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Art. 77, Le blasme des femmes: 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).

A companion to The Song on Women (art. 76), this poem presents women in an unflattering and pejorative light. It is so hyperbolically misogynist in its claim that women start wars, burn castles, and so on that it seems to deflate its own bombast. The dominant motive for arguments against women in MS Harley 2253 would seem to be humor, for they counter the pro-women poems that insist that men who slander women must be condemned. Another motive may be pedagogical and even nurturing: presenting the debate not just for entertainment, but also to introduce the young and inexperienced (mainly boys, perhaps) to some pros and cons of gender relations. Moreover, both sides of the argument exist in other works that offer more balanced comments on human nature, occasionally even inclusive of women.

This relatively popular poem survives in various forms in two Anglo-Norman and numerous Old French versions. One of the Anglo-Norman manuscripts is MS Digby 86, a book with many similarities to MS Harley 2253 (Corrie 2000, p. 439). Another book of near-total religious content, MS Douce 210, possesses The Blame of Women and Against Marriage (art. 83) as its only secular items. In such a one-sided context, the misogyny of both poems would seem to be taken seriously (Dove 2000, p. 345). However, it is more usual to find texts such as this one in secular settings and sometimes, as here, beside fabliaux. The Blame of Women then becomes sexist background noise for bawdy narratives that show women behaving largely in the ways stated (Nolan, pp. 319). MS Harley 2253 is notable for how densely clustered in booklet 6 are pieces that speak of women’s nature and issues of marriage. Harley texts on “what women are like” include: in French, arts. 8, 37, 76, 77, 78, 83; in English, arts. 25a, 33, 35, 44, 89, 93; and in Latin, art. 109. For further discussion, see Dove 2000, pp. 335–49; and Nolan, pp. 310, 319.

[Fol. 111rb–vb. ANL 202. Långfors, p. 325. Vising ?60. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 12. Meter: Octosyllabic couplets. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Wright and Halliwell, 2:221–23; Kennedy, pp. 103–18 (no. 7); Dove 1969, pp. 68–70. Altered Edition: Jubinal, pp. 330–33. Other MSS: Oxford, Bodl. MS Digby 86, fols. 113v–114r (Tschann and Parkes, p. xxiii–xxiv [nos. 35–37]); Cambridge, CUL MS Gg.1.1, fols. 627r–628r (ed. and trans. Fiero et al., pp. 119–47). Old French Analogues: Six MSS (see ANL 202, to which Dove adds Oxford, Bodl. MS Douce 210 [2000, p. 345]; and Fiero et al., pp. 12–16). Translation: Kennedy, pp. 103–18.]

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