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J 955 

Oxford University Press, Amen House, London E.C.4 


Geoffrey Cumberlege, Publisher to the University 



THE papers which make up this volume were left by their 
author at very different stages of revision. I, ' A Characteriza- 
tion of the English Medieval Romances*; VI, 'Chaucer's 
''Good Ear"'; and VII, 'Some Reflections on Chaucer's "Art 
Poetical" ', were printed in her lifetime and show her work in a 
state in which she herself passed it for the printer. These three vary 
greatly in style and purpose. The first is the nearest to a true essay: 
it is a general treatment of a general subject originally written for 
the fifteenth volume of Essays and Studies by Members of the English 
Association and printed in 1929. It belongs to the period in Miss 
Everett's career just before Chaucer became her main interest. 
She originally planned to write a book on the Middle English 
Romances, and, though this was never finished, she never lost her 
interest in them. The second, 'Chaucer's "Good Ear"', is an ex- 
tended note on a point of detail, originally written for a specialist 
periodical, Review of English Studies, in 1947. It is the most 
specialized paper in the present volume, but it is reprinted here 
because it is a companion piece to the more general 'Some 
Reflections on Chaucer's "Art Poetical" ', and because of the 
light that it casts on Chaucer's style and technique. The third, 
'Chaucer's "Art Poetical" ', was delivered as the Sir Israel 
Gollancz Memorial Lecture for the British Academy in 1950. 

'La3amon and the earliest Middle English Alliterative Verse', 
and the three papers on the poetry of the Alliterative Revival were 
written for the Oxford History of English Literature for the vol- 
ume on Middle English Literature before Chaucer. They were not 
far from being finished when Miss Everett died, though there is no 
doubt that she would have given them a final revision before send- 
ing them to the printer. But except in a few passages this revision 
w r ould only have affected minor details. In the few cases where she 
noted her dissatisfaction over more important issues, the passage 
has either been omitted or an attempt has been made to carry out 
her evident intention. 


The plan of the O.H.E.L. excluded references to secondary 
sources, except in very rare cases. These chapters, therefore, are 
in sharp contrast to the carefully documented 'Chaucer's "Good 
Ear" ' and 'Chaucer's "Art Poetical" '. The translations of quo- 
tations were also required by the editors of the O.H.E.L. The 
chapters are printed here as Miss Everett wrote them, except for 
minor revisions and the deletion of some pages in which very brief 
reference was made to a number of minor alliterative poems. These 
would necessarily have been included in a textbook, but disturbed 
the unity of the chapters as they stand by themselves. 

'Chaucer's Love Visions' and 'Troilus and Criseyde' were given 
as lectures in Oxford during the summer of 1953. Miss Everett's 1 
published work on Chaucer bore no proportion to her interest in 
and knowledge of the subject. She did, however, intend ultimately 
to write a book on Chaucer, of which such lectures as these would 
have been the basis. These two were chosen to represent this side 
of her work as the most complete in themselves. They also showed 
signs of having been recently and carefully worked over. Tt must 
be remembered, however, that they were never prepared, or even 
intended, for publication. The style is deliberately adapted to the 
hearer rather than the reader. Those who heard them delivered 
may miss a certain tentativencss ; a care to qualify statements and 
to rouse a primarily undergraduate audience to thu'k for itself, 
rather than merely accept a lecturer's dictum. In this respect these 
two lectures have been freely revised to remove a looseness appro- 
priate to the lecture-room, but which could only irritate and delay 
the reader. 

In these ways I have tried to bring these unpublished papers as 
nearly as possible into the form in which Miss Everett herself 
would have passed them for the printer. My thanks are due to 
Mr. K. Sisam and Miss Mary Lascelles for generous help in this 
task. Thanks are also due to the English Association, The Reviezv 
of English Studies, and the British Academy for permission to 
reprint the articles originally published by them, and to the Editors 
of the O.H.E.L. for their generosity in giving up their claim to 
the papers on Alliterative Verse. 









(i) The Alliterative Mortc Arthnre and other poems 46 

(ii) Patience, Purity, and Sir Gawain and the Green 

Knight 68 

(lii) Pearl 85 


REFERENCE TO THE Parlement of Fonlcs 97 

v. Troilus and CriscyJe 1 1 5 

vi. CHAUCI-R'S 'GOOD EAR' 139 




INDEX 177 


THE death of Dorothy Everett on 22 June 1953 brought to 
her friends the sense of irreparable loss and hopes unful- 
filled. It came besides as a shock even to those who had some 
idea how ill she was : her health, long precarious, had weathered 
several storms, and she seemed inseparable from the activities and 
interests with which her life was bound up. 

Dorothy Everett was born at King's Lynn in 1894. She came 
of an East Anglian family and liked to boast that she was of purely 
English descent. She might likewise have claimed for herself the 
traditional English virtues of a strong sense of practical justice and 
a keen eye for a constitutional issue. She went up to Girton as an 
exhibitioner in 1913, and took a first class in the Medieval and 
Modern Languages Tripos in 1916. The following year she spent 
at Bryn Mawr with a British Scholarship ; the beginning of friendly 
relations with many American scholars. Her love of medieval 
studies grew, and, while Assistant Lecturer at Royal Holloway 
College, she submitted for her London M.A. a thesis on the 
English Psalter of Richard Rolle. Her first appointment in Oxford, 
to a tutorship at St. Hugh's, was a fortunate event for all the 
women's societies there. She was lecturer in English for a year at 
Somerville, and in 1926 was appointed tutor in English Language 
and Literature at Lady Margaret Hall, becoming a Fellow in 1928. 
A University Lecturership in Middle English meant the beginning, 
in 1930, of wider responsibilities, which seemed always to increase. 
As a member of the Board of the English Faculty she was concerned 
in the adjustments which conscription called for; and as a recog- 
nized authority in her own field she examined not only in Oxford 
but also for the Universities of London and of Wales, enjoying the 
new opportunities for friendship which this external examining 
brought. Indeed, though the burden she carried was heavy, it 
should not be thought of as a dead weight : she liked taking her 
share in decisions, just as she liked being consulted about problems 
of divers kinds. The wide range of her obligations could not 


diminish her practical concern with the business of Lady Margaret 
Hall and its growing and changing needs. Intent on composing 
differences, she had yet no use for the merely convenient com- 
promise, and would allow nothing ill-conceived nor inexactly 
defined to pass unchallenged. She was an alert and wary member 
of committees and such bodies, and a wise and forbearing chair- 

These administrative offices, however, were not performed at 
the expense of her proper function : the furtherance of medieval 
studies, through her own work and the work she taught others to 
do. She laboured in her vocation with wholly unselfish absorption, 
indefatigable in her regular contribution to the Year's Work in 
English Studies and in her reviewing for the Modern Language 
Review, the Review of English Studies and Medium Aevum. These 
and the Early English Text Society and the Modern Humanities 
Research Association likewise are deeply in her debt. Her election 
to the Readership in English Language of which, in 1948, she 
became the first holder, freed her from the weight of tutorials but 
brought its own obligations: to break ever fresh ground in her 
lectures. She was, besides, increasingly occupied with the super- 
vision of others' research. 

Mere enumeration of these activities is, of course, a reflection 
of Dorothy Everett's eminence in the field of medieval literature : 
she was an acknowledged authority on Chaucer. Praise of her 
scholarship would be an impertinence, but it must be said that her 
collation of the Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales is 
a reminder of what we have lost in the edition of Chaucer that 
should have been hers, just as her article on 'Chaucer's "Good Ear" ' 
and her lecture on his 'Art Poetical' sharpen the wish that we might 
have had a book of Chaucerian criticism from her. After Chaucer, 
she delighted in other poets and story-tellers of his age, especially 
the author of Pearl; and her 'Characterization of the English 
Medieval Romances' in the 1929 volume of Essays and Studies led 
to work on Sir Launfal, of which she was preparing an edition for 
the Clarendon Press. 

To do so much, give so much, set herself so exacting a standard, 


and die at fifty-nine meant that work must be left uncompleted. 
Her volume for the Oxford History of English Literature was begun 
only after her health had seriously worsened. Even this was well 
on its way. Yet the best memorial to her tireless and unselfish 
work (apart from these gathered papers) must be the achievements 
of her pupils and the recollections of those friends who were 
steadied and encouraged by the experience of working with her. 
It was impossible not to turn to her, in moments of perplexity or 
when there was something to be shared. Her wise advice might be 
astringent, just as the criticism in her reviews might be severe. 
She owed no less to the truth. But there was never any rigour to 
repel. She was touched and pleased when simple people took her 
for one of themselves, and she was proud of her skill in the simpler 
arts of life, in household affairs and gardening: she dealt with 
plants on her own terms. It amused her to obtain her ends by the 
simplest means. Her sense of fun was always delighted by the 
inopportune event which confounds ceremony. 

Towards the end she had to curtail many activities and say no 
to invitations which it had been in her to welcome and enjoy. She 
did not attempt to conceal the state of health which made these 
denials necessary, preferring to flaunt it and defy it as a matter of 
no account. Friendship, and the fortitude of the friend who shared 
everything, made this fighting retreat possible. 




N"O one can go far in the history of poetry', says Professor 
Ker, speaking of the seventeenth century, 'without recog- 
nizing the power of formal and abstract ideals, especially 

in the age of the Renaissance. Of the empty patterns that fascinate 
the minds of poets there were two pre-eminent : the Heroic Poem 
and the Classical Tragedy/ 1 The fascination of 'empty patterns' 
was felt strongly by the English poets of an earlier time not least 
by Chaucer, the greatest of them and this must be the excuse for 
studying the nature of a poetic form popular in the thirteenth and 
fourteenth centuries the romance. 

In the course of centuries the appeal made by any piece of 
written matter rarely remains unchanged. What the reader finds 
in any work must to some extent depend on his own mental and 
emotional equipment, and this, in its turn, depends partly on the 
mental and emotional characteristics of his age. It has been noticed 
that until the middle of the eighteenth century some writers on 
Chaucer disparage, but more ignore, the quality in him which 
seems to the modern reader most obvious and excellent his 
humour. 2 This particular appeal of his work, though the discovery 
of it was belated, seems legitimate and in accordance with a true 
understanding of it. But it is possible for literature belonging to 
a past age to make an appeal to a later public which is not in 
accordance with the spirit of the writer, or of his work as it was 
originally conceived. 3 However the scholar may sympathize with 
the natural reactions of his contemporaries to any work of art, it is 

1 See The Art of Poetry, by W. P. Ker (Oxford, 1923), p. 53. 

2 See Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion, by C. E. F. 
Spurgeon (Cambridge, 1925), pp. cxxxviii-cxxxix. 

3 Perhaps the modern tendency to stress the pathos of Malvolio's or Shylock's 
situation is an instance. 

6699 B 


part of his business to make clear its significance for the time in 
which it was created and not to confuse the appeal it makes at the 
present time with that which it made at first. 

The medieval romances seem particularly in danger of being 
misinterpreted in the manner suggested, possibly partly because 
the word 'romance' inevitably calls to the mind the general vague 
term 'romance* or the adjective 'romantic*. But it is obviously 
unsafe to conclude that the peculiar modern connotations of these 
words necessarily express the nature of the medieval romance. This 
study will attempt, among other things, to characterize the 
romances as they appeared to the writers of them and their con- 
temporary public, and it may be well to begin it by considering the 
meaning of the word 'romance* in medieval England. 

In a passage in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Pandarus comes 
to see his niece Criseyde and finds her sitting with two other 
ladies in a 'paved parlour' while a maiden reads aloud to them. 
We learn what the book is about. 'This romance is of Thebes, that 
we rede', says Criseyde. The use of the word to describe a medieval 
story of the Siege of Thebes is one that does not strike the modern 
student as peculiar. A list of English medieval romances compiled 
at the present day would undoubtedly contain a Siege of Thebes, 
though, for reasons of chronology, it could not \>e the one that 
Chaucer's characters read. 1 On the other hand Chaucer uses the 
word elsewhere of a book to which we would not apply it. In The 
Book of the Duchess y he tells how, unable to sleep, he chose to 
'dryve the night away' by reading a romance and he relates one of 
the stories he read. From this story it is possible to identify the 
book as Ovid's Metamorphoses. 

In both French and English the history of the word 'romance' 
is a similar one. It originally denoted the vernacular language of 
France as distinct from the Latin from which it was derived, but 
it soon extended its meaning to cover works written in French, so 
that the medieval English word can often be translated into modern 
English as 'the French book'. Very gradually there is a further 

1 In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, by J. E. Wells, two are 
mentioned in the section headed ' Romances'. Both were written in the fifteenth 


alteration of its meaning and it comes to be used for those tales of 
knights and their doings for which the French were first famous, 
without regard to the language in which they were written. But 
owing to its previous wider connotation, there is always a tendency 
to use it to mean any kind of fictitious narrative, and even books 
of other kinds in the French tongue. 1 In speaking of medieval 
romance, I shall ignore its wider meaning and confine myself to 
what we still call 'romances of chivalry'. Exactly what is implied by 
that term will, I hope, become clear in the course of the following 

The medieval romance is of course incapable of such exact 
definition as some literary types, but it is not impossible to describe 
it so that its nature and limits are comparatively clear. In attempting 
to do so, I shall necessarily be led to make generalizations to which 
particular instances may be exceptions. I can only hope to describe 
the majority of romances. 2 

( Medieval romances are stories of adventure in which the chief 
parts are played by knights, famous kings, or distressed ladies, 
acting most often under the impulse of love, religious faith, or, in 
many, mere desire for adventure. The stories were first told in 
verse, but when, later, prose versions were made, they were also 
called romances^ In length the verse romances may vary from a 
few hundred lines to tens of thousands (Guy of Warwick, Lydgate's 
Troy Book) ; the prose ones are mostly very long. 

The material for the stories could be drawn from any source, 
from Greek or Latin history or legend (The Lyfe of Alisaunder], 
from tales brought by travellers from the East (Floris and Blaunche- 
flur), from legends which had collected round the figures of English, 
French, or British history (The Lay of Havelok, Sir Ferumbras, 
Morte Arthure). The chief thing needed to turn any story into 
a romance of chivalry was conformance to a certain set of literary 
and social conventions. Something of the nature of these conven- 
tions is revealed by comparing the first mention of Priam's sons in 

1 After this essay was completed the writer discovered that in Nathaniel E. 
Griffin's 'The Definition of Romance' (P.M.L.A. xxxviii, pp. 50 ff.) a similar 
account of the development of the word is given. 

2 My remarks will be applicable primarily to the English romances and may or 
may not be true of the French. 


Lydgate's Troy Book with the same passage in its source, the 
Latin Historia Troiana written by Guido delle Colonne, which, 
though a medieval compilation, is not a romance. In the latter, 
Hector is described as 'inaudite strenuitatis miles virtute maxima 
bellicosus cuius gesta virtute multa vigent in longa memoria 
longum non sine causa recensenda per euum'. 1 Lydgate, who 
professes to follow Guido 'as ny3e as euer* he may, has the follow- 
ing version of this : 

. . . also fer as Phebus in compas 
A natural day goth his cercle aboute, 
So fer of hym, with-outen any doute, 
Reported was f>e renoun and f>e name, 
pe wor}?ines and J>e noble fame. 
For liche as bokis of him specefye, 
He was }>e Rote and stok of cheualrie, 
And of kny3thod verray souereyn flour, 
pe sowrs and welle of worship and honour ; 
And of manhod, I dar it wel expresse, 
Example and merour . . . 

There are a good many more lines of the description ending 

In olde auctours rede and 30 may fynde 
Of his kny3thood how 3it f>ei make mynde. 2 

In the Lyfe of Alisaunder, at the outset of Alexander's career, 
Philip of Macedon girds him with a sword and tells him to be a 
good knight. Whatever the original home of the romance hero, he 
is transformed into a knight and conforms to the medieval ideas 
of knightly behaviour. The qualities that Chaucer notes in his 
knight a pattern of chivalric virtue are 

Trouthe and honour, fredom and courtesy, 
and later he comments on his gentleness : 

And of his port as meke as is a mayde, 
He never yet no vileinye ne sayde 
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight. 

1 Quoted from edition of 1486 'in ciuitate Argentina impressa'. 

2 Lydgate's Troy Book, ii. 238-56. 


Accordingly, Lydgate's description of Hector speaks of his being 

Wonder benigne and lawly of his chere, 
Discret also, prudent and vertuous, 

and we read of Alexander that, at his death, his knights lamented 
him for his 'hardynesse, his gentryse and his courtesye'. 

One qualification must be made with regard to the statement 
that all romance heroes conform to medieval ideas of chivalric 
conduct. In different periods and in the hands of different writers 
these ideas are naturally not precisely the same. Hence in King 
Horn, for instance, there is a cruder conception of knightly duty 
than in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But the common ideas 
at the basis of all variations are important enough to prevent the 
statement from being meaningless. 1 

Not only are the heroes medieval in their ideals and behaviour, 
but the setting which forms their background is medievalized too. 
The armour, dresses, and jewels which romance writers eagerly 
describe are those that were fashionable at the time when the 
descriptions were written. 

At the feasts, which are frequent in the romances, the favourite 
medieval dishes are served. The author of Morte Arthure, whose 
story begins with a feast, mentions boars' heads, wild and specially 
fatted venison, peacocks, plovers, sucking pigs, herons in sauce, 
swans, 'frumentee' (furmenty), 'tartes of Turky', and many other 
delicacies, served on gold and silver dishes. Often the account of 
the dishes is followed by a list of well-known wines. We read of 

rumney and malmesyne, 
Both ypocrasse and vernage wyne, 
Mount rose and wyne of Greke; 
Both Algrade and respice eke, 
Antioche and bastarde, 
Pyment, also, and garnade ; 
Wyne of Greke and muscadell, 
Both clare, pyment and Rochell. 2 

This second quotation is taken from a passage in the Squyr of 

1 The Charlemagne romances probably have least of the spirit of chivalry, 
being affected by their origin in the chansons de geste. 

2 Squyr of Lowe Degre, 753 ff. Ed. Ritson, Ancient Engleish Metrical Romance es , 


Lowe Degrd in which a king, obliged to prevent his daughter from 
marrying beneath her, attempts to console her by offering her 
everything in his power. The passage is a long catalogue of all 
medieval delights. Conspicuous among the amusements he suggests 
is hunting, and a cursory glance at the romances shows that this 
was as common a form of amusement for the heroes of all romances 
as it was in reality for the high-born of medieval France and 
England. Even the king of the Fairies goes hunting (Sir Orfeo). 
In Sir Gavcain and the Green Knight, the poet describes minutely 
a deer-hunt, a boar-hunt, and a fox-hunt, using a number of 
technical terms such as quest, querre, rechated, mute, and even going 
into detail over the breaking up of the deer and the 'unlacing' of 
the boar accomplishments expected of a gentleman. 1 The author 
of this poem clearly intended to appeal to the fashionable world 
by his mention of the very latest fashions in shoes, in ladies' head- 
dresses, in architecture, and other things. 2 * 

In fact, the romances were partly popular, because, unlike so 
much of the Latin literature known to medieval readers, they were 
up to date in their ideas and their properties* This has been recog- 
nized by some scholars, notably Professor W. P. Ker and Sir 
Walter Raleigh. 3 W. P. Ker is, however, writing of the French 
romances 4 and Sir Walter Raleigh's remarks are introductory to 
a discussion of romance in later English literature, and neither of 
them shows in any detail how the English romances illustrate the 

It is partly by reason of the 'modernity' of their settings that 
discussion of the general term 'romance' is mostly irrelevant in 

1 See 1325 fT. and 1606 fF., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. by J. R. R. 
Tolkien and E. V. Gordon. See also the note in this edition on 1. 1325. 

2 See ibid., pp. xx, xxi. 

3 See Romance. Two Lectures, by Sir Walter Raleigh (1916), pp. 25 fT. Of the 
romances, he says, 'The note of this Romance literature is that it was actual, 
modern, realistic at a time when classical literature had become a remote con- 
vention of bookish culture.' Cf. also p. 29. Cf. W. P. Ker, Epic and Romance 
(1908), pp. 324 fT. ; English Literature: Medieval y p. 112; Cambridge History of 
English Literature, i, p. 280. 

4 Except in the second reference given; but even here he does not work out 
in any detail the applications of his remark. Sarah F. Barrow's book, The 
Medieval Society Romances (1925), which points out the 'modernity' of romances, 
also deals chiefly with French romances. 


connexion with them, if romance is, in the words of Professor 
Ker, 'the name for the sort of imagination that possesses the 
mystery and the spell of everything remote and unattainable/ 1 
Yet several recent critics use somewhat similar definitions to 
explain a quality they claim to find there. Miss Rickert 2 finds that 
widely different romances 'agree in being as far as possible removed 
from the facts of daily experience', and concludes: 'Briefly the 
essential implication seems to me to be that of the soul leaving its 
customary habitations and wandering in strange places, and essay- 
ing to bring into literature the fruits of its adventures/ W. M. 
Dixon 3 and G. Wyndham 4 seem to hold the same view. Professor 
H. R. Patch, in his discussion of Chaucer and Mediaeval Romance* 
thinks that, though the twelfth-century French romances of 
Chretien de Troyes may have been to some extent realistic, 'in the 
fourteenth century it was rather to the imagination which found 
special glamour in the remote or impossible that these stories 
offered an appeal'. The aim of his paper is to answer the question 
'To what extent does the romantic quality (or the quality of the 
romances) appear in Chaucer's work?' But in this sentence with its 
parenthesis he begs a question to which the answer must be sought 
before his own can be asked; namely, is 'romantic quality' the same 
thing as 'the quality of the romances' ? 

It has already been suggested here that such interpretations of 
the romances have arisen because it is too easily assumed that they 
have made the same kind of appeal in all ages. It is certainly clear 
from a recent discussion of the meaning of the word 'romantic' 6 
that when it was first used in the seventeenth century to denote that 
which was 'like the old romances', the qualities that these romances 
were believed to possess were unreality and remoteness. If this is 
what the seventeenth-century readers saw in them, for us, separated 

1 Epic and Romance (1908), p. 321. 

2 Early English Romances in Verse, Romances of Love, pp. xiv ff. 

3 English Epic and Heroic Poetry, pp. 98 ff. 

4 Springs of Romance in the Literature of Europe. 

5 Essays in Memory of Barrett Wendell, by his Assistants. Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press (1926). 

6 Cf. Words and Idioms, by Logan Pearsall Smith (1925). The author had 
previously made some study of the use of the word 'romantic* in a S.P.E. Tract 
for 1924. 


from all things medieval by the 'dark backward and abysm of time', 
distance lends mysterious charm to the heroes and heroines of the 
romances and to their surroundings ; but to those who lived when 
they were written, the settings at least were not, in this sense, 

At the same time, he who looked to them for realistic pictures of 
medieval manners and properties would be disappointed, except 
in a few noteworthy instances, among which are Havelok and Sir 
Gawain and the Green Knight. Generally speaking, there is in 
them nothing of the realism of the Prologue to The Canterbury 
Tales, still less of that of the Vision of Piers the Plowman. The 
pleasure they afforded in their own time has nothing in common 
with that given by some of the novels of Arnold Bennett in ours ; 
rather they pleased as modern novels of 'high life' do. One of their 
merits in the eyes of those for whom they were written must have 
been that they provided an escape from the failures or partial 
successes of life as it was lived by showing them that life idealized. 1 
The dresses and armour, the feasts and hunts, were cut to the 
pattern of things known, but on those patterns the romancer 
embroidered every splendour his imagination could conjure up. 
In the romances, everything must be of a gorgeousness to which 
real life could not attain. Hence the length and monotony of some 
of the descriptions. When a hero of romance gave a feast, he pro- 
vided all the fine dishes of which the writer had heard; if the 
heroine's mantle is described, it is covered so thick with embroidery 
and precious stones that the account of it wearies the mind (Emare). 
This idealization of ordinary life is found in other than material 
things. Doubtless, in fact, knights did not always act in accordance 
with the highest conceptions of chivalric conduct. In the Middle 
Ages, wife-beating was not unknown, even among the nobler 
classes of society. But in the romances, the hero is a superman. He 
does his duty whatever it may cost him (Lybeaus Desconus), and 
should he fail to do it, he only recovers self-respect and the esteem 
of his fellows after a long-drawn-out period of misery and penance 

1 Just as in Restoration Comedy the wit and immorality reflect the fashion 
of the time, but there can be little doubt that in the plays the wit was more 
sparkling and the immorality more outrageous and less frequently attended by 
unpleasant consequences than in real life. 


(Ywain and Gawairi). The romance writers believed in that 
heightening' of the characters and the action once admired by 
Dryden and exemplified in the Conquest of Granada and its hero 
Almanzor; and with them, as with him, this heightening was 
accompanied, perhaps inevitably, by simplified character- drawing. 
The half-tones of ordinary human nature are not for the romance 
writers; every man is either a hero and a good man, or a villain. 
The man who disregards knightly duty has the latter label attached 
to him from the outset and is, in due time, disgraced or killed. 1 
Poetic justice reigns supreme throughout the romances. The great 
majority of them end happily, with a wedding or perhaps a reunion 
or a reconciliation. It is typical of them, that in Sir Orfeo y the con- 
clusion of the classical story of Orpheus is changed; the hero wins 
back his wife and 'they lyved gode lyfe afterwarde'. At the end of 
a romance innocence is always vindicated and triumphant, however 
violent may have been the trials by which it was beset (Athelston, 
Chevalere Assigne, Emare, Havelok). The true Christian gets the 
better of all villains, slanderers, magicians, and Saracens (King 
Horn, Roland and Vernagu, Lybeaus Desconus, Guy of Warwick). 
The few exceptions are due to the occasional intractability of 
historic or legendary material (Lyfe of Alisaunder, Morte Arthure, 
Knight of Courtesy), or to the fact that the French original, not a 
romance proper, is too well known to be tampered with (Song of 
Roland). 2 On the whole the ordinary limitations of human life do 
not exist. At the end of Amis and Amiloun, a story of the complete 
devotion of two friends, Amiloun is brought to Amis suffering from 
leprosy. It is revealed to both the friends in dreams that a cure 
could be wrought if Amiloun were bathed in the blood of Amis's 
two children. Thereupon Amis cuts the children's throats and 
effects the cure. Soon he is forced to break the news of his deed to 
his wife, but when they both go to look at the children's bodies, 
they find them alive and quite sound. 

1 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an obvious exception ; but it is not in all 
ways a typical romance, being a work of art in a greater degree than most 

2 Actually the surviving English version of this is a fragment, but its likeness 
to the course of the French Chanson de Roland is too great for us to suppose its 
end would have differed from that of the Chanson. 


Miracles as wonderful as this are of constant occurrence in the 
romances, and though, to some extent, they can be regarded as 
further examples of the idealization of ordinary life, they are also 
connected with another feature of the romances which is not to be 
explained so simply the use of the marvellous in all its aspects. 
It is perhaps employed most constantly by the writers of Arthurian 
romances, but it is obvious that it is not confined either to them 
or to the romances as a whole. Dragons, giants, monsters of all 
kinds, hauntings, shape-changings, and sorcery are to be found in 
all medieval tales ; Beowulf and the Old Norse sagas use them as 
much as the romances. But the romance writers probably exploit 
the marvellous more untiringly than any other medieval writers, 
and, to those wonders used also by the Old English and Old Norse 
writers, they add new ones less terrifying, and, when well treated, 
more subtle stories of fairyland (Sir Orfeo, Sir Laimfal), of magic 
castles and enchanted ladies (The Weddynge of Sir Gaweri), and 
the mystical wonders of the Holy Grail. 

At this point it is necessary to reconsider the statement that the 
romances are not ' romantic'. Do not these, marvels contain the 
essence of 'romance' in the meaning in which Professor Ker used 
the word? The answer to this question is not a simple one. 
Undoubtedly in a sense they do ; they are so remote from human 
life in any period or country that they would seem to be necessarily 
invested with the charm of mystery. Whatever has been said of the 
unromantic nature of the details and background of the romances, 
it must be admitted that many of the stories told in them are to 
the modern mind essentially romantic stories, many of the 
adventures through which the heroes pass are romantic. But it 
appears that remoteness from real life is not enough. If an incident 
is to be * romantic' in this sense in literature, the writer who uses 
it must regard it in a particular way. It would perhaps be difficult 
for a modern possessing any imagination to write of the marvels 
described in the romances in other than a * romantic' manner. But, 
because he did not make as definite a dividing line between the 
possible and the impossible as most of us do, the medieval romance 
writer in France and England looked upon his marvels with so 
unmoved and matter-of-fact an air that the glamour and mystery 


which should surround them is, in the majority of romances, 
completely lacking. We are told in the King of Tars, that on being 
baptized the Saracen Sultan changed his colour from black to 
white, but this startling change seems quite dull because of the 
manner of its telling : 

The Preste hihte sire Cleophas 

And nempnede so the soudan of Damas, 

After his own name. 
His colour that lodlich and blak was 
Hit bicom feir thorw godes gras 

And cler withoute blame. 1 

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner shows us that there must be a 
preparation for a mystery; the right setting must be created, the 
imagination of the reader must be stimulated in the right way; and 
this is not done in the romances, with a very few exceptions. It is 
one of the failures at which Chaucer mocks in Sir Thopas when 
he makes his hero suddenly, for no particular reason, announce 
his determination to have a fairy mistress : 

O seinte Marie, bencdicite! 
What eyleth this love at me 

To binde me so sore ? 
Me dremed al this night, pardee, 
An elf-quene shal my lemman be, 

And slepe under my gore. 

An elf-quene wol I love, y-wis, 
For in this world no womman is 

Worthy to be my make 

In toune ; 

All othere wommen I forsake, 
And to an elf-quene I me take 

By dale and eek by doune! 2 

Elsewhere Chaucer shows that he knew how a fairy should be 
introduced : 

And in his way it happed him to ryde, 
In all this care, under a forest-syde, 

1 The King of Tars, 851-6. Ed. Ritson, ii. 

2 Canterbury Tales, B 1974*?. 


Whereas he saugh upon a daunce go 
Of ladies foure and twenty, and yet mo ; 
Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne, 
In hope that som wisdom sholde he lerne. 
But certainly, er he came fully there, 
Vanisshed was this daunce, he niste where. 
No creature saugh he that bar lyf, 
Save on the grene he saugh sitting a wyf . . .* 

The very lavishness of the display of marvels in the romances 
breeds contempt in the reader. Who could be moved by three 
giants, two magicians, one sorceress, a magic hall, and an enchanted 
lady all in the course of one fairly short story (Lybeaus Desconus) ? 
The baldness of treatment of the marvellous and the abundant 
supply of it destroy the sense of remoteness and once again 
'romance' is not to be found. It is impossible to say with absolute 
certainty that this use of the marvellous never gave medieval 
readers the thrill of the remote and mysterious, but so infrequently 
do we find any obvious attempt to exploit the sensations of surprise 
and horror that might be expected to arise from them, 2 that it 
seems likely that this was not what they sought in the romances. 
What is certain is that medieval readers and hearers thirsted for 
tales of all kinds, enjoyed the mere narration of a series of events. 
Only by this supposition can we explain the duplication of incident 
in the romances such as is found when, in King Horn, the hero 
twice returns in disguise at a crucial moment. The length of 
romances like Guy of Warwick is due to the same cause. In order 
to satisfy this thirst it was natural for the romance writer to ransack 
all possible sources for stories, and this by itself accounts in part 
for the use of the marvellous. A crude romance like Sir Perceval of 
Galles, in which marvellous incidents -abound, is clearly meant 
primarily to appease the demand for stories. Though references 
to rich feasts, castles, and other medieval properties are to be 

1 Canterbury Tales D 989 ff. I am glad to find myself so far in agreement 
with Professor Patch that we have both, independently, chosen this passage for 
the same purpose. See p. 108 of his essay. 

2 As, for instance, in the horror-novel of the late eighteenth and early nine- 
teenth centuries. These by themselves, apart from any other evidence, bear 
witness to a taste for the 'romantic* in the contemporary public. 


found, there are none of the fashionable details which have been 
noticed in other romances, and it is possible that it was written for 
a popular rather than a fashionable audience. Lybeaus Desconus 
shows the same heaping together of adventures, this time by so 
undiscriminating a hand that the story has little coherence. Unlike 
Sir Perceval, it contains much descriptive detail, but it is used 
without any art. The writer is copying fashionable romances 
without possessing the training and culture necessary to appreciate 
the best that could be done with such material. It is significant 
that this 'marvellous' story is one of those at which Chaucer 

To sum up what has been said of the unromantic nature of 
the majority of these poems : it would seem that some critics of 
the romances have not made a necessary distinction between the 
'properties' used by romance writers and the actual treatment of 
them in the romances themselves. These 'properties' may be con- 
sidered in two groups the details of setting, and the marvellous 
happenings. Both of these, if they are considered apart from any 
particular treatment of them, spell 'romance' to the modern; to 
the medieval reader the first did not, and the second may or may 
not have done so. But when we come to look at the treatment of 
these 'properties' in the romances themselves we find that it is 
'romantic' in the sense that some modern poetry 1 is romantic in 
a few only, and those the greatest of them. 

(Two such widely different poems as Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain 
and the Green Knight will serve as examples of romances in which 
something of the glamour of 'romance', as the modern understands 
it, is to be found. In the first, the other-world of fairyland is as 
truly created in the lines n 

He mijt se him bisides 

Oft in hot undertides 

pe king o fairy wif> his rout 

Com to hunt him al about, 

Wif> dim cri and bloweing; 

And houndes also wif> him berking ; 

1 For instance, The Ancient Mariner and some of Keats's poetry. 


Ac no best f>ai no nome, 

No neuer he nist whider J>ai bicome ! 1 

(281 ff.) 
as in Prospero's speech to those who 

... on the sands with printless foot 

Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him 

When he comes back . . . 

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the 'romance' is of a 
robuster, and at the same time subtler kind. The poet throws the 
'modifying colours of imagination* over the familiar so that it lives 
with a new life. Wintry weather in the mountainous country 
where Sir Gawain finds the Green Chapel, a castle with its battle- 
ments standing clearly outlined against the sky as though 'pared 
out of papure', the pleasure of a glowing fire and fresh clothes after 
a journey these must have been familiar things to him, but he 
transforms what is familiar and topical into the unique and per- 
manent^ At times, too, he displays the other power used by 
Coleridge with such skill in the Ancient Mariner .}The Green Knight 
himself is of the other world, but he can mingle with men without 
arousing incredulity because of the 'dramatic truth' of his be- 
haviour when, for instance, 

Wyth sturne schere f>er he stod he stroked his berde, 
And wyth countenance dry3e he dro3 doun his cote.* 


But if these two poems are exceptions to the general statement 
that the romances are not 'romantic', it is by virtue of one quality 
alone the imagination of their writers. Everything in the stories 
might be found in other romances that lack the quality of 'romance'. 
Comparison of these poems with other romances reveals the fact 
that 'romance' is not inherent in any kind of subject-matter, nor is 
it found by nature in any literary form; it is the gift of the artist, 
the result of a peculiar and individual way of seeing things. The 
majority of English romance writers are not imaginative enough 
to possess it. 

1 Quoted from the edition of the poem in Fourteenth-Century Verse and Prose, 
ed. by K. Sisam. It is probably true to say that this kind of 'romance* is more 
often found in the * Breton lots 9 than in the other romances. 


Up to this point it is the contents and the spirit of the romances 
that have been considered, and any student of medieval literature 
will know that a good deal of what has been said of these charac- 
teristics is true of other forms of vernacular literature at the time. 
The expression of the unknown in terms of the familiar and the 
medieval is a feature of all story-telling in the period, whether it 
be in narrative or dramatic form. In the poem known as Cleanness, 
Nebuzaradan, captain of Nebuchadnezzar's guard 1 is a 'gentyle due* 
and the 'chef of his cheualrye', and in the Second Shepherds' Play, 
belonging to the Towneley Cycle, the shepherds at Nazareth 
grumble at weather that is unmistakably English and bring as 
offerings to the child Christ a 'bob of cherys' and a ball with which 
to 'go to the tenys'. The matter-of-fact attitude towards the mar- 
vellous is perhaps even more striking in the legends of the saints 
than in the romances, and so is the idealization of ordinary life, 
though, on the whole, sides of life different from those found in the 
romances are treated. Nor is the type of story used a distinguishing 
sign of the romance. Several instances exist of the treatment of the 
same story in a romance and in another literary form. It is therefore 
clearly necessary to mark out more definitely the boundaries of the 
romance species, particularly in regard to literary treatment and 
form. It is, of course, only possible to do this on broad lines. 

I propose to begin with those distinctions which are easiest to 
make. The similarity between the saint's legend and the romance 
has already been indicated, 2 but the differences between the two 
are really obvious enough. The legend is written with didactic 
intent, the romance chiefly to give pleasure ; even when a didactic 
element enters into the romance the other object is predominant. 
On the whole, therefore, the two forms make use of different 
stories, though some motives are found in both. 3 Very rarely in the 

1 2 Kings xxv. 8. 

2 Cf. Saintsbury, History of the French Novel, i, p. 9, where the view that the 
saints* lives gave birth to the romances is put forward. 

3 The romances which use the theme of Chaucer's story of Constance (see 
Wells's Manual, pp. 112 ff.) share several of their incidents with the legends. 
For instance, the separation of members of a family through divers accidents 
and their subsequent reunion is found in most of them as well as in the legend of 
St. Eustace or of St. Clement in the South-English Legendary. Several of them 
have stories of the persecution of an innocent woman similar to those of some 
Christian martyrs. 


saints' lives is there that attention paid to descriptive detail which 
is such a feature of the romance. Sir Isumbras, which tells a story 
very near in many ways to the legend of St. Eustace, has descrip- 
tions of the great stature of the knight; of his wrapping his wife 
and children in his 'mantille of palle' and his 'riche surcoat' ; of the 
fine ships of the Sultan 'with toppe-castelles set one lofte . . .' 
which are entirely lacking in the Eustace legend in the South- 
English Legendary. It is characteristic, too, that in Sir Isumbras the 
reunion is followed by a long and happy life : 

Thay lyffede and dyed with gud content, 
And sythen alle till hevene thay went, 
When that they dede ware 1 

whereas in the legend of Eustace the reunion is followed by a 
further trial of faith and eventually by martyrdom for the whole 

Another distinction to be made is that between the romance and 
the ballad. If one considers a typical ballad and a typical romance, 
the distinction between the two seems so obvious as to be hardly 
worth making, but the apparent ease with which it can be made 
is a little misleading. A more careful examination of the two forms 
reveals that there are ballads using the same kind of story as is 
commonly found in a romance. An example is Sir Aldingar from 
the Percy Folio Manuscript. 2 At other times we find the same story 
appearing in a ballad form and in a Breton lai or romance. The lai, 
Sir Orfeo, has a counterpart in King Orfeo, a ballad preserved till 
the nineteenth century in the Shetlands; 3 Hind Horn is a ballad 
on the same subject as King Horn and Horn Childe and Maiden 
Rimnild\ and the same story is at the back of the ballad Fair Annie 
and the Breton lai, Lai le Freine. It is, however, precisely these 
ballads that approach closest to the romances and lais that give 
away most completely the secret of the difference between the 
forms. 4 In Lai le Freine the events of the story are told in the 

1 789-91. Ed. Halliwell, Thornton Romances. 2 i, pp. 166 ff. 

3 The version in Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, i, pp. 217 ff., 
was taken down in the nineteenth century from the lips of an old man in Unst, 

4 On pp. 21-22, the difference between some of the * Breton Iais 9 9 of which Laile 
Freine is an example, and romances proper is discussed. But both 'Breton lais 9 


following sequence: two knights, who are great friends, live in 
the west country. The wife of one of them gives birth to twin sons. 
Thereupon the wife of the other, an envious and spiteful woman, 
declares that to bear twins is a sign of infidelity. Soon after she 
herself bears twin girls and, afraid that what she has said will recoil 
on her own head, she plots to get rid of one of the children. A maid 
takes the child away, and, after wandering over a wild heath 
throughout the night, at dawn hides her in an ash-tree near a 'hous 
of religion', and makes off. There the child is found by the porter 
and taken to the abbess. She is called Le Frain (= ash-tree) after 
her hiding-place, and is brought up by the abbess till she is twelve 
years old. Then a young knight persuades her to run away with 
him and be his mistress. So she lives until his knights urge him to 
forsake her for 'sum lordes douhter'. The lady he decides to marry 
is the twin sister of Le Frain and he brings her as a bride to his 
house. . . . Here the English version, which is a fragment, ends, 
but the conclusion of the tale can be supplied from the original 
version, the French lai of Marie de France. Le Frain sets herself to 
help and serve all she can and her behaviour wins the love of the 
lady's mother, who is Le Frain's own mother too. Thinking the 
bridal bed is not fair enough, Le Frain spreads over it the rich 
mantle in which she had been wrapped as a baby when she was 
carried away by the maid, and which has never left her. The mother 
of course recognizes it and the whole story comes out. The marriage 
is annulled and Le Frain weds her lover. After a time the sister is 
married to another knight. 

The ballad Fair Annie begins thus : 

It 's narrow, narrow make your bed 

And learn to lie your lane ; 
For Fm ga'n o'er the sea, Fair Annie, 

A braw bride to bring hame. 
Wi her I will get gowd and gear; 

Wi you I neer got nane. 1 

At once a most important difference between the two versions 

and romances have in common the points of difference from the ballads which 
are under consideration and it is therefore legitimate, as it is convenient, to take 
a lai as illustration here. 

1 English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ii, p. 69, Version A. 

5609 C 


leaps to the eye. The ballad deals with a story, but its method is 
quite different from that of a narrative poem ; it does not tell the 
story, but alludes to it as to something that is already known. The 
explanations, motivations of actions, and other things that make 
the links in a connected narrative are omitted. Only the salient 
points in the story appear at all and they are not presented with 
the detachment of a narrator but coloured by the passion aroused 
in an actor in the story. 1 This is how the arrival of the bride is told 
in the ballad : 

'Come up, come up, my eldest son, 

And look o'er yon sea-strand, 
And see your father's new-come bride, 

Before she comes to land/ 

'Come down, come down, my mother dear, 

Come frae the castle wa. 
I fear, if langer ye stand there, 

Ye '11 let yoursell down fa.' 

The last quotation shows another feature that differentiates the 
two, the distinctive ballad manner, which partly consists in the 
repetition of the same phrase or similar phrases. In the ballad 
Hind Horn, Horn is recognized by his lover by means of a ring 
which she gave him long ago, and she asks : 

'O got ye this by sea or land ? 

Or got ye it off a dead man's hand?' 

'I got it not by sea, I got it by land, 

And I got it, madam, out of your own hand.' 

'O I'll cast off my gowns of brown 
And beg wi you frae town to town. 

'O I'll cast off my gowns of red, 
And I'll beg wi you to win my bread.' 

'Ye needna cast off your gowns of brown, 
For I'll make you lady o many a town. 

'Ye needna cast off your gowns of red, 
It's only a sham, the begging o my bread.' 2 

1 Of course these remarks are not so applicable to all ballads as to Fair Annie. 
Sir Aldingar, for instance, comes much nearer to being a simple narrative poem 
than this. 2 English and Scottish Popular Ballads, i, p. 202, Version A. 


There are no mannerisms of this kind in King Horn, or Horn 
Childe and Maiden Rimnild. Comparatively, they are straight- 
forward narrative. 

It is unnecessary to give here a complete account of the ballad 
manner. What is abundantly clear is that, though there may be 
no difference between the story used by the writer of a lai or 
romance and of a ballad, there is a great difference in treatment. 

