This is a presentation manuscript of William Scott’s (c. 1570–1612) The Modell of Poesye, which includes authorial notes and revisions. The Modell was intended as a guide to composing and appreciating poetry and, written in the summer of 1599, it is also one of the earliest examples of English literary criticism.
The text is unusual for the period because not only does Scott discuss and evaluate classical and historically established authors and their works, he also provides a critical commentary on contemporaneous English writers, including William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser.
Stanley Wells, a renowned Shakespeare scholar, states that ‘William Scott may with justice be called Shakespeare’s first serious critic’.
What parts of The Modell of Poesye are digitised here?
Scott sets out his aims and argument:
‘In our MODELL of POESY we must proceed (if we proceed orderly) first to lay the foundation, to define in general, which explained, we may show by division how all several kinds of poetry, as the divers rooms and offices, are built thereon’.
- Scott’s list of late 16th-century canonical complaint poetry (p. 5)
Scott defines the genre of complaint poetry as ‘solumn verse (not fit for music) [which] handle narratively the misfortunes of some unhappily raised or famous person, through error, vice or malice overthrown’. He names contemporary poems alongside the works of the classical writers Homer and Virgil, listing: The Mirror of Magistrates, 'The Complaint of Rosamund' (by the popular poet Samuel Daniel), The Rape of Lucrece (by Shakespeare), 'Saint Peter's Denial' (by Robert Southwell) and Spenser’s 'Muiopotmos'.
- Sidney, Spenser and the early modern pastoral (p. 6)
Scott considers Spenser’s Shepherds Calendar unsatisfactory because he uses too much archaic language, whereas ‘Sir Philip Sidney amendith this and leaves all behind him in the pastoral kind’.
- Poetry and the court (pp. 7–8)
Scott compares the teachings of Count Baldassare Castiglione in Il Libro del Cortegiano or The Book of The Courtier (1528) to the art of writing good poetry, using Spenser and Sidney as examples.
- Negative criticism of Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (p. 9)
Scott condemns Shakespeare’s wording in the line, ‘To endless date of never-ending woes’ (l. 935):
'you must not have idle attributes only to fill up your meter … the endless date of never ending woe, a very idle stuffed verse in that very well penned poem Lucrece her rape'.
- Shakespeare’s Richard II (p. 10)
Scott uses John of Gaunt’s lines (1.3.227–32) as an example of:
'amplification by heaping our words, and as it were piling one phrase upon another of the same sense, to double and redouble our blows that by varying and reiterating may work into the mind of the reader.'
 Stanley Wells, ‘By the placing of his words’, Times Literary Supplement (26 September 2003), pp. 14–15 (p. 15).