Middle English Word of the Moment

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Havelok the VIKING

In our ME reading group today (which Stephanie has already posted about), one thing struck us as so odd that we exclaimed and giggled over it even before we settled down to the serious business of eating, reading, translating, exclaiming and giggling.

We're reading Havelok[1], and due to perhaps excessive amounts of exclaiming and giggling over the year are less than halfway through. The story so far involves two noble kings (England's and Denmark's), both of whom die leaving their kingdom and baby heirs in the charge of stewards. Anyone could tell these stewards were both going to turn out to be traitorous and evil, because they have very similar names (Godrich and Goddard), indicating that, as the Trinity is mysteriously three in one, these wicked stewards are one man in two bodies. Really. Their plot purpose is identical, and the poet uses the exact same rhetoric to convince us that each is worse than Judas/Satan on several occasions.

The heirs - Havelok in Denmark and Goldeborw in England - are each dispossessed of their kingdom. Evil Danish Earl tries to have Havelok killed, but the man he hires to murder him, a fisherman called Grim, repents when he sees a golden light coming from the boy's mouth, and a golden cross on his shoulder: clear signs of royal heritage, as everyone knows[2]. Grim and his family and new adopted son therefore flee to England, where the boy shows a truly royal appetite and proceeds to apparently bring famine down by eating far too much, so Grim sends him off to Lincoln to earn his living there. He grows up and turns out to be handsome, chaste, mild-mannered (mostly), and of course very strong. When Evil English Earl notices this, he promptly marries Goldeborw off to him, because he had promised the former king to marry her to the "greatest" man in England. He is therefore in a watertight legal situation if he chooses to marry her to the man who is physically strongest, even though he appears to be a lowly peasant and she will therefore be unable to challenge for her inheritance.

Havelok and his new wife flee back to Grim's family, where she laments being given to a peasant. Never fear - the cross shows up again. Jubilation! Suddenly Havelok without explanation digs up all the memories of being a prince's son and shows a remarkable retrospective perspicacity in managing to narrate the events from his infancy from Evil Danish Earl's point of view, and they all set off for Denmark to claim his heritage.

Unfortunately, at this point a folio is missing in the manuscript, meaning that we have 160 lines of unnarrated action. When the text resumes, they appear to have reached Denmark, and Havelok is pretending to be a merchant, bargaining with Non-Evil Danish Earl for the right to conduct trade on his lands. Suddenly, to seal the bargain:

A gold ring drow he forth anon,
An hundred pund was worth þe ston (1632-3)

And this is what befuddled us. Where on earth did the cook's apprentice at Lincoln, or a poor fisherman's family, or a dispossessed princess, find a gold ring whose stone alone was worth a hundred pounds?

Upon further consideration, I have two theories.

1. They finally managed to tear that cross off his shoulder. Goldeborw was getting tired of cuddling up to it, and the angelic voice it emitted was frankly keeping her awake all night, so they melted it down and made a ring out of it.

2. Pirates. Obviously. The missing 160 lines contained pirates. Probably Viking pirates - this is mediaeval Denmark, after all. And who says you can't have a piratical sea battle in only 160 lines? Hamlet did it in fewer! Clearly they battled viking pirates and took all their treasure. In fact, they were probably ninja viking pirates. That would account for the missing folio - they were covering their tracks!

Definitely ninjas.

[1] The Lay of Havelok the Dane. Ed. Skeat, Walter W. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902.
[2] Really. Everyone knows. The cross and the light keep popping up to reveal his true lineage at crucial points in the narrative.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mors et vita in manibus lingue

Another interesting quote which reflects on the conflicting mediaeval ideas of the power and proper function of speech, and indeed the fascination with that ambiguity:

Mors et vita in manibus lingue. Mors: quia lingua que mentitur occidit animam. Vita: quia ore conuersio sit ad salutem. [1]


"Death and life lie in the power [lit. 'the hand', which is a diverting image] of the tongue. Death, because the lying tongue slays the soul. Life, because the mouth brings conversion to salvation."

Dante's Virgil would have so much to say on the subject!

[1] Raoul Ardent, Speculum universale distinctionem de virtutibus et vitiis eisdem oppositis, c. 1195, Bibliotheque Nationale MS. la. 3240, ff. 1r-203v: 161r. Cited in Craun, Lies, slander, and obscenity in medieval English literature: pastoral rhetoric and the deviant speaker (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997) 72.

Poll results: Which knight would you rather have over for dinner?

Gawain: 4 (23%)
Yvain: 4 (23%)
Erec: 0 (0%)
Gareth: 1 (5%)
Falstaff: 2 (11%)
Piers Gavaston: 4 (23%)
I wouldn't trust any of them near my family/pets/furniture: 5 (29%)

Total votes: 17.

And the winner is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the preference not to have a galumping great mediaeval[1] knight invading the house. I'm surprised Yvain got so many, actually - I know I wouldn't want to play host to his lion for the night. Apart from anything else, my beagle wouldn't stop baying at him, and lions are smelly things[2].

Gawain, Erec, Gareth and Yvain would at least have good manners, though Erec might be less than forthcoming without Enide about. Perhaps that's why no one voted for him! Falstaff would probably be fun, but rather overwhelmingly so. Piers... would perhaps be the most interesting, if only to pick his brains on certain historical matters that no one can ever clear up satisfactorily from the surviving evidence, but he'd probably make up insulting nicknames for everyone then get very annoyed when Falstaff slopped wine all over his nice purple velvet and/or had his minions lift Piers' purse.

I also find it mildly amusing that 23 + 23 + 23 + 29 + 11 + 5 = 100. I suppose it's the same logic that has 4 + 4 + 4 + 5 + 2 + 1 = 17. I suspect there may have been some people voting twice, confusing the poll.

If you voted, I heartily invite you to comment and say why! Do you entertain a secret passion for the knight of your choice? Do you long to punch him in the nose and correct some fundamental errors in his attitude towards women/morality/commoners/money/household pets, or pick his brains? Or was he simply the best of a bad bunch?

Next poll up: which deadly sin is most interesting in a romance protagonist?

[1] Or Elizabethan creation of the late mediaeval, in the case of Falstaff, but if he loses points on the "mediaeval" scale he definitely qualifies for "great", in several senses of the word.

