Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages: Introduction
WYNNERE AND WASTOURE AND THE PARLEMENT OF THE THRE AGES, INTRODUCTION: FOOTNOTES
1 For a discussion of Thornton and his manuscript, see George Keiser, "Lincoln Cathedral Library MS.91: Life and Milieu of the Scribe," Studies in Bibliography 32 (1979), 158-79; Keiser, "More Light on the Life and Milieu of Robert Thornton," Studies in Bibliography 36 (1983), 111-19; Ralph Hanna III, "The Growth of Robert Thornton's Books," Studies in Bibiliography 40 (1987), 51-61; and Stephanie Trigg, ed., Wynnere and Wastoure, EETS 297 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), introduction.
2 See Trigg, ed., Wynnere and Wastoure, xvii; Anne Middleton, "The Audience and Public of Piers Plowman," in Middle English Alliterative Poetry, ed. David Lawton (Suffolk: Brewer, 1982), pp. 102-23; and Janet Coleman, English Literature in History 1350-1400 (London: Hutchinson, 1981), pp. 13-67, on the kinds of literature the middle class read in late medieval England.
3 The quotation is from Angus McIntosh, "The Textual Transmission of the Alliterative Morte Arthure," in English and Medieval Studies Presented to J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Norman Davis and C. L. Wrenn (London: Allen and Unwin, 1962), pp. 231-32. See Trigg, ed., Wynnere and Wastoure, for a summary of the literature that discusses the provenance of the poems' dialect.
4 The quotation is from Rossell Hope Robbins, "Poems Dealing with Contemporary Conditions," in Albert Hartung, ed. Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500 (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1975), V, 1358.
5 M. Y. Offord, ed., The Parlement of the Thre Ages, EETS 246 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. xxxvi. Offord goes on to claim that the poet of Parlement probably knew Wynnere well enough to imitate; this conclusion, however, is not based on the firmest of evidence. One correspondence relies on a highly suspect emendation of "sowrede" to "sowede" in Wynnere, line 215 (compare Parlement line 286); another compares Parlement's "by-fore-with his eghne," line 549, to Wynnere's "to-fore-with myn eghne," line 434. These compound prepositions are rare, but they are not identical, and the idiomatic character of the expression should be taken into account. The connection Offord sees between the poems affects her dating of Parlement.
6 See May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1959), pp. 204-07, for an account of these gangs.
7 One should note that criminal activity was part of the fabric of life in England throughout the Middle Ages. While the Statute of Treasons was certainly an attempt to conserve law and order, it was by no means unique; in fact, judging from the documents, lawlessness did not increase dramatically in the years immediately following the plague. See Richard Kaeuper, War, Justice and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), pp. 170-83.
8 The chief provisions of the Statute of Laborers fixed wages at pre-plague rates, ordered all landless men under sixty years of age to accept employment at these rates, and mandated that their lords were to have first claim on their services. For some years after 1351, attempts to enforce the law were vigorous and largely successful (McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, p. 335). On the Statute of Treasons, see below, note to Wynnere, lines 130ff.
9 For a full discussion of the debate over the date of the poem, see Trigg, pp. xxii-xxvii. As an absolute terminus a quo, the motto of the Order of the Garter is translated in the poem; Edward III instituted the Order in 1349.
10 See John V. Scattergood, "Wynnere and Wastoure and the Mid-Fourteenth Century Economy," in The Writer as Witness: Literature as Historical Evidence, ed. Tom Dunne (Cork: Cork University Press, 1987), p. 52.
11 The presumed early date of Wynnere especially has figured largely in accounts of Middle English alliterative poetry. Because Wynnere is technically sophisticated, critics have postulated that earlier, less accomplished alliterative poems existed but have been lost. John Burrow, for instance ("The Audience of Piers Plowman," Anglia 75 , 373-84), has thought that in an effort to make Piers Plowman more accessible to Londoners, Langland specifically tempered the excesses in alliterative style and vocabulary of Wynnere. More recently, however, David Lawton has argued that it is equally possible, based on the evidence, to argue that Wynnere was influenced by Piers.
