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Art. 40, Ne mai no lewed lued libben in londe


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); CCC: Corpus Christi College (Cambridge); CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); IMEV Suppl.: Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse (Robbins and Cutler); 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).

2 hyrt. “Ecclesiastical court”; see MED, hired (n.), sense 1.(a), which provides this meaning for the word in line 56. It bears the same meaning here, even though the MED glosses hyrt here as “company of people, crowd” (sense 3.(c)), and Scattergood defines it as “retinue” (2000b, p. 33).
haver of honde. “Skilled of hand.” See MED, honde (n.), sense 5.(b), “manual skill” and haver (adj.), “skillful, willing, ready.” Scattergood sees here a contrast between the illiterate man, who works with his hands, and the bookish men of the court (2000a, p. 199; 2000b, p. 33). The context indicates, however, the view that the lewed must keep up with the lerede by haver of honde, that is, they must be able to outwit them to survive, so the implied meaning is “cunning, handily skilled or clever.” Moreover, the act of writing, which is constantly performed here against the narrator, is another kind of manual act.

3 biledes. “Leads, directs,” but often also with a contextual sense of “mislead, abuse.” See MED, bileden (v), senses 1 and 2.

4 mote. Despite its lack of a specific verb, the phrase on molde mote with a mai clearly implies sexual play. Perhaps the verb mote is a variant spelling of mete; see MED, meten (v.(4)), sense 6, “to have sexual intercourse.” Line 5 plays off the sense of this line, inverting the man’s agency to victimhood: “if I lie with a girl, I must bow before them and learn their lay.” For the phrase on molde, see the explanatory note to line 52.

7 on folde. “In the enclosure,” that is, the court session, but in terms of a captured animal.

12–13 These are difficult lines. The translation of line 12 follows Robbins 1959, p. 258, and the MED, umbreiden (v.). For line 13, see MED, unbreded (ppl.), “unopened, obscure, unread,” but “unclasped” seems more likely; the books are unclasped and ready to be (or already are) opened, threatening the speaker. For wendeth, I follow Turville-Petre’s gloss, “turn over” (1989, p. 259).

23 breven. This word and breved in line 26 indicate the specific vocabulary of the lettered elite, that is, those who know how to write (Scattergood 2000b, p. 38). Brevia are notes made upon parchment to record a proceeding.

25 The image of the court clerks’ stabbing on parchment suggests the way in which the plaintiff feels victimized, as it alludes to the devotional metaphor of Christ’s tortured flesh as inscribed parchment.

31–32 A sharp rhetorical question and answer is a comic feature of stanzas 2–4, always occurring at the stanza’s thirteenth and fourteenth lines.

34 bacbite. The narrator feels attacked from behind (Scattergood 2000b, p. 39). John Gower cites backbiting as one of the children of Envy and links it to the spreading of false accusations behind one’s back (Confessio Amantis 2:1604–12, 3140–51). Compare “mysnotinde men,” line 38.

38 by here evene. “By their appearance, likeness, or character”; see MED, even (adj.), sense 12.(e).

41 polketh. For this verb, see MED, pilken (v.), “to deprive (sb.) of goods by exercise of power.”

42 clastreth. “Enclose, (fig.) enslave.” This is the only instance of the verb recorded in the MED. Colle means “net,” so the sense is of ensnarement (calle (n.)). Editors have defined colle as the less well-attested cole (n.), sense (b), “trickery,” but the repetition of the net figure in reference to women in line 60 seems an artful play in the poem that juxtaposes again the man’s temptation and his punishment.

44 bugge. The verb here is bien, “to purchase, pay off.”

46 countene. Turville-Petre glosses this word as “shire,” i.e., “of the county” (1989, p. 225), while Robbins defines the phrase countene court as “court of accounts.” (1959, p. 259).

50–54 According to Scattergood (2000b, p. 41), the poet alludes here to the figure of demonic scribes, with the narrator hoping for their damnation because of their association with writing.

