Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages: Introduction


1 For a discussion of Thornton and his manuscript, see George Keiser, "Lincoln Cathedral Library MS.91: Life and Milieu of the Scribe," Studies in Bibliography 32 (1979), 158-79; Keiser, "More Light on the Life and Milieu of Robert Thornton," Studies in Bibliography 36 (1983), 111-19; Ralph Hanna III, "The Growth of Robert Thornton's Books," Studies in Bibiliography 40 (1987), 51-61; and Stephanie Trigg, ed., Wynnere and Wastoure, EETS 297 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), introduction.

2 See Trigg, ed., Wynnere and Wastoure, xvii; Anne Middleton, "The Audience and Public of Piers Plowman," in Middle English Alliterative Poetry, ed. David Lawton (Suffolk: Brewer, 1982), pp. 102-23; and Janet Coleman, English Literature in History 1350-1400 (London: Hutchinson, 1981), pp. 13-67, on the kinds of literature the middle class read in late medieval England.

3 The quotation is from Angus McIntosh, "The Textual Transmission of the Alliterative Morte Arthure," in English and Medieval Studies Presented to J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Norman Davis and C. L. Wrenn (London: Allen and Unwin, 1962), pp. 231-32. See Trigg, ed., Wynnere and Wastoure, for a summary of the literature that discusses the provenance of the poems' dialect.

4 The quotation is from Rossell Hope Robbins, "Poems Dealing with Contemporary Conditions," in Albert Hartung, ed. Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500 (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1975), V, 1358.

5 M. Y. Offord, ed., The Parlement of the Thre Ages, EETS 246 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. xxxvi. Offord goes on to claim that the poet of Parlement probably knew Wynnere well enough to imitate; this conclusion, however, is not based on the firmest of evidence. One correspondence relies on a highly suspect emendation of "sowrede" to "sowede" in Wynnere, line 215 (compare Parlement line 286); another compares Parlement's "by-fore-with his eghne," line 549, to Wynnere's "to-fore-with myn eghne," line 434. These compound prepositions are rare, but they are not identical, and the idiomatic character of the expression should be taken into account. The connection Offord sees between the poems affects her dating of Parlement.

6 See May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1959), pp. 204-07, for an account of these gangs.

7 One should note that criminal activity was part of the fabric of life in England throughout the Middle Ages. While the Statute of Treasons was certainly an attempt to conserve law and order, it was by no means unique; in fact, judging from the documents, lawlessness did not increase dramatically in the years immediately following the plague. See Richard Kaeuper, War, Justice and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), pp. 170-83.

8 The chief provisions of the Statute of Laborers fixed wages at pre-plague rates, ordered all landless men under sixty years of age to accept employment at these rates, and mandated that their lords were to have first claim on their services. For some years after 1351, attempts to enforce the law were vigorous and largely successful (McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, p. 335). On the Statute of Treasons, see below, note to Wynnere, lines 130ff.

9 For a full discussion of the debate over the date of the poem, see Trigg, pp. xxii-xxvii. As an absolute terminus a quo, the motto of the Order of the Garter is translated in the poem; Edward III instituted the Order in 1349.

10 See John V. Scattergood, "Wynnere and Wastoure and the Mid-Fourteenth Century Economy," in The Writer as Witness: Literature as Historical Evidence, ed. Tom Dunne (Cork: Cork University Press, 1987), p. 52.

11 The presumed early date of Wynnere especially has figured largely in accounts of Middle English alliterative poetry. Because Wynnere is technically sophisticated, critics have postulated that earlier, less accomplished alliterative poems existed but have been lost. John Burrow, for instance ("The Audience of Piers Plowman," Anglia 75 [1957], 373-84), has thought that in an effort to make Piers Plowman more accessible to Londoners, Langland specifically tempered the excesses in alliterative style and vocabulary of Wynnere. More recently, however, David Lawton has argued that it is equally possible, based on the evidence, to argue that Wynnere was influenced by Piers.

12 For a convenient summary of the range of meaning dreams had in the Middle Ages, see A. C. Spearing, Medieval Dream Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,