12 For a convenient summary of the range of meaning dreams had in the Middle Ages, see A. C. Spearing, Medieval Dream Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 1-24.
13 Academic disputations, legal argumentation in the courts, and parliamentary debate form the institutional context of the poetic debate in Middle English: see Thomas Reed, Middle English Debate Poetry and the Aesthetics of Irresolution (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1990), for an up-to-date survey; and John W. Conlee, Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology (East Lansing: Colleagues Press, 1991), for numerous examples.
14 On the king's "familia," see Richard F. Green, Poets and Princepleasers (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981); for a reading of Wynnere and Wastoure in terms of the king's household, see David Starkey, "The Age of the Household: Politics, Society and the Arts, c. 1350 - c. 1550," in The Later Middle Ages, ed. Stephen Medcalf (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 253-58.
15 See Scattergood, "Wynnere and Wastoure," p. 48.
16 Both Trigg and Offord have full discussions of meter in their editions; Offord's is more traditional and relies on knowledge of Old English metrics; Trigg's is up-to-date, but polemical in the sense that it offers a justificiation for her emendations on metrical grounds.
17 Other groups vary: sl sometimes alliterates with itself, sometimes with s; other combinations such as fl or fr are not considered groups at all.
18 Offord, ed., The Parlement of the Thre Ages, p. xxxii. The instances in Parlement also in large measure fall outside the conditions (couplet alliteration and voiced and unvoiced consonant alliteration) which make the pattern acceptable to Trigg.
Thornton's version of Wynnere and Wastoure is unique; The Parlement of the Thre Ages, however, also exists in an incomplete and later, inferior version, which now is British Library Additional MS 33994 but formerly was part of the library of Sir James Ware, who died in 1666. Both Wynnere and Parlement share very nearly the same dialect; the language is that of the Midlands, though scholars disagree about its exact provenance. Suggested locations range from the North Central Midlands, possibly Nottinghamshire, to "somewhere not very far from where the counties of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire meet," to the North-West Midlands, to the East Midlands.3 As a Northerner, Thornton sometimes introduces his own distinctive forms, just as the original poet accepted a number of Southern forms which had become part of the language of London. In any case, even if the locale of the language could be fixed precisely, the mixture of forms, as the most recent editor of Wynnere and Wastoure has said, suggests that this poet, like other writers of alliterative verse, was not isolated in the provinces but quite mobile (Trigg, p. xxii). When compared to other poems on contemporary issues, which tend to be "intensely provincial [and] hometown," Wynnere and Wastoure certainly seems national, even international in its outlook.4 More than one might at first suppose, the dialect of Wynnere and The Parlement of the Thre Ages as well looks beyond narrow regionalism.