It is more difficult to draw the distinction between the French 
epics (the chansons de geste) and the romances. Historically the two 
forms of narrative poetry influenced one another. Those epics 
which survive in late forms show sometimes a complete remodelling 
in order to make them more like the stories of adventure popular 
in the romances; the Quatre Fils d'Aymon is an example. Some- 
times, as in Huon de Bordeaux, to the epic story is added a * romantic' 
ending. But the distinction between the two forms is clear enough 
when the earliest extant chanson de geste is considered side by side 
with a typical romance. The differences in conception and treat- 
ment have been more fully discussed by Professor Ker in Epic and 
Romance than is possible or necessary here. The earliest chansons 
de geste are heroic poems, real epics; that is, as Professor Ker 
indicates, they have a dramatic variety which the romances have 
not. The characters speak for themselves, whereas in the romances 
we are always conscious of the story-teller and his manipulation of 
episode and character. In the chansons de geste, as in other national 
epics, man is chiefly concerned with one activity that of fighting : 
and in Roland, the greatest of them, the poet's theme is 'essen- 
tially the old story of the heroic age no knight-errantry, but the 
resistance of a man driven in a corner'. The romance, as we have 
seen, has no concern with tragedy and the romancer is interested in 
other activities than fighting, particularly in activities resulting from 
the passion of love. Instead of the heroic sentiments and actions 
of the tragic hero, there is the sensibility of the lover and the well- 
regulated behaviour of the follower of the ideals of chivalry. 

The earliest of these French epics are further distinguished from 
romances by being written in a metrical form of their own in 
those groups of decasyllabic lines, linked together by assonance, 
to which the French have given the name laisses. 


These differences between the forms are chiefly of use to students 
of French literature. English romance writers sometimes took 
French epics for their sources 1 and dealt with them as far as possible 
as they did with other narrative material. There is never, it is true, 
the same sophistication as in the Arthurian romances. Descriptions 
are fewer and shorter and not concerned much with fashionable 
contemporary life. The stories are mainly about fighting, and 
ladies and love-making mostly play a small part ; Duke Rowlande 
and Sir Ottuell of Spayrie is a fair example. When ladies do appear, 
they have not the good manners that one expects of a romance 
heroine. Floripas, in Sir Ferumbras y takes the law into her own 
hands and kills Oliver's jailer by hitting him over the head in order 
that she may see Oliver. 2 In these ways the English Charlemagne 
romances bear the traces of their origin; but apart from these 
things there is no difference between these romances and others. 
The * dramatic variety' of the original epics is gone. The power to 
convey lofty sentiments and a tragic atmosphere to create an epic 
hero, in fact is gone too; the bare events are left without the 
heroic spirit which originally informed thero. The English frag- 
mentary Song of Roland is so poor a poem that it is hardly a fair 
illustration, but it does show how an epic can be turned into a 
narrative poem that is not an epic, even when the main course of 
events remains unchanged. One has only to compare 11. 511-54 of 
the English poem (E.E.T.S. edition) with 11. 1017-81 of the Chanson 
(ed. Bedier) to see how the vigour and strength, the intense and 
dramatic expectation, the grandeur of Roland and Oliver and of 
their situation all that makes the epic quality of the Chanson 
have gone out of the story. The English poet has not even the sense 
to keep the stirring repetition, 'Cumpainz Rollanz, 1'olifan car 
sunez' 'Cumpainz Rollanz, sunez vostre olifan'. 

It is owing to this use and transformation of the French epics 
in English that the distinction in form between chanson de geste 

1 For instance, The Sowdone of Baby lone and Sir Ferumbras go back to French 
versions of the Fierabras story, Otuel to a version of the Otinel story. 

2 The English Charlemagne romances, many of which are late, give the 
impression that they were written for a popular, not a fashionable, audience, or 
by writers who were driven to this somewhat uncongenial material by the 
insatiable demand for romances. 


and romance has no relevance for English criticism. The distinction 
which needs to be made in considering English romances is rather 
between the romance and epic poetry in general than between the 
former and the particular branch of epic represented by the chanson 
de geste. Generally speaking, the English romance form differs 
from the epic form in the same ways as the French romances differ 
from the chansons de geste ', l but detailed study of individual romances 
would show that the degree to which they differ varies greatly. 
One romance, the alliterative Morte Arthure, on a theme which 
roused more patriotic enthusiasm in an English poet than the 
doings of Charlemagne and his peers ever could, conies very near 
to claiming a place among heroic poems in English. 

The last distinction to be made is that between the romance and 
what is usually called nowadays a tale. It is far the hardest to draw 
and is one that some critics would not admit except in certain 
obvious instances. The romance is distinct enough in subject- 
matter from the kind of medieval tale known as a fabliau, a tale, 
such as those which Chaucer puts into the mouths of the Miller 
and the Reeve, which deals essentially with middle-class or lower- 
class life and is full of broad fun. But in Gower's Confessio Amantis 
there are a number of tales, linked together by a thin thread of 
narrative, many of which are on the same subjects as the romances. 
The Tale of Constance, 2 besides being the same as Chaucer's Man 
of Law's Tale, has episodes in common with a number of romances, 
among which are Emare, Sir Eglamour of Artois, and Sir Torrent 
of Portyngale. The Tale of Jason and Medea, 3 has some of the 
characteristics that we have noted in the romances. Jason is a 
duke and Medea a witch who gathers herbs and mutters spells. 4 
Is there any essential difference in form between one of the tales 
in Gower's Confessio Amantis and a short romance ? I think there 
is, but that the difference is obscured by the existence of the Breton 

1 Nathaniel E. Griffin in The Definition of Romance argues that the essential 
difference between the romance and the epic is that the former is an incredible 
tale, while the latter, at least for those for whom it is written, is credible. The 
epic presupposes a 'perfect accord between the poet and his hearer' ; the romance 
is a story which needs interpretation on the part of the story-teller to be signifi- 
cant to the hearer. It must be interpreted in the light of ideas with which both 
poet and hearer are familiar. 2 ii. 587 ff. 

3 v. 3247 ff. 4 Cf. Ker, Epic and Romance , p. 334. 


laiSj some of which (notably some of those of Marie de France, the 
earliest known) are really tales 1 but are usually and naturally 
classified as romances because of the close connexion of their 
subject-matter with that of the romances. It must be admitted, 
however, that it is impossible to lay down detailed rules for 
differentiating the two. Following a suggestion of Ten Brink, 2 the 
distinction I would make is that in the tale the chief concern is with 
the story and 'with the characters of its heroes only so far as this 
is revealed in the plot'. The tale is pure narrative art, at its simplest 
and barest, stripped of all else. Nowadays it is not often that pure 
narrative holds the attention of a reader. His interest is rather in 
some accessory character drawing, description, or even a lesson 
or a moral. But children can always be held by this art and this 
probably explains the perennial popularity of Robinson Crusoe. In 
this matter the medieval reader was like a child and the tale fed 
his desire for pure narrative. As a result of its limitations, in the 
medieval tale the plot is closely knit and clear in outline, and the 
whole has a simplicity and brevity that in the hands of the best 
writers gives it a real charm. This is the characteristic of the best 
of Gower's tales, and of the Breton lais of Marie dc France. In the 
romance, the plot may be elaborate and complicated, is often 
rambling and often interrupted by long descriptive passages or 
accounts of the hero's feelings (particularly in the French romances 
of Chretien de Troycs). 'The unity rests in the person of the hero 
... in the combination of motives, in the idea/ 3 Compared with 
the tale, the romance can be clumsy, vague, and discursive, but 
at its best there is a breadth of view about it. Whereas the teller 
of a tale goes straight forward, looking neither to right nor left, 
the romance writer 'dwells on the circumstantial'. 1 Hence, in the 
worst of them, wearisome catalogues of irrelevant details; in the 
best, a gorgeous and thrilling setting for action. The romance offers 
a more difficult and dangerous road to success than the tale. 

1 Some are really romances, I think, e.g. Ernarc, Chaucer's Franklin s Tale. 

2 Early English Literature (1887), pp. 253 ff. 

3 Ten Brink, op. cit. 



A r RE AT deal of Middle English poetry, and some of the 
best of it, witnesses to the vitality of a poetic tradition 
which begins, for us, in the eighth century, but which, to 
judge from Beowulf, was even then well established. This tradition 
is rooted in the kind of blank verse usually known today as 'alli- 
terative verse', the verse which the fourteenth-century poet of Sir 
Gawain and the Green Knight described as 'linked with true letters, 
as has long been the custom in the land*. To Middle English poets, 
however, the tradition meant more than the verse form. Even in 
Old English poetry it is clear that there existed a stock of alliterat- 
ing words and phrases on which poets were accustomed to draw. 
There were, too, certain fixed habits of composition, intimately 
connected with the nature of the alliterative line ; notably a cumu- 
lative method of description, the piling up of phrases, usually a 
half-line in length and often similar in construction, each of which 
makes its contribution to the total impression. When, therefore, the 
rhythm of alliterative verse beat in a poet's mind, it brought with 
it a manner to some extent predetermined and a store of words and 
phrases, some of them age-old and many not known outside 
alliterative verse. 

There are other things too, less easy to define, which the tradi- 
tion meant to the Middle English poet. The verse, largely perhaps 
through its special diction, seems to have carried with it memories 
of the subjects and scenes that had most interested its earlier users 
some memory, however blurred, of the ancient heroic system 
centring in the Lord and his hall which is pictured in Beowulf, and 
a clearer memory of certain kinds of descriptions of battles, of 
scenes of revelry in the hall, of voyages and storms at sea, of terrors 
natural and supernatural. Hence Middle English poets often write 


as if they had an inherited knowledge of how such things could be 
effectively presented. 

The marks of this tradition appear in alliterative poetry of the 
whole of the Middle English period, though naturally one poet 
differs greatly from another in what he takes and what he leaves. 

We know very little about alliterative verse in the first century 
after the Norman Conquest. Several scraps survive in manuscripts 
of that time or a little later ; but the date of their composition is 
usually hard to determine. Two which are sometimes claimed as 
early Middle English, the charm Against a Wen ('Wenne, wenne, 
wenchichenne 1 '), and the impressive fragment known as The 
Grave, were almost certainly composed in the Old English period, 
though in their extant form they have been partially modernized. 
The earliest post-Conquest verse which has come down to us is 
probably the so-called First Worcester Fragment, preserved in a 
manuscript in Worcester Cathedral Library. This opens with the 
words 'Sanctus Beda was iboren her on Breotene mid us', 2 and it 
goes on to name famous Englishmen Abbot /Elfric, the bishops 
Aidan, Cuthbert, Dunstan, and ^Elfeah (Alphege) among them 
who once taught 'our people in English', and to lament that now 
others 'teach our folk and many of the [English] teachers perish and 
the folk with them*. This complaint would seem to be directed 
against the appointment, shortly after the Conquest, of foreign 
bishops to almost every bishopric in England ; and, if so, the piece 
is likely to have been composed a good deal earlier than the date 
of the manuscript (c. 1 180) in which it survives. The same may be 
true of the other passages of alliterative verse in this manuscript. 
These are fragments of a poem, sometimes called The Departing 
Soul's Address to the Body, on a theme which was treated by many 
English writers, both poets and homilists, before and after the 
Conquest. The fragments describe the 'painful parting* of body 
and soul, and the failing powers of the dying man. The soul 
reproaches the body for its love of material things and neglect of 
spiritual and it points the contrast between past delights and the 
misery and horror of the grave 'low are the end-walls, unlofty the 

1 'little wen*. 2 'St. Bede was born among us here in Britain.' 


side-walls ; your roof lies very near upon your breast. . . . Now you 
are hateful and vile to all your friends'. Many of the ideas and 
images in these fragments are also found in other versions of the 
theme and, though they are sometimes presented forcefully here, 
the best things are better done in the closely related but more 
compact lines of The Grave where, for instance, two phrases 
unrelated in the Worcester fragments ('on durelease huse' and 
'deaS haueS J^e kei3e') appear united in the grimly suggestive lines, 

Dureleas is f>et hus and dearc hit is wiSinnen: 
Daer f>u bist feste bidytt and daeS hef3 J?a c^e. 1 

To lament what is passed, to dwell on death and decay, is natural 
enough to a people suffering from defeat and foreign domination, 
and these Worcester fragments may well represent kinds of verse 
which were popular among the English after the Conquest. But 
other kinds must also have been known. The twelfth-century 
chroniclers William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon seem 
to have used as sources old poems on historical subjects and there 
are special reasons for thinking that what Henry knew was in 
alliterative verse. Giraldus Cambrensis, writing in the late twelfth 
century, remarks that the English, like the Welsh, employ alli- 
teration in omni sermone exquisito, 2 and he quotes three English 
alliterative lines which are proverbial in character, the last of which 
('Betere is red thene rap and liste thene lither streingthe') 3 is echoed 
in part in La3amon's Brut, the Ancrene Riwle, and The Proverbs of 
Hendyng. The nature of La3amon's Brut (dating in all probability 
from the last years of the twelfth century) suggests that its author 
knew earlier verse which, in subject, had things in common with 
Old English heroic poems ; and more certain evidence of the exis- 
tence of such verse is provided by a few rough alliterative lines 
belonging to a version of the story of Wade which are included in 
a thirteenth-century Latin sermon. Some of the verse known to 
these twelfth- and thirteenth-century writers may have been com- 
posed near to their own time, but much of it could have been, and 
some of it must have been, Old English verse orally transmitted, 

1 'Doorless is that house where you are fast shut and dark it is within; and 
Death has the key.' 2 Descriptio Cambriae, I. xii. 

3 'A plan of action is better than violence and cunning than brute force.' 


sometimes over a long period of time, and more or less modernized 
in language and metre in the course of transmission a process 
which would explain some of the characteristics of the verse and 
diction of Middle English alliterative poetry. 

The existing scraps of Middle English verse throw some light on 
what happened and was happening to the structure of the allitera- 
tive line. Verse of the kind which we know in the best Old English 
poems ('classical' verse) survives only in one piece, The Description 
of Durham (1104-9). This is an example of a literary exercise, the 
encomium urbis, inherited by the Middle Ages from the Latin 
schools of rhetoric, and is obviously the work of a learned author. 
It is possible, therefore, that his correct use of 'classical' verse may 
have been a deliberate piece of antiquarianism. If, as has been sug- 
gested, the writer of the First Worcester Fragment was trying to 
compose in this kind of verse, he evidently understood much less 
about it. 

The other Worcester fragments (The Departing Soul's Address 
to the Body] are certainlv in another kind of verse, similar to the 
so-called 'popular' verse of the lines on the death of Edgar (975) 
in the D and E versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, or those on 
Alfred and Godwin (1036) in the C and D versions. This 'popular* 
verse developed in oral poetry and was to be the fruitful type in 
Middle English. All the more important earlier poems, La3amon's 
Brut y the Proverbs of Alfred, and parts of the Bestiary arc composed 
in some variety of it, and some, though not all, of its characteristics 
persist in later Middle English. 

The two kinds of verse, 'popular' and 'classical', have some 
fundamental features in common, and their likenesses as well as 
their differences are important for the understanding of Middle 
English alliterative verse. In both the line is made up of two half- 
lines, each of which is a complete rhythmic unit usually containing 
two primary stresses. But, while in 'classical' verse the alliteration 
is the sole means of linking the half-lines, in 'popular' verse, 
rhyme or assonance can be used, either with alliteration or without 
it. This occasional use of rhyme or assonance is peculiar to the 
verse of the late Old English and early Middle English periods ; it 
is not a feature of the fourteenth-century long line. When allitera- 


tion is used (as it is in the majority of lines), its placing does not 
conform to the strict rules of 'classical' verse. It is common to find 
the last stressed syllable of a line bearing the alliteration, as in 
'faren mid feondes in eche fur' in the Departing Soul's Address to the 
Body ; and there are a number of other irregularities. 

A basic condition of all Old English verse is that the metrical 
stresses fall on the first or stem syllable of a word, and it is because 
this continues to be so in Middle English that the same alliterative 
phrases could survive as rhythmic units for centuries, in spite of 
the many metrical and linguistic changes that took place. 'Classical' 
and 'popular' verse differ, however, in regard to the arrangement 
of the stresses within the half-line. Composers of 'popular' verse 
were not fully acquainted with (or they chose to ignore) the 
rhythmic patterns characteristic of Old English 'classical' verse 
patterns probably still best known, in their basic forms, as 'Sievers's 
five types'. Some of these they do use, often in modified forms, but 
others never; and many of their half-lines are of other types. It 
may be that the reason for this difference in the structure of the 
half-lines is that composers of 'popular' verse ignored the distinc- 
tions of quantity which were vital to the 'classical' patterns, but 
since the part which was played by these distinctions in 'classical' 
rhythms is now in dispute, this explanation can only be tentatively 
advanced. What is certain is that in early Middle English verse, as 
illustrated by the Departing Soul's Address, the rhythm depends 
purely on stress, and the half-lines show much less variety of move- 
ment than Old English 'classical' verse. One movement, the rising- - 
falling rhythm (x ' x ' x) predominates over all others. This is still so 
in the fourteenth century, and this later verse also shares with the 
earlier two other features an increase in the number of unstressed 
syllables and a more frequent use of three-stressed half-lines both 
of which make the Middle English line longer as well as looser in 
structure than Old English 'classical' lines. At the same time 
Middle English lines are much more often self-contained, a single 
line usually expressing a complete sense unit. 

Early Middle English verse has one peculiarity of its ow r n, which 
seems to have accompanied, and was perhaps caused by, the use 
of rhyme or assonance to link the half-lines. In many of the 


rhyming lines there is a more or less regular alternation of stressed 
and unstressed syllables, so that they sound like rough couplets, as 
in the following line from La3amon's Brut: 

Leofe fseder dure swa bfde ich godes are, 1 
or in 

Hire fader heo wolde siige se6J>, were him lef were him laf>. 2 

Such lines can have alliteration or not, and the half-lines can have 
two, three, or four stresses, three being the most usual number. 
Their appearance in alliterative verse has been taken to mean that 
poets of this period found it hard to keep the rhythms of alliterative 
verse unaffected by that of Middle English couplet metres derived 
from French ; but, since a similar tendency appears in the late Old 
English lines on Alfred and Godwin, it is likely that it was a natural 
development in 'popular' verse. In any case, the fact that four- 
teenth-century alliterative verse is free from it may suggest that, 
in the early period too, there was some verse that was more correct. 
Obviously Middle English alliterative metre was essentially a 
poorer vehicle of expression than Old Engksh 'classical' metre. 
Middle English poets found it harder to avoid monotony and to 
achieve subtle effects. In addition, in the early period, they were 
hampered by the uncertainty of rhythms resulting from the 
tendency just described. 

La3amon's 3 Brut, the most important alliterative poem of the 
early period, does not escape these dangers. Its rhythms are, for 
the most part, rough and insecure; and when they appear more 
settled, as occasionally in passages that are strongly reminiscent of 
Old English poetry, they are monotonous. The following passage 
has the merit of vigour, but if it is set beside comparable lines in 
Old English (for instance The Fight at Finnsburuh, 28-30), it is 
clear what the later form of verse has lost in variety and flexibility : 

Heven here-marken, halden to-gadere, 
Luken sweord longe, leiden o f>e helmen, 

1 Brut y ed. Madden (London, 1847), i, p. 126. 

2 Brut, i, pp. 128-9. 

3 This is the earliest form of the poet's name. The '3' implies a sound, now 
non-existent in English, but fairly close to the *g' in North German 'sagen'. 


Fur ut sprengen. Speren brastlien, 
Sceldes gonnen scanen, scaftes to-breken. 1 

Yet, in spite of the deficiencies of his metre, La3amon can describe 
the passing of Arthur so that his readers are compelled to feel its 
mystery : 

Aefne f>an worden, j?er com of see wenden, 

pat wes an sceort bat liSen, sceoven mid vSen ; 

And twa wimmen f>erinne, wunderliche idihte. 

And heo neomen ArSur anan, and aneouste hine uereden, 

And softe hine adun leiden, and forft gunnen heo liSen. 

pa wes hit iwurSen f>at Merlin seide whilen, 

pat weore unimete care of Arthures forS-fare. 

Bruttes ileueS 3ete J>at he bon on live, 

And wunnien in Aualun mid fairest alre aluen. 

And lokieS euere Bruttes 3ete whan Arthur cumen liSe. 2 

Or, in a different vein, he can present Arthur as the ferocious 
warrior rushing upon his foes : 

Up braeid ArSur his sceld foren to his breosten, 
And he gon to rusien swa f>e rimie wulf 
penne he cumeS of holte, bihonged mid snawe, 
And f>enchec5 to-biten swulc deor swa him likeS. 
Ar<5ur f>a cleopede to leofe his cnihten, 
'For8 we bilive, f>eines ohte! 
Alle somed heom to! Alle we sculleS wel don!' 
And heo forS haslden, swa f>e ha^e wude 
penne wind wode weieS hine mid maeine. 3 

1 'They raised their battle-standards, kept together, drew their long swords 
and smote upon helmets, they made sparks spring forth. Spears were splintered, 
shields shattered, shafts broke' (iii, p. 141). 

2 'Even with these words there came moving from the sea a small boat journey- 
ing, driven by the waves ; and two women in it, wondrously arrayed. They took 
Arthur at once and quickly bore him and laid him softly down and forth they 
went. Then had come to pass what Merlin once said, that there should be exceed- 
ing sorrow at Arthur's departure. The Britons still believe that he is alive and 
dwells in Avalon with the loveliest of all the fairies. And still the Britons ever 
look for the time when Arthur will come' (iii, pp. 144-5). 

3 'Arthur caught up his shield before his breast and rushed forward like the 
frosty wolf when he comes from the wood, hung with snow, meaning to tear to 
pieces what beasts he pleases. Then Arthur called to his loved knights, "Go we 
forth quickly, brave warriors! At them, all together! We must all do great 
deeds!" And they went forth like the high wood when a wild wind tosses it 
mightily' (ii, p. 421). 


Such passages will indicate that L^amon's poem has an interest 
of its own in addition to its historic interest as the first English 
work to tell the story of Arthur. 

La3amon's subject, as he announces it at the beginning of his 
poem, is the history of the people 'who first possessed the land of 
the English*. It is, in fact, the history of the Britons as told by 
Geoffrey of Monmouth some time between 1130 and 1138 in his 
Historia Regum Britanniae. For the most part, however, La3amon 
was not directly indebted to Geoffrey, but to the Norman poet 
Wace who, some twenty years later, retold Geoffrey's history in 
verse in his Roman de Brut, completed in 1155. L^amon mentions 
Wace as one of his sources, adding a detail unknown elsewhere, 
that Wace gave his book 'to the noble Eleanor who was queen of 
Henry the mighty king (Henry II)' ; but he also speaks of two other 
sources, 'the English book which Bede made' and another in Latin 
made by 'St. Albin and the fair Austin who brought baptism 
hither'. He is undoubtedly referring to the Old English and the 
Latin versions of Bede's Ecclesiastical History, but he does not 
appear to have made much use of these books, and the manner in 
which he refers to them suggests that he wished to lend the 
authority of great names to his own work rather than that he was 
familiar with the books he supposed they had written. The latest 
opinion is that, apart from some echoes of Geoffrey's Book vii 
(which contains the Prophecies of Merlin) almost everything in 
La3amon's story comes from Wace (as we know him), supple- 
mented constantly by his own imagination. The views of earlier 
scholars, that he drew upon Welsh tradition, or that he knew an 
expanded, and now lost, version of Wace's Brut, have little to 
support them. 

The history of the Britons, as related by La3amon, Wace, and 
Geoffrey, opens with a reference to the flight of Aeneas from Troy 
and a brief record of his descendants in Italy. So the high lineage 
of the British kings is established ; for Brutus, the great-grandson 
of Aeneas, will be the founder of their dynasty and the Britons can 
claim a common Trojan ancestry with the Romans. Later in the 
history, the kinship of the two races is recognized by Julius 
Caesar, who says in La3amon's words 'alle we comen of ane 


kunne'. We are told much of Brutus, of his exile after he had 
accidentally killed his father, and how, after many adventures, he 
came at last, by the advice of the goddess Diana, to the fair land of 
Albion which, when he had taken possession of it, he called Britain 
after his own name. 1 

In the long story of Brutus's successors, some reigns are passed 
over rapidly, but matters of real significance in the history of the 
British race are treated at length. The more fully developed nar- 
ratives are concerned with the conflict between Belinus (Belin) and 
his brother Brennius (Brenne), their reconciliation and their con- 
quest of France and Rome; Caesar's invasion of Britain, the resis- 
tance of Cassibellanus and various later conflicts of the Romans and 
the Britons; the first coming of the Saxons under Hengest and 
Horsa; the life of Arthur. Even in Geoffrey, however, the tale of 
Lear and his three daughters seems to have been elaborated for its 
own sake, and a few more the story of St. Ursula and her virgins, 
for instance are developed by Wace or by La3amon simply because 
they are good stories or, in the case of St. Ursula, already famous. 

Arthur is of first importance in all three versions. The story of 
his life is told in great detail particularly his wars and conquests 
and his last fight against Modred. In addition, his reign is intro- 
duced by a very full account of his ill-fated family ; of the treacher- 
ous killing of the monk-king Constans (Constance), the vengeance 
taken by his brothers Aurelius and Uther, the reign of Aurelius 
and his death by poison, the succession of Uther, his love for 
Ygerna (Ygerne), wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the begetting 
of Arthur, and finally Uther's death, again treacherously contrived. 
Throughout this section one is aware of the mysterious figure of 
Merlin, mostly retired and unseen, but emerging at critical 
moments to give help by advice, by practising strange arts and by 
his knowledge of the future. More than once he prophesies the 
coming of Arthur. If, as has been recently argued, Geoffrey is 
careful not to describe Merlin as a magician, there seems little 
doubt that Wace and La3amon believed him to be one. 

1 Similar etymologies of the place-names of Britain are frequent in the 
history King Lud causes his chief city to be known as Kaerlud, later corrupted 
to Kaerlundem, and by the Saxons called Lundene; the gates which Belinus 
put up in London caused the place to be known as Billingsgate. 


The history of the Britons does not end with Arthur, but con- 
tinues, on a less exciting level, till the time of Cadwallader, when 
the Britons had become worn out with incessant war and with 
famine. Cadwallader, warned by God that the Britons shall no 
longer reign in Britain, went to Rome and died there (689). The 
Saxon Athelstan then ruled all England, and the Britons in 
La3amon's words came to Wales and lived 'dispersed among the 
rocks and cliffs, the churches and monasteries, the woods and 
mountains', henceforth to be called, not Britons, but Welsh. 

This is a long story as Geoffrey tells it; it becomes longer in 
Wace, and much longer still in La3amon. Each successive writer, 
besides expanding the statements in his original, also adds com- 
pletely new matter La3amon much more often than Wace. Some 
of the most interesting additions are concerned with Arthur. Wace 
is the first writer ever to speak of the Round Table ; La3amon alone 
tells how the fairies took Arthur at his birth and bestowed many 
gifts upon him and how in the end they carried him to Avalon to 
their queen Argante. But interesting as these additions are, they 
are less important when the two later versions are judged as 
poetry, than the transformation which the history undergoes with 
each retelling. Wace evidently wished to make the 'history' 
intelligible and attractive to sophisticated and more or less cultured 
readers by interpreting it in terms which they could appreciate. 
So, for instance, he begins his account of the qualities of Arthur 
with the statement, 

Chevaliers fu mult vertuus, 
Mult fu preisanz, mult glorius, 1 

and he proceeds to endow him with the virtues of a chivalric knight 
who surpassed all other princes in 'curteisie', 'noblesse', 'vertu', 
and 'largesce'. Wace makes the most of the first meeting between 
Uther and Ygerne, describing Uther sitting at the feast with his 
thoughts constantly upon her, looking sideways at her. smiling, 
making 'signs of love', while Ygerne behaves in a manner neither 
encouraging nor disdainful a scene likely to interest those who, 
a very little later, were to be delighted by the love-romances of 

1 He was a very valiant knight, full of honour and renown', Wace's Brut (ed. 
Arnold), 9017-18. 


Chretien de Troyes. Wace took pains, too, to write in a style 
calculated to please his readers, a style 'sobre, net sans grand 
eclat, mais toujours assez vif ', as Gaston Paris describes it, marked 
by a discriminating use of simple rhetorical devices, notably some 
forms of verbal repetition. His verse is smooth and careful and he 
uses the literary French of his day, which would have been familiar 
to the Norman court in England and in Paris. 

La3amon was in many ways the antithesis of Wace. What he 
tells of himself at the beginning of his poem implies a man living 
a simple life, remote from the world which Wace knew. There was, 
he says, a priest called La3amon who lived 

at Ernle3e, set seSelen are chirechen, 
Vppen Seuarne staf>e sel f>ar him f>uhte 
Onfest Radestone, f>er he bock radde. 1 

The suggestion of provincialism, rusticity almost, derived from 
La3amon's own statement seems to be confirmed by several facts. 
He writes in a dialect which is likely to have been that of the county 
he lived in, in a verse form peculiar to the conquered English. His 
diction includes words and phrases traditional in such verse and it 
is almost free from French words, a fact the more remarkable 
when it is remembered that he must have pored long over Wace's 
French. He shows no knowledge of French literature other than 
Wace's poem, though by his time some famous French Arthurian 
romances had been written. Yet he cannot have been completely 
provincial and inexperienced. He himself tells us that he had 
travelled widely through England to obtain books to help him with 
his poem; he succeeded in getting Wace's book, and, by some 
means or other, he learnt that Wace had given a copy of it to Queen 
Eleanor. If he had not read widely in French, he had at least, to 
judge by his understanding of Wace, a good knowledge of the 
language. There are even signs that he had some knowledge of the 
technique of poetic composition as understood by educated writers, 
or at least that he was capable of learning something about it from 
his study of Wace. 

1 'At a noble church at Areley, near Redstone, upon the banks of the Severn 
where he read the Bible pleasant it seemed to him there* (i, p. i). Areley Kings 
or Lower Areley in north Worcestershire, with which 'Ernle3e' has been iden- 
tified, is on the west of the Severn opposite Stourport. 

5099 D 


It is possible, therefore, that his verse form and diction are the 
result, not of inability to write otherwise, but of a conscious prefer- 
ence for what was traditional among the English. A clear statement 
of this cannot be found in his poem, but this is not surprising for 
the nature of his history did not allow him to express partiality for 
his own people. It does give him an opportunity to praise his 
country, and this he does in lines, which while agreeing with Wace's 
in their main substance, are fuller and more appreciative. 1 Two of 
his additions to Wace are possibly significant. Immediately after he 
has recorded (following Wace) that Gurmund gave land to the 
English and for over a hundred years Christianity was not known 
there, he interpolates the story of Gregory and the English slaves 
('Truly you are English, most like to angels; of all people who live 
on earth, your race is the fairest' 2 ); and on one occasion he goes 
out of his way to disparage the Normans who 'destroyed this 
people'. 3 If it seems incongruous that he should have chosen to 
retell the history of the Britons, including their long struggle 
against the invading Saxons or English La3amon sometimes uses 
the terms interchangeably the lines which follow his remarks 
about the Normans provide a hint of the attraction it held for him. 
He is speaking of London and of the various names it has had 
under its various conquerors, and he remarks: 

Swa is al J?is lond iuaren for uncuSe leoden 

peo J>is londe habbeS biwunnen, and eft beoS idriuen hennene; 

And eft hit bi3etten oSerse, f>e uncuSe weoren. 4 

This seems to show that the Saxon conquest of Britain interested 
him as a parallel to the Norman conquest of which he and his 
countrymen w r ere still conscious. However, the most compelling 
reason for his interest in British history was in all probability that 
it made abundantly clear that his country, whatever its misfortunes, 
had had a long and often glorious past. 

Certain it is that, whether by deliberate choice or not, La3amon 
converted the French Brut into a poem that is astonishingly English 

1 Brut, i, p. 85; cf. Wace, 1209 ff. 

2 Brut, iii, pp. 181-2. 3 Brut, i, p. 303. 

4 'So has all this land fared because of foreigners who have conquered this 
land, and then are driven hence; and then others won it who were foreigners' 
(i, PP. 303-4). 


English, that is, in the sense that its conceptions and its manner 
constantly reflect the earlier poetry of England. The passage cor- 
responding to Wace's description of Arthur is significant. Of the 
qualities which Wace attributes to him, La3amon mentions only 
his bravery and his liberality. He evidently felt that the best indica- 
tion of Arthur's greatness was the wealth and standing of his 
household, for he tells us that each of his cup-bearers, and his 
chamberlains ('bur-paeinen') and his porters had gold for their 
backs and their beds ; he then adds 'He had never a cook who was 
not a very good warrior, nor ever a knight's servant who was not 
a bold thane'. 1 These lines, for which there is no hint in Wace, 
convert Arthur into the kind of lord (hlaford) described in Beowulf, 
whose household consists of thanes of noble birth, his equals in 

What La3amon tells us of the doings of kings and their warriors 
also reminds us of the earlier poetry. Warriors vow to do great 
deeds in battle and are bound by their vaunts. Frollo has to face 
Arthur in single combat because 'he had made his vaunt [his beot> 
the same word as in Old English] before his whole host'. 2 A brief 
reference in Wace to a banquet is developed into the lines : 

He wende into halle and his haleSes mid him alle. 
Bemen heo bleowen, gomen men gunnen cleopien. 
Bord heo hetten breden, cnihtes setten f>erto ; 
Heo aeten, heo drunken; dnem wes i burthen. 3 

La3amon's description of the arming of Arthur is of special interest 
because, while his list of arms agrees fairly closely with Wace's 
and he even includes some of the same details about them, yet his 
conception of them is markedly different: 

pa dude he on his burne ibroide of stele, 
pe makede on aluisc smiQ mid aSelen his crafte ; 
He wes ihaten Wygar, }>e Wite3e wurhte . . . 
Calibeorne his sweord he sweinde bi his side, 
Hit wes iworht in Aualun mi8 wi3elefulle craften. 

1 Brut, ii, p. 413. 2 Brut, ii, p. 572. 

3 'He went into the hall and all his warriors with him. Trumpets were blown, 
merriment proclaimed. They ordered tables to be set up. Knights sat at them; 
they ate and drank. There was revelry in the castle* (ii, p. 173). 


Halm he set on hafde, haeh of stele ; 

peron wes moni 3imston, al mid golde bigon ; 

He wes VSeres, J>as aeSelen kinges, 

He wes ihaten Goswhit, aelchen oSere vnilic. 1 

This calls to mind, not Wace's matter-of-fact descriptions, nor any 
of those in French and English romances, but rather the arming of 
Beowulf ('the war-corslet linked by hand, . . . the gleaming helmet 
encircled by lordly chains, as a weapon-smith had made it in 
olden times'). It calls to mind, too, other allusions to weapons in 
Old English poetry; in particular, the fairy smith Wite3e recalls 
Weland, the cunning smith of heroic legend, and justly so, if Wite3e 
is the Old English Widia, son of Weland. 

Some echoes of Old English poetry appear in unlikely places, as 
when Loch Lomond is set in the fen-land (like Grendel's mere) 
and has nickers bathing in it! 2 In descriptions of sea-journeys and 
battles, as might be expected, these echoes are constant and all- 
pervasive. But it is La3amon's battle-descriptions that show most 
clearly the hold the older poetry had over him. He does not 
attempt to individualize a battle by describing tlje disposition and 
movement of armies. Instead, he gives himself over to the memories 
of battles he knows in poetry, and, by means of the old methods 
and phrases, he creates an impression of battle its noise, con- 
fusion, and excitement as in the lines from Arthur's last fight. 3 
He has, it is true, a nearer precedent for his cumulative method of 
description in Wace, for he too piles up numbers of parallel phrases, 
but the almost completely different details which the two poets 
select for mention (for instance, in their accounts of the battle of 
Julius Caesar against Cassibelaunus 4 ) make it clear that it is not 
Wace that La3amon is thinking of. La3amon's descriptions are not 
to be despised. They are more stirring than many carefully worked 
out accounts, and though the objection that all his battles are alike 

1 'Then he put on his mail-coat of linked steel, which a fairy smi f h had made 
with excellent skill; it was called Wygar, and Wite3e made it. He hung by his 
side his sword Excalibur; it was made in Avalon by magical arts. A high helmet 
of steel he placed on his head, on which was many a precious stone, all en- 
compassed with gold. It had been Uther's, the noble king's. It was called 
Goosewhite, and was unlike any other' (ii, pp. 463-4). 

2 Brut, ii, p. 489. 3 See p. 29. 
4 Wace, Brut, 4021 ff.; La3amon, Brut, i, p. 319. 


is unanswerable, it is rather the number of them that gives rise 
to it than his method. 

These memories of 'far-off things, And battles long ago' are 
inextricably bound up with the verse and the old words and phrases 
through which he learnt of them. But it should not be thought that 
the words meant to him just what they did in Old English heroic 
poetry. In Beowulf such words as hselep 1 and dujup have reference 
to a particular kind of society ; but du)up, which in certain passages 
in Beowulf meant c a body of tried retainers', 'comitatus', is mostly 
used by La3amon in the vaguer sense of 'body of men, host of 
warriors'. And so it is with many other of the old words ; something 
of their meaning has gone and they have become less pregnant, 
more generalized. It cannot be assumed, either, that La3amon 
made the same connexions as we do, if we know heroic poetry. 
When, for instance, he applies the term 'Codes wiSersaka' 2 to the 
giant Geomagog, he need not intend to connect him with Grendel, 
descendant of the evil brood of Cain, of whom the same term is 
used. For, however much he may remind us of Old English heroic 
poetry, it is most unlikely that he knew what we know. Nowhere 
are the similarities between Old English poetry and his poem like 
those between a model and something directly imitated from it. 
The relationship is always much less clear-cut. Even when he is 
most reminiscent, La3amon gives an impression of only half- 
recalling what he reminds us of an impression similar to that 
made by the dimmed meaning of the old words he uses, and 
explicable in both cases if the old conceptions and words reached 
him not as the result of reading, but of continued oral trans- 
mission. Since, as has been shown, La3amon's verse-form is 
related not to 'classical' Old English verse, but to the 'popular' 
type, it is reasonable to suppose that it was from 'popular' verse, 
orally handed down, that he got his reminiscences of early heroic 
poetry. Presumably La3amon acquired his loose, repetitive, easy- 
flowing style from the same source ; but all that can be said is that 
it seems to have some relation to that of the 'popular' verses in the 
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and to that of Middle English writings in the 
verse-form related to the 'popular' type, especially the Departing 

1 'Warrior'. 2 'Adversary of God' (i, p. 77). 


Soul's Address and the Proverbs of Alfred. On the one hand 
devices characteristic of 'classical' Old English verse (litotes and 
'kennings', for instance) are lacking or rare in all these writings, 
and their style is altogether less close-packed, owing in part to a 
more sparing use of compound words. On the other hand, the 
Middle English writings have in common certain forms of repeti- 
tion, in particular the repetition of formulas, and some of the same 
expressions appear in two or more of them. The early, non-allitera- 
tive romance King Horn also has these characteristics. Some of the 
resemblances have been thought to point to direct borrowing, by 
the Brut from the Proverbs, for instance, and by King Horn from 
the Brut\ but this would not be inconsistent with the view that 
these early Middle English writings had behind them a common 
style deriving from oral poetry. 

This assumption would explain what may be called La3amon's 
basic style ; but some of his best effects depend either on similes 
which have no parallel in any surviving Old or early Middle English 
verse, or on what appear to be original uses of the repeated formula. 

La3amon's repeated formulas (often referred to as 'epic for- 
mulas') are the most conspicuous feature of the style of his poem. 
La3amon must have known this device in the verse with which he 
was familiar, for he often used it as others did, but he also de- 
veloped it for his own purposes. Of the many simple formulas 
which recur, some frequently, throughout the whole poem, a 
number can be paralleled in late Old English or early Middle 
English. Such are the many 'fill-ups', used to complete a line 
('widen and siden', 'nu and sever mare j ), statements making a 
transition in the narrative (^e king hine bij?ohte wat he don 
mahte'); descriptive phrases like 'aeSelest alre kingen', 'Bruttene 
deorling'. Also to be included here are phrases which seem to be 
attached to certain circumstances or events, like 'feollen J^ae faeie', 1 
so common in battle-descriptions, or 'wind stod at v.'ille' 2 often 
included in an account of a voyage ; and also formulas which have 
the effect of summarizing an action, like 'balu wes on folke' 3 
frequently used as a comment on defeat in battle. Parallels to some 

1 'The doomed men fell.' 2 'The wind blew as they desired.' 

3 'Woe came upon the people.' 


of these can be found in King Horn where the couplet (or slight 
variations of it) ']?e se began to flowe 1 And Horn Child to rowe' 
occurs several times in describing a voyage ; and in the Worcester 
Departing Soul's Address where there is a refrain-like repetition 
of the summarizing line, 'Al is reowliche J^in si]} efter J?in wrecche 
lif.' 2 Here, however, it has a more important function than La3a- 
mon's summarizing formulas, since it emphasizes a main idea of 
the poem. 

So far La3amon's repetition of formulas seems to be merely a 
conventional trick, and it is often a tiresome one to modern readers. 
But when some one formula is confined to a particular story or 
episode, for which it has been specially selected, it can be effec- 
tive : and it is in these instances that La3amon seems to be most 

The stories of Vortiger and of Leir and his daughters provide 
examples of the effective use of formulas. In the long account of 
Vortiger's treachery and ultimate downfall, recurring descriptive 
phrases act like a ground-bass, drumming home the craftiness and 
guile of the man. At the first mention of his name, before we know 
anything about him, La3amon remarks ^aep mon and swiSe war', 3 
and he repeats this, with variations, several times while he tells 
how Vortiger succeeded in getting the monk Constans made king. 
Once Constans has been crowned, Vortiger plots against him and 
contrives that he shall be slain by a company of Pictish knights, 
whom he then openly accuses of murder so that the Britons are 
roused and kill them. Throughout these doings the recurrent 
phrase is 'J^e swike wes ful derne'. 4 But already, before this, 
La3amon has slipped in the phrase 'of ufele he wes wel iwar' 5 
which, with variations, is to be used of Vortiger almost to the end 
of his story. Its use even when Vortiger is himself being deceived 
by Hengest may seem careless and meaningless, but it could be 
intended as an ironical reminder, as if La3amon repeatedly said 
'remember, thus is the Vortiger who betrayed Constans'. At any 

1 'The tide began to flow in.' 

2 'All pitiful is thy departure after thy wretched life.* 

3 'A crafty man and most wary* (ii, p. 118). 

4 'Who was a most secret traitor* (ii, pp. 144 ff.). 

