Art. 40, Ne mai no lewed lued libben in londe
ART. 40, NE MAI NO LEWED LUED LIBBEN IN LONDE: EXPLANATORY NOTES
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).
ART. 40, NE MAI NO LEWED LUED LIBBEN IN LONDE: TEXTUAL NOTES
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.
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