[2] Not smelly enough, however, for Yvain to shun sleeping curled up with him in the wilderness. What with that habit and his preference for riding off jousting with Gawain rather than snuggling up in the marriage bed, I think Erec could teach the lad a thing or two about the merits of uxoriousness.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Seventh Deadly Sin: Þe Synne of Mouþ

And so we come (somewhat tardily) to the last sin - the fragile vestige of an excuse for me doing this sequence, as it is tangentially relevant to an essay I'm working on. It is not called gluttony, but "the sin of the mouth". Proper and improper uses of the mouth were an ongoing topic of discussion at this time. It was the point of exchange between the body and the outside world, and so constantly ambivalent. Food and drink entered by it, nourishing the body but presenting the temptation of gluttony and instigating the fleshly processes of digestion[1]. At death the human soul left the body via the mouth; devils could enter by it to possess the body; and of course the spirit of God entered physically in the form of the host at communion[2]. AThe mouth also had the duty of speech, which could range from blasphemy, damaging slander or lies, to strategy, peace-speaking, theological learning, teaching others or singing the praises of God[3].

With this in mind, it isn't so surprising if Lorens felt the need to address all the categories of sin that belong to the mouth, and should elide them under the seventh that we call gluttony now. He explains (in translation), "The seventh head of the beast is the sin of mouth. And because the mouth has two offices, whereof one serves for the swallowing of meat and drink, and the other to speech, therefore it is principally divided in two; that is to say, in the sin of gluttony, that is in food and drink, and in the sin of wicked tongue, that is to speak folly." (46)

I will quote more than usual today, with the excuse of essay relevance, and because he has so many beautifully sarcastic analogies:

First will we speak of the sin of gluttony, for that is a default and an evil that pleases the devil wonderous much and much displeases God, for through that sin hath the devil great power in man and woman, as clerks read in the gospel that God gave leave to the devils to go into swine, and when they were within the swine, they made them all run into the sea headlong and drown themselves. [This was] a token that gluttons that lead their life in gluttony as swine, the devil hath power to enter within them and drench them in the sea, that is to say in hell, and to make them to eat so much that they burst, and to drink so much that they drown....

This is the fisher of hell that fishes and takes the fish by the mouth and by the throat[3]. This vice displeases much God, for a glutton does great shame to God when he makes his god of a sackful of dung, that is to fill his belly, that he loves more than God and doubts, and therefore he serves it all of its asking.

God bids him fast; his belly bids him fast not, 'but eat thy food all in ease, and sit to your meal long enough, and thou shalt eat better and more'.

God bids him rise early; his belly bids him lie still, for he is too full to rise so early. 'I may sleep, for church is [at] noon hour; it will wait for me'.

And when he does rise, he begins his prayers and says "Ah, lord God, what shall we eat today? Where shall we find anything that is enough?"

And after these matins, then come the laudes: "Ah, lord God, we drank good wine yester-eve and ate good food."

Then shall he begin to weep for his sins, and say, "Alas, I am almost dead: the wine was too strong yester-eve; my head acheth."

This man has an evil god. This god and this vice brings a man to shame, for first he begins to be a tavern-goer and an ale-goer, and next he is a dice-player, and next he sells his heritage and all that he hath, and after that he becometh a harlot and a thief, and so cometh he to be hanged.

There are five branches of gluttony:

Eating early or late. Eating early is a sin, for "it is a foul þing for a man of good age þat may not abide tyme of day to ete" (48). Late hours are just as bad, for it is associated with going to bed late and rising late and wasting the whole day: "þei wasteþ tyme and turneþ vp-so-doun, for of þe nyght þei makeþ day" (49). Teenagers beware.

Eating and drinking too much.

Eating too hastily.

Eating too richly.

Being a gourmet. That is, "to delyte in queynte and deynteuous metes [foods]" (52). I'm afraid our family is damned.

Following this comes a denunciation of the tavern, which is the schoolhouse of the devil. In this, the inverse of the holy church, the devil reverses the miracles of God:

In holy church is God wont to do miracles and show his virtues: [he makes] the blind to see, the crippled to walk right, madmen to come into their right wits, dumb men to speak, deaf men to hear. But the devil doth the contrary of all this in the tavern. For when a glutton goes to the tavern he walks right enough, and when he comes out then all this is lost, for he has no wit nor reason nor understanding. These are the miracles that the devil doth (53-54).

Next come sins of the tongue, which may be divided into ten branches: "ydel, auauntyng [boasting], losengerie [flattery], bakbityng, lesynges [lying], forswerynges, stryuynges, grucchynges, rebellynges, blasphemye" (55).

Idle words cause the speaker to lose their time by spending it in folly, the good that they ought to be doing instead, and the treasure of their heart. Idle words are not, in fact, idle, but dear and full of harm. There are five kinds of idle words:
- Gabbling like a water mill.
- Bearing worrying news (Gandalf Stormcrow, anyone?).
- Exaggeration "wher-yn is moche vayn glorie" (56) (it was THIS BIG).
- Dirty jokes.
- Sarcasm. Methinks Lorens is occasionally guilty of this one himself. Though, reading closer, sarcasm is only bad if it is made "vpon goode men". Presumably one can be as sarcastic about sinners as necessary.

Avaunting, which comes in five kinds:
- Boasting about past deeds.
- Boasting of what one owns.
- "Surquidrye", which of course appeared under pride as well. Here it is defined as the sin of he "þat bosteþ and seiþ, 'I wole do so and so, and I wole venge wronges; I wole ... do meruailes [wonders]'" (57).
- Disparagement.
- False humility. Here falls Gawain.

Losyngerie, or flattery, which again divides into five:
- Indiscriminate praise (Chaucer the Pilgrim in the General Prologue?).
- Praise of children.
- Untruthful praise.
- Servile complaisance.
- Glossing over the faults of others.

Backbiting. Interestingly, to take a brief diversion into the realm of the monstrous, flatterers are likened to mermaids ("There is a thing that shows itself in the sea or other waters that men call meremaidens, that have the body of a woman and tail of a fish, and they sing so pleasingly that they have power to bring men who hear them into sleep, such as shipmen... and when they have brought a man to sleep, they slay him and devour him" (58-59)), and backbiters are compared to sirens ("There is a kind of adder that is called siren and that runs faster than any horse[5]... and she is so venomous that nothing may save a man that she envenoms").
- Lying to lay blame on others.
- Exaggerating the misdeeds of others.
- Devaluing the good deeds of others.
- Detraction. These sinners "ben like þe scorpioun þat makeþ good semblaunt as wiþ his visage [shows a fair face], and enuenymeþ wiþ his tail" (60). I think Lorens had never seen a scorpion's face. They're about as attractive as spiders'.
- Depicting the entire person in a bad light.

