For more detailed data see May, "George Puttenham's Lewd and Illicit Career," and the Introduction to Whigham and Rebhorn's edition of The Art of English Poesy (see Further Reading).
There is no direct evidence beyond Bolton's ascription to identify the author with George or Richard Puttenham, the sons of Robert Puttenham and his wife Margaret, the sister of Sir Thomas Elyot, who dedicated his treatise on the Education or Bringing up of Children to her for the benefit of her sons. Both made unhappy marriages, were constantly engaged in litigation, and were frequently in disgrace. Richard was in prison when the book was licensed to be printed, and when he made his will in 1597 he was in the Queen's Bench Prison. He was buried, according to John Payne Collier, at St. Clement Danes, London, on July 2, 1601.
George Puttenham is said to have been implicated in a plot against Lord Burghley in 1570 and in December 1578 was imprisoned. In 1585 he received reparation from the privy council for alleged wrongs suffered at the hands of his relations. His will is dated September 1, 1590. Richard Puttenham is known to have spent much of his time abroad, whereas there is no evidence that George ever left England. This agrees better with the writer's account of himself; but if the statement that he addressed Elpine to Edward VI when he was eighteen years of age be taken to imply that the production of this work fell within that king's reign, the date of the author's birth cannot be placed anterior to 1529. At the date (1546) of his inheritance of his uncle, Sir Thomas Elyot's estates, Richard Puttenham was proved in an inquisition held at Newmarket to have been twenty-six years old.
Many later "poetics" are indebted to this book. The original edition is very rare. Edward Arber's reprint (1869) contains a clear summary of the various documents with regard to the authorship of this treatise. The history of the Puttenhams is discussed in H. H. S. Croft's edition of Elyot's Boke called the Cover nour. A careful investigation brought him to the conclusion that the evidence was in favour of Richard. There are other modern editions of the book, notably one in Joseph Haslewood's Ancient Critical Essays (1811–1815). For editions with critical apparatus see Willcock and Walker's Cambridge edition of 1936 and Whigham and Rebhorn's new critical edition (Cornell UP, 2007).
In Book II, "Of Proportion Poetical," Puttenham compares metrical form to arithmetical, geometrical, and musical pattern. He adduces five points to English verse structure: the "Staffe," the "Measure," "Concord or Symphony," "Situation" and "Figure".
The staff, or stanza, is four to ten lines that join without intermission and finish up all of the sentences thereof. Each length of stanza suits a poetic tone and genre. Each is overlaid by a closed rhyme scheme. This latter, termed "band" (65) and "enterlacement" (70), is of primary concern to Puttenham. He views English as having solely a syllabic system of measure, or metre. The length of lines may alternate in patterns that support the rhyme scheme, and so increase the band. Syllabic length is a factor but accentuation is not. Caesura should occur at the same place in every line; it helps to keep up distinctness and clarity, two virtues of civil language.
"Concord, called Symphonie or rime" (76) is an accommodation made for the lack of metrical feet in English versification. The matching of line lengths, rhymed at the end, in symmetrical patterns, is a further accommodation. A number of graphs are shown to illustrate the variety of rhyme schemes and line-length patterns, or situation. The poet who can work melodiously within the strictures of versification proves a "crafts master," a valuable literary virtue. Proportion in figure is the composition of stanzas in graphic forms ranging from the rhombus to the spire.
Book III, "Of Ornament," which comprises a full half of the Arte, is a catalogue of figures of speech, in the tradition of Richard Sherry, Henry Peacham, Abraham Fraunce, and Angel Day. Since language is inherently artificial, and "not naturall to man" (120), the added artifice of figures is particularly suitable. Figures give more "pithe and substance, subtilitie, quicknesse, efficacie or moderation, in this or that sort tuning and tempring them by amplification, abridgement, opening, closing, enforcing, meekening or otherwise disposing them to the best purpose ..." (134). From page 136 to 225, Puttenham lists and analyzes figures of speech. His book concludes with a lengthy analysis of “decency,” and the artificial and natural dimensions of language.
However there is currently debate about his authority in the area.