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Art. 33, Weping haveth myn wonges wet: 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 poet of The Poet’s Repentance might be “Dunprest,” the name written in the right margin. Whoever he was, he shows himself an adept wordsmith. Reveling in alliteration, pararhyme, and concatenation, the speaker assumes a contritional pose that repents of slandering women. His verses are, however, so infused with playful duplicity and hyperbole that his sincerity has to be questioned. He audaciously yokes repentance, veiled misogyny, Marian compliment, and broad overstatement (i.e., women have not been wicked since Christ’s birth). The play of elements that alternately praise and taunt women resembles the French texts in the Harley manuscript — especially in booklet 6 — that comment variously on woman’s nature (arts. 8, 76, 77, 78, 83). The poem may be a witty, masked act of courtship, or it may be have been produced in competition with a poet named Richard, cited in the last stanza. The speaker sets himself in humble subordination to Richard, a paragon in the art of praising and pleasing women. The poet thus buries his actual intent in banter, double-talk, and humor, as if the lyric was composed to lob a volley in an ongoing game between the sexes or between rival male poets. This mock repentance follows the mock saint’s tale The Life of Saint Marina (art. 32) (Fein 2000c, pp. 358, 366). This poet’s duplicitous wit on the topic of women’s nature — a ploy for wooing one — may also be compared to Advice to Women (art. 44). For recent commentary on this poem, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4325–26; Turville-Petre 1996, pp. 205–06, 214; Birkholz, pp. 206–07, 210–16; and Choong, pp. 28–31.

[Fol. 66r. IMEV, NIMEV 3874. MWME 11:4176 [6]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 7. Meter: Six 12-line stanzas, abababab4cdcd3, with concatenation at lines 8 and 9 and between stanzas. Prolific alliteration typically extends across two lines, with rhyme words consonantally matched at both ends (i.e., wet/wit/bet/bit). Layout: No columns; written two line per ruled line. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 30–33 (no. 8); Böddeker, pp. 151–54; Brown 1932, pp. 141–43 (no. 79); Brook, pp. 35–36 (no. 6); Stemmler 1970, pp. 30–32; Turville-Petre 1989, pp. 21–24; Millett, online edition. Other MSS: None.]

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