- White lies, to help other people, which are the least culpable branch.
- Lies to please other people - this includes minstrels and story-tellers.
- Harmful lies.

- Swearing "wiþ grete hete" (61)
- Swearing "lightly, þat is for nought and wiþ-out resoun" (61).
- Swearing by habit.
- Swearing foolishly.
- Breaking an oath.

- Striving against others.
- Chiding.
- Despising.
- Speaking evil of others.
- Reproving.
- Threatening.
- Stirring discord.

Grudging, the recourse of "he þat dar not chide" (64).
- Grudging against man.
- Grudging against God.

Rebellion, "þat is to be rebel", as Lorens helpfull explains (66).
- Rebellion against advice.
- Against God's commandments.
- Against reproof.
- Against teaching.

Blasphemy, which is "as seynt Austeyn [Augustine] seiþ, whan a man bileueþ or seiþ of God þing þat a man scholde not bileue ne holde ne seye, or whan a man ne bileueþ nought þat he scholde holde" (67 - yes, the double negative is permissible in Middle English grammar). It comes in many kinds, such as when people blaspheme without thinking and use God's name in vain, or when witches and necromancers use it for their spells, or a man blasphemes from wrath and spite. Blasphemy is seldom forgiven.

Here endeth the seven deadly sins and all their branches, and whoever will study well in this book, it will profit him, and he may learn to reckon all manner of sins and to shrive himself well, for there is no man who may shrive himself well nor keep himself from sin if he knows them not. Now shall he that readeth attentively in this book look to see if he be guilty of any of these sins, and if he be guilty, repent him and shrive him and keep him to the best of his power from any other that he is not yet guilty of, and beseach meekly of Jesus Christ that he keep him from all those and any others; and so may he keep us all, amen. (68)

And may we remember never to praise our children, or speculate on the stock market, especially in its current state, or to engage in carnal acts with a common woman.

[1] Many saints, particularly female ones, were supposed to have done without food for days, months or years at a time, being nourished entirely by either the Eucharist or the Holy Spirit. Or occasionally her own miraculous milk, in the case of Christina the Astonishing, but she's hardly representative. Just... well... astonishing. This equation of holiness or purity with abstaining from food was mirrored, of course, in the more usual routine of fasting on certain days or at certain times. People in holy orders - halfway between saints and ordinary humans, you might say - had more restricted diets (many orders of monks were largely vegetarian) and were required to fast more often.

[2] Caciola, Nancy. “Mystics, Demoniacs, and the Physiology of Spirit Possession in Medieval Europe.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 2. 42 (2000): 262-306. I would cite the pages specifically, but I don't have it by me. The whole article is worth a read, though. Sadly does not contain any reproductions of mediaeval pictures of the moment of death, with the soul in the form of a little bird, human, or wafty flame-shaped thing leaving the mouth of the newly deceased - I shall try to find an example tomorrow and cite that here.

[3] It's possible to trace a very forceful debate about the proper use of the mouth throughout Dante's Commedia, particularly the Inferno. For a discussion of the symbolism of the boar's mouth in mediaeval literature as it pertains to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, see Thiébaux, Marcelle, “The Mouth of the Boar as Symbol”, Romance Philology, 22 (1969): 281-99. She examines how the boar's mouth is a symbol of damage and destruction (or even just thoughtless, spiteful talk like Kay's), and is particularly often used as a metaphor for the slanderer who gives away the secret of a pair of lovers and thus brings about destruction and calamity.

[4] What does this say about contemporary fishing techniques? Or is it simply a baited hook in the mouth, then a stick through the gills (throat) once the fish is caught?

[5] Incidentally, the fastest land snake is the African Black Mamba, but it only reaches the speed of a running human. Unfortunately, it combines this with being the only land snake who'd prefer to attack and chase you rather than escape, given the chance, so running is both a good idea and largely futile. And people think Australia's fauna is scary...

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Sixth Deadly Sin: Lecherie

Well, people always seem to focus on sin #6, but lust just doesn't seem to concern Lorens much. It takes up about three pages, not even so many as sloth. The division of lechery seems not so organised as most of the others, or else it's over-organised. He seems to re-start the categorisation twice.

Firstly we are told that by lechery the devil tempts a man "in fyue maneres" (43): by foul looks, then foul words, then foul kisses, then foul touchings, then "comeþ a man to do þe dede". Presumably a woman does also.

Then we are told that this sin is divided into two parts:

Lechery of the heart, divided into four degrees by the spirit of lust.
- First he makes thoughts and figures of sin come into the heart.
- Next the sinner delights in these thoughts, though refusing to act on them.
- Assent of the heart, reason and will to the deed.
- Then comes greater desire and "grete brennynge [burning] wille þat þei haueþ to synne". This is followed by a mention of how women dress up to attract lustful looks, thinking no harm of it, but that as Solomon says "sche haþ no membre on hire body þat nys a grynne of þe deuel" (44), and she will have to answer for it come Judgement Day.

Lechery of the body is divided into lecherous looking, hearing, speaking and touching, and "in alle þe fyue wittes", and particularly "in þe foule dede". Lorens backtracks a little after this to assure us that it isn't just about sex (I translate): "To that sin belong all things that a man's flesh is moved to, and desires fleshly lusts, such as outrageous eatings and drinkings and beddings easy and delicious, and soft shirts and smocks and sweet robes of scarlet, and all other eases of the body that is more than need is." Ye-es. That might sound more convincing if it was less sensual. Whose soft, delicious body is that sweet robe of scarlet clinging to, Lorens?

We then seem to revert to the beginning again, and are told that the sin of lechery is divided into many branches. I count fourteen, all of which (to contradict his previous assertion) are about sex, specifically about whom one has sex with.

Between unbound persons: between people who are not bound by a vow not to have sex, but aren't married to each other.

With a comune woman: No prostitutes allowed. This is "fouler" than the previous sin.

Man unbound with woman bound.

With a married woman: "auoutrie", adultery. This is a double sin if both are married.

