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Art. 88, Of rybauds Y ryme ant red o my rolle: 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 monologue against the pretensions of low-born horse grooms is a riotous jumble of alliterative invective and coarse insult. Such crude horse-handlers, it seems to say, are the polar opposite of what is chivalric (a word related to French cheval, “horse”). The insults carry a good dose of moral condemnation, with the speaker sending the rybauds to the Devil as tribute. The poem is framed as a roll — a presentation of an unpaid bill — with the scoundrels being itemized in their disgusting habits and vices. The eighth stanza highlights the lyric’s raucous vernacularity by inserting Anglo-Norman business language (in rhyme-words) to sharpen the crudity of the churls’ greedy transactions. The last stanza equates hurling insult with spewing vomit. As the speaker draws the lineaments of the groomsmen’s repulsive vulgarity, his dip into the genre of insult seems to taint himself as well.

Comparable comic poems in English in the Harley manuscript include On the Follies of Fashion, Satire on the Consistory Courts, and The Man in the Moon (arts. 25a, 40, 81). All employ dazzling alliteration and masterful pacing for strong dramatic effect. They seem to be entertainments designed for oral performance. In the arrangement of items in the Harley manuscript, this poem is paired with Hending (art. 89), which showcases the innate wisdom of English proverb in stark contrast to the degenerate stupidity depicted here. On how this lyric participates in a contemporary political and legal debate on the practice of purveyance, and on how it pursues the themes of taxation and peasant poverty often embedded in Harley texts, see Scase 2005. Like Song of the Husbandman and Trailbaston (arts. 31, 80), this poem draws on the documentary form of legal plaint. For other recent commentary, see Turville-Petre 1996, pp. 200–01; Scattergood 2000a, pp. 193–94; Fein 2007, pp. 91–92; and Scase 2007, pp. 33–41, 84.

[Fols. 124va–125r. IMEV, NIMEV 2649. MWME 5:1407 [31]. Quire: 14. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Meter: Ten monorhyming alliterative long–line quatrains, aaaa. Layout: Begins in double columns and ends with no columns. Lines 1–24 are written in half-lines. Editions: Wright 1839, pp. 237–40; Böddeker, pp. 135–38; Robbins 1959, pp. 27–29 (no. 7); Turville-Petre 1989, pp. 34–35. Other MSS: None.]

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