The Trials and Joys of Marriage, Introduction
THE TRIALS AND JOYS OF MARRIAGE, INTRODUCTION: FOOTNOTES
1 See, for instance, Origin, The Song of Songs: Commentary and Homilies, trans. R. P. Lawson (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1957). For a comprehensive discussion of the tradition, see also Ann W. Astell, The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (see Select Bibliography for full reference) and E. Ann Matter, "The Voice of My Beloved": The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity.
2 Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, trans. Kilian Walsh (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981), p. x. For Bernard's theology of love, see Etienne Gilson, The Mystical Theology of St. Bernard, trans. A. H. C. Downes (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1940; rpt. 1955, 1990).
3 See Jean LeClerq, Monks on Marriage: A Twelfth-Century View.
4 St. Augustine, "Homilies on the Gospel of John; Homilies on the First Epistle of John Tractate VIII," in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Authors, vol. VII, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 58.
5 St. Augustine, "Homilies," p. 59.
6 Michael M. Sheehan, Marriage, Family, and Law in Medieval Europe, p. 78.
7 Katharina M. Wilson and Elizabeth M. Makowski, Wykked Wyves and the Woes of Marriage: Misogamous Literature from Juvenal to Chaucer.
8 Dyan Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock, p. 43.
9 See Elizabeth A. Clark, "'Adam's Only Companion': Augustine and the Early Christian Debate on Marriage," p. 23.
10 Georges Duby, Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-Century France, p. 3.
11 See James A. Brundage, Medieval Canon Law, especially Chapter 3.
12 Robert C. Palmer, "Contexts of Marriage in Medieval England," pp. 42-67. See also Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, pp. 348-64, and Medieval Canon Law, p. 73.
13 Brundage, Medieval Canon Law, p. 73.
14 The episode in The Book of Margery Kempe in which Margery and her husband discuss conjugal relations is one example. See The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), chapter 11, p. 37.
15 Palmer, p. 50n26.
16 Sheehan, Marriage, Family, and Law in Medieval Europe, pp. 118-76.
17 See J. T. Muckle, trans. The Story of Abelard's Adversities (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1982), pp. 31-37.
18 See M. T. Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).
19 Not surprisingly Heloise cites Jerome's Adversus Jovinianus as one of the authorities on the subject. Heloise's diatribe against marriage was reiterated in the Roman de la Rose, which became known throughout Europe.
20 Peter Dronke, Abelard and Heloise in Medieval Testimonies. The authenticity of the letters is still a matter of controversy among scholars. For a sense of this and other recent issues, see Bonnie Wheeler, ed., Listening to Heloise: The Voice of a Twelfth-Century Woman, and Barbara Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature.
21 Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, trans. John Jay Parry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), p. 107.
22 Andreas Capellanus, p. 187.
23 See Natalie Zemon Davis' Foreword to the revised edition of The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York: Persea Books, 1998), pp. xv-xxii.
24 At the end of the Book of the City of Ladies, the author directs her attention to married ladies: "And you ladies who are married, do not scorn being subject to your husbands, for sometimes it is not the best thing for a creature to be independent. . . . And those women who have husbands who are cruel, mean, and savage should strive to endure them while trying to overcome their vices and lead them back, if they can, to a reasonable and seemly life" (p. 255).
25 See Shannon McSheffrey, trans. Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London.
26 See Russell A. Peck, "Sovereignty and the Two Worlds of The Franklin's Tale," The Chaucer Review 1 (1967), 253-71. See also Joan G. Haahr, "Chaucer's 'Marriage Group' Revisited: The Wife of Bath and Merchant in Debate," Acta 14 (1990), 105-20; Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, "Gentillesse and the Marriage Debate in the Franklin's Tale: Chaucer's Squires and the Question of Nobility," Neophilologus 68 (1984), 451-70; Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, "Aurelius' Quest for Grace: Sexuality and the Marriage Debate in the Franklin's Tale," CEA Critic 45 (1982), 16-21; Raymond P. Tripp, Jr., "The Franklin's Solution to the 'Marriage Debate,'" in New Views on Chaucer: Essays in Generative Criticism, ed. William C. Johnson and Loren C. Gruber (Denver: Society for New Language Study, 1973), pp. 35-41.
27 Wilson and Makowski, pp. 6-7.
28 For evidence on medieval puppet shows see George Speaight, The History of English Puppet Theatre (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1955), pp. 27-43; Ian Lancashire, "'Ioly Walte and Malkyng': A Grimsby Puppet Play in 1431," REED Newsletter 4.2 (1979), 6-8, and a discussion with illustrations of MS Bodleian 264 in Allardyce Nicoll, Masks, Mimes, and Miracles: Studies in Popular Theatre (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1931), p. 168.
29 Keith Busby, "Dame Sirith and De Clerico et Puella," in Companion to Early Middle English Literature, ed. N. H. G. E. Weldhoen and H. Aertsen (Amsterdam: Free Press, 1995), pp. 67-78.
30 Busby, p. 69.
31 John Hines, The Fabliau in English (London: Longman, 1993), outlines the characteristics of French fabliau, tracing its development in England, and its relation to other genres.
32 See J. A. W. Bennett and G. V. Smithers, eds., Early Middle English Verse and Prose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 77-79; and Charles W. Dunn and Edward T. Burnes, eds., Middle English Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Janovich, 1973), p. 174.
33 The weeping bitch appears as a complete narrative in the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alphonsus. See Dorothea Metlitzki, The Matter of Araby in Medieval England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 99-102. It is also found in A Thousand and One Arabian Nights and in the medieval Hebrew Tales of Sendebar, a collection which represents extant versions of another series of tales, The Seven Sages of Rome.
34 Bruce Moore, "The Narrator within the Performance: Problems with Two Medieval Plays," in Drama in the Middle Ages: Comparative & Critical Essays, ed. Clifford Davidson and John H. Stroupe (New York: AMS Press, 1991), p. 165.
35 Melissa Furrow, "Middle English Fabliaux and Modern Myth," English Language History 56 (1989), 13.
36 John DuVal, "The Wright's Chaste Wife: A Satiric Fabliau," Publications of the Missouri Philological Association 2 (1977), 8-14.
37 Barbara A. Hanawalt offers an interesting discussion of women's work that applies to both the Ballad of a Tyrannical Husband and The Wright's Chaste Wife in The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 147 ff. See also Hanawalt's "Peasant Women's Contribution to the Home Economy in Late Medieval England," in Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. Barbara Hanawalt (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 3-19; Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1983), especially Chapter 7; Judith M. Bennett, Women in the Medieval English Countryside: Gender & Household in Brigstock Before the Plague (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), especially Chapter 5; Rodney H. Hilton, The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975); and Helena Graham, "'A woman's work. . .': Labour and Gender in the Late Medieval Countryside," in Goldberg, pp. 126-48.
