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Dame Sirith


Abbreviations: B&S: J. A. W. Bennett and G. V. Smithers; B&A: Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson; D&B: Charles W. Dunn and Edward T. Byrnes; Ga: Thomas J. Garbáty; McK: George H. McKnight; MS: Bodleian Library MS Digby 86 (SC 1687), fols. 165a-168a; T: Elaine Treharne.

The MS begins with a French incipitCi comence le fablel et al cointise de dame siriz.

Narrator The manuscript includes a number of speech markers: C at lines 24, 37, 61, 109, 127, 161, 173, 217, 249, and 267; V at lines 26, 43, 88, 115, 133, and 337; T at lines 1 and 149; and F at lines 167, 193, 229, 235, 255, 273, 288, and 333. B&S, p. 306, identify the capitals as speech markers, suggesting that C represents Clericus (i.e., Wilekin), with V standing for Vxor (i.e., Margery), T for Testator (i.e., the narrator), and F for Femina (i.e., Dame Sirith). I have placed speech markers throughout the edition, using the names of the characters rather than the Latin equivalents. The brackets indicate that the speech marker is not found in the manuscript, though if the practice were consistently carried through, this would be the designation.

1-6 On the 6-line tale rhyme stanza, see D&B, pp. 32, 174.

1-12 The opening introduces the clerk, who is described in terms of the courtly lover, languishing in lovesickness. The courtly love tradition has a long history, reaching as far back as Ovid's Ars Amatoria, a tongue-in-cheek manual for would-be lovers. The challenge to the lover was often to outwit his beloved's husband: marriage thus was an integral feature of the system. The strategies used in this pursuit were often amusing, diversion rather than doctrine. Not everyone in Ovid's time took his love games as harmless entertainment, however, and the Roman poet was soon exiled by Augustus Caesar for promoting adultery. In the twelfth century, courtly love becomes encoded in rules of chivalry for aspiring knights. Andreas Capellanus' Art of Courtly Love is another treatise in the spirit of Ovid and just as satirical, a fact not revealed until the last section. Written by the chaplain of Marie de Champagne's court, The Art of Courtly Love outlines a series of imaginary dialogues between various kinds of couples distinguished primarily by class. The equally imaginary audience for this treatise on courtly love is a novice lover named Walter. Another influential writer of Marie's court - Chrétien de Troyes - seems at times to have taken the system seriously as a means by which a knight could be induced to courteous behavior and to learn humility by allowing his lady to direct his every action, though this is still a matter of debate. Chrétien's Lancelot or The Knight of the Cart illustrates such a "training" procedure. One of Chrétien's other works - Erec and Enide - addresses the considerable tensions between chivalry, its courtly codes, and marriage to question whether a knight's wife might also serve as his lady. Marie de France's courtly love stories or Breton lays are also of the same period with emphasis on the repercussions of courtly love for women. Dame Sirith reverses the situation, as Margery finds herself (or thinks she does) in jeopardy if she does not play the courtly game.

10-15 Wilekin, the clerk, exhibits lovesickness, the symptoms of which are pallor caused by perpetual yearning, lack of sleep, inability to eat, and general mental confusion.

35 will I. MS: willi. So too in lines 40, 46, 262, 295 (in negative form, i.e., "nulli") 388, 396, and 397.

43 Wilekin. The name is the diminutive form of Will, a name reminiscent of what was believed to be part of the human soul. Compare Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue, where Alisoun brutalizes the hypothetical jealous husband with words, then reassures his spineless remnant of resistance: "Goode lief, taak keep / How mekely looketh Wilkyn, oure sheep! / Com neer, my spouse, lat me ba thy cheke!" (CT III[D]431-33). She adds insult to injury when she "uses the infantile ba for 'kiss,'" according to Larry D. Benson, ed. Riverside Chaucer, p. 869. In Dame Sirith the lover is young rather than old and jealous, but he has little more will power than the Wife's "husband" as he goes to Femina for advice (see head-note to Narrator). The diminutive form of the name may have found its way into English from the Middle Dutch of Flanders. B&S suggest that "[T]he native equivalent is represented in OE by -cen in tyncen 'small cask,' thrynorcen, 'a little thorn'" (p. 306). In the Interludium de clerico et puella, a comic play written decades later than Sirith, the clerk is unnamed.

45-49 In the margins of the MS adjacent to these lines are two caricatures, the first of a mature woman (probably Sirith), the second of a species either equine or canine. If equine, the image could represent the means by which Sirith would be publicly humiliated if found guilty of sorcery, if canine it may refer to the "weeping bitch" so integral to her trick.

88 wold I. MS: woldi. So also at lines 243, 249, and 309. Compare notes to lines 35 and 106.

thing. MS: thin.