52 folht. “Filth,” and here “filthy girl, wanton woman, strumpet”; see MED, filth (n.), sense 3c. This epithet is comically literalized in the simile of line 58, and it was initiated when the narrator himself lay with her “on molde” (line 4). The MED is incorrect in defining the word as “sacrament of baptism” (fulloght (n.)).

57 “Magge!” ant “Malle!” Because there seems to be only one plaintiff, the apparent naming of two women has been seen as a problem. Turville-Petre views the situation as that of “a man accused of making promises of marriage to both Margaret and Mary” (1996, p. 201). Scattergood suggests that the second woman is a witness in the case (2000b, pp. 33–34). But both names may apply to a single woman, perhaps by Christian name and surname; both are generic and vernacular, denoting a common “any woman” lodging a common female grievance.

58 bymodered. “Covered with mud.” On this image, see the explanatory note to line 52.

60 This line comically reverses what would be a typical, flattering phrase of love verse, comely under calle.

70 forswat. “Sweaty”; see MED, forswat, “covered with sweat,” and sweten (v.(1)). The word contributes to allusions that cast the men of the court as hellish (see explanatory note to lines 50–54) and to others that suggest how these men “labor.”

71 hat. The judicial order is to marry the woman.

73 chapitre. This word reverberates in many ways. First, it alliteratively echoes the chaffare bought at the market (chepe), so it puns as a new variety of marketplace. More literally, it references the ecclesiastical court as a monastic chapter house, and it also adds a bookish allusion to chapters of Scripture and canon law, used here by the literate, clerical elite to censure and punish the narrator. See MED, chapitre (n.).

74 unthenfol to be. “To come to grief.” This reading corrects previous editors, who have struggled to make sense of a problematic reading: unþeufol. For the adjective unthenfol, compare MED, unthen (v.), “fail to thrive, not prosper, come to grief.” Turville-Petre 1989 defined unþeufol as “feeble” (1989, p. 258). The MED suggests “?ill-behaved, ?vicious”; see untheuful (adj.), and compare theuful (adj.).

82 On this punishment, see Turville-Petre, 1989, p. 31; and Scattergood 2000a, p. 198.

90 ware. The noun connotes the thing purchased or acquired, continuing the commercial image of the stanza, but it also holds the sexual meaning of a woman’s private parts; see Turville-Petre 1989, p. 31; Scattergood 2000a, p. 198; and MED, ware (n.(2)), senses 1.(a) and 3. The term is applied to husbands in a later Middle English satiric poem; see “A Talk of Ten Wives on Their Husband’s Wares” (Trials and Joys of Marriage, ed. Salisbury, pp. 95–98).


ABBREVIATIONS: As: Aspin; Bö: Böddeker; Bos: Bossy; Br: Brook; BS: Bennett and Smithers; BZ: Brandl and Zippel; B13: Brown 1932; B14: Brown 1952; DB: Dunn and Byrnes; Deg: Degginger; Do: Dove 1969; Gr: Greene 1977; Ha: Halliwell; Hal: Hall; Hol: Holthausen; Hor1: Horstmann 1878; Hor2: Horstmann 1896; Hu: Hulme; JL: Jeffrey and Levy; Ju: Jubinal; Kel: Keller; Ken: Kennedy; Le: Lerer 2008; Mc: McKnight; Mi: Millett; MR: Michelant and Raynaud; Mo: Morris and Skeat; MS: MS Harley 2253; Mu: H. M. R. Murray; Pa: Patterson; Pr: Pringle 2009; Rei: Reichl 1973; Rev1: Revard 2004; Rev2: Revard 2005b; Ri1: Ritson 1877; Ri2: Ritson 1885; Ro: Robbins 1959; Sa: Saupe; Si: Silverstein; St: Stemmler 1970; Tr: Treharne; Tu: Turville-Petre 1989; Ul: Ulrich; W1: Wright 1839; W2: Wright 1841; W3: Wright 1842; W4: Wright 1844; WH: Wright and Halliwell.

12 unbredes. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: on bredes.