38 James Orchard Halliwell, in the only modern edition of the poem (see Select Bibliography for Prohemy, p. 126), refers to it as "one of the best specimens of Lydgate's composition" (p. 27). Julius Hugo Lange, "Zur Verfasserschaft dis Advice," Englissche Studien 30 (1902), 346, also ascribes the poem to Lydgate. But Henry Noble MacCracken, The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Pt. I, EETS e.s. 107 (London: Oxford University Press, 1911), p. xlviii, suggests that the Prohemy, "a clever poem something after Mapes's poem against marriage, which Lydgate put into English at this time and made popular," is more akin to Hoccleve in its attack on women, its pleasure in talking about unsatisfactory marriage, and its fondness for Chaucer. But, McCracken argues, the rhymes are equally against authorship by either Hoccleve or Lydgate, concluding: "There were certainly more poets at work in this period than we know about." Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion, 1357-1900, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), p. 36, places composition of the poem at about 1430.
39 For a similarly amusing gulling of a foolish husband by a clever priest, see the French fabliau on the priest who peeked, summarized and discussed at the beginning of Russell A. Peck, "Public Dreams and Private Myths: Perspective in Middle English Literature," PMLA 90 (1975), 461-62.
40 See, for instance, Edwina Burness, "Female Language in The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo," Scottish Studies 4 (1984), 359-68.
41 Larry Scanlon suggests that this particular narrative form was particularly dominant in England. See Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 3.
42 Other compilations that resemble the Gesta Romanorum in form are: Alexander Neckam's De Natura Rerum, Bartholomaeus Anglicus' De Proprietatibus Rerum, Nicole Bozon's Les Contes Moralisés, and Odo de Cheriton's Parabolae.
43 Three manuscript "families" have been identified by early editors: 1) the Anglo-Latin group from which the five extant manuscripts in Middle English were translated, 2) a group of German and Latin manuscripts, and 3) a Vulgate group compiled around the time of Henry VI. Diane Speed has consolidated the groupings into two major categories: the Anglo-Latin and the continental German and Latin manuscripts. See "Middle English Romance and the Gesta Romanorum," in Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance, ed. Rosalind Field (Rochester: D. S. Brewer, 1999), pp. 45-56. Barbara A. Hanawalt sees some of the stories in the Gesta Romanorum as evidence of separation anxiety in late-medieval England. See 'Of Good and Ill Repute': Gender and Social Control in Medieval England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), especially Chapter 6.
44 Shirley Marchalonis, "Medieval Symbols in the Gesta Romanorum," Chaucer Review 8 (1974), 311-19.
45 Diane Speed has identified parallels in romances such as Apollonius of Tyre, Le Bone Florence of Rome, Sir Isumbras, Robert of Sicily, Awntyrs off Arthure, Rauf Coilyear, Sir Cleges, King Horn, Squyr of Lowe Degre, Sir Degaré, Sir Eglamour of Arois, Ywain and Gawain, Sir Gowther, William of Palerne, the Knight of Curtesy, and Amys and Amyloun. Other romances demonstrate minor similarities. See "Middle English Romance and the Gesta Romanorum," pp. 45-56.
46 Wyclif's authorship of this text remains an unsettled issue. In his edition of Wyclif's works, Thomas Arnold states: "The only known copy of the following tract is in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 296. . . . It is not mentioned even by Bale, and the only reason for ascribing it to Wyclif is that it is found in a volume which Archbishop Parker, in the sixteenth century, believed to contain only tracts of Wyclif's composition, and under that belief bequeathed to the college. St. Augustine's being called here 'Seynt Austyn,' instead of simply 'Austyn,' as in the Homilies, appears a suspicious circumstance, yet capable perhaps of explanation, if we suppose the tract to have been composed by Wyclif in his younger days. But whatever may be thought of its authenticity, it possesses sufficient intrinsic interest to justify its appearing, for the first time, in print" (p. 188).
47 Shannon McSheffrey argues in Gender and Heresy: Women and Men in Lollard Communities 1420-1530 that Lollard communities did not offer as much freedom to women as has been supposed. Marriage tended to constrain women in part because the movement was clandestine and restricted to the domestic sphere where husbands asserted their authority.
48 Felicity Riddy, "Mother Knows Best: Reading Social Change in a Courtesy Text," Speculum 71 (1996), 66-86. See also Kathleen M. Ashley, "Medieval Courtesy Literature and Dramatic Mirrors of Female Conduct," in The Ideology of Conduct: Essays on Literature and the History of Sexuality, ed. Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse (New York: Methuen, 1987), pp. 25-38.
49 See Nicholas Orme, Education and Society in Medieval and Renaissance England (London: The Hambledon Press, 1989). A grammatical miscellany from Bristol quoted in a chapter on the subject reads: "Good pupils are praised but the bad are beaten with a birch-rod or a whip." Orme explains: "Beating is conceived, here as elsewhere, as a positive aid to education which makes a pupil good and quiet" (p. 96).
The works presented in this anthology bridge generic categories - satire, fabliaux, secular lyrics, didactic treatises, homiletic matter - and range from the late thirteenth century to the emergence of the English Renaissance in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Some of these texts are obscure, written by anonymous authors, while others are by well-known authors, such as John Lydgate, England's first poet laureate, and the fifteenth-century Scots writer William Dunbar. Yet the theme of marriage links these seemingly disparate texts together to provide an illuminating view of a social institution with a long and complex history. We might expect notions of medieval marriage to be unified and cohesive given the fact that marriage became a sacrament in the twelfth century and was increasingly recognized as a viable social arrangement by ecclesiastical and secular authorities. However, as some of the texts in this volume suggest, heterosexual marriage as an institution was not always a stabilizing and orderly social force. These texts challenge and, in some cases, parody, satirize, and critique the institution of marriage. In so doing they allow us to interrogate the traditional assumptions that shape the idea of the medieval household. The trials of marriage seem to outweigh its joys at times and, as some of these texts suggest, maintaining a sense of humor in the face of what must have been great difficulty could have been no easy task.
The Middle Ages inherited a set of assumptions from classical and biblical sources that helped shape its understandings of nuptial commitment. Depictions on Greek and Roman pottery, murals and friezes, cultural artifacts and some of the most poignant epic and lyric poetry ever written indicate the honor with which marital union was held. Who could forget the pathos of Homer's Odysseus weeping on the island of Kalypso, pining for Penelope and his homeland, or the abjection of Andromache as she mourns the death of her beloved Hector, or the passion of Virgil's Dido whose union with Aeneas she calls "marriage," or Sappho's lyrical exhortation to "raise the roof" for the bridegroom rendered godlike by his impending nuptials? Neither gods nor poets could deny the power of the fusion of two bodies into one soul, two souls into one body; nor could they deny the pain and loss of separation.
