The Tale of the Basin
THE TALE OF THE BASIN: EXPLANATORY NOTES
Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: manuscript; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; NCE: The New Catholic Encyclopedia; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.
16 Of husbandry cowth he noght. This is true in multiple senses of the term husbandry: management of his household, farming his father’s lands, and (punningly) being a respected spouse.
21Hit is an olde seid saw, I swere be Seynt Tyve: The “olde seid saw” is first cited from c. 1470 (see Speake, Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs): “For he that cast hym for to thryve, he must ask offe his wiffe leve.” See also Whiting M155 (“A Man may not wive and thrive all in a year”) as a variant.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia lists three St. Ives, one (1253–1303) born in Brittany, the patron saint of lawyers (see “Ivo Hélory, St.,” NCE); another (c. 1040–1116) an important canonist and bishop of Chartres (see “Ivo of Chartres, St.,” NCE); and a third from the sixth or seventh century who purportedly left his home in Persia to act as a missionary in Britain (see “Ivo, St.,” NCE). In addition, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints mentions an early Irish missionary, also called Ia of Cornwall (supposedly fifth or sixth century), after whom the Cornish town of St. Ives is named (See “Ives, St.,” Farmer, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, p. 201). Ia/Ives was a woman, so perhaps that is a reason (beyond convenience of rhyme) for her invocation in this context.
30 The sole citation for Whiting C106: “To teach one how the Cat sneezes (i.e., put in one’s place, bully).”
60 A drawght ther is drawen amysse. Under “draught” 3e, “drauen a draught,” MED gives the meaning “to play a trick, or engage in a deceitful or sinful activity.” The metaphor is from the game of chess: “a chess move is made improperly.”
76 be Saynt Albon. St. Alban was the first British martyr, killed at what is now called St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire, where a Benedictine abbey was built to commemorate him. His legend is the subject of Lydgate’s poem St. Alban and St. Amphibalus (1439).
77 Hit is a preest men callis Sir John. Sir was a conventional courtesy title for a priest; John was an equally conventional name for one, particularly a lecherous one. Since the early thirteenth century, priests had been required to be celibate.
79 Of felawes he berys the bell. That is, like a bellwether among sheep, he is a leader among good fellows.
81 gytryns. The gittern was an ancestor of the modern guitar.
126 Prively at a posturne yate as stille as any ston. A postern gate is a side or back entrance, smaller and less conspicuous than the main public gate. The phrase “as still as a stone” can mean both “as motionless as a stone” and, as it does here, “as quietly as a stone.” See Whiting S772 for many other examples of the phrase.
174 Matins in a parish church were the early morning service, before the Mass.
188 The carter fro the halle dure erth can he throw. The cart driver (carter) is not only responsible for carrying away material in his cart; here he is clearly responsible for arriving very early in the morning and shoveling it into the cart from where the servants have dumped it outside the door. I suspect that “earth” here is a euphemism for various organics (rushes from the hall floor, perhaps; food refuse; but most importantly body waste) and that like the carter in Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale (CT VII[B2]3016–62) his job is to collect, very early in the morning, the last day’s waste, and to take it out of town for fertilizer. Compare the quotation in MED carter, 1.(a) (1460) “All carterys and carmen that usyth to drawe dung out of the towne.”
191 He wende hit hade bene folys of the fayre (he told hit in his saw). “He believed they were performing fools (that’s what he said).” Compare OED fair n.1., citation 1764 “Has he not. . . made himself the fool of the fair?”
208 Be cockis swete wounde. A euphemistic swearing by the wounds of Christ, with cock standing in for God as modern gosh does. In medieval Christian theology all three members of the Trinity are equally God, so Christ can be referred to as God just as God the Father can. It is not until 1618 that OED cites the word cock used with the meaning “penis” (see cock n.1, sense 20), but the often anthologized early fifteenth-century lyric “I have a gentil cok” from London, British Library MS Sloane 2393 plays upon the reader’s dawning recognition that the cock in question is not avian. The lyric may mark the early stages of the use of the term for the penis. Given that medieval poets liked to pick oaths with particular significance, cock may well be a pun here, with the sense “penis” playing into the following line in which the philandering priest is threatened with loss of his “harnesse.” We see the same punning combination of euphemistic oath and earthy context in Ophelia’s lament on sexual treachery in Act 4, scene 5 of Hamlet:
Young men will do’t, if they come to’t; By cock, they are to blame. (lines 59–60)On the more solemn aspect of the reference, the Five Wounds of Christ were the object of contemplation and veneration in the Middle Ages. They were the wounds in hands and feet inflicted by nails during the Crucifixion, and a lance wound in the side.
222 Mary for hir joyes fyfe. The Five Joys of the Virgin Mary were the Annunciation (of the coming birth of Christ), the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension (of Christ to heaven), and the Assumption (of Mary herself into heaven).
THE TALE OF THE BASIN: TEXTUAL NOTES
Copy-Text: Cambridge University Library, MS Ff.5.48, fols. 58r–61v.
Abbreviation: MS: manuscript, here referring to the copy-text
title No title in MS.
1 MS reads: Off talys and trifulles many man tellys, in very large letters and underlined, like line 75.
18 The line is missing, with no gap in MS. Some such line as “And did as she hym tolde” is called for.
25 A line is missing to complete the stanza; no gap is in MS.
30 Sche taught hym ever among how the katte did snese: the word katte is inserted above the line.
47 MS reads: Fourty pounde of or fyfty loke of hym thou fech. Emendation for sense.
73 The word me is inserted above the line.
75 MS reads: The person seyde thou me telle, in very large letters and underlined, like line 1.
103 MS reads: Loke thou where the basyn fette. Emendation for sense.
121 After line 120, line 124 appears by mistake but is canceled with a line drawn through it:
141 MS reads: Leuer then a C pounde he wolde.
168 The word sone is inserted above the line.
179 MS reads: Anon as Sir John can se he began to call. Emendation for sense.
187 MS reads: Alas why what shall I doo.
209 MS reads: Thou shalle lese thine harnesse or a C pounde.
222 MS reads: Mary for y hir joyes fyfe. Emendation for sense.
224ff. Finitur in very large letters, like lines 1 and 75.
Go To Jack and His Stepdame: Introduction