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Art. 75a, Les trois dames qui troverunt un vit: 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); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); 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 sophisticated sense of humor found in this fabliau has been aptly characterized as “surreally obscene” (Pearcy 2007, p. 50). Three ladies travel together on pilgrimage when one of them happens to find a vit (penis) lying on the ground. It is wrapped in a cloth with only its tip showing. Feeling lucky in her discovery, the finder intends to keep her prize, but one companion claims she must share it equally. The rest of the fabliau is about who holds rightful claim to this precious relic. Its acquisition and promised rewards form the core of the tale’s religious parody, as the once harmonious ladies now dispute who shall have a “part” of this body part — which is what actual saints’ relics often were. The vit implicitly becomes “the desired goal of the female quest for saving bliss” (Nolan, p. 309). Eventually, the ladies decide to set the matter before an abbess as arbiter, a move that allows the author to add a twist of satire on judicial corruption. To the ladies’ dismay, the abbess invents a third answer. She names the convent as the vit’s rightful owner and immediately confiscates the relic: it is, she claims, the bolt to the convent door, recently lost but now happily recovered. Upon the abbess’s orders, a nun with the secular name Helen appropriates the vit, slipping it into her slender white sleeve. The original ladies leave the convent in disappointment, but now they are wiser when it comes to matters of finders and keepers.

For various discussions of this fabliau, see Bloch, pp. 91–92; Lacy, pp. 131–49; Nolan, pp. 305–11, 316–17; Revard 2000a, p. 262, and 2005a, p. 114; and Pearcy 2007, p. 50.

[Fol. 110ra–va. ANL 185. Nykrog, no. 55. Långfors, p. 294. Vising ?218. Scribe : B (Ludlow scribe). Quire : 12. Meter : Octosyllabic couplets. Layout : Double columns. Editions : Kennedy, pp. 220–29 (no. 12); Noomen and van der Boogard 8:269–82, 384–86 (no. 96); Short and Pearcy, pp. 28–29 (no. 15); Revard 2005a, pp. 114–17. Altered Edition : Montaiglon and Raynaud, 4:128–32 (see Holbrook). Other MSS : None. French Analogue : Paris, Bibl. Nat. fr. 1593, fols. 149v–150v. Translations : Kennedy, pp. 220–29; Revard 2005a, pp. 114–17.]

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