Scriptural texts of the Hebrew Bible parallel the high regard of the Greeks and Romans by underwriting marriage in religious traditions in compelling tales of marital love and burgeoning family life. The Hebrew stories of Genesis place marital union at the very center of creation - "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Moreover, the scriptural edict to "[i]ncrease and multiply" (Genesis 1:28) endorses marital procreation as practiced by the first married couple and carried on by their sons and countless generations thereafter, a genealogy that traces humanity back to an original progenitor. The idea of marriage as a central feature of the mythology of these ancient societies could be used to explain the literal relation between men and women as well as to explicate a metaphorical relation between human and divine, form and matter, and the inexplicable mysteries of Nature. One of the most stunning of Old Testament texts - The Song of Songs - could be interpreted in many ways: as the erotic longing between bride and bridegroom, as the mystical marriage of the human soul and its maker, as the conjoining of God and his people, or as the sublime fusion within the Godhead itself. Perhaps the most famous commentator on The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages, Bernard of Clairvaux, wrote eighty-six sermons in which he eloquently described an intense erotic longing not for the pleasures of the flesh but for the pleasures of God's embrace. Using the imagery of the Bride and Bridegroom as set forth by earlier writers such as Origen1 (e.g., the Bride's ardent desire to kiss the mouth of her beloved), Bernard speaks to his monastic audience of the soul's yearning for spiritual ecstasy: "We do not hesitate boldly to proclaim that every soul, if it is vigilant and careful in the practice of all the virtues, can arrive at this holy repose and enjoy the embraces of the Bridegroom."2 Bernard's desire is to inspire the transformation of the souls of his initiates, men who may well have tasted the delights of erotic experience, to encourage the sublimation of their sexual energy into impassioned religious devotion.3
Marriage, in the story of the Wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John, also functions as a metaphor for transformation according to Augustine of Hippo:
For the Word was the Bridegroom and human flesh the bride: and both one, the Son of God, the same also being Son of man. The womb of the Virgin Mary, in which He became head of the Church, was His bridal chamber. . . . From His chamber He came forth as a bridegroom, and being invited [to the Wedding at Cana] came to the marriage.4Marriage imagery also appears in Augustine's explication of the meeting between Christ and the Samaritan woman who is transformed into a figure for the wayward human soul in the absence of Truth; the Samaritan woman's five husbands become the five senses over which she has no control. When Christ commands her to "call her husband" it is for the purpose of provoking reason, the higher human faculty, into governing a soul mired in the materiality of life. The Samaritan woman's "true" husband is announced when she recognizes the Truth of what is being said to her.5
Other New Testament teachings emphasize the literal union between man and woman as advocated in Christ's teaching: "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6), which became the Christian ideal of marriage. According to Michael M. Sheehan, Christian marriage was to be understood as a "sacred relationship" that "provided the ordinary means to the full Christian life . . . [T]he ideal sought in the full Christian life was one in which there would be no erotic activity outside marriage."6 Given the historical context of early Christianity and the social systems it opposed - the polygamy of Celtic societies and the persistent concubinage of the Romans - this endorsement of a new nuptial ideal must have been very attractive, particularly to women. Nonetheless, the presence of a deep ambivalence about marriage, articulated in Pauline theology and reiterated thereafter, subordinates the matrimonial state of human existence to a life of chastity. In his compelling letter to the Corinthians, Paul says:
He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord: how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord: that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world: how she may please her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:32b-34)As Katharina M.Wilson and Elizabeth M. Makowski point out, Paul's view was shaped in large part by his expectation of an imminent second coming and the spiritual readiness such an occasion required.7 But added to other comments made by Paul, i.e., "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" and "it is better to marry than to be burnt" (1 Corinthians 7:1, 9), this statement and the theology it underwrites prove too much for early Christian writers to ignore. What St. Paul preached under a particular set of historical circumstances initiated interpretations that became part of the Latin exegetical tradition.
Despite the fact that the institutional church supported marriage, the conflict Paul introduced was never very far from intense internal debate. The earliest Latin writings of influential patristic thinkers, like Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Origen, and Jerome, all of whom cited Paul as their authoritative source, subordinated the married state to an ascetic lifestyle and urged the sublimation of sexual desire into religious devotion. Perhaps what might be described as the most notorious opposition to marriage appears in Jerome's Adversus Jovinianus, which argues vehemently for the superiority of virginity. The argument initiates a debate on marriage that remains a contentious issue surfacing hundreds of years later, among other places, in Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Prologue.
However influential Jerome might have been, it was Augustine's ambivalence about marital sexuality that ultimately had the most profound effect on clerical views of marriage. Called by at least one scholar "the architect of spiritual marriage in the West," Augustine upheld the "goods" of marriage, i.e., procreation, marital fidelity, and the sacramental bond, in his treatise on the subject. At the same time, however, he proposed that there could be a perfectly valid marriage without sex like that of Mary and Joseph, whose relation endorsed marital affection, the sacramental bond.8 As Elizabeth A. Clark puts it,
Augustine argues thus: because Joseph acted in the role of Jesus's father, he can be named Mary's husband, and this despite their failure ever to have intercourse. They can be called husband and wife because 'intercourse of the mind is more intimate than that of the body.' Fleshly intercourse is not the chief element in marriage, he asserts; a couple can be husband and wife without it.9Not only did some Christian writers emphasize companionate marriage and encourage metaphorical familial ties rather than actual family bonding, but there is a similar trend in the philosophical tradition as well. Athena and Lady Philosophy could become surrogate wives or mothers for seekers of wisdom just as readily as the Virgin Mary or Christ could be understood as parents or spouses. Both religious and philosophical asceticism carried over into late medieval life, and both those in search of a religious life as well as those in search of a university career were expected to remain celibate and chaste.
When marriage became a sacrament in the twelfth century, an already important social arrangement found endorsement from the church, which stood opposed to secular abuses of marital rights by the upper classes. What evolved from the opposition were two models of marriage - secular and ecclesiastical - whose "radical" differences, according to Georges Duby, were in emphasis and focus. While the lay model of marriage supported by the French aristocracy was intended "to safeguard the social order," the ecclesiastical model was created to "safeguard the divine order."10 The lay aristocracy, which had operated under customary laws for centuries, sought to protect a patriarchally controlled system of marriage in which young adults had little choice of marriage partner. Instead, marriages were arranged by parents seeking beneficial social and political alliances with other households sometimes not very far removed from their own. The system was designed primarily to control the patrimony and maintain the economic position and legitimacy of children born to wedded couples.
