Margaret Tudor, and "The Golden Targe" are richly decorative allegories. "The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins" combines mordant humor and the grotesque. "The Two Married Women and the Widow" is extravagantly ribald, while "The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie" shows his gift for satiric invective. Other poems, such as "Of the Nativity of Christ," express genuine religious feeling. One of his best-known poems is the gloomy "Lament for the Makers" with its refrain "Timor mortis conturbat me" [the fear of death throws me into confusion].

See edition of his poems by W. M. Mackenzie (1960); biography by J. W. Baxter (1952); studies by T. Scott (1966) and R. Taylor (1931, repr. 1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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