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The Quare of Jelusy: Introduction


1 For discussion of the date, see the facsimile volume, intro. Julia Boffey and A. S. G. Edwards (1997), pp. 3-4; and R. J. Lyall, "Books and Book Owners in Fifteenth-Century Scotland" in Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375-1475, ed. Jeremy Griffiths and Derek Pearsall (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 250-52.

2 This identification was based on the colophon, of which only au and the top of a nearby ascender which follows are still legible. The edition in The Bannatyne Miscellany, which Norton-Smith and Pravda suggest was transcribed and edited by David Laing, records the first six letters as auchin, while Alexander Lawson and J. T. T. Brown read auch, which they interpreted as the beginning of the name Auchinleck (a variant spelling of Afflek), following Laing's conjecture. While agreeing that au is clearly visible, J. Norton-Smith and I. Pravda make a detailed argument against the chin reading, claiming that, the paper being "worn to a thin transparency," these letters are the reverse images of letters from the recto side of the folio (see p. 15; for Norton-Smith and Pravda's full discussion, see pp. 15-16). As the leaf is now missing the edge in question, it is not possible to draw a firm conclusion.

3 Norton-Smith and Pravda suggest that the second Selden scribe is more consistent in the use of Scots forms than the first one, a characterization confirmed by Boffey and Edwards (1999, pp. 181-82). Boffey and Edwards identify the poem as one of those in Selden "that are uniquely or peculiarly Scot-tish" (1999, p. 180).

4 MacQueen, p. 63. R. D. S. Jack ignores it entirely in his introductions to The History of Scottish Literature and The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature, 1375-1707 (Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 1997), while Gregory Kratzmann calls it "the least memorable of all the Scots poems in the courtly allegorical mode," suggesting that it "illustrates a much more derivative handling" of Lydgate's Temple of Glass than any relationship to The Kingis Quair. He finishes by describing the "metres" as "reminis-cent of Lydgate's at their most awkward" (Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, 1430-1550 [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980], p. 20).

5 Spearing (1993), p. 1.

6 See MED, bond n.

7 See MED, daungerous adj.

8 In The Romance of the Rose, it is the job of Dangier ("Danger/Resistance") to protect the roses from any lovers who attempt to pluck them (see for example lines 2823 ff.).

9 I.e., marriage; Hymen is the god of marriage (usually male, but in this case represented as female).

10 Compare Emelye's prayer to Diana in which she protests that she wants to be neither "love ne wyf," adding, "I am, thow woost, yet of thy compaignye, / A mayde" (CT I[A]2307-08).

11 McKim, p. 37.

12 This is one of the tensions of the framed narrative: the narrator's appropriation of the woman's complaint in a sense gives a voice to the woman only to take it away at the same time, since it is not she who speaks, but the narrator - and the narrator chooses to speak for her without giving her a choice. As McKim puts it, "the Quare of Jelusy is a poem about speaking for women, and appropriating the female voice is one means of doing so" (p. 36).

13 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 8.

14 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 9.

15 Pearsall (1990a), pp. 29-30.

16 See p. 35. Edwards (1996) suggests that the preference for ascribing works to Chaucer that Arch. Selden. B. 24 displays is unusual, for earlier Chaucerian anthologies tended "to underascribe works to Chaucer" (p. 59).

17 See the contents in the facsimile volume, intro. Boffey and Edwards (1997), pp. 1-3.

18 Boffey and Edwards (1999), pp. 166-67.

19 Boffey and Edwards (1999), p. 167.

20 Boffey and Edwards (1999), p. 167.

21 Lawson, p. lxvi.

22 Lawson, p. lxviii-ix.

23 Lawson, p. lxix.

24 Lawson writes: "we ask what conclusion may be drawn as to the relation of the three poems? Have we, as tradition has it, three poets - King James writing in 1423 or 1424, and two Scottish subjects writing later who knew his work and used it? Have we two poets - a poet of the Kingis Quair, and one poet of two later poems, as Professor Skeat privately assures me he is able to prove? There is a third possible solution - that we have but one poet" (p. lxxiii).

25 Matthew P. McDiarmid, ed., The Kingis Quair of James Stewart (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Little-field, 1973), p. 4.

26 MacQueen, p. 60.

27 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 9.

28 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 9.

29 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 9.

30 In their introduction to the facsimile volume, Boffey and Edwards (1997) give a detailed description of the manuscript.