The difference in focus of this secular model of marriage presented a challenge to churchmen seeking to write a comprehensive set of rules and regulations that would protect scriptural edicts and the sanctity of wedlock.11 The ecclesiastical view of marriage demanded that consent take place between the two principles in the union and that nuptial vows be witnessed in a public place - initially at the church door - rather than arranged and carried out clandestinely; this would help to distinguish legitimate conjugal relations from the sort of concubinage practiced by the Romans. However, because consent of the spouses was a necessary prerequisite to a valid union, many marriages could take place informally and, as long as no one opposed them, could be considered legitimate.12 To render a marriage "legal" required a simple vow of consent either in the present or the future tense which was usually, but not always, followed by consummation; sanctification by a priest was also desirable but not necessary.13 Central to the obligations of this marital arrangement was payment of the conjugal debt, which required each spouse to fulfill the other's sexual demands even when one partner was unwilling. Needless to say, the very idea of negotiating sex in marriage becomes a point of contention both to canonists and married couples.14
Canon law also supported traditional views of the subordinate status of women in relation to men and endorsed placing women sub virga et potestate, literally "under the rod and in the power" of their husbands who had legitimate authority over them in both legal and domestic matters.15 The expectation was, however, that the male head of the household would exercise reason in the discharge of his family duties. Nonetheless, the church, in an effort to protect the institution, strenuously opposed the easy repudiation of spouses and made marital dissolution extremely difficult. Because marriage was intended to be a lifetime monogamous obligation, neither separation nor annulment (the medieval equivalent of divorce) could be granted without enormous effort since both were considered measures of last resort. Over the course of the next two centuries, marriage ordinances were increasingly clarified and a definitive set of rules and regulations eventually disseminated to the public.16
Just at the time marriage was being made into an officially sacred bond between consenting men and women, there were others who opposed its alleged virtues. Heloise, according to Abelard's account in a letter contained in his Historia Calamitatum, writes that she would rather be his "whore" than his wife, arguing that a man whose mind was made for the study of philosophy should not be distracted by the daily obligations of marriage and family life.17 Despite her eloquent and learned protest, however, Abelard arranged a clandestine wedding after which time the already-pregnant Heloise was shipped off to Abelard's sister's house to await the birth of their son. Meanwhile, Abelard was left to face some dire consequences of his own. Ambushed and castrated by thugs hired by Heloise's angry and vengeful uncle, Abelard suffered ignominy and pain thereafter; driven out of the university, he took monastic vows and was exiled from the intellectual community he loved.18 Not only had he participated in an illicit sexual relation, unsanctioned by church and family, but he had also violated the customary chastity expected of scholars and philosophers.19 Heloise also took religious vows but remained as devoted to Abelard for the rest of her life as she was to the nuns of the priory he had given to her.20
The perception of marriage espoused by Heloise, so obviously influenced by the religious and philosophical validation of asceticism, finds another supporter in Andreas Capellanus, author of The Art of Courtly Love (De Honesti de Amandi). This time, however, the argument is predicated upon the notion that love and marriage are incompatible. Following in the tradition of the Roman poet, Ovid, whose Ars Amatoria created such a scandal in Augustan Rome that he was eventually exiled, Andreas constructs a false assumption of marriage as a loveless relation - "we declare and we hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other."21 He goes on to say that, because there is obligation attached to the fulfillment of conjugal duties, there could be no possibility of mutual affection. The place to find love, Andreas argues, is outside of marriage in the arms of a lover, preferably one who is married to someone else. Most of the book consists of a number of dialogues between men and women of various classes and backgrounds rendered ridiculous in their negotiations. Courtly love or amour courtois, as it was coined by Gaston Paris in the nineteenth century, was imagined to have an ennobling effect on the lover; he was somehow transformed into a better person in the attempt to attain a desirable lady, preferably one of a higher social rank. A courtly love relationship, because it was extramarital, entailed secrecy and discretion on the part of the lovers as well as whoever was in their employ as a go-between, a pander to pass their encoded messages back and forth. Of course, the entire treatise, written ostensibly to a naive young man named Walter, is stridently satirical, meant to be a critique of fin amor rather than a manual for lovers to be taken seriously; Andreas cleverly reveals none of his satirical intention until the treatise's last section, however:
Read this little book, then, not as one seeking to take up the life of a lover, but that, invigorated by the theory and trained to excite the minds of women to love, you may, by refraining from so doing, win an eternal recompense and thereby deserve a greater reward from God. For God is more pleased with a man who is able to sin and does not than with a man who has no opportunity to sin.22It is hardly a coincidence that at approximately the same time writers like Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France were addressing the relation of marriage to courtly love and chivalry. A new demand for chivalric romance encouraged Chrétien's invention of his Lancelot and the many characterizations of Tristan, from Thomas of Britain to Béroul to Gottfried von Strassburg. With the possible exception of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, which encourages both the notion of conjugal love and the compatibility of chivalry with marriage, writers of romance delighted in the plight of illicit lovers. Themes of courtly love and the oftentimes humorous antics of the chivalrous lover even found a place in medieval "histories," such as Wace's Roman de Brut, a twelfth-century revision of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, and Layamon's Brut, where they were implicitly validated. In the thirteenth century, the Roman de la Rose seemed to glorify the foolish lover once again in his attempts to conquer the beloved rose at the center of a heavily guarded hortus conclusus; this time the adventures of the lover exposed the absurdity of love's games and encouraged instead the kind of sublimated desire Bernard of Clairvaux and Augustine had in mind earlier. At least that is how its authors Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun apparently intended it to be read. That reading was soon challenged, however, when Christine de Pizan stripped away the allegory to reveal a disturbing defamation of women.23 Christine's writings, like Marie de France's before her, contributed an important perspective on the position of women in medieval society: both those subject to difficult marriages and those caught in potentially destructive courtly games.24
If the tensions inherent in French chivalric romances suggest that marriage was a vexed institution in late medieval France, then it was no less problematic in late medieval England, where from the thirteenth century onward ecclesiastical officials did their best to regulate in practice what was proposed in theory.25 The issues were just as unsettled in romance literature such as Havelok the Dane and King Horn, both of which reflect a concern for dynastic marriage while at the same time revealing an inclination toward the idea of consent between spouses. Later romances move more definitively in the direction of consent; Bevis of Hampton, for instance, makes it clear that the heroine desires to marry the hero but must wait patiently until he consents to the relationship. By the fourteenth century, the optimism frequently created by the authors of romances can only come about when marriage is made central to the welfare of the crown. In Sir Orfeo, for instance, the stability of the hero's kingdom, jeopardized by the queen's abduction, can be restored only when Orfeo successfully rescues her. In Thomas Chestre's Sir Launfal the kingdom is jeopardized when the adulterous Guenevere falsely accuses the hero of rape. Both narratives demonstrate a firm position against high-level adultery and the potential harm it could do to a kingdom - the fall of Camelot is the primary exemplum. It is probably no coincidence that these two works and others like them were written at a time when members of the English aristocracy engaged in courtly love with great enthusiasm - Edward II's notorious relation with his French male lover and Queen Isabella's courtly liaison with Roger Mortimer actually threatened the kingdom, while the elderly Edward III's antics with the strong-willed Alice Perrers and John of Gaunt's long-term relation with Katherine Swynford caused intense public anxiety. Not only were the practices of courtly love passionately embraced in the private lives of public individuals in the fourteenth century, but they were also engaged by the works of writers such as Chaucer and Gower.
Perhaps these are some of the reasons Chaucer's work is so heavily infused with the complexities of marital relations that a "marriage group," consisting of The Wife of Bath's Prologue, The Clerk's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, and The Franklin's Tale, was identified in The Canterbury Tales a century ago by George Lyman Kittredge and continues to be a viable subject for discussion among scholars and students. A marriage debate that addresses all the problems inherited by fourteenth-century England can be traced in these tales - questions raised by Alisoun of Bath's prologue and tale, continued by the Clerk's story of the patient Griselda, and January's troubles with a youthful May, are wishfully resolved by the Franklin's narrative of Dorigen and Arveragus.26 To that list of eligible marriage narratives might be added The Knight's Tale of two marriages, the Miller's fabliau of the foibles of courtly love, the Reeve's fabliau of domestic life, The Shipman's Tale of cuckoldry and exchange, Melibee's tale of household governance, The Nun's Priest's Tale of a literally henpecked husband, and even The Second Nun's Tale, which could be considered an exemplum of spiritual marriage. The underlying assumptions about marriage render the tales and their tellers particularly important guides to this realm of social life.
