Middle English Word of the Moment

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dryden his Tale of the Wyf of Bathe

Only one of my courses for this semester is mediaeval: the other is as close as I can get, restoration literature. Which means I actually have to read up and remember what the Rump Parliament did and memorise a new set of names and motivations and get a feel for the time and develop an opinion on Cromwell's motives and, far from least, read a lot of new work by people like Dryden, Pope, Milton, Marvell, Sidney and a certain Earl of Ill-repute.

The only text I've actually acquired so far is not the stipulated edition of Dryden's poems (ed. Hammond and Hopkins), but a much prettier one, which is a very important consideration, the Globe edition published in 1881 by W. D. Christie, still with beautifully tight binding, and containing a lengthy and very Victorian account of his life, complete with repeated assurances that he was a very discerning man because he liked Shakespeare when no one else of his era bothered with him, and repeated moralising judgements on his lifestyle and relationship with his wife. It pleases me very much.

What pleased me more, of course, was the discovery that he had 'translated' some of Chaucer's poems from the Canterbury Tales. So of course I was immediately distracted from questions like "which of these poems are we likely to be studying this semester" to questions like "ooo, what does he do with this line or that line in the tale of madame de Bath?"

The answer tends to be that the actual lines stay the same, but the setting and connotations shift - sometimes quite a way.

For example, he takes Chaucer's 'fairyland' introduction and makes something sanitised and pretty of it, with some very Shakespearean fairies:
The king of elves and little fairy queen
Gambolled on heaths, and danced in every green;
And where the jolly troop had led the round,
The grass unbidden rose, and marked the ground.
Nor darkling did they dance; the silver light
Of Phoebe served to guide their steps aright,
And, with their tripping pleased, prolonged the night. (3-9)
Compare this to Chaucer's simple
Al was this land / fulfild of ffairye
The Elf queene / with hir ioly compaignye
Daunced ful ofte / in many a grene mede [1] (3-5)
Dryden then casts this into nostalgia in returning to the present day:
I speak of ancient times, for now the swain
Returning late may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the nightly train. (16-18)
Despite Chaucer’s “ ther as wont/ to walken was an Elf / Ther walketh now...” form (17-18), he has no palpable sense of loss or regret. He remains more matter-of-fact, stating that one existed and the other exists, while Dryden repeats “in vain” three times in six lines (17-22) and depicts milkmaids[2] sighing over uneaten cream left out for the little folk. Interestingly, the effect of this is resentment against the priests and friars, which translates nicely into an anti-papist sentiment that is, naturally, missing in poor Chaucer’s original.

The other interesting thing in this introduction is the depiction of these little country rituals relating to the fairies:
In vain the dairy now with mints is dress'd,
The dairymaid expects no fairy guest,
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast.
She sighs and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No silver penny to reward her pain. (19-23)
I didn’t know about the mints, or that the fairies were meant to leave payment in your shoe (conflation with the fairy cobbler idea?). Perhaps the lack of fairies in Britain today can be directly attributed to the lack of mints.

[1] Sadly, I lack my Riverside, so quotes from the Tale come from
a transcript of the Hengwrt manuscript, because that's more fun to read.
[2] Does the pastoral count as idealistic nostalgic in itself at this point? If Shakespeare was any indication, I’d guess so. Civet is of a baser birth than tar, after all!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Earl of Kent's confession

This is my translation of the Anglo-Norman text of the Earl of Kent's confession, taken from the appendix to E. M. Thompson's edition of Murimuth (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1889). He prints it there because it appears so in just one of the manuscripts of the chronicle - I believe it's also printed in Latin in Walsingham's Historia Anglicana (Rolls Series, 1863) ii 351, but I haven't verified this, and am not sure what the relationship is between the two versions.

For those who don't know, or do know and quite understandably quite keep the events of these few years straight, here's a brief summary:

- Isabella, queen of England, invaded England to depose her husband Edward II, with the help of her lover Roger Mortimer and Edward's brother Edmund, earl of Kent.

- Having deposed Edward II, they set up his son, a rather young Edward III, in his place. Isabella and Mortimer proceeded to have a party.

- Not long after, Edward II apparently died in captivity at Berkeley Castle. This was terribly unfortunate, and suspiciously convenient, especially for Mortimer. Even more conveniently, no one actually seems to have seen him dead. Anyway, he vanished.

- People proceeded to become more discontented with Isabella and Mortimer's rule.

- Suddenly, the Earl of Kent and a good number of other rather prominent people, as well as people who were rather likely to be in the know, were arrested/accused/looked at funny for trying to rescue the officially dead former king from durance vile in Corfe. Note that one of the men listed below, Sir John Pecche, was apparently the steward in charge of the castle in question, and therefore rather likely to know who was locked up in his charge.