Unlawfully within marriage: when a married couple do "þing forboden... agens kynde [nature] and agens þe ordre of wedloke" (45). No details are given, but depending on place and time this usually included everything but missionary-style vaginal sex with the man on top, not in a holy space (consecrated ground) or a forbidden time (such as Lent), and not committed excessively. Or possibly enjoyed excessively.

Incest, ie, with his mother or daughter or the children of his godparents.

With other close relatives. I do wonder why these two weren't conflated.

With one's spouse's kin.

Unbound woman with a clerk in holy orders.

Unbound person with a person of religion.

Between monk and nun.

With a prelate.

And here I thought we were passing over the love that dare not speak its name. Not so - we can condemn it without actually naming it. Number 14 and last:

Unnatural ways. I translate: "The last is so foul and so hideous that is should not be named, that is sin against nature, which the devil teaches to a man or to a woman in many ways that may not be spoken, for the matter is so foul that it is abomination to speak it; but nevertheless be it man or woman that be guilty thereof he must tell it openly in his shrift to the priest as it was done. For because the sin is fouler and shamefuller, in so much is the shrift worth more for the shame that he hath that shriveth himself thereof, for that is great part of his penance. This sin is so displeasing to God that he made rain fire and stinking brimstone upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and sunk into hell five cities. The devil himself that purchases that sin is squeamish thereof when any does it" (46).

So there you are. Spite the devil and commit an unnatural sex act today? I do wonder, given the emphasis on how sinful it is to even name this act (we're told three times in the first sentence), if the sinner is rather caught in a bind on coming to confession. Yes, the shame is important to his penance, but if speaking it is a sin ought he write all the sordid details on a slip of paper and hand it through the screen to the confessor? We wouldn't want to compound the sin in the moment of confession, after all.

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942.

The Fifth Deadly Sin: Auarice

Avarice is an odd one. Firstly, it seems to forbid any kind of profit-making at all, not just what we traditionally think of as the usury that was the sole province of those nasty Jews. Secondly, it contains many elements that I find it impossible to reconcile with the idea of avarice at all, no matter how far I stretch my imagination - assaulting priests, for example. Thirdly, it is longer and more detailed than any of the other sins we've seen so far, even pride. Fourthly, though we were told that pride is the first sin and the root of all the others, here we are told that avarice is "þe roote of alle yueles, as seiþ seynt Poule" (30). The attribution partly explains the anomaly - various theological authorities have doubtless stressed relative sins differently, and it's natural to take the most extreme view of each when you want to emphasise the gravity of the sin under discussion.

However, all these elements together suggest a deep and widespread concern about the sin - whatever it actually is - and about capitalist tendencies and profit, possibly related to the increased social mobility generated by the economic fluxes in the wake of the plagues. Only - Lorens' original predates the plague. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It's possible that the translator added to or expanded on his source, of course, but if he did that here I find it hard to believe he didn't do it elsewhere, and the style as a whole just feels too consistent and organised to believe it.

Avarice has ten boughs:

Usury, which has seven types.
- Lending against collateral.
- Inheriting and refusing to return money made by usury.
- Lending through agents.
- Lending the goods of other men, or buying/borrowing them for little and lending them for much more.
- Giving credit for usury, or buying cheaper than the goods are worth and selling them dearer (well, that's everyone in our retail and hospitality industries done for).
- Speculating.
- Lending to people in dire financial straits and making them work off the loan for more than it's worth.

Theft has four types.
- Common theft, of men who live by theft.
- Hidden theft, when one "steleþ slighly bi-hynde and queynteli grete þinges or smale as to bigile a man or bitraye a man bi suteltee" (32-33). I'm not quite sure how we would interpret that nowadays, but I'm hardly an expert on various forms of theft.
- Privy theft, which is theft not from strangers but from those one deals with or serves, such as withholding rent. Incidentally, this is the sin women commit when she knows the child she carries within her is not her husband's and therefore "schal bere þe heritage þere he haþ no right" (33).
- Fellows in theft - accessory.

Rapine, or abuse of office.
- False executors, who rob dead men.
- Wicked lords who extort from those under them.
- Thieving innkeepers.
- Avoiders of debt.
- Extortionate prelates.
- Oppressive officials, like the Summoner in the Friar's Tale.

Challenge, which seems to be specifically related to litigation. This sounds more familiar! Many scholars come to learn at the court of this "lady of couetise", we are told, and they may be divided into seven (or, in fact, six) kinds:
- False plaintiffs.
- People who falsely flee 'what is right' - a court summons, perhaps, or ought it to be understood more generally?
- False witnesses.
- Lawyers who undertake cases they know to be false.
- False notaries and attorneys.
- False judges.

Sacrilege. I cannot understand why this appears under avarice. The sub-divisions don't make it any clearer, since in few instances is there any profit to the sinner.
- Mistreatment of the Eucharist and other sacraments.
- Violation of church buildings.
- Defilement of sacred spaces, as by brawling or lechery on hallowed ground.
- Violence towards men or women of religion.
- Theft from the church.
- Misuse of church property.
- Refusal to give food/water to a beggar when requested.
- Refusal to give up what belongs to the church, such as tithes and offerings.
- Breaking the Sabbath.

Simony. I wonder if Chaucer's Pardoner's name is Simon? It's a nice name.
- Buying or selling sacraments.
- Selling the Word of God - ie, preaching for silver.
- Selling church offices.
- Selling church livings.
- Selling benefices.
- Selling vows.

Malignity, or shrewedness, when a man doesn't turn away from doing great harm to another man for a little profit to himself.
- Forsaking God and turning heathen for profit. This includes people who make this choice "for drede of pouerte" (39). Remember, boys and girls, God wants you to starve to death.
- Murder for profit.
- Destruction of property for profit.
- Sowing of discord where one stands to gain by it.
- Oppressing the poor for profit. It's the Summoner again!

- Selling dear and buying cheap (again, I'm sure I've written this one already).
- False swearing.
- Weighing things falsely.
- Giving credit.
- Substituting inferior goods for those purchased.
- Concealing truth.
- Misrepresentation.

Schrewed craftes.
- Prostitution.
- Professional fighting. Presumably this excludes tournaments, for they are chivalric and heroic. So long as they don't "fyght for wynnyng of siluer" (41), I suppose they'd get out of it!

Wikked pleyes - gaming, dice, hazards. Many sins come from these habits!
- Covetousness.
- Usury.
- Profanity.
- Bad example.
- Waste of time.

