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Art. 35, In a fryht as Y con fare fremede: 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 Meeting in the Wood is the earliest extant English pastourelle, a poem of amorous encounter, often seduction, between a nobleman and a lowborn girl. The poem opens in chanson d’aventure fashion, with the male narrator recounting a past event, but it closes on the maiden’s musing thoughts. By the end the maiden seems ready to acquiesce to the narrator’s advances, but this is not altogether certain. Indeterminacy and ambiguity are inherent features of this lyric, which enacts a form of debate (Reichl 2000, pp. 233–35). The speech markers are editorial and do not appear in the manuscript. Different scholars have posed various ways to assign lines to the two speakers (for a summary, see MWME 3:726–27 [53]). The markers given here follow internal indicators and avoid emendation. It may be that in an earlier version each character spoke full stanzas in alternating turn.

A particularly intriguing feature of this lyric is the way it states social realities and a woman’s psychological dilemma, an inversion of the generic pastourelle seduction formula, which normally maintains a male perspective. The clothing trope further signals the poet’s awareness of this ambiguity, of how a wooing narrator/poet would dress the woman (corporeally, rhetorically) versus how the sharp-witted woman reacts to this proposed reconstruction of who she is. Another Harley poem that resembles a pastourelle is The Clerk and the Girl (art. 64). A typical pastourelle narrative of a knight seducing a dairyman’s daughter occurs, as well, in The Life of Saint Marina (art. 32), lines 89–90. For commentary on The Meeting in the Wood, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4328–30; and Scattergood 2005, pp. 60–61.

[Fols. 66v–67r. IMEV, NIMEV 1449. MWME 3:726–27 [53], 11:4180 [8]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 7. Meter: Five 8-line and two 4-line stanzas in septenary rhythm, a4b3a4b3(a4b3a4b3), with verbal and alliterative linking of stanzas’ last and first lines. Each line possesses two to four alliterating syllables. Layout: No columns; written two lines per ruled line. Speech markers are not in the manuscript and have been added editorially. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 36–38 (no. 10); Böddeker, pp. 158–60; Brook, pp. 39–40 (no. 8); Bennett and Smithers, pp. 116–17; Stemmler 1970, pp. 32–34; Turville-Petre 1989, pp. 25–27. Other MSS: None.]

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