When cataclysmic changes in the economic, social, and political conditions of society allow aggressive women to challenge authority, as does Chaucer's Wife of Bath, male anxieties about female chastity and cuckoldry, potency and paternity become magnified; male sexual power becomes a metaphor for social power, and a perceived decline in prowess in the bedchamber translates into emasculation and potential ridicule in the public sphere. But in an age without Viagra, male sexual anxiety seems to be not only transferred onto women, who bear the brunt of the blame for diminished performance - witches' curses or overly high expectations - but also directed against the institution that seems to benefit women most - marriage. What results is a marked growth in misogamy, this time in popular literature. According to Wilson and Makowski:
works of misogamy are a source of entertainment not only for generations of wife-beaters and henpecked husbands but also for the general audience. As in most comedy, so in comic and satiric misogamy, the humor derives from a clear incongruity between what is and what should be; between legal and social models and situational ethics, on the one hand, and actual human behavior, on the other; between institutionalized male superiority and occurrences of marital mundus inversus.27The inversion of the marital universe, depicted in scenes of wives beating husbands in church carvings, in the margins of manuscripts, or in fabliaux, plays, and puppet shows,28 elicited joviality (where there might otherwise be pure misery) by diffusing difficult and unpleasant social realities and providing release for collective anxiety. In this sense the genre of fabliau might be considered carnivalesque in its inversion of social and political hierarchies, operating much in the way of festivals and feast-day celebrations by mocking established institutions without threatening their destruction. Instead, such uninhibited events and imaginative works reinforced the status quo by encouraging an entire culture to laugh at itself.
Fabliau and Satire
Many of Chaucer's tales in the expanded version of the marriage group just enumerated belong to a tradition of fabliau that neither achieves the abundance and rich variety of French fabliau nor comes close to the bawdiness of its sexual humor. The paucity of English works in this genre has prompted medieval scholars to find plausible explanations. Keith Busby, for instance, suggests that French traditions permeated English society so thoroughly that there was no need to fill a void because there was no void to be filled.29 Moreover, he suggests that English audiences simply had no interest in matters of French courtly behavior.30 Yet it is also the case that, like other medieval genres, the English fabliau is part of a hybridized comic mode of expression integrated into other forms of representation and for that reason difficult to identify.31 Two fabliau texts preceding those of Chaucer - Dame Sirith and the Interludium de clerico et puella - suggest the well-established presence of this kind of English fabliau prior to the end of the fourteenth century.
Both Dame Sirith and the Interludium de clerico et puella, when considered with other comic works in this volume, add up to something more than scholars imagined to have existed outside of Chaucer. Both narratives embody elements of other genres that render them resistant to easy categorization. The brief Interludium is written so convincingly in dramatic dialogue that it has been called the "oldest extant secular drama" in Middle English.32 Announcing itself as it does in Latin, it seems to identify with liturgical drama, but does not follow through with religious themes. Neither would it have been performed in the church at any time during the liturgical year. Instead, it might better be understood as a crossover, hybrid genre that has left the church door behind, even slammed it shut since the interlude's anti-clerical satire clearly imagines a secular audience. As satire the work takes from fabliau its two most prominent motifs - sexual deception and the inversion of social hierarchies, particularly marriage - to target wayward and foolish clerics as well as weak and foolish husbands. In its secularity it also targets the weak and foolish young woman who would fall for the tricks of the older, more cunning people around her. The Interludium is the kind of play that might have been performed by minstrels as entertainment during a court feast such as that found in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Indeed, its themes of cuckoldry and fatuous behavior seem rather appropriate in the fictional court of King Arthur, given the ongoing courtly relation between Lancelot and Guenevere.
Whereas the Interludium unveils the underlying absurdity of illicit relations, Dame Sirith takes that absurdity to a new level in the intricacy of plot, character development, and the addition of a "weeping bitch."33 It too has been discussed as drama, yet it is much more complex than the Interludium, requiring as it does a narrator, three actors, and a performing dog. Dame Sirith, the go-between for a would-be lover, Wilekin, and the lady of his dreams, Margery, devises a trick to convince the reluctant young wife to accept Wilekin's indecent proposal. The trick, which calls for a special preparation of mustard and pepper to make the dog weep, elicits the desired result - the lover successfully dupes the gullible Margery into an affair with him; Sirith's remedies are proven so efficacious by the end of the narrative that she turns to the audience and offers her professional services to anyone who might want them.34 If the mental acuity of Margery is thrown into question by her quick accession to Sirith's trickery, the intellectual faculties of Sirith are heightened by comparison. She turns a terrific trick by creating a convincing narrative with a little help from a cunningly prepared canine actor. This is English fabliau at its finest.
Whereas French fabliau is often denigrating to women, English fabliau, according to Melissa Furrow, is frequently marked by a "strong tendency . . . to use trickery to put a stop to illicit behavior rather than to further it."35 This is certainly true in the case of The Wright's Chaste Wife, where a young wife cleverly thwarts attempts on her chastity by three would-be lovers - a knight, a steward, and a proctor. When they appear one by one at her door while her husband is away, she lures them one at a time up the stairs to a trapdoor covering a pit forty feet deep into which they fall. This tale of an attempted seduction of a carpenter's wife differs from the attempts made on Alisoun in Chaucer's The Miller's Tale because it ends not in the ridicule of the gullible husband, his wayward young wife, the hopeful lovers, and the practices of a parodic version of courtly love, but rather in the ridicule of the privileged classes. When the knight, his steward, and the proctor are made to do the work of women during their involuntary incarceration not only are they comically emasculated, but their complete ignorance of how manual labor should be done reveals an utter lack of social conscience. As John DuVal suggests, the tale throws the notion of nobility into question when the measure of a person's value is represented by productivity rather than by birthright.36 The moral of the story underscores the value of women's work - the beating of flax, the spinning and preparation of raw materials into usable fibers - and demonstrates the capabilities of married women in both household management and personal integrity. The fact that the knight, the first to take advantage of the wright's absence, genuinely learns something from his experience suggests that the lesson on the value of hard work could be taken back to the aristocratic class to which he belongs; meanwhile, the wright's wife gains recognition as the repository of honor and integrity as she teaches the ignorant fools around her. The miraculous garland of roses, the measure of a young woman's chastity given to her by her mother as a meager dowry, remains untainted; so too does the wife's reputation, a fact that confers nobility upon a woman and benefits her husband as well.
The theme of the value of women's work is also present in the Ballad of a Tyrannical Husband, as is a strong feminine voice that undercuts an attempted male critique. In this anonymous, unfinished tale, the tyrannical husband, a ploughman, imagines that his field work is far more demanding than his wife's domestic chores. In a manner echoing present-day criticism of the stereotypical bon-bon eating, soap-opera watching housewife, this husband evokes a masculine ideology that presupposes the lesser value of domestic, and therefore feminine, work. When he demands that they switch places for a day, however, he discovers that the raising of children, the production and preparation of food and clothing, the care of the domestic environment, the feeding of the livestock, and the brewing of ale far exceed his simple agricultural chores.37 The tyranny that he attempts to impose on his wife is exposed not merely as unjust but as utterly fatuous. The marital hierarchies of this narrative, as in The Wright's Chaste Wife, have been broken down into equitable egalitarian arrangements wherein the male characters learn to respect women's contributions to medieval society at large and women defend themselves against the slander typical of fabliau.