We close with six sarcastic "comaundementes" for the covetous:
1. That he "kepeþ wel his good" - that is, his profit or what he has won.
2. That it "litle nought in his hond".
3. That "his good wexe [increase] euere day more and more".
4. That "he ne yeue [give] no þing ne do non almesse [give no alms] ne no curtesie".
5. That he "lene nought [lend not] to pore men ne wommen ne put his good in perel".
6. Finally, let him "restreyne hymself and his meyne [children] from mete [food] and drynke for to spare þe more his good". (42)

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Fourth Deadly Sin: Slewþe

Sloth, defined as "a werynesse of goode deedes", is the fourth head of the beast, and it's neatly complex. Though not so minutely detailed as Pride, its component parts related better to each other, similar to the four branches of Wrath. Sloth, we are told, "makeþ a man haue euele bygynnyng, and wors amendyng, and alþerworst endyng" (26).

Note that, again, numbers of divisions may not equal those advertised!

Seven causes of evil beginning:
- Slackness.
- Softness, as he that lies on "þe deueles feþere bed".
- Idleness, as if "þe deuel fyndeþ hym ydel, he him setteþ a-swiþe [swiftly] to werke" - a lovely fore-runner of our "the devil finds work for idle hands" (27).
- Heaviness.
- Resting in sin.
- Pusillanimity, "þat is unboldenesse... like to hym þat dar nought gon in þe weye for þe snayl þat scheweþ his hornes". Lorens does write lovely similes!

Seven causes of evil amending, which seem sequential.
- Untrewþe, which after working on SGGK I refuse to translate as "untruth" as these editors do. It is described as "whan God put good wille in a mannes herte for to do wel, þan comeþ þe deuel", who tells him he has many years until he must face divine judgement, and so tarries him from the will to do well.
- Recklessness, or "rechelesschep" in the translator's words, which follows logically from untrewþe.
- Forgetfulness of what one ought to do, which springs from the first two sins.
- Default of heart, when a man no longer has the desire to do well.
- Too great zeal, when over-rigorous penance or fasting or amending puts a man off and turns him away.
- Weariness, which grows more every day.

Six causes of evil ending:
- Unbuxomness. Disobedience, that is, but the Middle English word is better![1] Note that variants on this have already appeared under Pride (rebellion) and Wrath (war against god/superiors).
- Impatience.
- Grudging.
- Anger. Again - haven't we seen this already? Say - ire? wrath?
- Self-contempt. Similarly - war against self, anyone?
- Despair.

I think the crucial difference between apparently synonymous sins is the focus on cause. The focus is on which of the deadly sins gives rise to the emotion, rather than the outward effect. Though the manifestation of one may be very similar to another, if one is to confess properly one must know in great detail what one has done and why - not merely actions, but the "entente" behind the actions. I suspect that a good part of the reason for this text's existence is to help people analyse these emotions - their own, for the confessing party, or other people's, for the one who hears the confession.

As to the anomaly between the number of sub-divisions promised and those given, I'd account for the differences either by supposing that the French text he had used roman numerals, and the English translator occasionally misread 'ui' for 'uii' (easier to do than you'd suppose, especially in many contemporary gothic scripts, and especially if you were expecting seven as the more apocalyptically significant number); or that there are in fact seven sins in the French and twice he managed to omit one in translating, or elide two together by not noticing the divisions.

A characteristic of the text which makes the omission particularly prominent is its insistence on counting as it goes along. "The first twig/branch of x is y... The second is... The fourth head of the beast, the sixth vice of this kind". I would be interested to see whether this is present in the French, or to what extent it appears in the eleven or so other Middle English translations. If it is in the French, it is remarkable that the translator manages to make the same mistake so often - he always omits, he never (so far, at least) adds. If it is not in the French, it may indicate our translator's awareness of the difficult division, and of the possibility of error: that he imposed this extra structural check on it as a safeguard. And we ought not forget the difficulty of translating such a pedantic set of terms, so very dependent on semantics. Perhaps in some cases there were words for which he simply couldn't find two adequately differentiated English equivalents, and so merged the entries without correcting his account of the numbers.

It's interesting to see that, though there are actually six divisions to each of these categories, he states that there are seven for the first two and only counts the last one correctly. Were there originally seven (or six) in all three categories, as the neatness of the structure would lead you to expect? Did he merely correct his promise of seven by the time he came to the last set?

Or have subsequent scribes - possibly even the editors of this edition - made any or all of the above mistakes for him?

[1] Yes, a buxom wench is an obedient one, not she of the weighty bosom. I shall not bother to trace the descent from "compliant" to "really hot stuff", because it would be rather depressing and I'm sure you can all do it anyway.

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942. To avoid a proliferation of identical numbers in brackets, any unattributed quote is on the same page as the last attributed quote. A new page is indicated by a new citation.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Third Deadly Sin: Wraþþe

The fourth head of the beast is ire, or wrath. The first thing Lorens hastens to assure us is that "þer is an ire þat goode holy men han ayens [have against] euele" (25). This is not a sin but a virtue. The sin of the same name is a "felonie of herte", divided into four branches which symbolise the four wars of an angry man.

With himself: When "wraþþe is ful in a man, he turmenteþ his soule and his body so þat he may haue no sleep ne reste". It may drive him to take a fever, to refuse food, or to "suche a sorwe þat he takeþ his deþ" - whether of suicide or by wasting away, we aren't told.

With God: Usually begun by "sum worldely loos or harm, or for siknesse or for deþ of his frendes", this war causes a man to "grucce... ayens God oure lord", and may drive him to blaspheme.

With his inferiors: This man is angry to those who are "vnder hym", such as his wife and his children, and to his servants. He may beat them, or break "pottes, coppes and disches" as if he were "out of his witte, and so is he" (25-26).

With his neighbours: There are seven twigs to this branch, which seem to be consecutive rather than separate - strife, then anger hidden in the heart, then hate, then contention, then will for vengeance, then manslaughter, then deadly war. War, we are told, is bad. It causes "mochel [great] euele and gret perel þat mowe [may] neuere be amended". It seems people have been observing this for millenia, and yet we haven't got the message yet.

The mention of war leads to a small digression on its evils. I will translate it as literally as possible here (excepting the last line):

For when there is war between two great lords, it falls oft that there are many dead that have no guilt, churches robbed and broken, towns burnt, abbeys and priories and great houses destroyed, men and women and children disinherited, great lands detroyed, and many other things that are done by the word of those that are beholden to amend [evils, but] who purchase that war, the lord and all those that are in his service in such doings. And therefore they are in great balance [ie, jeopardy] of salvation, for they cannot either yield or amend the harms that are done, and they must either yield or hang. "Rendre ou pendre", dit ly fraunceys.