99 To ben on hore. The equation of adultery with prostitution may reflect a literary trope called the "calumniated wife" found in many Middle English romances and folk tales. In it, even the suggestion of adultery when made to a woman of integrity becomes an accusation of a much worse charge of prostitution though there is no financial arrangement mentioned. In the Erle of Tolous, Dame Beulybon, when her integrity is impugned, responds similarly: "Do you think me a whore?" In the Towneley play Herod The Great the first miles ("soldier") uses the term as an insult when one of the mulieres ("women") objects to his killing her baby: "What, hoore, art thou woode?" (line 390).

106 shuld I. MS: shuldi. See notes to lines 35 and 88.

108 Ar his hom come. This passage is vaguely reminiscent of the pressure placed on Penelope by her many suitors in Homer's Odyssey, though it is not likely that the author of Sirith knew Homer's work directly. But besieged women who hold out until their husband or betrothed returns are common in Middle English romance and Breton lays from King Horn on. Dorigen in Chaucer's The Franklin's Tale offers a pleasingly sentimental (albeit subsequent) parallel; perhaps the best example of the besieged yet faithful wife is found in The Wright's Chaste Wife, included in this volume.

114 The lover's assumption is that Margery, his beloved, will recognize his lovesickness and acquiesce out of pity for him. Again compare the situation in The Franklin's Tale, where Aurelius pleads his case in terms of the tears on his cheek (CT V[F]1078). Pity is often depicted by medieval writers as a feminine virtue modeled after the Mater Dolorosa.

116 So ich ever mote biden Yol. Ga translates this idiom "as sure as Christmas"; D&B translate it as "must await Yule"; T as "must wait for Christmas."

127 lemmon. MS: lenmon.

132 finde. MS: fide.

135 leve brother. This is not an acknowledgment of kinship, but rather a colloquial mode of address hinting at the beginning of sympathy and change of heart, if not mind.

136 For ne wille ich thee love, ne non other. MS: For wille ich the love ne non other. The missing negative ne is filled in for sense, though not for meter.

142 maken menis. To "make lament," B&S say, is an "idiom attested from 1400 onwards, in the sense 'get someone to intercede for one' (lit. 'employ as intermediary'), and is clearly what is required here" (p. 308). A go-between is a stock character of courtly love relations since communication between lovers must be discreet. Often this secretive mode of language requires a specialized reading of signs between the lovers. Such is the case in Chevrefoil by Marie de France, when Tristan must communicate with Isolde in ways indiscernible by others.

149-60 The action taken by Wilekin recalls the protagonist of the Latin fabliau, Pamphilus de Amore. In "Pamphilus de Amore: An Introduction and Translation," Chaucer Review 2 (1967), 108-34, Ga traces its use by several late medieval authors including Boccaccio, Chaucer, Gower, and Juan Ruiz in his Libro de Buen Amor. There are also strong allusions to the Roman de la Rose, particularly the Sirith character to the Old Woman or La Vieille. An important difference between Pamphilus de Amore and Dame Sirith, however, is that in the former the beloved "Galathea" is unmarried and assertive about protecting her maidenly reputation, while in the latter Margery is married and rather gullible. See also Priscilla Bawcutt, "Pamphilus de Amore 'in Inglish Toung,'" Medium Aevum 64 (1995), 264-72.

154 Sirith. MS: siriz. So also in lines 161 and 418. Ga suggests this spelling of Sirith's name to be the most prevalent, "but the rhyme shows the z to have been originally a thorn" (p. 446). John Hines clarifies: "The sporadic use of the graph for sounds we should write is a medieval English practice deriving from the unfamiliarity of Francophones with the sounds. Sirith is an identifiable personal name while a Siriz pronounced with a z at the end is not; the pronunciation Sirith is confirmed by rhymes in the text" (The Fabliau in English, p. 43). According to B&S the spelling may be due to the "uncertainty of Anglo-Norman scribes regarding the use of the graph þ and its phonetic value" (p. 312).

157 No . . . ni. The double negative functions as an intensifier, thus "no man whatsoever."

162 with. MS: wiz. See note to line 154.

167 leve sone. Another colloquial term of familiarity rather than kinship.

173 nelde. Most editors agree that this should be read as an elde rather than nelde. Ga explains this as "an example of the wrong split between the indefinite article an and a noun with initial vowel" (p. 447), but the MED lists nelde as a noun, a "term of endearment" meaning "old woman," "grandmother," or "granny."

206 On wicchecrafft nout I ne con. Witchcraft is not officially codified as a heresy (from the Greek word for "free choice" or "alternative") until 1486 in a text entitled Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), although there was plenty of concern about it in the late thirteenth century when Dame Sirith was written. Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (New York: Bonanza Books, 1959), pp. 547-48, offers a brief and useful history of witchcraft:
In the first thirteen centuries, witchcraft was punished by death only if some concrete injury resulted; divination or healing was considered about as bad as prostitution and was punished accordingly. In the fourteenth century, ecclesiastical law started to become more organized against sorcery. In 1310 the Church Council at Treves forbade divination, love potions, conjurations, and the like. In 1432 the Bishop of Beziers excommunicated sorcerers and their ilk. Legislation increased in the fifteenth century. These laws were not directed against the later witchcraft of pact and sabbat, although in the inquisitorial trials these crimes were being introduced, even as early as 1330 (at Toulouse).
B&S suggest that it is "on the score of 'bawdy' that Dame Sirith is so apprehensive" (p. 310).