- Despite this, they were naturally all just being terrible malicious liars who were out to upset the established order and oust their true king Morti- er - Edward III, and so many of them, including Kent, lost their heads. Others, according to proof and position, were exiled, fined, or just looked at funny for a while.

- Not long after this, Edward III decided he'd had enough of being a figurehead for a man who liked to do things like stage expensive tournaments in which he dressed up as King Arthur while asserting that he had no designs on the throne and had Edward's uncle executed for trying to rescue his father, had Mortimer executed and his mother politely retired, and took over ruling properly.

- The definitely-not-still-alive Edward II, meanwhile, wandered over to Italy where he spent the rest of his days pottering quietly about the gardens in a nice little monastery, and possibly digging ditches and clipping hedges, just like he'd always wanted to.

Alianore, over at her Edward II blog, made a series of posts on Kent's conspiracy, in which she untangled the characters and sequence of events beautifully: parts one, two, three and four.

The Anglo-Norman is below the translation, verbatim as published in Thompson's edition, if anyone wants to cite it - or disagree with me, of course!


Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

This statement was given before Robert Howel, crowner of the king’s household, and afterward before the barons and peers of the realm, at Winchester, on the sixteenth day of March in the fourth year*:

Let it be known that E[dmund] Earl of Kent admits that the pope charged him, on his blessing, to bend all his pains and diligence to deliver E[dward] his brother, sometime* king of England, promising to cover his costs.

And he says that a friar preacher of a London convent came to him in Kensington, near London, and told him that he had raised the devil, who had told him most assuredly that E[dward] his brother, sometime king of England, was alive.*

And he says that the Archbishop of York sent to him a chaplain, Sir Aleyn, who bore a letter of credence reading thus: that he would give him for the deliverance of his brother 5000 pounds and more, so much as he had and could supply.

And he says that Sir Ingelram Berenger spoke to him in London on behalf of Sir William la Zouche, saying that he would do all in his power for his brother’s deliverance.

And he says that Sir William de Cliff came to him with the same message, by this token: that they rode together between Woking and Guildford, and he said that he avoided the town of Guildford because his niece Despenser* was there in that town; and that same Sir William spoke to him of the alliance between Richard, the son the Earl of Arundel, and his daughter *, and also said that it would be the greatest honour that ever befell him, and that he would aid him as far as he could to achieve these things.

And he says that the same William came to him on behalf of Hugh Despenser*, to say that he would be well pleased to be with him; because he said that he would be sure of accomplishing the deliverance within a little time.

And he says that Sir William de Derham, clerk of his letters, and Brother Thomas Bromfeld were those who most aided and urged him to undertake these things.

And he says that Sir Robert Taunton brought him word of these things on behalf of the Archbishop of York, saying that he had ready 5000 pounds to answer his needs in the undertaking, from the coffers of Sir Hugh Despenser.

And he says that the same Sir Robert and two friar preachers who are out of their order, the one named Edmund Savage and the other John, were the intermediaries of this affair.

And he says that Sir Fulk Fitzwarrene came to him at Westminster to pray and urge him to undertake this business, emboldening him in these things, and told him that it would be the greatest honour that ever befell him, and that he would give body, heart and all he could to help him.

And he said that Sir Ingeram Berenger came to him on behalf of Sir John Pecche, being in accord with that man, to say that he would give body, heart and all he could.

And he says that Sir Henry Beaumont and Sir Thomas Roscelyn spoke to him in Paris*, in the chambers of the Duke of Brabant, saying that they were prepared to come to England to assist in this venture; and that they urged him on to this end; and that they made shore near Scotland, with the aid of Donald of Mar, who was prepared to aid them to achieve these ends so far as he could. But they arrived too late.

And he says that Sir Richard Pontefract, confessor to Lady de Vescy, came to him on this business at the coronation at Kensington, and then at Arundel, on behalf of the Archbishop of York.

And he says that a monk of Quar and John Comminges, his cousin, had furnished a ship, a barge and a boat to carry his brother to his castle of Arundel, and thence wherever he would. And he says that all this matter had been revealed to Sir E. de Monchiver and George Percy.

And he says that the letters which he had sent to Sir Bugues de Bayeux and to John Deveril, sealed with his seal, that he did send – and that there was also one letter written in his wife’s hand.

And he says that Ingelram Berenger, Malcolm Musard and John Cumming had laboured and bent their backs to do these things.

And he says that Sir Ingelram Berenger came to him at Arundel, in his chambers above the chapel, and said that the bishop of London would aid him so much as was in his power in the deliverance of his brother.