5 'He was well practised in evil' (ii, p. 129). 


rate, La3amon was well aware what he was doing at the end of this 
episode, for, just as Hengest's treachery is about to be fully 
revealed, he suddenly changes the formula, while keeping an echo 
of its earlier form and exclaims, 'Her he wes to unwar!' 1 

In the story of Leir and his daughters, formulas serve a slightly 
different purpose that of linking various parts of the narrative. 
It is one which lends itself naturally to this kind of treatment and 
there are several verbal echoes between the different parts of it, 
both of phrases and of key- words. In the first part La3amon drives 
home the falseness of Gornoille and Regan, and Leir's folly in 
trusting them, by reiterating the word lesinge, 'lie'. Leir 'believed 
his daughter's [Gornoille's] lie'; 'all her [Regan's] lie her father 
believed' : 'Cordoille heard the lies which her sisters spoke to the 
king' and she swore that she would speak 'so)/ to her father. 2 This 
last statement is caught up again towards the end of the tale when 
Leir laments, 'So)? seide Cordoille, for cuS hit is me nouj^e', 3 and 
again, 'truth the young woman spoke', 'but my daughter spoke the 
truth . . . and both her two sisters told me lies'. 4 There is a hint 
for these later repetitions in Wace, 5 though WHCC does not, like 
La3amon, use repetition to link the earlier and later scenes. The 
formula which provides the most effective link in La3amon's story 
has no parallel in Wace. It is first used when the husbands of 
Gornoille and Regan decide that they will take over the rule 
of the country and that Leir, while he lives, shall be supported 
by them 

Daeies and nihtes, mid feowerti hired cnihtes; 
And heo him wolden finden hauekes and hundes 
pat he mihte riden 3eond alle f>anne f>eoden. 6 

Just after this we are told that he went to Scotland and was received 
by Gornoille and her husband 'mid feowerti hired cnihtes, mid 

1 'Here he was too unwary* (ii, p. 213). 

2 Brut, i, pp. 126-8. 

3 'Cordoille spoke truth; now I know it* (i, p. 147). 

4 Brut, i, pp. 147-8. 

5 Wace's Bruty 1937, 1949. 

6 'By day and by night, with forty men of his household, and they would 
provide for him hawks and hounds so that he could ride all over the country' 
(i, p. 138; cf. pp. 139, 140, 151). 


horsen and mid hundes'. Gornoille's complaint to her husband 
soon follows : 

He halt here fauwerti cnihtes, dales and nihtes ; 
He havef> her f>as f>eines and alle heore swaines, 
Hundes and havekes. 1 

Much later in the story comes the last echo. Cordoille, having been 
told of Leir's plight by his servant, bids him go back to her father 
and provide for him richly. He is to buy for him fine clothes and 
'hundes and havekes and durewurSe 2 horses' and is to maintain in 
his house 'feowerti hired cnihtes'. 3 

In the stories of Vortiger and of Leir La3amon uses his repeated 
phrases organically, in the one instance to ensure some continuity 
of impression throughout a very long narrative, in the other to 
bring out similarities and contrasts between various parts of the 
story and so to make the reader conscious of its essential move- 
ments. This would seem to indicate some sort of artistic awareness ; 
and there are similar indications in La3amon's use of his most 
striking similes. While brief simple similes occur throughout the 
poem, the longer and more impressive ones are all concentrated in 
one part of it the account of Arthur's wars against Colgrim, 
Baldulf, and Childrich. The earlier part of this account contains the 
long exultant speech in which Arthur compares Childrich to the 
fox who climbs seeking the rocks in the wild places, making holes 
for himself, carefree, because he believes himself the boldest of all 
animals. 'But then men below the hills come towards him with 
horns and hounds, with loud cries. . . . They drive the fox over hill 
and dale. He flees to the cliff and seeks his hole. . . . Men on every 
side dig towards him. There the proudest of all animals is then 
most wretched. So was it with Childrich, the strong and mighty.' 4 
In the later stage of the \var, when Childrich and his men are 
forced to flee across the river Avon with Arthur in pursuit, we are 
told that so many Saxons lie dead in the river that 'al wes Auene 
stram mid stele ibrugged'. 5 Childrich, Colgrim, and Baldulf climb 

1 'He maintains here forty knights, day and night; he has these thegns here, 
and all their serving-men, hounds and hawks' (i, p. 140). 

2 'valuable'. J Brut> ii, p. 151. 

4 Brut, ii, pp. 451-2. 

5 'The whole river Avon was bridged with steel* (ii, p. 469). 


to the hill above Bath and Arthur again exults: * Yesterday was 
Colgrim the bravest of all men; now is he like the goat' who 'high 
on the hill fights with his horns when the fierce wolf approaches 
him.' He then taunts Baldulf and Childrich in similar fashion, each 
speech echoing the beginning of the first: * Yesterday was Baldulf 
. . .', 'Yesterday was Childrich . . .', and each elaborated by a 
comparison. The one addressed to Baldulf is the most remarkable : 

3ursterdaei wes Baldulf cnihten alre baldest; 

Nu he slant on hulle, and Auene bihaldeS, 

Hu Iige3 i f>an straeme stelene fisces 

Mid sweorde bigeorede. Heore sund is awemmed, 

Heore scalen wleotc5 swulc gold-fa3e sceldes ; 

per fleoteS heore spiten, swulc hit spaeren weoren. 1 

The effectiveness of this image depends on the reversal of the 
normal order of its terms which has the effect of slowing down the 
comprehension of it. We see with Baldulf the river filled with 
gleaming fish, and only gradually comes the recognition that these 
fish are dead warriors. 

La3amon's account of the wars against Childrich and his allies, 
in which these speeches occur, is one of the most original passages 
in his poem. It has a wealth of incident and detail much of which 
is not even hinted at in Wace's much shorter and more sober 
version. In La3amon's imagination the whole action evidently 
became momentous and exciting, and the concentration in this 
story of elaborate similes, together with the use of such formal 
devices as the parallelism of Arthur's taunting speeches, are signs 
that he felt a heightened style to be appropriate to it. 

To judge from this account, and from his best uses of the 
repeated formula, La3amon had some notion of suiting his style to 
his matter and of using stylistic devices for his own ends : that is to 
say, he possessed some degree of artistic consciousness, and, per- 
haps, even some knowledge of the art of poetry as it was under- 
stood in his own time and set out in manuals of instruction. This 
second suggestion runs counter to the usual view of La3amon, and 

1 'Yesterday was Baldulf the boldest of all knights. Now he stands on the hill 
and looks upon Avon how steel fishes lie in the river, girt with swords. Their 
swimming is impaired. Their scales gleam like gold-decked shields. There float 
their fins as if they were spears' (ii, pp. 471-2). 


it cannot be held to be proven by these examples alone. It is 
possible that more light might be thrown on his knowledge by a 
thorough study of his various kinds of repetition, both of formulas 
and of important words ; but it would be necessary to take into 
account not only what he may have found in native poetry, but 
also how far he was influenced by Wace, with whom repetition of 
some kinds is a favourite device, and from whose practice he 
certainly learnt more than has been recognized. 

Yet, whatever La3amon may have known of the art of poetry, 
and whatever skill he may display in some parts of his work, 
artistry is not pre-eminent among his qualities. He is too lacking 
in restraint and discretion. The very devices which he can use well, 
he will at times use carelessly, even to the point of spoiling his 
own good effects, as when he says of Hengest, TIengest was of 
ufele war', 1 which, though true, is disturbing when the reader has 
come to feel that this kind of phrase belongs particularly to 

His great gift is for imagining scenes of action. Arthur's wars 
against Childrich provide plenty of examples of his power of 
imagining warlike scenes, but he can also create others quite 
different from these, and by different means. At the climax of 
Arthur's story, when he has defeated the Emperor of Rome, 
La3amon prepares for the coming change in Arthur's fortunes by 
narrating some events which are not in Wace. He describes the 
arrival of a knight from Brittany with news of Modred. Arthur 
talks to him for a long time but the young knight will not tell the 
truth about Modred. Next morning Arthur relates a dream which 
he takes to be a warning of evil, and he ends the recital with the 
lament 'I know surely that all my joy has gone, and for as long as 
I live I must endure sorrow. Alas, that I have not here Wcnhaver, 
my queen.' 2 At last the knight tells Arthur of Modred's treachery 
and then La3amon brings the scene before us, conveying in a few 
simple statements, more or less parallel in form, the effect of the 
news on Arthur's court: 

))a saet hit al stille in ArSures halle. 
pa wes f>er srerinaesse mid sele f>an kinge. 
1 Brut, ii, p. 208. 2 Brut, iii, p. 121. 


pa weoren Bruttisce men swiSe vnbalde vor f>2en. 

pa umbe stunde stefne }>er sturede ; 

Wide me mihte iheren Brutten iberen ; 

And gunnen to tellen a feole cunne spellen 

Hu heo wolden fordeme Modred and f>a quene. 1 

La3amon's sensitiveness to the emotional quality of a scene 
appears particularly in moments of tension or suspense. There is 
an example in his version of the legend of St. Ursula. At first he 
follows Wace, describing the departure from the Thames of Ursula 
and the great company of virgins, and the terrible storm that came 
upon their ships and wrecked many of them ; but at this point he 
introduces a scene that is not in Wace, though he mentions the 
persons concerned in it Wanis and Melga. 2 La3amon tells us that 
these men, who were outlaws, had come out from Norway and, 
knowing the signs of the weather, had laid up in an island : 

And swa heo leien i f>an reit-londe, and ise3en f>at weder stronge. 
Ise3en scipen an and an, while ma, while nan, 
peonne feowere, f>enne fiue ; sellic heom J>uhten a f>issen Hue 
Whaet weoren f>a 3emere scipen f>a 3eond J?a sae weolken. 3 

There is a feeling of suspense here, even if one does not know that 
Ursula is to fall into the hands of these ruthless men. What is 
more notable, however, is that by a simple scene, apparently of his 
own invention, La3amon brings home the utter helplessness and 
abandonment of the women, which is to him the essence of their 
pitiful story. It is this instinct for the essential quality or signifi- 
cance of a story, or of an episode or description, and the power to 
make the reader feel it, that gives La3amon a claim to be regarded 
as a poet, in spite of the obvious defects of his work. These are not 
limited to its rough metre and a style that is often slack and careless. 
The work suffers, too, from the disadvantages of the chronicle 

1 'Then all was still in Arthur's hall. Then there was sorrow for the good 
king. Then were the Britons exceedingly downcast thereby. Then after a while 
voices stirred there; on all sides could be heard the cries of the Britons and 
in many different speeches they told how they would destroy Modred and the 
queen* (iii, pp. 124-5). 

2 In Geoffrey, Wanius king of the Huns and Melga king of the Picts. 

3 'And so they lay up in that island and watched the fierce storm. They saw 
ships one by one, at times more, at times none, then four, then five ; it seemed to 
them a marvel what the wretched ships might be that tossed on the sea' (ii, p. 77). 


form which La3amon received from his predecessors. These might 
have been less apparent if La3amon had been able to make Arthur, 
the most important figure in his history, more human and credible. 
But he cannot present a complete personality, nor even a complete 
epic hero. He can, on separate occasions, show Arthur being fear- 
less, impetuous, self-willed, often savagely ferocious, once or 
twice merciful to women in distress; but these traits appear singly, 
each in connexion with some one action, and they remain the 
materials for a character, rather than part of one. 

This incapacity of La3amon's is to some extent obscured by his 
ability to make the reader feel the emotions of his people, as he 
does with Cordoille, in the story of Leir. He does this largely, 
though not entirely, by describing their physical manifestations. 
Cordoille sits very still after she has made her reply to her father, 
and when he his given his judgement she goes to her room and is 
'shamefast' ('mortified'); she is silent and turns red when, at the 
end of the story, Leir's man comes to ask for her help. But her 
emotions arise naturally from her situation ; they are not peculiar 
to her as an individual. La3amon's awareness of them is part of his 
power of rising to a situation, particularly to a moment of tension. 

Since his history contains many kinds of stories and situations, 
this power of his means that his poem does not lack variety of 
interest. As occasion offers he can present the mystery of the 
supernatural; in the story of Arthur's birth, for example, and of 
his passing and in some passages about Merlin. In his accounts of 
war he shows heroic and violent action and bloodthirsty senti- 
ments ; his theme is suffering and pity in such stories as those of 
St. Ursula and of Leir. Like most of the Old English poets, how- 
ever, he is not interested in romantic love; here he even tones 
down what little Wace has to offer. 

La3amon's Brut, the most considerable and by far the best of 
the early Middle English alliterative poems, was written in the 
west of England, in Worcestershire, and this is precisely where the 
native alliterative verse might be expected to flourish most vigor- 
ously and to survive longest. 



I. The Alliterative Morte Arthurs and other poems 

N"O THING that has survived from the early Middle 
English period prepares us for that later outpouring of 
alliterative poetry which has conveniently, though prob- 
ably inaccurately, been termed the 'alliterative revival'. Suddenly 
(so it appears to us), in the middle of the fourteenth century, a 
number of poets began to use alliterative verse in the kinds of 
poetry then most popular romances, chronicles, political satire, 
religious and moral allegory and, continuing throughout this 
century and the next, they produced, among a good deal that is 
second-rate or worse, some of the most spirited of Middle English 
poems, and a few that can stand comparison with good poems of 
any age. The fact that so much in this poetry is obviously traditional 
suggests that the suddenness of its beginning must be illusory ; for, 
if it be supposed that the traditional features were the result of a 
deliberate revival, this demands answers to the questions what 
were the models, and, how were they known ? La3amon's Brut docs 
not provide a satisfactory answer, if only because its uncertain 
rhythms could not have inspired the far more confident rhythms 
of the later poems. To answer that other earlier works, now lost, 
might have been preserved in written or oral form till the second 
half of the fourteenth century is tantamount to admitting a con- 
tinuous interest in alliterative verse; and such an interest is at 
least as likely to have resulted in new compositions as in the con- 
stant repetition of old. Moreover, as will appear, the nature of one 
of the earliest poems of the group seems to indicate that it was not 
the first of its kind.jlt is likely then, that alliterative poetry continued 
to be composed on a considerable scale from generation to genera- 
tion without a break, and that the features in fourteenth-century 
verse that appear to be new to the alliterative tradition were adopted 
gradually, to meet the demands of new subjects and new tastes. ' 


These new features are of various kinds.^The traditional vocabu- 
lary is often enlarged by a wealth of technical terms, usually 
French, to do with hunting, architecture, armour, and so forth. 
The influence of stanzaic verse is seen in the occasional grouping of 
the alliterative long lines, sometimes in quatrains, sometimes in 
stanzas using rhyme. Fashionable formal devices such as the dream 
or the debate are employed, and alliterative poets become as 
addicted as any others to describing spring mornings, hunting 
scenes, and elaborate feasts. Yet their poetry remains distinctive 
in manner and feeling, as well as in metre. Some of the most 
striking differences between Middle English alliterative poetry and 
poetry written in other metres are in manner, a liking for specific 
detail resulting in solid, realistic description ; in feeling, a serious- 
ness of outlook which gives unusual strength and purpose, at least 
to the best of the poems. i 

There are many and puzzling resemblances in phraseology, style, 
and theme between the various alliterative poems. Some of these 
can undoubtedly be explained as the result of deliberate imitation, 
though ignorance of the exact date of most of the poems often 
makes it impossible to decide which way the borrowing went. 
Common authorship has been held to account for some others ; but 
the game of hunting for similar phrases and assigning all works 
that contain them to a single author was carried much too far by 
some early critics. It has been shown that many of the poems which 
were at one time attributed on this evidence to the poet Huchoun, 
whose name we chance to know from Andrew Wyntoun's Orygynale 
Cronykily differ in dialect and in important points of style and 
metrical technique. Nowadays theories of common authorship are 
viewed with caution, and scholars prefer to leave the authors of 
most of the alliterative poems unnamed. 

Something is known, however, about where the authors lived. 
From the remark of Chaucer's Parson : 

But trusteth wel, I am a Southren man, 
I kan nat geeste 'rum, ram, ruf/ by lettre, 
Ne, God woot, rym holde I but litel bettre 

(Canterbury Tales, I. 42-44) 

we may judge, not, as is often suggested, that Chaucer despised 


alliterative verse (there are good reasons for not believing this), 
but that he did not think such verse was composed in his own 
southern district. The investigations of modern scholars show him, 
on the whole, to have been right. "/The original dialects of the 
alliterative poems, so far as they can be ascertained, have, with very 
few exceptions, been localized in the western counties from 
Gloucestershire to Cumberland; the majority of them in the 
northern half of this district.! 

If, as we may also infer, Chaucer thought these poems 'pro- 
vincial', he was right in this too; for most of them came from 
districts which, as the southerner Trevisa tells us, '))e kynges of 
Englelond wone)) fer fram' districts, that is, far removed from the 
recognized centres of culture. Yet the odd thing is that some of 
these poems are not at all what we should expect a provincial poem 
to be. They have a self-assured air, as if their writers, who were 
evidently familiar with polite literature, knew what they wanted to 
achieve and how to set about it. In the no doubt extreme case of 
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, there is a knowledge of aristo- 
cratic society as complete as in Chaucer's poetry. Such a poem 
must have been written for a cultured society of some kind, and 
it is possible that some great families of the west who were in 
opposition to the king the Mortimers, Bohuns, and Beauchamps, 
for instance may deliberately have fostered verse of native origin 
as a rival to that poetry, more closely dependent on French, which 
was written for the court by Chaucer and others. We know that 
one alliterative poem at least, William of Palerne y was written at the 
request of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. 

Not all alliterative poetry can have been intended for aristocratic 
society, however. The greatness of Piers Plowman does not obscure 
its comparative lack of art, and, however successful modern critics 
may have been in showing that it is not the shapeless mass that it 
once seemed to be, it still remains evident that its writer (or writers) 
felt no compulsion to polish his work. This does not prove that 
Piers Plowman was written for the common people, though John 
Ball's letter to the peasants of Essex (1381) shows that they knew 
of it; but it does suggest that it was intended for a public less 
literary and less critical than that for which Sir Gawain was written. 


We must not draw too sharp distinctions between the poems, 
dividing them into 'aristocratic' and 'popular', for some of the 
interconnexions that have been mentioned cut across any groupings 
that might be made. But we may suppose that, in the later four- 
teenth century, in the districts where it flourished, alliterative 
poetry was popular in more than one stratum of society. Perhaps 
there had been, in the preceding period, separate streams of tradi- 
tion, kept alive in different classes of society, which for some 
reason or other, and to some extent, intermingled in the fourteenth 

Of the fourteenth-century poems in unrhymed alliterative long 
lines, Winner and Waster and The Parliament of the Three Ages, 
which are preserved in the same fifteenth-century manuscript, 
have been thought to be among the earliest. Certainly Winner 
can with good reason be assigned to the years 1352-3 ; but there is 
no real evidence for the date of The Parliament. 

Winner and Waster is a topical satire cast in the form of a dream. 
The poet, having fallen asleep, sees two armies arrayed to do battle 
against one another. Their leaders, Winner and Waster, state their 
cases before a 'comely king', whose appearance and dress, with the 
blue garter embroidered upon it, proclaim him to be Edward III, 
and the king gives judgement. Winner, whose army displays the 
banners of the Pope, of men of law, of the four orders of friars, and 
of all sorts of merchants, is to go 'by Paris to ]>e Pope of Rome' 
(that is, to the Pope at Avignon) where the cardinals will make 
much of him. Waster is to betake himself 'into ^>e chepe' 1 and 
entice the unwary traveller to a tavern to drink all night, or to 
Bread Street to stuff himself with fat sheep and poultry. 

The author is precise about the classes of men who follow 
Winner, that is, who amass wealth, often caring little for the means 
they employ. The 'wasters' appear to be chiefly military men and 
landed gentry, who, so Winner complains, leave their lands untilled 
and spend what money they have on rich clothes, food, and drink. 
Since the king claims that both Winner and Waster are 'servants of 
our house', the poem is clearly, in spite of its respectful references 
1 'the market', possibly here Cheapside. 



to the king, a sharp, twofold attack upon Edward III for the extra- 
vagance of his living, and of his wars, and for the means by which 
he obtained the money for both. 

The poet has his material well in hand. Apart from a pointless 
opening reference to Brutus the Trojan and his founding of the 
kingdom of Britain, 1 he introduces nothing irrelevant, and he is 
sometimes ingenious in his handling of conventions. The accusa- 
tions which Winner and Waster bring against one another are 
enlivened by many details from real life, as when Waster describes 
the roof-beams bending in Winner's house because of the bacon 
that hangs there, or Winner names the London streets that are 
Waster's haunts and tells how he sits in a tavern crying out 'fille in' 
and 'feche forth'. On the other hand, the writer sometimes descends 
to mere cataloguing, and he is too ready with hackneyed alliterative 
phrases 'ledis 2 of the land', 'fostrede 3 and fedde', 'dynttis 4 to 
dele', and so forth. 

The many features of this poem which are seen to be conventions 
and even commonplaces, when the whole body of later alliterative 
verse is considered, raise the question of its rclatioa to these later 
poems. If Winner and Waster is one of the earliest of the group, 
must it be supposed that later poems derive from it those things 
they have in common with it? Though this may be so in some 
instances (Piers Plowman, for example, may be directly indebted 
to it for some things), it can hardly be so in all. Winner and Waster 
does not seem sufficiently outstanding to have had such far- 
reaching influence, and, to judge by its survival in a single manu- 
script, its circulation was not wide. Many of its similarities with 
other poems can be more satisfactorily explained by the assumption 
already suggested, that behind the earliest poems we know in the 
fourteenth century there was much alliterative verse that has been 

If The Parliament* of the Three Ages does date from much the 
same time as Winner, it affords an even stronger argument for 
this assumption, for it would appear to be a mosaic of conventions. 
Gollancz wrote of it: 'One's first impression is that The Parliament 

1 Found elsewhere in alliterative poems. 2 'men*. 

3 'fostered'. 4 'blows'. 5 'Debate'. 


is a sort of summary of longer poems an epitome reminiscent of 
lines and passages in the chief alliterative poems of the second 
half of the fourteenth century.' Its opening lines 

In the monethe of Maye when mirthes bene fele, 1 
And the sesone of somere when softe bene the wedres, 
Als I went to the wodde . . . 

remind one, primarily perhaps, of Piers Plowman, but also of many 
other poems, not all alliterative. The description that follows, of the 
stalking of the deer, the kill and the breaking-up has something in 
common with the hunting scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green 
Knight. This forms the prologue to a dream in which Youth, 
Medill-Elde, 2 and Elde 3 appear, and debate with one another, 
Middle Age attacking Youth, who defends himself, and Old Age 
reproving both. Familiar themes are introduced into the debate; 
Youth discourses at length on the sport of hawking, and Old Age 
gives an account of the Nine Worthies and other famous person- 
ages who have 'passed the pase 4 ):>at I schall passe sone'. 

There is some good description in the poem, particularly in the 
passages on deer-stalking and hawking, where the poet writes 
circumstantially and, it would seem, from first-hand observation. 
We can share the excitement of the deer-stalker as he watched to 
see 'by waggynge of leues' 5 where the wind was, and then, taking 
up his stand behind a crab-apple tree, remained long motionless, 
in spite of the gnats that 'gretely me greuede and gnewen myn 
eghne', 6 while the hart 'stotayde and stelkett and starede full 
brode'. 7 The writer knows and sometimes makes good use of the 
tricks of his trade. He employs a number of rhetorical devices, 
taking pains, for instance, to link the sections of his narrative, 
either by repeating a phrase from the end of one at the beginning 
of the next, or by beginning successive sections with similar 
phrases. But he has little sense of fitness or proportion. The far 
too lengthy digression on the Nine Worthies is characteristic 
as a whole and in detail ; the account of Alexander is a long and 

1 'pleasures are many'. 2 'Middle Age*. 

3 'Old Age*. 4 'path*. 5 'moving of the leaves'. 

6 'sorely vexed me and bit [gnawed] my eyes*. 

7 'paused, and moved on softly, and stared around'. 


breathless recapitulation of facts from every source known to the 
poet, while Judas Maccabeus and Godfrey of Boulogne, of whom 
he knows little, are dismissed in a few lines. 

Gollancz was convinced that The Parliament was by the author 
of Winner, and written about the same date. 1 But this remains to 
be proved, and in the meanwhile the poem can be taken as what it 
appears to be an imitation of Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the 
Green Knight, and others. 

It is with Piers Plowman and the late Death and Liffe that both 
Winner and The Parliament have especially close links. These four 
poems, all of them, broadly speaking, didactic or satiric in purpose, 
use the same framework of the dream and the allegorical debate, 
and there are marked resemblances in phraseology between them. 
Death and Liffe ( ? c. 1450) is directly indebted to the shorter poems 
for some things ; in tone and feeling it comes nearest to Piers 
Plowman. Its solemn theme is treated with deep seriousness, and 
a powerful imagination makes itself felt in the contrasting descrip- 
tions of Life and Death and in their debate. This culminates in a 
moving exposition of the meaning of the Crucifixion. Death boasts 
that she conquered all men who ever lived and has even 'jousted' 
with 'J esu of heauen' (a clear reminiscence of Piers Plowman)fyut 
Life replies that Death was put to shame in that joust: 

But, Death, how didst thou then, with all thy derffe 2 words, 

When thou prickedst att his pappe with the poynt of a spearc, 

And touched the tabernackle of his trew hart, 

Where my bower was bigged 3 to abyde for euer ? 

When the glory of his godhead glented 4 in thy face, 

Then was thou feard of this fare 5 in thy false hart, 

Then thou hyed into hell-hole to hyde thec beliue 6 . . . 


She recalls Christ's resurrection, and His victory over the powers 
of hell, and concludes, addressing mankind, 

Haue no doubt 7 of yonder Death, my deare children ; 
For yonder Death is damned with devills to dwell, 

1 Winner and Waster (O.U.P., 1920), preface. 

2 'bold'. 3 'built'. 4 'shone'. 
5 'action'. 6 'quickly'. 7 'fear'. 


Where is wondred 1 and woe and wayling for sorrow. 

Death was damned that day, daring 2 full still ; 

Shee hath no might ne no maine to meddle with yonder ost 3 

Against Euerlasting Liffe, J>at Lady soe true. (439-44) 

About the same time as Winner there appear the first attempts to 
render in alliterative verse some of the famous 'matters' of romance. 
The poets seem, in general, to have avoided love-romances and to 
have preferred historical, or pseudo-historical, subjects such as the 
Trojan war, the life of Alexander, the conquests and death of 
Arthur. One of the few exceptions, William of Palerne, shows how 
right this instinct was. This is a rendering of a twelfth-century 
French romance made for Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, 
who died in 1361 ; it must therefore be one of the earliest alliterative 
romances. The French poet says that he wrote at the instance of 
Yoland, daughter of Baldwin IV, Count of Hainault, and it is 
obvious that his work was designed to please a courtly circle. Love 
is the motive force of the story. William, the unknown foundling, 
and Melior, daughter of the Emperor of Rome, suffer the pains 
expected of a pair of courtly lovers, and the French poet analyses 
their thoughts and emotions at length. Whenever possible he 
dwells, too, upon the sentiments of other characters; even his 
animals display the sensibility and behave with the courtesy in 
which courtly society delighted. 

The story which conveys these proper sentiments is fantastic 
even for a romance. As a young child, William is carried off succes- 
sively by a kindly werewolf (who swoons with grief when he loses 
him), an equally kindly cowherd, and the Emperor of Rome, whose 
daughter Melior eventually falls in love with him. To avoid an 
uncongenial marriage, Melior runs away from her father's court, 
and she and William wander through Italy and Sicily disguised first 
as white bears, and later as a hart and hind. Throughout their 
journeyings they are provided with food and other necessities by 
the * witty' 4 werewolf (as the English version calls him). After many 
adventures, including some fighting in which William, of course, 

1 'misery'. 2 'crouching with fear*. 

3 'host* (i.e. the multitude that Death has slain). 

4 'wise, sagacious*. 


distinguishes himself, everything comes out right for the 
lovers, and for everybody else. The werewolf, being disenchanted, 
proves to be the son of the King of Spain. The unravelling of the 
threads of the story gives occasion for affecting recognition scenes 
which are followed by piteous separations as the various characters 
finally return to their own countries. 

This unreal story, which is related with much circumstantial 
and even matter-of-fact detail, has something of the lure of a 
fairy-tale ; and the 'niceness' of the characters is attractive. These 
virtues the English poem retains, for the translator follows the 
French tale closely. He does his best, too, to convey the sentiment, 
but he is defeated by the essential unsuitability of his medium. 
Passages meant to be moving, as when William, dreaming of 
Melior, clasps to himself a pillow and wakes calling to it and 
kissing it, are made ludicrous by the heavy insistence of the 
alliterative lines. Possibly a more flexible and imaginative writer 
might have done better, but this man is not even skilled in his 
chosen style. He has little feeling for words and repeats certain 
favourite ones in and out of season, whenever they ,are useful for 
the alliteration. 

Among the earliest 'historical' romances in the alliterative metre 
are two fragments on the life of Alexander, usually known as 
Alexander A and Alexander B or Alexander and Dindimus. These 
seem to have been written at much the same time, in the same 
west Midland dialect, and they are both derived from one version 
of the famous Historia de Preliis. 1 Though their latest editor 
does not believe that they are by one author, he considers that 
B may be part of a continuation of a complete translation of 
the Historia of which A is the beginning. A third fragment, 
Alexander C or The Wars of Alexander, was written farther 
north, and later, and is derived from a different version of the 

Alexander A combines with the legendary matter of the Historia 
de Preliis extracts from the reputedly historical Historia adversus 
Paganos of Orosius telling of Philip of Macedon's ancestry, mar- 
riage, and wars. The De Preliis provides the story of how Nectana- 

1 See pp. 55 ff. 


bus, magician-king of Egypt, left his own country and came to 
Macedon where, in Philip's absence, he seduced Philip's wife, 
Olympias, by his magic arts and begat Alexander upon her. From 
it, too, come the accounts of the marvels preceding Alexander's 
birth, of Alexander's slaying of Nectanabus and his taming of 
Bucephalus. The story of the birth and childhood of Alexander is 
absent owing to a lacuna in the manuscript. 

Alexander J9, from a much later portion of the Historia de Preliis, 
tells of some of Alexander's adventures in India. It begins with his 
visit to the people known as the Gymnosophists ('is that name to 
mene the Nakede Wise') and then describes how, on arriving at 
the river Ganges, he sees on the other side men said to be Brahmins. 
Letters are exchanged between him and their king Dindimus, in 
which the Brahmins' simple way of life is contrasted with Alex- 
ander's life of luxury and conquest. The underlying intention in 
this correspondence was to elaborate the familiar contrast between 
the Contemplative and the Active Life, and, at the same time, to 
contrast the Christian life with the pagan. The Middle English 
text breaks off in the middle of a sentence and, since it has no set 
opening either, it was presumably part of a longer work. In the 
manuscript, Bodley 264, it is preceded by the French Roman 
d'Alixandre, and, to judge by a note in English appearing in the 
course of that work, the English fragment was added by a scribe 
who thought, though wrongly, that a passage was missing from the 

The far longer Alexander C (Wars of Alexander] covers, in one 
or other of the two extant manuscripts, the whole of the life of 
Alexander as told in one version of the Historia de Preliis (that 
known as J 3a ), except for a small portion at the end; in addition, it 
includes in an abridged form the episode known as the Fnerres de 
Cadres (Toraging in Cadres': Alexander C, 1193-336). 

Of the three, C keeps closest to its original; this seems certain, 
even though in the exact version of the Historia de Preliis on which 
it is based is not extant for comparison. The writer of A expands 
considerably, particularly when he is following Orosius's bald nar- 
rative. The statement 'Olympiadem Arubae regis Molossorum 
sororem duxit uxorem' moves him to a neatly ordered catalogue of 


Olympias's physical beauties, from the expected rose-red com- 
plexion and hair like gold wire, down to her feet: 

pe fairest feete f>at euer freke kende, 

With ton tidily wrought and tender of hur skynne. 1 

He also supplies details about battles merely mentioned by Orosius, 
helping himself along by means of familiar tags, sometimes quite 
meaningless as he uses them. The Historia de Preliis provides him 
with more detail, and he rarely adds passages of any length when he 
is following it; but, because he cannot resist introducing common- 
places, his version is much longer than the Latin, and more tedious. 
It has been suggested that Alexander A was composed for oral 
delivery, and the style, with its painfully obvious transitions, sug- 
gests the fatter' of the minstrel, never at a loss, but never inspired. 
The pedestrian writer of Alexander B does not, perhaps, use so 
many meaningless tags, but he draws out the narrative by lengthy 
paraphrase and repetitive lines and phrases. Such slight con- 
tributions as he makes to the matter seem designed to point a moral 
or to stress the Christian point of view. Where the renderings of B 
and C can be compared, C is in general shorter, more direct, and 
more lively. When the Gymnosophists, to whom Alexander has 
offered to give whatever they wish, ask for immortality, Alexander 
replies 'Mortalis cum sim, immortalitatem nullatenus dare possum', 
and they 'Et si mortalis es, quare vadis discurrendo et faciendo 
tanta et talia mala?' B renders this exchange in eight lines, but C, 
keeping something of the terseness of the Latin, is more effective: 

'Be dri3tin, sirs, I am a duke dedelike myselfe, 

Forj?i vndedlynes to dele I dowe be na ways.' 

'Now sen it worthis' quod J?a wees 'wriche, for to die, 

Quarto hi3is f>ou fra half to halfe and all >is harme werkis?' 2 

The greater fidelity of the Wars of Alexander to the Latin, often 
brought as a reproach against it, is, on the contrary, almost always 

1 'The fairest feet that ever men knew, with toes neatly made and delicate of 
skin* (193-4)- 

2 * "By God, sirs, I am myself a mortal lord, therefore I can by no means give 
immortality. " "Now since it will happen, wretch", said those men, "that you will 
die, to what end do you hasten from realm to realm and work all this mischief ?" ' 


a cause of gain. But this is not by itself the reason for its superiority ; 
its writer is more intelligent, and a better poet than the writer of B, 
and he grasps the point of the Latin where jB sometimes misses 
it, and has some feeling for its quality. Such expansions of his 
original as he makes are usually in descriptions of the kind most 
congenial to poets of the alliterative tradition. He writes of fighting 
in energetic lines conveying swift action and the noise of battle, 1 
and he is responsible for the colour and vividness of the scene when 
the people of Jerusalem deck their streets for Alexander's visit 
(1513-72). In such passages, he has an easy command of word and 
rhythm, and his poetry, though not of the highest order, can hold 
the attention. Sometimes he conveys impressions of a different 
kind, as in the pleasant passage describing the Brahmins' enjoy- 
ment of nature, where he speaks of the things 

pat ilk sensitifc saule mast souorly delyte, 

As in f>e woddis for to walke vndire wale schawis 

Qucn all is lokin ouire with leuys, as it ware littill heuen. 

pan haue we liking to lithe f>e late of J>e foules, 

pe swo3ing of f>e swift wynde and of f>e swete wellis. 2 

The passages just mentioned do not show great originality, but 
the poet's ear and imagination are still sufficiently alive to the 
possibilities of the poetic tradition he inherited to enable him at 
times to write real poetry and in general to be adequate to his 
task. Some striking similarities in phraseology make it fairly 
certain that there is some connexion between the Alexander C and 
the work of the Gawain poet, and C is not entirely unworthy to be 
either the inspirer or the imitator of the greater poem. 

Another famous Latin work, the Historia Destructionis Trojae of 
Guido delle Colonne, is the source of the alliterative Destruction 
of Troy. In the index to the only surviving manuscript we are 
told that some knight caused the rendering to be made, and we 
are promised his name and that of the man who 'translated it out 
of latyn into englysshe' ; but the manuscript is defective where the 

1 777-806, 1385-420, 2221-30. 

2 * ... which please most fully [literally, "savourily"] each sensitive man, as to 
walk in the woods under pleasant groves, when all is vaulted over with leaves, as 
it were a little heaven. Then we take delight in listening to the song of the birds, 
the soughing of the swift wind and the sweet streams' (4381-5). 


names should have appeared. This reference suggests that the 
translation was undertaken as hackwork, and that, on the whole, is 
the impression it gives. It faithfully follows the course of Guide's 
book, including his digressions, whether moral, like the diatribes 
against false gods, 1 or descriptive, such as the series of portraits of 
the Greek and Trojan leaders. 2 The style is careless; the longer 
sentences are often clumsy and ill-co-ordinated, and there is much 
repetition of phrases and epithets. On the other hand, the verse is 
unusually regular in rhythm *and alliteration ; but, in a work of 
14,044 lines, this regularity becomes monotonous. 

Yet the poem is not unreadable. Guide's story was alive to the 
English writer, and he worked with a mind alert and open to sug- 
gestion. The thoughts and emotions of the characters, their long 
speeches, their appearance and actions were all of interest to him, 
and he reproduced them, not slavishly, but with added details and 
occasional cuts of irrelevant matter. Like other poets of the tradi- 
tion, he is most impressive when describing violent action battles 
and storms at sea in particular. The energy which is his most marked 
characteristic finds natural and effective outlet in such lines as : 

With a ropand rayne rugh was the se ; 
The wyndes full wodely wackont anon, 
Rut vp the rughe se on rokkcs aboute ; 
As hilles hit hepit in a hond while. 
So }?e bre and the brethe burbelit togedur, 
pat hit spirit vp spitously fyue speire lenght 
With walterand wawes, j?at f>e wynd dryues 
All fore as a fyre f>e firmament ouer. 3 

But the striking phrase 'ropand rayne' becomes less impressive 
when it is met with in a second storm, and a third. 

The weakness of these 'historical' romances is their formlessness. 
The writers do not attempt to arrange their matter in accordance 
with any idea of their own but simply follow the course of the 
narrative as they find it. The author of The Siege of Je^isalem, 

1 Destruction, 4295 ff. 2 3741 fT. 

3 'The sea was rough with a beating rain; soon the winds wakened madly, 
dashed the rough sea up about the rocks ; it was heaped up like hills in a short 
time. The sea and the wind so bubbled together that it [the sea] spurted up 
furiously five spears length with weltering waves which the wind drives before 
[it] like a fire over the firmament' (3693-700). 


however, seems to have tried to give his story some shape by select- 
ing and combining material from several sources, and by dividing 
it into four sections, each marked by a brief concluding invocation, 
such as 'and god 3yue us joye'. His attempt is not very successful, 
for not all his divisions are natural ones, and he includes a good 
deal of unnecessary historical matter. His other formal device, the 
grouping of the long lines in quatrains may have acted as some 
check on the exuberance of his descriptions, yet he still lavishes 
descriptive detail on things that are only incidental to the story 
Vespasian's fleet (281 ff.), the elaborate 'standard' built like a belfry 
(385 ff.) which he erected as his headquarters, the elephant with a 
castle on its back in which Caiaphas sits (461 ff.). Descriptions of 
battle are proper to the story, and here, among much that is familiar 
elsewhere in alliterative poetry, there are flashes of imagination, as 
when we are told that the battlefield grew bright as the beams of 
the sun from the golden and jewelled armour that lay there (544-5), 
or later, that it was strewn so thick with dead bodies that a horse 
could not put down its foot but on steel armour (600-1). But such 
exaggeration is effective only in small doses, and this writer does 
not know when to stop. He spares the reader few of the 
horrors of the siege of Jerusalem ; indeed, his ghoulish relish for 
the horrible is so marked that one feels it may account for his 
having chosen the siege as his subject. 

To turn from the Siege to Joseph of Arimathie is to become aware 
of the variety of style of which alliterative poetry is capable. This 
poem, probably one of the earliest of the group under consideration 
(? c. 1350), is certainly the earliest to deal with any Arthurian 
matter. Its story is part of the early history of the Holy Grail, a 
condensed version of the first part of the French prose Lestoire del 
Saint Graal (Grand Saint Graal). The opening is missing in the 
only extant manuscript, but it evidently told of the imprisonment 
of Joseph of Arimathie by the Jews, during which he received from 
Christ a dish containing His blood shed on the cross. The text 
begins when Joseph is being released by Vespasian. He is bidden 
by the voice of Christ to make a box for the blood, and to go to 
Sarras (whence the Saracens come) to preach His word. Arrived 
there, he tells Evalak, the king, of Christ's death, of the Incarnation, 


and of the Trinity. Evalak doubts the possibility of what he says, 
and that night two visions appear to him to show him the truth. 
His land is invaded by Tholomer, King of Babylon, and Joseph, 
after revealing a miraculous knowledge of his early life, sends 
him forth to battle with a cross of red cloth upon his shield. 
Evalak is at first successful, but is presently taken prisoner. He 
then looks upon the shield and prays, and at once a white knight 
appears who rescues him and his brother-in-law, Seraphe, and 
slays Tholomer. When Tholomer's army retreats, the white knight 
vanishes. Evalak's queen is discovered to be a Christian, and 
Evalak himself and more than 5,000 others are baptized. The poem 
ends abruptly with a brief reference to the events which immedi- 
ately follow in Lestoire del Saint Graal. 

If, as Skeat thinks, little of the poem has been lost, the poet must 
have intended to confine himself to the single episode of Joseph's 
conversion of Evalak. On the whole his cuts in the French material 
and rearrangements of it are consonant with this view. If he retains 
some matter not strictly relevant to this episode as, for instance, 
the vision granted to Josaphe, Joseph's son, on looking into the 
box containing the blood, and Christ's consecration of Josaphe as 
bishop, this is explained by his underlying purpose, which is to 
manifest the power of Christ and of His sacrifice. It is this that 
engrosses his attention and, with simple earnestness, he relates his 
tale as an illustration of it. His language is for the most part plain, 
at times even bald; he has few stock alliterative phrases or ex- 
clusively poetic words, and such rhetorical devices as he uses are 
of the simplest. To judge from his clumsy transitions and occa- 
sional inappropriate phrases he was an inexperienced writer, and 
the irregularity of his metre also suggests this. The subtler parts of 
the French work are beyond him, and he fails to convey the full 
significance of Evalak's visions or of Joseph's exposition of the 
Trinity. Yet on the whole his plain style suits his subject, and it 
can be effective, as in the reply which Josaphe gives when his 
father asks him why he is looking into the box : 

'A Fader, touche me not in f>is ilke tyme, 1 

For much gostliche grace me is here i-graunted.' (279-80) 

1 'at this time'. 


or in the description by Evalak's queen of Christ's appearance to 
her and her mother: 

penne com lesu Crist so cler in him-seluen, 

aftur J?e furste blusch we ne mi3te him bi-holden, 

And a wynt and a sauor whappede us vmbe, 

we weore so wcl of vr-self we nuste what we duden. 1 

In his account of the battle he comes nearer the traditional 
manner of alliterative poetry, but, compared with most of the other 
poets, he is still brief and sparing of detail ; and he gains not a little 
in force thereby. 

The central story of the Arthurian cycle the conquests of 
Arthur, his recall to Britain by the news of Modred's treachery, 
his unequal last fight and death was the inspiration for one of the 
most impressive of alliterative poems, the Morte Arthure. This 
work, which survives in a unique copy in the Thornton MS., has 
recently achieved a sort of fame, even among those who have not 
read it, by the discovery that Malory based upon it the 'Noble Tale 
of King Arthur and the Emperor Lucius', as Professor Vinaver 
calls it. 2 Here, however, it will be considered in its own right as, in 
spite of some obvious defects, it well deserves. 

The Morte Arthure is, in subject and treatment, a thoroughly 
masculine work. Its heroic theme resembles those beloved by the 
Old English poets. Arthur is the mighty conqueror, haughty to his 
enemies, generous to his knights, and undaunted in defeat; his sole 
occupation, and that of his men is fighting; courage and loyalty 
are the virtues they prize. The temper which they (and the poet) 
admire is well illustrated in the speech of Sir Idrus when, in the last 
battle, Arthur bids him rescue his father, who is hard pressed : 

He es my fadire in faithe, forsake sail I neuer, 

He has me fosterde and fedde and my faire bretheren . . . 

He commande me kyndly with knyghtly wordes, 

That I schulde lelely one f>e lenge and one noo lede elles ; 

I sail hys commandement holde, }if Crist wil me thole. 