31 This is Norton-Smith and Pravda's speculation, p. 36.

32 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 36.
The single surviving copy of The Quare of Jelusy appears in a late-fifteenth- or early-sixteenth-century manuscript of Scottish provenance, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24.1 The poem is anonymous, although some earlier editors attributed it to James Afflek, an otherwise unknown poet mentioned in William Dunbar's Lament for the Makaris (poem 21, line 58).2 The Quare of Jelusy survives in a collection of mainly Middle English verse (albeit to some degree Scotticized)3 and in some respects recalls The Kingis Quair, with its strong Chaucerian and Boethian influences. Even so, the poem does not impart a particularly Chaucerian flavor, although there are echoes of Chaucer's works, most notably The Knight's Tale, Anelida and Arcite, and especially Troilus and Criseyde. The poem also strongly recalls the anonymous Lancelot of the Laik and has some resonances with Lydgate's poetry. It may owe something of its plot to Lydgate's Temple of Glass, where the narrator listens to a woman's complaint during his dream. The view of The Quare of Jelusy as a less successful imitation of Chaucer may explain in part its neglect by critics. The poem has usually been ignored altogether or, when mentioned, maligned as lacking in literary merit, and John MacQueen's assessment of it as "possess[ing] a certain complexity and power" seems to be a minority view.4

Like A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe, The Quare of Jelusy begins with a dissatisfied narrator who finds an outlet for his own anxiety in the observation and telling of another's troubles. In this case, the target of the narrator's observation is a woman, rather than a man, and her suffering is caused by Jealousy, not unrequited love. After a conventional evocation of springtime, followed by a brief lament on "this warldis changeing and his wo" (line 24), the narrator of The Quare of Jelusy promises to remain silent on the subject of his own suffering. Instead, looking towards the sun, he discovers a new object of attention in a lady who suddenly appears "among the levis grene" (line 35). At this point the narrator hides himself so that he can discreetly observe the woman who has strayed into his view, another recurrent trope in medieval poetry. As A. C. Spearing writes in The Medieval Poet as Voyeur,
Within medieval love-narratives, secret observers, concealed from the lovers as the lovers are from society at large, are frequently represented as responsible for exposing private experience to the public gaze; as readers of or listeners to such narratives, we too can be made to feel that we are secret observers; and, in the later Middle Ages especially, the love-poet is often realized as one who looks and tells, himself a secret observer of experiences in which he does not participate.5
To this we might add "or understand." In The Quare of Jelusy, as in many such narratives, the narrator observes not the lady's direct experiences but, rather, the signs of her internal suffering derived from past incidents that the narrator does not himself witness and cannot fully grasp. He can therefore only relate her story at second hand, albeit empathetically.

As the narrator watches, camouflaged by leaves, from his secret space, the woman weeps, sighs, and complains, while, in her sorrow, "[h]ir coloure . . . changit oft, and wexit pale and grene" (lines 97-98). Such symptoms usually signal lovesickness, although when this woman voices her complaint it turns out to be not a lament for a lost or unrequited love but a rant against Jealousy, from which she claims to suffer unjustly. In the course of the lady's monologue, we learn that she has newly entered into marriage, which she considers to be the cause of her distress: a surfeit of love (in the form of a jealous husband) rather than a lack of it. After calling on Hymen to take pity on her, on Diana for help "agayn this waryit chance" (line 80), and on Jupiter to defend her, the woman frequently curses Jealousy and asks to be delivered from "this warldis chance" (line 90), before her passionate pleas finally dissolve into tears.

Moved by her weeping, the narrator plans to reveal himself and offer the lady comfort, but before he can make his move, another lady comes along, and the two of them walk off together. The narrator then mulls over everything that he heard the first woman say and decides to write down her complaint. Having made his decision to complain against Jealousy on behalf of the lady, the narrator hopes that he says nothing to offend lovers, but as for jealous people, "quhethir [whether] thay flete [float] or into hell synk, / Yit schall I writen efter as I think" (lines 177-78). This first section ends with the narrator's promise: "Thus I begyn, and on this wise I say" (line 190).