And all these things he admits as true, and confesses himself guilty, that he has wrongly set himself to the unmaking of his lord king and his crown, by the advice of those aforesaid; and he wholly delivers himself to the will of that king, to come barefoot to London, in his shirt, or to whatsoever place the king shall name, with a rope about his neck to London, or whatsoever place the king may name, to do with him as he please.


Ceste reconissance fuit faite devant Robert Houel, coruner del hostel le roi, et puis devant le grantz et piers de la terre, a Wyncestre, le xvj. jour de Marcz lan quarte: - Cest a saver, qe E. counte de Kent conust qe le apostoille ly charga, sour sa beneizon, qil meist sa peine et sa diligence deliverer E. soun frere, jadis roi Dengleterre, et qil a ceo trovereit ses costages. Et dit qe un frere prechour du covent de Loundres vint a ly, a Kenssingtone juxte Loundres, et ly dit qil avoit leve le deable, qe li dit serteinement qe E. soun frere, jadis roi Dengleterre, fut en vie. Et dit qe le ercevesqe de Everwik ly manda per un chapeleyn, syr Aleyn, une lettre de credence, et fut la credence tiele: qil ly eidroyt a la deliverance soun frere de v. mille livres et outre de quant qil aveit et quant qil poreit reindre. Et dit qe sire Ingeram Berenger dist a ly a Loundres de par sire William de la Souche qil mettroit quant qil porreit a la deliverance soun frere. Et dit qe sire William de Clif vint a li en mesme le message, par celes enseignes qils chivacherent ensemble entre Wokkingge et Gildeforde, et li dist qil eschuast la vile de Gildeforde par la reson de sa nece la Despenser qe fust em mesme la vile de Gildeforde; et mesme sely sire William ly parla de lalyance entre le fitz Richard, counte de Arundel, et sa filie, et dist outre qe ceo serrent le plus grant honur qe unqes ly avynt, et qil ly aidereit en tant com il poeit a ceste chose faire. Et dit qe mesme sely sire Wiliam vint a ly de par Hugues le Despenser, qe ly dit qil serroit bien seant qil fut ovesqe ly; kar il dit qe il seroit sour de la deliverance en bref temps. Et dit, qe sire William de Derham, clerk de ses lettres, et frere Thomas de Brounfelde furent ceux qe plus ly abetterent et enticerent a cestes choses susdite faire. Et dit qe sire Robert de Tauntone de par le ercevesqe de Evirwik eu message de ces choses avantdites et li dit qe il avoit prest v. mille livres a cele besoigne susdite par faire, et ceo de largent sire Hugues le Despenser. Et dit qe mesme sely sire Robert et deus freres prechours qe sunt hors de lour ordre, des quex lun se fait apeller Edmoun Savage, et lautre Johan, furent les brokours de ceste bosoigne. Et dit qe sire Fouke le fitz Waryn vint a ly a Westmonstre et ly pria et ly entica de ceste chose comencer, et ly enbaudi a cestes choses faire, et ly dit qe ceo serroit le plus grant hunur qe unqes ly avynt, et ly dit qil ly aideroit ou corps, quer, et quant qil avoit. Et dit qe monsire Ingeram Berenger vynt a ly de par sire Johan Pecche, qe fut de cele covyne, et a ceo mettreit cors, et quor, et quant qil avoit. Et dit qe sire Henry Bemound et sire Thomas Roscelyn parlerent a ly en Parys, en la chaumbre le Duk Braban, qil fusent prest de venir en Engleterre en aeide de cestes avantdites; et qils ly enticerent de cestes choses faire; et qil ariveroient devers les parties de Escoce, par abet de Donalde de Maar, qe il serroit en aeide de eux, a celes choses maintenir, et quant qil poeit. Mes le temps de lour venue est passe. Et dit, qe sire Richard de Pountfreyt, confessour la dame de Vescy, vynt a ly a Kensingtone, al corounement, et puis a Arundel, de par le ercevesqe de Everwike, pur cestes choses avantditz. Et dit, qe un moigne de Quarrer et Johan Cymmygs, soun cosyn, avoient aparaille une nyef, une barge, une batel, a menir soun frere et ly a soun chastel de Arundel et dilloqes la ou homme ust ordine. Et dit qe de cestes choses avantdites il soi descovereit a sire E. de Mounchiver et a Jorge de Percy. Et dit qe les lettres quelx il ad envoie a sire Buges de Baiouse et a Johan Devroillie, enselez de soun seal, qil les envoia – qe la une lettre fut enscripte de la meyn sa femme. Et dit qe Ingeram Berenger, Maucelym Musarde et Johan Cymmynge travaillerent et firent lour peine a cestes choses faire. Et dit qe sire Ingeram Berenger vynt a ly, a Arundel, en sa chaumbre a mount la chapele, et dit qe le evesqe de Loundres ly aideroit a la deliverance soun frere de quant qil avoit. Et cestes choses il conust estre vereies, et se rent coupable qil se ad malveisement porte en defesance de soun seignor lige et de sa corune, par abet de ces avantdit; et se met de tut a la volunte le roi, de venir nu pe, en sa chemise, a Loundres ou a ceste vile, ou par la ou le roi voudra ordiner, ou une corde entour soun col, de faire de ly ceo qe ly plerra.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Air-brush and Red Blaming Pen of History

