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Art. 83, De mal mariage: 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).

This Anglo-Norman anti-matrimonial satire is freely adapted from a well-known Latin poem, De conjuge non ducenda, composed in the second quarter of the thirteenth century. As in the source, whose structure is followed quite closely, the narrator Gawain explains how he had planned to marry and was keenly encouraged to do so by his married friends, but actually they just want him to join them in misery. He was saved from this fate by God’s benevolence. Three angels visit him as heavenly emissaries — Peter of Corbeil, Lawrence of Durham, and Saint John Chrysostom — and they explain, each in turn, various aspects of woman’s flawed nature. Every speech closes in direct warning to Gawain, the last one admonishing, “Therefore, Gawain, act wisely. / Watch out for a bad marriage! [Gardez vous de mal mariage!]” (lines 165–66). Gawain agrees to avoid marriage, and he thanks God for rescuing him by divine intervention.

The item belongs with other pieces in the Harley manuscript that grossly defame women (arts. 77, 78). It is flanked by two fabliaux (arts. 82, 84) that might be thought to illustrate its truth in their portrayals of wives who scheme, cheat, and work to gain advantage over their husbands. It also contributes vigorous satire to a broader conversation in booklet 6 on marriage and its potential pitfalls (arts. 79, 89). Elsewhere in MS Harley 2253, the perspective offered in Against Marriage is countered by a different set of misogamist arguments in the satiric Gilote and Johane (art. 37). The Ludlow scribe twice flags passages by inserting the word “Nota” in the margin (perhaps following a source). At line 83, the meaning concerns the impossibility of ever satisfying a woman. At line 153, the highlighted passage is a proverb similarly used by Chaucer’s Wife of Bath: that woman, rain, smoke, and argument are the torments that drive a man from his own house.

In Latin analogues, the protagonist is variously called Gawain, Golias, Galterus, and so on. The name may be meant to give the author’s real name, but it seems more probably to be a fictional construct. As “Gawain,” the name may evoke the womanizing reputation of the Arthurian knight. For further discussion of this poem, see Rigg, p. 102; Dove 2000, pp. 340–41, 345, 347; and Nolan, pp. 316.

[Fols. 117ra–118rb. ANL 206. Långfors, p. 45. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 13. Meter: Octosyllabic couplets. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Wright 1841, pp. 292–94; Kennedy, pp. 127–45 (no. 9); Dove 1969, pp. 77–85. Other MS: Oxford, Bodl. MS Douce 210, fols. 48r–49v. Latin Source: De coniuge non ducenda (ed. Wright 1841, pp. 77–85; ed. and trans. Rigg, pp. 66–99; selection trans. Blamires, pp. 125–29). Translation: Kennedy, pp. 127–45.]

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