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Art. 81, Mon in the mone stond ant strit: 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 Man in the Moon provides a glimpse of what performed comedy in English was like in the early fourteenth century. It is a funny dramatic monologue that would have required theatrical talent for mimicry and an exquisite sense of timing. In the Harley manuscript it belongs with On the Follies of Fashion, Song of the Husbandman, Satire on the Consistory Courts, An Old Man’s Prayer, and Satire on the Retinues of the Great (arts. 25a, 31, 40, 45, 88) — each one a miniature masterpiece of controlled tone, dramatic effect, and alliterative idiom. Such pieces tend to draw their psychological power from how they mix political comment with personal aggrievement. The language is learned in its verbal acrobatics, yet the speaker is ostensibly a member of the illiterate underclass who is suffering a lamentable crisis. In some poems (e.g., arts. 31, 45), the pathos of the situation feels authentic and moving. But in others, an element of mockery creeps in as the speaker shows himself unaware how his pose invites ridicule. Such works draw class-based laughter upon an English-speaking clown who complains over something a French-speaking audience — regarding itself as more sophisticated — will think absurd.

This lyric bases its colloquial dramatics on a folkloric fiction, the man in the moon, imagined as a poor peasant engaged in hedge-robbing. The speaker greets him colloquially by first name (Hubert) and graciously offers him a means to avoid paying the stiff penalty imposed by a local officer (the hayward). By the speaker’s elaborate plan, the hayward shall be invited to his own home, where the speaker’s attractive wife will distract him and see that he gets as drunk as a drowned mouse. They then will filch the pledge and release the man in the moon. But Hubert, frozen in a stationary pose, offers no response to these kind and generous overtures. The piece ends with the speaker’s angry frustration that a churl should be so ungrateful.

For further comment on this lyric, see Menner, pp. 1–14; Fein 2007, pp. 91–92; and Scase 2007, pp. 38 n. 130, 143 n. 24.

[Fols. 114v–115r. IMEV, NIMEV 2066. MWME 11:4202 [30]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 13. Layout : No columns, written as prose. Meter: Five 8-line stanzas, abababab4, with alliterative ornament. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 110–11 (no. 39); Ritson 1877, pp. 58–60; Böddeker, pp. 176–77; Brown 1932, pp. 160–61 (no. 89); Brook, pp. 69–70 (no. 30); Bennett and Smithers, pp. 127–28; Turville-Petre 1989, pp. 32–33. Other MSS: None.]

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