13 unbrad. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: on brad.

17 yt. So MS, Bö, Ro, Tu. W1: it.

22 heme. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: hemed.

24 songe. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: sonke.

31 er. So W1, Bö, Ro, Tu. MS: euer (er with mark over e).

33 wreint. So MS, W1, Bö, Ro. Tu: wreit.

41 polketh. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: pelteþ.

42 clastreth. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: clattreþ.
wyth. So MS, Bö, Ro, Tu. W1: with.

74 unthenfol. So MS, W1. Bö: vnþenkfol. Ro, Tu: untheufol.

78 Heore. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: henne.

86 whissheth. So MS, W1, Ro, Tu. Bö: wissheþ.




















¶ Ne mai no lewed lued libben in londe
Be he never in hyrt so haver of honde
     So lerede us biledes.
Yef Ich on molde mote with a mai,
Y shal falle hem byfore ant lurnen huere lay,
     Ant rewen alle huere redes!
Ah bote Y be the furme day on folde hem byfore,
Ne shal Y nout so skere scapen of huere score —
     So grimly he on me gredes!
That Y ne mot me lede ther with mi lawe
On alle maner othes that heo me wulleth awe
       (Heore boc ase unbredes),
            Heo wendeth bokes unbrad,
            Ant maketh men a moneth amad!
                 Of scathe Y wol me skere,
                 Ant fleo from my fere.
                 Ne rohte hem whet yt were,
                      Boten heo hit had.

Furst ther sit an old cherl in a blake hure;
Of alle that ther sitteth, semeth best syre,
     Ant leyth ys leg o lonke —
An heme in an herygoud with honginde sleven! —
Ant mo then fourti him byfore my bales to breven
     In sunnes yef Y songe.
Heo pynkes with heore penne on heore parchemyn,
Ant sayen Y am breved ant ybroht yn
     Of al my weole wlonke;
Alle heo bueth redy myn routhes to rede!
Ther Y mot "for menske munte sum mede"
       (Ant thonkfulliche hem “thonke.”
            Shal Y thonke hem ther er Y go?
            Ye, the maister ant ys men, bo!
                 Yef Y am wreint in heore write,
                 Thenne am Y bacbite,
                 For moni mon heo maketh wyte
                      Of wymmene wo.

Yet ther sitteth somenours, syexe other sevene,
Mysmotinde men alle, by here evene,
     Ant recheth forth heore rolle.
Hyrdmen hem hatieth, ant uch mones hyne,
For everuch a parosshe heo polketh in pyne,
     Ant clastreth wyth heore colle.
Nou wol uch fol-clerc that is fayly
Wende to the bysshop ant bugge bayly
     (Nys no wyt in is nolle!),
Come to countene court, couren in a cope,
Ant suggen he hath privilegie proud of the pope,
       Swart ant al toswolle.
            Aren heo toswolle forswore?
          Ye, the hatred of helle beo heore:
                 For ther heo beodeth a Boke
                 To sugge ase Y folht toke;
                 Heo shulen in helle on an hoke,
                      Honge therefore!

Ther stont up a yeolumon (yeyeth with a yerde)
Ant hat out an heh (that al the hyrt herde),
     Ant cleopeth “Magge!” ant “Malle!”
Ant heo cometh bymodered ase a morhen,
Ant scrynketh for shome ant shometh for men,
     Uncomely under calle.
Heo biginneth to shryke ant scremeth anon,
Ant saith: “By my gabbyng, ne shal hit so gon!”
     Ant “That beo on ou alle!
That thou shalt me wedde ant welde to wyf!”
Ah me were levere with lawe leose my lyf
       Then so to fote hem falle!
            Shal Y to fote falle for mi fo?
          Ye, monie byswyketh heo swo
                 Of thralles Y am ther thrat
                 That sitteth swart ant forswat;
                 Ther Y mot hente me en hat
                      Er Ich hom go.

