Jack and His Stepdame
JACK AND HIS STEPDAME: FOOTNOTES
1 Lines 421–23: That is, everyone else’s pleasure is due to the goodwife and the friar, who are humiliated
JACK AND HIS STEPDAME: EXPLANATORY NOTES
Abbreviations: A: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Article Arch.A.F.83 (7) (printed by Edward Alde, ca. 1617); C: Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, Article Sel.5.21 (printed by Wynkyn de Worde, ca. 1510-13); D: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Article S.Seld.d.45 (printed by Edward Alde, ca. 1584-89); F: London, British Library, Article C.57aa.13 (printed by [Elizabeth] Alde, 1626); M: London, British Library, Article C.125.dd.15 (7) (fragment printed by William Middleton ca. 1545); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS(S): manuscript(s); MS B: Percy Folio Manuscript: London, British Library, MS Additional 27879; MS E: Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.4.35; MS P: Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS Brogynton 10; MS Q: Oxford, Balliol College, MS 354; MS R: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson C.86 (MS Bodley 11951); OE: Old English; OED: Oxford English Dictionary.
1–2 Jesus Christ, slowly dying on the cross in the process of crucifixion, would have suffered intolerable thirst as crucified convicts usually did. His executioners held up to him on a pole a sponge soaked in a bitter or sour liquid to torment him further: the alternative was to drink and be sickened, wrenching his body against the nails holding him if he vomited, or resist drinking despite his thirst. The poem talks of “eysell and gall,” vinegar and bile, to reconcile the conflicting accounts in the four Gospels of what the liquid was. Matthew 27:34 speaks of wine mixed with bile; Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, and John 19:29 of vinegar.
14 his moder. The mother in question is one of the boy’s stepmothers; compare lines 8–10.
25 Here as elsewhere gan is a past tense marker, followed by an infinitive: “she gan say” means “she said.”
37–42 The father’s proposal is to send his son to replace the herdsman who takes the cattle to the field to graze, stays with them there, and brings them in at night — a light day’s work. The man can then be brought back to use his strength in labor all day.
40 be. Scribe A sometimes, and Scribe B almost always, uses be for by; for Scribe B the exception is at line 250, in the phrase by and by, in rhyming position.
Mary myld. “Mary mild” is of course the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.
41 Here the verb shall implies a verb of motion, as it sometimes does: “the boy shall go.”
51–54 inowgh/drewe. These rhyme words, which do not look as if they rhyme at all and do not rhyme in Modern English (enough/drew), could be exact rhymes in Middle English on long o or ou plus a guttural continuant or could represent a rhyme on enow/drow (a form of the past tense of draw without its earlier guttural). The “ew” spelling form of drew emerged in the fourteenth century, but the “ough” and “ow” spellings and pronunciations of the past tense of draw persisted throughout the fifteenth century(see OED draw v.). See also the rhymes at lines 93–96 (drewe/inowe), and 106–07 (lowgh/inowe).
81–84 Again the rhyme forgete/shete, representing modern forgotten/shoot, looks improbable. But shete was the form of the infinitive of the verb derived from OE and died out in the fifteenth century, superseded by shote; and forgete was one of several possible forms of the past participle of the verb to forget.
101 astere. Apparently for stere (modern “steer”), with a prefix, is not attested in MED or OED but appears to be deliberate since it is repeated at line 125 below, as well as at line 359, which is supplied from MS Q.
116 cheke. This idiosyncratic form of the past participle of choke is not attested in MED or OED.
179-180 For it is tyme, be my faye / Thyn arce is not to borowe. This is a difficult line. In idioms such as “Saint John to borowe” the phrase has a legal connotation, the saint being called upon “as witness,” “sponsor,” or “guarantor.” Perhaps the sense here is, “Your backside has a great deal to say but is not a good choice of speaker on your behalf.” The St. John being sworn by here and at line 191 is likely the apostle John, who was believed in the Middle Ages to be the same John as the author of the fourth Gospel.
184 Owre dame. That is, the woman of the house.
196–97 byche/wycche. Apparently both terms could be applied to males at this time: see MED bicche 2b, OED bitch n.1, 2b; MED wicch(e), (n.) (a); OED witch n.¹. But the evidence is not good beyond this poem for the use of bitch for males.
218 The phrase thin arce becomes thi narce by a process called metanalysis. It is the same process by which an ekename became (and stayed) a nickname.
229 A brier is a thorny bush, likely a blackberry; this one would form part of a hedge of mixed trees and bushes, mostly thorny, fencing in the field. The boy is very cunning in putting his two first gifts to good use, using the bow and arrow to entice the friar into a vulnerable situation, but the friar is too easily distracted from his mission for any plausibility. However, in defense of the poet, plausibility is not required in a story involving three magic gifts.
285 both tame and tale. Tale here seems to have the meaning of tame, including meek or humble. OED lists no such definition, but examples under tall A. Adj.1. +1 (“Quick, prompt, ready, active”) are susceptible to such a reading and OED says the sense in its quotations is doubtful. MED tal adj. (e) has more and better examples but is still tentative about the meaning “?humble, meek.”
300 Like “alas,” “wellaway” is a cry of sorrow that has no modern equivalent.
304 Be Seynt Jame. The St. James in question is most probably one of the apostles, James the son of Zebedee and brother of the apostle John, or James the son of Alphaeus. But in any case, the name is chosen more for the rhyme than any particular significance.