He es eldare than I, and ende sail we bo then, 

1 'Then came Jesus Christ so bright in Himself that after the first glance we 
could not behold Him; and a wind and a scent lapped us round, we were so full of 
joy we knew not what we did' (656-9). 

2 Book v in Caxton's version of the Morte Darthur. 


He sail ferkke before, and I sail come aftyre. 

3iffe him be destaynede to dy todaye one f>is erthe, 

Criste comly with crown take kepe to hys saule. 1 

In all that concerns the relations between Arthur and his knights 
resemblances to Old English heroic poetry are striking. The 
knights, some of them Arthur's kinsmen and all of them ready to 
boast of their high lineage, are councillors as well as warriors, like 
the picked band of tried men, the dugup, who in Beowulf support 
Hro)?gar. Like them, they make their vaunts about the great deeds 
they will do in battle, and receive from their lord rewards for their 
valour. The speech of Sir Cader, encouraging his men to brave a 
great army of the Romans, reads like a fourteenth-century version 
of one from The Battle of Maldon. 'Think', he cries, 'on the valiant 
prince who has ever enriched us with lands and honour . . . given 
us treasure and gold and many rewards, greyhounds and fine 
horses . . .' (1726 ff.). How much of this is due to the Middle 
English poet we do not know, but if, as the latest opinion holds, he 
got his story from a French romance, or combined material from 
several romances, it seems likely that he developed it on lines that 
were traditional in English heroic poetry, as La3amon had done 
before him. 

But the monsters encountered in Morte Arthure are not those of 
Beowulf, even though the same or similar phrases are sometimes 
used of them. In place of the indefinite but immensely suggestive 
description of Grendel, that misshapen haunter of the waste lands, 
that 'helle gast' 2 of the brood of Cain, who is evil and terrifying 
even today, the Morte Arthure has the giant of Mont St. Michel, 
presented with a wealth of definite details which, horrible as they 
are, yet fail to terrify. The giant's kirtle, 'spun in Spain' and 
'garnished in Greece' and bordered with beards of slain kings, is 
a fancy befitting the story of Jack the Giant-killer rather than a 

1 'He is in truth my father, whom I shall never forsake. He has fostered and 
fed me and my good brothers. . . . Fittingly he bade me in knightly speech that 
I should stay loyally by you and by no other man. I shall keep his command, if 
Christ will allow. He is older than I, and we both must come to our end; he will 
go before and I shall come after. If he is destined to die on this field today, may 
the gloriously crowned Christ have care of his soul' (4142 ff.). 

2 'spirit of hell 1 . 


thing to be believed in. More impressive is the description of the 
giant as Arthur first sees him : 

He lay lenand on lange, lugande vnfaire, 

pe thee of a manns lymme lyfte vp by f>e haunche ; 

His bakke and his bewschers and his brode lendez 

He bekez by ]?e bale-fyr and breklesse hym semede ; 

pare ware rostez full ruyde and rewfull bredez, 

Beerynes and bestaile brochede togeders, 

Cowle full cramede of crysmede childyre ; 

Sum as brede brochede, and bierdez f>am tournede. 1 

Other marvels in the story the prophetic dreams, the balm that 
heals Sir Priamus and Sir Gawayne belong wholly to the world 
of romance, and are treated in a matter-of-fact way, as necessary 
properties' of the story. Nor are these the only features traceable 
to the romances. The poem opens according to pattern, with a 
prayer and a call for attention ; there are the expected descriptions 
of feasts, of clothing, of the arming of knights. The stigmatization 
of Arthur's enemies, even in Britain, as Saracens reflects the 
familiar romance conflicts between Christian and Saracen, and, 
though in the earlier part of the story Arthur fights merely for 
personal glory, he enters upon his last campaign displaying a 
banner on which is 'a chalke-whitte mayden And a childe in hir 
arme ]?at chefe es of hevyne' (3648-9), and his end is marked by 
Christian devotion. Of the gentler virtues comprised under the 
term 'courtesy', he and his knights show little trace, however, in 
spite of the opening description of them as 'Kynde men and 
courtays and couthe of courte thewes' (21). 2 More characteristic 
of them are the grim jests they make in battle, as when Arthur cuts 
through the knees of the giant Golapas, crying, 'Come down and 
speak to your companions. You are too high by half, I promise you 
truly. You shall be more convenient in height, with my Lord's 
help' (2126 ff.). This recalls similar jests in the Icelandic sagas, and 

1 'He lay, leaning at his length, disposed uglily, holding up by the haunch 
the thigh from a man's leg. His back and his buttocks and his broad loins he 
warms by the hateful fire and breechless he seemed. There were horrible 
roasts and pitiful meats, men and animals on the spit together, a tub crammed 
full of anointed children, some spitted as meat, and women turned them* (1045- 
52). 2 ' versed in courtly behaviour*. 


demonstrates how superficial the relation between this poem and 
the romances of chivalry really is. 

For this is a tragic tale, 'J?at trewe es and nobyll' (16). Fittingly, 
it is given a firm foundation in time and place. So, Arthur justifies 
his rage at the summons to appear before the Roman Emperor 
Lucius by an 'historical' account of his ancestors' lordship over 
Rome; and the stages of his own journey thither are so clearly 
indicated that it would be possible to trace them on a map. De- 
scriptions are solid, for the most part realizable in terms of the 
known. In recounting the siege of Metz, the poet specifies the 
siege instruments that were brought up and suggests the resulting 
destruction by details that come home to present-day readers per- 
haps even more than they did to the fourteenth century: 

Stone-stepells full styffe in f>e strete liggcs, 
Chawmbyrs with chymnes and many cheefe innes 
Paysede and pelid down playsterede walles. 1 

Constantly a scene is brought to life by some realistic detail, as 
when the sheriffs 'sharply shift' the commons to make room for 
the great lords who are to embark for the expedition against Lucius 
(725), or, as when Arthur, having climbed to the top of Mont 
St. Michel, lifted his visor and 'caughte of ):>e colde wynde to com- 
forthe hym seluen' (a touch that did not escape Malory). There are 
details like this in the accounts of battles, but they are mingled with 
others, more conventional and less real, for the tradition of such 
descriptions in alliterative poetry is too strong to be ignored. Here 
is a characteristic passage : 

Than the Romaynes and the rennkkez of j?e rounde table . . . 

Foynes ful felly with flyschande speris, 

Freten of orfrayes feste appon scheldez. 

So fele fay es in fyghte appon f>e felde leuyde, 

That iche a furthe in the firthe of rede blode rynnys, 

By that swyftely one swarthe f>e swett es byleuede, 

Swerdez swangen in two, sweltand knyghtez 

Lyes wyde-opyn welterande on walopande stedez. 2 

1 'Stone steeples full strong lie in the streets; they battered down chimneyed 
rooms and many of the chief buildings and pounded plastered walls* (3040-2). 

2 'Then the Romans and the warriors of the Round Table . . . thrust full 


In all descriptions there is much use of the cumulative method, 
detail being piled on detail, often in phrases of similar construction, 
as in Old English poetry. But the poet of Morte Arthure is less 
restrained than the best of the Old English poets, and his long, 
overloaded descriptions slow down the narrative considerably. It 
is noticeable how often Malory improves upon him by selecting 
only the most significant of the details he offers. A sense of over- 
elaboration is increased by some of the poet's tricks of style and 
metre. Often he uses the same alliterating sound for several lines 
on end, for as many as ten on one occasion ; or he will begin con- 
secutive lines with the same phrase or rhythm. Phrases and even 
whole lines from one passage are repeated in another, not usually 
for the purpose of linking sections of the narrative, as in some 
alliterative poems, but merely to produce a sort of echo. In one 
instance only is this repetition justified by its effect. When Arthur 
tells his council of Modred's treachery, which he has just learnt 
from Sir Cradok, his repetition of several of Sir Cradok's phrases 
helps to convey his stunned horror at the news. In general the 
effect of these various kinds of repetition is like that of a battering- 
ram. The mind wearies of what it feels to be a continual striving to 
impress. Excess is, indeed, the great defect of the poem, and not 
only in matters of style. There are too many giants, almost all 
'engendrede of fendez' ('begotten of devils'); there are too many 
speeches at the opening council, and here, and elsewhere, they are 
too long ; there is far too much fighting. 

But a distinction must be made between the earlier and later 
parts of the poem, for in the later, though from line to line the 
method of narration is not essentially different, the tale is made 
far more engrossing. It may be that the poet turned to a fresh 
source for the last part of his tale (the fact that Malory makes no 
use of the poem after about 1. 3218 needs some explanation); or it 
may be that the incidents are in themselves so stirring that they 
called forth in the poet powers which do not appear in the earlier 

fiercely with slashing spears, tore away gold fringes fastened upon shields. So 
many doomed men were left on the field in the fight that each ford in the forest 
runs with red blood. Soon the life-blood is left on the green grass, swords beaten 
in two, dying knights with gaping wounds lie lolling on galloping steeds* 
(zi 3S ff-). 

6699 F 


part. Whatever the reason, the story moves more purposefully from 
the point where Arthur, nearing the end of his victorious progress 
through Europe, stands at the top of the St. Gotthard pass looking 
down upon Lombardy, and cries, 'In yon pleasant land I think to 
be lord' (3109). Descending into Italy, he receives at Viterbo the 
Pope's message that he will crown him sovereign in Rome, That 
very night he has a dream in which he sees eight kings clinging to 
Fortune's wheel and striving in vain to reach a silver chair. Fortune 
sets Arthur in the chair, but at midday she turns against him. 
A philosopher tells him that the kings are eight of the Nine 
Worthies, all renowned conquerors in their day. Arthur himself 
will be the ninth; he is now 'at the highest', and will achieve no 
more. Arthur rises and goes out alone 'with anger in his heart', and 
almost at once he sees a man, dressed as a pilgrim and hastening on 
the road to Rome, who proclaims himself Sir Cradok, a knight of 
Arthur's chamber, come from Britain to tell him that Modred has 
had himself crowned king and has taken Guinevere for his wife. 
Arthur quickly calls a council and, then, leaving a few knights to 
guard his conquests, he hurries back through Italy^ Germany, and 
Flanders to take ship for Britain. 

In this climax of the story the events are so ordered as to bring 
out the drama inherent in them, and they are related without 
digression, indeed, with a certain urgency, which is not lost even 
in the long account of the dream. After this, even though the ex- 
citement of the unexpected is lacking, the poet remains to the end 
in control of his story. He achieves a fine contrast between the 
maddened fighting and violent end of Gawain and the slow grief- 
stricken tributes of his slayer, Modred, and of Arthur. In Arthur's 
lament, the most widely quoted passage in the poem, the repetitive, 
cumulative style is at its most effective : 

pan the corownde kyng cryes full lowde: 

'Dere kosyn o kynde, in kare am I leuede, 

For nowe my wirchipe es wente and my were endide. 

Here es J?e hope of my hele, my happyngc of armes, 

My herte and my hardynes hale one hym lengede, 

My concell, my comforthe, f>at kepide myn herte! 

Of all knyghtes J?e kynge f>at vndir Criste lifede, 


pou was worthy to be kynge, f>ofe I }>e corown bare ; 

My wele and my wirchipe of all f>is werlde riche 

Was wonnen thourghe sir Wawayne and thourghe his witt one!' 1 

Vowing to avenge Gawain, Arthur pursues Modred to Cornwall, 
and, after fierce fighting, slays him, but receives his own death- 
wound. The rest of the poem is on a quieter note. Arthur laments 
his fallen knights, and asks to be carried to Glastonbury to the 
Isle of Avalon, where, after calling for a confessor, he dies, saying 
'In manus'. The poet concludes: 'So ends King Arthur, as writers 
tell, who was of the kin of Hector, the son of the king of Troy/ 
Characteristically, this 'true' tale knows nothing of a mystic boat 
with wailing women, nor of the prophecy that Arthur shall return 
to the Britons. 

The poem, as a whole, is animated by an energetic and powerful 
imagination, not always sufficiently kept in check. Though the 
poet lacks subtlety, he has a sure sense of the dramatic, and never 
fails to recognize the significant moments in his story. He has, 
particularly at such times, a clear mental picture of action (though 
he is not capable of subtle or consistent characterization), and he 
understands the emotions that prompt it or arise from it. He knows, 
too, the value of contrast in bringing out the emotional quality of 
a scene or an action. Even in the earlier, less stirring parts of the 
poem perception is quickened by such contrasts as the Roman mes- 
sengers bowing in knightly fashion before delivering the Emperor's 
summons and then, suddenly terrified at Arthur's anger, 'crouch- 
ing like dogs' before him, or Arthur, when he is discovered 
wounded after his terrific fight with the monstrous giant of Mont 
St. Michael, telling his knights that his sw r ord and shield lie on the 
top of the crag together with the giant's club, and asking simply 
that they should go and fetch them. 

1 Then the crowned king cries aloud, 'Dear cousin of my race, in grief am 
I left; for now my fame is passed and my fighting days ended. Here is the hope 
of my success, my good fortune in arms. My confidence and my valour depended 
wholly on him, my counsel and my comfort which my heart held fast. The king 
of all knights that lived under God, thou wert worthy to be king, though I wore 
the crown. My prosperity and my honour from all this mighty earth were won 
through Sir Gawain and through his genius alone* (3955-64). 


II. Patience, Purity, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 

The only alliterative poem which has caught the spirit of 
Arthurian romance as the French understood it is Sir Gawain and 
the Green Knight. This, the finest of the alliterative romances and, 
indeed, of all Middle English romances except perhaps Chaucer's 
Knight's Tale, has such close connexions with the poems Pearl, 
Patience, and Purity (Cleanness) that they must be considered as a 

Unlike the works of Chaucer or Langland, which have been 
continuously read ever since their composition, these poems 
remained almost unknown till Sir F. Madden edited Sir Gawain 
in 1839, and described the manuscript, Cotton Nero A x, in 
which all four have been preserved. They appear there in the same 
late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century hand, and they are 
provided with crude illustrations, probably contemporary with the 
texts. It is natural that the poems should have been ascribed to the 
same author, and, on the whole, modern scholarship supports this 
view. The Nero texts, which are not originals, are^all substantially 
in the same dialect, one not very different, it would seem, from that 
of the originals, and certainly of the north-west Midlands, though 
whether of Derbyshire, Cheshire, or south Lancashire is a matter 
of dispute. Such evidence as there is points to the last quarter of 
the fourteenth century as the period of composition. Striking 
similarities of vocabulary, of phrasing, and (in Sir Gawain, Purity, 
and Patience) of metre provide obvious links between the poems. 
Similar stylistic devices are used in all four, and there is a recur- 
rence of certain conceptions, of the doctrine of the Beatific Vision, 
for instance, and of the pearl as a symbol of perfection. Since, in 
addition, all four, in various manners and degrees, display not 
merely a liking for symmetrical arrangement, but a marked sense 
of form, it seems easier to assume a common author than to suppose 
that two or more men writing in the same locality and the same 
period, and certainly closely associated with one another, pos- 
sessed this rare and, one would think, inimitable quality. 

No attempt to identify this author has so far been successful, 
and curiosity has to be satisfied with what can be learned from the 


poems themselves. Though these reveal a good deal about the 
poet's opinions and outlook, they provide little evidence for any 
life-history. What is certain is that the poet had the opportunity for 
considerable reading, both secular and religious. In French, he had 
read the Roman de la Rose and some Arthurian romances; in 
English, he was familiar with much alliterative poetry and probably 
with a number of non-alliterative writings. More unusual reading 
for an Englishman of his time is suggested by the possible indebted- 
ness of Pearl to Dante's Divina Commedia and to Boccaccio's 
Olympia. The poet's intimate knowledge of the Bible and his 
evident familiarity with Biblical commentary and interpretation 
suggests that he may have had an ecclesiastical education. If so, his 
independence of mind is the more remarkable. Professor Menner 
has remarked that, in Purity ', he is 'less fettered than most homilists 
by theological doctrine and conventional interpretations', and in 
Pearl he employs both in a manner still more individual}. ^rom Sir 
Gazvain and the Green Knight it is obvious that he was sufficiently 
at home in courtly, or at least aristocratic, society to be able to 
depict with fidelity its manners, pastimes, and setting. Verifiable 
details of dress and armour, of architecture, of sport, are accurate 
for the period in which the poem was written. This suggests the 
kind of public for which Sir Gawain was intended ; and Pearl y too, 
can hardly have been written for other than cultured readers. 

This is all that can be said with certainty of the poet's circum- 
stances, and it leaves many questions unanswered, including one 
legitimately of interest to those who would understand the poems 
the question of the order in which they were written. It can be 
plausibly argued that Patience and Purity preceded the other two, 
and that, of these, Patience is the earlier; but grounds for deciding 
whether Sir Gawain or Pearl came next are insufficient. 

Patience and Purity (Cleanness) are alike in aim and in general 
structure. Each is a homily commending one of the virtues in the 
Beatitudes, and illustrating its value, and to some extent its nature, 
from Biblical story. By a twist which is perhaps characteristic of 
the poet, the illustration goes, as it were, by contraries. In Patience 
it is the story of the impatient Jonah that is chosen; in Purity the 


stories of the Flood, of the Fall of Sodom, and of Belshazzar's 
Feast illustrate God's anger against the impure (or 'unclean', as the 
poet calls them). The structural similarity of the two poems extends 
to some details. Each opens by naming the virtue to be extolled 
(Tatience is a poynt, p>a3 hit displese ofte', 'Clannesse who so 
kyndly cowf>e comende') and, early in each, a paraphrase of the 
relevant Beatitude provides the text for the whole homily. Each 
ends with a restatement of the theme, though the last line in Purity 
does not, as in the other, echo the first. Patience is simpler in con- 
ception than Purity and therefore neater and more unified in 
construction. The poet concentrates on the story of Jonah, con- 
fining exposition and exhortation almost entirely to the introduction 
and brief conclusion. In Purity the homiletic element is more 
important, for the poet attempts to use the argument as a frame- 
work to link together a number of Biblical stories, including the 
three main ones. The opening sections provide an example of his 
method. After paraphrasing his text (Beati mundo corde, quoniam 
ipsi Deum videbunt), he elaborates upon it. He first states the 
converse, that no one who has any 'uncleanness' shall come to the 
sight of God, and this he illustrates by the parable of the man 
without a wedding garment; second, he emphasizes the point that 
no sin angers God like uncleanness. He was not angry when lie 
cast out Lucifer or drove Adam from Paradise, but for the third 
crime, 4 fylJ?e of }?e flcsch', He called forth the Flood which de- 
stroyed almost all living things. The story of the Flood is then 
related, and is followed by a short passage of exposition which also 
serves to introduce the next story, that of the Fall of Soclom. This 
more ambitious scheme is not entirely successful, for, in order to 
include the story of Belshazzar's Feast, the poet has to juggle with 
his interpretation of 'uncleanness' and make it cover the defiling of 
\vhat belongs to God as well as unchastity. Moreover, since he is 
still mainly interested in narrative, he tends to tell his stories at 
disproportionate length. But, in this attempt to provide the poem 
with a comprehensive argument, he anticipates in part the design 
of Pearl. 

Both in Patience and in Purity it is the narratives that impress. 
The poet has seen and felt the Biblical stories afresh and he 


re-creates them for his readers, fusing into them points from 
other books or of his own invention. Alike in comparatively homely 
scenes and in scenes far removed from normal experience, his 
imagination is quick to seize upon, or to conjure up, details that 
will make them realizable. Abraham, preparing to serve his three 
angelic visitors, 1 runs to fetch a tender calf and gives it to the 
servant to cook (as in the Vulgate), and then batches up a clean 
cloth and spreads it on the green grass* (not in the Vulgate). Jonah 
enters into the whale's mouth 

As mote in at a munster dor, so mukel wern his chawle3 2 

and, as he is carried along in its belly, which the poet has not 
hesitated to describe, he hears the great seas beating on its back and 
sides. 3 

Like other alliterative poets, the writer is especially kindled by 
scenes of violence and tumult, and in his descriptions of the storm 
and shipwreck in Patience, and of the Flood and the destruction 
of Sodom and Gomorrah in Purity, he reveals his considerable 
resources of style and language. The following lines correspond to 
Genesis xix. 24-25, 'Igitur Dominus pluit super Sodomam et 
Gomorrham sulphur et ignem a Domino de caelo et subvertit 
civitates has' : 

pe grete God in his greme bygynne^ on lofte ; 
To wakan wedere3 so wylde f>e wynde} he calle3, 
And J?ay wrof>ely upwafte and wrastled togcdcr, 
Fro fav/re half of f>e folde flytande loude. 
Clowde3 clustered bytwene, kesten up torres, 
pat f>e f>ik f>under-f>rast f>irled hem ofte. 
pe rayn rueled adoun, ridlande j?ikke, 
Of felle flaunkes of fyr and flakes of soufre, 
Al in smolderande smoke smachande ful ille, 
Swe aboute Sodamas and hit syde3 alle, 
Gorde to Gomorra, J?at J?e grounde laused . . . 4 

1 Purity, 629 ff. 

2 'Like a speck of dust in through a church door, so vast were his (the whale's) 
jaws'. Patience, 268. 3 Patience, 302. 

4 'In His anger the great God on high begins; He summons the winds to 
waken storms so wild, and they angrily arose from the four quarters of the earth 
and wrestled together, contending noisily. Clouds massed themselves in the 


Effective though this is, it might become monotonous if it were 
not that the writer soon turns our attention from the upheaval in 
nature to its victims; and this is characteristic of him. He is always 
interested in human beings, or rather, for his sympathy extends to 
animals too, in what is living. In his description of the Flood, there 
is a moving passage on the plight of men and beasts. The animals, 
driven by the waters to seek the heights, 'stared to f>e heven, Rwly 
wyth a loud rurd rored for drede' 1 and, when the floods had risen 
so high that every man saw that he must drown : 

Frende3 fellen in fere and farmed togeder, 

To dry3 her delful destyne and dy3en alle samen ; 

Luf Ioke3 to luf and his leve take3, 

For to end alle at one3 and for ever twynne. 2 

For the characterization of individuals Purity affords little scope, 
though the poet knows more of the character of Lot's wife than 
the Bible told him; but Jonah's character is his main concern in 
Patience, and he rises to the occasion. Incredible as Jonah's 
adventures are (and the poet himself remarks that what happened 
to him would be a wonder, if it were not for the witness of Holy 
Writ) he himself is always credible. This is partly because we are 
told so much that is relatable to common experience, how he 
snores as he lies asleep in the boat and is roused by a kick from a 
sailor, how in his relief at the shade of the gourd he lies lolling 
under it all day not bothering to eat; but it is mainly because he is 
depicted as a consistent character whose speeches and musings 
explain the motives for his actions. When God commands him to 
go to Nineveh to announce its impending destruction, Jonah (in 
the Bible) 'surrexit ut fugeret in Tharsis a facie Domini' ; but the 
poet tells us how he thinks and feels. God tells me, he says to 
himself, that those men are wicked fellows. If I go with that news, 
they will put me in prison and thrust out my eyes. This is a strange 

midst, throwing up towers, which the frequent thunder-bolt pierced again and 
again. The rain of cruel sparks of fire and flakes of sulphur came down, falling 
thick, all in suffocating smoke, evil smelling; it drove round Sodom and all its 
neighbourhood, rushed upon Gomorrah so that the ground gave way. . . .' Purity , 
947 ff. l 'Pitifully, with a loud voice, roared for dread 1 . Purity, 389-90. 

2 * Friends sank together and clung to each other, to suffer their grievous fate 
and die in company. Lover gazes on lover and takes leave, to end in the same 
instant and part for ever.' Purity, 399 ff. 


message for a man to preach among so many and such accursed 
enemies. And he decides to go some other way, where God is not 
looking, 'and perhaps when I am lost, He will leave me alone/ 
In this speech of self -justification Jonah shows himself petulantly 
and stupidly rebellious, and later, when God has taken pity on the 
Ninevites and forgiven them, the poet rearranges and amplifies the 
Biblical version of Jonah's protest so that his words have the same 
ring of testy self-justification. Here, and elsewhere in this poem, 
the poet shows/ a mastery of colloquial speech a feature which 
also distinguishes Sir Gazvain. ^Vhen God asks Jonah why he is so 
disturbed at the withering of the gourd, * Why art f>ou so waymot, 1 
wy3e, 2 for so lyttle?', Jonah's 'Hit is not lyttel' 3 is exactly right. 

The passages that have been quoted prove that the poet can 
vary his style with the occasion. He is no untutored versifier 
writing as he must. Though(the homilies have not the accomplished 
artistry of Sir Gawain and Pearl, the same resources and many 
of the same qualities are discernible in them.) The vocabulary of 
Purity is as wide and as varied in kind as in either of the greater 
poems and it is handled with the same boldness; words are used 
figuratively or with an eye to their associations, old phrases are 
remodelled or applied in fresh contexts. It was apparently from 
the common medieval phrase 'hound of heir that the writer 
evolved the striking first line of his description of hell opening to 
receive the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah: 

For when J?at f>e helle herde J?e hounde} of heven 
He wat3 ferlyly fayn, unfolded bylyue. 4 

His handling of words indicates a training in the art of rhetoric and, 
in fact, the homilies, like the other poems, bear many signs of this. 
Sometimes his fondness for rhetorical 'colours' results in effects 
too obviously sought after for present taste^)as in the lines: 

pat he fylsened f>e faythful in f>e falce lawe 
To for fare f>e falce in J?e fay the trwe. 5 

1 'sad*. 2 'man'. 3 Patience, 492-3. 

4 'For when Hell heard the hounds of Heaven, it was wonderfully glad and 
opened up quickly.' Purity, 961-2. 

5 'So that He helped those who were faithful to the false religion to destroy 
those who were false to the true faith.' Purity, 1167-8. 


But the careful introductions to both poems, and the neat transi- 
tions show what he had learnt from that branch of the art which 
has to do with arrangement (dispositio), and in Purity he makes a 
very effective use of the device of repetition. The ideas contained 
in the Beatitude which is its text are kept constantly in the mind by 
the recurrence of the words 'clannesse', 'clene' and their opposites, 
and by the frequent use, generally at the end of a section or a story, 
of varied phrases representing the words 'Deum videbunt' ; and at 
the end of the poem these are combined, as they were in the text at 
the beginning. The effect is not unlike that of a leading motif in 
music, and has something in common with the use of the refrain in 

The treatment of the metre in Patience and Purity has marked 
affinities with that of Sir Gawain, though there are some differences 
in detail. ;In all of them the lines tend to be of even length, 
unstressed syllables being used with moderation. The verse is thus 
more regular, and at the same time weightier, than, for instance, 
that of Piers Plowman; and at times, notably in some descriptive 
passages, its weightiness is increased by the poet's use of more than 
the necessary amount of alliteration. *yThe tendency in Patience and 
Purity for the long lines to be grouped in fours seems to indicate a 
hankering after some sort of stanza form; in Sir Gawain and the 
Green Knight a stanza has been achieved by other means. 

The Gawain stanza consists of a varying nunjber of alliterative 
long lines terminated by five short rhyming lines)(the 'bob and the 
wheel'),/ So far as is known, it is unique though related to other 
stanza forms which employ the alliterative long line ; but, if the poet 
did not invent it himself, he was fully alive to its potentialities. 
For the most part he develops his story in the leisurely long lines, 
using the crisp, rapid lines of the 'bob and wheel' for special 
purposes, to sum uo or conclude a part of the action, 1 for gnomic 
comments upon it^not unlike some in Beowulf (562 ff.),^and for 
remarks that need to be given special force or point (22#o)Xlt is 
noticeable that it is in the last, specially emphatic, line of the * wheel' 
that we are told the most surprising fact about the mysterious 

1 487 ff., 991 ff. 


visitor to Arthur's hall that he was 'oueral enkergreneW 1 The poet 
adapts his long lines to a wide variety of effects ; his management 
of subtle and witty conversation in this seemingly unsuitable 
medium shows exceptional metrical skill. There is a danger, with 
a stanza that ends so emphatically, thatUhe narrative might seem' 
to move in a series of jerks, but this effect is minimized by varying 
the length of the stanzas so that their ends can often be made to 
coincide with natural pauses, and further counteracted by the 
device, common in alliterative poetry, of linking the stanzas by 
repetition. Here this device is unobtrusively used, and in varied 
forms; an idea, a word, or the alliteration is caught up by the first 
line of a stanza from some line in the preceding 'wheel*. The 
repeats are not carried mechanically right through the poem, but 
there are enough of them to impart a sense of continuity. , Jl 

The subtle variations of common practices seen in the metre 
of Sir Gawain are characteristic of the poem in every aspect. It is, 
of course, immediately recognizable as a romance. Its strange and 
thrilling story, its setting, the preoccupations of the characters, 
are all of a kind to satisfy the taste of a reader of romances. It even 
displays such minor features of the romances as the call for atten- 
tion, the list of famous knights, the references to the 'book' whence 
the story came. ButSthe differences between Sir Gawain and most 
Middle English romances are striking^ It is no simple tale of 
adventure and love, but the story of a test of character for which 
adventure and love-making provide the means. This in itself 
would give the poem a unity uncommon in romances, but, in 
addition, the poet concentrates on one adventure of his hero, avoid- 
ing the temptation to dwell on others, though he mentions them. 

On the other hand, v the plot of his chosen episode is complex, 
combining two stories, known as the Beheading Game and the 
Temptation, whichTare found only^separately in earlier works. jQThe 
poem opens with the first of theses On New Year's Day a terrifying 
visitor to Arthur's court, the Green Knight, makes a challenge, 
offering to let any man strike him a blow on condition that he may 
give one in return a year hence. iThe challenge is accepted by 
Gawain, and he cuts off the Gren Knight's head. The Green 

1 'bright green all over*. 


Knight picks it up, and, as he departs, the head speaks to C^awain, 
bidding him come to the Green Chapel for the return blo\^.\ Jn due 
time Gawain sets out, and on Christmas Eve he arrives at the 
castle of a lord called Bertilak. Here the second story (the Tempta- 
tion) is introduced. Bertilak persuades Gawain to stay till New 
Year's morning, and proposes that for three days he shall go out 
hunting while Gawain rests in the castle; at the end of each 
day, they shall exchange their winnings. Each day Gawain is 
visited by Bertilak's wife, who offers him her love. He evades her 
offers as courteously as he can, but accepts the kisses she gives him. 
On the third day she persuades him to accept a green girdle which 
will preserve his life in the forthcoming ordeah The kisses, and the 
game which Bertilak has captured in his hunting, are duly ex- 
changed each evening; but Gawain says nothing about the green 
girdle. > 

x The first story is taken up again when Gawain leaves the castle 
for the Green Chapel. There the Green Knight appears, makes two 
feints at Gawain with his axe, and the third time wounds him 
slightly. Gawain protests that he has had all that ,was in the bar- 
gain and more, but the Green Knight rebukes him, explaining that 
he is Bertilak, the lord of the castle and knows all about the happen- 
ings ther^.\JThe two feints were for the first two days when Gawain 
resisted all temptation, but the light blow was for the day when he 
accepted the girdle. Gawain curses himself for his cowardice and 
covetousness, but the Green Knight says that his full acknowledge- 
ment of his fault has absolved him, and explains that the whole 
was an enchantment devised by Morgan le Fay to try the honour of 
the Round Table and to make Guinevere tremble^Gawain returns 
to Arthur's court wearing the green girdle as a baldric in memory 
of his transgression, but the court 4ecidcs that henceforth it shall 
be worn by all in honour of him. / 

( Both stories, it will be observed, present a testf-^-thc first of 
courage and fidelity to the plighted word, the second primarily of 
chastity, though loyalty to the host and fidelity are involved, and 
Gawain^s courtesy, the quality for which he was famous, is also 
tested. jThe combination of the v two, results, therefore, in a com- 
prehensive test of knightly virtue,) There is{ in this poem, no mere 


lip-service to the ideals of chivalry; its purpose is to expound 
them by illustration] and as it proceeds we become aware that to 
live up to them requires constant vigilance and self-discipline, and, 
in the last resort, divine protectionj^The first concern of the poem 
is thus with conduct; that is, it is moral in the true sense of the 
word. J 

f The attitude in the poem towards the art of love is interesting. 
The lady of the castle thinks (or pretends to think) that Gawain's 
reluctance to make love to her is unexpected and even unnatural 1 
and, in spite of his disclaimers, he does know how to speak the 
language of love and is not, therefore, quite as ignorant of the art 
as he tries to make out. But he regards the love which the lady 
offers and demands as a sin, a temptation to be guarded against. 2 . 
At no point in the poem is there any trace of the idea, stressed for 
example in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and common among 
apologists for Courtly Love that love is an ennobling force, the 
source of knightly virtues. It is significant of Gawain's attitude, 
and perhaps of the poet's, that when the lady says she would choose 
him above all others for her lord, he replies *3e haf waled wel 
better' ^ for to recommend a husband as more desirable than a 
lover is hardly in accordance with the usual canons of Courtly 
Love,\Tt is also significant that, while there is much talk of love at 
Bertilak's castle, which is a place of temptation, there is none in 
Arthur's court, which is not) Clearly( the poet has made his own 
choice among the qualities customarily held to beproper to a knight, 
and his choice accords with Christian morality. ) 

Yet, jnoral as the poem is, the poet rarely moralizes. His con- 
ception of the Christian gentleman is conveyed through the actions 
and speeches of the characters and, in particular, of Gawain. At the 
same time none of the characters is a mere peg on which to hang 
a moral, like Chaucer's Griselde/From the first swift sketch of 
Arthur : 

He wat3 so joly of his joyfnes, and sumquat childgered: 
His lif liked him Iy3t, he louied f>e lasse 

1 1509 ff. 

2 1549-51, 1774-5- 

3 'You have chosen much better* (1276). 


AuJ?er to longe lye or to longe sitte, 

So bisied him his 3onge blod and his brayn wylde - 

we feel ourselves in the presence of living flesh and blood. The 
preposterous visitor, green (the |Faj^ (gJour) from top to toe and 
riding a green horse, huge and 'aghlich', 2 is mysterious enough 
at first, but he gradually takes shape as the poet minutely describes 
his appearance, his clothes, his horse and its trappings; and his 
speech and his movements completely establish him as a living 
being. It is impossible to doubt his reality when, his challenge 
uttered, he stands awaiting the blow and : 

Wyth sturne schere f>er he stod he stroked his berde, 
And \vyth a countenaunce dry3e he dro3 doun his cote. 3 

But his reality does not make his behaviour any the less alarming, 
and, as he rushes out of the hall, carrying his head in his hand, 
there is such a sudden relaxation of tension that we are not sur- 
prised when Arthur and Ga^ain find relief in laughter: 'At };>at 
grene 4 f>ay Ia3e and grenne.' } 

*, Xjawain is, naturally, more fully drawn than any other character. 
Not only do we observe him ourselves, we are told how he im- 
pressed other people in the story and how he himself thought and 
felt. We see him behaving, as all expect him to do, with exquisite 
courtesy; but we also see what is not apparent to the other 
characters, that such behaviour docs not always come easily to 
him. All the time that he is parrying the lady's advances, we are 
aware that he feels himself to be on a knife-edge between dis- 
courtesy and compliance : 

For J?at pryncece of pris depresed hym so J^ikke, 
Nurned hym so ne3e f>e f>red, f>at nede hym bihoued 
Of>er lach f>er hir luf, of>er lodly refuse. 
He cared for his cortaysye, lest craf>ayn he were, / 
And more for his meschef, 3if he schulde make synnel 

~j l 'He was so gay in his youthfulness and somewhat boyish: he liked a merry 
fife and cared the less either to lie long or sit long; so his young blood and wild 
brain stirred him' (86-89). ~ 'terrible'. 

3 'With grim countenance, as he stood there, he stroked his beard, and, with 
unmoved face, he drew down his coat* (334-5). 
s-^* 'green one', i.e. the Green Knight (464). 
^ ' 5 'For that noble lady (princess) pressed him so hard, urged him so near the 


So, too,(we see, behind the actions that proclaim his courage, his 
inward fears and anxieties. Throughout his stay in Bertilak's 
castle his mind is continually occupied with the perilous meeting 
at the Green Chapel. He is worried lest he may not arrive in time, 
and, very naturally, he is fearful about what will happen to him 
there. He has bad dreams and sleeps little on the night before he is 
to set out)When he agrees to accept the lady's gift of the green 
girdle that will preserve his life, and promises to keep it secret, 
we understand how he came to do so because we have shared the 
anxiety that brought him to it) But justice would not be done if, at 
the end, when the Green Knight reveals his knowledge of Gawain's 
fault, we were still to feel with Gawain and w r ere to concur in the 
bitter condemnation which he heaps upon himself. So here we are 
given another and less biased point of view when the Green Knight 
proclaims him: 'On p>e fautlest freke ]?at euer on fote 3ede'; x and 
this judgement is confirmed for us when Arthur's court decrees 
that the green girdle shall be worn ever after as a sign of honour. 
Thus, by the double process of revealing his hero's mind and 
letting other persons in the story comment upon him, the poet 
makes us judge his hero's character and conduct as he \vould have 
us do. But this alone would not make Gawain the intensely vital 
figure that we feel him to be. It is what he says and does that gives 
this impression. The poet has an unusually sharp eye for move- 
ments that are natural, or specially significant, at thje moment 
when they are made. 'Now take your grim weapon, and let's see 
how you deal a blow', cries the Green Knight to Gawain. 'Gladly, 
sir', he replies, and 'his ax he strokes'. On the occasion of the lady's 
first visit, it is by a series of slight movements that the poet brings 
the whole scene to life. Gawain is lying in bed : 

And as he slipped in and out of sleep, he heard a little noise, warily, 
at his door and heard it quickly open. And he lifted up his head out of 
the bed-clothes and pulled up a corner of the curtain a little and warily 
looked out to see what it might be. It was the lady, very fair to see, who 
drew the door after her softly and secretly, and moved towards the bed. 

limit (thread), that he must needs either accept her love there or rudely refuse. 
He was anxious for his courtesy, lest he should behave like a villain, and more 
for his own harm if he were to commit sin . . .' (17704). 
1 'One of the most faultless men that ever walked* (2363). 


And the man was embarrassed and stealthily lay down and behaved as 
if he were asleep (1182-90).] 

When he speaks, Gawain's tone varies with the occasion. Naturally 
courteous in speech, he is exaggeratedly so in his request to Arthur 
to be allowed to accept the Green Knight's challenge (343), for 
Arthur's prestige has suffered from the insulting behaviour of the 
Green Knight. In his polite answers to the lady there is something 
laboured, though he can make some neat counterstrokes. There 
are, too, some subtle indications that with each of her visits, he is 
a little less on his guard ; he addresses her rather more intimately, 
and once, during the third visit, he slips from the formal plural 
(ye, you) into the familiar singular : 

I wolde I hade here , 
pe leuest f>ing for f>y luf f>at I in londe welde. 1 

As he exchanges jests with Bertilak in the castle he affects a 
hearty tone ; but when he meets him as the Green Knight at the 
Green Chapel he speaks without ceremony and very much to the 

The background against which the characters play their parts 
is always concretely presented; and this writer, like other allitera- 
tive poets, is lavish with his details. The three hunts, Gawain's 
armour, the clothes he was given at the castle, and even the 
cushions placed on his chair all these, and much more, are 
minutely described. For the most part, the things the poet chooses 
to describe are those elaborated by other romance writers ; but he 
had a mind stored with unusually vivid memories of sight and 
sound; and he knew how to select the telling details and phrases 
that would convey them. The cold weather is made sensible by 
the reference to 'mony brydde3 vnblyf>e 2 . . . pat pitosly f>er 
piped for pyne of f>e colde' (746-7). A brief simile sets before 
us the whole elaborate structure of Bertilak's castle standing out 
against the sky: 'pared out of papure 3 purely hit semed' (802). In 
many of the descriptions there is movement. In the hunting 
scenes, the ceaseless activity of the hunted animals, of the men and 

1 'I wish I had here the most precious thing I possess on earth, for love of thee* 

2 'unhappy*. 3 'cut out of paper'. 


the hounds, conveys all the excitement of the chase. Like Chaucer, 
the poet can give the impression of a number of people doing 
different things at the same time, and both in Arthur's hall and 
in Bertilak's castle, though our chief attention is on the main 
characters, we are conscious of the bustling life that goes on around 

In description, as in most else, the poet varies his method of 
presentation. Sometimes he uses comparison, as in the description 
of the two ladies in the castle : 

Bot vnlyke on to loke f>o ladyes were, 
For if f>e 3onge wat3 3ep, 3ol3e wat3 pat of>er ; 
Riche red on f>at on rayled ayquere, ^ 
Rugh ronkled cheke3 J?at of>er on rolled. * 

Sometimes, instead of an objective account, he describes things as 
they appeared to the hero, as in the long account of Bertilak's 
castle, first seen in the distance, shining and shimmering through 
the great oaks that surround it. Coming up to it, Gawain finds the 
drawbridge up and the gates fast shut. He stops and notices first 
the deep double moat, the stone walls going down into the water 
and rising thence a huge height up to the cornices. Then, his eyes 
having travelled to the top, he sees the watch-towers, and, farther 
in, the hall and a mass of towers, pinnacles, chimneys, and roofs. 
The details are presented in the order in which they would appear 
to a man arriving at the castle. 

Most of the descriptions of nature are related to Gawain in some 
way or other. Gawain is lying sleepless in bed, thinking of the 
coming day's meeting with the Green Knight, while 

pe snawe snitered ful snart, f>at snayped J?e wylde; 
J)e werbelande wynde wapped fro f>e hy3e, 
And drof vche dale ful of dryftes ful grete'; 2 

and the foul weather sharpens his fears, and ours for him. The 


_ l 'But unlike in appearance were those ladies; for if the younger was fresh, 
the other was yellow; a brilliant complexion adorned the one; rough wrinkled 
cheeks hung in folds on the other* (950-3). 

2 'The snow whipped down very sharply, and nipped the wild creatures 
cruelly, the whistling wind blew from the heights and drove each valley full of 
great drifts* (2003-5). 

6699 G 


description of the seasons at the beginning of Part II, conventional 
enough in some of its details, serves a double purpose. It introduces 
a fresh section of the story, as similar passages do in the romance of 
Kyng Aly sounder and elsewhere; and, prefaced by the warning, 

A 3ere ^ernes full 3erne, and 3elde3 neuer lyke, 
pe forme to J?e fynisment folde3 ful selden, 1 ' 

it suggests the rapid passing of the year's respite granted to 
Gawain. It is thus another example of the poet's power of turning 
to fresh account something that is familiar, as a result of which the 
familiar does not stale his work, but enriches it by the associations 
it bring^ 

To play upon associations of all kinds is natural to this poet, and 
his magic in large part depends on it, especially in Pearl. In Sir 
Gawain it is perhaps chiefly by the words he chooses that he calls 
up the associations he wants. In the central part of the story, for 
instance, he alternates between the technical terms of hunting, 
which would claim the serious attention of those skilled in the 
sport, and the equally technical terms of love-making. But it is 
the words belonging to the alliterative tradition that are most 
effectively used in this poem. When the poet wishes to curdle the 
blood by indefinable terrors, he chooses ancient words belonging 
to the vocabulary of alliterative poetry. The Green Knight, he 
thinks, might be 'half etayn'. 2 The dread creatures which Gawain 
encountered on his journey (and which the poet does not want to 
delay over) are swiftly conveyed by words Iike < worme3 >3 'wodwos', 4 
and, again, *etayne3*: 

Sumwhyle wyth worme3 he werre3, and with wolues als, 
Sumwhyle wyth wodwos, f>at woned in f>e knarre3 ; 
Bo}?e wyth bulle3 and bere3, and bore3 of>erquyle,_ 
And etayne3, f>at hym anelede of f>e he3e felle. 5 ) 

1 'A year runs full swiftly and never brings back the same thing; the begii ning 
seldom accords with the end* (498-9). 