I've never read Froissart start to finish, only dipped into bits depending on what I'm researching at the time. And now that I've set out to read his Chronicles as a whole, I'm becoming increasingly relieved that I only ever quoted his version of Edward II's reign and deposition to demonstrate "tales that were told later about these events", rather than "how these events happened, no really, and this is crucial to my argument". I'm going to assume his 'historical' value rises as he gets closer to his own time and events that he witnessed, but the way he conflates certain characters and events and smooths over others is, in the light it sheds on the transmission and construction of history, more fascinating than accuracy.

Edward II, he claims, is "no part of our subject" (5)[1]. Still, he spends a few chapters narrating his reign - primarily, it seems, to provide contrast with those of his father and his son. For "it has often been observed that between two valiant kings there has most commonly been one less sufficient both in wit and valour" (4). When the recent family history of your (erstwhile/occasional) patron includes events like, oh, said patron's mother overthrowing his father with the help of her lover and setting the patron up as king in his father's place and then being overthrown by the new king who then hangs her lover like a thief, there's some delicate narration to be done, and this is probably going to necessitate finding a few scapegoats to shoulder all their own blame and as much as possible of everyone else's. Edward II is definitely one of Froissart's scapegoats. Positive references back to Edward I ("valiant, prudent, wise and bold" (5)) prove that Our Hero did come of good, strong lineage: his father was just an aberration.

Another scapegoat is Hugh Despenser, who takes the blame for his own deeds, most of Edward II's worst behaviour (as opposed to his simple incompetence), the entirety of the disputes between king and barons, the death of Thomas of Lancaster ("a wise and saintly man" (7)), and, obligingly, the role of Piers Gaveston. Gaveston doesn't appear in Froissart's history at all; instead, we are told that Edward II "truly governed his country with great cruelty and injustice, by the advice of Sir Hugh Despencer, with whom he had been brought up since childhood" (ibid). Now, on the face of it, this could be absolutely correct. He was, in the latter and most notorious part of his reign, strongly influenced by Despenser. And Despenser was one of the ten pueri in custodia hand-picked by Edward I as suitable companions to his growing son in the 1290s. But so was Piers Gaveston (Edward I really knew how to pick them), and it was he to whom the young Edward most adhered, he who was to influence the formation of his personality, political attitudes and developing relationship with his father and barons and his own crown until well after Gaveston was murdered in 1312. Despenser, by contrast, wasn't really in Edward's favour until 1316 at the earliest, and doesn't appear to have substantially affected his decisions before his appointment as chamberlain in 1318[2]. And that's without even considering all the lesser favourites in between and around those times, like Roger d'Amory and Arundel.

But that's complicated, and creates an unnecessary duplication of the main villain of the piece, which, as any film writer will tell you, confuses the audience. There was always a favourite, and he was someone who'd been raised with the king since childhood, and Edward's government was strongly influenced (or just carried out) by him. And Hugh Despenser fits that description, is easiest to villainise (Gaveston gave half the barons insulting nicknames, which is funny), is most memorable and got executed in a horrible way, so he's much the best candidate for the scapegoat hat.

However, there's absolutely no way we can make his hat big enough to take the blame for Isabella invading England, the dubious legality of deposing a king (or forcing him to abdicate, if you prefer). So we need scapegoat #3. The obvious candidate? Roger Mortimer.

Unexpectedly, then, he barely appears at all in the account of the invasion. Edward II takes all the blame for this one. Isabella escapes his tyranny, fleeing to France with her son[3]. She hears the pleas of the oppressed English, wishes to help them, pleads with king of France and count of Hainault for help (on her knees, weeping, because this is proper and appropriate and very touching), Sir John of Hainault swears to her that "you may count on me as your own knight" (12), which is all very admirable, and he helps her enter England. Naturally, the country rises up to meet her and rejects Edward. Mortimer appears once, just after the queen has (independently) decided to answer her people's call:
Then she left her lodging as quickly and quietly as she could, with her son, who was then about fifteen years old, the Earl of Kent, Sir Roger Mortimer and all the other English knights that had come away with her. They passed right through France... (11)
So right now, Mortimer's function is to avoid stealing Isabella's glory (er, sorry - piety). We need Isabella to be a hero for now, and we don't need him as a villain yet, not until after Edward II and Despenser are out of the picture and we come to the awkward question of Isabella's tyranny. At that point, he will be necessary not only evilly convince Edward III to kill his uncle Kent and to be the focus of Edward III's coup, but also to retrospectively take the blame for any doubts still lingering about Isabella's actions in and after the invasion.

And then, of course, there's the awkward question of adultery. The woman in question is, remember, Froissart's patron's mother, and possibly the most influential woman in the country's memory. Froissart does his best to side-step it - largely by the simple expedient already mentioned, of leaving Mortimer out of the history altogether. If one were to try to pair Isabella's name with that of any man over the course of the campaign, it would be Sir John of Hainault: but he firmly defined their relationship at the outset as a very proper lady-and-her-champion courtly trope. There is a hint of adultery, or rather of some vague inappropriateness, before Mortimer's name is ever mentioned, when Isabella in France is warned that "in all truth, if she did not behave discreetly, the King her brother would have her sent back to her husband in England, and her son with her" (11). But this is muddied by context: it is preceded by Isabella's distress at hearing of England's unhappiness, and followed by "because it did not please the King of France that she should stay away from her husband" (ibid). So the indiscretion is there, if one knows the story, but it's as far from suggestive as he can manage.

Similarly, the only hint we have before the denouement of any relationship between Isabella and Mortimer is painted primarily as mutual interest and influence, and it comes on the very verge of their catastrophe, when Froissart is piling up the tension against them:
The young King of England was ruled for a long time by the advice of his mother and of Edmund Earl of Kent and Sir Roger Mortimer, as you have heard. At length jealousy arose between these two lords, to the extent that Sir Roger Mortimer, with the connivance of the Queen Mother, advised the King that the Earl of Kent was going to poison him... (51)
Leaving aside what Froissart may or may not have known about the actual accusations against Kent[4], this neatly places the Blame of Evilness on Mortimer, while allowing Isabella's "connivance" to the extent that it shows a powerful bloc working against young Edward taking on the full robe of government, elevating Edward III while demeaning his mother as little as possible. Where there is glory to be seen in the actions of Isabella's party, she is allowed to take full responsibility, adorned in the robes of chivalry's belle dame; where something unsightly peeks through, she is, naturally, a woman, and is absolved from true responsibility by the weakness of her sex.

But then, of course, came the part that Froissart couldn't ignore: that little detail where Isabella was suspected of being pregnant with Mortimer's child, and Mortimer's downfall. What he can do, of course, is a) assert that it was all rumour and he can't speak to its truth, and b) shift the focus away by using that as a prologue to AND THEN EDWARD REALISED MORTIMER WAS EVIL AND SMOTE HIM MIGHTILY. And to accentuate this MIGHTY SMOTIFYING, how was Mortimer killed? Not merely hanged as Murimuth and pretty much every contemporary source would have it, oh no:
[The barons and nobles] replied that Mortimer should suffer the same fate as Sir Hugh Despenser, and this sentence was carried out without delay or mercy. Mortimer was dragged through the streets of London on a hurdle, and then tied to a ladder in an open square. His private parts were cut off and thrown onto a fire, as were his hearts and entrails, since he was guilty of treason in thought and deed. His body was then quartered and sent to the four largest cities in England, the head remaining in London. Such was the fate of Sir Roger Mortimer; may God forgive him his sins. (52)
And so all the evil people were punished evilly for their evil, and the rest of them lived happily ever after.

Now, I don't suggest that every instance in which Froissart varies from what we (more or less) know to have happened is a deliberate and conscious attempt on his part to wrest history into a more fitting course. I haven't yet managed to track down a copy of Jean le Bel's chronicles, which I understand Froissart was to a large extent following (alright, copying) for the earlier books. So for some of the "Froissart"s above one perhaps ought to read "Jean le Bel" - and for some, one must surely read "rumour, folklore, that old bloke in the pub and Everyone Knows".

I skimmed through a high-school or undergrad level book yesterday on the events of the English Civil Wars (it had diagrams!). One phrase caught my eye - it said something about "to understand this period, one must..." Well, why must I? Why can't I just take the facts and - well, turn them around my way and make my own understanding of them?

To understand, one must make history into a story in one's mind. Froissart, and the people around him, had certain tropes and shapes into which the facts and events and clouds of history had to fit to become a good, coherent story. It can't be a story until it has meaning - and sometimes it needs to take a few hammer-blows first.


[1] All quotes are from the edition of the chronicles trans. and ed. John Jolliffe (New York: Modern Library, 1968). Eventually I will get around to reading them in French.

[2] Adam Murimuth doesn't find it necessary to refer to him before his first exile in 1320.

[3] In itself another example of simplifying events by placing blame and telescoping the sequence. Isabella went to France on Edward's instructions to negotiate terms with the king, her brother, who eventually agreed to receiving homage (for the French lands held by the English crown) not from Edward II but from his son the prince. Edward II was reluctant to send his heir over into the custody of his wife and her family, but eventually consented, sending a large loyal retinue with him. Isabella managed to manoeuvre people and events such that the retinue was sent home, and she was left holding the baby, as it were.

[4] Though if he had heard that the charge was actually about trying to help his brother (former Edward II, officially dead) escape from the place where he had been firmly assured by many notable and trustworthy people that he was, in fact, still being held prisoner, and should probably still be king... well, that was probably a good version of the story to leave out, because there's a whole mess of nasty legitimacy business there that I can't imagine Edward III would have wanted him to drag out. Come to that, I translated Kent's answer to the charges the other day: maybe I should post that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thought for the day

It is rather pleasing to be living with people who respond to your solemnly and elaborately and slightly tipsily detailed explanation as to why the blossoming of western vernacular literature and the fact that we are not now speaking Latin is ultimately due to the mystic and passionate powers of garlic with "I think I love you".

And that this is given equal weight with your suggestion to mix the haloumi juice in with the melted garlic butter with which the naan are to be brushed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Would Mordred Do?

I stole this from Susan Higganbotham's blog a while back, then forgot about it. It's designed for authors to fulfil with ten characters from their own writing, but as I'm not writing anything, let's go with something more traditional!

Choose ten of your characters, then answer the questions. For best results, put names in a hat and number them at random.

* 1. Mordred
* 2. Lancelot
* 3. The Green Knight
* 4. Arthur
* 5. Yvain
* 6. Gawain
* 7. Guenevere
* 8. Morgan le Fay
* 9. Lunette
* 10. Merlin

4 [Lancelot] invites 3 [the Green Knight] and 8 [Morgan le Fay] to dinner at their house. What happens?
As the guest couple do not approve of french food, they bring their own contributions. The Green Knight thus arrives dragging a herd of bloodied deer corpses, but accidentally substitutes his own head when it comes time for cooking. Morgan helpfully finds it and reattaches it with her Magical Ointment Of Head-Reattaching. Her husband and her host later use this for a merry after-dinner game of bowls. As a gift for their host, in lieu of wine, she brings ointment of Making The Desired Married Lady Fall Asleep And Appear Dead So That You Can Marry Her After The Funeral, patented when she developed it for Cliges, but later stolen by Friar Lawrence.

9 [Lunette] tries to get 5 [Yvain] to go to a strip club. What happens?
She manages to persuade him by reminding him that she's already seen him naked. Once there, he fails to recognise that Laudine is among the strippers because she is not wearing clothes or any other insignia. As he is in his guise as The Knight With The Lion, she fails to recognise him.

You need to stay at a friend's house for a night. Who do you choose: 1 [Mordred] or 6 [Gawain]?
Well, whom would you trust not to enter your bedroom in the middle of the night and make pressing suggestions? On the other hand, given Gawain's later English reputation... best invest in a lock. Or a lion.

2 [Arthur] and 7 [Guenevere] are making out. 10 [Merlin] walks in. What is their reaction?
Puppy-dog eyes, then reminding Guenevere of all the times she said things like "Who'd want to marry Arthur" and that she'd never want either Arthur or Lancelot and liked much more ordinary men like Merlin? This, unfortunately, woudl lead to Guenevere pointing out quite reasonably that Merlin never noticed her attachment to him despite her telling him about it every episode and sometimes kissing him, while Arthur alternately mocks Merlin and wonders quietly which of them he's actually jealous of anyway.

3 [the Green Knight] falls in love with 6 [Gawain]. 8 [Morgan] is jealous. What happens?
I believe we have a whole poem about that already.

4 [Lancelot] jumps you in a dark alleyway. Who comes to your rescue: 10 [Merlin], 2 [Arthur], or 7 [Guenevere]?
Arthur turns up first, via his magical powers of Distressed Damsel Detection, but is rather startled to find that it is Lancelot doing the jumping. As he demands an explanation, and Lancelot attempts to explain that all he wanted to do was offer to rescue me from my next appointment with a stake and flames, as he would for any woman, Guenevere turns up in her husband's wake and demands an explanation for why he hasn't offered that to her, then. As the discussion descends into recrimations and bewildered protest, I am quite forgotten and wander off to have a sensible conversation with Merlin, who had been left behind to polish Arthur's saddle and is rather bored by now.

1 [Mordred] decides to start a cooking show. Fifteen minutes later, what is happening?
Mordred has got side-tracked by making special invasion cupcakes in his own colours (Here's something I prepared earlier!), and abandoned the stage to Morgan and her Magical Mayhem Special. Meanwhile, in the wings, guest star Merlin is stealing guest star Arthur's poisoned wine.