308–09 The goodman either thinks that death by dancing would have been voluntary, thus suicidal, and therefore the friar would have died in a state of sin, or he takes the friar’s “in the devillis name” literally and thinks of the dancing as a form of devil worship or demonic possession. Normally “in the devil’s name” would be a simple exclamation or intensifier.
310 That is, “I shall tell why I kept on dancing until I was ragged and bleeding.”
332 for God is an oath, “before God.”
367 The goodman was in dispeyre. The experience of being subject to the pipe is apparently unpleasant while it lasts (compare lines 241–61), and its sound is pleasant only in retrospect (lines 311–12, 412–14, 419–21).
414 At this point, the endings of the various manuscripts and printed texts begin to differ from each other. Only three manuscripts, MSS R, Q, and P, have the next two stanzas, and only MSS R and Q have the two after that, while MS P ends instead with the following moralization:
Hyt ys every good wyffys wone For to love hyr husbondes sone Yn well and eke yn woo. In olde termys it is fownd He hat lowythe me lovythe my hound And my servaunt also. So schuld every good child Be to hys moder meke and myld. Be good yn every degree. All women that love her husbondes sone, Yn hevyn blys schall be her wone, Amen, amen, for charyte.The other versions end with a redundant court scene where the boy humiliates the friar and stepmother once more. There are many differences among these other texts. MS E, clearly the earliest of them if one accepts Thomas Ohlgren’s argument (mentioned in the introduction to the poem, p. 22 above) that the Richard Calle who owned the manuscript was the Pastons’ steward, is exceptionally difficult to read and make sense of, and the versions in printed texts C and D, fragment M, and then A and F, with the MS B version based on a text like A and F, differ from each other and from MS E too much to make it possible to represent them all here. Interested researchers can track them down in my Garland edition of Ten Fifteenth-Century Comic Poems (1985).
438 empere. Empire? Or perhaps an early attempt at Englishing empyreum, the Latin term for the uppermost heaven, the fiery dwelling place of God?
JACK AND HIS STEPDAME: TEXTUAL NOTES
Copy Text: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C.86 (Bodley 11951), fols. 52r–59r
ABBREVIATIONS: C: Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, Article Sel.5.21 (printed by Wynkyn de Worde, ca. 1510-13); D: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Article S.Seld.d.45 (printed by Edward Alde, ca. 1584-89); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS(S): manuscript(s); MS E: Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.4.35; MS P: Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS Brogynton 10; MS Q: Oxford, Balliol College, MS 354; MS R: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson C.86 (MS Bodley 11951); OED: Oxford English Dictionary.
title The original title in MS R is “The Tale of Jacke and his Stepdame.”
16 The word lost is missing in MS R, though present in the other versions. Emendation for sense.
38 MS R reads: Which kepyth on the feld our shepe nete.
58 This line is at the end of the substitute outer folio and concludes the work of Scribe A.
79 MS R reads: For the mete this thow has geve me.
87–89 In this area of the poem MS R is different from all other versions, and for lines 87–89 has the sequence “At euery keyte that thou mete / Loke thou kepe thi pylt / And shote where at thou wylt.” If “keyte” is “kite,” as MED says it is, then “pylt” cannot be “pilt” meaning “thrust,” as both OED and MED say: shooting at a bird with a bow and arrow does not involve thrusting but drawing. Perhaps, since kites are notorious predators of young poultry, the underlying sequence of this puzzling set of lines means “Be careful to guard your poult (young chicken), and shoot wherever you want at any kite that you meet.” On this hypothesis, the rhyme would have been on “pulte” and “wult.” Reproduced here is line 87 from printed versions C and D. MS Q has “And euery while mete”; MS P has “And euer to the a lyche mete.” Both these readings are close in meaning to the line as C and D have it. Lines 88–89 represent MS Q and to a lesser degree are close to MS P. The version in MS R is the least satisfactory. But the gist of all of the versions is that the magical bow and its arrows will hit the target, no matter how bad the aim of the archer is.
107 MS R reads: And sayde be my be my trowth I haue inowe. Emendation for sense.
117 stareth: MS R reads: She stare so in my face. Emendation for sense.
171 MS R reads: And she euer she a vey went. Emendation for sense.
175 MS R reads: Euer they lough and good game. Emendation for sense.
178 The line begins with “afterwar the,” perhaps through eyeskip down to line 181.
194 MS R reads: Loke thou bete hym an and do hym sorowe.
208 MS R reads: vent. Emendation for sense.
216 MS R missing: anon. The word is supplied from all other versions. Emendation for rhyme.
315 A slash mark separates art/to; the words are crammed together in MS R.
324 MS R reads: An seide boye come heder anon.
352 MS R reads: All redy fader he seide than he.
358–60 These lines are missing in MS R, supplied from MS Q.
371 ageyn the bloke: MS R reads: ageyn bloke. Emendation for sense.
372 MS R reads: And som in the fyre felle; all others end the line with the word fire, as necessary for the rhyme.
402 MS R reads: borne; MSS P, Q, and E have bore or bor, a possible form that provides an exact rhyme.
414 This is the end of the body of the tale shared by all versions. After this, only MSS R, Q, and P have the next two stanzas, and only MSS R and Q have the two after that. See Explanatory Notes for more details.
427 MS R reads: Now haue he ye herd all insame.
Go To Fiends and Risen Corpses: Introduction