209 mi Pater Noster and mi Crede. These prayers are important markers of medieval piety and occasionally served as tests for heresy, though most folks could recite them from memory whether or not they were heretics.

220 that. MS: tha.

225 The barter exchange, i.e., goods for service, suggests bawdry, placing Dame Sirith in the position of pander. Ga suggests that these kinds of gifts are typically extended to the go-between (p. 448).

247 somer driven. Being lashed backwards on a beast of burden was a particularly humiliating public punishment usually reserved for the worst criminals or traitors. Ga adds: "A bawdy woman was customarily driven on a sempter (a mule or an ass) facing its rump" (p. 247). The MED identifies the creature as a "packhorse."

274 pones. B&S follow the MS, as have I, while D&B emend to penes. The meaning is monetary either way.

276 juperti. MS: aiuperti.

279 Pepir. MS: Pepis.

279-84 Dame Sirith's address to her dog takes place in these lines. The frequent association of dogs with witches may be of importance to the trick about to be played in conjunction with the folk motif of the "weeping bitch," an exemplum found in the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alphonsus, Jacques de Vitry's Exempla, the Gesta Romanorum (Tales of the Romans), as well as the Historia Septem Sapientium (The History of the Seven Sages). In late medieval England the story appears in the Alphabetum Narrationem (An Alphabet of Tales).

288 boinard. The word derives from OF buisnart, meaning buzzard. In the Roman de Renart, the famous medieval story of Reynard the Fox, the term is used as a proper name. According to B&S, the pejorative application of the word as it is used here "is rooted in the notion that the buzzard (which is a type of falcon) was sluggish and dull by nature" (p. 310).

306 ansine. MS: ausine. McK's emendation. B&S emend to nausine, despite the citation of the word ansine in the MED, 1 (a), where fallen in ansene is glossed as "decline or fail in appearance (?in the view of others)."

314 God. MS: goed. So also at lines 322 and 330. While B&S retain the name as written in MS, D&B emend, as have I.

324 faste fourti daiis to non. B&S (p. 311) point out a parallel in the Middle English version of The Rule of St. Benedict:



In somer, fro Witsunday be past, Wedinsday and Friday sal þai fast, But if þai other swink or swete In hay or corn wiþ travel grete. And if þai non slike travel cone, On þos days sal thai fast to none. (Lines 1707-12)

The parallel is extended to include Christ's passion until the ninth hour. See Three Middle English Versions of the Rule of St. Benet, EETS o.s. 120 (London: Kegan Paul, 1902), p. 96. D&B read daws for daiis.

356 breketh. The thorn appears above the k in the MS.

390 Godes houne belle. B&S suggest that this phrase refers to the bell used at Mass when the Host is elevated (p. 311), while Ga suggests that the term may mean "belly," which refers to "an oath on part of Christ's body, like those on his bones and blood" but concludes that it more probably refers to the "chapel bell, as in bell, book and candle, or the bell in the Mass" (p. 453).

401 mai I never. MS: mai never. B&S add the personal pronoun, as do D&B.

433 so ich evere bide noen. B&S translate this as "As I hope to see the ninth hour" and suggest that this, along with the expression found at line 324, may be evidence that Wilekin is a "monastery-trained cleric," and that the author of Dame Sirith "may himself have been an inmate of a monastery" (p. 312). This could explain the hints of antifeminism in the text.

436 Nelde, par ma fai. Wilekin has more confidence than Troilus about what will follow and sends his pander away. In Chaucer Pandarus does, finally, leave the lovers alone, though not until after he has read much of the romance. See Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Book 3.

445-50 This passage marks the moment that Dame Sirith turns to the audience and offers her services. Richard Axton's suggestion that this work could very well have been performed as an interlude by professional touring actors similar to jongleurs is interesting (see European Drama of the Early Middle Ages, pp. 19-23). This part would have been played by a male actor, which renders the moment all the more suggestive, perhaps offensive, if it is the case that interludes may have been performed for monastic communities as well as the public at large.



























































































As I com bi an waie,
Hof on ich herde saie,
Ful modi mon and proud;
Wis he wes of lore,
And gouthlich under gore,
And clothed in fair sroud.

To lovien he bigon
On wedded wimmon,
Therof he hevede wrong;
His herte hire wes alon,
That reste nevede he non,
The love wes so strong.

Wel yerne he him bithoute
Hou he hire gete moute
In ani cunnes wise.
That befel on an day
The louerd wend away
Hon his marchaundise.

