Back to top

Art. 32, Herketh hideward ant beoth stille: Introduction

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).

The Life of Saint Marina is a curious tale that mixes the genre of holy saint’s life with profane comedy. The main plot follows the life of a female saint (Marina), who is cross-dressed as a man in order to pass as a monk (Marin). The switch is made by her father, a widower turned monk, when Marina is a mere child, leaving her wholly innocent of the ruse, which takes place in a monastery — a celibate setting that at its spiritual ideal ought to be unconcerned with gender. But this is a tale obsessed with sexual difference, its focus fixed on Marin/a’s hidden gender under clothes, an interest similarly found in many of the surrounding love lyrics (Fein 2000c). As a young monk, Marina is accused of rape by a dairyman’s daughter, in actuality made pregnant by a passing knight. Marina proves her sanctity by accepting a harsh penance for this sin that she cannot possibly have committed, the nature of which she has no knowledge of. Ultimately, she dies of this unwarranted penance. At her death, the full truth is revealed by a miracle that is both sublime and comic: the monks gaze, awestruck, at Marina’s naked body.

A secondary miracle then takes place in the tale’s denouement. This one bears earthy parallel to the first one, centering on the monk’s female accuser. Upon learning that the young monk was in fact a girl, the dairyman’s daughter goes mad. This tragedy prompts Marina to work her first posthumous miracle: she restores the girl’s womones cunde (her rationality and “woman’s nature”) expressed in a way that invites a bawdy double meaning.

An English saint’s life refashioned from hagiographical analogues but adding a goliard’s wit, this tale is comparable to other comic, mixed-genre works in the Harley manuscript, more typically in French, such as Gilote and Johane and The Jongleur of Ely and the King of England (arts. 37, 75). Numerous Harley poems debate the qualities and nature of women, while the fabliaux often operate by plots that expose private parts of the body (e.g., arts. 75a, 84, 87). Simultaneously, the Ludlow scribe inscribed three Latin saints’ tales of considerably more decorum (arts. 18, 98, 116), while Scribe A’s portion of the book includes the French lives of John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, Bartholomew, and Peter (arts. 4, 5, 6, 7).

[Fols. 64va–65vb. IMEV, NIMEV 1104. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 7. Meter: Iambic tetrameter couplets, with a final 6-line tail-rhyme stanza, aa4b3aa4b3. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Horstmann 1878, pp. 171–73; Böddeker, pp. 256–63. MSS: None. Middle English Analogue: From Northern Homily Cycle (IMEV, NIMEV 89; ten manuscripts, including Vernon MS, fols. 179vb–180rb (ed. Horstmann 1876, pp. 259–61). Anglo-Norman Analogue: From AN Vitas patrum (Clugnet, pp. 288–311). Old French Analogue: Christine de Pizan, Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Richards, pp. 241–43. Latin Analogues: From Vitas patrum (Patrologia Latina 73:692–96); Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, trans. Ryan, 1:324–25.]

Go To Art. 32, Herketh hideward ant beoth stille