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The Punished of Adulterers or The Bawd and the Adulterers


1 bawde, procuress.

3 avoutery, adultery; throw, through.

4 deye, die.
4-5 here herte, her heart.

5 synfull, sinful.

7 criature, creator (elements of communion); shrevyn, confessed.

8 torne, turn.

9 faste, profusely.

10 modre, mother.

12 deyedyn, died.

14 aperid, appeared.

15 aferde, afraid.

19 myddes, middle.

20 addre, adder.

21 lefte, shed; hame, skin; withoute, outside.

23 cawderon, cauldron; wellyng, boiling.

28 sothyn, seethed (boiled).

29 anone, soon.

32 Knewes thou, Do you know.

38 be, by.

39 throw, through; hame, skin.

43 almess dedes, alms deeds (charity).


1 bawde. As a go-between the bawd is associated with a long tradition of courtly love; as a panderer or procuress she is more closely aligned with prostitution. This bawd recalls Dame Sirith, the most famous intermediary of English fabliaux.

1-2 housbond-man. "Husband" derives from OE hus + bonden and refers to the male head of household who is "bound" to his domestic duties.

19 grete stone. Since a miracle is about to occur this may allude to the rock of Exodus through which water passed to quench the thirst of the Israelites during their exile in the desert.

20 addre. The snake is a traditional symbol of sin and temptation. But once it sheds its old skin, it is also a sign of Christ the new man, raised on the Cross even as Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9; see John 3:14). The Biblia Pauperum ?e? juxtaposes Moses raising the serpent with the Crucifixion, where Christ on the Cross makes redemption possible, whereby the sinner, i.e., the serpent, can slough off the old wrapping of sin by passing through the sharp passage of penance. That the bawd is transformed into a "fayre woman" (line 22), like the serpent shedding its old skin, demonstrates her newly acquired state of grace. The amazing transformations demonstrated here differ from the illusions of magicians and necromancers since they are rendered by someone who has been absolved.

23 cawderon. The punishment is reminiscent of those found in Dante's Inferno, though cauldrons of boiling oil were also found in the legends of saints. St. John the Evangelist, for instance, was martyred when he was placed in such a vat.

38 contricion, confession, and satisfaccion. These acts are prerequisites for absolution. See Chaucer's The Parson's Tale (CT X[I]106-08).

    A woman there was some tym alyve, that was a bawde betwene an housbond-
man and anothere mannys wife, and ofte sithe had brought hem togedre in the
synne of avoutery; and contenued many a day throw help of this bawde. Atte laste
this woman, that was bawde, felle seke, and shuld deye. She thought in here
herte, how she had ben a synfull wrech, and was sory in here herte that ever she
had offendid God, and thought she wolde amende here, as holy chirche wolde;
and sente for here criature and was shrevyn and toke here penaunce, as she
myght for the tyme, and was in wille never to torne agayne to synne; and wepte
faste, and praiede Criste, for the vertue of His blessyd passyon, that He wolde
have mercy on here, and also for the prayere of His blessyd modre and all seyntes;
and so she passyd oute of this worlde. And sone after, the man and the woman
that lyvedyn in synne, deyedyn withoute repentaunce. This womans housbond
praide faste for his wife, that was the bawde, that God wolde shewe hym how his
wife fared. Afterwarde on a nyght, as he lay in his bedde, his wife aperid to hym,
and seide, "Housbond, be not aferde, but rise up, and go with me, for thou shalte
se mervayles." He rose, and wente with here, til they come into a fayre playne.
Then she seide, "Stond here still, and be not aferde, for thou shalte have no
harme, and wisely beholde what thou shalte se." Then she wente a litill way from
hym til she come at a grete stone that had an hole in the myddes; and as she stode
afore the stone, sodenly she was a longe addre, and putte here hede in at an hole in
the myddys of the stone, ande crepte throwe; but she lefte hire hame withoute the
stone, and anone she stode up a fayre woman. And sone after com two devyls
yellyng and broughtyn a cawderon full of hote wellyng brasse, and sette it downe
besyde the stone; and after hem came othere two devyls, cryenge, and broughtyn
a man; and after hem came othere two devyls, with grete noyse, and broughtyn a
woman. Than the two devyls tokyn bothe the man ande the woman that they
brought, and caste hem into a cawderon and helde hem there, till the fleshe was
sothyn fro the bone. Then they tokyn oute the bonys, and leyde hem beside the
cawderon; and anone they were made man and woman. And the devyls caste hem
in agayne into the cawderon; and thus were they served many a tyme. And then the
devyls wentyn as they comyn thiddere. The woman, that crepte throw the stone,
wente agayne to hire housbonde, and seide, "Knewes thou ought this man and this
woman?" He seide, "Yee, they were oure neghbores." "Sawe thou," she saide,
"what payne they had?" He saide, "Yee, an hideouse payne." "This peyne," she
seide, "shull they have in helle ever more, for they lyvedyn in avoutery, and amendid
hem nought. And I was bawde betwene hem, and brought heme togedre; and I
shuld have bene with hem in the cawderon ever had I nought amendid me in my
lyfe, with contricion, confession, and satisfaccion, as I myght, be the mercy of
God; and crepte throw the stone, and lefte my hame behynde me." The stone is
Criste; the hole is his blessid wounde on His side; and the hame is my synnes that
I lefte behynde me, be the merite of Cristes passion; and therfore I shall be savyd.
Go thou now home, and bewarre of synne, and amende thee, for thou shalte lyve
but a while; and do almesse dedes for thee and for me." Then the housbond wente
home, and did as she bade hym; and with in shorte tyme after he deyede and
wente to the blisse.
Excerpts from The Gesta Romanorum, Select Bibliography