Such chaffare Y chepe at the chapitre
That maketh moni thryve mon unthenfol to be,
     With thonkes ful thunne!
Ant seththe Y go coure at constory,
Ant falle to fote uch a fayly:
     Heore is this worldes wynne!
Seththen Y pleide at bisshopes plee,
Ah me were levere be sonken y the see,
     In sor, withouten synne.
At chirche ant thourh cheping ase dogge Y am dryve,      
That me were levere of lyve then so forte lyve,
       To care of al my kynne!
            Atte constorie heo kenneth us care,
          Ant whissheth us evele, ant worse to fare.
                 A pruest proud ase a po
                 Seththe weddeth us bo —
                 Wyde heo worcheth us wo
                      For wymmene ware!
¶ No unlettered man may survive in the land
Unless he be always in court so craftily skilled
     As the learned who lead us about.
If I should happen to lie on earth with a girl,
I must bow before them and learn their law,
     And suffer all their decrees!
Unless I be before them on the first day in session,
I shall not entirely escape from their register —
     So angrily do they cry out on me!
So that I may not testify for myself in my own defense
Against many sworn charges by which they’d subdue me
       (As they censure with their book),
            They turn over unclasped books,
          And cause men to go mad for a month!
                 I will clear myself of the charge,
                 And flee from my mistress.
                 They don’t care what it was,
                      Except that she made it.

First there sits an old churl in a black cap;
Of all who sit there, he seems most magisterial,
     And lays his leg stretched out —
A yokel in a cloak with hanging sleeves! —
And more than forty sit before him to record my penalty
     Should I sink in sins.
They stab with their pens on their parchment,
And say I’m arraigned and brought in
     Despite all my rich respectability;
All of them are ready to declare my punishments!
I could “pay there some money for a favor”
       And gratefully “thank” them.
            Shall I “thank” them there before I go?
          Yes, it’s the master and his men, both!
                 If I’m written into their record,
                 Then am I in disrepute,
                 For they lay blame on many a man
                      For women’s woe.

In addition, there sit summoners, six or seven,
False accusers all, by their appearance,
     And they stretch out their rolls.
Retainers hate them, as does each man’s servant,
For in every parish they make painful exactions,
     And ensnare with their nets.
Now will every fool-clerk who’s a loser
Go to the bishop and buy off a court bailiff
     (There’s no wit in his head!),
Come to the shire court, squat in a church robe,
And say he’s got exalted privileges of the pope,
       Threatening and all puffed up.
            Are they puffed up in perjury?
          Yes, hell's hatred is theirs:
                 For there they ask for a Bible
                 To swear that I took a filthy girl;
                 They shall go to hell on a hook,
                      And hang there for that!

There stands up a court-crier (goes with a stick)
And shouts out on high (so all the court heard),
     And calls “Maggie!” and “Moll!”
And she comes covered with mud like a moorhen,
And shrinks for shame and is ashamed before men,
     Unbecoming under hairnet.
She begins at once to shriek and scream,
And says: “By my gabbing, it shall not go so!”
     And “It's all your fault!
You must wed me and make me a wife!”
But I'd rather by law lose my life
       Than bow so at their feet!
            Shall I bow at the foot of my foe?
          Yes, she deceives so many
                 That I’m threatened there with thralldom,
                 By those who sit dark and sweaty;
                 There I’m sentenced by force
                      Before I go home.

Such merchandise do I buy at the chapter
As causes many a thriving man to come to grief,
     With very thin gratitude!
And ever after I go cower at the consistory,
And bow at the foot of every loser:
     Here is the reward of this world!
At that time I played in the bishop’s game,
But I'd rather have been sunk in the sea,
     In grief, without sin.
At church and through market I’m driven like a dog,
And I’d rather be dead than live such a way,
       To the sorrow of all my kin!
            At consistory they teach us grief,
          And wish us evil, and worse to have.
                 A priest proud as a peacock
                 Afterwards married us both —
                 Far and wide they give us woe
                      For the ware of women!

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Go To Art. 41, Of a mon Matheu thohte, introduction
Go To Art. 41, Of a mon Matheu thohte, text