He wente him to then inne
Ther hoe wonede inne,
That wes riche won;
And com in to then halle,
Ther hoe wes srud with palle,
And thus he bigon:-

"God Almightten be herinne!"

"Welcome, so ich ever bide wenne,"
Quod this wif.
"His hit thi wille, com and site,
And wat is thi wille let me wite,
Mi leve lif.
Bi houre Louerd, hevene king,
If I mai don ani thing
That thee is lef,
Thou mightt finden me ful fre.
Fol bletheli will I don for thee,
Withhouten gref."

"Dame, God thee foryelde,
Bote on that thou me nout bimelde,
Ne make thee wroth,
Min hernde will I to thee bede;
Bote wraththen thee for ani dede
Were me loth."

"Nai, iwis, Wilekin,
For nothing that ever is min,
Thau thou hit yirne,
Houncurteis ne will I be;
Ne con I nout on vilte,
Ne nout I nelle lerne.

"Thou mait saien al thine wille,
And I shal herknen and sitten stille,
That thou have told.
And if that thou me tellest skil,
I shal don after thi wil,
That be thou bold.

"And thau thou saie me ani same,
Ne shal I thee nought blame
For thi sawe.
"Nou ich have wonne leve,
Yif that I me shulde greve,
Hit were hounlawe."

"Certes, dame, thou seist as hende,
And I shal setten spel on ende,
And tellen thee al,
Wat ich wolde, and wi ich com;
Ne con ich saien non falsdom,
Ne non I ne shal.

"Ich habbe i-loved thee moni yer,
Thau ich nabbe nout ben her
Mi love to schowe.
Wile thi louerd is in toune,
Ne mai no mon with thee holden roune
With no thewe.

"Yurstendai ich herde saie,
As ich wende bi the waie,
Of oure sire;
Me told me that he was gon
To the feire of Botolfston
In Lincolneschire.

"And for ich weste that he wes houte,
Tharfore ich am i-gon aboute
To speken with thee.
Him burth to liken wel his lif,
That mightte welde secc a wif
In privité.

"Dame, if hit is thi wille,
Both dernelike and stille,
Ich wille thee love."

"That wold I don for nothing,
Bi houre Louerd, hevene king,
That ous is bove!

"Ich habe mi louerd that is mi spouse,
That maiden broute me to house
Mid menske inou;
He loveth me and ich him wel,
Oure love is also trewe as stel,
Withhouten wou.

"Thau he be from hom on his hernde,
Ich were ounseli, if ich lernede
To ben on hore,
That ne shal nevere be
That I shal don selk falseté,
On bedde ne on flore,

"Nevermore his lif-wile,
Thau he were on hondred mile
Biyende Rome,
For nothing ne shuld I take
Mon on erthe to ben mi make,
Ar his hom come."

"Dame, dame, torn thi mod:
Thi curteisi was ever god,
And yet shal be;
For the Louerd that ous haveth wrout
Amend thi mod, and torn thi thout,
And rew on me."

"We, we! Oldest thou me a fol?
So ich ever mote biden Yol,
Thou art ounwis,
Mi thout ne schalt thou never wende;
Mi louerd is curteis mon and hende,
And mon of pris;
"And ich am wif bothe god and trewe;
Trewer womon ne mai no mon cnowe
Then ich am.
Thilke time ne shal never bitide
That mon for wouing ne thoru prude
Shal do me scham."

"Swete lemmon, merci!
Same ne vilani
Ne bede I thee non;
Bote derne love I thee bede,
As mon that wolde of love spede,
And finde won."

"So bide ich evere mete other drinke,
Her thou lesest al thi swinke;
Thou might gon hom, leve brother,
For ne wille ich thee love, ne non other,
Bote mi wedde houssebonde;
To tellen hit thee ne wille ich wonde."

"Certes, dame, that me forthinketh
An wo is the mon tha muchel swinketh,
And at the laste leseth his sped!
To maken menis his him ned.
Bi me I saie ful iwis,
That love the love that I shal mis.
An, dame, have nou godnedai!
And thilke Louerd, that al welde mai,
Leve that thi thout so tourne,
That ich for thee no leng ne mourne."

Drerimod he wente awai,
And thoute bothe night and dai
Hire al for to wende.
A frend him radde for to fare,
And leven al his muchele kare
To Dame Sirith the hende.

Thider he wente him anon,
So suithe so he mightte gon,
No mon he ni mette.
Ful he wes of tene and treie;
Mid wordes milde and eke sleie
Faire he hire grette.

"God thee i-blessi, Dame Sirith!
Ich am i-com to speken thee with,
For ful muchele nede.
And ich mai have help of thee
Thou shalt have, that thou shalt se,
Ful riche mede."

Dame Sirith
"Welcomen art thou, leve sone;
And if ich mai other cone
In eni wise for thee do,
I shal strengthen me therto.
Forthi, leve sone, tel thou me
Wat thou woldest I dude for thee."