The nine-line stanza that takes over in line 191 begins an apostrophe to women, whom the narrator addresses as "tendir youth, that stant in innocence, / Grundid on treuth, sadnes, and pacience" (lines 191-92). The narrator proceeds with an explanation of the blameless and long-suffering nature of women, and the contemptibility of those who would accuse them unjustly before moving into a kind of history of Jealousy, in which he explains how Jealousy was perceived "in the tyme . . . of oure elderis old" (line 254) as "abhominable" (line 255) and a cause for shame, but complains that "now thai mon thame uttirly dispone / To duell as doth the anker in the stone" ("now they [i.e., women] must wholly incline themselves / To live as does the recluse in the stone [cell]," lines 266-67) in order to avoid Jealousy's false accusa-tions. The poem then advances swiftly into the narrator's "trety in the reprefe of Jelousye" (after line 316). This section, composed in rhyme royal, draws heavily on exempla from biblical sources, but is also indebted to a thirteenth-century French book of knowledge, Sidrac (or more probably to its Middle English translation, Sidrak and Bokkus), and to Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea. The tone here is rather calm - almost clinical - as the narrator details how the jealous "[f]rom worldis joy and hevinly companye / Excludit ar thus throu thair false invye" (lines 376-77). In addition, because of their jealousy, they often suffer misfor-tunes, of which, he says, "I coud ane hundreth samplis [examples] tell / Of stories olde the quhich I lat ourego [pass by]" (lines 380-81).

The poem's return to the nine-line stanza signals a shift from a discourse about jealousy to a direct address that condemns Jealousy, now personified, with all the fiery oratory of a sermon. "O wofull wrech and wickit, evill consate!" (line 464), he begins, going on in the next few lines to call Jealousy a false suspicion nourished full of hate, a cruel serpent always lying in ambush, and a slanderous tongue. Here the narrator rebukes Jealousy for giving love the responsibility for his own possessive behavior and enumerates the harm Jealousy's "cursit violence" (line 482) does to innocent women. Moved to anger, the narrator exclaims, "Fy on thee, wrech! Fy on thee, lufis fo!" (line 497), before going on to explain the reasons why the jealous person is doomed to suffer. Jealousy loses him his lady's heart and her love, makes her his enemy, and makes her wish she were dead. For the same reason, the jealous lover is doomed to suffer his "wrechit, cursit life" (line 547) in anger and woe, eternally fretting: laid waste, burned, and burning, tormented by thoughts of jealousy that make life a hell and doom the jealous to eternal suffering (lines 556-62).

The variation in rhyme scheme from the first set of nine-line stanzas implies that the treatise operates as a mechanism of change, since the new rhyme resembles a mingling of the first type of nine-line stanza with a rhyme royal stanza. The differences in the two sections also suggest a movement from defense to attack, as if the weight of the examples in the treatise galvanizes the narrator into an ardent assault on jealousy. His aggression leads finally to an unequivocal appeal to "every god that regnyth" (line 597), who "mycht or power hath to done vengeance" (line 601), to ensure
That quho thir ladyis likith to annoye,
Or yit thare fame or yit thaire ese engrewe,
Mote suffryn here and fallyn grete mischewe
Into this erth - syne with the falouschip of hell
In body and soule eternaly mot duell.
(lines 603-07)
whoever likes to oppress these ladies
May suffer; come [to] great misfortune
On; afterwards; fellowship
may [they] dwell eternally

Such a fiery resolve offers, indeed, a passionate release with which the agitated narrator may conclude his asseverations.

The poem's elaborate scheme of formal divisions in the narrative linked to shifts in content or tone points to an experiment in verse forms that looks forward to the increasing number of complex poetic forms prized by early modern poets. The first 190 lines are composed in heroic couplets, followed by fourteen nine-line decasyllabic stanzas rhyming aabaabbab (lines 191-316). These are succeeded in turn by "the trety in the reprefe of Jelousye," containing twenty-one rhyme royal stanzas (ababbcc; lines 317-463). The poem then returns to the nine-line stanza, but with a variation on the rhyme scheme: aabaabbcc (twelve stanzas, lines 464-572), followed by one ten-line stanza (aabaabbcbc; lines 572-81), before finally returning to heroic couplets for the remaining twenty-six lines (lines 582-607). In each case the shift in verse style signals a shift in the narrative. The section of heroic verse that begins the poem acts as a prologue, where the narrator frames his story and explains his reasons for writing. The section of nine-line stanzas which follows is headed by an apostrophe to women, which gives way to a defense of women against Jealousy. Following this, the "trety" acts almost as a sermon, supporting its condemnation of Jealousy through the use of numerous biblical and other exempla. The second set of nine-line stanzas forms a long apostrophe to Jealousy. The ten-line stanza which ends the apostrophe to Jealousy concludes the narrator's attempt to persuade the jealous person to give up his narrow way of life to live instead in "ese and in prosperitee / And love, and eke with ladies lovit be" (lines 577-78). In the concluding heroic couplets the narrator once again addresses his audience, identified here as "[y]ou loveris" (line 582), and finally asks the gods to bring destruction upon those who are jealous.

