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Man Be Ware and Be No Fool


1 Man be ware. The sentiment has proverbial values. See R. Green, "John Ball's Letters," in Chaucer's England, ed. B. Hanawalt, p. 196, note 29; The Letter of John Ball (Royal MS), line 9; and Addresses of the Commons, line 20.

4 iiij yere of kyng Richard. So the Cambridge MS. K. Sisam, Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose, prints a couplet from St. John's College, Oxford, MS 209 fol. 57v, that closely resembles lines 3-4 of the present poem: "The ax was sharpe, the stokke was harde, / In the xiiii yere of Kyng Richarde." Sisam entitles the poem "On the Year 1390-91," which was the fourteenth year of Richard II's reign. The fourth (iiij) year of Richard's reign was 1381. After citing the couplet from the St. John MS, RHR comments: "The year 1381 seems more appropriate for this complaint [than 1390-91, as in Sisam], in view of the repression following the Revolt, to which the quatrain may refer." In 1391 Richard was sufficiently at odds with the city of London, however, for Gower to shift his dedication of the Confessio Amantis from him to Henry of Lancaster.

(Cambridge Univ. MS Dd.14.2 fol. 312r)

Man be ware and be no fool:
Thenke apon the ax, and of the stool.
The stool was hard, the ax was scharp,                                    
The iiij yere of kyng Richard.
(see note)
executioner's block
(see note)

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