"Bote, leve nelde, ful evele I fare;
I lede mi lif with tene and kare;
With muchel hounsele ich lede mi lif,
And that is for on swete wif
That heightte Margeri.
Ich have i-loved hire moni dai,
And of hire love hoe seith me nai;
Hider ich com forthi.

"Bote if hoe wende hire mod,
For serewe mon ich wakese wod,
Other miselve quelle.
Ich hevede i-thout miself to slo;
For then radde a frend me go
To thee mi serewe telle.

"He saide me, withhouten faille,
That thou me couthest helpe and vaile,
And bringen me of wo
Thoru thine crafftes and thine dedes;
And ich wile geve thee riche mede,
With that hit be so."

Dame Sirith
"Benedicité! Be herinne
Her havest thou, sone, mikel senne.
Louerd, for His swete nome,
Lete thee therfore haven no shome!
Thou servest affter Godes grome,
Wen thou seist on me silk blame.
For ich am old, and sek and lame;
Seknesse haveth maked me ful tame.

Blesse thee, blesse thee, leve knave!
Leste thou mesaventer have,
For this lesing that is founden
Oppon me that am harde i-bonden.
Ich am on holi wimon,
On wicchecrafft nout I ne con,
Bote with gode men almesdede.
Ilke dai mi lif I fede,
And bidde mi Pater Noster and mi Crede,
That Goed hem helpe at hore nede,
That helpen me mi lif to lede,
And leve that hem mote wel spede.
His lif and his soule worthe i-shend,

That thee to me this hernde haveth send;
And leve me to ben i-wreken
On him this shome me haveth speken."

"Leve nelde, bilef al this;
Me thinketh that thou art onwis.
The mon that me to thee taute,
He weste that thou hous couthest saute.
Help, Dame Sirith, if thou maut,
To make me with the sweting saut,
And ich wille geve thee gift ful stark,
Moni a pound and moni a marke,
Warme pilche and warme shon,
With that min hernde be wel don.
Of muchel godlec might thou yelpe,
If hit be so that thou me helpe."

Dame Sirith
"Ligh me nout, Wilekin, bi thi leute
Is hit thin hernest thou tellest me?
Lovest thou wel Dame Margeri?"

"Ye, nelde, witerli.
Ich hire love; hit mot me spille,
Bote ich gete hire to mi wille."

Dame Sirith
"Wat, god Wilekin, me reweth thi scathe,
Houre Louerd sende thee help rathe!

"Weste hic hit mightte ben forholen,
Me wolde thunche wel folen
Thi wille for to fullen.
Make me siker with word on honde,
That thou wolt helen, and I wile fonde
If ich mai hire tellen.
For al the world ne wold I nout
That ich were to chapitre i-brout
For none selke werkes.
Mi jugement were sone i-given
To ben with shome somer driven
With prestes and with clarkes."

"Iwis, nelde, ne wold I
That thou hevedest vilani
Ne shame for mi goed.
Her I thee mi trouthe plightte,
Ich shal helen bi mi mightte,
Bi the Holi Roed!"

Dame Sirith
"Welcome, Wilekin, hiderward;
Her havest I maked a foreward
That thee mai ful wel like.
Thou maight blesse thilke sith,
For thou maight make the ful blith;
Dar thou namore sike.

"To goder hele ever come thou hider,
For sone will I gange thider,
And maken hire hounderstonde.
I shal kenne hire sulke a lore;
That hoe shal lovien thee mikel more
Then ani mon in londe."

"Al so havi Godes grith,
Wel havest thou said, Dame Sirith,
And Goder-hele shal ben thin.
Have her twenti shiling,
This ich geve thee to meding,
To buggen thee sep and swin."

Dame Sirith
"So ich ever brouke hous other flet,
Neren never pones beter biset
Then thes shulen ben.
For I shal don a juperti,
And a ferli maistri,
That thou shalt ful wel sen.

[Dame Sirith, speaking to her dog]
"Pepir nou shalt thou eten,
This mustart shal ben thi mete,
And gar thin eien to rene;
I shal make a lesing
Of thin heie renning,
Ich wot wel wer and wenne."

"Wat! Nou const thou no god?
Me thinketh that thou art wod:
Gevest thou the welpe mustard?"

Dame Sirith
"Be stille, boinard!
I shal mit this ilke gin
Gar hire love to ben al thin.
Ne shal ich never have reste ne ro
Til ich have told hou thou shalt do.
Abid me her til min hom come."

"Yus, bi the somer blome,
Hethen null I ben binomen,
Til thou be agein comen."