If French fabliaux encourage the lingering of a lascivious masculine gaze upon the private parts of women, then English fabliaux, or at least one of them, unveil the heretofore invisible male member and provide women with yet another literary venue for venting frustrations about marital intimacy. A Talk of Ten Wives on Their Husbands' Ware, for instance, offers a glimpse into feminine discourses on marital sex. Not unlike the contemporary locker room talk of female athletes or the feminine discourse present at gatherings of women honoring an impending birth or wedding, or among adolescent women or women's professional communities, this discourse reverses the norm and directs the feminine gaze to the male body. The discussion, which takes place in a tavern, is the stuff of which masculine anxiety over physique, sexual performance, and masculinity is imagined to derive. In euphemistic language worthy of distinction for the number of words describing but never saying the word "penis," ten married women take turns talking frankly about the shortcomings of their husbands' "merchandise." From size to sexual performance to bedroom behavior, they castigate their spouses freely - the anonymous author is careful to mention that there are no men around to hear them. Despite the fact that this is probably a male-authored text mocking the hubris of an assumed male privilege, it nonetheless provides a venue for married women to identify with what must have been very real frustrations. That many young women were strongly encouraged, even coerced, to marry up the social scale to financially successful, often older, men was a fact of social life in late medieval England.
There is no question about the gender of the voice in Prohemy of a Mariage Betwixt an Olde Man and a Yonge Wife, and the Counsail, attributed to John Lydgate,38 nor that the issue at stake is marriage between an older man and a younger woman. Neither is there any question about the influence of Chaucer - the poem is filled with Chaucerian allusions. The work is cast in terms of an epistle written to the narrator/philosopher by his old friend requesting advice on whether to marry. Using Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale and a fabliau about December and his young wife July, the Philosopher sets about dissuading his friend from taking such a drastic step so late in life. At one point in the narrative he quotes Paul's "it is better to marry than to be burnt" statement (as does Chaucer's Wife of Bath, CT III[D]52), perhaps a reason that the work is in the highly personal epistle form. Certainly the misogamous themes are evident in the speaker's advice as he lists the negative views of women held by Jerome, Tertullian, and others also listed in The Wife of Bath's Prologue. If we consider this work as an extension of the marriage debate reiterated so entertainingly by Chaucer's Wife of Bath, the Philosopher argues against everything that Alisoun claims about marriage to such an extent that his misogamy approaches misogyny as he proceeds to discredit women as a group. The Philosopher's exempla include a wife who has married seven times, a recapitulation of what happened to old January, unwittingly cuckolded by Damian, and a similar narrative about an old man (December) and a young woman (July) who persuades him to marry, only to prove untrustworthy in the end. When December tells July frankly before they wed that he is impotent, she agrees to live with his condition, at least temporarily. When he discovers the intensity of her desire in bed on their wedding night and asks her to recall their conversation, she reveals another plan: that his impotence should be remedied by procuring a younger and more virile surrogate lover. December is not only threatened with cuckoldry, but he is even expected to pay for it! Like January and all the other dupes of fabliau, the old man is made a fool by his desire, not simple lust, but rather a culturally driven desire for public status bequeathed upon him by this trophy wife. Lydgate ends in a Chaucerian-like palinode, an envoy to all men in the audience who might make the same mistake.
That mistake is taken up again in an anonymous and very brief fabliau called The Meaning of Marriage. Not only is the older husband castigated by his young wife, but he is also cuckolded by a willing and able priest, whom the Scottish narrator claims is Irish. The priest comes to the home of the husband and his young wife to act as marriage counselor since the husband has spent most of his time away from home to the neglect of his wife and payment of the conjugal debt. When John seems not to comprehend the reasons for marriage offered to him by the Irish priest, i.e., procreation of children, satisfying Nature, and avoiding fornication, the priest offers to demonstrate. He does so well that the young wife wishes him to repeat the demonstration, claiming that her elderly husband will forget what he has just witnessed.39
The case of the neglectful and impotent old husband is further debated by Dunbar in his Middle Scots poem The Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo. Some see Dunbar's Tretis as an extension of the marriage debate initiated by Chaucer: the two married women, under the guidance and encouragement of the more experienced widow, mount a scathing attack on the sexual inadequacies of their decrepit husbands. Dunbar casts his marriage satire in an innovative manner, capturing the flavors of English fabliau, while rendering a distinctly different view of it all. The poet adds a dimension of voyeurism reminiscent of A Talk of Ten Wives, but much more explicit and overt. The discussion about men in which the women engage is overheard by Dunbar's persona, a narrative eavesdropping device that allows the author to use the text as a means by which his audience may be instructed against nuptial naiveté. Like the title character in Dame Sirith, Dunbar's narrator turns to the audience in the end, but rather than recommending his services, he recommends second thoughts to those considering marriage. As in the anonymous A Talk of Ten Wives, Dunbar constructs a feminine community and a collective female voice that has gained credibility among some scholars.40 Yet, the very freedom with which these women speak, the social and linguistic liberties performed here, are precisely the factors that mark the text as fabliau. These aggressive and forceful females participate in the carnivalesque by mocking the traditions that define social status and keep women firmly in their place.
If the fabliau offers us a humorous side to the marriage debate, then its serious side is represented by the many entertaining moralized stories found in the Gesta Romanorum, certain works of influential writers like John Lydgate, and conduct treatises such as How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter and How the Goode Man Taght Hys Sone. All of these works address matters relating to marital union and family life as ideas about both continued to evolve in the late Middle Ages.
The English version of the Gesta Romanorum contains a sampling of the kinds of stories that might be read as well as heard in the sermons of medieval preachers and reformulated in the works of writers such as Boccaccio, Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, and Shakespeare.
The compilation is a vast repository of moral exempla used to convert an entertaining mode of literature into moral lessons for members of the laity who might not otherwise be exposed to them.41 This has led some scholars to suggest that possible authors may be John Bromyard, author of Summa Prædicantium, a well-known, frequently used manual for preachers, or Petrus Berchorius, compiler of Reductorii Moralis, or Robert Holcot, whose Moralitates also renders him a possible candidate.42 It is more likely, however, that the English Gesta Romanorum will remain known simply as a compilation invented by anonymous monks for fireside recreation and edification.
As the title of the Gesta Romanorum suggests, the narratives focus on the deeds of the Romans, but the diverse stories collected therein come from a variety of sources, both oral and written, some of which may originate well beyond the boundaries of Europe.43 The vast number of extant manuscripts, approximately one hundred and sixty-five, according to Sir Frederic Madden, renders the Gesta something of a medieval bestseller. Compiled first in Latin in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries, it was translated into several European languages. The Middle English versions, which occur sometime in the fifteenth century, pave the way for Wynkyn de Worde's printed edition and many editions thereafter.