I wonder if it's secular justice that threatens to hang lords who will not call a halt to the ravages of war, or divine? Or perhaps their enemies? The last half of that passage is a little unclear in its syntax, and that coupled with his recourse to the French in the last line suggests to me that the anonymous translator might have found the French hard to follow at this point, patching it over with vagueness.

I find the division of wrath into four parts interesting. After seeing "war with oneself" and "war with god", one naturally expects "war with others". After seeing "war with one's inferiors", I expect the fourth to be "war with one's superiors". But perhaps resenting those above you is supposed to be synonymous with war against God. There are other places where resentment against secular authority (parents, masters) is elided with resentment against God - Rebellion (the sixth twig of Presumption which is the third branch of Pride), for example.

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942. To avoid a proliferation of identical numbers in brackets, any unattributed quote is on the same page as the last attributed quote. A new page is indicated by a new citation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Second Deadly Sin: Enuye

Incipit Enuye.

The second head of the "wikked be[a]st of helle is enuye, "þat is þe addre þat al enuenimeþ [envenoms]"(22). No, not ennui - envy. Ennui probably falls under sloth.

According to Lorens, Envy is the mother of death, "for bi enuye of þe deuel come deeþ in-to þis world". It is "þe synne þat makeþ a man or a womman most like to þe deuel". That is, I suppose, logicaly - Envy (or possibly Pride) was the sin that caused Satan to try to overreach his bounds and become like God, so it is perhaps his greatest characteristic.

Lorens breaks Envy down into three branches, each neatly tripartite. For this sin "first enuenemeþ the herte & after þe mouþ and after þe dedes" (22):

Envy in heart
: An envious heart sins in three ways.
- False judgement.
- Shrewed gladness.
- Evil sorrow.

He doesn't expand on these, but proceeds straight to the second branch, for "suche licour as is in þe tunne mote nedes come out at the faucetes hoole" ("that liquor which is in the tun must necessarily come out of the faucet's hole)":

Envy in words:
- Cursedness, speaking harm of another man's good and undoing him as he can.
- Bitterness, furthering and wishing for another man's harm as far as he may.
- Treason, turning everything good that he perceives "vp-so-doun" (23) and turning it to evil.

Envy in deeds (This is a little unclear but as far as I can make out it breaks down to):
- Destruction of potential (as the grass that will grow).
- Destruction of flourishing and profiting (the air that blows about and profits).
- Destruction of what does good to the world (as ripened fruit that nourishes).

"For þe more good þat þer is, þe more sorwe haþ" the envious man.

Lady Despenser is right - I'm afraid Hugh would have to confess to this as well. Though proud Piers in his pearl-powdered purple would probably give the Despensers a run for their money!

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The First Deadly Sin: Pride

The first deadly sin is also the most intricate. It takes Lorens eleven pages to explain all its permutations, while wrath, the third, takes less than one. This is justified, perhaps, by the fact that pride"was þe first synne and bigynnyng of al euele" (11). We are told that it has "seuene principal braunches" and that each of these branches "haþ many smale twigges". This is Lorens' breakdown of pride, branches, twigs and all.

Untruth is divided into three branches, of which the first is evil, the second is worse, the third even worse:

-- Villainy: Ingratitude to God, in which the sinner forgets God and all his goodness and all that he has received from God, which is against nature.

-- Madness: Wasting those precious gifts which God gave to him (the sinner is always male), spending the virtues of his body and soul in idleness and folly.

-- Reneging: Giving those precious gifts into the hands of God's enemies, "þat is, body and soule and alle oþere goodes he putteþ in þe deuel seruice" (14). Reneging is of three types:

----> Either "he leueþ [believes] not as he scholde" (15), as heretics do.

----> "Or for he is out of þe feiþ, as men forsworn" - ie, excommunicated.

----> "Or elles for he leueþ more þan he schulde", as diviners and witches do. Superstition is a sin of pride - who knew?

Despite, the second branch of pride, comes in three kinds:

-- False valuation of self and others: The sinner looks down on others or believes himself not sinful.

-- Not honouring where he should: Failing to do reverence to God, to his father and mother, etc.

-- Disobedience where he should obey.

Presumption: Arrogance or "ouerboldeness" (16). There are seven branches here too[1].

-- Singularity: Believing himself to "kunne [know] more or be of more myght or be worþier þan oþere" (17).

-- Prodigality: Wasting one's goods in order that he might be held "large [generous] and courteis" (17).

-- Foolish undertaking.

-- Boasting.

-- Scorn.

-- Rebellion. This is "þe sixte twigge of þis stoke [stick]... whan a man is rebel to hem [them] þat wolde hym good" (18).

Foolhope, or ambition: The fourth branch of pride. It has no sub-divisions, but Lorens assures us that it "spredeþ in many wises [ways]", its twigs too many to name, giving rise to evils such as flattery, foolishness, malice, treasons, poisons...

Vainglory: "fool [foolish] likynge in vayn preisynges" (19). It has three branches, wherein "þe deuel byeþ [buys] wiþ þilke [that same] ernes-peny"[2] the three types of goods that a man has from God.

-- Goods of kind: Health, fairness, strength, doughtyness, nobility, good tongue, good voice.

-- Goods of fortune: Highnesses, honours, richess, delights, prosperities.

-- Goods of grace: Virtues and good deeds.

Hypocrisy: Beautifully described as the sin that "makeþ schewe þe good wiþ-out þat is not so wiþ-ynne" (21).

-- Foul hypocrisy: The sinner does "foule" things, sinning privately and presenting an honest face in public.

-- Foolish hypocrisy: The man who keeps himself "clene ynowgh [enough]" in body, and performs many penances and and many good deeds so that people may believe them good. Interesting here (though implicit throughout the book) is the clarity of the focus on intent - good deeds are not good per se, they are good only if they were undertaken for the right reasons.

-- Sly hypocrisy: Intent on great "dignitees and offices", the sly hypocrites do all that a good man should do so that "no man may knowe" who they really are, until they attain the highest office they can. At this point they will "schewe... þe vices and schrewednesse þat first was hid in here [their] hertes... and þan knoweþ men openly þat þe tree was neuer good" (21).