The close similarity of language and meter, in addition to the resemblances between Wynnere and Wastoure, in the poem bearing their names, and Medill Elde and Youthe, in Parlement, led the poems' first editor, Sir Israel Gollancz, to believe that they are by the same author. There is, however, no convincing evidence to support this conclusion; at most one can say with M. Y. Offord, who summarizes discussion of the question of authorship in her edition of The Parlement of the Thre Ages, that Parlement was composed by someone who spoke the same dialect as the poet of Wynnere.5
As for the date of the poems, the longstanding assumption has been that Wynnere and Wastoure was the earlier poem; just when Wynnere was composed, however, has provoked a great deal of controversy. Wynnere contains elements of topical satire; Gollancz in fact thought that it was aimed specifically at Edward III and the Black Prince and their handling of events, both foreign and domestic, during the winter of 1352-53. The poem does indeed seem to comment on economic and political conditions in the wake of the Black Death, which struck England in 1348-49. Labor was in short supply in the years following the plague's outbreak, and many workers would break contracts and journey to wherever wages were highest; at the same time, bands of criminals, not only of the lower classes but of the urban and country gentry as well, were causing alarming mayhem.6 Parliament passed a number of measures in response; among the most important were The Statute of Laborers in 1351 and The Statute of Treasons in 1352.7 Both these laws, but especially the former, created a great deal of resentment, some of which was directed at William Shareshull (prominently mentioned in the poem at line 317), who as Chief Justice was instrumental in their promulgation.8 In fact, Wastoure's vehement denial that he has disturbed the peace (lines 317-18) has been taken to refer both to the Treasons Statute and to an uprising in Chester in 1353 (the only insurrection to have occurred in the West between 1349 and 1365), which Shareshull had a part in provoking. But the conditions these acts of Parliament addressed persisted at least until Shareshull died in 1370, which establishes a fairly certain terminus ad quem for the poem; for a terminus a quo, the best we can say is that Wynnere, which does seem to allude to the Statute of Treasons (in lines 126ff.), was probably not composed earlier than 1352.9
Similarly, nothing about the situation abroad can help to determine the date with greater precision. Wynnere does reflect how dependent Edward III had become on merchants to finance his expeditions in France during The Hundred Years' War. Indeed, to raise money without Parliament's involvement, Edward had even tried to form an Estate of Merchants; this group played so important a part in the parliaments of 1352-54, it began to rival the Commons.10 But the war with France commanded Edward's attention until his death; both he and Richard II after him depended on merchants throughout the rest of the fourteenth century. There is little to prove that the poem's descriptions refer specifically to Edward's campaign in 1353.
The Parlement of the Thre Ages, however, is not topical; nothing in it can allow fixing a date more definite than between 1352-53 and about 1390. Offord thinks it probable that the poem was composed before 1370, but acknowledges this as supposition. Indeed, she points out that we cannot even be sure that Wynnere did in fact precede The Parlement. In the end, arguments for placing one poem before the other rest more on editorial ideas of evolution than on the data of the works; in this the relationship between Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages echoes the recent discussions on the development of alliterative poetry in Middle English in general. Influence cannot be determined with certainty.11
In both Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages, a solitary narrator falls asleep and witnesses in his dream a verbal altercation about current social abuses and defects of the spirit. The poems are thus complaints that combine at least two medieval genres, the dream vision and the poetic debate: much critical commentary has sought to elucidate how generic expectations are met or modified in each poem.
That both poems have produced interpretations quite at odds with one another is not surprising, since both dream visions and the poetic debate have venerable and complicated histories. The purpose of each was to teach, yet from the start both also called into question the certainty of their instruction and the degree to which we can rely on the person who gives or receives it. Dreams could carry the authority of divine revelation or be the unreliable products of wish fulfillment.12 Debates could resolve the issue under question decisively or leave it in doubt.13 As a consequence, suspicions about the reliability of the dreamer or disputants could readily be entertained, even when the wisdom of what they said seemed unimpeachable.
Moreover, the prologues of both poems have much in common with the traditional "chanson d'aventure," in which a narrator, wandering alone, hears a bird-song, or meets a lady, or reads a message on a wall, or overhears a complaint or debate. As Anne Middleton says, the speaker "happens on truth or transformation unawares, in a place, time and state of mind where it was least looked for" (p. 114). Consequently, a "poem in this mode does not present authoritative truth to cognition . . . its definitive features are that its speaker has no authority and that the truth of its discourse is purely contingent" (pp. 114-15).
In Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages, therefore, generic affiliations multiply rather than simplify the complexities of interpretation even before we discover the particular concerns of each poem. In Wynnere, for instance, it is hard to decide which combatant should win the debate; the manuscript ends before the king can complete his determination, and what he does say, considering that he himself both wins and wastes, leaves the argument between getting and spending appropriately unresolved. The poem's perspectives are truly dizzying: on the one hand, economics, politics, ethics, and social relations are seen as an interrelated set of universal, timeless principles; on the other, they appear as actual, contingent conditions that have resulted from specific acts in history. As allegorical personifications, Wynnere attempts to portray himself as desirable gain and Wastoure as sheer Prodigality; Wastoure in turn pictures Wynnere as pure Avarice and himself as efficacious expenditure. Their altercation inevitably recalls Aristotle's ethical axiom that liberality, which is the mean between the excesses of both vices, is the proper guide to conduct. But Wynnere and Wastoure debate before the king: at times their arguments seem less philosophical and more a pointed comment on the constant tension between the two main departments of Edward III's household. The lord chamberlain was responsible for outlays that guaranteed, as one source puts it, the "king's magnificence"; the lord steward was responsible for the actual running of the king's household and insuring his "providence."14 Yet Edward's need for money to make war in France also gave his domestic affairs a larger political dimension: in Simon Islip's De Speculo Regis Edwardi III, for instance, he is called "avarus," an avaricious man, and "prodigus," because of his abuse of purveyance to raise money and because of the extravagancy of his household expenses.15 Then again, some of Wastoure's barbs against Wynnere show that the rising status of merchants was a real cause for concern among those who still believed in the sanctioned social hierarchy. And so it goes: in each of the four exchanges between Wynnere and Wastoure the universal is set alongside the particular, as specific economic, political, and social disorders are condemned by appealing to ethical and religious ideals. To try to follow their debate, much less to resolve it, without invoking a multitude of perspectives seems as doomed to partiality as are Wynnere's and Wastoure's own arguments.
In The Parlement of the Thre Ages, religious and moral standards are invoked to highlight the degradation of social abuses in a somewhat different way; consequently, problems of interpretation have taken a different form. Older studies (e.g., Speirs and Everett) commended the lively realism of The Parlement of the Thre Ages, especially the descriptions of the hunt and the brittling of the deer, but faulted the lack of proportion they saw in its construction. To them, little connects the prologue with the debate that follows it, and Elde's disquisition on the Nine Worthies was over-long in itself and not relevant to the issues about which Youthe, Medill Elde, and Elde quarrel. More recently, however, a number of studies have argued that the poet carefully anticipates the argument of the dream in the hunt of the prologue (e.g., Peck and Lampe), and that Elde's speech does in fact address and effectively answer both Youthe and Medill Elde (e.g., Kiser). The grave battles of the Nine Worthies, for instance, set Youthe's penchant for tournaments in sober context; so too does Medill Elde's preoccupation with land and control of his household seem small and misconceived when one considers that the Worthies possessed and ruled the entire world yet lost everything when they died.
But even if we grant that Elde effectively silences Youthe and Medill Elde and thereby wins the debate, he himself nonetheless seems self-involved and given to the vices of old age. Elde shows that in the face of death the extravagance of youth and the industry of middle age are equally vain, yet the very decisiveness of the answer prompts a further question. How can a character able to formulate such commendable truths still be given to anger and envy (line 163)?
For this edition, only a highly simplified discussion of the poems' meter is appropriate.16 The most common type of line has four or five main stresses, three of which alliterate. All lines have a break somewhere mid-line; the half-line that follows the break is usually shorter and contains at least two stresses. Consonants alliterate with themselves, as do certain groups of consonants (e.g., sp, st, sw).17 Any vowel alliterates with any other vowel and, in Parlement (but not in Wynnere), with mute "h" in words of French origin (herbere — anone — aftir, Parlement line 74).
Alliterating stresses fall into numerous patterns. By far the most common is aa/ax. There are many variations: the one I will comment on here, because it affects the editing of the text, is the pattern aa/xx. The most recent editor of Wynnere, Stephanie Trigg, does not accept this pattern unless a number of conditions are met. I, however, accept it throughout for two reasons. First, Wynnere itself provides too small a statistical sample to be certain that the poet did not allow this pattern. Second, if one expands one's base and takes The Parlement into account, one finds that the pattern aa/xx occurs sixteen times in this poem, frequently enough to make Offord say that the poet may indeed have recognized the type.18 Even if the poems are by different authors, their metrics in other respects are close enough to conclude that emending the text to remedy an otherwise acceptable line of the aa/xx type does not seem warranted.