As a source of homiletic materials for the parish priest, the Gesta must have been invaluable. Any conscientious ecclesiastic seeking to infuse dry didactic homilies with exciting storytelling could look to it for complete narratives. Neither would he have to deduce the moral of the story, since the "moralitee" is explicitly written at the end of each tale. The stories of the Gesta Romanorum taught an untutored laity ways in which fictional narratives could be read and interpreted in a manner similar to the traditional exegetical methods used to interpret biblical narratives from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. But they also served to amuse the learned through their often bizarre moralistic ingenuity. Bible stories could be interpreted allegorically, morally, and spiritually, as well as literally, as we have seen demonstrated for The Song of Songs and the Gospel of John. Any number of Old Testament characters and/or events could prefigure Christ or foreshadow the events of the New Testament. Similarly, stock characters in the Gesta such as the bawd, the Emperor, the wayward woman, the naive young son, the necromancer, and the cleric could easily be converted into allegorical figures. Shirley Marchalonis' study of one hundred and eighteen Gesta stories, for instance, finds that the ruler - king, emperor, knight, or historical figure - is the "most constant symbol," though variation occurs in meaning.44 In most tales the ruler equates with God or Christ while in others he could be the human soul, the good Christian, or a conscientious prelate.
The three stories from the Gesta Romanorum selected for this volume demonstrate how moral exempla could be didactic as well as entertaining. Each of the narratives here - "How a Wife Employed a Necromancer to Cause the Death of Her Husband, and How He Was Saved by a Clerk," "Of the Magic Ring, Brooch, and Cloth," and "The Punished of Adulterers" - deals with marriage and family relations in an entertaining yet instructive manner. In fact, because medieval genres often overlap, the resemblances among them are difficult to discern and numerous parallels have been identified between Gesta stories and Middle English romances as well as other forms of literary work.45
The sins of adultery are the subject of "How a Wife Employed a Necromancer to Cause the Death of Her Husband," where Emperator Felician's wife takes a shine to a knight in her husband's employ. She is so determined to carry out her illicit desire that she employs a magician to murder her husband from afar by means of sorcery; the well-laid plans are thwarted by a cleric with preternatural skills enough to overcome the best any evil sorcerer could conjure. Emperator Felician is ultimately saved, the necromancer dies, and the wife, her heart removed and cut into three pieces, is soon replaced. The moralization immediately following the lively story assigns metaphors to each character and action. The wife becomes the flesh, the necromancer illicit desire, and the clerk the confessor/preacher who saves souls. The divided heart is transformed into the three devotional acts - praying, almsgiving, and fasting - that must be carried out before the fragmented soul can become whole again.
If the first narrative transforms illicit human desires into moral lessons on saving one's soul, then so too does "Of the Magic Ring, Brooch, and Cloth," though in a much more complicated way. This moral tale involves a nuclear family: an emperor, his wife, and their three sons, all of whom receive a share of an inheritance at their father's death. As in folk tales and Bible stories depicting the youngest son as somehow favored, though he appears not to be in the beginning, the third son, Jonathas, receives special magical gifts, while his two older brothers receive property and money. The young boy's acquisitions are given to him one by one by his very wise mother whose plans for this special son include a university education. The magic ring, which brings him the regard of all his professors, helps him get a foothold in his life away from home. The brooch brings him "al thinge that he wolde coveite" (line 60), i.e., worldly goods, while the cloth, a magic carpet, allows him to fly anywhere in the world his heart desires. Complicating his education, perhaps obstructing it, is a seductive and cunning young woman, Felicité, who offers him sex and eventually steals his ring, then his brooch, then his flying carpet, leaving the young man in a state of physical and emotional loss. The resolution includes an extended, gruesome revenge sequence, after which Jonathas undergoes restoration and healing by serving the sick. Eventually he delivers to the betraying woman what she deserves: public humiliation, leprosy, and death. How is a medieval audience to understand this? The "moralitee" renders the emperor a figure for Christ; the first son, the angels; the second son, the prophets; and the third son, the Christian man; the ring equals faith, the brooch, the holy spirit, and the magic carpet, "perfite charité" (line 191). Once again, Felicité is equated with the flesh, which must be chastened unto death by penance.
The bawd of "The Punished of Adulterers," reminiscent of Dame Sirith and Chaucer's Alisoun of Bath, introduces a novel approach to the lessons of adultery when she teaches from the afterlife. Having repented and saved her own soul at the last minute, the bawd appears to her husband in a dream to inform him of her new position and to let him know the consequences of illicit sexual behavior. The bawd then performs acts of transformation, becoming first a serpent and then a woman, as she passes through a mysterious stone. When she emerges on the other side she is accompanied by several rowdy demons who proceed to immerse the adulterous couple (or what appears to be the couple) in a cauldron of boiling brass "till the fleshe was sothyn fro the bone" (lines 27-28). Their bones are then taken out and laid beside the cauldron where they are transformed again into the couple whom the bawd identifies as "oure neghbores" (line 33). This is to be their eternal punishment, she explains to her husband, because "they lyvedyn in avoutery, and amendid hem nought" (lines 35-36). Her brief narrative is then transformed into its moral lesson which advocates full repentance and generous almsgiving.
As in the other narratives, the woman becomes a figure of carnality and sin which must be avoided in order for the Christian man's soul to remain whole. The strain of misogamist/anti-feminist thought running throughout these narratives is clearly discernible - carnality is feminine while the loftier spirit is masculine, for instance - but given the ecclesiastical biases of these "Tales of the Romans" and their use as homiletic texts, perhaps these inclinations are less problematic than they might appear to be at first. At the very least, the stories and their moral transformations teach a medieval audience how aptly applied interpretive methods may render almost any text into meaningful doctrine.
The Wycliffite treatise on marriage46 sounds rather orthodox as it takes another approach to didacticism.47 Not only does it address theological principles, but it also goes to great lengths to address marriage practices - how husbands and wives should treat each other, and how they should raise their children. The treatise begins with the definition of two kinds of marriage: one between Christ and Holy Church, the other between men and women by just consent. Echoing Pauline doctrine, the author, in an ideology close to Wyclif's own, privileges the spiritual over the earthly, since souls, not bodies, are broken by lost faith, a result achieved not only through fornication and adultery, but by worshiping false gods. This loss of faith or "spiritual adultery" is even worse than "brekynge of fleschly matrimonye" (line 16). Following Paul, Augustine of Hippo, and Jerome, the treatise talks about virginity as a higher state of being accessible only by a dedicated few while marriage should be undertaken for procreative purposes or as a preventive measure against fornication - remember: "better to marry than to be burnt." After the children have been born, chaste marriage is the "best kept matrimoyne of all othere" (line 106), for which the exemplum is the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Each partner in this conjugal arrangement would be expected to stir the other to charity, righteousness, meekness, patience, and "alle goodnesse" (line 109); moreover, they should not seek divorce for any reason except adultery, since "Crist biddith no man departe atwyn hem that God hath joyned" (lines 110-11).
