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Art. 37, Gilote e Johane: 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).

As a performance piece extraordinaire, Gilote and Johane offers riotous comedy by exploiting the genres of debate, chanson d’aventure, and sermon; using the bawdy diction and plot motifs of fabliaux; and serving up witty satire on gender roles, societal conventions, and religious pilgrimage. At its close, it is geographically situated and dated, rather like a legal document: it was performed or composed (fet) in Winchester in the twenty-ninth year of the reign of King Edward I, on September 15, 1301. Because of this claim’s specificity and because the Harley copyist has inserted several (but not all) speech markers, scholars accept that the piece was played before an audience. Referring to the Westminster statutes promulgated in 1275 and 1285 by Edward I (“statutes defining marriage, adultery, and the dowry and property rights involved in these”), Revard suggests that the original Winchester audience consisted of lawyers and clerics (2004, p. 135 n. 16).

Besides the undoubtedly male narrator and the young knight who eavesdrops (line 2), the interlude’s three principal characters are women: Gilote, Johane, and Wife (Uxor). The poems works somewhat as a debate in which the dominant force is Gilote (promiscuity), who coerces and converts Johane (virginity) to her ways. As Reichl notes, “Gilote has an answer for everything” (2000, p. 230). Now a pair, Gilote and Johane proselytize sexual freedom to other women and eventually come to counsel young Wife (marriage) on the best way to take a lover and still retain her dowry from a wealthy old husband. The material for this comedy borrows richly from arguments found in traditional debates on women and marriage, especially anti-marriage debates like Against Marriage (art. 83). Such material is here uproariously refracted through a constructed female perspective (like Chaucer’s giving voice to the Wife of Bath), so that women themselves come to enact and speak the very stereotypes made by men about women’s nature and waywardness, and, as they do so, to break free from all strictures of proper behavior. Texts in this playful, normally androcentric tradition are abundant in MS Harley 2253; see, for example, in French, arts. 8, 76, 77, 78, and in English, arts. 32, 44, 93.

The bawdy content of Gilote and Johane aligns it with the four Harley fabliaux (arts. 75a, 82, 84, 87), while its manner of witty repartee and entertaining debate greatly resembles The Jongleur of Ely and the King of England (art. 75), itself also a script for performance. The only other Harley text possessing speech markers inserted by the scribe conveys a very different tone of debate, the English Harrowing of Hell (art. 21). In voicing a woman’s pragmatic point of view within limited options, Gilote and Johane is also like The Meeting in the Wood (art. 35), wherein the girl considers which is better: a churlish peasant husband or a transient noble lover. Gilote and Johane also holds a spot in a long string of works in quire 7, ending “on a rollicking, comic note . . . [a] sequential obsession with feminine secrets under clothes” (Fein 2000c, p. 366). As this series closes, the Harley compiler transfers to a new subject — pilgrimage (arts. 38, 39) — a theme comically bridged by Gilote and Johane when the female pair travel northward to preach to and convert women throughout England and Ireland.

For further commentary on Gilote and Johane, see Revard 1982, 2004; Reichl 2000, pp. 230–31; Dove 2000, pp. 336–37, 347–48; and Fein 2000c, pp. 359–60, 366–68. The translation printed here is indebted to an unfinished translation made by the late Barbara Nolan.

[Fols. 67va–68va (there is an extra leaf, fol. 67*, between fols. 67 and 68). ANL 193. Vising 256. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 7. Meter: Anglo-Norman rhyming couplets chiefly in decasyllabic lines, but with variations. One line is comically in Middle English (line 245). Layout: Double columns, speech markers in margins. Editions: Jubinal 2:28–39; Kennedy, pp. 146–77 (no. 10); Dove 1969, pp. 180–87; Revard 2004, pp. 125–32. Other MSS: None. Translations: Kennedy, pp. 146–77; Revard 2004, pp. 125–32.]

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