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Allas, What Schul We Freris Do


1 They command me to "go away, [you] illiterate priest"

2 "But they hasten us (on) quickly, so that we might be gone" (RHR)


1 "The fryers Compleynt" appears in the margin "in later hand" (Utley; see also Person). Utley and RHR entitle this poem The Friar's Answer, regarding it as a response to Thou That Sellest ("The Layman's Complaint").

2 lewed men kun Holy Writ. Two charges against Lollards, reflected in this poem, were that they made Scripture available to laymen and women and that they translated the Bible into English (see lines 9-10). A late fourteenth-century defense of translating the Bible into English, perhaps by John Purvey, begins with mention of friars: "Heere the freris with ther fautours [abettors] seyn that it is heresye to write thus Goddis lawe in English and make it knowun to lewid men" (taken from Middle English Literature, ed. Charles W. Dunn and Edward T. Byrnes [New York: Harcourt, 1973], p. 488). The whole defense was inserted into a translation into English of Wyclif's complaint against friars from De Officio Pastorali, but there is no equivalent passage in Wyclif's Latin. The chronicler Henry Knighton accused Wyclif of translating "the Gospel from Latin into English so that it was more open to laymen and ignorant people, including 'women who know how to read,' whereas previously it had been the preserve of well-read clerks of good understanding." See Margaret Aston, Lollards and Reformers (London: Hambledon Press, 1984), p. 206. Archbishop Arundel enjoined unauthorized Bible translations in 1409.

11 For. MS, RHR, Person ffor; Utley Ffor. So also at line 18.

12 neyther fleche ne fishe. This phrase has the look of a (later) proverb, as Heywood's "She is nother fishe nor fleshe, nor good red hearyng [herring]" or Shakespeare's "Why? she's neither fish nor fleshe; a man knows not where to have her" (1 Henry VI III.iii). As quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, comp. William George Smith, s.v. Fish nor flesh (nor good red herring), neither. The narrator alleges that Lollards and other lay clerics produce a translation that is neither proper Latin nor good vernacular, with the further implication that they should abstain altogether from writing the Gospel (as one would fast in Lent).

14 In principio. John 1:1: "In the beginning [was the Word]." See Thou That Sellest, line 4 and note. In the MS for to appears as forto and In principio as inprincipio.

15 poppe. So MS, RHR, Person. "Although not so rec. O.E.D., poppe here seems to mean any priest . . . . Utley reads coppe" (RHR).

16 worche and win. Friars received frequent criticism for begging rather than working. See especially UR 330-53 and note.

17 saie. Utley's emendation of MS sae (= the reading of RHR and Person).

20 Seint Polle did soo. Acts 18:3: "And because [Paul] was of the same trade, he remained with them, and wrought; (now they were tentmakers by trade)."

23 russet, blakk, or white. That is, a Franciscan (grey), Dominican (black), or Carmelite (white) gown.

24 oure werynge clothes. Clothes we wear. MS, RHR, Person: oure; Utley ouþer.

25 I, not for me. The speaker defends himself by saying something like "Hey, I don't beg for myself," or perhaps "Eh! not as far as I'm concerned!" Utley inserts "[aske]" before "not for me."

32 hey. So RHR; Person heyfast. Utley reads y as þ and emends to heþ[er], commenting: "The MS heþ has probably been copied from an original heþer with the er curl ignored. Some may prefer to read hey "hie, hasten" or even "high"; but our scribe is consistent in preserving the distinction between þ and y by dotting his y's, and there is no dot over the last letter in this word." In fact, the scribe fails to dot the y of werynge (line 24), saye (line 25), disseytis (line 29), abyde (line 31), myche gyle (line 34), fynde (line 35).
[The Friar's Answer]

(St. John's College Cambridge MS 195 fols. 1v-2r)
Allas, what schul we freris do
Now lewed men kun Holy Writ?
Alle abowte whire I go
Thei aposen me of it.
Then wondrith me that it is so,
How lewed men kan alle wite.
Sertenly we be undo
But if we mo amende it.
I trowe the devel browght it aboute
To write the Gospel in Englishe;
For lewed men ben nowe so stowt
That thei geven us neyther fleche ne fishe.
When I come in-to a schope
For to say In principio,
Thei bidine me "goo forth lewed poppe," 1
And worche and win my silver so.
Yif I saie hit longoth not
For prestis to worche where thei go,
Thei leggen for hem Holy Writ
And sein that Seint Polle did soo.
Than thei loken on my nabete,
And sein, "Forsothe withoutton othes,
Whether it be russet, blakk, or white,
It is worthe alle oure werynge clothes."
I saye, "I, not for me,
Bot for them that have none."
Thei seyne, "Thou havist to or thre.
Geven hem that nedith therof oone."
Thus oure disseytis bene aspiede
In this maner and mani moo;
Fewe men bedden us abyde
But hey fast that we were goo. 2
If it goo forthe in this maner,
It wole doen us myche gyle.
Men schul fynde unnethe a frere
In Englonde within a whille.
shall; friars; (see note)
laymen know; (see note)
argue against; with
I wonder
know; wisdom
Certainly; undone
Unless we may remedy [the situation]
believe; Devil
ignorant; arrogant; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
work; (see note)
If I say it is not appropriate; (see note)
adduce; themselves
say; Paul; (see note)
say; oaths
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
say; two
deceits are detected
more [ways]
ask us to stay
(see note)
things proceed
cause us much harm
scarcely one

Go To Freers, Freers, Wo Ye Be

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