Saturday, 8 October 2011

Spenser's Colin Clout

Now, yes, of course: we know that Spenser takes the name from Skelton (1521-22); and that Skelton chose the name as an obscure allusion to the subject of his satire, Cardinal Wolsey -- the 'clout' that the proverb adjures us not to cast til May be out being a woolen piece of clothing. Of course, clout also means 'clod of earth' (OED lists this from 1250), which is a more appropriately rustic name for a shepherd. That's all fair enough, and Spenser's other shepherds have traditional names. But E.K.'s notes makes me wonder if we're not supposed to read Spenser himself into this:
Colin Cloute is a name not greatly used, and yet have I sene a poesie of Maister Skeltons under that title. But indeede the word Colin is Frenche, and used of the French poete Marot (if he be worthy of the name of a poete) in a certein aeglogue. Under which name this poete secretly shadowerd himself, as sometime did Virgil under the name of Tityrus, thinking it much fitter then such Latine names, for the great unlikelyhoode of the language.
Doesn't that imply that 'Colin Clout' is a version of 'Edmund Spenser'? I wonder if the logic would go; 'Edmund' ('monde' being French) is as French as the rather unfrench Colin. A 'Clow' is a sluice through which a river or canal can flow; so 'clowed' would be what happened to the water when it had passed through -- when it was 'spent', as it were. Hence 'Spen[t]ser', since a 'spencer' is [from 1300 on, OED] one who has charge of household provisions, holding them back of expending them -- no, I've parted company with the plausible at this moment.

No comments: