Art. 87, Le chevaler qui fist les cons parler: Introduction

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Art. 87, Le chevaler qui fist les cons parler: Introduction

Abbreviations: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

Booklet 6 contains all four of the fabliaux found in the Harley manuscript. This one occurs fourth, after The Three Ladies Who Found a Prick, The Knight and the Basket, and The Wager (arts. 75a, 82, 84). Muscatine labels it an “hilarious parody of the romance motif of the magical gift” (p. 91). It tells of an adventuring knight who is handsome and worthy, but also a mercenary down on his luck. Accompanying him is his clever squire Huet, without whom it seems none of his adventures would pan out. Low on resources, the knight decides to try to increase his fortune by going to tournaments. In this, he has Huet’s encouragement, but they are so poor that they must lodge along the way in religious houses (“Lord Elijah’s boat,” lines 43–52).

On a pleasant summer day they come upon three nymphs bathing. Exercising his valuable ingenuity and foresight, Huet steals their clothes. To get them back, the maidens, who are fairies, appeal to the young knight and promise him three gifts in return for this contrived favor. The first gift conforms to romance: he will be welcomed and cherished wherever he is a guest. The second adds an element of sexual fantasy: all women and girls will gladly grant him their love. The third advances into the bawdy, surreal world of fabliau with something considered truly noteworthy: he will have the power to make culs and couns talk and always tell the truth. He is now on his way to becoming the Knight Who Made Vaginas Talk.

The fabliau proceeds to narrate the knight’s adventures. The first involves an encounter with a chaplain riding a mare. After Huet reminds the knight to try out his gift, the mare’s coun exposes the chaplain’s shameful destination: the house of his mistress. Then the knight arrives at a castle where he is enthusiastically welcomed in accord with the first gift. By the second gift, he is graciously rewarded when a young lady visits him in his bed. But, now operating without Huet’s aid, the knight ungallantly questions the girl’s coun: it reveals an unflattering truth about the girl, and she leaves him in horror and shame. The final adventure occurs when the girl divulges the knight’s unusual talent to the lady of the castle. The countess’s test of the knight — in which she tries to cheat him — nearly overcomes his capacity to make couns talk, but trusty Huet reminds him just in time that his gift governs culs too. In the end, the two adventurers earn their honors — Knight of the Cunt, Huet of Little Asshole — in a line that could double as the title for the fabliau. The talking body parts and the story (the conte) seem to merge on a metaphorical level. The tale comes to exemplify Bloch’s observation on how there is often, in fabliaux, “no difference between the desire so often expressed in sexual terms on the level of theme and the desire for the story itself” (p. 109).

The Harley manuscript preserves the only copy of this fabliau in Anglo-Norman, but its popularity on the Continent is indicated by survival of its Old French analogues in six manuscripts. For additional commentary, see Honeycutt, pp. 76–80; Cooke, p. 152; Muscatine, pp. 89–91; Bloch, pp. 107–09; Nolan, pp. 320–25; and Revard 2000a, pp. 262–63, and 2005a, pp. 127–28.

[Fols. 122vb–124va. ANL 188. Nykrog, no. 28. Långfors, p. 35. Vising §219. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 14. Meter: Octosyllabic couplets. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Kennedy, pp. 238–53 (no. 14); Noomen and van der Boogard 3:47–50, 57–155 (no. 15); Short and Pearcy, pp. 25–28 (no. 14); Revard 2005a, pp. 127–35. Altered Edition: Montaiglon and Raynaud, 6:198–205. Other MSS: None. Old French Version: Six MSS (ed. Noomen and van der Boogard 3:47–173; trans. Hellman and O’Gorman, pp. 105–21); trans. Dubin, pp. 142–77. Translations: Kennedy, pp. 238–53; Revard 2005a, pp. 127–35.]

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