Pusillanimity: At least, so this editor glosses it. The word doesn't occur in the text. Instead, it is described as "foly drede", that is, "whan a man leueþ to do wel for þe world... and douteþ [fears] more þe world þan God" (22).

Again, such a focus on intent. It would be very easy to believe that your fear of worldly eyes was a fear of God's eyes, I imagine. How often do we convince ourselves that the desire to avoid repercussions is in fact pure conscience? A proper confession by the standards of these manuals would require an exquisite self-consciousness and a good deal of brutal self-examination. In the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, in which annual confession was made mandatory for all Christians, the necessity to educate people (and priests) so that they knew what was a sin and how to examine themselves and others for it, this sort of literature proliferated, and the highly individualised soul-searching and interiority that characterised it gradually crept into the character of the age, if there is every such a thing. But I spent enough time talking about that in my thesis, and therefore will not get into it here.

I find it curious that pride is described as "þe first synne and bigynnyng of al euele". Allegorically it makes sense - the reason it is the "first" sin on the list is that, according to mediaeval thinking, it gives rise to all the other sins. Reading it as the sin behind the Fall supports this and allows it to be "first" in terms of human history. But there's so many other ways the sin of Adam (and/or Eve) could be understood. Gluttony would be the most literal one. Curiosity, which could be interpreted as a division of pride (presumption, rebellion against authority). Avarice, envy - even sloth, which (according to Lorens) contains recklessness and forgetfulness, either of which could be responsible. It could even be attributed to wrath, one branch of which is "war against God".

Categorising this specific act according to the sin, then, is as much a matter of "what sin do I want to call this" as "what sin is it". The same could probably be said for any act beyond the most simple. I think it says much for the mediaeval concern with proper estate and condition, with not presuming beyond what one ought to do or be, that pride is the "first" sin - that Lorens spends eleven pages detailing its many twigs.

[1] That is, he promises seven. But count them! He does this quite often. The odd thing is that he numbers each of the elements as he goes along, too, so it's not just a case of me failing to notice where one sin ends and the next begins - it's someone failing to edit properly, probably the translator skipping a line by accident, or even Lorens himself leaving out one category by accident.

[2] Earnest-penny. Vainglory is the devil's earnest-penny, we are told, and also the "gret wynd þat felleþ doun... highe toures and highe steeples". It's a good thing Bilbo never read this book, or he might have given Gollum the wrong answer to that riddle!

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orleans. Ed. W. Nelson Francis. Early English Text Society OS 217. London: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A system of sin: The Boke of Vyces & Vertues

I have made the interesting discovery that the Monash Uni library does not, as Melbourne's does, lock its EETS books carefully away in a distant read-only cellar where nobody ever goes, but has them on the normal shelves, where any villein can just walk in and borrow them. Having grabbed the Book of Virtues and Vices and furtively fled with it, expecting hue and cry, I shall celebrate by devoting the next week to an examination of each of the seven deadly sins, according to the 14th Century Midlands translation of the Somme des Vices et des Vertus by Lorens d'Orléans, a 13th Century Dominican friar[1].

The French original was apparently very popular. There are other English translations, and it was also translated into several other language, among them Catalan, Italian, Provencal and Flemish. It gives an intricate explanation of the nature and various sub-categories of all the vices and virtues and the main tenets of the Christian faith:

1. The Ten Commandments
2. The Articles of the Faith
3. The Seven Deadly Sins
4. Virtues
5. The Pater Noster
6. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the related Virtues [2]

It is precise, pedantic, heavy on the number signification and inevitably ends up duplicating some of the minor vices across different categories. It should also be remembered that it a isn't definitive guide to mediaeval thought on the subject - other similar texts from the period categorise sins differently within the basic seven. Dante's scheme was completely different, to pick the most famous example. Despite its popularity, this book is only one of the many texts analysing the relationship between intent and deed in vice and virtue that sprung up all over Europe in the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215:

Depending on his level of theological learning, the fourteenth-century man or woman could recount a large variety of sins and circumstances. He could usually identify them when they occurred in real-life situations. If he was more deeply learned, he could debate problems of will and motive and understand differing degrees of sinfulness. Anyone who wished further instruction - layman or cleric - had easy access to penitential manuals that explained various points of doctrine, and these books were plentiful. As one contemporary exclaimed in obvious frustration, "Þer beþ so manye bokes & treatees of vyces & vertues & of dyverse doctrynes, þat þis schort lyfe schalle raþer have anende of anye manne, þanne ha maye owþere studye hem or rede hem." [3] [4]

The Seven Deadly Sins are introduced by John's vision "in þe booke of his reuelaciouns þat is cleped [called] þe Apocalips" of "a best [beast] þat aroos out of þe see ... and it had seuene heuedes and ten hornes, and on euery horne he bar a corone" (10). The seven heads of the beast, Lorens explains, are the seven deadly sins, and the crowns on his ten horns[5] symbolise "þe victories þat he haþ ouer alle synful men, for he makeþ hem [them] to do agens þe comaundementes of oure lord" (11).

Coming up next: Beast-head number one, Pride!

[1] The book of vices and virtues: a fourteenth century English translation of the Somme le roi of Lorens d'Orléans, Ed. W. Nelson Francis, Early English Text Society OS 217, London: Oxford University Press, 1942.
[2] Introduction to the above, xxii.
[3] Braswell, Mary Flowers, The Medieval sinner: characterization and confession in the literature of the English Middle Ages, Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983, 62. Internal quote: Anonymous, The Seven Points of True Wisdom (Orologium Sapientiae), ed. Karl Horstmann, Anglia 10 (1887): 328.
[4] "There are so many books and treatises of vices and virtues and of diverse doctrines that this short life shall rather bring any man to an end than let him either study or read them all!"
[5] Are two of his heads hornless, or are the horns distributed unevenly? The answer would doubtless be of great theological significance.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

To venture forward a few hundred years...

I was just reading Susan Higganbotham's latest entry and realised something I've never noticed before.

Lord Darnley, who married Mary Queen of Scots... was the son of the Earl of Lennox.

Now, this may not sound terribly momentous, but think about it for a moment. This means that Darnley would have been Lennox, if he had outlived his father (which he didn't). This means that, if the queen were to take the name and title of her husband on marriage (which she didn't, as she slightly outranked him) she would have been (if we blur the distinctions between surname and title for a moment).... Mary Lennox.