3 [Green Knight] has to marry either 8 [Morgan], 4 [Lancelot], or 9 [Lunette]. Whom do they choose?
Despite his penchant for noble, well-muscled young knights, the Green Knight is enough of a traditionalist to insist on a female fairy partner to rule over his fairy/underworld/forest kingdom with him. He considers Lunette, but soon breaks off the engagement when he realises that all her lotions and potions and ointments are made by the hands of another woman. And history is made!
Besides, Lancelot is French, and turns up his nose at the Green Knight's cooking.

7 [Guenevere] kidnaps 2 [Arthur] and demands something from 5 [Yvain] for 2's release. What is it?
She demands that he either stop injuring himself and making the maids blush, or just pay up for his own maid. Or she won't let her husband out of their room. And then they'll really make the maids blush.

Everyone gangs up on 3 [the Green Knight]. Does 3 have a chance in hell?
Well, he IS the devil. I'd say that he'd have a pretty good chance in Hell.

Everyone is invited to 2 [Arthur] and 10 [Merlin]'s wedding except for 8 [Morgan]. How do they react?
A poisoned spinning-wheel, of course. This condemns Arthur to sleep for centuries in Avalon, and Merlin to sleep for centuries in a rock. She tops this off by bearing Arthur an incestuous love-child who will destroy his kingdom and make horrible cupcakes. Never let it be said that one may lightly scorn Morgan le Fay.

Why is 6 [Gawain] afraid of 7 [Guenevere]?
Some mysterious, inexplicable presentiment that her actions will result in the deaths of his two most beloved brothers.

1 [Mordred] arrives late for 2 [Arthur] and 10 [Merlin]'s wedding. What happens, and why were they late?
He was too busy mustering his army, and by the time they arrive all the invasion cupcakes have been eaten.

5 [Yvain] and 9 [Lunette] get roaring drunk and end up at your house. What happens?
Upon closer inspection, the lion is the one doing the roaring, while Yvain is quietly tearful about his wife. Lunette gives him a full-body massage with mysterious Morgan oils on your couch and uses the whole bottle, even though it was very expensive, and puts him to bed without offering to pay for the couch to be steam-cleaned.

9 [Lunette] murders 2's [Arthur] best friend. What does 2 do to get back at them?
In revenge for Lancelot's failure to fulfil his traditional role of Turning Up At The Last Minute To Rescue Ladies From The Stake, she substitutes Morgan Oil Of Lavender-Scented Hip-Bath Lusciousness for the Morgan Oil Of Head Re-attaching that he was using to play games with the Green Knight. This casts rather a pall over their dinner. But makes the cuisine appear considerably less French, thus appeasing the guests, who are hardly averse to gore in any case.

6 [Gawain] and 1 [Mordred] are in mortal peril and only one of them can survive. Does 6 save themself or 1?
This all depends on a) the height of the sun and b) whether Gawain has realised yet that Mordred is doomed to kill Arthur and is therefore on the List Of Ultimate Evil.

8 [Morgan] and 3 [the Green Knight] go camping. For some reason they forgot to bring along any food. What do they do?
They conjure up a magical castle, complete with serving staff, which for some reason mysteriously resembles a cake decoration.

5 [Yvain] is in a chariot crash [jousting accident?] and is critically injured. What does 9 [Lunette] do?
More oil action, and tutting over the lengths to which this young man will go to get oiled by the maid.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My First Bilingual Dictionary

So, I always vaguely believed that we didn't have dictionaries until, generally speaking and depending which language you're looking at, a few centuries ago. But the other day I was in the library, translating quietly away, when I suddenly got stuck in a complicated little phrase in which I couldn't just work out the grammatical import and leave the meaning of the word(s) for later, because it wasn't clear what was noun and what was verb and was was adjective and so forth. So off I trotted to the section holding Latin dictionaries. And what should I find there but - well, a Latin dictionary. Several, in fact, but one of them was in Middle English.

That is to say, while most volumes on the shelf were in the expected form of Latin -> Modern English, this battered little book had all its entries in the form Middle English -> Latin. A thoughtful man called Father Geoffrey compiled it in about 1440, presumably for the aid of those people who were now beginning to write some documents in Latin but had not been trained to it[1]. And I spent about two hours being utterly charmed.

There were the simple entries:
CUMPANY comitiva.
Then there are the ones that need a little clarification, because they could mean different things:
CRYSTEN manne or womanne [ie, adjectective/noun rather than verb]. Cristianus, Cristiana.
LENTE, holy tyme. Quadragesima.
CROCE of a byschope. Pedum, cambuca, crocea.
And, the croce being the cross-topped staff a bishop carries, I'm suspecting that croce and crocea are the ancestors of our 'crutch'. Then he has to distinguish between different uses of the same word in English for which the Latin translation will vary:
CLERE, as wedur ys, bryghte. Clarus, serenus.
CLERE, as water, or oþer licour. Limpidus, perspicuus.
CLERE of wytt, and undyrstondynge. Perspicax.

EEM, moderys brothere. Avunculus.
EEM, faderys brothere. Patruus.
The root word seems to usually come before its derivatives, even if they ought alphabetically to precede it. So CLEYME comes before CLEYMARE (and, for some reason, CLEYSTAFFE precedes them both). And sometimes the order is just a bit random:
FEE foedus.
FEDYN' wythe mete. Cibo, pasco, esco.
FEEDE chyldryn, wythe pappe mete. Papo.
And of course, this being Middle English, sometimes a word is not only listed out of order relative to the words immediately surrounding it, but under an entirely different letter to what you'd expect:
IVYL, or wykkyd. Malus, iniquus.
Verbs are all listed, not by their infinitive, but with a final -YN'. I can't help but wonder if that was the editor mistaking the infinitive for the gerund and putting in an apostrophe to indicate it.
KNAWYN', or gnawyn, or fowly bytyn. Corrodo.

DRYNKE [the noun]. Potus, poculum, pocio.
DRYNKYN'. Bibo, poto.
DRYNKYN' a-yeen. Rebibo, repoto. [Really, how often do you need to use that?]
But this rule broke down a little when it came to 'have', because of the multitude of little phrases that use that verb to form another meaning (like 'avere fame', 'to have hunger' (be hungry) in modern Italian):
HAVE ABhomynacyon, and have disdeyne [despise], supra in HAN.
HAVE in mende [remember]. Recordor, memoro, memini.
HAVE levyr [prefer]. Malo.
There are words that delightfully evoke the texture of daily life:
LYNT, schauynge of lynen clothe. Carpea, secundum sururgicos.
BEKEN with the iye, Annuto, conniveo. Connivet hic oculis, annuit ipse manu.
A-HA Euax.
And words you really hope people wouldn't have had cause to use nearly so regularly:
GELT MAN spado, eunuchus.
Then there are the words that you've never come across before but are just wonderful words that you immediately resolve to use in your own everyday life:
DROBLY, DRUBLY. Turbulentus, turbidus.
Is this a dictionary? Well, maybe not by modern standards, the same way we might choose not to call anyone living in the 14th century a real historian, no matter how accurate their chronicle. And it's only one way - for the English speaker writing in Latin, no help to anyone translating the letter they received in answer. The irregularity of spelling and alphabetisation mean that it's a bit tricky for use as a reference tool, and you have to be willing to search under different spellings or synonyms to find the word you want. But that would not be such an inconvenience to people who are accustomed to taking a long time over books and letters as it would be to a 21st century writer who expects information to spring to one's fingertips.

I don't think it is a dictionary quite yet, depending on your interpretation of the term, of course. I'd call it a word list, a translation tool, because I'd expect a dictionary to be more comprehensive both in the number of words it includes and its explanations of those words. Still, in compiling it, you can see Frater Galfridus considering and dealing with questions of scope, intent and ordering, questions that may be answered differently by the next person to undertake a similar task, but all the more easily for having been posed before.

It's a start!

[1] Frater Galfridus. Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum. Ed. Way, Albert. Camden Society OS 25, 54, 89. 3 vols. London, 1843-1865. Camden Society listing here. There is also an EETS version published in 1908, but I couldn't find that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Perplexing things about living in another country

- There are squirrels running everywhere, and no one cares.
- Pedestrian crossings do not make a noise when they change from 'don't walk' to 'walk'. I'm having to get into the habit of actually watching the signal.
- Where is the coffee?
- Getting used to a cat in the house rather than a dog. And consequently, to not jumping up and going to yell at her if you hear her eating or scratching in another room - she's eating and disposing of the eaten as she ought to be, not getting into the garbage.
- Rabbits ignore you. They sit beside the path and watch you placidly, and if you walk towards them, they'll eventually deign to lollop away a few metres, rather than transforming into a panicked flash of white tail heading for the nearest cover. And, here's the thing - they are not ill.
- No, really, that substance is not coffee. Where is the coffee?
- Retraining one's brain to default to calling people - and thinking of them - by title + surname, rather than just first name.
- I have no dog.
- Alright, that's an espresso coffee, but is it so hard to make it a good one?
- Crossing roads is dangerous. Suddenly I have to retrain every instinct about where the traffic is coming from. And apparently you can make a right turn (ie, a left turn) at a red light here.
- Having multiple university libraries available at once, just a short walk from each other.
- Squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, rabbits and deer - and woods just across the road! This would be a prime dog-walking area!
- If I had a dog.