The topic of the narrator's discourse, jealousy, is necessarily double. It can be understood in two ways: in its positive aspect as devotion or love that gives rise to an impulse to guard or take care of the beloved; or, when this is taken to extremes, in its negative, destructive aspect as a desire to possess and restrict the beloved, characterized by suspicion, mistrust, and fear of lost affection. The lady's cursing of "[t]he cruell vice of causeles Jelousye" (line 56) points out that jealousy is to be understood here in its guise as suspicious and mistrustful possessiveness. Thus it is no surprise when the lady describes marriage as a "dangerouse bound" (line 60), a phrase that contains a complicated resonance that must be unpacked in order to understand the lady's grievance. Like jealousy, "bound" has positive and negative implications. On the one hand, it can be a simple tie, on the other, a "fetter or shackle (to hold a prisoner)" or "confinement, imprisonment." It can refer to a "a mutual agreement or obligation undertaken at marriage," or to feudal ties between lord and vassal. It can mean a unifying force, such as love, but it can also be a "force that dominates, controls, compels, constrains, or restrains."6 The word "dangerouse" at once suggests "hard to please," "aloof," "stingy," "domineering," and "risky," qualities which in turn point up the different facets of jealousy.7 Its aloof or standoffish attribute might be likened to the guarded stance of jealousy in its positive role as protector, while the rest of the "dangerouse" traits suggest the prickliness of a suspicious lover who fears at any moment to be ousted.8 In the context of marriage, the phrase "dangerouse bound" might suggest either a mutual agreement to love and protect one another or a tyrannical shackle tying one to an overbearing person impossible to please. The complications of this phrase in a sense embody not only the complaints that the lady expresses against jealousy, but also the conflicts evident in the narrator's attempts to tell another's story. The lady's demand to know "[q]uhich be the cause that I / Am turment thus, withoutyn cause or quhy" (lines 61-62) is in a sense already answered by her foregoing characterization of marriage as a "dangerouse bound."

The tensions that characterize the lady's comments on Hymen's "dangerouse bound" also predominate in her plea to Diana: "O Dyane! Goddesse of fredome and of ese, / Under quhom I have bot thraldome and disese, / Litill of treuth, of gladnese, or plesance" (lines 77-79). If the "dangerouse bound" of Hymen9 is the source of her trouble, then Diana, as goddess of chastity, would appear to represent the freedom of the unmarried state,10 but instead the lady appears to suffer as much under Diana's influence as under Hymen's, a fact that leads to renewed grief and the narrator's mellifluous praises as, moved by her tears, he waxes lyrical in his appeals for sympathy towards her, likening "the teris upoun hir fresch hewe" (line 106) to the hail which descends "from the ayr abone / Upoun the lusty colourit rose in June, / Quhen thai ar fairest on thair stalkis newe" (lines 103-05). These overblown images, like the extravagant praises on her appearance that begin in line 36, place the narrator in the position of hopeful lover who reserves the right to compare her to "Dyane or sum hie goddesse" (line 44), a rose, or the sun ("als fresch in hir beautee and array / As the bricht sonne at rising of the day" [lines 37-38]). But, as Anne M. McKim points out, the narrator's impulse to hide himself after comparing her to Diana "suggests that he himself resembles Actaeon whose voyeurism was summarily punished when he was hunted and torn to pieces by his own hounds" and casts doubt on the narrator's right to observe her.11

Like the compliments he pays, the narrator's observation of a woman alone would usually put him in the position of lover stricken with desire, as it does in the case of the narrator of The Kingis Quair, or both Palamoun and Arcite in Chaucer's Knight's Tale. But there are also famous cases where being stricken in such a manner leads to unrequited love and thence to jealousy when another is chosen by the beloved. In fact, it is the narrator's position of secret watcher of a woman in distress that suggests his potential to become a jealous lover himself. At the beginning of the Tale of Acis and Galatea in Book 2 of Gower's Confessio Amantis (2.97-200), Genius explicitly warns against those who spy on others because they cannot get love themselves (ed. Peck, 2.97-100):
Ther ben of suche mo than twelve,
That ben noght able as of hemselve
To gete love, and for Envie
Upon alle othre thei aspie.