Did Frances Hodgson Burnett know about this? Closer examination can prove beyond doubt that this apparent coincidence was intentional, and that The Secret Garden, far from being an innocent children's story, is in fact a subversive political paper!

To start with, Colin is Mary's cousin, and there are hints in the book that he may have a romantic interest in her. Burnett played this down, but the film perceptively picked up on this and played it out more strongly. This may seem insignificant, until we remember that Darnley was Mary Stuart's first cousin! Though Darnley and Mary shared a surname, Colin and Mary Lennox are the offspring of two sisters, clearly in order for Burnett to change Colin's surname - to Craven. Remember, Darnley is often portrayed as a bully and coward, and he was apparently killed fleeing the scene of the first attempt on his life. Colin's fits of temper and childish violence take on added resonance in the light of Darnley's violent temper, particularly the murder of his wife's lover, Rizzio. Is the memory of sudden death that hovers over Misselthwaite Manor - particularly the Secret Garden itself - a foreboding of the violence that an older Colin is to visit on his rival for Mary's affections, the outsider Dickon?

Let us consider the figure of Dickon. Clearly an analogue for the Earl of Bothwell, his presence in the story offers Mary an attractive escape from the life in the highly ordered manor, from the prospect of commanding the miniature kingdom that Mary Stuart handled so badly. The character most closely associated with the Secret Garden himself, he draws both Colin and Mary into his insidious schemes and seduces them into believing the Garden a "safe" environment for indulging in innocent childhood play. His closeness to nature recalls Bothwell's renowned weakness for indulging his primal urges (see Wikipedia, I'm sure it has much to say on the subject), and Mary's fascination in exploring this world with him bodes ill for her ability to retain her independence for long. Published eight years after the death of Queen Victoria, The Secret Garden conceals dark and disturbing messages about feminine monarchy and its limitations, from the pen of a woman who appears to have believed that death and the changes that accompanied it were long overdue.

Hm. I just realised that Bothwell's surname is... Hepburn.

No. Too easy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dead royalty and distractions

I'm afraid I can't stop my mind from running into Gawain. This morning at our Mediaeval reading group a description of the red-cross cross hovering over Havelock's shoulder almost made me go off into a ramble about the significance of the red-gold ring the Lady offers to Gawain. And at the moment, I'm alternating between roaming the archives of the Naked Philologist[1] and reading the wills of deceased royalty[2], who do not mention Gawain, but lead to exciting intertextual thoughts! For example, the Black Prince's tomb epitaph is included, in a rather broad stretch of the definitions of 'king' and 'will'. It includes:

En terre avoy grand richesse, dont je y fys grand noblesse,
Terre, mesons, et grand treshor, draps, chivalz, argent, et or,
Mes ore fu je povres et cheitifs, profond en la terre gys.
Ma grand beaute est tout alee, ma char est tout gastee.
Moult est etroite ma meson. En moy na si verite non.

My Middle French isn't wonderful, but this isn't too complicated in grammar or vocab, so at a guess:

On earth I had great wealth and nobility,
Land, castles, and great treasure, clothes [?], horses, silver and gold,
But now I am poor and low, sunk deep in the earth.
My great beauty is all gone, my flesh is quite wasted.
Very narrow is my house. To me remains nothing but truth.

In a tri-lingual society (English, Anglo-French and Latin) equivalent words probably carried the same connotations, right? So the 'verite' in this poem would be closer to the Middle English 'trawthe' than our modern 'truth'. In fact, we could wager on their being nearly identical in sense, and come up with a very bleak picture of the unattainability of trawthe in earthly life that would really depress Gawain!

I think my favourite is not one of the wills themselves, but the note at the end of Richard II's will, written presumably by Nichols in 1780. I shall be incorrect here and represent the printer's occasional long 's's as 'f's because it amuses me more that way:

Richard II. was the youngeft fon of the Black Prince, born at Bordeaux 1366 ; fucceeded his grandfather Edward III. 1377, when he was only eleven years old ; and, after an inglorious reign of twenty-two years, in which fome few traits of a good difpofition fhewed themfelves through the diffipation, effeminacy, and favoritifm of the age, was depofed and fucceeded by his coufin Henry duke of Lancafter, Sept. 29 1399, and on the February following made away. (202)

Isn't it beautifully partial? I have to wonder what exactly he was referring to when he said "effeminacy" - the tastes for extravagant clothing? the reluctance to go out and actively poke sharp things into the French? Shakespeare's strong insinuations that Richard II was sleeping with his favourites?

I particularly admire that little grammatical trick in the final sentence. "Made away" could be an active verb - Richard "made away" as a nice little euphemism for "died". But equally, with the passive verbs in the previous sentence (and just far enough removed for them not to govern this verb too overtly), it could stand for "was made away", and mean murder.

Was there any reason to be coy about 350-year-old regicide under George II?

[1] Who sometimes mentions Gawain.
[2] Nichols, John. A collection of all the wills, now known to be extant, of the kings and queens of England. 1780. Reproduced in facsimile by Kessinger, 2007. It is fun.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Well, after two years of trying to reclaim back yard from couch grass and wandering jew, I now know I have a Real Vegetable Garden: I just found my first nest of earwigs in the silverbeet!

After poking at them in an irritated sort of manner with a stick, I decided to let them go free, partly because I am benevolent and seeing made me go "hooray! Thriving ecosystem and proof that my vegetables are desirable to earwigs!" and partly because I didn't have anything with which to actually kill them.

But I have about 20 enormous silverbeet plants and some nice spinach coming along, not to mention the celery, potatoes, garlic, onions, chives, cabbage, radishes, beetroot, parsley, uneradicable roquette, sage, rosemary, mint and dill - and I just found that some of that old carrot seed I threw on the garden and despaired of has taken too, for there are tiny baby carrot tops appearing between the garlics.

My thesis, fortunately, resembles the silverbeets, and not the carrots. It is complete, save for some minor editing and a few summaries of critical opinions on debatable points to go in footnotes - which is fortunate, as it's due Friday week.

This leaves me free to ponder the baby carrots of my next essay, for Mediaeval Representations (the course taken by my supervisor, over at humanities researcher). I believe it will be about the uses of speech and the voice in Troilus and Criseyde, which will allow me to use most of the interesting Canterbury Tales for comparative purposes! 5000 words of (doubtless) "bothe blysse and blunder".