'A Simple Honest Dunce': Humphrey King and the Ambivalent Status of the Uneducated Poet at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century


  • Peter K. Andersson Örebro University


The writings and social role of many marginal uneducated authors in the Elizabethan and Jacobean world of literature remain to be explored. In this article, the references to and writings of a man who seems to have been a key figure in the world of London literature around 1600, are examined in order to gauge the role of uneducated writers and explore how the status of uneducated and "simple" was exploited by writers of such a background. Humphrey King was a close friend of Thomas Nashe and other Elizabethan pamphleteers, but as a drinking companion rather than a likeminded poet. At the same time, King authored and published an infamous piece of poetry that establishes his ambivalent status as an inferior and rough writer. By studying this poem alongside his public persona, we are given a rare glimpse into the periphery of Elizabethan literary and urban life.