Dame Sirith bigon to go,
As a wrecche that is wo,
That hoe com hire to then inne
Ther this gode wif wes inne.
Tho hoe to the dore com,
Swithe reuliche hoe bigon:

[Dame Sirith]
"Louerd," hoe seith, "wo is holde wives,
That in poverté ledeth ay lives;
Not no mon so muchel of pine
As poure wif that falleth in ansine.
That mai ilke mon bi me wite
For mai I nouther gange ne site.
Ded wold I ben ful fain.
Hounger and thurst me haveth nei slain;
Ich ne mai mine limes on wold,
For mikel hounger and thurst and cold.
War-to liveth selke a wrecche?
Wi nul God mi soule fecche?"

"Seli wif, God thee hounbinde!
Todai wille I thee mete finde
For love of God.
Ich have reuthe of thi wo,
For evele i-clothed I se thee go,
And evele i-shoed.
Com herin, ich wile thee fede."

[Dame Sirith]
"God Almightten do thee mede,
And the Louerd that wes on Rode i-don,
And faste fourti daiis to non,
And hevene and erthe haveth to welde."

"As thilke Louerd thee foryelde,
Have her fles and eke bred,
And make thee glad, hit is mi red;
And have her the coppe with the drinke;
God do thee mede for thi swinke."

Thenne spac that holde wif,
Crist awarie hire lif:

Dame Sirith
"Alas! Alas! that ever I live!
Al the sunne ich wolde forgive
The mon that smite of min heved!
Ich wolde mi lif me were bireved!"

"Seli wif, what eilleth thee?"

[Dame Sirith]
"Bote ethe mai I sori be:
Ich hevede a douter feir and fre,
Feiror ne mightte no mon se.
Hoe hevede a curteis hossebonde;
Freour mon mightte no mon fonde.
Mi douter lovede him al to wel;
Forthi mak I sori del.
Oppon a dai he was out wend,
And thar-thoru wes mi douter shend.
He hede on ernde out of toune;
And com a modi clarc with croune,
To mi douter his love beed,
And hoe nolde nout folewe his red.
He ne mightte his wille have,
For nothing he mightte crave.
Thenne bigon the clerc to wiche,
And shop mi douter til a biche.
This is mi douter that ich of speke;
For del of hire min herte breketh.
Lok hou hire heien greten,
On hire cheken the teres meten.

"Forthi, dame, were hit no wonder,
Thau min herte burste assunder.
And woseever is yong houssewif,
Ha loveth ful luitel hire lif,
And eni clerc of love hire bede,
Bote hoe grante and lete him spede."

"A! Louerd Crist, wat mai thenne do!
This enderdai com a clarc me to,
And bed me love on his manere,
And ich him nolde nout i-here.
Ich trouwe he wolle me forsape.
Hou troustu, nelde, ich moue ascape?"

[Dame Sirith]
"God Almightten be thin help
That thou ne be nouther bicche ne welp!
Leve dame, if eni clerc
Bedeth thee that love werc,
Ich rede that thou grante his bone,
And bicom his lefmon sone.
And if that thou so ne dost,
A worse red thou ounderfost."

"Louerd Crist, that me is wo,
That the clarc me hede fro,
Ar he me hevede biwonne.
Me were levere then ani fe
That he hevede enes leien bi me,
And efftsones bigunne.

"Evermore, nelde, ich wille be thin,
With that thou feche me Willekin,
The clarc of wam I telle,
Giftes will I geve thee
That thou maight ever the betere be,
Bi Godes houne belle!"

[Dame Sirith]
"Sothliche, mi swete dame,
And if I mai withhoute blame,
Fain ich wille fonde;
And if ich mai with him mete,
Bi eni wei other bi strete,
Nout ne will I wonde.
Have goddai, dame! Forth will I go."

"Allegate loke that thou do so
As ich thee bad;
Bote that thou me Wilekin bringe,
Ne mai I never lawe ne singe,
Ne be glad."

[Dame Sirith]
"Iwis, dame, if I mai,
Ich wille bringen him yet todai,
Bi mine mightte."

Hoe wente hire to hire inne,
Ther hoe founde Wilekinne,
Bi houre Drightte!

[Dame Sirith]
"Swete Wilekin, be thou nout dred,
For of thin hernde ich have wel sped.
Swithe com forth thider with me,
For hoe haveth send affter thee.
Iwis nou maight thou ben above,
For thou havest grantise of hire love."

"God the foryelde, leve nelde,
That hevene and erthe haveth to welde!"

This modi mon bigon to gon
With Sirith to his levemon
In thilke stounde.
Dame Sirith bigon to telle,
And swor bi Godes ouene belle,
Hoe hevede him founde.

[Dame Sirith]
"Dame, so have ich Wilekin sout,
For nou have ich him i-brout."

"Welcome, Wilekin, swete thing,
Thou art welcomore then the king.
Wilekin the swete,
Mi love I thee bihete,
To don al thine wille.
Turnd ich have mi thout,
For I ne wolde nout
That thou thee shuldest spille."