2 'giant', with a strong suggestion of the supernatural; OE. eoten. In Beowulf 
catenas are among the evil brood descended from Cain. 

3 'dragons', the wyrmas of OE. poetry. 

4 'wood-trolls', OE. wudu-wasa. 

' <5 'Sometimes he fights with dragons, and with wolves too, sometimes with 
trolls that dwelt in the crags; both with bulls and bears and at other times with 
boars, and with giants that snorted after him from the high fell' (720-3). 


With all the wealth of detail that is to be found in every part of 
the poem, there is never any lack of control/ On the contrary, the 
poet has succeeded in fashioning a narrative not merely unified 
but cunningly and satisfyingly shaped. The fourfold division sug- 
gested by the larger capitals and the flourishes in the manuscript, 
brings into relief the essential features of the story : the challenge 
and Gawain's acceptance of it, his journey and arrival at Bertilak's 
castle, the temptation, the second meeting with the Green Knight; 
but, w r here the breaks might be too disrupting, the parts are linked 
by passages giving warning of what is to come. 

These passages are one of the means by which the poet creates 
and maintains a feeling of tension which he heightens and brings 
to its climax in Part III. The theme of the Beheading Game is kept 
in the reader's consciousness throughout, even when the second 
theme of the Temptation occupies the foreground. The skill with 
which, in the last two parts, the two are kept running concurrently, 
each being brought to the fore at the right moment, can justly be 
placed to the credit of the Gawain poet, even if, as many believe, 
he knew a French poem which combined them. For, unless 
the English is a mere literal translation (and it can hardly be 
this) there are many possibilities of going astray in so delicate a 

Yet there is a good deal more to the ordering of the poem than 
this. The poet has produced, as it were, an internal and an external 
order at the same time. While the character and actions of the hero 
give coherence and meaning to the events of the story, making of 
them a unified narrative, the events are also so ordered as to pro- 
duce something of the effect of a pattern. This 'patterning' is made 
by the parallelism of incident or description ; it is most obvious, 
of course, in the scenes at Bertilak's castle, where it is also most 
complex. The parallelism between the three hunts and the three 
visits of the lady, and also that between Gawain's blow on New 
Year's Day and the Green Knight's on the same day a year later, 
may have been provided by the poet's source, though nothing 
exactly like them is known elsewhere. But, even so, there are 
others, less likely to be in any source. The action of the poem ends 
as it began, with a scene in Arthur's court, preceded in the one 


case and followed in the other by a similarly worded reference to 
Brutus and the siege of Troy. Gawain's ordeal is preceded and 
followed by an adventurous journey, though because the climax 
of the story is over, his journey home is much more lightly sketched. 
There is some parallel between Gawain's arrival at Bertilak's 
court, and the festivities that follow, and the festivities at Arthur's 
court and the arrival of the Green Knight. But this is an extreme 
instance of the combination of similarity of theme and dissimilarity 
of detail which marks all the parallels ; indeed, in some ways these 
two descriptions are rather the antithesis of one another, since, for 
the defiance and insolence of the Green Knight we have the courtesy 
of Sir Gawain, and for the terrified hostility of Arthur's court, the 
genial friendliness of Bertilak and his household. This sort of 
effect has its nearest analogy in music and can give the same kind 
of pleasure as variations on a musical theme. It is undoubtedly an 
outcome of rhetorical teaching, but it is rare to find among Middle 
English poets one who knows how to make organic use of this 

It is easy to relate most things in this poem to various sources 
and influences, it may be that the combination in it of some of the 
best things in the alliterative tradition with some of the best in 
French romance makes for its richness of texture as compared with 
most other Middle English romances. But there is a limit to what 
can reasonably be attributed to any outside influence. It was not 
from literature that the poet learned the delicacy of touch with 
which he handles the scenes between Gawain aud the lady, or the 
understanding of human feeling shown in the blustering words of 
Gawain as he hears the Green Knight whetting his axe behind the 
rock. Gawain has not yet seen him and is not sure precisely what 
the noise is, and he speaks half fearfully, half ironically : 

'Bi Godde', quof> Gawayn, 'f>at gere, as I trowe, 
Is ryched at f>e reuerence me, renk, to mete 
bi rote/ 1 

Such things are not to be explained, they can only be remarked and 

1 'By God', said Gawain, 'that contraption, I believe, is meant for a saluta- 
tion, to meet me, by the way* (2205-7). 


enjoyed; and this poem is fuller of them than any contemporary 
work save that of Chaucer. 

A comparison with Chaucer is not, indeed, wholly to the dis- 
advantage of the lesser-known poet, for he surpasses Chaucer in 
some things in architectonics, for instance, and perhaps in natural 
description and, though his range is narrow, within it he shows 
himself a subtle delineator of character. In outlook he is as civilized 
as Chaucer, but sterner, much more of a moralist, a great deal less 
of a humorist. But there is humour of a sort in his presentation 
of the Green Knight's play-acting in Arthur's hall, and in some of 
Gawain's rueful remarks; and the poet has some of Chaucer's 
capacity for seeing his story and his characters from both inside and 
out, so that his readers can sympathize with the hero and at the 
same time see him and his doings in perspective. 

in. Pearl 

Pearl stands much farther apart from other Middle English 
writings than Sir Gawain. Though its form is influenced by the 
familiar dream convention, and though it is thoroughly medieval 
in spirit and workmanship, yet as a whole it is unlike any other 
Middle English poem. In some respects it is nearer to Lycidas than 
to anything else in English, for without prejudice to the con- 
troversial question of whether or not Pearl is an elegy it begins, 
like Lycidas, by lamenting a loss; from this the poet is led on to 
consider certain spiritual and moral problems, and he finally 
reaches understanding and acceptance of God's will. Like Lycidas ', 
Pearl is cast in a conventional literary form, is built with scrupulous 
artistry and expressed in highly charged language language, that 
is, selected and ordered for particular ends. Though the differences 
between the two poems are, of course, many and important, they 
are essentially of the same order. 

So far as Pearl is concerned, there is much in this statement that 
needs justification, and it would be well to begin by outlining the 
poem as impartially as possible. It opens with praise of the pearl 
which the poet has lost in an 'erbere', 1 and he tells how, on going 
back to the spot, he finds it covered with so many sweet flowering 

1 'herb garden'. 


plants that he is overpowered by their fragrance and falls asleep. 
He passes in spirit into a marvellous country and, on the other side 
of a river, he perceives a maiden clad in gleaming white garments 
set with pearls. He recognizes her: 'I knew hyr wel, I hade sen 
hyr ere', 1 'Ho wat3 me nerre f>en aunte or nece' ; 2 and he begins to 
question her: 'What fate has carried away my jewel and plunged 
me in such grief?' (249-50). The maiden rebukes him, saying that 
he has no cause for grief, for, though she was but young when she 
departed, her Lord the Lamb took her in marriage and crowned 
her queen. 

The dreamer cannot believe this, for surely Mary is the Queen 
of Heaven. But the maiden explains that in heaven no one dis- 
possesses any other, and all are kings and queens; and then, as he 
protests that she is too young to be a queen, she relates the parable 
of the workers in the vineyard to show that the first shall be last, 
and the last first. The dreamer still protests, for this means that 
he who works less receives more. The maiden replies that there is 
no question of more or less in God's kingdom; His grace is enough 
for all. The sinner who repents finds grace, why not the innocent 
who never sinned? 'When such knock there upon the dwelling, 
quickly shall the gate be unlatched for them, (727-8). In the king- 
dom of heaven is endless bliss, the pearl of great price, which the 
merchant sold all that he had to purchase. In answer to the 
dreamer's further questions, he is permitted to see the New Jeru- 
salem and, in the streets of it, a procession headed by the Lamb. In 
the throng that follows Him he sees his 'lyttel quene'. 

Longing to be with her, he is about to start into the stream, but 
he suddenly awakes, to find himself back in the 'erbere'. Though 
full of grief at his banishment from the fair country of his vision, 
he cries : 

If hit be ueray and soth sermoun, 
pat f>ou so stryke} i n garlande gay, 
So wel is me in f>ys doel-doungoun, 
pat f>ou art to f>at Prynse3 paye. 3 

1 'I knew her well, I had seen her before' (164). 

2 'She was nearer to me than aunt or niece' (233). 

3 'If it is indeed sober truth that thou movest thus in a gay garland, then I am 
content, in this prison of grief, that thou art to the Prince's pleasure' (1185-8). 


He reflects that, had he been more submissive to God's will, he 
might have come to know more of His mysteries, and he ends by 
offering up his vision to God, praying that God may 'grant us to be 
the servants of His household and precious pearls for His pleasure'. 

This summary is perhaps sufficient to suggest the nature of the 
appeal made by Pearl, but it cannot convey the qualities which 
make it an outstanding example of poetic art. 

In this poem, as in all great poems, form and content are not 
separable; and both are evident alike in the smallest detail and in 
the conception and shaping of the whole. 

As in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the matter of Pearl is 
ordered so as to form a pattern. Naturally the means by which this 
is done here differ from those employed in the narrative poem, and 
the pattern is all-embracing, as it is not in Sir Gawain, Of the 
twenty equal sections of the poem 1 the first four are mainly devoted 
to presenting the dreamer's state of mind and to description of the 
dream-country and of Pearl herself; argument and exposition 
occupy the central twelve sections, and the last four again contain 
description, this time of the New Jerusalem, and end with the 
poet's reflections. This pattern is emphasized by the echoing of 
the first line of the poem, Terle, plesaunte to prynces paye', 2 
in the last, 'Ande precious perle3 vnto his pay'. The metrical 
scheme, which subdivides the poem into smaller sections and at 
the same time links all its parts into a continuous sequence, forms 
a second pattern, subsidiary to the main one but concurrent with 
it. There are 101 stanzas of twelve four-stressed lines, rhyming 
ababababbcbc. Two or more of the stresses are usually 
marked by alliteration. The stanzas fall into groups of five, the 
same refrain being used in the last line of each of the five, and it is 
thus that the poem is divided into the twenty equal sections, 
though section XV, exceptionally, contains six stanzas. A key- 
word or phrase in the refrain is always echoed in the first line of 
the following stanza ; this means that the sections arc linked to one 
another, since a significant word is repeated, in the first line of each 
new section, from the refrain of the preceding one. The echo 

1 Indicated by initial capitals in the manuscript. 

2 'Pearl, a precious thing for the Prince's pleasure'. 


between the first and last lines of the poem gives the effect of a 
completed circle, intended perhaps to suggest the idea of the pearl, 
which in 1. 738 is called *endele3 rounde'. 1 

The same stanza form, and the linking, are found elsewhere in 
Middle English, in some lyrics in the Vernon MS. for instance; 
but nowhere else is there anything like this complex scheme, nor 
is the stanza handled with such mastery. This poet makes good 
use of the natural break after the eighth line, and, within the line, 
he allows himself freedom in the use of alliteration and varies the 
rhythm and the number of syllables. Thus, within the rigid 
metrical scheme of the whole, the line, its smallest unit, is flexible. 
The following stanzas, one descriptive, one argumentative, illustrate 
some of these characteristics. They also illustrate what appears to 
be a general practice, the greater use of alliteration in description : 

The dubbemente of f>o derworth depe 
Wern bonke3 bene of beryl bry3t ; 
Swangeande swete f>e water con swepe, 
Wyth a rownande rourde raykande ary3t ; 
In }>e founce f>er stonden stone3 stepe, 
As glente f>ur3 glas f>at glowed and gly3t ; 
As stremande sterne3, quen strode men slepe, 
Staren in welkyn in wynter ny3t; 
For vche a pobbel in pole J?er py3t 
Watz emerad, saffer, of>er gemme gente, 
pat alle f>e Io3e lemed of Iy3t, 
So dere wat3 hit adubbement. 2 

Grace innogh )?e mon may haue 
pat synne3 J?enne new, 3if him repente, 
Bot wyth sor3 and syt he mot hit craue, 
And byde f>e payne f>erto is bent. 
Bot resoun of ry3t, f>at con not raue, 
Saue3 euermore f>e innossent ; 
Hit is a dom fat neuer God gaue, 

1 'endlessly round*. 

2 'The beauties of those precious deeps [i.e. deep waters] were pleasant banks 
of bright beryl; swinging softly, the water swept with a whispering voice, flowing 
straight on. In the depth there lay bright stones that glowed and glittered like 
lights through glass; shimmering like stars, which, while men on earth are 
sleeping, gleam in the heavens on a winter night. For every pebble set there in 
the pool was an emerald, sapphire or precious gem, so that all the water shim- 
mered with light, so splendid was its adornment* (109-20). 


pat euer J>e gyltle} schulde be schente. 
pe gyltyf may contryssyoun hente, 
And be f>ur3 mercy to grace ]>ry^t ; 
Bot he to gyle )?at neuer glente, 
As innoscente is saf by ry3te. J 

The refrains are the most difficult part of this scheme to manage, 
but on the whole the poet is amazingly successful with them. Often 
they appear to fit naturally into his train of thought, but when 
necessary he will vary them slightly. The emphasis which certain 
words receive from so much repetition is rarely misplaced; indeed, 
most of the reiterated words and phrases are so essential to the 
poem as a whole that, taken in order, they almost form a key to 
its contents. There are some sections, certainly, in which the 
repetition seems mechanical, and others in which the meaning of 
the repeated word or phrase has to be ingeniously stretched to fit 
every context in which it is used. Yet the poet can make a poetic 
virtue even of this kind of ingenuity, or of something very closely 
akin to it. In Section VIII the refrain word 'cortasye', is used to 
mean, not only 'courtesy', 'courtliness', but 'generosity', 'benevo- 
lence', and, as critics have pointed out, it is sometimes almost a 
synonym for 'grace' (divine favour or condescension). No one of 
these meanings fits every context in this section, but the poet uses 
now one, now another, while keeping all the time some reflection 
of the basic meanings 'courtliness', 'courtesy', and its implications. 
This is achieved by the use of many words such as 'queen', 'king', 
'emperor', 'empress', 'court' which are naturally associated with 
'courtliness' and 'courtesy'. So the lesson of Section VII that 
though Mary is Queen of Heaven, she is also Queen of Courtesy, 
and none who comes there is, or feels himself to be, dispossessed, 
but each is 'king and queen by courtesy' is doubly conveyed by 
clear statement which can be intellectually apprehended and by all 
the associations of the word 'courtesy'. 

1 'Grace enough may that man have who sins afresh, if he will repent; but 
with sorrow and lamentation he must crave it and endure the pain that is bound 
with it. But Reason, Who cannot swerve from justice, evermore saves the inno- 
cent. It is a judgment that God never gave that ever the innocent should be 
discomfited. The guilty man may cling to contrition and by mercy be drawn 
back to grace but he who never turned aside to sin, being innocent is saved by 
right' (661-72, emending MS. at to as, and MS. & to by in the last line.) 


Such exploitation of the association of words is a marked feature 
of the whole poem and takes many forms, from mere word-play, 
dependent on similarity of sound, as in the line 'So is hys mote 
wythouten moote', 1 to the vividly metaphorical language of the 
following lines : 

I loked among his meyny schene 
How ]?ay wyth lyf wern laste and lade 2 

or of these : 

For ]?o3 J?ou daunce as any do, 
Braundysch and bray f>y braj?e3 breme, 
When j?ou no fyrre may, to ne fro, 
pou moste abyde f>at he schal deme. 3 

Some words already have poetic or literary associations which are 
of value to the context in which they are used. So, 'douth', having 
dignified associations from its use in old heroic poetry, but having 
lost the precise significance of the Old English 'd^uj?', 4 is at once 
impressive and mysterious enough to be used of the hosts of hell, 
earth, and heaven that gaze upon the Lamb (839-10). In writing of 
his longing for the Pearl the poet evokes, by % the word 'luf- 
daungere', 5 memories of the separation of lovers, and of the love- 
longing so often described by poets of the Roman de la Rose 
tradition. Especially in descriptive passages, his phrasing is full of 
echoes; and it is here that they have most value, for in all his 
descriptions the poet is attempting to present something trans- 
cending ordinary human experience. In the description of the 
maiden, he calls to his aid conceptions of feminine beauty by using 
terms from the romances, and throughout the opening descriptions 
there are reminiscences, verbal and otherwise, of the Garden of 
Love in the Roman de la Rose. The flowers on the spot where Pearl 
was lost are, like those in the Garden of Love, fragrant spices 

1 'So is His dwelling without spot' (948). 

2 'I gazed among His radiant following [and saw] how they were loaded and 
weighed down with life' (1145-6). 

3 'For, though you skip about like any doe, rush to and fro, and bray out 
your fierce wrath, when you can go no further, forwards or backwards, you must 
put up with what He decrees' (345-8). 

4 'a band of noble retainers'. 

5 'separation in love' (i i). 'Danger', in the Roman de la Rose, comes between 
the lover and the beloved. 


known for their healing properties; and the trees, the birds, the 
river of the country of the poet's vision could not fail to remind his 
readers of that beautiful garden. Yet the details the 'flaumbande 
hwe3 M of the birds, the tree-trunks 'blwe as ble of ynde', 2 the 
emeralds, sapphires, and other gems that lie at the bottom of the 
stream are peculiar to this description and less realistic than those 
in the Roman\ for this land is more remote from normal experience 
than the Garden of Love and surpasses it in beauty. At one point 
the poet compares the banks of the river to 'fyldor fyn', 3 normally 
associated with jewellery or, in simile, with golden hair, and the 
effect of this fantastic comparison is to convey the splendour of 
the banks and at the same time their unreality. To the modern 
inind, however, the associations with nature evoked by some of the 
poet's similes are probably more effective the comparison, for 
instance, of the precious stones glinting through the water to stars 
that shine on a winter night, 4 or of the sudden appearance of the 
procession of Virgins to the rising of the moon : 

Ry3t as f>e maynful mone con rys 
Er f>enne f>e day-glem dryue al doun, 
So sodanly on a wonder wyse 
I wat3 war of a prosessyoun. 5 

More than any secular book it is the Bible that fills the poet's 
mind and imagination. When he describes his distress, 'My herte 
wat3 al wyth mysse remorde, As wallande water got3 out of welle', 6 
he is recalling the Psalmist's 'Sicut aqua effusus sum' ; at the words 
of the Lamb, 'Cum hyder to me, my lemman swete, For mote ne 
spot is non in J?c' (763-4), the maiden is invested with the associa- 
tions of the Song of Songs (*et macula non est in te. Veni de Libano 
sponsa mea . . .'). In the central portion of the poem the poet 
makes constant appeal to the authority of the Bible, buttressing his 
argument by passages drawn from it. The ease with which he 
passes from one part of it to another is an indication both of his 

1 'flaming colours'. 2 'blue as indigo'. 

3 'fine gold thread'. 4 See p. 88. 

5 'Even as the mighty moon rises before the gleam of day has quite descended 
thence, so suddenly, in a miraculous way, I was aware of a procession* (1093-6). 

6 'My heart was all stricken with grief [so that I was] like rushing water 
pouring from a stream' (364-5). 


familiarity with it and of the alert independence of his mind. In 
Section XIV and the beginning of XV, where the maiden is 
replying to the dreamer's question 'Quat kyn f>yng may be f>at 
Lambe?', 1 her answer is a tissue or reminiscences of Isaiah liii, 
of the Gospels, of the Book of Revelation and of other passages, all 
co-ordinated into a coherent and moving statement. 

However closely dependent on the Bible the poet may be, he 
always follows his own line of thought. The parable of the workers 
in the vineyard, which is a close paraphrase of Matthew xx. 1-16, 
is interpreted in a way that is relevant to the argument and, so far 
as is known, unique; and, in the description of the New Jerusalem, 
the poet makes his own choice of details from the Book of Revela- 
tion and presents them in his own order. 

With the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew xiii. 45- 
46), from which the symbolism of the poem largely derives, it is 
not the Bible alone that the poet has in mind, but, in addition, 
various interpretations of it. The parable is alluded to and partly 
paraphrased in 11. 729-32, just after the reference to Jesus calling 
the little children to Him, and the implication would seem to be 
that the precious pearl (the 'spotless pearl' in the words of the 
poem) means innocence. But at the same time it means the kingdom 
of heaven, the reward of innocence, for 11. 729 ff. state explicitly 
that the pearl which the merchant sought is 'the joy that cannot 
cease' which is found in the kingdom of heaven, and in the next 
stanza (Ixii) the maiden shows in what respects the pearl resembles 
that kingdom. She finally identifies it with the pearl she wears 
upon her breast which, she says, her Lord the Lamb placed there 
in token of peace. Of the many interpretations of the pearl of 
great price which might have been familiar to the poet, Gregory's 
statement that 'margarita vero mystice significat . . . dulcitudinem 
coelestis vitae', or that of Petrus Chrysologus that the pearl is 
'vita aeterna', may lie behind his thought here; and there may even 
be a hint at the interpretation, used in Usk's Testament of Love, 
that the pearl of great price means grace. The poet shifts to yet 
another interpretation in the first line of stanza Ixiii, when the 
maiden herself is addressed as the 'spotless pearl'. Here he is 
1 'What kind of thing may that Lamb be?' 


probably thinking of St. Bonaventura's 'Bonae margaritae sunt 
omnes sancti'. It is evident that in this passage the poet is playing 
upon various ideas connected with the pearl of great price in much 
the same way as he plays upon the meanings of the word 'cortasye', 
and he sums up the complex symbolism of the passage in the lines 
which the dreamer addresses to the maiden : 

'O maskele} Perle in perle3 pure, 

pat bere3', quod I, 'f>e perle of prys . . .' x 

It is likely that, to a medieval lover of poetry, many of the 
passages that have been quoted in the preceding pages would have 
conveyed a rather different impression from that which they make 
on a modern critic. While not less alive to their effects, he would 
at the same time have recognized them as examples of the rhetorical 
* figures' and colours which Chaucer's Host begs the Clerk to keep 
till he composes in the 'high style'; and he would have noticed 
many others, for rhetorical devices of all kinds abound in the 
poem. In Pearl, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the whole 
method of composition, including the planning of the poem, is 
determined by the precepts of the rhetoricians. But, again as in 
Sir Gawain, it is not rhetorical doctrine but the poet's artistic 
sense that is the ultimate court of appeal. In some of his descriptive 
passages, where he needs to create an impression of gorgeous 
beauty, he writes in the 'high style* enriching his expression by 
every means he knows ; but when he wishes, he can write simply, 
with few devices, comparatively little alliteration, and few words 
that were not in common use. The paraphrase of the parable of the 
workers in the vineyard is for the most part in this simple style, 
and a comparison of this passage with the description of the dream- 
country makes it possible to answer the criticism that the poet's 
vocabulary is 'faulty in too great copiousness'. It is obvious that 
there is 'copiousness' where it is in place, but not everywhere. 

Another objection might perhaps more legitimately be brought 
against Pearl. It might be argued that a work so meticulously 
wrought must be lacking in vital force, that such close attention to 
form and expression cannot be compatible with the creation of 

1 * "Oh spotless Pearl, in pure pearls, that wears'*, said I, "the pearl of price" * 


poetry that is 'the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge'. To this 
the only answer is a personal one. To many readers, the present 
writer among them, the human emotion manifested in the poem 
appears to be its driving force and its motive. Whether the poet is 
describing his grief, or wrestling in argument, or realizing the joy 
of those who follow the Lamb, there is an urgency and a passionate 
sincerity in his w r riting which forbids one to regard it as a mere 
exercise in the poetic art. This has been widely felt, even though 
there has been no general agreement about the nature of the poet's 
loss or the meaning of his poem. 

These are problems still in dispute, and possibly incapable of 
final solution, since it will not do to argue that, because the poet 
makes us feel a sense of loss, Pearl must represent a real child 
and cannot be the allegorical representation of some virtue or, as 
has even been suggested, of the poet's own soul in a state of per- 
fection. For men have grieved for such losses as much as for the 
loss of a child. Yet, on the whole, it seems most satisfactory to 
assume that the poem was inspired by the death of a loved child, 
not necessarily a daughter or a sister, for the line 'Ho 1 wat3 me 
nerre 2 f>en aunte or nece' need not imply blood-relationship. The 
poet's grief is intensified by his uncertainty about her fate, for she 
died too young to please God by works or even to pray (484). In 
the vision that is granted him, he is convinced, both by argument 
and by the sight of his 'lyttel quene' in the New Jerusalem, that 
she is saved and that she is among those who follow the Lamb; 
and with this reassurance he is able to resign himself to God's will. 

R. Wellek has shown that the child's fate could have presented 
a real problem at the time when Pearl was written. 3 Though belief 
in the salvation of the baptized child through free grace was widely 
held from the time of Augustine, yet the matter was still under 
discussion in the fourteenth century. The reaffirmation by Thomas 
Bradwardine (d. 1340), in De Causa Dei contra Pelagium, of the 
doctrine of salvation by grace, against those who held the Pelagian 
heresy of salvation by merit, points to an interest in fourteenth- 

1 'She'. 2 'nearer'. 

3 ' The Pearl: an interpretation of the Middle English Poem', Studies in English 
by Members of the English Seminar at the Charles University, iv (Prague, 1933). 


century England in matters fundamentally connected with this. 
Hence the poet's anxiety to know what had happened to the child, 
and his concern with the nature of grace, are understandable. 
Clearly the maiden's answer, that the innocent who have been 
baptized (626-7) are saved, 'For f>e grace of God is gret innoghe', 1 
is not, as one critic has suggested, unorthodox ; and it would ap- 
pear that R. Wellek was right in maintaining that there is nothing 
unorthodox, either, in the high position in heaven which is assigned 
to the child. The intellectual and spiritual struggle presented in the 
poem is not waged against orthodox beliefs ; rather, it is a struggle 
to accept the teaching of the Church by one who wishes to do so, 
but is beset by doubts. 

The battle, must, of course, have been won before the poem was 
written, since it is the poet who, in the person of Pearl, provides 
the answers to his own difficulties. But it is not the least of his 
powers as a poet that he conveys the agony of the struggle as if it 
were still to win. There is a close parallel to the Divina Commedia 
here. Small as the scale of Pearl is compared with Dante's poem, 
the method is essentially the same. In both, the process of en- 
lightenment is presented by means of a dialogue between a mortal 
seeking it arid a celestial being, once a loved mortal, who now 
possesses knowledge, by virtue of her position in heaven. In both, 
the poet has, as it were, split himself into two, so that he can present 
at once his ignorance and uncertainty and his knowledge and 
confidence ; and, since his serene confidence, and even his power to 
understand, was not achieved unaided, but was the result of divine 
revelation both direct and through the teaching of the Church, 
the person of the instructor is rightly represented as insusceptible 
of human emotion, remote and incomprehensible, while the person 
of the instructed remains human and prone to emotion, and for 
that reason able to arouse emotion. Though the dialogue form is 
often used in medieval literature to convey instruction, the 
similarity here is unusually close; and it is between something so 
fundamental to each poem that it affords far better grounds for 
thinking that the poet of Pearl knew the Divina Commedia than 
some of the lesser parallels that have been cited. 

1 'enough*. 


If this be the right way of looking at the poem, there is little 
point in the old argument as to whether Pearl is an elegy or an 
allegory. Though it has, of course, elegaic and allegorical elements 
in it, it is not to be comprehended by either term, and it could with 
as much justice be called a homily, a debate (disputatio), or a vision 
of the other world. None of these labels, by itself, is any more 
illuminating than the bare terms ' elegy' or * pastoral' would be, if 
applied to Lycidas. 

This brings us back to the starting-point and by now it should 
have become clearer in what respects Lycidas and Pearl are alike 
and in what they differ. Perhaps the most surprising thing is the 
marked similarity of their conclusions. The vision of the Catholic 
poet of Pearl ends where the Protestant Milton's does : 

For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead, 

. . . but mounted high 

Through the dear might of him that walked the waves . . . 

And hears the unexpressive nuptial Song, 

In the blest Kingdoms meek of joy and love, 

There entertain him all the Saints above, 

In solemn troops and sweet Societies. 





CHAUCER, perhaps almost more than any other great 
English poet, has suffered from being considered, as it 
were, in compartments. Those whom it is now the fashion 
to call 'academic critics' have, particularly during this century, 
been busy accumulating great stores of erudition relating to his 
works, while, on the other hand, those who like to call themselves 
* literary critics' have rarely been deterred by ignorance from 
'evaluating' the work of one who is recognizably a poet of the first 
rank. At one extreme we have books like Burke Sever's lengthy 
study of the sources of the Clerkes Tale 1 or Carleton Brown's book 
on the many versions of the tale told by the Prioress, 2 studies 
which seem to have very little to do with Chaucer's poetry. At the 
other extreme, we find excessive praise of whatever appeals to the 
individual critic or seems likely to appeal to his twentieth-century 
reader, often regardless of its importance or function in the work in 
which it is found. An example is the praise which is so frequently 
lavished on the description of the little dog in the Book of the 
Duchess. Alternatively, a critic will attempt to interpret a poem in 
terms quite foreign to it, as when Mr. Speirs 3 sees in the Nun's 
Priest's Tale of the Cock and the Fox, an allegory of the Fall of 

Both these ways of approaching Chaucer are, in their extreme 
forms, unprofitable, and there is little to be gained by abandoning 
one for the other. If we are frequently revolted by what seems to be 

1 The Literary Relationships of Chaucer's Clerkes Tale, New York, 1942. 

2 A Study of the Miracle of Our Lady told by Chaucer's Prioress, Chaucer 
Society, 1910. 

3 J. Spiers, Chaucer the Maker (London, 1950), p. 189. 

5690 II 


pointless learning, we must remember that however 'modern' 
Chaucer may often seem to be, he is separated from us by more 
than five centuries, and, if we are honest, we shall have to admit 
that there are many things in his writings that make little sense to 
us. What then are we to do with these things? We must either 
study them historically and try to see what they meant to their 
own age, and therefore probably to their author; or ignore them, 
and thereby run the risk of ignoring something vital to the work 
in which they are found. 

Mr. Raymond Preston in the Preface to his book on Chaucer 
remarks that 'a twentieth century reader cannot, except in fantasy, 
become a fourteenth century reader ; but he may read a fourteenth 
century book, and it is the task of the critic who would encourage 
him to see that the twentieth century reading is a development, 
not a contradiction, of the fourteenth century reading'. 1 This is 
good sense, but it is almost too modest an aim. I would go a little 
farther, and suggest that it is the critic's task to apply the knowledge 
which has been accumulated, so that Chaucer's poetry may be 
better understood, and so that as much as possible of its subtleties, 
its ironies, and its varieties may become clear to us. In fact, a critic 
should be at once 'academic' and 'literary' for, as a reviewer in 
The Times Literary Supplement put it, 'learning without sensibility 
is futile, and so is sensibility without learning*. I shall do my best 
here to carry out, in relation to Chaucer's Love Visions, what 
I believe to be the critic's task when he is faced with medieval 

In any consideration of Chaucer's Love Visions it is necessary 
to remember that he was a court poet. When, probably in 1368, 
he became an esquire of the royal household, it would be one of his 
duties to entertain the court by singing and composing poetry. 
The young Squire described in the Prologue to the Canterbury 
Tales knew how to compose and write songs 'he koude songes 
make and wel endite' and it seems likely that in this description 
Chaucer is not merely giving an account of the pattern Squire, but 
is remembering his own early life. Alceste, in the Legend of Good 
1 Chaucer (London and New York, n.d.), p. xv. 


Women , refers to the 'balades, roundels, virelays' which Chaucer 
had written in his youth; and Gower, too, in the Confessio Amantis 
makes Venus send greetings to Chaucer who 'in the floures of his 
youthe' made 'Ditees' and 'songes glade' for her sake. That he was 
still composing for the Court a good many years later is evidenced 
by the famous picture in one of the manuscripts of Troilus and 
Criseyde which shows him reading the poem to the Court, and by 
those lines in the first Prologue to the Legend of Good Women 
which indicate that the Legend was to be given to the Queen. 

To say that most of Chaucer's early poetry, that is, almost 
everything before the Canterbury Tales, and probably a good deal 
of them, was written for the Court, is to imply certain very definite 
things about that poetry. Its subjects, methods, and style would 
have to appeal to a small, exclusive, and sophisticated audience. 
In general, the kind of poetry which would be acceptable to an 
English courtly audience in Chaucer's day would have to be 
modelled on the poetry written for French courtly and aristocratic 
circles. The most popular subject would be love love of the kind 
first celebrated by the Troubadours of Provence, later, with certain 
modifications, by the poets of northern France, and ultimately by 
those of most European countries. 

Something was known in England about what we now term 
* Courtly Love' as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century, 
for the writer of the Owl and the Nightingale understood it ; but 
a court poet like Chaucer would not have been likely to gain his 
knowledge of it from English sources. And, indeed, the form of his 
love poetry makes it quite certain that he did not. 

Though the earliest poems celebrating Courtly Love, those of 
the Troubadours, had been lyrics, as early as the twelfth century 
French poets became interested in a more abstract and intellectual 
treatment of Courtly Love than was possible in lyric. Chretien de 
Troyes used Arthurian stories in his Lancelot and Yvain as a means 
of illustrating some of the ideals of Courtly Love, and his poems 
contain long digressions devoted simply to exposition and reflec- 
tion upon it. In the next century the impulse towards exposition 
seems to have become stronger still, and some poets abandoned 
narrative for allegory. The outstanding example of this tendency, 


and the most important for the understanding of Chaucer, is the 
Roman de la Rose, in particular the first part of it, which was com- 
posed by Guillaume de Lorris. 1 The fame and influence of this 
poem in medieval Europe during the next 200 years can hardly be 
overestimated. In Chaucer's lifetime, more than a hundred years 
after its first appearance, French poets such as Machaut, Des- 
champs, and Froissart were still exploiting its possibilities; and, 
though they developed these possibilities in different ways, their 
subject was still the same, and its form still recognizably that used 
by Guillaume de Lorris the Love Vision. Some at least of con- 
temporary French poetry was certainly known at the English 
court ; some of Froissart's verse was actually written for it. So, when 
Chaucer began to write longer poems to please his royal patrons, it 
was natural that this kind of French poetry should be his model. 

It is in the nature of courtly poetry, at least in the Middle Ages, 
that it should tend to follow fixed forms and conventions. W. P. 
Ker has spoken of the abstract patterns of poetry that fascinated the 
seventeenth-century poets. 2 He was thinking of the conception of 
the ' heroic poem' and the classical tragedy, but his words apply almost 
equally to Chaucer's age, to Court poets like Chaucer and Gower. 

Chaucer's four Love Visions, the Book of the Duchess, the House 
of Fame, the Parlement of Foules, and the Legend of Good Women, 
prove that there must have existed in his mind an abstract idea or 
pattern of the Love Vision, which he could use again and again 
for different purposes. This pattern of his is not the same as that 
of the Roman de la Rose itself, though it is ultimately derived from 
it. The original pattern of the Love Vision, the pattern of the 
Roman de la Rose, was unique and inimitable, for, as Mr. Lewis 
has shown, 3 in the first part of the Roman de la Rose Guillaume 
de Lorris's conception and the form in which he conveys it, are 
indivisible. When later poets used the details of his allegory to 
convey other conceptions, however closely related to the original 
they might be, this bond was broken, and the details tended to lose 
their original significance. This had already happened in the work 

1 For a useful analysis of this work see C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, 
PP- n* ff- 2 See The Art of Poetry (Oxford, 1923), p. 53. 

3 The Allegory of Love, pp. 112 ff. 


of the later French writers. Poet after poet followed de Lorris, 
and depicted himself as dreaming of a beautiful garden; but, 
though the flowers, birds, and streams of the garden were sug- 
gested by those of the garden of the Roman, they no longer needed 
to have any symbolic significance. Yet the garden itself does stand 
for something, for wherever we meet it, it calls up associations 
with the whole complex of ideas, or ideals, which we call Courtly 
Love and it is meant to do so. 

It was this modified form of the Love Vision which was current 
in Chaucer's day, and which was his chief model, though of course 
he knew the Roman de la Rose itself. Just what the * pattern' of the 
Love Vision meant to him is clear enough from his own poems. 
Whatever the precise subject of the poem, it must begin in a 
particular way, with the poet falling asleep and dreaming. Follow- 
ing the example of contemporary French poets, Chaucer could 
elaborate (as Guillaume de Lorris had not troubled to do) on the 
reasons for his sleeping, or his dream. Froissart, in UEspinette 
amoureuse, had depicted himself falling asleep as he read a book. 
Chaucer adapts this device in the Parlement and the Book of the 
Duchess, and in each case takes occasion to describe his reading at 
some length. In his dream he finds himself in a spring landscape, 
the Garden of Love (Parlement), or some variation of it, the woods 
(Book of the Duchess) or the meadows (Legend of Good Women). 
Here, in the Book of the Duchess and the Legend, the main action 
takes place. This is not so in the House of Fame, nor, as I think, in 
the Parlement. The vision over, the poem is concluded by the 
poet's wakening from his dream. 

I want especially to speak of the Parlement of Foules, for in it 
Chaucer seems to me to have made a particularly successful and 
brilliant use of his pattern of the Love Vision. The Book of the 
Duchess perhaps impresses some modern readers as more charming 
and delicate, but it has more loose ends. The House of Fame has 
things that seem more obviously Chaucerian (the treatment of the 
Eagle, for instance), but as a whole it is not a success, and was 
perhaps left unfinished for that reason. The Prologue to the Legend 
of Good Women can hardly be considered by itself. It needs to be 
related to Troilus and Criseyde on the one hand, since it is in a 


sense a light-hearted comment on that poem, and on the other to 
the Legends themselves. The Parlement of Foules is recognizable, 
even today, as the most perfect of Chaucer's Love Visions, and it 
would certainly have seemed so to Chaucer's contemporaries. Its 
interest lies in the fact that, although it is highly conventional, it is 
also, as a whole, highly original. 

It is not merely in its basic pattern that it conforms to French 
models. Most of the ways in which Chaucer fills out the pattern 
had already been exploited. I shall take some of the major ones. 

Chaucer's poem is clearly conceived as a Valentine poem. In his 
Retractations he calls it 'the book of St. Valentine's day, of the 
Parlement of Briddes'. He tells us that the assembly of birds took 
place on St. Valentine's day, and at the end of the poem the birds 
praise St. Valentine in their roundel. One of the French poets who 
developed the convention of writing poems to celebrate St. Valen- 
tine's day was Sir Oton de Graunson, whom Chaucer certainly 
knew, for he names him as 'fioure of hem that make in France' 
at the end of the Complaint of Venus. In Graunson's Songe sainct 
Valentin, the poet, like Chaucer in the Parlement,^ dreams that he 
sees a great assembly of birds of every kind met to choose their 
mates. It is possible that Chaucer knew this poem, 1 but even if he 
did not he must have known some of the many medieval writings 
in which a council or parliament of the birds is described. 2 

In the later portion of Chaucer's poem, the part that depicts the 
parliament of birds, and the part that is often remarked on as most 
original, there are other features that would be familiar to a 
contemporary audience. One of these is the debate of the birds. 
To give an early English example of this device, the Old and the 
Nightingale is a debate between birds. But it is not only the form 
of the debate that would be familiar: its subject would be equally 
so. When each of the three tercel eagles in turn claims that he has 
most right to the lady (the formel), he is debating one of the 
'questions of love' that were popular as subjects of discussion in 
love poetry, and possibly also in real life in courtly circles. This 

1 See Haldeen Braddy, Chaucer and the Poet Graunson, Lousiana, 1947. 

2 Cf. Robinson, The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (Cambridge, Mass., 
1933), p. 361, for full references. 


particular question is debated in another work of Chaucer's, when, 
in the Knight's Tale, Palamon and Arcite quarrel about Emily. 

There are many other familiar features in the earlier parts of the 
poem. Chaucer in his introduction, like Guillaume de Lorris at 
the beginning of the Roman de la Rose, thinks of the dream of 
Scipio and of Macrobius, its famous commentator. I quote from the 
English translation of the Roman: 

This may I drawe to warraunt 

An authour that hight Macrobes, 

That halt nat dremes false ne lees, 

But undoth us the avysioun 

That whilom mette kyng Cipioun. (A, 6-10) 

In the vision itself Chaucer introduces the most common of the 
mythological or allegorical figures which were customary in love 
visions: Cupid, Venus, and Nature; and in his description of the 
Garden of Love there are the familiar personifications Beauty, 
Youth, Flattery, Desire, &c. and the familiar decorative details, 
such as the lists of trees. 

But it is not only in its main formal elements and its contents 
that the Parlement conforms to established literary convention. It 
does so also in the manner of its expression. The French poets to 
whom Chaucer was, perhaps, most directly indebted in his Love 
Visions, Machaut and Froissart, wrote in a style whose principles 
had been laid down in the early-thirteenth-century treatises on the 
Art of Poetry, such as Geoffrey de Vinsauf's Nova Poetria, or 
Matthieu de Vendome's Ars Versificatoria. 

Chaucer evidently learnt both from the French poets and also 
directly from the treatises. This can be seen from his description 
of Blanche in the Book of the Duchess. In method this description 
follows the recipe for a description given by Geoffrey de Vinsauf ; 
but Machaut had followed the same recipe in his Jugement dou 
Roy de Behaigne, and Chaucer combines details from both. He 
uses other devices of the rhetoricians in the Parlement. Contentio, 
for example, is used as a figure of words ; that is, an idea is expressed 
by contrasting words : 

For out of olde feldes, as men seyth, 

Cometh al this newe corn from yer to yere. (22-23) 


As a figure of thought, contentio contrasts ideas, often using con- 
trasted words as well, as in : 

For bothe I hadde thyng which that I nolde, 
And ek I nadde that thyng that I wolde. (90-91) 

The Prologue to the Parlement opens with several instances of this 
device, all used to describe love : 

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, 
Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge, 
The dredful joy, alwey that slit so yerne: 
Al this mene I by Love. (1-4) 

This kind of device, and many others, Chaucer's French predeces- 
sors and Chaucer himself undoubtedly used deliberately, with a 
consciousness of their nature and of where they had learnt them 
and had met them in other writers. 

But in the Parlement and in Chaucer's other Love Visions (and 
also, I believe, in Troilus, and in some, though not all, of the 
Canterbury Tales) such devices are not casually introduced. On 
the contrary, the whole manner and arrangement of the expression 
depends on the teaching of the so-called 'rhetorical manuals', or, 
as I prefer to call them, the 'Arts of Poetry'. This I have tried to 
show elsewhere, 1 and I will not repeat what I have said there. 
But a further illustration of Chaucer's methods from the Parle- 
ment, will show how he 'knits' (to use his own word) or co-ordinates 
his various thoughts. In the first stanza he introduces the subject 
of love in the indirect w r ay I have just indicated : 'al this mene I by 
love'; and he goes on to dwell on the miraculous power and the 
cruelty of love, of which, though he himself has not experienced it, 
he has read in books : 

For al be that I knowe nat Love in dede, 

Ne wot how that he quiteth folk here hyre, 

Yit happeth me ful ofte in bokcs reede 

Of his myrakles and his crewel yre. 

There rede I wel he wol be lord and syre ; 

I dar nat seyn, his strokes been so sore, 

But 'God save swich a lord!' I can na moore. (8-14) 

1 See pp. 149 ff., 'Some Reflections on Chaucer's "Art Poetical" '. 


This statement leads, by way of a general remark on his habit of 
reading, to a reference to a particular old book which he had been 
reading in order, he says, 'a certeyn thing to lerne' : 

Of usage what for lust and what for lore 

On bokes rede I ofte, as I yow tolde. 