Manuscripts in Middle English

Balliol 354, fols. 1a-3a (c. 1450, East Midlands).

Cambridge University Ff. 1.6, fols. 216a-245b (late fifteenth century).

British Library Additional 9066, fols. 5a-87b (late fifteenth century). [Base text for The Punished of Adulterers.]

British Library Harley 7333, fols. 150a-203a (1440-96). [Base text for Emperor Felicianus and Godfridus a Wise Emperoure.]

Gloucester Cathedral MS 22, pp. 723-87 (late fifteenth century).

Early Printed Editions

de Worde, Wynkyn (1510-15) [Contains an abbreviated number of tales beginning with the story of Atalanta. See Burke Severs and Albert E. Hartung, A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500 (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967-).]

Robinson, Richard, ed. Gesta Romanorum: A Record of Auncient Histories Newly Perused by Richard Robinson (1595). Delmar, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1973. [A revision of Wynkyn de Worde's edition.]


Herrtage, Sydney, ed. The Early English Versions of the Gesta Romanorum. EETS e.s. 33. London: N. Trübner & Co., 1879.

Madden, Sir Frederic, ed. The Old English Versions of the Gesta Romanorum. London: Roxburghe Club, 1838.
Oesterley, Hermann J., ed. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buckhandlung, 1872. [The Latin text.]

Sandred, K. I., ed. A Middle English Version of the Gesta Romanorum, Uppsala: University of Stockholm, 1971.

Siatkowski, J., ed. Gesta Romanorum Linguae Polonicae (1543): cum fontibus latinis et bohemicis. Köln: Böhlau, 1986.

Weiske, Brigitte, ed. Gesta Romanorum: Untersuchungen qu Konzeption und Überlieferung. Tübingen: Max Neimeyer Verlag, 1992.


B. G., ed. Evenings with the Old Story Tellers: Select Tales from the Gesta Romanorum. New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845.

Brunet, M. G., ed. LeViulier des Histoires Romaines: Ancienne Traduction François des Gesta Romanorum. Paris: Chez. P. Jannet, 1868.

Dick, Wilhelm, ed. Die Gesta Romanorum. Nach der Innsbrucker Handschrift von Jahre 1342. Amsterdam: Rodopi Editions, 1970.

Komroff, Manuel, ed. Tales of the Monks from the Gesta Romanorum. New York: The Dial Press, 1928. [A translation of some of the tales in the Latin text.]

Swan, Charles, ed. Gesta Romanorum: Entertaining Moral Stories. London: Routledge & Sons, 1905.

---, and Wynnard Hooper, eds. and trans. Gesta Romanorum: Entertaining Moral Stories. New York: Dover, 1959.

Related Studies

Archibald, Elizabeth. Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991.

Brewer, Derek. "Observations on a Fifteenth-Century Manuscript." Anglia 72 (1954-55), 350 ff.

Loomis, Laura Hibbard. Mediaeval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-Cyclic Metrial Romances. New York: Burt Franklin, 1960.

Marchalonis, Shirley. "Medieval Symbols in the Gesta Romanorum." Chaucer Review 8 (1974), 311-19.

Metlitzski, Dorothea. The Matter of Araby in Medieval England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

Palmer, Nigel F. "Exempla." In Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide. Ed. F. A. C. Mantella and A. G. Rigg. Washington: D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996. Pp. 582-88.

Scanlon, Larry. Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Speed, Diane. "Middle English Romance and the Gesta Romanorum." In Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance. Ed. Rosalind Field. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1999. Pp. 45-56.