These lines anticipate the Cyclops Polyphemus' spying on Galatea and his jealous rage when she instead falls in love with Acis. The narrator of The Quare of Jelusy finds himself in a similarly compromising position, and his attitudes towards the woman he watches suggest the possibility that he may be displaying signs of the jealousy he condemns so vociferously at the end of the poem.

That the narrator's attempt to "confort hir and counsele of hir wo" (line 110) is deflected by the fleet foot of "one othir lady" (line 111) who arrives before he can show himself suggests that the narrator's role as lover is usurped by the second woman. In effect, the hidden position that makes possible his surveillance of the lady and that should enable him to emerge just at the point where she is most vulnerable backfires. The other woman's route is "[t]he nerrest way unto" the lady (line 112), indicating that the narrator's loss of such an opportunity is partly due to his own distance. What this distance means in terms of the narrator's ability to rehearse the lady's story is not clear; what is clear is that the narrator does not share the intimacy of the two ladies, both initially alone, who pair up and walk off together: "one [direction] thai tuo ysamyn gan to fare" (line 113). His inability even to see where they go - "Bot quhens thai past I can nocht you declare" (line 114) - suggests that the narrator's ability to speak against Jealousy in this woman's cause is suspect, since he cannot even observe her destination once she passes out of his immediate purview. But even more, the fact that his role remains that of observer in the manner of Polyphemus suggests that his motives cannot be trusted either.

In the face of the impenetrable unit of the "tuo ysamyn," the narrator is unable to enact his role as the lady's comforter and potential lover and is left to insert himself into the narrative by taking on the woman's complaint, an act that may itself be a sign of jealousy. Ultimately this interjection is his attempt to thrust his way between the two women, just as his elaborate compliments on the lady's appearance (lines 36 ff.) act to reinscribe heteronormative relations by placing her in the position of love-object and asserting his own viability as a possible lover. But the narrator's initial lack of comprehension at the lady's plight points to his inability to represent her complaint adequately. Although at first his "goste hath take in sad remembering / This ladies chere and wofull compleynyng" ("spirit absorbed in sober memory of / This lady's expression and sorrowful complaining," lines 117-18), he does not, finally, understand what her problem is. He thinks that "sche, for fairhede and for suete-having, / Mycht wele accorde for ony wicht lyving" (lines 133-34); that is, because she is so fair and of such a pleasant demeanor, he thinks she should be compatible with anyone, so at first he does not understand why she should be suffering. After thinking on this problem for a while, he has an epiphany: "tho it fell into my fantasy / How sche so oftsyse cursit Jelousy" (lines 135-36). But the "fantasy" that motivates the narrator to tell the woman's story in the first place is suspect, for it is not clear what the difference is between the kind of "fantasy" the narrator experiences and the "fantasy" of the jealous person who
And sett sche loke or speke unto no wy,
Yit evill he demith in his fantasy;
And be sche glad or wele besene in oucht,
This tyrane saith it is nat do for nocht.
(lines 275-78)
Even though; speaks; person
Yet; assumes; fancy (deluded imagination)
dressed at all
tyrant; not done for no reason
"Fantasy" is here equivalent to "fancy" or "imagination," which in the case of the narrator seems to be benign or even good, while in the jealous person it becomes tyrannical. Yet the narrator's descriptions of the lady clearly reveal his attraction to her and suggest the possibility that he could become jealous in his turn.

It is his moment of "fantasy" that motivates the narrator to decide that "for this ladies sak" (line 153) he will compose something in condemnation of Jealousy, no matter what anyone thinks ("quho be wroth, or quho be blith" [line 157]). Again this points to the narrator's insistent insertion of himself into the woman's story - he will write against Jealousy perhaps despite her feelings on the matter, could she express them.12 Just as the narrator is excluded from the scene of female-bonding in a way that suggests his potential unsuitability for this tale, his motives for telling this story may be suspect, for what the narrator's "fantasy" shows is that women are bound together, not by mutual agreements or oppressive shackles, such as men and women are, but by shared experience - "Under thraldome and mannis subjectioun" (line 200). This is a reading that again provides a heteronormative explanation for the two women leaving together as "tuo ysamyn," for this ensures that they are bound together in their grievances towards male lovers, rather than for any homoerotic reason.