But wherfore that I speke al this ? Nat yoore 

Agon, it happede me for to beholde 

Upon a bok was write with lettres olde, 

And therupon, a certeyn thing to lerne, 

The longe day ful faste I redde and yerne. (15-21) 

The suggestion in the words 'a certeyn thing to lerne' is here left 
unexplained ; but it is, I think, taken up again later. 

The account of the book which follows is, in rhetorical parlance, 
a descriptive digressio, but Chaucer does not proceed to it at once. 
Instead he makes an elaborate transition, introducing for the pur- 
pose a sententia, or proverbial saying, which, like others in this 
poem, takes the form of a contentio. The use of a sententia was one 
of the recognized ways of making a transition. Picking up the 
suggestion in the phrase he used about the book it 'was write 
with lettres olde' he continues with the lines I have already 
quoted : 

For out of olde feldes, as men seyth, 
Cometh al this newe corn, from yer to yere, 

and then uses this sententia as a comparatio (comparison) : 

And out of olde bokes, in good feyth, 

Cometh all this newe science that men lere. (22-25) 

The digressio which describes the contents of the book proceeds 
more or less straightforwardly, but the device of repetitio is used 
in it a good deal to introduce the various stages of the story: 
'Thanne shewede he hym the lytel erthe that here is' (57); 'And 
after shewede he hym the nyne speres' (59) ; and, later, 'Than tolde 
he hym' (67). This kind of repetition is advocated by the rhetorical 
manuals, and Chaucer makes considerable use of it in all his works. 
In his later writings, however, its effect is often very different. 1 

Repetition of a different kind also appears in this account of the 

1 For an instance from the Wife of Bath's Prologue, see below, pp. 145 ff. 


Dream of Scipio. Certain important words are emphasized by its 
means. In Scipio's dream his ancestor Africanus takes him to a 
'sterry place* whence he shows him first Carthage, then the whole 
earth which is so small 'At regard of the hevenes quantite' (58); 
and he tells Scipio that since the earth is so little and so full of 
torment, he should not take delight in it. But such men as here on 
earth loved common profit shall 'into a blysful place wende, Ther 
as joye is, that last withouten ende' (48-49). The phrase, 'blysful 
place' is repeated at the end of Scipio's dream and kept in mind 
during the account of it by the lines 'that place deere That ful of 
blysse is' (76-77), and by the phrase 'hevene blisse' (72), all 
occurring in the course of the dream. It can hardly be accidental 
that, in the next section of the poem, when Chaucer himself is 
brought by Africanus to the gate of the park, the first inscription 
he reads over the gate is 'Thorgh me men gon into that blysful 
place' (127). 

I need not continue this minute analysis of the style and manner 
of the Parlement, but I want to lay stress on one point : that in the 
composition of such a poem nothing is likely to be unconsidered. 
On the contrary, one would expect everything to be planned and 
carefully co-ordinated. So, however apparently haphazard or even 
incongruous some things may appear to be, it would be dangerous 
to assume that Chaucer introduced them without good reason. 

It has been the fashion with this poem to dismiss most of the 
early part as literary convention, prettily and even elegantly 
treated but merely introductory to the debate of the birds, which 
has been universally, and perhaps extravagantly, praised for its 
freshness and originality. This, I am sure, is the wrong way to look 
at the poem. The debate begins at 1. 416, and so far as the lesser 
birds are concerned and it is in them that the twentieth century 
delights, not in the tercels, with their formal speeches it begins 
a good deal later, at 1. 491. The whole poem is only 699 lines long. 
Are we to suppose that Chaucer, who, in smaller matters wrote 
with such conscious art, allowed himself to patter on to no purpose 
or to little purpose for about three-quarters of the poem before 
he, as we arrogantly suppose, 'found himself, and said what he 
wanted to say? Or, to put the question another way, are we to 


ignore what we think is conventional, and to find meaning and 
pleasure only in what we think is fresh and original ? 

This surely is not merely to misunderstand the Parlement but, 
what is worse, to misunderstand the whole aim and trend of 
medieval poetry. Nor do we get much further by spying into the 
so-called conventional parts and comparing them carefully with 
other examples of the same thing. We can, of course, remark that 
in describing the Garden of Love in the Parlement Chaucer has 
turned from the usual French sources to the Italian, and so pro- 
duced something clearer in detail and more decorative than similar 
descriptions in the French poets ; or we can note that the personified 
virtues 'Dame Pees . . . with a curtyn in hire hond' (240), 'Dame 
Pacience . . . With face pale, upon an hil of sond' (242-3), and 
the goddess Venus herself, have a particularity reminiscent of con- 
temporary Italian paintings. Such observations may make us more 
appreciative of the details of Chaucer's work, but they do not help 
us to an understanding of the poem as a whole ; and, again, I think 
that they tend to run contrary to the spirit, not merely of Chaucer, 
but of medieval poetry as a whole. For, to the medieval poet, the art 
of poetry was not the creation of something new, but the much 
humbler one of the selection, arrangement, and representation of 
what was known and familiar. At its best this resulted in new 
combinations and revealed new relations, but it meant that even 
the good poem was likely to be familiar in all its parts, and that it 
would be valued for this and would appeal as much by its likeness 
to what was known as by its difference from it. 

The notes to Skeat's or Robinson's text of the Parlement make 
it abundantly clear that Chaucer selected the material from many 
different sources. In addition to the French poets he uses Boc- 
caccio's Teseida for the description of the garden and of Venus; 
he takes the dream of Scipio from the fourth book of Cicero's 
Republic, as preserved to medieval times by Macrobius its com- 
mentator ; the description of Nature and some suggestions for the 
birds come from the Latin work De Planctu Naturae by Alanus de 
Insulis. These are his major debts, but there are many others: to 
Boethius, to Dante, to Ovid. 

Was this selection merely haphazard? I think not. On the 


contrary, I believe that each has its purpose in the whole and that 
the poem as a whole is as closely co-ordinated as is the expression. 
But before I attempt to show how each part fits into the whole, 
I should perhaps say a little about the attempts that have been 
made to explain the poem as a topical allegory. 

The German scholar, Koch, was the first to see in it an allegory 
of the wooing of Anne of Bohemia by Richard II, who actually 
married her in 1382. Since this theory was first published much 
scholarly energy has been expended on supporting or attacking it, 
and much time has been wasted in endeavouring to identify the 
other two personages who, together with Richard, are presumed 
to have been portrayed as the three tercel eagles who lay suit to 
the formel, Anne. 

Chaucer may well have been alluding to some particular event, 
and to some contemporary personages in this poem, for such 
topical allusions are common in medieval poetry, and particularly 
in this kind of courtly poetry. In the Valentine poems of Chaucer's 
contemporary, Sir Oton de Graunson, there are similar allusions; 
Chaucer's own Book of the Duchess certainly, and his Legend of 
Good Women probably, also contain them. I do not think, however, 
that at this distance of time we are in a position to say what precise 
event, or which persons, are referred to. 

But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Parlement 
does contain topical allegory. Even so we are left with no real 
explanation of the earlier part of the poem; for, on this assumption, 
everything up to the point at which Chaucer introduces Nature 
and the birds must, once again, be regarded merely as introduction. 
If, instead, we begin at the beginning, it is possible to make sense 
of the whole. 

The poem, as I have already noted, opens with a description of 
love a fact which at least suggests that love is its subject. More- 
over, the artificial phrases of the description indicate that Chaucer 
is thinking of Courtly Love; 'the craft so long to lerne . . .' (i), 'the 
dredful joye' (3). Further, he makes it clear that it is not his own 
love with which he is concerned : 'For al be that I knowe nat Love 
in dede' (9) ; but, as he says, he had often read of loves 'myrakles and 
his crewel yre' (i i). When, therefore, he tells us that he read all day 


in an old book 'a certeyn thing to lerne', it is reasonable to suppose 
that this thing was love. 

But the dream of Scipio and his vision of the 'blysful place* to 
which come only those who work for the common good, seems 
little to his purpose. He suggests this himself when he says that, 
when he had to stop reading for lack of light, he went to bed 

Fulfyld of thought and busy hevynesse ; 
For bothe I hadde thyng which that I nolde, 
And ek I nadde that thyng that I wolde (89-91) 

that is, he had had a vision of true felicity but had learnt nothing 
about love. The lesson of the book had been "That he ne shulde hym 
in the world delyte' (66), which was not what he then wanted. 

To the modern reader it is not immediately clear why Chaucer 
should have chosen to relate this dream at this point, and at such 
length. But there are several indications of its real significance. 
The first comes from Troilus and Criseyde where, almost at the 
end of the poem, there are lines remarkably like some in this 
passage of the Parlement : 

And whan that he was slayn in this manere, 

His lighte goost ful blisfully is went 

Up to the holughncsse of the eighthe spere, 

In convers letyng everich element ; 

And ther he saugh, with ful avysement, 

The erratik sterres, herkenyng armonye 

With sownes ful of hevenyssh melodic. 

And down from thcnnes faste he gan avyse 

This litel spot of erthe, that with the sc 

Embraced is, and fully gan despise 

This wrecched world, and held al vanite 

To respect of the pleyn fclicite 

That is in hevene above. (Troilus , v. 1807-19) 

Thanne axede he if folk that here been dede 
Han lyf and dwellynge in another place. 
And Affrican seyde, 'Ye, withouten drede', 
And that oure present worldes lyves space 
Nis but a mancr deth, what wey we trace, 
And rightful folk shul gon, after they dye, 
To hevene; and shewede hym the Galaxye. 


Thanne shewede he hym the lytel erthe that here is, 

At regard of the hevenes quantite ; 

And after shewede he hym the nyne speres, 

And after that the melodye herde he 

That cometh of thilke speres thryes thre, 

That welle is of musik and melodye 

In this world here, and cause of armonye. 

Than bad he hym, syn erthe was so lyte, 
And ful of torment and of harde grace, 
That he ne shulde hym in the world delyte. 

(Parlement, 50-66) 

In both poems Chaucer is contrasting, or rather making his 
speaker contrast, the transitory things of earth with the 'pleyn 
felicite that is in hevene above'. In Troilus, a few stanzas later, 
there is further an explicit contrast between heavenly and earthly 
love. In the Parlement this contrast is never explicitly made, 
probably because it is on so much smaller a scale and is so much 
lighter in tone and intention than Troilus ; but this does not mean 
that it was not here too in Chaucer's mind. 

That we are on the right track seems more certain when we look 
again at the lines in which Chaucer commented on his reading : 

For bothe I hadde thyng which that I nolde, 
And ek I nadde that thyng that I wolde. (90-91) 

These lines echo some words spoken by Philosophy in Boethius's 
Consolation of Philosophy. 1 Philosophy is discoursing on the differ- 
ence between true and false felicity. She has just explained to 
Boethius that riches and honour do not bring true happiness. * When 
you had riches,' she asks Boethius, 'were you never anxious or 
sorry ?' Boethius replies that he does not remember that he was ever 
free from anxiety. '"And was nat that" quod sche "for that the 
lakkide somwhat that thow woldest nat han lakkid, or elles thou 
haddest that thow noldest nat han had?" ' Once again, it is clear 
that Chaucer is thinking of the contrast between true and false 
felicity. With this idea at the back of his mind he proceeds to 
relate his dream, and it is with this idea in mind that we should 
read it. 

1 iii, pr. 3; Robinson, p. 401. 


There is more than one indication that Chaucer's dream of the 
Garden of Love is to be related to Scipio's dream of true felicity, 
and one result of the juxtaposition of the two visions is that the 
reader is made to view the Garden of Love in a special way 
ironically, and with a kind of detachment. Both irony and sense 
of detachment are in fact interconnected, and both, to some extent, 
pervade the whole poem. The detachment is partly indicated and 
sustained by Chaucer's manner of presenting himself. He is, as 
often in other poems, the slightly bewildered spectator, sympathetic 
and well-intentioned, but never quite understanding what is going 
on. He tells us at the beginning of the poem that he worships Love, 
but he is so astounded by Love's works that when he thinks of him 
he does not know whether he is swimming or sinking. He is so 
'astoned', again (142), at the inscriptions over the gate that he has 
not sufficient sense either to run away or to go in, and is then told 
by Africanus that 'this writyng nys nothyng ment bi the* (158), 
but only concerns the initiates, Love's Servants. And at the end of 
the whole poem Chaucer makes no comment at all on what he has 
seen, but simply turns again to his books, hoping, in terms vague 
enough to suggest that he is still at sea, that some day his reading 
will result in a dream that will enable him to fare better. 

This portrayal of himself is in itself ironical, but irony is also 
suggested by several other things early in the poem: by the fact 
that it is the same Africanus who gave such solemn advice to 
Scipio, who leads Chaucer into the Garden of Love; by the two 
inscriptions over its gate which are, as Chaucer says, 'of ful gret 
difference', the one describing the joys, the other the pains of 
love, a contrast bringing some reminder of the earlier one drawn 
by Africanus between the bliss of heaven and the miseries of 
earth. And for those who know the Divina Commedia there is 
deeper irony in the reminiscences of it which Chaucer introduces 
when he describes his entry into the Garden. Scipio acts and speaks 
in a manner which recalls Virgil's actions and words to Dante at 
the entry to the Inferno. The wording of Chaucer's inscriptions 
over the gate echoes Dante's inscription over the gate to the 
Inferno. 1 

1 Cf. p. 143 below. 


At the end of the Parlement, when the lesser birds discuss the 
dilemma of the aristocratic eagles, the irony is obvious enough, 
not only in their behaviour, but also in their formal speeches. The 
common-sense but crude comments by which the lesser birds 
reveal their attitude to Courtly Love may be said to be treated 
ironically; Chaucer portrays both parties faithfully, but holds the 
scales equally between them, giving no sign of sympathizing with 

But he leads up to this more obvious irony gradually, by way of 
long descriptions, first of the Garden, and then of the two god- 
desses, Venus and Nature. The significance of the descriptions of 
the goddesses becomes apparent when we compare them in detail, 
bearing in mind their significance in medieval writings. 

Chaucer shows us Venus lying in a 'prive corner' of her dark 
temple, filled with the sound of sighs, 

Whiche sikes were engendred with desyr. (248) 

She lies on a bed of gold, her golden hair bound with a gold thread, 
naked from the breast upward and covered otherwise with a thin 
'coverchef of Valence'. Then he describes Nature, who surpasses in 
beauty all other creatures as the bright summer sun surpasses the 
star. She sits on a green hill surrounded by flowers, leaves, and 
branches. Venus is petitioned by the two lovers, whose fate we are 
not told, and the painted walls of her temple depict the stories of 
unhappy and frustrated lovers, *al here love, and in what plyt they 
dyde' (294). Nature, who, following Alanus, is described as the 
deputy (vicaire) of the Almighty Lord, who knits all the elements 
into harmony, is petitioned by all the birds of the air, and at the 
end of the debate she grants them their desire. We know from 
Alanus and the writers of his school that Nature represents the 
general order of things 1 and that in Alanus, De Planctu Naturae, 
she upholds natural love, so that, even without the contrasted 
petitioners, we might guess that in the goddesses we have a contrast 
between artifical Courtly Love and the natural love of creature for 
creature, a contrast which the end of the poem reinforces when, 
after the debate is over, the aristocratic birds are left without 

1 Cf. The Allegory of Love, pp. 94 ff. 


satisfaction, while the lower birds, who know only Nature's rule, 
are happily united. 

This, then, is how I think the poem as a whole should be inter- 
preted : as delicately ironical fantasy on the theme of love and not 
merely of Courtly Love presented through a series of contrasts, 
variously achieved. 

It is not mere accident that Chaucer introduces so many 
examples of the rhetorical device of contentio, of contrasted phrases 
and statements, in this poem. It is, I believe, an indication of how 
his mind was working when he wrote it. His opening lines suggest 
that he is going to write about Courtly Love, but he quickly passes 
on, in the dream of Scipio, to a description of true felicity, and 
a suggested contrast between it and the delights of the world 
a contrast which gains point through the linking of this dream to 
Chaucer's own dream of the Garden of Love. At the entrance to the 
Garden the contrast is made between the happy lover who comes 
to the 'welle of grace, There grene and lusty May shal evere 
endure' (129-30) and the frustrated lover who is compared to a 
fish left high and dry in a fish-trap. The Garden itself is beautiful, 
and its air is so temperate 'That nevere was ther grevaunce of hot 
ne cold' (205), but there is no happiness in the temple of Venus, 
and Venus herself seems without pity, unlike Nature who sym- 
pathizes with the difficulties of the courtly birds, and is also 
solicitous for the common birds. If these descriptions are intended 
to contrast, as I have suggested, Courtly Love and Natural Love, 
the same contrast is also presented from a rather different view- 
point in the debate of the birds and their fate. 

We should not, I am sure, attempt to draw a moral from all this. 
Above all we should avoid the temptation of saying that Chaucer 
ridicules Courtly Love in this poem. He presents the aristocratic 
birds sympathetically, and the irony comes only from seeing how 
the vulgar birds (who are vulgar) react to them. What we can 
say, however, is that the Chaucer who wrote this poem can have 
been no unthinking devotee of Courtly Love. His courtly audience 
no doubt wished to hear about Courtly Love, and, perhaps 
even about some particular courtship, and he gave them what 
they wanted in a poem that pleased them. But he also showed 

6099 I 


those who wished to see that there were many ways of looking 
at love. 

If, after reading this poem, we turn to Troilus and Criseyde, 
which we believe to have been written later, we shall not expect to 
find in that greater poem a simple or straightforward presentation 
of love, courtly or otherwise, for at least the Parlement makes it 
clear that Chaucer had already thought much, and even deeply, on 
the subject. 



The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen, 
That was the kyng Priamus sone of Troye, 
In lovynge how his aventures fellen 
Fro wo to wele, and after out of joie, 
My purpos is, or that I parte fro ye. 1 

SO in the 'high style' Chaucer begins the story of Troilus's 
love, in a manner which recalls Virgil's opening: 'Arms and 
the man I sing', and, appropriately to this manner calls upon 
Tisiphone to 

help me for t'endite 
Thise woful vers, that wepen as I write. 

Before he actually begins the story he restates the theme, and is 
a little more explicit about its outcome. It is one 

In which ye may the double sorwes here 

Of Troilus in lovynge of Criseyde, 

And how that she forsook him or she deyde. 

At this point he says nothing of his source, but later he is circum- 
stantial, referring frequently to 'the storie' ('the storie telleth 
us', v. 1051) or to *myn auctour' and twice to Lollius : 'myn auctor 
called Lollius' (i. 394) and 'as telleth Lollius' (v. 1653). Once he 
insists that all he is doing is to translate from the Latin which, 
he presumably means to imply, is the work of Lollius. Here he 
addresses Clio the muse of History since History, so he suggests, 
is the only art he needs in recording what he elsewhere calls 
'storial truth': 

O lady myn, that called art Cleo, 

Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse, 

To ryme wel this book, til I have do ; 

1 Quotations are from R. K. Root, The Book of Troilus and Criseyde, Prince- 
ton, 1945. 


Me nedeth here noon othere art to use. 

Forwhi to every lovere I me excuse, 

That of no sentement I this endite, 

But out of Latyn in my tonge it write, (ii. 8-14) 

But the story of Troilus was derived not from a Latin work but 
from an Italian poem, // Filostrato, written not by Lollius but by 
Boccaccio. This was known, in part at least, as early as 1430 or 
thereabouts, for Lydgate, in the Fall of Princes, says that Chaucer 
made a translation 'off a book ... In Lumbard tunge', 1 i.e. in 
Italian. But Lydgate adds, to our further mystification, that the 
Italian book 'callid is Trophe', a title which has never been 

That some mystification was intended by Chaucer himself is 
clear from the fact that the lines I have just quoted are prefixed 
to Book ii which, of all the books of his poem, is the least indebted 
to Boccaccio or to anyone else. I doubt, however, whether he 
invented the name ' Lollius', for he mentions it in the House of 
Fame, among other well-known writers on the story of Troy, and, 
as Root remarks, 2 there can have been no motive for introducing 
a fictitious name there. Boccaccio himself implies *in // Filostrato 
that he is following an ancient story, 3 and Chaucer may have 
believed for some reason (perhaps because he misunderstood some 
lines of Horace) that this ancient story was the work of a Latin 
writer called Lollius. 4 If so, he preferred to refer to that rather than 
to the vernacular work which he must have had before him. 

In fact, Boccaccio did much to create the story of Troilus and 
Criseyde as Chaucer knew it, and as Shakespeare was to know it 
after him. With the materials out of which Boccaccio built the 
story I shall not concern myself. His sources have been treated 
briefly by R. K. Root in his edition of Troilus, and much more 
fully by Griffin and Myrick in their edition of // Filostrato, and 
they are translated by R. K. Gordon in The Story of Troilus. With 
Boccaccio's poem, however, we must concern ourselves, since it 
is largely by comparing Chaucer's poem with Boccaccio's that we 
can arrive at a fuller understanding of Chaucer's meaning. 

1 Fall of Princes, Prologue, 283-7. 

2 Op. cit., p. xxxvii. 3 Cf. Proemio and elsewhere. 
4 For a full discussion of Lollius cf. Root, op. cit., pp. xxxvi ff. 


Boccaccio wrote his poem, as he tells us in the long prose 
Proemio, for the lady whom he loved, Maria d' Aquino, daughter of 
the Countess d'Aquino and perhaps of Robert, King of Naples 
and Sicily. The immediate occasion was Maria's absence from 
Naples for a period of some months. In despair, Boccaccio tells 
her, he decided to give his grief at her absence * issue in some suitable 
lamentation' and to relate his sufferings in the person of someone 
passionately in \ovc(passionnato) y as he is. The grief of Troilus at the 
departure of Criseida from Troy seemed an apt parallel. And, he 
continues, addressing Maria : 

If it chance that you read in them, how often you find Troilus weeping 
and grieving at the departure of Cressida, so often may you clearly 
understand and recognize my very cries, tears, sighs and distresses; and 
as often as you find good looks, good manners, and other thing praise- 
worthy in a lady written of Cressida, you may understand them to be 
said of you. As to the other things, which in addition to these are many, 
no one, as I have already said, relateth to me, nor is set down here on my 
own account, but because the story of the noble young lover requireth 
it. And if you are as discerning as I hold you to be, you can from these 
things understand how great and of what sort are my desires, where they 
end, and what more than anything else they ask for, or if they deserve 
any pity. Now I know not whether these things will be of so great 
efficacy as to touch your chaste mind with some compassion as you read 
them, but I pray Love to give them this power. 1 

By his flattering reference to Maria's discernment, Boccaccio 
no doubt hoped to turn her attention away from those features of 
the talc which were not so appropriate to their situation: par- 
ticularly from the infidelity of the heroine. He does not, as Chaucer 
docs, mention this at the beginning of the poem. 

Boccaccio's aim colours the whole poem. It is reflected in the 
style in the passionate intensity of some passages and the lyrical 
beauty of others. It naturally affects his treatment of the story. It is 
Troilus and his woes that interest him, and, of the eight parts into 
which his poem is divided, four are devoted to this. Criseida's 
departure from Troy takes place about half-way through the poem. 

For Chaucer the story had not this personal application. Com- 

1 // Filostrato, Proemio, Griffin and Myrick's translation, p. 129 of their 


pared with Boccaccio he stands apart from it. He is present only 
as the narrator and sympathetic observer of the action. The pas- 
sionate tone of Boccaccio is absent from Chaucer's work. His pace 
is much more leisurely, and he takes time to explain his characters' 
thoughts and feelings, and to reflect and comment in his own 
person. To him the story is not so much the story of Troilus's 
grief as of a great love which ended unhappily. He was at least as 
interested in Criseyde as in Troilus, and as interested in Troilus's 
wooing of her as in his grief at her loss. The proportions of his 
much longer poem reflect this different interest. The departure of 
Criseyde takes place at the beginning of the fifth and last book, and 
four-fifths of his poem are devoted to Troilus's wooing and the 
description of his happy love. 

This difference in the proportions of the two poems is brought 
about partly by Chaucer's compression of the end of the story, 
but much more by the additions, small and large, which he makes 
in his version of the wooing of Criseyde. The largest additions 
are two whole episodes, for neither of which more than a hint was 
to be found in the Filostrato. The first of these, which begins 
towards the end of Book ii, at 1. 1394, and continues to Book iii, 
231, consists of Pandarus's plans for the first meeting of Troilus 
and Criseyde and the meeting itself; the second (Book iii, 505-1309) 
of the meeting at Pandarus's house which ends in their union. 

But these scenes are not simply thrust into a story which other- 
wise closely follows Boccaccio's. They come naturally into a nar- 
rative in which Chaucer has prepared the way for them. From the 
beginning of Book ii he sets about altering Boccaccio's story, 
making numerous small additions, rearrangements, omissions, 
constant alterations. It would be difficult to summarize their 
effect, but the idea behind them becomes apparent through a close 
examination of the two poems, and I propose here to compare 
certain portions of the earlier books in detail. I do not apologize 
for taking some time over this because, besides enabling us to find 
out what was in Chaucer's mind, the comparison will serve as an 
illustration of his methods of developing a story and of revealing 
the mind of his heroine. 

In Chaucer's Book i Pandarus has persuaded Troilus to tell him 


who it is he loves, and has learnt that it is his niece Criseyde. In 
Boccaccio the relationship is different: Pandaro is a rather younger 
man and the cousin of Criseida. He undertakes to prepare the way 
for Troilus by telling his niece of his love, and at the beginning 
of Book ii we see him departing for Criseyde's house. 

All this Boccaccio also tells us, but in the Filostrato Pandaro, 
having arrived at Criseida's house and been shown into her bed- 
chamber, comes quite quickly to the point. He begins by praising 
her beauty, and says at once that he has heard that it has pleased 
one man so much that he is quite undone by it. Criseida blushes, 
and admits that there is someone who continually hangs about her 
door. Pandaro soon perceives that this is not Troilo ; he tells her 
that the man he means is not an insignificant person, but a man 
known to everybody, and he expatiates a little on his worth. 'Who 
is it?' Criseida asks, and is told that it is Troilo. 

In Chaucer's poem the pace is much slower. When Pandarus 
arrives he finds Criseyde listening to a maiden reading 'a tale of 
Thebes', and he greets her in the half-jesting way natural between 
people who know each other well : 

Madame, God yow see, 
With al youre book, and al the compaignie. ' (ii. 85-86) 

She rises to meet him and, after the conventional greeting, says 
abruptly that she has recently dreamt of him. Pandarus says 
jokingly that she will doubtless fare the better for it all that year, 
and, apologizing for interrupting the reading, asks what the book 
is, 'Is it of love?' It is his niece's turn for a jest, for Pandarus is well 
known to languish in hopeless love. ' Uncle', she says, 'youre 
maistresse is nat here.' With that, Chaucer adds 'they gonnen 
laugh'. The conversation continues, gay, intimate, and natural. 
But Pandarus is waiting for an opportunity, and presently he gets 
it when Criseyde asks about the war, and about Hector. He praises 
Hector and goes on to speak in praise of Troilus. Then he pretends 
to take his leave, but is persuaded to stay a little longer to advise his 
niece about her affairs. Again he rises 'Now is tyme I wende' 
but just as he is going he says cryptically that she ought to be merry 
and cast aside her widow's habit, 'sith yow is tid so glad an 


aventure'. This, as he intends, fires Criseyde's curiosity. She asks 
what he means. Pandarus puts her off: it would take too long to tell 
and might displease her. She promises not to be displeased, and he 
is apparently just about to tell her what he means. But she is not yet 
sufficiently prepared, and he continues for a long time to talk darkly 
about her good fortune, until she is in a fever of impatience : 

'Now, my good em, for Goddes love I preye', 

Quod she, 'Come of and telle me what it is.' (ii. 309-10) 

He is satisfied that now she will not think his news unimportant, 
and reveals that Troilus loves her. About nine-tenths of this scene 
was added by Chaucer. In the passages that immediately follow 
the additions are less extensive, but they are very numerous and, 
together with constant rearrangements and omissions of Boc- 
caccio's material, they constitute a radical revision of it. 

To continue with the comparison. In the Filostrato the final 
speech of Criseida to Pandaro is this : 

I perceive in what direction thy compassionate desire tendeth. 
I will do what thou askest because I am sure to please thee thereby 
and he is worth it. Let it suffice thee if I see him. But in order to avoid 
shame and perhaps worse, pray that he be discreet and act in such a way 
that it may not be a reproach to me, nor to him either. 1 

When Pandaro has gone she retires to her room to think over all 
that she has heard. At first she is joyful: 'I am young, fair, lovely, 
. . . why should I not be in love?' 2 she says to herself. Then she is 
fearful : and asks herself whether his love will last, and if it does, 
whether it will remain concealed ? Will she not lose her reputation ? 3 
These doubts lead her to conclude that she should 'leave such 
loves to those who delight in them'. 4 But immediately after this we 
are told that Troilo, advised by Pandaro of how she had received 
the ne\vs of his love, went to her house, and 

she was standing at one of her windows and was perchance expecting 
what happened. Not harsh nor forbidding did she show herself toward 
Troilo . . . but at all times cast towards him modest glances over her 
shoulder. 5 

1 // Fil. ii. 66. 2 Ibid. ii. 69. s Ibid. ii. 76-77. 

4 Ibid. ii. 78. * Ibid. ii. 82. 


When Pandarus reveals his news to Chaucer's Criseyde she at 
first accuses him of ill faith, and weeps for her own wretched 
state, abandoned, so she says, by her best friend. It is only when 
Pandarus threatens that Troilus will die and he with him, that he 
extracts from her a promise that she will try to please Troilus 
provided her honour is safe. But she does not say how, nor does 
Pandarus dare to press her further. 

When Pandarus has gone: 

Criseyde aros, no lenger she ne stente, 
But streght into hire closet went anon, 
And sette hire down as stylle as any ston, 
And every word gan up and down to wynde, 
That he had seyd, as it com hire to mynde. 

And was somdel astoned in hire thought, 

Right for the newe cas ; but whan that she 

Was ful avysed, tho fond she right nought 

Of peril, why she ought afered be. 

For man may love, of possibilite, 

A womman so his herte may to-breste, 

And she not love ayein, but if hire leste. (ii. 598 ff.) 

Boccaccio's Criseida reacted in the same way except that this last 
idea did not occur to her. 

At this moment Criseyde hears a noise in the street and people 
cry out that Troilus has been putting the Greeks to flight. Her 
maidens tell her that he is just about to pass her house, and she 
goes to the window and looks down as he rides by, without his 
seeing her. She gazes at this knightly figure : 

So lik a man of armes and a knyght 

He was to seen, fuliild of heigh prowesse . . . 

So fressh, so yong, so worthy semed he, 

It was an heven upon hym for to see. (ii. 631-7) 

As she sees him pass with his helmet 'to-hewen ... in twenty 
places' and his shield bearing the marks of the cruel conflict in 
which he has just been victorious: 

of hire owen thought she wex al reed, 
Remembryng hire right thus: 'Lo, this is he 


Which that myn uncle swerith he moot be deed, 

But I on hym have mercy and pitee;' 

And with that thought, for pure ashamed she 

Gan in hire hed to pulle, and that as faste, 

Whil he and al the peple forby paste. 

And gan to caste and rollen up and down 

Withinne hire thought his excellent prowesse, 

And his estat, and also his renown, 

His wit, his shap, and ek his gentilesse ; 

But moost hire favour was for his distresse 

Was al for hire, and thought it was a routhe 

To sleen swich oon, if that he mente trouthe. (ii. 652-65) 

Chaucer then comments : 

Now myghte som envious jangle thus: 
'This was a sodeyn love; how myghte it be 
That she so lightly loved Troilus 
Right for the firste syghte, ye parde?' 
Now whoso seith so, mot he nevere ythe ; 
For every thyng a gynnyng hath it nede 
Or al be wTought, w r ithouten any drede. 

For I sey nat that she so sodeynly 

Yaf hym hire love, but that she gan enclyne 

To like hym first, and I have told yow whi ; 

And after that, his manhod and his pyne 

Made love withinne hire for to myne ; 

For which, by proces and by good servyse, 

He gat hire love, and in no sodeyn wyse. (ii. 666-79) 

But this time has not yet come. Criseyde's doubts are by no 
means all resolved, and Chaucer gives us her thoughts at some 
length. At first she is disposed, not to encourage him, but at least 
not to discourage him. She thinks of Troilus's 'gentilesse' and of his 
high estate ('my kynges sone is he'), and that she might regret it 
if she were to refuse to have anything to do with him, and he were 
in consequence to dislike her. Suppose she allows his love, and 
suppose the worst, that it were to become known; surely it has 
happened before that a man has loved a woman without her leave ? 
It is, after all, not surprising that he should love her: 


'For wel wot I myself . . . 

I am oon the faireste, out of drede, 

And goodliest, whoso taketh hede, 

And so men seyn in al the town of Troie.' (ii. 744-8) 

These last lines are taken from Boccaccio, but his Criseida speaks 
them much earlier. 'Why should I not love?' she continues, 'I am 
nat religious' ; and, provided she keeps her honour, it can be no 
shame to her. But then, suddenly, she is afraid: 

' Alias! syn I am free, 

Sholde I now love and putte in jupartie 

My sikernesse, and thrallen libertee?' (ii. 771-3) 

She is, as Chaucer says, 'Now hoot, now cold'. In this state she 
goes into the garden. There she hears Antigone sing a Trojan 
song in praise of love, and hears her speak of the bliss of lovers. 
Later, at night, in bed, 'tho lay she stille, and thoughte Of al this 
thing', and as she ponders 

A nyghtyngale, upon a cedre grene, 

Under the chambre wal ther as she lay, 

Ful loude song ayeiii the moone shene, 

Paraunter, in his briddes wise, a lay 

Of love, that made hire herte fressh and gay. (ii. 918-22) 

And so she falls asleep, to dream that an eagle comes and rends her 
heart from her breast and departs, leaving his own in its place. 

This is enough detailed comparison to show the kind of continual 
change Chaucer wrought in Boccaccio's poem, and now a more 
rapid summary will serve. In Boccaccio's poem, as in Chaucer's, 
there is an exchange of letters between the lovers, but in the 
Italian nothing more happens before Troilo's first visit to Criseida, 
and the consummation of their love. In Chaucer's poem, Criseyde's 
first meeting with Troilus takes place at the house of Deiphobus, 
Troilus's brother, and only comes about through ingenious pre- 
paration by Pandarus, in which he shows much adroitness in the 
management of men and affairs. This meeting ends with Criseyde 
agreeing to receive Troilus 'fully to my servyse', and promising to 
do all she can to turn his bitter pains to sweetness. A second meet- 
ing in Pandarus's house is needed before the lovers are united. 


This meeting, too, has to be elaborately planned by Pandarus ; and 
his efforts are, on this occasion, seconded by Destiny. Criseyde 
would have gone home after her supper with Pandarus, and might 
never have known that Troilus was in the house, had not Fortune 
sent so terrible a storm that she was forced to remain for the night. 
Chaucer is quite explicit about this : 

But O, Fortune, executrice of wyerdes, 

O influences of thise hevenes hye, 

Soth is that, under god, ye ben oure hierdes, 

Though to us bestes ben the causes wrie. 

This mene I now, for she gan homward hye, 

But execut was al bisyde hire leve 

The goddes wil, for which she moste bleve. (iii. 617-23) 

So, with Fortune and Pandarus both working against her, Criseyde 
is first persuaded to see Troilus, and then to yield to him. After- 
wards she herself attempts to throw the responsibility on Pan- 
darus. When in the morning he sees her and asks her 'Nece, how 
kan ye fare?', Criseyde answers: 

4 Neve re the bet for yow, 
Fox that ye ben, god yeve youre herte care! 
God help me so, ye caused al this fare/ (iii. 1564-6) 

But her anger, if it is as much as that, does not last, and Pandarus 
soon makes his peace with her. 

The effect of all these alterations on the character of the heroine 
is obvious enough. If Boccaccio's Criseida is not exactly forward, 
she certainly does not hesitate very long when she knows of Troilo's 
love. But Chaucer's heroine is much more difficult to persuade. 
Almost every alteration and addition has as its result the portrayal 
of a woman less approachable, more reluctant, more modest, and 
more timorous; needing more persuasion from Pandarus before 
she is willing to accept even the most humble service; yielding 
finally only when every circumstance points the way, and then 
yielding for 'pitee' rather than desire. 

Mr. Lewis, both in The Allegory of Love and in an essay in 
Essays and Studies, 1 has shown that in thus changing the character 
of Criseyde Chaucer was rewriting the Filostrato 'in terms of 

1 xvii: 'What Chaucer really did to // Filostrato.' 


Courtly Love'. The feelings and behaviour of Chaucer's Criseyde, 
both her reluctance and her 'pitee', are those expected of a lady 
according to the canons of Courtly Love. It is safe to be even more 
precise than this. As he wrote the early part of Troilus, Chaucer 
had at the back of his mind the course of love as it had been 
allegorically depicted in the Roman de la Rose ; and the course of 
Troilus's wooing is made to conform to this. The various diffi- 
culties encountered by the Dreamer of the Roman in his pursuit 
of the lady's love that is, of the Rose difficulties there repre- 
sented by the allegorical figures Danger, Chastity, Evil-Tongue, 
and the rest are also encountered by Troilus in his wooing of 
Criseyde. But Chaucer presents them directly, as the thoughts and 
feeling of Criseyde, her doubts, her fears of what people will say, 
and so on. So, too, the comfort given to the lover in the Roman 
by such figures as Bel Acueil, Franchise, and Pitee finds expression 
in Criseyde's graciousness, generosity, and sympathy the qualities 
which in both poems give the lover his hope of ultimate success. 

I have said that Chaucer rewrote the Filostrato in terms of 
Courtly Love, and the implication might seem to be that Boc- 
caccio's poem had nothing to do with Courtly Love. This, of 
course, is not true. In the introduction to their edition of the 
Filostrato Griffin and Myrick devote a whole section to a discussion 
of the ways in which the poem was affected by the doctrine of 
Courtly Love. They show that it affects only the character and 
actions of Troilo. He is conceived as the true courtly lover, but 
Criseida is outside the convention. As they put it: 'Of this highly 
idealistic conception of love Boccaccio, by diverting attention 
from Criseida and her perfidy, and concentrating on Troilus and 
his woes, succeeded in the Filostrato in availing himself to the full'. 1 

But this was not good enough for Chaucer. I said earlier that 
he looked upon the story of Troilus and Criseyde as that of a great 
love. If it was to be a great love, one fitted to be celebrated in 
poetry, the lady, too, must be worthy to inspire and receive the 
humble service of the lover, otherwise his love would be a mockery. 
Chaucer, therefore, had to re-create Criseida and, as was natural, 
he did so in conformity with the ideal of the age. It is a sign of his 

1 Op. cit., pp. 88-89. 


sympathy with and understanding of that ideal that he could 
create a woman of such charm and such humanity that, however 
one may interpret her, it is not necessary to explain or apologize 
for Troilus's love. 

Boccaccio's Troilo Chaucer could accept almost as he was. He 
does, however, make one characteristic alteration at the beginning; 
he omits a passage (// Fil. i. 23) in which Troilo refers to a previous 
love affair, and instead depicts him, when he first appears in the 
Temple, as one who has 'no devocioun ... to non' (i. 187-8), and 
who is so far quite ignorant of love. This is perhaps one reason 
why his Troilus seems younger than Troilo. He is, too, more 
given to weeping and swooning though Troilo does both. For us 
it is difficult to accept his behaviour as it was meant to be accepted. 
We tend to see him either as a despicable weakling or as a some- 
what comic figure. I am quite sure that neither impression was 
intended by Chaucer. Troilus and his prototype Troilo are 
patterns of the true lover in their abandonment to grief and 
despair, as well as in their complete absorption in their love and 
their humility at times almost servility towards tjieirlady. What 
seems to us Troilus's weakness, his inability to act, to do anything 
for himself, is equally in the tradition ; though compared with the 
Dreamer of the Roman de la Rose he is an extreme example of the 
dependent lover. For the Dreamer of the Roman does sometimes 
take action, though not without encouragement from the figure 
called Frend. Troilus is completely dependent on his Frend 
Pandarus up to the time when Criseyde has deserted him, when 
he is beyond Pandarus's help. 

How completely Troilus's inability to act and Criseyde's holding 
back are in the tradition can be seen from a passage in Chretien 
de Troyes's romance Cleges. There the lover and the lady are in 
love with one another, but neither makes any attempt to declare 
their love : they have not yet found a friend to bring them together. 
They go on a journey, he in the service of his lord and she in that 
of her lady, and in the course of it they have to cross the sea. 
Chretien describes them sitting side by side, both suffering tortures 
alike from love-sickness and sea-sickness; neither saying a word 
to the other. 


It is customary to speak as if Chaucer were more interested 
in Criseyde than in Troilus, but I doubt whether this is really 
true. The reason for this belief is, I suppose, that nowadays we 
find Troilus so much less credible than Criseyde ; and since he is, 
throughout, the perfect lover, Chaucer himself finds less to say 
about him. But Chaucer never makes fun of him. He always depicts 
him sympathetically, e.g. in the lines which describe the regenera- 
tion love has brought him, as it must do according to the canons 
of Courtly Love : 

And in the town his manere tho forth ay 

So goodly was, and gat him so in grace, 

That ech hym loved that loked on his face. (i. 1076-8) 

In Chaucer's portrayal of the deserted Troilus of the last Book 
there is deeper feeling than mere sympathy ; and, though he is for 
the most part following Boccaccio, Chaucer intensifies some of his 
effects. Pandarus's unavailing attempts to distract Troilus by 
taking him to the house of Sarpedon, and the visit to Criseyde's 
empty house, where everything reminds Troilus of past happiness, 
are fully described in both poems, but more fully in Chaucer's. 
So, too, is the scene of the long watch on the walls of Troy, which 
Boccaccio places at the gates of the town. Here Chaucer's account 
seems to gain by the fact that he is an observer and not a parti- 
cipator in Troilus's feelings. By describing more fully than Boc- 
caccio had done the background of normal life, which goes on in 
complete indifference to Troilus's sufferings, he makes us more 
aware of the pathos of his situation : 

Tyl it was noon, they stoden for to se 

Who that ther come ; and every maner wight 

That com fro fer, they seyden it was she, 

Til that thei koude knowen hym aright. 

Now was his herte dul, now was it light ; 

And thus byjaped stonden for to stare 

Aboute naught this Troilus and Pandare. (v. 1114-20) 

A last despairing hope is raised by something descried afar off a 
detail not in Boccaccio. Troilus cries: 

'Have here my trouthe, I se hire! yond she is! 
Heve up thyn eyen, man! maistow nat se?' 


Pandare answerde: 'Nay, so mote I the! 

Al wrong, by god ; what seistow man ? where arte ? 

That I see yond nys but a fare-carte.' (v. 1158-62) 

Only Chaucer, who sees Troilus in perspective, can risk this 

There are two important passages concerned with Troilus 
which Chaucer added, neither of which, to judge from our manu- 
scripts, was in his first draft. It is Chaucer alone who, when his 
hero has been slain on the battlefield, translates him to the Eighth 
Sphere, whence he looks down upon 'this litel spot of erthe' and 
laughs 'right at the wo Of hem that wepten for his deth so faste' 
(v. 1815-22). Chaucer took this passage from another poem of 
Boccaccio, the Teseida, w r here it describes Arcite. I shall leave the 
consideration of this until later. 

