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Art. 44, In May hit murgeth when hit dawes: 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).

Sharing the same meter and page, Advice to Women is the scribe’s companion to Spring (art. 43). Longer than Spring by one stanza, it also contains a bit of extra patterning in the repetition of the word wymmen at the head of three stanzas. The poet’s rhetoric of hidden intent resembles what is found in The Poet’s Repentance (art 33): the language is witty and playful. It slyly exposes itself as potentially duplicitous while both explaining and enacting the love maneuvers that men use to woo women. The speaker expounds the ground rules of love talk:
(1) women are by nature free and may choose a lover freely;
(2) men will strive to bind them and will use words — often deceptively — to do so;
(3) many women are false, but they become so by foolishly succumbing to the false promises of treacherous men; and
(4) a woman who is tricked into being deflowered loses both freedom and truth, but the woman wooed by the speaker, if she submits, will gain true happiness.
The speaker’s argument is thus stitched with mock-serious ambiguity. By warning women of men’s often deceitful intentions, he avows himself a trustworthy informant, yet shows himself to be actively wooing a particular lady. So ultimately the poem strives to be an instrument of verbal persuasion. But yet, by the speaker’s own argument, should he not be received with skepticism? If the lady should choose to accept him and be wrong, she will have only herself to blame, especially after having been so well warned.

The verbal wit of Advice to Women compliments women’s mental agility while exposing men’s duplicity. It plays off the old theme of women praised and blamed — a theme abundantly aired in Harley’s French texts, especially in booklet 6 (see arts. 76, 77, 78, 83, and compare art. 8). The presence of lyrics like Advice to Women and The Poet’s Repentance displays well-bred parlor discourse at its sophisticated best. These English texts and the others in French indicate, at some time and place, a mixed-gender audience that liked a joke that cut both ways between the sexes. For further commentary on Advice to Women, see the bibliography in MWME 11:4335–36; and also Scattergood 2005, pp. 56–57; Dane; Fein 2007, p. 72; and Choong, pp. 25–27.

[Fols. 71vb–72ra. IMEV, NIMEV 1504. MWME 9:2997 [153], 11:4185 [12]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 8. Meter: Four 12-line tail-rhyme stanzas, aa4b3cc4b3dd4b3ee4b3, with regular alliterative ornament. Layout: Right side of double-column page, with last stanza on next folio. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 45–46 (no. 14); Ritson 1877, pp. 58–60; Böddeker, pp. 166–67; Brown 1932, pp. 146–47 (no. 82); Brook, pp. 44–45 (no. 12); Bennett and Smithers, pp. 119–21; Stemmler 1970, pp. 21–22; Treharne, pp. 570–71. Other MSS: None.]

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