"Dame, so ich evere bide noen,
And ich am redi and i-boen
To don al that thou saie.
[to Dame Sirith]
Nelde, par ma fai!
Thou most gange awai,
Wile ich and hoe shulen plaie."

[Dame Sirith]
"Goddot so I wille:
And loke that thou hire tille,
And strek out hir thes.
God geve thee muchel kare,
Yeif that thou hire spare,
The wile thou mid here bes.

"And wose is onwis,
And for non pris
Ne con geten his levemon,
I shal, for mi mede,
Garen him to spede,
For ful wel I con."

came; way; (see note)
Of one
Wise; learning
worthy; garments

At love

did mischief
was hers alone; (see note)
had he not any

longingly he calculated (thought to himself)
How; her might get
any way possible
lord went
On business

took himself
Where she lived
richly decorated dwelling

Where she was dressed; rich fabrics
he began

feel joy
[If] it is your will (desire); sit
what; know
By our Lord

is dear to you
Full willingly will I do; (see note)

reward you
do not denounce me
Nor; angry
errand will I tell
anger; any reason
to me displeasing

No, indeed; (see note)

Though you yearn for it; (see note)
Uncourteous will I never
Nor do I know anything of bad manners
Nor will I learn anything

may speak

speak reasonably (put it the right way)
do according to
Of that you may be sure

even though; speak to me of any shameful matter

Despite whatever you say
Now [that]; given permission
myself should be upset

Truly; speak pleasantly (courteously)
come to the point

want; why I came
no falsehood
Nor shall I [say] none

Though I have not been [able] here

While; lord (husband)
have private conversation
Without courtesy

your husband
fair; Boston

knew; was gone
come here

He has reason
have (coerce) as a lover such

secretly; discretely

would I do; (see note)
our Lord
is above us

have my husband who
[as a] virgin
honor enough

true as steel

Though; business trip
I would be unhappy
be a whore; (see note)
such deceit
[Neither]; nor; floor

[in] his lifetime
a hundred
I should not; (see note)
Someone; mate
Before; homecoming; (see note)

change your mind
courtesy; good
who has made us
Change your mind
have pity; (see note)

Whoa! Do you think me a fool
As sure as Christmas; (see note)
You will never change my mind
courteous man; noble
man of excellence
good; faithful
Truer; know
That; come
wooing; through pride

Sweet beloved, [have] mercy; (see note)
Shame nor crudity
Neither offer; none
But secret (discreet); offer
happiness; (see note)

As certainly as I eat or drink
Here; lose; labor (effort)
go home, dear; (see note)
I will not; (see note)
not hesitate

I repent of that
And; who too much works
in the end loses his reward
find a measure (go-between); (see note)
Who have loved the beloved whom; lose
And; now have a good day
the same Lord, who; rule
I; longer mourn for you

Sadly; (see note)
turn (i.e., make her change her mind)
leave (unburden); great woe
courteous; (see note)

As quickly as
No man whatsoever did he meet; (see note)
sorrow; grief
also sly
Becomingly he greeted her

God bless you
with you; (see note)
great need


dear son; (see note)
may or can

myself for the task
tell me
What I can do for you

dear granny; poorly; (see note)
for [the sake of] one
Who is called
her many [a] day
she tells me no
Here; therefore

Unless she changes her mind
sorrow; I will go crazy
Or kill myself
had thought; to slay
a friend advised me
[to] tell my sorrow

told; doubt
could; avail
[out] of woe
crafts; conjurings
will give; reward
Provided that

Oh my
Here; great sin
deserve God's anger
When; tell such wickedness to me
Sickness; subdued

dear lad
lie; visited
Upon; who; destitute
a holy woman
I know nothing; (see note)
Except by; almsdeeds (charity)
Each day; sustain
repeat; (see note)
them; in [their] hour of need
pray God's speed for them
[May]; be confounded

shame; spoken

Dear grandmother
i.e., who recommended you to me
thought; us could reconcile; (see note)
sweetheart [a] reconciliation
Many; mark
fur coat; shoes; (see note)
Provided that; business
much merit; boast

Do not lie to me; honesty
earnest intention

Yes, grandmother, surely
it will kill me
Unless; bend her

Know, good; pity; distress
Our; quickly

[If] I knew; utterly concealed
would think; suited
certain; an oath
conceal; try
tell her
I would not
chapter (church court) brought
no such

shame [on a] mule; (see note)
By; by clerics

Truly, old woman, I would not
have [any] trouble
Nor; my good (sake)
Here; promise pledge
conceal [it] in every way I can


this very time
You need sigh no more

better fortune
teach her such a lesson
she; love you much
Than any man


prosperity (God's health)
buy yourself sheep; swine

As ever I have benefit of house or floor
Never were pence better used; (see note)
Than; shall be
carry out a cunning plan; (see note)
masterful trick