The other passage is Troilus's long debate with himself about 
free will and predestination (iv. 955 ff.), which was lifted bodily 
from Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae. This has been con- 
demned, and it is certainly too long and too much a mere trans- 
lation of Boethius, but I think that what Chaucer meant by it can 
still be seen. Chaucer's Troilus has the qualities *of a true lover, 
including passivity in suffering. In real life such a man is almost 
bound to be something of a fatalist, as Troilus is on several 
occasions shown to be. By giving him this argument Chaucer has 
attempted to deepen his character, to show him not merely as a 
fatalist but as one \vho is a fatalist by reasoned conviction. It is 
significant that, although he follows Boethius's argument closely, 
Chaucer omits the conclusion that man has free w r ill, on certain 
conditions which would not suit Troilus or the context. 

Chaucer's Pandarus is inevitably more complex than Pandaro. 
He has so much more to do, and is so much more often on the 
stage. The mere fact that he is an older man than Pandaro, and is 
Criseyde's uncle not her cousin, makes his relation to the lovers 
less simple. Boccaccio's Pandaro is of Troilus's age, a natural 
companion for a young man. He is like Troilo in many of his tastes 
and ideas, though he is unlike him in being nothing of an idealist 
and a good deal of a cynic. The friendship between Pandarus and 


Troilus is of a different kind. Pandarus has the affection of an 
older man for one who depends on him. He is so self-assured 
and so much on top of his world, and Troilus is so young and so 
ignorant, that it comes natural to him to encourage and advise 
Troilus and to aid him in every way. It is, in fact, natural to him 
to play the part that Frend plays in the Roman de la Rose. 

Mr. Lewis has stressed this function of Chaucer's Pandarus, 
and has pointed out that it explains the many occasions on which 
Pandarus acts as the exponent of Courtly Love, explaining to 
Troilus the nature of his feelings and what, according to the code, 
it is fitting for him to do. But Pandarus is also Troilus's friend on 
a more ordinary level, and as such he does not merely advise, he 
also rallies, him, and, however sympathetically, laughs at him, 
calling him 'thou mouses heart' and telling him 

'thow hast a ful grete care 
Lest that the Cherl may falle out of the moone.' (i. 1023-4) 

It is at times like this that we have a sense of being in contact 
with someone who, while entirely sympathetic to Troilus, yet 
looks at his affairs from outside. 

This, I think, is also what happens in the much discussed 
passage when, having brought the lovers together and seen them 
at last in one another's arms, Pandarus remarks : 

Tor aught I kan espien, 
I nor this candel serven here of nought. 
Light is nat good for sike folkes yen;' 

And bar the candel to the chymeneye. (iii. 1135-41) 

At this moment when the lovers are absorbed in each other and 
we in them, we are suddenly brought up against the ordinary 
world where men are aware of such things as candles. This con- 
sciousness of a world outside the world of love is something that 
Boccaccio does not give us. His poem has no room for such con- 
trast nor, in fact, room for comedy. 

Mr. Lewis warns us against seeing this and other actions and 
speeches of Pandarus as 'broadly comic* inside the magic circle of 

5600 K 


Courtly Love. 1 1 am sure that he is right in so far as he means that 
Pandarus believes the love of Troilus and Criseyde to be good in 
itself (he says so explicitly) ; and for the most part has no doubts 
about the part he is playing, a part wholly justified and even moral 
from the point of view of the code of Courtly Love. Yet, as Mr. 
Lewis also makes clear, this is by no means the only part he is 
capable of playing. His dealings with Deiphobus and Helen and 
other members of Troilus's family show him to be an experienced 
man of the world, with fingers in other pies than Troilus's. It is 
impossible that he should be as single-minded as Troilus. His 
attitude towards his own love affair is significant, for he allows 
Criseyde to jest about it, and he can laugh at it himself, albeit 
ruefully. And it is surely not for nothing that Chaucer uses of 
him the same phrases as he uses of the Wife of Bath : he knows 'the 
olde daunce of love'. 

More significant still are the very occasional misgivings he has 
about the part he is playing. When he reminds Troilus that 

'for the am I bicomen, 
Betwixen game and ernest, swich a meene 
As maken wommen unto men to comen' (iii. 253-5) 

he is surely speaking, for the moment, as one who is outside the 
circle of Courtly Love. 

I see no real inconsistency between this Pandarus and Pandarus 
the serious exponent of Courtly Love. I think that Chaucer, begin- 
ning with the idea of the Frend in the Roman de la Rose, imagined 
a human being of a kind naturally fitted to fulfil that function ; but 
just as he created a Criseyde who is much more complex than the 
typical courtly lady, so in Pandarus he created something subtler 
than the traditional Frend, and something human enough to play 
the game of love with all his energy, and at the same time to be 
conscious of much outside the game. 

So far I have spoken only of Chaucer's characters as compared 
with Boccaccio's. I want now to consider some other alterations 
which Chaucer made. 

1 'What Chaucer really did to // Filostrato', Essays &f Studies, xvii, p. 64. 


When one thinks of each poem as a whole, perhaps the chief 
thing that strikes one is how infinitely more varied Chaucer's is. 
It reaches out in all directions from Boccaccio's. On the one hand, 
conversation is more natural, and more colloquially expressed than 
Boccaccio's. This is one means by which Chaucer brings us closer 
to real life. Another is the brief depiction of vivid little scenes 
Criseyde with her ladies in a paved parlour with a maiden reading 
aloud to them, or Deiphobus and Helen receiving a letter from 
Pandarus and descending the stairway to a green arbour where 
they may read it (ii. 1704). We must be careful here, for Boccaccio 
has some passages which impress us in the same way. The scene 
in Book iv. 685 ff. of Chaucer's poem in which Criseyde, having 
heard that she is to be sent to her father, is visited by a group of 
ladies who chatter and offer her congratulations and consolation, 

And bisyly they gonnen hire comforten 

Of thyng, God woot, on which she litel thoughte, (iv. 722-3) 

is also in Boccaccio. Nevertheless, we do not receive from Boc- 
caccio's poem, as we do from Chaucer's, the continual impression 
of being within a complete world of people and things a real 
world to which the lovers also belong, and in which they play 
their part. 

At the other extreme are the highly rhetorical passages which are 
found throughout the poem. Chaucer, as I have already said, 
opens his poem in the 'high style', and each of the books is intro- 
duced in a similar style with invocations, rhetorical ornament, and 
general reflections. Most of these rhetorical introductory passages 
are designed to prepare us for the action to follow. The third book, 
which tells of the lovers' union, opens with a hymn to love which 
Chaucer has removed from the context in which it appears in 
Boccaccio's poem. The fourth book warns us of Troilus's change 
of fortune : 

From Troilus she [Fortune] gan hire brighte face 
Awey to wrythe, and took of hym non heede, 
But cast hym clene oute of his lady grace, 
And on hire whiel she sette up Diomede. (iv. 8-n) 

It is by these invocations that Chaucer contrives his alteration 


of the form of Boccaccio's poem, converting its eight parts (divi- 
sions which have no vital significance) into his own five books, and 
thereby, as has been noted, dividing the action in exactly the same 
way as the five acts divide an Elizabethan Tragedy. This corre- 
spondence is, of course, purely fortuitous. Chaucer knew nothing 
like a five-act Tragedy, and the five movements probably came to 
his mind as a natural and symmetrical way of indicating the move- 
ment of Troilus's fortunes from 'wo to wele, and after out of joie'. 
Passages of rhetoric are to be found in other parts of the poem 
besides the introductions to the five books, for example in the 
apostrophe to Fortune which occurs at the climax of the wooing of 
Criseyde : 

'But O, Fortune, executrice of wyerdes . . .' (iii. 617) 

Often they contain what might be called a philosophical comment 
on the action. For example Troilus, who is scoffing at love, is just 
about to be smitten by the eyes of Criseyde, and Chaucer writes : 

O blynde world; O blynde entencioun! 

How often falleth al the effect contraire 

Of surquidrie, and foule presumpcioun ; 

For kaught is proud, and kaught is debonaire. (i. 211-14) 

The effect of these passages, whether we like them or not, and 
many modern readers do not, is to set the story of the lovers 
in perspective to give it a wider background and to bring it into 
relation with issues and forces that concern all mankind. 

Chaucer's many references to planetary influences, to Fortune, 
and to Destiny had, I believe, the same purpose. Professor Curry 
has pointed out 1 how much more frequent such references are in 
Chaucer's poem than in the Filostrato (though that poem is not 
quite without them). Curry shows too that the general conception 
behind Chaucer's references is that of Boethius. According to 
Boethius the workings of Fate are manifested to man through the 
agency of lesser powers, among which were Fortune and the 
influence of the planets. It is this conception that Chaucer has in 
mind when he calls Fortune 'executrice of wyerdes'. Curry has 
a theory that the whole story of the lovers is worked out in close 

1 'Destiny in Chaucer's Troilus', P.M.L.A. xlv (1930), pp. 129 ff. 


relation to this Boethian conception, and he claims that Chaucer 
has created a tragedy of Fate 'far in advance of medieval theory 
and practice*. But in making this claim it seems to me that Curry 
goes too far. It is true that Chaucer does several times refer to the 
workings of Destiny at critical points in the story, as, for instance, 
in the stanza which imputes to Fortune the 'smoky rain' which 
kept Criseyde in Pandarus's house. But the use of the Boethian 
conception is not systematic in the poem, nor do we ever get the 
impression that the lovers' fate is entirely due to Fortune or 
Destiny. The effect of these allusions is rather to suggest a wider 
background and wider issues behind the love story. 

We find Chaucer doing the same thing on an earthly plane. 
Several of his additions to Boccaccio are concerned with the 
approaching doom of Troy, and though Boccaccio also alludes to 
it, one is more continually aware in Chaucer's poem of the city 
moving gradually towards its tragic fate. Chaucer stresses it at the 
beginning when he tells us that Chalchas stole away to the Greeks 
because he had discovered by consulting the oracle that Troy 
must be destroyed ; and again towards the end of the story we are 
reminded that 

Fortune, which that permutacioun 

Of thynges hath . . . 

Gan pulle away the fetheres brighte of Troie 

Fro day to day, til they be bare of joye. (v. 1541-7) 

In his poem the fate of Troy forms a background and a parallel 
to the fate of the lovers. 

All the passages I have just been considering rhetorical passages, 
passages of philosophical reflection, passages on Destiny and on the 
fate of Troy (all for the most part either added by Chaucer or at 
least more strongly emphasized) have been used by Mr. Lewis 
as examples of what he calls the medievalization of Boccaccio's 
poem. And from our point of view, at a distance of over six 
centuries, this is how they appear. But this cannot be how Chaucer 
regarded them. It is inconceivable that, as he sat down to write 
Troilus, he should have deliberately set himself the task of 
'medievalizing' this poem of Boccaccio's. It seems more likely that 
he felt that the story was of a kind that justified, or even demanded, 


a treatment as dignified as he could give it. If we remember the 
precept of the rhetoricians, that only a great subject was fitted for 
the high style, we may conclude that Chaucer felt his subject to be 
a great one, and that these passages express his sense of its high 
significance. The stanza in which he bids farewell to his book 
confirms that he regarded his poem in this way: 

Go, litcl book, go, litel myn tragedye, 

Ther god thi makere yit, or that he dye, 

So sende myght to make in som comedye! 

But, litel book, no makyng thow nenvie, 

But subgit be to alle poesic ; 

And kis the steppes where as thow seest space 

Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan and Stace. (v. 1786-92) 

It is, no doubt, a convention of medieval poetry for a poet to take 
leave of his work in some such way as this, But, with Chaucer at 
least, to label a certain passage as a convention is not to say that it 
is meaningless. In this stanza Chaucer names the greatest poets 
he knew: * Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan and Stace'; and it is worth 
noting that we find him, however humbly, mentioning his own 
poem in the same breath with them. We may, in this connexion, 
remember his opening lines, 'The double sorwe of Troilus to 
tellen . . . My purpos is', with their hint of the opening of the 

The deep seriousness of the end of Troilus, of what is usually 
called the 'Epilogue', certainly fits in with this idea. After Troilus's 
translation, Chaucer makes his final comment on the poem, first 
in direct relation to Troilus : 

Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for love! 
Swich fyn hath al his grete worthinesse . . . 

and then, widening out from this: 

Swych fyn hath false wo rides brotelness. (v. 1828-32) 

Then follows the famous stanza addressed to 'yonge fresshe 
folkes', bidding them turn from worldly vanity to God, and to 
love Him, for 'He nyl falsen no wight, dar I seye'. Chaucer then 
attacks the 'payens corsed olde rites' and 'thise wrecched worldes 


appetites' ; dedicates his book to 'moral Gower' and 'philosophical 
Strode', and concludes with a prayer to the Trinity, adapted from 
a passage in Dante's Paradiso. 

This epilogue has long puzzled the critics, and many have been 
the attempted explanations. Many have dismissed it merely as a 
palinode. Medieval writers on love were accustomed, it is argued, 
to add at the end of their works a recantation of what had gone 
before, and Chaucer is merely following their example. These 
critics compare with it the Retractation at the end of the Canterbury 
Tales. The implication is that the epilogue to Troilus is something 
apart from the poem, and that the poem can be understood without 
it. This is true of the Retractation to the Canterbury Tales, which 
are not in any way linked to the Tales themselves ; but if we examine 
the epilogue to Troilus we shall find that it is closely linked to the 
final statements Chaucer makes about Troilus himself. One of 
the most extreme advocates of the theory of the irrelevance of the 
epilogue is Curry in the article I have referred to. Having made up 
his mind that Troilus is a 'tragedy, strongly deterministic in tone, 
the action of which is presided over by a complex and inescapable 
Destiny' 1 he is obliged to dismiss the epilogue, which does not 
fit in with this theory at all, as 'dramatically a sorry performance', 2 
and he concludes that the 'line of cleavage between the two pro- 
ductions [i.e. the poem and the epilogue] . . . may fairly be said to 
represent the complete separation of the pure artist from the 
religious man'. 3 

This seems to me not merely a radically wrong judgement, but 
even unnecessary from Curry's own point of view. He himself 
showed that this whole conception of Destiny was derived from 
Boethius. But to Boethius Destiny, or Fate, is itself the servant of 
God. For him God is the stable centre of the universe who 'trans- 
mits the power of His will through successive stages of action, each 
of which, as it is discovered to be farther and farther away from 
the unchangeable source, shows more and more diversity, change 
and alteration'. 4 Chaucer, according to Curry, showed the lover's 
fate as the result of the action of an irrational Fortune. What more 

1 Op. cit., p. 129. 2 Ibid., p. 165 

3 Ibid., p. 168. 4 Ibid., p. 130. 


natural, then, than that, at the end of his story, he should direct 
his readers to the stable God in whose mind lies the explanation of 
all apparent irrationalities ? I do not claim that this is exactly what 
Chaucer does, only that this with much else may have been at 
the back of his mind as he wrote the Epilogue. 

At the other extreme is Shanley, 1 who sees the whole poem as 
the moral tale of Troilus, illustrating the Christian truth that 
nothing but misery comes from trusting in earthly love. The ulti- 
mate cause of Troilus's woe, he holds, was not that he trusted in 
a woman, but that he placed his hope of happiness in what was by 
its very nature temporary and imperfect. Shanley maintains that 
Chaucer hints at this moral throughout the poem. 

I do not think that either of these interpretations will do. 
I believe, unlike Curry, that Chaucer meant the epilogue to be an 
integral part of the poem, and that it grows gradually out of the 
poem itself and is not merely tacked on. I do not, however, find 
Shanley's view acceptable, at least as he states it. It is, perhaps, 
rather an over-simplification of the truth than an untruth. As it is, 
it will not fit this complex poem. If this were all that Chaucer meant 
us to see in his poem, why does he expend so much of his powers in 
making the love of Troilus and Criseyde a beautiful thing, and 
what is the point of the long wooing ? 

To explain the relation of the epilogue to the poem I must go 
back to Chaucer's portrayal of Criseyde. Chaucer re-created 
Boccaccio's heroine so that she should approximate as nearly as 
possible to the ideal of the courtly code. But, one might ask, was 
this not an odd thing to do, knowing, as he did, that he was going 
to make her commit the worst sin a courtly lady could commit 
that of infidelity to her lover? One might also ask how it could 
come about that a lady perfect according to the canons of Courtly 
Love, did commit that sin. Yet Chaucer has made it credible to 
us that Criseyde should act as she does towards Troilus: he has 
drawn her in such a way that we do not feel any inconsistency 
between the charming woman of the earlier part of the poem and 
the woman who betrays Troilus. Mr. Lewis has pointed out how, 
from the beginning, her timidity and fearfulness are emphasized, 

1 E.L.H., 1939, 'The Troilus and Christian Doctrine*. 


and because of this, when she is alone, she has to find support in 
the strength and self-assurance of Diomede. 

But this quality of timidity, which has been so stressed by the 
critics, is not peculiar to Criseyde among courtly ladies. It is 
natural to the type. Fear is one of the things which the Dreamer of 
the Roman de la Rose has to overcome. Thus, for the poet who sets 
out to create an ideal courtly lady, this quality will be as much 
'given* as the qualities of Shame, or Modesty, or Bel Acueil. 
Perhaps it is now clear what Chaucer has done. He has, as I see it, 
taken the three central figures of the love convention, the Lady, 
the Lover, and the Friend, and has endowed them with the qualities 
which conventionally belong to them; but at the same time he has 
made of them three consistent and credible human beings. These 
three beings he sets in action in real life or at least what his 
genius contrives to make us accept as real life and he leaves 
events to work out as they must. The very qualities demanded of 
an ideal courtly lady are the cause of Criseyde's downfall. She 
could not have returned to Troilus, nor could he, as we have seen, 
have taken action to bring her back. True, Criseyde need not 
actually have been false to Troilus, even if she did not return, but 
it is entirely credible that one of her temperament should find sup- 
port where she could. By their very natures, then, the natures given 
them in accordance with the idea of Courtly Love, the charm- 
ing figures which Chaucer has created were not strong enough for 
the situation in which they found themselves. This love of theirs, 
which Chaucer hymns so beautifully, and for which he feels so much 
sympathy, must fail when it is put to the test. We may note that the 
reward of the faithful lover is that he is at least allowed to see his 
love as the thing it is. It is the frailty of human love, in that form of 
it which was the ideal of the age, which is the theme of the poem. 

Here, to some extent, I agree with Shanley, but I do not feel 
that it is Troilus who is condemned. If anything is condemned 
(but the word is too harsh), it is the ideal which the characters 
represent. The words of the Epilogue 

Tor he nyl falsen no wight, dar I sey' (v. 1845) 
are, of course, directly related to this failure of human love. And 


the sorrow which one feels at the end of the poem seems to me 
more for the failure of an ideal whose beauty Chaucer had felt, 
than for the fate of his characters. He shows his regret in the lines : 

And gladlier I wol write, if you leste, 
Penelopes trouthe and good Alceste. (v. 1778-9) 

That this theme of the failure of human love in its most ideal 
form was one sufficiently great and moving to be fittingly handled 
in the grand manner, needs no demonstration. Nor that to Chaucer, 
living in an age of faith, the only possible end was the one he gave 
it. The Epilogue is certainly no repudiation of what had gone 
before, but neither is it, in any narrow sense, the moral of the 
story. It is the end to which the whole story inevitably moves. 



/ X X /X XX/X / * 

Flemer(e) of feendes / / out of hym and here (Man of Law's Tale, 
B 460). ' 

IF this line were met with out of its context, one's first thought 
would probably be that it came from some Middle English 
poem in alliterative verse. Its movement, 2 marked by the 
alliteration, is like that of 

/ X X /X XX /X/X 

Strakande ful stoutly / / in hor store horne3 (Sir Gawain and the 
Green Knight, 1923). 

/ X /X XX/X/X 

Daw(e) the dyker(e) / / and a dozeine other (Piers Plowman, B Text, 
v. 320). 

/ X XX /X XX /X/X 

Marchauntz in the margyne / / hadden many 3eres (ibid. vii. 18). 


Gracyously umbegrouen / / al wyth grene leue} (Purity, 488). 

Alternatively, one might think that it came from some passage of 
religious alliterative prose, for the same movement can be found in 
several works of this kind. For example: 

/XX/X XX /X / X 

swotest 3 swetest / / alre schefte schuppent (Seinte Marherete). 3 

/?X/ X X * ^ * / X 

(>is) blinde beholdyng / / of )n nakid beyng 4 (Book of Privy Coun- 

f X/X XX/X /X 

fleschy felynges / / J vnskilful stirynges 6 (Hilton, Scale of Perfection, 
Bk. 2, ch. 12). 

1 The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson (London, 


2 I assume that here is disyllabic since it rhymes with the infinitive bere in the 
phrase for to here, and with spere (dative). But even if it was not, the movement of 
Chaucer's line can be paralleled in alliterative verse. Cf. 'Dubbed in a dublet 
of a dere tars' (Sir Gawain, 571). 

3 Ed. F. M. Mack, E.E.T.S. o.s. 193 (1933), p. 26, 1. 25. 

4 In beholdyng, the alliteration, falling on the prefix, probably does not coin- 
cide with the stress. 

5 Ed. P. Hodgson, E.E.T.S. o.s. 218 (1944), p. 147, 1. 17. 

6 This reading has been kindly supplied by Miss Helen Gardner from 


Chaucer's line occurs in a prayer the prayer of Constance set 
adrift in her 'steerelees' boat; and I suggest that this is not mere 
accident. Even outside works written in alliterative verse, allitera- 
tion is so prevalent in Middle English religious works, whether 
they be in verse or in prose, that one can hardly avoid the con- 
clusion that many writers felt it to be an ornament proper to their 
subject; 1 and, naturally enough, their alliterative phrases often 
preserve rhythms which are descended from Old English verse, 
and from such alliterative prose as /Elfric's. It is likely, then, that 
Chaucer, bent on conveying the mood of Constance, fell into a 
familiar 'tune', one that was right for a prayer. That he was not 
deliberately introducing it, of set purpose, is suggested by the fact 
that this rhythm combined with alliteration is not found elsewhere 
in Constance's prayer, nor elsewhere in her tale. 2 On the other 
hand, similar lines (that is, lines containing the rhythms of allitera- 
tive verse, marked by alliteration) occasionally occur in other works 
of Chaucer in which echoes of some religious writing, or writings, 
are possible. For example, there is the line from the description of 
the Parson, 'A shiten shepherde and a clene shepe' (Prologue, A 
504), or the (less striking) one in the Friar's sermon in the Sum- 
moned s Tale, 'To been yclawed or to brenne or bake' (D 173 1). 3 

Chaucer's use of alliteration in two passages of battle description 
has often been remarked. Of the description in the Knight's Tale 
(A 2602 ff.) Professor F. N. Robinson writes that 'Chaucer skil- 
fully suggests the effect of the meter, without reproducing its 
structure or conforming strictly to the rules of alliteration'. 4 This 

MS. Harleian 6579 (cf. Orchard, eel., p. 211). A later hand has altered fleschy 
to fleschly. This example, like Chaucer's line, has a a / b b alliteration which is 
rare in good alliterative verse. 

1 This may account for sentences in Chaucer's Parson's Tale like 'For soothly 
oure sweete Lord Jhesu Crist hath spared us so debonairly in oure folies, that if 
he ne hadde pitee of mannes soule, a sory songe we myghtcn alle synge' (Robin- 
son, p. 281). There seems to be no marked use of alliteration in St. Raymund of 
Pennaforte's Summa, which is the nearest we can get to the work from which 
Chaucer adapted the first part of the Parson's Tale. 

2 There is a good deal of alliteration in the Man of Law's Talc, and lines that 
really have four stresses (instead of the normal five) are common in Chaucer's 
works. But it is the four-stressed movement pointed by the alliteration which 
makes this line remarkable. 

3 The Prioress's Prologue (B 1643 ff.) contains a number of alliterative phrases, 
but the four-stressed movement is not present. 4 Op. cit., p. 783. 


rather understates the case, for, while it is true that the passage as 
a whole is not written in alliterative verse, there are lines in it 
(e.g. 2605, 2610, 2611) which could have come straight from a 
poem in that metre. Professor R. M. Smith 1 has suggested that 
Chaucer's description 'owes some of its lines to borrowings from 
English romances', and he refers to the account of the battle 
between Ipomadon and Lyolyne in Ipomadon A 2 (especially 
7989-95), and to 11128-45 in Partonope of Blots. 3 Both these 
passages have some similarity to Chaucer's. In the one from 
Partonope there is a number of the same or similar phrases, and its 
method of description is rather like Chaucer's; 4 the passage from 
Ipomadon A also provides some verbal parallels and (unlike 
Partonope) is at least as alliterative as his. That there is some con- 
nexion between both of them and Chaucer's lines is very likely. 
Yet it seems to me that the similarities between them and the 
Knight's Tale do not, in themselves, account for the most striking 
thing in Chaucer's description, the 'feel' of alliterative verse which 
he conveys in it. 5 The other Chaucerian passage, the description 
of the sea-light in the Legend of Cleopatra (635 ff.), shares this 
quality, though perhaps in a lesser degree, for none of its lines 
are regular 'alliterative long lines'. There are, however, several 
that would probably pass unnoticed in many an alliterative 
poem (e.g. 637, 638, 642); and, if there were any doubt 
that Chaucer had that kind of verse in his head, his use of the 
word 'heterly' (638) should help to dispose of it, for this word 
belongs to the special vocabulary of alliterative writings. 6 One 

1 'Three Notes on the Knight's Tale , M.L.N. 51 (1936). 

2 Ed. E. Kolbing. 

3 Ed. A. T. Bodtker, p. 109 (E.E.T.S., E.S., cix). Robinson had already 
suggested that 'for the striking use of alliteration' the passage might be compared 
with Yioain and Gawain, 3525 ff. But, as Smith indicates, Ywain provides no 
parallels as striking as those in the two romances mentioned above. 

4 It is not certain, however, that Partonope was written early enough to be 
known to Chaucer, and to me its lines read like an imitation of the Knight's Tale, 
rather than the other way round. This is also the view expressed by Johnstone 
Parr in 'Chaucer and Partonope of Blois' ', M.L.N. 60 (1945). 

5 It is, I suppose, possible that the writer of Ipomadon A and Chaucer both 
knew and were echoing the same passage in alliterative verse. If Partonope later 
imitated Chaucer, there might be just such similarities as we find. 

6 All the references given in the O.E.D. to this word in works between 1200 
and 1450 come from alliterative verse or from religious alliterative prose, with 


could, in fact, say of these two descriptions, as of the first line 
quoted in this paper, that Chaucer has fallen into the 'tune* 
appropriate to his subject for, from Old English times onwards, 
'alliterative' poets excelled in descriptions of battle. In view of the 
length of these passages, it seems likely that he may have done so 
more deliberately than when he wrote the single line from the 
Man of Law's Tale. 

If I am right, we have two instances of Chaucer's ear for a 'tune*. 
My third instance has been \videly recognized as such, and here 
there is no doubt at all that he was making conscious use of it. His 
mockery in Sir Thopas of the tail-rhyme romances glances at 
almost every feature that is characteristic of them, but perhaps 
its subtlest manifestation is in his mimicry of their metre. 1 One 
particular feature of his practice (and theirs) illustrates well the 
sensitiveness of his ear. In reading aloud a tail-rhyme stanza, one 
naturally emphasizes the tail-line, and, in particular, its rhyme- 
word; and, in a poem of any length, poets do not find it easy to 
ensure that this natural emphasis shall always fall on a phrase or 
word that needs it. 2 It is clear that Chaucer rec9gnized the em- 
phatic quality of the tail-line (and the attendant dangers), for into 
it he puts some of his most successful anticlimaxes : 

His rode is lyk scarlet in grayn, 
And I yow telle in good certayn, 

He hadde a semely nose. (B 1917-19) 
Ful many a mayde, bright in bour, 
They moorne for hym paramour, 

Whan hem were bet to slepe. (B 1932-4) 

Another piece of mimicry in Sir Thopas is of the same kind, and is 
equally telling. It is to be heard in the bathetic slowing down of the 
pace which comes with the single-stressed line ; for example : 

He seyde, * Child, by Termagaunt! 
But if thou prike out of myn haunt, 

the single exception of this line of Chaucer's. Its significance in Chaucer's verse 
is emphasized by J. R. R. Tolkien in 'Chaucer as a Philologist', Trans, of the 
Philol. Soc. (1934), P. 47- 

1 The fullest account of this is given by A. Mel. Trounce in 'The English 
Tail-rhyme Romances', Med. Aev. i-iii (1932-4; see especially i, pp. 168 ff.). 

2 Mr. Trounce has shown that skilful writers do avoid this difficulty (op. cit. 
i, pp. 174, 180). 


Anon I sle thy steede 

With mace.' (B 2000-3) 

Such lines are not to be found in the tail- rhyme romances, but 
they are a regular feature of the metre of Sir Tristrem, where they 
often have the same effect of bathos; 1 and, since this romance is in 
the Auchinleck MS., it is likely to have been read by Chaucer. 2 

There are, probably, other rhythmic echoes from works known 
to Chaucer which will occur to learned readers, and others still 
which, at this distance of time, can no longer be detected. One 
more may be suggested, this time from a foreign poet. In connexion 
with the passage in The Parlement of Foules which runs, 

'Thorgh me men gon into that blysful place 
'Of hertes hele and dedly woundes cure. . . .' 
'Thorgh me men gon' than spak that other side, 
'Unto the mortal strokes of the spere. . . .' (127 ff.) 

Annotators usually refer to Dante's Inferno (iii. i ff.). Yet, though 
there is an obvious similarity in that both passages record inscrip- 
tions over gates leading to non-earthly regions, the two passages 
are poles apart in true significance, and even more in feeling. The 
only other link between them is the similarity of their rhythm. 
I believe that what haunted Chaucer's mind was the repeated Ter 
me si va . . .' of Dante's lines, and that it is this, perhaps more than 
anything else, that constitutes his 'debt' to the Italian poet. In this 
instance it is not easy to say whether Chaucer is deliberately 
reproducing Dante's rhythm, or whether this is an unintended 
echo of his reading. His 'borrowed' rhythms, as I have suggested, 
may be of both kinds ; and it is likely that there are some that are 
not wholly one or the other. 

Of whatever kind they are, they are all evidence of Chaucer's 
'good ear' ; and they are by no means the only manifestation of it. 

1 Cf., for instance, 

Y-hated also )?ou be 
Of alle f>at drink wine! 
Hennes 3ern f>ou fle 
Out of si3t mine 
In lede! (3063-7) 

2 For evidence that Chaucer knew this manuscript, see Mrs. L. H. Loomis, 
'Chaucer and the Auchinleck MS.', in Studies in Honor ofCarleton Brown (1940), 
pp. in ff. ; also other recent publications by the same author. 


He has, of course, an ear for the right word in the right context, 
as witness the 'oules' with which the Friar threatens his congrega- 
tion, 1 and the words and phrases from romances which he uses in 
Sir Thopas and nowhere else. 2 He was, too, keenly aware of the 
sounds made by living creatures, whether man or beast. Instances 
that are almost too obvious to mention are his reproductions of the 
noises made by birds and animals, the 'Kek, kek! kokkow! quek, 
quek' of the vulgar birds in the Parlement of Foules, and the 
triumphant 'wehee' of the clerk's horse as he gallops towards the 
fen. 3 His humans, too, make appropriate noises, some more and 
some less articulate. There is Alysoun's malicious giggle 'Tehee!', 4 
the carter's 'Hayt, Brok! hayt, Scot' shouted to his pair of horses, 5 
and the clerks' 'Keep! keep! stand! stand! jossa, warderere' yelled 
at theirs. 6 The drunkard is apostrophized by the Pardoner as one 
who breathes through his 'dronke nose ... As though thou seydest 
ay "Sampsoun, Sampsoun!" ' 7 

Far more important, as vitally affecting the quality of Chaucer's 
poetry, are the idiosyncrasies which mark the speech of some of his 
characters, and are one of his chief means of individualizing them. 
The instance that springs to the mind is the dialect of the clerks, 
John and Aleyn, which gives dramatic expression to the statement 
that they were born in a 'toun . . . that highte Strother, Fer in the 
north'. 8 Professor Tolkien has shown that, though the clerks do 
not speak 'pure Northern' throughout their lines, Chaucer's repre- 
sentation of their speech is more than merely impressionistic. 9 
There are reasons for thinking that Chaucer's knowledge of their 
dialect came in part from written sources, but Professor Tolkien 
notes that it would also have been possible for him to acquire it 
from living speakers; and the exactness with which some of the 

1 D 1730. Compare Sawles Warde, ed. R. M. Wilson, 136, and Ancren Riwle, 
ed. J. Morton, p. 212, in both of which the devils toss the souls in hell with 
'eawles' ('flesh-hooks'). 

2 Cf. Mrs. Loomis's list of words in Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's 
Canterbury Tales (1941), p. 491 n. 

3 Reeve's Tale, A 4066. 4 Miller's Tale, A 3740. 
5 Friar's Tale, D 1543. 6 Reeve's Tale, A 4101. 

7 Pardoner's Tale, C 553-4. 8 Reeve's Tale, A 4014-15. 

9 Op. cit., p. 54: 'The evidence ... is sufficient to establish the claim of the 
dialect of the northern clerks to be something quite different from conventional 
literary representations of rustic speech.* 


details of their speeches can be localized 1 seems to suggest some 
direct contact with speakers, if not from Strother itself, at least 
from the far north of England, beyond the Tees. Here, then, there 
is a possibility, and perhaps one might almost say a probability, 
that Chaucer is mimicking living speech. Of the other passages in 
Chaucer's works which give the same impression it would not be 
safe to say anything like as much as this. All that can be said is 
that, in them, an individual manner of speaking is indicated by 
certain stylistic or linguistic features which are not or, at any 
rate, not in the same degree features of Chaucer's style elsewhere. 
For instance, the wheedling tone of the begging Friar in the 
Summoned s Tale (D 1746-53) is conveyed by the grammatical 
construction of his speech, which, after the opening 'Yif us' (re- 
peated in 1750), consists almost entirely of a string of nouns or 
noun clauses (naming what he wants), broken by parentheses 
intended to suggest disparagement of himself or his kind, or 
flattery of his victim : 

Yif us a busshel whete, malt, or reye, 

A Goddes kechyl, or a trype of chese, 

Or elles what yow lyst we may nat cheese 

A Goddes halfpenny, or a masse peny, 

Or yif us of youre brawn, if ye have eny, 

A dagon of youre blanket leeve dame, 

Our suster deere, lo! heere I write your name 

Bacon or beef, or swich thyng as ye fynde. 2 

This offers a considerable contrast to the more normal construction 
of the lines which follow. 

Of all Chaucer's characters it is, of course, the Wife of Bath who 
gives the strongest impression of an individual actually talking, 
and examination of her Prologue shows that here, too, there are 

1 Op. cit., pp. 56-59- 

2 This is quoted from Robinson's edition, but I have altered the punctuation 
slightly in order to make the construction of the sentence clearer. It may be noted 
that the Friar's assumed respect is conveyed, not only by the parenthetic 'leeve 
dame, Our suster deere' but also by the exclusive use of the plural pronouns. 
Contrast the Friar's speeches to Thomas in which he sometimes uses the plural 
pronouns and sometimes the singular, the latter indicating familiarity or (in 
2154-5) rage. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the knight addresses 'his olde wyf as 
'Thou* until he has been subdued to the point of saying 'I put me in youre wise 

6600 L 


oddities of construction. Like many great talkers, the Wife 
evidently speaks at such speed that her words outrun her power to 
control them. She utters her ideas just as they come into her head 
and cannot develop her thought logically or keep distinctions clear 
in argument. Frequent parentheses and repetitions mark the points 
at which she goes off at a tangent and then hauls herself back to 
the point from which she started. 1 Some of these characteristics of 
her speech are exemplified almost at the beginning of her Prologue. 
In five lines (D 4-8) she has two parentheses, and the following 
140 lines or so proceed, not from the statement in 8, but from 
the doubt expressed in parenthesis in 7 ('If I so ofte myghte have 
ywedded bee') ; and, though she begins these lines with the inten- 
tion of answering the objection that she should not have been 
wedded more than once, she keeps on sliding into a general defence 
of marriage as against virginity. Naturally, the longer she talks 
the less she is able to exercise rational control, and the account of 
her fourth husband (453-502), and of how she caught her fifth, 
illustrates even better these features of her 'style'. In 543-86, for 
instance, she allows herself to be side-tracked so often that her 
actual narrative occupies only about fifteen lines out of the forty- 
three (and even in these fifteen there is repetition); and finally she 
loses the thread altogether, and gasps, 

But now, sire, lat me se, what shal I seyn ? 
A ha! by God, I have my tale ageyn. 

Her mechanical repetition of some particular form of expression is 
another sign that she is not using her mind. 2 When she is telling 
how she baited her old husbands, she uses the introductory 
formula 'Thow seist (that)', with the slight variation 'seistow', 
some fifteen times in just over fifty lines (248-302) ; and even though 

1 This is not, of course, the only reason for the use of parenthesis and repeti- 
tion, either in real life or in Chaucer's verse. I have suggested quite other reasons 
for the parentheses in the Friar's speech (see above) ; and those in the speech of 
the Host, musing on the tale of Virginia (C 288-319), are different again. For 
an instance of repetition used in a manner very different from the Wife's, see 
following note. 

2 This kind of repetition is not, of course, always mechanical. It can be 
deliberately used for some end, or it may express some attitude of mind. Cf. the 
Friar's would-be persuasive and, at the same time, patronizing reiteration of the 
sick man's name 'Thomas, Thomas' (Summoner's Tale). 


she succeeds in escaping from it for a short time, she returns to it, 
or the variant "Thow seydest', a little later (337-78). A passage in 
her Tale subtly conveys, by a change of pronouns and tense, the 
curious mixture of self-consciousness and lack of self-criticism 
which is characteristic of many 'talkers'. In the first answers to the 
question 'What thyng wommen loven moost', the Wife uses the 
pronouns of the third person and the past tense. ('Somme seyde 
wommen loven best richesse, Somme seyde honour, somme seyde 
. . .') She is well inside her tale, and is thinking objectively. But, 
gradually forgetting that she is telling a tale, she continues, 'Somme 
seyde that oure hertes been moost esed Whan that we been yflatered 
and yplesed' ; and finally, conscious only of herself, she is saying 
'And somme seyen that we loven best For to be free . . . '. 

It is hard to believe that such idiosyncrasies are not echoes of 
some living voice to which Chaucer had listened with delight and 
critical intentness; 1 but there is no way of proving that they are. 
Yet, since we know that, in some passages in which Chaucer's 
style, or language, differs from that of the surrounding lines, he is 
in fact mimicking or echoing something, we can at least say that 
there is a fair likelihood that here, too, we have a manifestation of 
Chaucer's 'good ear'. And the same might be said of other passages 
in his works in which speakers display an individual style for 
instance, the Host's muddled repetition of the Monk's definition 
of tragedy (he has been half-asleep and has only caught part of it), 2 
or the exchange of polite nothings between the Black Knight and 
the dreamer at their first meeting. 3 It need hardly be remarked 
that, whatever reproductions of the living voice and whatever 
literary echoes there may be in Chaucer's works, none of them will 
have been presented to us 'neat'. Just as Chaucer conveys the 
'feel' of alliterative verse in the Knight's Tale without writing the 
whole passage in that metre, or the 'feel' of the Northern dialect 
without making the clerks speak nothing but 'pure Northern', so 
in every other instance his aural impressions will merely have 
provided him with material for his art to work upon. 

1 The same critical intentness that noted the Friar's lisp (Prologue, A 264-5), 
or the Prioress's accent when she spoke French, and her manner of singing 'the 
service dyvyne' (A 122 ff.). 

2 Canterbury Tales , B 3972-7. 3 Book of the Duchess, 519-28. 


In conclusion, there are two general observations which are 
perhaps worth making. The first is that if as many believe 
Chaucer's poetry was read aloud (perhaps by himself) to an 
audience, all these echoes would have been more effective than 
they can ever be to those who merely read them in a book. The 
second is that Chaucer's 'good ear' may account for a great deal 
more in his poetry than the passages I have mentioned. It is 
possible that his easy mastery of a variety of metres and styles is in 
part due to it, and that it manifests itself in the lyrical note he 
captures from time to time (for example, in the Prioress's Tale and 
in the song of the birds at the end of the Parlernent of Foules,) in 
passages in the grand style in Troilus as well as in those which have 
the tone of familiar conversation. 



WHEN the British Academy did me the honour of 
inviting me to give the Gollancz Memorial Lecture, I 
recalled a day long ago on which I had the privilege of 
visiting Sir Israel Gollancz at King's College, and of consulting 
him about a piece of work I was hoping to undertake. This seems 
the fitting occasion to record my gratitude for the kindly help and 
encouragement he then gave to a mere beginner, who had no claim 
upon him other than an interest in the Middle English writings to 
which he devoted so much of his life. 

The third book of Chaucer's House of Fame opens with the 
poet's plea to Apollo to guide him in what he is about to write, 
a plea that echoes Dante's at the beginning of the Paradiso\ but, 
instead of continuing as Dante does, Chaucer adds: 

Nat that I wilne, for maistrye, 
Here art poetical be showed. 1 

I am not going to consider in detail what precisely Chaucer 
meant by 'art poetical'; I shall assume that, in this context, the 
expression, like the word 'craft', which seems to be used as a 
synonym a few lines later, implies knowledge of how to write 
poetry (or skill in writing it) according to established rules. This 
is, I think, in line with what many medieval writers understood 
by 'art'. 2 

1 House of Fame , 1094-5. Quotations are from The Complete Works of Geoffrey 
Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson. 

2 Several medieval definitions of art are given by E. de Bruyne, Etudes 
d'esthetique medievale, ii (1946), pp. 371 ff. He sums up as follows: '. . . le 
Moyen-Age . . . distingue nettement le the*oricien (artifex theorice) de celui que 
nous appelons le cr^ateur (artifex practice). Le premier parle de Tart, le second 
agit par art. Mais chez Tun comme chez 1'autre, la dignite* de 1'art vient de sa 
participation a un savoir organise". Le Moyen-Age ne s'imagine pas un artiste 
qui "ignore" les regies de son metier' (p. 374). 


Chaucer's statement in the House of Fame that he does not wish 
to manifest such knowledge or skill reminds one of other passages 
in which he, or sometimes one of his characters, disclaims any 
power as a writer or speaker but that of plain speech. More than 
once what is specifically disclaimed is a knowledge of the 'colours' 
of rhetoric. 1 'Thyng that I speke, it moot be bare and pleyn', says 
the Franklin, and adds, * Colours ne knowe I none.' It can there- 
fore, I think, be assumed that, to Chaucer, 'art poetical' could 
mean, more particularly, knowledge of poetic art (or, as we might 
call it, technique) as set out in such medieval treatises as Geoffroi 
de Vinsauf s Nova Poetria (which Chaucer certainly knew) and 
the Ars versificatoria of Matthieu de Vendome treatises in which 
certain parts of the old doctrine of rhetorica are applied to poetry. 
Whatever be the reason for Chaucer's disclaimers and it should 
be remarked that they usually occur in works which are by no 
means devoid of poetic art in the sense in which I am thinking of 
it they suggest a consciousness on his part, perhaps even an 
acute consciousness, of the kind of thing they disclaim. 