That the Wycliffite text accepts the traditional hierarchy of marriage, i.e., subordination of wife to husband, goes without saying, though both would be expected to discipline their children. At this point the treatise spends considerable time addressing household governance, reminding husbands to love their wives and to refrain from beating them "withoute resonable cause" (line 171). Fathers are told to raise their children by discipline, learning, and "chastising," without provoking them to indignation that causes them to trespass against God's commandments. Similarly, wives are admonished not to provoke their husbands' wrath, but rather to help them live clean and holy lives. Both husband and wife are advised to avoid the three great pitfalls of marriage and family life: 1) that children prompt parents to seek worldly benefits for them; 2) that wives are inclined to give their husbands' goods to the wrong people; 3) that mothers are too prone to grieve for their dead children and blame God instead of accepting His will. The closing section reminds the audience of the consequences of breaking faith, restating that idleness is the devil's bawd; the husband and wife should pray, live a life of controlled abstinence, feed the hungry, clothe and harbor the sick, and do penance for old sins in order to maintain the bonds of spiritual matrimony.
Though much emphasis is placed on the education of children in the Wycliffite treatise, the issue is more directly addressed in the last three texts in this section. All three - John Lydgate's piece on "evil marriage," How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter, and How the Goode Man Taght Hys Sone - convey conduct and courtesy advice in narrative vehicles more privatized and direct than either a homily or treatise on family life would be. These texts may even mark a discernible social movement in the fifteenth century toward the privatization and domestication of childhood education for both sexes.48 Many of the manuscripts in which these texts are found have been talked about by scholars as indicators of a rise in literacy among the emerging middle class in late-medieval England. So too may these didactic narratives indicate a concern for leveling the playing field between the upper and lower classes of English feudal society, shifts which are addressed by a number of medieval writers. It is no coincidence that at this time the idea of nobility is undergoing re-definition as a social status to be attained by anyone interested in cultivating and practicing proper etiquette. The emphasis on conduct and matters of social courtesy is evident in the multitude of texts on the subject as is a discernible interest in and acceptance of upward social mobility.
And as in all matters of education, whether medieval or modern, teaching anything worthwhile requires a pleasant pedagogical method and an entertaining approach to the subject matter. These three texts represent a shift from the public rhetoric of homiletic instruction to a more private, personal approach to the education of the young. John Lydgate's Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage, for instance, is presented in a light, almost comic tone, which exhorts the "lytell chylde" (line 1) to "[t]hynke on this lesson" (line 7), a short poem on the negative attributes of marriage. The narrator claims that when he was about to marry the woman of his dreams, his friends began to dissuade him. Echoes of the misogamist/anti-feminist inclinations of texts written by other churchmen (he names John Chrysostom, for instance) appear in this poem as the narrator muses over the wiles and waywardness of women. Wedlock, he says, is "an endles penaunce . . . / A martirdome and a contynuaunce / Of sorowe ay lastynge, a deedly violence" (lines 71-74), especially when women try to rule the household. Given all the complaints registered by countless clerics that resonate here - women are fickle, hypocritical, vain, foolish, oversexed, and mean - only fools or martyrs would fall prey to such a snare. Not only is the rhetorical approach effective - after all, who wants to be a fool? - but the tone established by the narrator renders the lesson palatable and persuasive.
Similarly, these didactic addresses to a son and daughter respectively by a parent of the same sex cast within a well-wrought story is rhetorically effective. These lessons are not delivered directly as verbal commands, but rather as tales told by other parents to their children as part of a custom of intergenerational mentorship - from father to son, from mother to daughter - in which the "how" of didactic storytelling is as important as the subject matter. How the Goode Man Taght Hys Sone provides a parent with a means by which to convey the importance of good behavior - "in hys langage" (line 15), or "in his own words." It also provides an educational model for the child learning at the feet of an authority figure. Yet its very informality contrasts with official modes of education current in the late Middle Ages which were more emphatically rendered by the rod. The schoolmaster's practice of beating students into submission is not present in either of these didactic texts. Rather, the approach to educating the young is without force or threat of punitive retaliation should the child not learn the lesson in the prescribed manner.49
There is a clear gender distinction between the two works, however, that warrants a closer look, since the division of labor, individual responsibilities, and moral obligations not only carry over into future generations, but resonate eerily with some of the recommendations of the Wycliffite treatise. Both begin with an exhortation to listen and an admonition to serve God; both address the avoidance of outspokenness, inappropriate social behavior, the importance of charitable acts, and choosing the right spouse; both advise paying attention to one's health, paying tithes and retiring debts. However, the basic assumptions apparent right from the beginning, i.e., that a girl will almost inevitably become a wife, while a boy retains the option to marry, set up distinctions in social roles defined by sex. Boys are advised to avoid public office, quests, pilgrimages, and vice; girls are advised to cultivate good manners and a modest demeanor and appearance, and to avoid acquiring a bad reputation. If boys should decide to marry they are reminded to govern their wives justly, correcting them by verbal chastisement rather than by corporal punishment. Girls are advised to answer husbands meekly, avoid provocation, manage the household servants, stay at home, bake bread, and, in general, be good housewives. The young girl is admonished not to grieve overly long over the untimely death of a child, and if she has a daughter, her duty is to see to it that she marries. The good wife ends with a stunning proverbial expression: "a child unborn is better than one untaught," while the good man reminds his son that good deeds and fair practices make for a meritorious life.
While the Wycliffite treatise on family relations, the moralized stories of the Gesta Romanorum, and the instructional texts focus on a didactic and value-laden view of domestic relations, the lyrics selected for presentation here move us back into the public realm of popular song. All the anxieties and antipathies toward marriage as well as some of the joys are captured in the carefree, carnivalesque lyrics which mark a convergence between private and public, sacred and profane, official and unofficial spheres of authority. Just as feast day celebrations of late medieval England allowed open mockery of official institutions in a manner carried on in the tradition of Mardi Gras today, these occasions tended to reinforce the status quo rather than to subvert it. In a similar way secular lyrics embody popular sentiment and a proclivity to parody and satirize traditional modes of behavior. What had become conventional stereotypes by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries - the ideal virtuous woman, the hapless old man, the lusty young wife, the ardent suitor, the befuddled cleric - converge in the lyrics, rendering them comic despite their serious subject matter. "In Praise of Women," for instance, is a tongue-in-cheek defense of women who do valuable domestic work and serve men well rather than an ode to female perfection as its title implies. The various complaints on the tribulations of marriage and the wiles of wayward wives capture the comedy typical of fabliau. And should we be reminded of Chaucer's The Miller's Tale by "Old Hogyn's Adventure," with its motif of the famous misplaced kiss, it is surely no coincidence. The continuing anxieties of husbands over issues of women's domestic power and the consequences of henpecking that resonate in "I Have a Gentle Cock" suggest that concern over masculinity and reputation for prowess among men remains an issue as firmly entrenched as marriage itself.
From the clerical and didactic to the comedy of fabliau and secular lyrics, what the works in this volume suggest is that marriage, as an ancient social institution, has as complicated and controversial a past as the human societies for which it has become a central feature. We may laugh at the antics of the inept cleric, the wily woman, the impotent husband, and the foolish lover in their attempts to subvert marital ideals; yet, however those ideals are besieged and challenged, they remain steadfastly in place. What marriage requires, these texts seem to say, is vigilance, respect, and an extraordinarily well-developed sense of humor.
Go To Dame Sirith
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