The narrator's seeming defense of women is as fraught as his relationship to jealousy and the woman whose complaint he purports to represent. In the introduction to their 1976 edition of the poem, J. Norton-Smith and I. Pravda remark on the "trety" as "gain[ing] obsessional momentum," suggesting that, "after the conventional passages of abstract ethical discussion, Christian moralizing, schematic polish and exemplifying lessons[,] the poet reaches an emotional pitch where he . . . paints a vivid picture of destructive jealousy in its psychological aspect," a vision that "owes little to Ovid, Guillaume de Lorris or Chaucer."13 The two editors conclude instead that the "poet is aggressively and irrationally pro-feminist."14 It is true that the narrator explicitly steers away from any negative mention of women: "From viciouse women passith my matere, / Thai most all gone apoun one othir dance" (lines 225-26). But his very mention of "viciouse women" signals their existence and throws at least some doubt on the narrator's reliability or his sincerity in this attempt to defend women from "the cruel vice of causeless Jealousy." This is similar to the narrator's earlier determination to speak of this woman's suffering - "quho be wroth, or quho be blith" - in a way that calls into question his motives and suitability for such a task. The narrator's insistence in writing against Jealousy on behalf of this woman may in fact be motivated by his need to assert himself as a potential lover in light of the arrival of the second woman, since her presence obviates any need on the lady's part for the comfort or counsel he wishes to offer her. His rant against Jealousy then becomes, in this reading, a kind of male insecurity, deflecting the same-sex alliance of the women "tuo ysamyn" by projecting another male rival in the figure of the jealous lover/husband, the source of the causeless Jealousy against which the lady rails.

The reaction of Norton-Smith and Pravda points to the way in which the intense nature of much of the poem's rhetoric forces its readers to react by attempting to explain its ardent pitch. This intensity also takes attention off of the unsupportable confusion of the narrator and elides the question of whether or not he is qualified to speak "for this ladies sak" (line 153). It is not easy to ascertain whether the poem is a credible effort to champion women or if the tone of it signals instead a kind of ridiculous escalation of vitriol that is meant to poke fun at an advocate who wishes to defend the indefensible. As Derek Pearsall points out in his introduction to The Assembly of Ladies, "The theme of . . . truth and loyalty of women and, generally speaking, the neglect and unfaithfulness of men . . . is a conventional one in the love poetry of the period, and bears the same relation to reality as the opposed theme of women's lasciviousness and fickleness."15

Such difficulties of interpretation punctuate the narrative throughout. For example, in his initial apostrophe to women, although ostensibly praising their innocence and long-suffering nature, the narrator injects a seed of doubt by his use of the phrase "Wommen I mene":
O tendir youth, that stant in innocence,
Grundid on treuth, sadnes, and pacience
(Wommen I mene), all vicis contempnyng,
That void ibene of every violens,
And full of pitee and benevolence,
Humble and wise, rycht sobir and benig,
And full of merci unto everything.
(lines 191-97)
tender; stands
vices spurning
empty are; all violence

The narrator's depiction of women as youthful and innocent is somewhat belied by his need to define his subject - "Wommen I mene" - implying that such an equation is not self-evident. Not only must the narrator define who he is talking about, but he must also go on to catalogue women's virtues, as if these qualities were so uncommon in women as to need definition. Nevertheless, it is difficult to know exactly how to read this, since such a list probably was uncommon, and this move could be seen as a parallel to the kinds of defenses of women mounted by Christine de Pizan in her Epistre au Dieu d'Amours and Cité des dames. The characterization of women "[f]ull paciently into this erth lyving / Under thraldome and mannis subjectioun" (lines 199-200) that follows the amplification of their honorable qualities is a marked contrast to the narrator's portrayal of Jealousy: "Ofe evill condicioun evirmore is he, / As the Devill, ay birnyng into hate, / Full of discorde and full of frese consate [cruel judgment]" (lines 150-52). But if doubt is cast on the characterization of the one (women), then it is also thrown on the representation of the other (Jealousy). Further, many of the remarks on Jealousy reflect those of Chaucer's Criseyde, such as when the narrator hears the lady complain of "the cruel vice of causeless Jealousy," echoing Criseyde's complaint to Troilus about his jealousy: "noot I for-why ne how / That jalousie, allas, that wikked wyvere, / Thus causeles is cropen into yow" (Troilus and Criseyde 3.1009-11). But in this case, Troilus' jealousy turns out not to be unfounded, since Criseyde does betray him later on. This and other such resonances (detailed in the explanatory notes) appear to undercut the narrator's claims to excuse women by suggesting that no matter how he defends them, they will turn out, like Criseyde, to be traitors.