For this edition, I have followed the guidelines of the Middle English Text Series in printing the modern equivalents of thorns, edhs, and yoghs, and in rationalizing the distribution of i/j and u/v in accordance with modern spellings. All abbreviations have been silently expanded, with one notable exception: in words with medial -n- or -m-, it is seldom clear how or whether to expand the curved stroke that often appears above it. I have therefore ignored it throughout. The division into paragraphs follows the MS, where divisions are indicated by a large capital. The text is heavily glossed; unfamiliar words that have not been regularly glossed after their third occurrence appear in the glossary.
Although I have had the advantage of being able to consult two fine editions, Trigg's of Wynnere and Wastoure and Offord's of The Parlement of the Thre Ages, I have nevertheless established the text of each poem by consulting the manuscript itself and a microfilm of it. All emended readings are discussed in the notes.
Go To Wynnere and Wastoure
Go To The Parlement of the Thre Ages
Burrow, John A., ed. English Verse 1300-1500. London: Longman, 1977. [Excerpt of Wynnere.]
Gollancz, Israel, ed. The Parlement of the Thre Ages. London: Oxford University Press, 1915.
———, ed. A Good Short Debate between Winner and Waster. Oxford, 1921; rpt. Cambridge: Brewer, 1974.
Offord, M. Y., ed. The Parlement of the Thre Ages. EETS 246. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Trigg, Stephanie, ed. Wynnere and Wastoure. EETS 297. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Turville-Petre, Thorlac. "An Anthology of Medieval Poems and Drama." In Medieval Literature: Chaucer and the Alliterative Tradition, ed. Boris Ford. New Pelican Guide to English Literature, I, pt. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982. [Wynnere only.]
———. Alliterative Poetry of the Later Middle Ages: An Anthology. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989. [Includes both Wynnere and Parlement, pp. 38-100.]
General and Comparative Studies
Burrow, John A. The Ages of Man. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.
Coleman, Janet. English Literature in History 1350-1400. London: Hutchinson, 1981.
Hanna, Ralph III. "The Growth of Robert Thornton's Books." Studies in Bibliography 40 (1987), 51-61.
Harrington, David V. "Indeterminacy in Winner and Waster and The Parliament of the Three Ages." Chaucer Review 20 (1986), 246-57.
Hieatt, Constance. "Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages." American Notes and Queries 4 (1966), 100-04.
Keiser, George. "Lincoln Cathedral Library MS.91: Life and Milieu of the Scribe." Studies in Bibliography 32 (1979), 158-79.
———. "More Light on the Life and Milieu of Robert Thornton." Studies in Bibliography 36 (1983), 111-19.
Lawton, David. "Literary History and Scholarly Fancy: The Date of Two Middle English Alliterative Poems." Parergon 18 (1977), 17-25.
Middleton, Anne. "The Audience and Public of Piers Plowman." In Middle English Alliterative Poetry, ed. David Lawton (Suffolk: Brewer, 1982), pp. 101-23.
Oakden, James P. Alliterative Poetry in Middle English. Vol. 2. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1935.
Reed, Thomas L., Jr. Middle English Debate Poetry and the Aesthetics of Irresolution. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1990.
Spearing, Anthony C. Medieval Dream Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Speirs, John. "Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Scrutiny 17 (1950), 241-49. Rpt. in Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition. London: Faber and Faber, 1957.
Steadman, John M., Jr. "The Authorship of Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages: A Study in Methods of Determining the Common Authorship of Middle English Poems." Modern Philology 21 (1923), 7-13.
Starkey, David. "The Age of the Household: Politics, Society and the Arts, c. 1350- c. 1550." In Stephen Medcalf, ed., The Later Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 225-90.
Utley, Francis Lee. "Dialogues, Debates, and Catechisms." In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500, ed. Albert E. Hartung (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1972), III, 669-745, 829-902.