Pepper; eat; (see note)
mustard; food
make your eyes run
eye-running (weeping)
know; where; when

can you do no good
Give you; whelp

fool; (see note)
with this very trick
Make; all yours
what you
Wait for me here

Yes; summer bloom
Hence I will not be taken away

she; dwelling
When she
Very pitifully

woe to old
ever lead [their]
No one knows; suffering
into decline; (see note)
each; know
walk nor sit down
Dead would I be; gladly
limbs control

Why; such
Why will not; fetch; (see note)

Good woman; unbind (help you)
Today; food

pity; sorrow
poorly dressed
poorly shod

give you reward
Cross hung
fasted; days until the ninth hour (3 p.m.); (see note)

here meat; also bread
yourself comfortable; counsel
here; cup
reward you; efforts

old woman

was born
[Of] the man; cut off; head
wish; were bereft from me

Good woman; ails you

Yet easily
had; daughter; noble
Fairer might no man see
She had
More noble
make an unfortunate bargain
One; gone
thereby; shamed
went on errand
proud cleric; crown (tonsure)
she would not; counsel

use witchcraft
transformed; bitch

sorrow; breaks; (see note)
how her eyes weep
cheeks; tears flow together

Accordingly; it was
If; offers
Unless she; succeed

other day
would not hear [of it]
trust; transform
How do you think; can escape

bitch; whelp
Dear lady
Offers; work
advise; request
lover soon
you do not
counsel; [may] receive

woe is me
went from
Before; had won
rather than any money
once lain
soon afterward

will I; yours
cleric of whom I speak

own bell; (see note)




In any case
laugh; (see note)

Certainly; [Margery]

She; dwelling
Where she
our Lord

business; succeeded
Indeed now
been granted

reward, dear old woman

that time
swore; own
She had found


more welcome than

promise you
your bidding
Changed; mind
would not want
you should kill yourself

expect the ninth hour; (see note)

by my faith; (see note)
While; she

God knows
plow (till)
stretch; thighs

As long as you are with her

whosoever; unwise; (see note)
no price
can get
Make; succeed
Dame Sirith, Select Bibliography


Bodleian Library MS Digby 86 (SC 1687), fols. 165a-168a (c. 1275).

Facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86. Intro. Judith Tschann and M. B. Parkes. EETS s.s. 16. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. [Includes comprehensive introduction.]


Bennett, J. A. W., and G. V. Smithers, eds. Early Middle English Verse and Prose. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966. Pp. 77-95.

Benson, Larry D., and Theodore M. Andersson, eds. The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux: Texts and Translations. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1971. Pp. 372-87.

Cook, Albert Stanburrough, ed. A Literary Middle English Reader. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1915; rpt. 1943. Pp. 141-58. [Cook draws several parallels between Dame Sirith and Interludium de clerico et puella, pp. 476-77.]

Dunn, Charles W., and Edward T. Byrnes, eds. Middle English Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Pp. 174-87.

Garbáty, Thomas J., ed. Medieval English Literature. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1984. Pp. 442-54.

McKnight. George H., ed. Middle English Humorous Tales in Verse. Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1913; rpt. New York: Gordian Press, 1972, 1990. Pp. 1-24.

Treharne, Elaine, ed. Old and Middle English: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. Pp. 338-48.

Related Studies

Axton, Richard. European Drama of the Early Middle Ages. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975. Pp. 17-24.

Boitani, Pietro. English Medieval Narrative in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. [Brief discussion of Sirith and De clerico et puella.]

Busby, Keith. "Conspicuous by Its Absence: The English Fabliau." Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters 12 (1981), 30-41.

---. "Dame Sirith and De Clerico et Puella." In Companion to Early Middle English Literature. Ed. N. H. G. E. Veldhoen and H. Aertsen. Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1988. Pp. 69-81.

Canby, Henry Seidel. "The English Fabliau." PMLA 21 (1906), 200-14.

Furrow, Melissa. "Middle English Fabliaux and Modern Myth." English Literary History 56 (1989), 1-18.

Goodall, Peter. "An Outline History of the English Fabliau after Chaucer." Journal of Australasian University Language and Literature Association 57 (1982), 5-23.

Heuser, W. "Das Interludium de Clerico et Puella und das Fabliau von Dame Siriz." Anglia 30 (1907), 306-19.

Hines, John. The Fabliau in English. London: Longman, 1993.

Lewis, Robert E. "The English Fabliau Tradition and Chaucer's 'Miller's Tale.'" Modern Philology 79 (1982), 241-55.

Robbins, Rossell Hope. "The English Fabliau: Before and After Chaucer." Moderna Spräk 64 (1970), 231-44.

Swanton, Michael James. English Literature Before Chaucer. London: Longman, 1987.

Von Kreisler, Nicholai. "Satire in Dame Sirith and the Weeping Bitch." In Essays in Honor of Esmond Linworth Marilla. Ed. Thomas Austin Kirby and William John Olive. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970. Pp. 379-87.