But the identification of the lady with Criseyde does not necessarily imply that the poem's defense of women is not to be taken seriously. Whatever the reason, the narrator's vigorous defense of the lady he observes, and of women more generally, from any culpability and his emphasis on what he terms "the cruel vice of causeless Jealousy" seems antithetical to the frequent stereotypes of women in medieval literature as inconstant, willful, and manipulative. The poem at points suggests a tone not unlike that of Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, in which Chaucer, supposedly writing legends of good women to make up for his translation of The Romaunt of the Rose and for his portrayal of Criseyde as an unfaithful lover in Troilus and Criseyde, effectively exposes the ridiculousness of the notion that "good" women would rather die than lose their reputations, a position that ultimately implies less a condemnation of Criseyde than of those who object to her.

In Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, the narrator follows to the letter his instruction from Queen Alceste to tell stories of good women (that is, women who are true to men at all costs) but in such an exaggeratedly one-sided way that doubt is cast not only upon the narrator's sincerity but also on the viability of the project as Queen Alceste defines it. Alceste's "goode wymmen, maydenes and wyves, / That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves" (Prologue, F.484-85) are ones, it seems, who have suffered distress at the hands of men, a conclusion that ironically insinuates in its most extreme version that the only "good" woman is a dead woman. The deadly outcome of Alceste's definition of a good woman in turn raises another question: why should women continue to be faithful under conditions that cost them their lives?

The narrator of The Quare of Jelusy perhaps takes a page from Alceste's book when he claims that "every lady of honour and of fame / Lesse settith of hir deth than hir gud name" (lines 491-92), going on to argue that many experiences show "mony o lady quhich . . . / Rather chesyn can [did] thair deth than blame" (lines 494-95). In fact, the narrator goes one step further in suggesting that a woman might choose death not only over dishonor, but also over marriage to a jealous husband: "A lady rather schuld hir deth ytak / Than suich a wrech till have onto hir mak" (lines 525-26). In this way, the tensions present in the lady's complaint about Hymen's "dangerouse bound" are finally resolved by the narrator, whose claim stands in contradistinction to the lady's own demand that Jupiter make her life follow "ane othir dance, / Or me delyvir of this warldis chance; / Quhich is to say that efter as I deserve / That I may lyve or sodaynly to sterve" (lines 89-92). The lady's desire to live or die (i.e., be judged) according to what she deserves, rather than at the hands of an arbitrary Fortune, suggests that she is not, in fact, willing to die for honor, but only for dishonor (i.e., if she deserves it).

As discussed in the Introduction to The Boke of Cupide, the arrangement of the manuscript is heavily "Chaucerian," containing for the most part works by and attributed to Chaucer, suggesting a preoccupation with Chaucerian authorship not shared by earlier manuscript collections of Chaucerian verse.16 Of the first 14 items, 6 are by Chaucer, another 5 are inaccurately identified as his, while only 3 remain unattributed.17 The Chaucerian contents are heavily front-loaded, taking up nearly the first four-fifths of the manuscript, and represent the probable first two stages of the manuscript's construction. In "The 'Scotticization' of Middle English Verse," Julia Boffey and A. S. G. Edwards point out that "[p]hysical details of the manuscript's construction suggest that it was copied in several stages and systematically upgraded over time."18 According to Boffey and Edwards, the transcription of Troilus and Criseyde represented the first stage, "followed - probably at some interval - by the rest of the major Middle English contents of the manuscript."19 The Kingis Quair (item 15) and other Scots poems comprise the last fifth of the manuscript; this section was "seemingly a later project," probably added to the manuscript in its final stage of compilation, and was "primarily the work of a second scribe who began his stint towards the end of The Kingis Quair."20 This second scribe is the one responsible for copying The Quare of Jelusy.