Vale, Juliet. Edward III and Chivalry: Chivalric Society and its Context 1270-1350. Cambridge: The Boydell Press, 1982.
Wynnere and Wastoure
Anderson, Jesse M. "A Note on the Date of Winnere and Wastoure." Modern Language Notes 43 (1928), 47-49.
Bestul, Thomas. Satire and Allegory in Wynnere and Wastoure. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974.
Elliott, R. W. V. "The Topography of Wynnere and Wastoure." English Studies 48 (1967), 134-40.
Ginsberg, Warren. "Place and Dialectic in Dante's Paradiso and the Middle English Pearl." English Literary History 55 (1989), 731-53.
Havely, Nicholas. "The Dominicans and Their Banner in Wynnere and Wastoure." Notes and Queries, n.s. 30 (1983), 207-09.
Hulbert, James R. "The Problems of Authorship and Date of Wynnere and Wastoure." Modern Philology 18 (1920), 31-40.
Jacobs, Nicolas. "The Typology of Debate and the Interpretation of Wynnere and Wastoure." Review of English Studies 36 (1985), 481-500.
James, Jerry D. "The Undercutting of Conventions in Wynnere and Wastoure." Modern Language Quarterly 25 (1964), 243-58.
Moran, D. V. "Wynnere and Wastoure: An Extended Footnote." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 73 (1972), 683-85.
Oiji, Takero. "An Essay on Wynnere and Wastoure, with Special Reference to the Political, Economic and Religious Attitudes of the Poet." Studies in English Literature (Tokyo) 43 (1966), 1-14. [In Japanese: English summary, 127-28.]
Salter, Elizabeth. "The Timeliness of Wynnere and Wastoure." Medium Aevum 47 (1978), 40-65.
Scattergood, John V. "Wynnere and Wastoure and the Mid-Fourteenth Century Economy." In The Writer as Witness: Literature as Historical Evidence, ed. Tom Dunne (Cork: Cork University Press, 1987), pp. 39-57.
Steadman, John M., Jr. "The Date of "Wynnere and Wastoure." Modern Philology 19 (1921), 211-19.
Turville-Petre, Thorlac. "The Prologue of Wynnere and Wastoure." Leeds Studies in English 19 (1987), 19-29.
The Parlement of the Thre Ages
Coffman, George R. "Old Age from Horace to Chaucer." Speculum 9 (1934), 249-77.
Everett, Dorothy. Essays on Middle English Literature, ed. Patricia Kean (Oxford: Clarendon, 1959), pp. 51-52.
Kernan, Anne. "Theme and Structure in The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 75 (1974), 253-78.
Kiser, Lisa. "Elde and His Teaching in The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Philological Quarterly 66 (1987), 303-14.
Lampe, David. "The Poetic Strategy of The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Chaucer Review 7 (1973), 173-83.
Lewis, Robert E. "The Date of The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 69 (1968), 380-90.
Moran, Dennis. "The Parlement of the Thre Ages: Meaning and Design." Neophilologus 62 (1978), 620-33.
Peck, Russell A. "The Careful Hunter in The Parlement of the Thre Ages." English Literary History 39 (1972), 333-41.
Rowland, Beryl. "The Three Ages of The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Chaucer Review 9 (1975), 342-52.
Scattergood, John. "The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Leeds Studies in English 14 (1983), 167-81.
Shibata, Yoshitaka. "An Essay on The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Journal of the English Institute 13 (1984), 1-26. [In Japanese: English summary, 24.]
Turville-Petre, Thorlac. "The Ages of Man in The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Medium Aevum 46 (1977), 66-76.
———. "The Nine Worthies in The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Poetica 11 (1979), 28-45.
Waldron, R. A. "The Prologue to The Parlement of the Thre Ages." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 73 (1972), 786-94.
Whitney, Carol Wilkinson. "The Hunted Hunter of the Alliterative Morte Arthure." Mediaevalia 14 (1988), 179-99.