In his introduction of nearly a century ago to The Kingis Quair, Alexander Lawson notes that "[p]oints of resemblance in artificiality of language in the Kingis Quair, Lancelot of the Laik and the Quare of Jelusy have long been noted by students of philology," going on to argue that "there is a closer affinity than a common artificiality of language" between the three.21 He catalogues resemblances between Lancelot and The Kingis Quair,22 "little similarities of phrase" between The Kingis Quair and The Quare of Jelusy,23 and "numerous" links between Lancelot and The Quare of Jelusy (among other things the reproduction of an entire line), which lead him to conclude that the three poems must be closely related, perhaps even authored by the same poet.24 He does not trace links with The Quare of Jelusy and other Scots poetry, however. Matthew P. McDiarmid (who also thought The Quare of Jelusy and Lancelot were authored by the same person) suggests that The Quare of Jelusy shows the influences of several of William Dunbar's poems and Blind Hary's The Wallace.25 MacQueen also notes similarities of style between Lancelot of the Laik and The Quare of Jelusy, although he agrees with M. M. Gray, an early editor of Lancelot, who rejects the claim that The Kingis Quair and Lancelot may have been authored by the same poet.26

In contrast, Norton-Smith and Pravda persistently deny The Quare of Jelusy any significant place in Scottish literary history. They dismiss as untenable the older idea that "the poet consciously borrow[ed] from James I's poem [The Kingis Quair]," arguing instead that The Quare of Jelusy "reflects what had been already written and circulated in England at the time when James left for Scotland to resume the responsibilities of government."27 They further see the "faint resemblances between the Quare and later Scottish verse" as "traceable to earlier and more widely available English poetic material."28 Finally, they conclude, "The Quare of Jelusy is a uniquely preserved, sometimes skilful, Scottish imitation of Chaucerian and Lydgatian poetic form and ethical concerns composed just prior to the later, more accomplished, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century literary development beyond the Tweed which has come to be called 'Chaucerian.'"29 This view defines the value of Scots poetry through its relationship to English poetry. Further, the assessment of The Quare of Jelusy as less "accomplished" in its imitation of English "poetic form and ethical concerns" suggests that it cannot be either significantly influenced by or have a notable influence on "more accomplished" Scots verse. The notion that the Scottish poem's value lies solely in its status as an "imitation"of English poetry, whether by Lydgate or Chaucer, unfortunately suggests that the relationship of The Quare of Jelusy is one of Scottish "imitation" to English "master" text, with all of the negative implications inherent in such a comparison. It seems worthwhile to point out that, whether or not the poem draws directly on The Kingis Quair, and whether or not it is a source of immediate influence upon later Scottish writers, it nevertheless forms part of the literary culture which thrived in Scotland in the fifteenth century.

Note on the text

The text of the poem is based on the single copy in Arch. Selden. B. 24, discussed above. Emendations are recorded in the textual notes, following the rationale explained in the General Introduction. In cases where a horizontal mark above a vowel might indicate a nasal consonant (n/m), I have expanded only in places where the stroke is more intensified in thickness and curvature (e.g., c_nyng, line 162) than the scribe's usual hairline strokes, and this would seem to reflect the scribe's usage in spelled-out forms. Other strokes and flourishes are disregarded as otiose. I follow Norton-Smith and Pravda's readings in cases where the manuscript has sustained further damage than when they examined it for their edition. After line 475, the edges of the pages along the binding have deteriorated significantly, so that many letters or words are missing at the beginnings of lines on the verso side of folios and at the end of lines on the recto side.30 The Bannatyne Club edition, a nineteenth-century publication put out by the Bannatyne Club of Edinburgh in 1836 and probably transcribed and edited by David Laing,31 is the earliest, and thus useful in its recording of some readings that are no longer legible. Norton-Smith and Pravda explain that "a comparison of the 1836 evidence and that of the 1910 edition [by Alexander Lawson] and the manuscript" shows that "the text deteriorated by 2 to 4 mms along the inner margins between 1836 and 1910."32 Except in places where Norton-Smith and Pravda have argued convincingly that the Bannatyne Club reading is wrong, I follow the Bannatyne Club edition for conjectural readings without comment, on the notion that there may have been visible at the time of that edition parts of letters on which those conjectural readings were based.


Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24 (SC 3354), fols. 138v-141v (late fifteenth or early sixteenth century).

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