The effect which the teaching of the so-called rhetoricians 
(Geoffroi de Vinsauf, Matthieu de Vendome, and the rest) had on 
Chaucer's writing has been discussed by a number of scholars, 
notably by the late Professor Manly. 2 Attention has been drawn 
to Chaucer's artificial beginnings, his use of some of the means of 
amplification described in the treatises, and his frequent introduc- 
tion of certain rhetorical tropes and figures. The tendency in several 

1 See Canterbury Tales, Franklin s Prologue, F 716-27, Squire s Tale, F 34-41, 
102-8. The eagle in the House of Fame (853 ff.) is proud of his power to explain 
things simply. Pandarus deliberately eschews 'subtyl art' (Troilus and Criseyde, 
ii. 255 fr). 

2 See J. M. Manly, Chaucer and the Rhetoricians (Warton Lecture on English 
Poetry, xvii, 1926); T. Naunin, Der Einfluss der mittel alter lie hen Rhetorik auf 
Chaucers Dichtung (Bonn, 1929); F. E. Teager, 'Chaucer's Eagle and the 
Rhetorical Colors', P.M.L.A. xlvii (1932); M. P. Hamilton, 'Notes on Chaucer 
and the Rhetoricians', ibid. The following also deal, in various ways, with the 
relations between Chaucer's writings and rhetorical teaching: R. C. Coffin, 
'Chaucer and "Reason" ', M.L.R. xxi (1926) and 'Chaucer and Elocution', Med. 
Aev. iv (1935); C. S. Baldwin, 'Cicero on Parnassus', P.M.L.A. xlii (1927) and 
Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (1928); B. S. Harrison, 'Medieval Rhetoric in the 
"Book of the Duchess" ', P.M.L.A xlix (1934) and 'The Rhetorical Inconsistency 
of Chaucer's Franklin 1 , S. in Ph. xxxii (1935); J. W. H. Atkins, English Literary 
Criticism: The Medieval Phase (1943). 


of these discussions has been to consider such features in Chaucer's 
poetry more or less in isolation, and to look upon them as mere 
ornaments, appendages to something which could have existed 
without them 1 and which, it is sometimes implied, would have 
been the better for their absence. This attitude is natural enough, 
for as one reads the late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century 
Arts of Poetry which have been mainly considered in relation to 
Chaucer, they do suggest a purely mechanical conception of poetry. 
But to understand fully the influence which these treatises had on 
medieval poets I think it is necessary to keep in mind the purpose 
for which they were written. Several of them were school-books, 
written either by school-masters or for them. 2 They were intended 
for use in teaching boys who had already received instruction in 
grammatica^ that is (to paraphrase one of the well-known defini- 
tions), who had been taught how to interpret authors (including 
poets) and how to write and speak correctly. 3 The treatises of the 
so-called rhetoricians seem to have been designed to carry this 
elementary study farther by directing attention to certain aspects 
of poetical composition not already considered, including the use 
of rhetorical tropes and 'colours'. It is likely that, as in the earlier 
study of grammatica, a boy was expected to learn both by analysis 
and by composition (of course in Latin). 4 Inevitably, those so 

1 An exception is G. Plessow's discussion of the Manciple's Tale (Des 
Haushalters Erzahlung, Berlin and Leipzig, 1929), in which he shows that the 
tale is largely built up by means of rhetorical devices (sec especially pp. 17 ff., 
pp. 126 ff.). 

It is not, of course, to be denied that some of Chaucer's rhetorical devices are 
mere 'appendages*. Many of those in the Man of Law's Tale, for instance, are 
obviously so. This tale, indeed, appears to be an experiment in the application 
of rhetorical ornament to a simple story. If the experiment is not, on the whole, 
to the taste of the modern reader, yet it has to be granted that the best thing in 
the tale, the simile beginning 'Have ye nat seyn somtyme a pale face . . .' (645- 
51), is, equally with the apostrophes and exempla, a rhetorical ornament. 

2 Matthieu de Vendome taught grammar at Orleans, fivrard the German, 
whose Laborintus was written as a guide to the teacher of Grammar and Poetry, 
mentions GeofTroi de Vinsauf's Nova Poetria and Matthieu de Vendome's Ars 
versificatoria in his list of authors suitable for boys to study (see Laborintus, 
665 ff., in Les Arts poetiques du XI I e et du XIII* siecle, by E. Faral). vrard 
himself probably taught at Bremen (see Faral, pp. 38-39). 

3 'Grammatica est scientia interpretandi poetas atque historicos et recte 
scribendi loquendique' (Rabanus Maurus, De institutione dericorum, iii. 18). 

4 The practice in England at the time when Chaucer was educated can only 
be conjectured. John of Salisbury's famous description of the teaching of 


trained (which means, I suppose, the majority of educated men) 
would come to think of poetry largely in terms of the statements 
and descriptions they had been taught, and if a man were himself 
a poet, he would, both consciously and unconsciously, apply what 
he had learnt to his own writing. 1 That this resulted in some 
excessively ornate verse, we know; but it has of late years been 
recognized that there were also other, quite different, results, of 
more fundamental importance for literature. Professor Vinaver 
has claimed that it was from .the study of rhetorica (at least partly 
as presented in treatises of the kind I have mentioned) that 
medieval French writers of romance learnt how to organize their 
stories so as to express a particular point of view; and he has shown 
that the form of, for instance, the Suite du Merlin is the result of 
using the device of digressio to explain the story. Writing of the 
general significance of the study of rhetoric in the earlier Middle 
Ages, Professor Vinaver says : 

The discipline which in the later Middle Ages was to be largely 
reduced to mere stylistic ornamentation had not at that time lost its 
original composing function. In a number of important works embody- 
ing the doctrine of the rhetoricians from Quintilian onwards the term 
color es rhetor icae refers, as in Cicero, not so much to formal elaboration 
as to the 'treatment of the matter' from the speaker's or writer's point of 
view. 2 

Bernard shows how authors were studied at Chartres in the twelfth century. 
He refers to composition in prose and verse (Metalogicon, ed. Webb, i. xxiv). 
Gervais of Melkley, who must have written his Ars versificaria in the early 
years of the thirteenth century, also speaks of composition (see resume* by Faral, 
op. cit., pp. 328 ff. ; on Gervais of Melkley, see Faral, pp. 34 ff.). For an early 
fourteenth-century reference to the practice of composition in England, see 
A. F. Leach, The Schools of Medieval England, pp. 180-1. The Oxford statute 
to which Leach refers suggests that composition must have been practised by 
intending schoolmasters as well as by boys learning grammar, and the statutes 
made for St. Albans Grammar School (1309) also indicate that it was practised 
by older pupils (see Leach, p. 186). 

1 The unconscious application of rhetorical rules is recognized by Gervais of 
Melkley, who (according to Faral, p. 328), speaks of 'un sens naturel, d'ou 
vient que, meme sans penser a la thorie, le gnie des dcrivains applique les 
regies d'instinct et fait spontanment des trouvailles heureuses'. 

2 See The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, ed. E. Vinaver, i, pp. xlviii-lxvii. 
For Professor Vinaver's discussion of the Suite du Merlin, see his introduction 
to Le Roman de Balain, ed. M. D. Legge, especially pp. xii ff. Reference is made 
here to Professor Vinaver, because his statements appear most relevant to the 


Professor Vinaver then goes on to show that there is 'a significant 
agreement in this respect' between Quintilian and certain medieval 
writers, even as late as John of Salisbury. 

There is one point in this passage to which I would object the 
assumption that it was no longer possible to regard rhetoric in this 
way in the later Middle Ages. I believe that, for a number of 
English poets of the late fourteenth century, rhetorica still had 
some of its old 'composing function'. In particular, I think that 
it can be shown that Chaucer dealt with certain problems of 
presentation and organization in ways which are traceable, though 
certainly not always directly, to rhetorical teaching. 1 

I shall begin with a simple example, the opening stanza of the 
Parlement of Foules. The first line, 'The lyf so short, the craft so 
long to lerne', has often been remarked on as an instance of one 
of the artificial ways of beginning a poem the beginning with 
a sententia and there are several other rhetorical devices in the 
stanza. But what is interesting is the way the devices are used. 
Chaucer's subject in the Parlement was to be love, a subject familiar 
enough in the courtly poetry of his day. His problem was to intro- 
duce it so as immediately to arrest the attention of his hearers 

present discussion ; but it is not possible to write on the influence of rhetoric on 
medieval literature without being indebted to the work of H. Brinkmann (in 
Zu Wesen und Form mittelalterlicher Dichtung, 1928) and of E. R. Curtius (in 
Europdische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, 1948, and in many articles). 

1 I am assuming that Chaucer was trained in grammatica and rhetorica (or 
perhaps poetria) in his youth. In fact, of course, we know nothing about his 
education except what can be deduced from his works. His service in the house- 
hold of the Countess of Ulster need not, I take it, preclude his having been so 
trained, either previous to it or during it (possibly by a grammaticus especially 
hired for him and other youths in her service). His earliest extant works (or what 
are generally taken to be such), the ABC and the Book of the Duchess, reveal 
the influence of rhetorical teaching; and his knowledge of the standard medieval 
school-reader, the Liber Catonianus, is some slight indication that he had received 
instruction in grammar. For information about this book and Chaucer's know- 
ledge of it, see R. A. Pratt, 'Chaucer's Claudian', Speculum, xxii (1947), A 
Memoir of Karl Young, pp. 45 fT. (privately printed, New Haven, 1946), and 
'The Importance of Manuscripts for the study of Medieval Education as 
Revealed by the Learning of Chaucer', Progress of Medieval and Renaissance 
Studies, Bulletin No. 20 (1949). It may be worth recalling that a copy of the 
Liber Catonianus was left in 1358 by William Ravenstone, a former master, to 
the Almonry School of St. Paul's Cathedral, the school which, it is held, 
Chaucer is most likely to have attended (see E. Rickert, Chaucer's World, p. 123, 
and n. 51). 


or readers. 1 What he does is to take the well-known sententia 'Ars 
longa, vita brevis' and use it as a circumlocutory description of his 
subject. Its form, that of a contentio (two contrasted phrases, here 
applied to the same thing) is arresting, and Chaucer emphasizes it 
by adding a second circumlocution in the same form : 

Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge. 

The third line repeats the pattern with a difference, the phrase 'the 
dredful joye' itself containing a contrast, and being amplified by a 
descriptive phrase, 'alwey that slit so yerne'. Then comes the point 
to which Chaucer has been leading 'Al this mene I by love'. 
Having thus given great stress to the idea of love, and at the same 
time provided some indication of the kind of love he is going to 
write of, Chaucer amplifies the idea by another descriptive phrase 
suggesting love's mysterious power and something of his own 
attitude towards it : 

Al this mene I by love, that my felynge 
Astonyeth with his wonderful werkynge 
So sore iwis, that whan I on hym thynke, 
Nat wot I wel \vhcr that I flctc or synke. 

This analysis, I hope, makes it clear that the rhetorical devices 
used here are not, as it were, appended to the fabric of the stanza : 
they are themselves the fabric. The problem of how to present the 
subject effectively has been solved entirely by rhetorical methods. 
It may be objected that the Parlement is a comparatively early 
work, written when Chaucer was most under the influence of the 
rhetoricians. In answer to this, I would suggest that the opening 
of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, though more complex, is 

1 The importance of engaging the hearer's attention and goodwill at the 
beginning of a speech is stressed by Quintilian and the writer of Ad Herennium. 
See Quintilian on the exordium (principium), 'Causa principii nulla alia est, 
quam ut auditorem, quo sit nobis in ceteris partibus accommodatior, prae- 
paremus' (Institutio Oratoria, iv. i. 5); see also Ad Herennium (ed. F. Marx, p. 4): 
'Exordiorum duo sunt genera: principium, quod Graece prohemium appellatur, 
et insinuatio. . . . Principium est, cum statim auditoris animum nobis idoneum 
reddimus ad audiendum. Id ita sumitur, ut attentos, ut dociles, ut benivolos 
auditores habere possimus.' While most of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century 
rhetoricians are interested in ways of beginning, they do not consider why an 
author should take special pains with this part of his work. 


organized on lines which are not dissimilar. To present the idea of 
spring which, as it revivifies all things, fires men with the desire 
to go on pilgrimages, Chaucer once again begins with several 
circumlocutory descriptive phrases (each, it may incidentally be 
noted, displaying some 'colour' of rhetoric) : 

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote 

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote . . . 

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth 

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth 

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne 

Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne . . . 

Finally he comes to his point : 

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. 

From Troilus and Criseyde one other example may be quoted 
which is not, like these two, from the beginning of a work. Chaucer 
has told how Troilus was struck 'atte fulle' by the god of love, and 
he wishes us to see his case in wider perspective. We are to under- 
stand that, for all his pride, Troilus could not hope to escape love. 
It was his destiny, as it is every man's. Chaucer begins with the 
apostrophe : 

O blynde world, O blynde entencioun! 
How often falleth al the effect contraire 
Of surquidrie and foul presumpcioun ; 
For kaught is proud, and kaught is debonaire. 
This Troilus is clomben on the staire, 
And litel weneth that he moot descenden ; 
But alday faileth thing that fooles wenden. 1 

The sententia which forms the last line of this stanza is followed 
by the comparison of Troilus to 'proude Bayard', kept in check 
by the whip, and this in turn by an apostrophe to 'worthi folkes 
alle' to take example from Troilus not to scorn love, Tor may no 
man fordon the lawe of kynde'. 

1 Troilus and Criseyde, i. 21 1 ff. The apostrophe and the reference to Troilus's 
ignorance of his fate are in Boccaccio's // Filostrato (i, st. 25), but not the 
metaphor of Troilus climbing the stair, nor the sententia with which Chaucer's 
stanza ends. The following three stanzas (218-38) have no parallel in // 


I have chosen to illustrate the rhetorical presentation of an idea, 
but Chaucer uses similar methods for other purposes, for the 
presentation of an argument, for instance, as when the old hag in 
the Wife of Bath's Tale discourses to her husband on the true 
nature of 'gentillesse' and the virtues of poverty, or when Pluto 
and Proserpyne, in the Merchant's Tale, dispute about January's 
predicament. 1 Most of all he uses these methods in description; 
but instances of descriptions rhetorically presented are so common 
in his work at all periods that there is no need for me to 'sermoun 
of it more'. 

To catch the hearer's or the reader's attention and fix it on an 
idea is one thing; it is a different matter to ensure that his mind 
will retain that idea for just as long as the poet wishes. In the early 
Book of the Duchess, Chaucer employs for this end a means 
which, in our day, Mr. T. S. Eliot has found effective that of 
verbal repetition. 2 The opening lines of the poem, in which the 
poet complains that he cannot sleep, contain a succession of 
phrases expressing the main idea, 'withoute slep', 'I may nat slepe', 
'defaute of slep', the last two of which occur more than once. This 
might be thought accidental, but further examination of the poem 
shows that it is not. There is an echo of these phrases a little later 
when Chaucer is about to relate how he took a book to * drive the 
night away'; and, when he has finished reading about Ceys and 
Alcyone, and is telling how this story gave him the idea of praying 

1 See Wife of Bath's Tale, D 1109-1206 (1177-206 provide a particularly 
good example of rhetorical presentation) and Merchant's Tale y E 2237 ff., 
especially Proserpyne's reply (2264-304). The argument by which Pandarus 
persuades Troilus to tell him who it is he loves (Troilus, i. 624-714) is another 
example. Comparison of this passage with // Ftlostrato, ii, sts. 10-13, shows that, 
while most of the main points of the argument were taken by Chaucer from the 
earlier poem, he added almost all the rhetorical amplification. The odd thing is 
that Pandarus's argument, for all its rhetorical devices, does not sound less 
'natural' than Pandaro's, but rather more so. Boccaccio's passage is perhaps too 
straightforward to be quite convincing as the speech of one friend to another at 
a time when both are under the stress of emotion. 

2 See Helen Gardner, The Art of T. S. Eliot (1949), pp. 5 1 ff. As Miss Gardner 
points out, however, the meaning of Mr. Eliot's repeated words does not remain 
constant, as with Chaucer; 'it is deepened or expanded by each fresh use'. In aim 
and effect Mr. Eliot's use is rather nearer to the Pearl poet's practice of ringing 
the changes on the various meanings of some of his refrain words (cortaysye, 
ry^ty for instance), though close analysis would reveal some interesting differences 
between them. 


to the god of sleep for help, 1 his lines echo and re-echo with 
phrases containing the words 'sleep' or 'sleeping', in the following 
order : 'defaute of slep', Tor I ne myghte, for bote ne bale, Slepe', 
'goddes of slepyng', 'goddes that koude make Men to slepe', 
'defaute of slepynge', 'make me slepe', 'make me slepe a lyte', 'to 
slepe softe', 'make me slepe sone'. These all occur in about 
forty lines; they culminate, some ten lines farther on, in the 
statement : 

Such a lust anoon me took 

To slepe, that ryght upon my book 

Y fil aslepe. 

Other parts of the Book of the Duchess show a similar, though 
usually less frequent and less effective, repetition of what one may 
call a key- word or key-phrase. In the passage describing the hunt, 
the words 'hunt', 'hunting', 'huntes' ('hunters'), 'hunten' recur, 
and a little later the changes are rung on the words 'floury', 
'floures'. It would, I think, be possible to show that in the first part 
of the description of the poet's dream almost every paragraph has 
its own key- word or phrase, and, though the practice is less marked 
later, there are still signs of it, for example in 617-54, where the 
word 'fals', first introduced in the phrase 'fals Fortune', appears 
again and again. 

This kind of verbal repetition is not confined to Chaucer's early 
work. There is a more restrained and more subtle use of it in the 
Prioress's Tale. The word 'liteP, several times repeated in the 
opening stanzas ('A litel scole', 'A litel clergeon', 'This litel child, 
his litel book lernynge'), is caught up from time to time, later in the 
tale, in the phrases 'this litel child', 'hir litel child', 'My litel child'. 
The reiteration of this word is doubly effective, as recalling the boy 
martyr who 'so yong and tendre was of age', and as a reminder of 
the teller of the tale, with whose nature it is so perfectly in keeping. 
With the line, 'He Alma redemptoris herde synge', a second motif 
is introduced, which is reflected by the repetition, at intervals 
throughout the rest of the tale, both of word 'synge' (or 'song') and 
of some part of the phrase *O Alma redemptoris mater'. The two 

1 Book of the Duchess t 221 ff. 


combine in a triumphant line when the martyred child is lying on 
his bier before the high altar: 

Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water, 
And song O Alma redemptoris mater. 1 

The opening sections of the Book of the Duchess also provide the 
first hints for another use of repetition. The repeated word 'slepe', 
besides sounding the key-note of a passage, serves as a link between 
one paragraph and another some distance from it. This use of 
repetition, as a device to link different parts of a work, is also to be 
found in Chaucer's later poems. An instance of it in the Canter- 
bury Tales, the echo in the Merchant's Prologue of the last line of 
the Clerk's Envoy, is well known; but it is, I think, worth while 
to look at it again. The Clerk has followed up his tale of Griselda 
wdth the warning that 'Grisilde is deed and eek hire pacience', and 
then, addressing wives, he ironically bids them 'sharply taak on 
yow the governaille'. He concludes: 

Be ay of chiere as light as leef on lynde, 

And lat hym [the husband] care, and wepe, and wrynge and waille. 

This is too much for the Merchant, who bursts out, 

Wepyng and waylyng, care and oother sorwe 
I knowe ynogh . . ., 

and he explains that he has a wife, 'the worste that may be', to 

1 There are also in the Prioress's Tale some slight traces of stanza linking by 
repetition, notably in 1838-9, but see also 1691-2, 1726-7, 1866-7. 

A study of the various kinds of verbal repetition in Chaucer's works (both 
those which are recognized by the rhetoricians and those which are not), and 
of their effects, might give interesting results. Even when the practice is tech- 
nically the same, the results are often different. For instance, the repetition 
noted in the Book of the Duchess and the Prioress's Tale makes its appeal to the 
emotions, but the repetition in the Wife of Bath's Tale of the words gentillesse, 
gentil, gent(e)rye (D 1 109-76) and of the word poverte (i 177-1206) helps to drive 
home the arguments, that is, its appeal is to the intellect. In the latter part of this 
argument Chaucer is using the rhetorical device of repetitio (the repetition of the 
first word of a clause), which he also frequently employs elsewhere, again with 
varying effects. Compare, for instance, the repetition in Manciple's Tale, H 318 ff. 
with that in Knight's Tale, A 2918 ff. or that of the words 'Thou seist' ('seistow') 
in the Wife of Bath's Prologue. (Incidentally, it may be remarked that Manciple's 
Tale, 318 ff. exemplifies the difficulty of making clear-cut distinctions between 
some of the rhetoricians* terms. Naunin, op. cit., p. 45, calls the figure here 
used repetitio, while Plessow labels it conduplicatio. In fact, Geoffroi's definition 
of cither term could cover it.) 


whom he has been wedded just two months. Here the Merchant's 
repetition of the Clerk's words acts as a mechanical link between 
two tales; but it does much more than this. It reveals at once the 
overcharged heart of the Merchant and so prepares us for the 
bitter tone of the tale that follows. 

A rather different effect is produced by the same device in the 
Parlement ofFoules. In Chaucer's account of the Somnium Scipionis, 
Africanus tells Scipio that 

what man, lered other lewed, 
That lovede commune profyt, wel ithewed, 
He shulde into a blysful place wende, 
There as joye is that last withouten ende. 

The words 'blysful place' are again used by Africanus at the end of 
the dream, and are kept in mind during the course of it by the phrases 
'hevene blisse' and 'that ful of blysse is'. When Chaucer has ceased 
his reading, which has given him a hint of celestial bliss, he falls 
asleep and is himself led by Africanus to a gate which we shall 
presently know to be the entrance to the Garden of Love. The first 
inscription he reads over the gate runs : 

Thorgh me men gon into that blysful place 
Of hertes hele and deadly woundes cure. 

So, at the moment of entering the Garden of Love, we are made to 
recall that other 'blysful place'. 1 

One more instance, from the Merchant's Tale. Chaucer tells us 
that the young wife May is so moved by pity for the squire Damyan 
that she decides to grant him her grace. 'Whom that this thyng 
displese, I rekke noght', she says to herself. This is the prelude to 
her deception of her old husband, and at this point Chaucer slips 
in the words which he twice uses elsewhere in the Canterbury Tales : 

Lo, pitee rcnneth soone in gentil herte! 

The repetition reveals, as nothing else could, the gulf between 
May's pity for Damyan, and the pity of Duke Theseus for the rival 
lovers or of the innocent Canacee for the deserted falcon. 2 

1 Another slight verbal link between these two passages (compare 62 'welle 
of musik and melodye' and 129 'welle of grace') may or may not be intentional. 

2 See Merchant's Tale, E 1986, Knight's Tale, A 1761, Squire's Tale, F 479. 
The line, as used of Canacee, comes after the Merchant's Tale in our modern 


It would be well to consider at this point how Chaucer's practice 
in this matter of verbal repetition is related to the teaching of the 
rhetoricians. They recognize, among the 'colours' of rhetoric, seven 
or eight varieties of verbal repetition, minutely distinguished by 
such characteristics as the position of the repeated words in the 
sentence (repetitio, conversio, complexio), whether the repetition is 
of identical or similar sounds, either in related forms or otherwise 
(annominatid), or of words with the same sound but different 
meanings (a species of traductio). Some of these rigidly defined 
varieties of repetition are to be found in Chaucer's writings, but 
most of the instances I have just been considering could not, I 
believe, be classified under any of the types mentioned in the 
treatises. Moreover, the rhetoricians do not as a rule make any 
suggestion as to how or why repetition should be used. It is not 
possible, therefore, to claim that Chaucer learnt the kind of practice 
which I have illustrated directly from the precepts of the rhetori- 
cians. 1 This, however, is not what I am trying to show; but rather 
to repeat what I said earlier that in certain problems of pre- 
sentation or organization he used methods adapted from the teach- 
ing of the rhetoricians or in some way traceable to its influence. 
Sometimes he combined a number of devices actually described in 
the treatises known to us, as he does at the beginning of the 
Parlement of Foules or of the General Prologue. Sometimes he 
adapted devices (that is, either devices actually mentioned by the 
rhetoricians or others like them) to special purposes which the 
rhetoricians themselves need not have considered. Here his use of 

editions; but uncertainty about the chronology of the tales and about their order 
(particularly the order of those in Groups E and F), combined with what can 
now be called the certainty that Chaucer never finally arranged them, leaves it 
an open question whether Chaucer wrote the Merchant's Tale before or after the 
Squire's, and how he would ultimately have placed them in relation to one 

1 Some of Geoffroi de Vinsauf 's own verses in Nova Poetria, especially those 
composed to illustrate gradatio (ii45ff.) and conduplicatio (1169-72), might 
have provided some suggestion for the kind of repetition found in the Book of 
the Duchess, however. 

An exception to the statement that the rhetoricians do not indicate why 
repetition should be used is to be found in Geoffroi's definition of conduplicatio 
' Conduplicatio est quando motu irae vel indignationis idem conduplicamus 
verbum* (Summa de Coloribus Rhetoricis t ed. Faral, p. 324). See also Geoffroi's 
remarks under interpretatio (Faral, p. 325). 


verbal repetition as a linking device may possibly be included, 
though I think that even this is likely to be an over-simplification of 
the facts. This particular use of repetition is not confined to 
Chaucer; it appears elsewhere in medieval poetry, particularly 
perhaps in Middle English alliterative poetry. There are traces of 
it in La3amon's Brut and the alliterative Morte Arthure\ and in 
Purity (Cleanness) the repetition of part, or the whole, of the text 
of the homily helps to link the several Biblical stories which 
illustrate it. 1 Chaucer may have known in earlier or contemporary 
poetry something which gave him a hint of the possibilities of 
repetition as a linking device, and he may have been consciously 
influenced by that. In that case his use of the device is traceable to 
the teaching of the rhetoricians only in the widest possible sense 
that a poet trained in that teaching could hardly have failed to 
observe it and to consider its value for purposes of presentation. 

It was necessary to make a distinction between a slavish imita- 
tion of the devices which the rhetoricians describe, and the 
adaptation of these devices, or others like them, to individual ends, 

1 In the story of Lear as told by La^amon the phrases 'hauekes & hundes' and 
'feowerti hired cnihtes' (or slight variations of them) provide a link between 
some important stages of the story (see The Brut, ed. F. Madden, 3256-8, 
3274~5, 3295-9> 3560-3). See pp. 40 ff. above. 

Verbal repetition, though very common in the alliterative Morte Arthure, is 
not generally used there as a linking device, at least not in the way Chaucer uses 
it. In 3523-78, however, it does act as a link between Sir Cradok's news of 
Modred's treachery and Arthur's recital of the news to his council and it is 
effective as suggesting Arthur's state of mind, his stunned horror at what he has 
been told. 

In Purity, the text which forms the theme of the whole poem, 'Beati mundo 
corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt', is paraphrased in 27-28, and immediately 
after (29-30) the converse is stated, 

'As so saytz, to pat sy^t seche schai he never 
pat any unclannesse hatz on, auwhere abowte.' 

The second part of the text (Vulgate 'Deum videbunt') is echoed in varying 
forms throughout the poem, often in the transitional passages from one part 
of the matter to another, but also elsewhere. At the end of the parable of the 
man without a wedding garment, comes the phrase 'Penne may Jxm se py 
Savior* (176); the words 'Ne never see hym with sy3t' (192) come at the end of 
section ii, and l pe sy3te of pe Soverayn' just after the story of the Flood (552), 
and so on (see 576, 595, 1055, 1112). The words 'clannesse', 'clene', and their 
opposites 'unclannesse', 'fylj?e', representing the first part of the text, also echo 
through the poem, and the two parts are once more combined at the end : 
'Ande clannes is his comfort, and coyntyse he lovyes, 
And pose pat seme arn and swete schyn se his face.' (1809-10) 

6699 M 


because most of the examples of Chaucer's methods which I am 
going to consider next may not seem to have any connexion with 
the Arts of Poetry. All these examples have to do with a major 
problem of organization, the layout (or dispositio) of a poem as a 
whole, or of a large part of it ; and more than one critic has pointed 
out that the rhetoricians have little to say about this. 

For my first example I turn once again to the Book of the 
Duchess. We have here the unusual advantage of knowing the 
occasion for which it was written. We can say with certainty that, 
in the poet's dream of the Black Knight who is grieving for the 
loss of his dead lady, Chaucer figures the loss which John of Gaunt 
suffered in the death of his wife Blanche. Before this dream begins, 
however, there is a long introductory passage which includes the 
story of Ceys and Alcyone. Chaucer gives a reason for the inclusion 
of this story when he tells us that the reading of it gave him the 
idea of praying to Morpheus for sleep. But there is another, 
unstated reason, of much more significance for the poem as a whole. 
The real point of the story for Chaucer was that it told of a wife's 
grief for the loss of her husband, and thus provided a parallel, 
with a difference, to the main theme of the poem. (That Chaucer 
meant it to be so understood is clear from his omission of the 
beautiful end of Ovid's story; for the transformation of Ceys and 
Alcyone into birds and their happy reunion have no part in the 
parallel.) 1 To the medieval mind, accustomed to look behind 
appearances to the inner meaning, this story and the dream of the 
Black Knight could be two examples of the same theme the loss 
of a loved one and the grief of the one who is left. Looked at in this 
way, Chaucer's organization of this poem could, I think, be 
regarded as a special application of Geoffroi de Vinsauf 's first means 
of amplification, interpretation of which he writes, 'let the same 
thing be covered in many forms; be various and yet the same' 
('multiplice forma Dissimuletur idem; varius sis et tamen idem'). 2 

1 It is for the same reason that the death of Alcyone is dismissed so abruptly 
(see Book of the Duchess, 212-17). 

2 I am not suggesting that Geoffroi de Vinsauf himself had anything like the 
organization of the Book of the Duchess in mind when he used these words. 
In part of what he says about interpretatio in the Nova Poetria (ed. Faral, pp. 
220-5) he is almost certainly thinking only of verbal variation (cf. 'Sub verbis 
aliis praesumpta resume; repone Pluribus in clausis ununV); and this seems to 


There is an obvious similarity between the layout of the Book 
of the Duchess and that of the earlier part of the Parlement of Foules. 
In the Parlement the poet places side by side two visions, the one 
read in a book and concerned with the blissful place that awaits 
the righteous who work for common profit, the other concerned 
with that blissful place which, to some, is the 'wey to al good 
a venture', but brings others to the 'mortal strokes of the spere' 
that is, the Garden of Love. The two visions are linked not merely 
verbally but by the fact that Africanus is the guide in both. 1 But 
the similarity of this arrangement to that of the Book of the Duchess 
is only partial, for the two stories in the earlier poem are parallels, 
but the two visions in the Parlement are parallel only in form; in 
significance they present a contrast. This is never stated, for the 
contrast between heavenly and earthly bliss, which Chaucer makes 
explicitly at the end of Troilus and Criseyde, would be too weighty 
a matter for this much lighter poem. Yet I think it is just hinted at 
in the lines at the end of the first vision, where the poet tells us that, 
on finishing his book, he went to bed 

Fulfyld of thought and busy hcvynesse; 
For bothc I hadde thyng which that I nolde, 
And ek I nadde that thyng that I wolde. 2 

Later in this poem another contrast is suggested by the descrip- 
tions of the two goddesses, Venus and Nature. Chaucer first 
describes Venus lying in a dark corner of the temple which, he has 
told us, is filled with the sound of 'sykes [sighs] hoote as fyr. . . . 
Whiche sikes were engendered with desyr'. Then he presents 

be all that is in his mind in the Documentum de arte versificandi (Faral, p. 277). 
Even so, a creative mind, occupied with problems of organization, might have 
found in his words a hint for variation on a larger scale. 

The parallelism between the story of Ceys and Alcyone and the theme of the 
poet's dream is pointed out by W. Clemen in Der Junge Chaucer (1938), pp. 
39 ff., but his interpretation of it differs from mine. 

1 Chaucer twice draws attention to this connecting link, see pp. 96 ff., 106-8. 

2 The significance of these lines is made clearer by reference to their source 
in Boethius's Consolation. They echo a speech made by Philosophy in the course 
of her discussion of true and false 'blisfulnesse' (see Boece, iii, pr. 3). 

On the similarity between Parlement, 50-70 and Troilus, v. 1807-20, and the 
implied contrast in the Parlement between heavenly and earthly bliss, see 
B. H. Bronson, In Appreciation of Chaucer's Parlement of Foules (University of 
California Publications in English, iii, 1935). See also pp. 109 ff. above. 

5699 M 2 


Nature, the deputy of that almighty Lord who knits the dis- 
cordant elements into a harmony. Nature sits, surrounded by the 
birds, on a hill of flowers, and Chaucer remarks that her halls and 
bowers were made of branches. Again no explicit contrast is made ; 
the two juxtaposed descriptions merely hint at the difference 
between Courtly Love and the natural love of creature for creature 
which will culminate in the unions of the lesser birds. 

This method of presenting, in more or less parallel forms, two 
things which are essentially to be contrasted cannot be directly 
related to anything recommended by the rhetoricians, though 
Matthieu de Vendome's portraits of Helen and Beroe, which 
present the antithesis of beauty and ugliness, could possibly have 
provided some suggestion for it. 1 But it may well have been 
developed by Chaucer himself from his use of parallels in the Book 
of the Duchess. The more complex scheme was perhaps more after 
Chaucer's mind. Certainly he makes a masterly use of it in the 
Canterbury Tales, when the Miller 'quits' the Knight's noble tale 
of the rivalry of Palamon and Arcite for Emelye with the low 
comedy of the rivalry of the two Oxford clerks for the carpenter's 
w r ife. Here, too, there is a verbal link, when the line spoken by the 
dying Arcite is applied to Nicholas in his neat chamber 'Allone, 
withouten any compaignye'. 

I turn next to some of Chaucer's tales, and I shall begin with the 
Knight's Tale, the presentation of which has, perhaps, something 
in common with what I have been describing, though it is, of 
course, far more complex. But, before I can go 'streght to my 
matere', I must digress a little to consider, though very sketchily, 

1 See Ars versificatoria, ed. Faral, pp. 129-32. Faral (p. 77) remarks that 
Matthieu treats these two portraits 'en maniere de pendants antithtiques' and 
he notes other medieval examples of 'opposed' descriptions. Nearly related to 
these is the passage in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , 943 ff., which describes 
Morgan le Fay and the lady of the castle antithetically. What Chaucer does in 
the Parlement is obviously much farther removed from Matthieu. 

It is perhaps worth noting that Chaucer's presentation of the two visions has 
a good deal in common with the presentation of ideas in the rhetorical figure of 
thought known as contentio, of which Geoff roi de Vinsauf writes 'quando res 
comparo, secum Contendunt positae rationes' (Nova Poetria, 1253-4). Chaucer 
uses contentio (both the figure of thought and the figure of words) rather fre- 
quently in the Parlement, and it seems possible that these figures, and the layout 
of the poem, reflect his state of mind at the time the poem was written. 


some of the ways in which parallels are used by other medieval 
story-tellers. Parallelism, of one kind or another, is, of course, a 
marked feature of medieval story-telling. In its simplest form it 
consists in a repetition of the same incident with some variation in 
detail. This is what we often find in folk-tales, and in many 
medieval romances which are derived from them. There is an 
instance of it in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale where, as in other 
versions of the Constance story known to us, the heroine is twice 
set adrift in an open boat. In this form the parallelism can have 
nothing to do with rhetorical teaching, though it witnesses, I 
suppose, to some primitive feeling for an ordered narrative. But 
this simple device was developed in various ways by story-tellers 
who had something of their own to express. One development has 
been explained by Professor Vinaver in his Introduction to the 
French romance of Balain. In this romance, Balain has many and 
various adventures which appear to be quite unconnected with one 
another, but, as Professor Vinaver has shown, they are actually 
'parallels' in the sense that they all illustrate the same thing, the 
mescheance ('ill fortune') which finally overwhelms Balain. 1 (It may 
be remarked, incidentally, that this seems to have something in 
common with Chaucer's method in the Book of the Duchess. To it, 
too, one could apply Geoffroi de Vinsauf's words, 'multiplice 
forma Dissimuletur idem'.) This way of presenting a story does, as 
Professor Vinaver claims, render it coherent and emotionally 
satisfying ; but it has the obvious disadvantage of leaving it shape- 
less. Yet in parallelism itself there are the beginnings of design, 
as we can see from folk-tales; and this potentiality was also 
developed in medieval poetry. The Middle English romance of 
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an outstanding example of 
how, by means of parallel incidents and descriptions, a narrative 
can be fashioned into a comprehensive pattern. The poet of Gawain 
was not, however, content merely to produce a formal order. 
His interest was in knightly virtue, and particularly the virtue of 
'courtesy', as illustrated in the character of Gawain; and the 
incidents of the story have meaning and coherence because they 
throw light upon the various aspects of Gawain's 'courtesy', just 

1 See the Introduction to Le Roman de Balain, especially pp. xxv ff. 


as Balain's many adventures are given meaning by the underlying 
theme of mescheance. The Gawain poet has, in fact, seen how to use 
his parallels in two ways at once, so as to produce both an internal 
and an external order. 

Chaucer never wrote anything quite like this, but his Knight's 
Tale, though less completely patterned, is nevertheless an example 
of a narrative comprehensively organized for a particular end ; and 
again the organization largely depends on a skilful use of parallel- 
ism. In a recent article, to which I am very much indebted in what 
I shall say about this tale, Mr. William Frost remarks that: 

Much of the beauty of the Knight's Tale . . . resides in a certain 
formal regularity of design. Thus the May-songs of Emelye and Arcite 
. . . come at two crucial points in the plot; while early May is also the 
time of the final contest that will make one hero happy and the other 
glorious. Thus the Tale begins with a wedding, a conquest and a funeral ; 
and ends with a tournament, a funeral and a wedding. 1 

1 See W. Frost, 'An Interpretation of Chaucer's Knight's Tale', R.E.S. xxv 
(1949). That I am indebted to this article for some fundamental ideas about the 
Knight's Tale is easily apparent; but I cannot accept Mr. Frost's views com- 
pletely. He appears to me to lay more stress on the motif of friendship than 
Chaucer does, and I do not agree that the 'conflict between love and comradeship 
in the hearts of the two knights is the emotional focus of the story'. As I under- 
stand the story, the 'emotional focus' is their rivalry in love. The fact that they 
are kinsmen and sworn brothers adds poignancy to the situation, and their final 
reconciliation helps one to acquiesce in the solution ; but these things appear to 
me to be subordinate in interest to the theme of rivalry in love. 

Some of the expressions which Mr. Frost uses of the tale seem unfortunate, 
as when he writes of its 'theological' interest ('the theological interest attaching 
to the method by which a just providence fully stabilizes a disintegrating human 
situation', p. 292) and of its teaching 'a deep acceptance of Christian faith' 
(p. 302). Chaucer develops the wider issues of the story in the light of Boethian 
thought, as expounded in the Consolation of Philosophy, and its solution is in 
line with that thought. The general terms used by Mr. Frost, while not actually 
misleading, do not adequately convey the conceptions that lie behind the tale. 
As for the term 'tragic* (see pp. 299-301), I doubt whether the word, in any 
sense in which it is used in serious criticism today, or was understood in the 
Middle Ages, is properly applicable to this tale. 

While it is not to be denied that the tale is sufficiently well suited to the 
Knight to arouse no questions in the reader's mind, it cannot safely be maintained 
that it is 'an important function' of the tale 'to present the mind and heart* of the 
Knight; for what little evidence we have suggests that it was written, sub- 
stantially as it is, before Chaucer began the Canterbury Tales. 

It may be noted that the 'symmetry* of the Knight's Tale is again emphasized 
in C. Muscatine's article, 'Form, Texture, and Meaning in Chaucer's "Knight's 
Tale" ', P.M.L.A. Ixv (1950), which I did not see until after the delivery of this 


These are, of course, relatively unimportant parts of the design, 
but they are interesting because they indicate how comprehensive 
the design is. At the centre of it, so to speak, there are the two 
knights, Arcite and Palemon, and, in order that our attention may 
not be distracted from them, Emelye's part in the action is dimi- 
nished (as compared with that of Boccaccio's Emilia), 1 so that she 
is little more than the beautiful object of their desire. 

Mr. Frost has remarked on the 'systematic and delicately balanced 
parallelism' of Chaucer's presentation of Arcite and Palemon, 
and on the fact that this parallelism intensifies the problem of 
who shall win Emily. It should also be noticed that it throws 
into relief the one point in which the heroes differ. Though 
Chaucer makes them similar in age, rank, and fortune, and in 
general individualizes them little, he does differentiate them in the 
one point that matters for the story their behaviour as lovers. 
Moreover, he remodels Boccaccio's account of their first sight of 
Emelye so that the impact of love immediately reveals this differ- 
ence. In Chaucer's story it is Palemon who first sees Emelye, and 
it is only he who takes her to be the goddess Venus. 2 Arcite knows 
at once that she is a woman, and is quick to recognize that hence- 
forth he and Palemon are rivals. It is he who casts aside the ties of 
friendship, declaring: 

Ech man for hymself : ther is noon oother. 

The significance of this scene is well brought out by Mr. Frost. 
It marks the beginning of the conflict and at the same time pre- 
pares the way for the resolving of it. For Arcite, who has shown 
himself to be what is now called a 'realist' in love and in friendship, 
will pray to Mars for victory in the tournament, believing that 
thereby he will win Emelye; but Palemon will care nothing for 
victory and will simply beg Venus, 'Yif me my love, thow blisful 
lady deere'. So, when Mars and Venus are allowed to grant the 
two suppliants what they asked for, it follows that Arcite will 
be victorious, but must die before he can possess Emelye, and 
that Palemon will be defeated, but will win Emelye in the end. 

1 See Teseida, iii, sts. 18-19, 28-31 ; iv, sts. 56-58, 61 ; v, sts. 77 ff. There is 
nothing in the Knight's Tale to correspond to any of these passages. 

2 Contrast Teseida, iii, st. 13. 


Chaucer leaves no loose end; even the broken friendship is re- 
paired in the dying Arcite's generous words about Palemon. The 
conclusion is a neat and, one might almost say, logical result 
of the one difference in the two men who were in so many ways 

If this were all there is to the tale, I think one would object that 
it is too neat and logical to be just. Certainly one might feel this 
strongly in the case of Arcite, who cannot be thought to have fully 
deserved his cruel fate. But there is, of course, another aspect of 
Chaucer's tale. He inherited from Boccaccio's Teseida the conflict 
between Mars and Venus, of which the conflict between the two 
knights is a reflection on the earthly plane; he also inherited the 
parallelism between Saturn's function, as arbiter between Mars 
and Venus, and Theseus's function, as arbiter between the knights. 
The parallelism between Saturn and Theseus Chaucer developed 
farther. The story of Palemon and Arcite becomes in his hands an 
illustration of the power which destiny wields over man. This 
theme is emphasized at the beginning by the victims themselves. 
'Fortune hath yeven us this adversitee', says Arcite, of their im- 
prisonment : 'We moste endure it ; this is the short and playn' ; and 
a little later Palemon is railing at the 'crueel goddes that governe 
This world with byndyng of youre word eterne'. As they complain, 
they are the prisoners of Theseus, who at all times in the story has 
power of life and death over them. So the control which the gods 
have over man is made manifest in the material world by the power 
of Theseus; he is (to quote Mr. Frost again) the 'executant of 
destiny' on earth, and in this respect, too, he parallels the functions 
of the planetary powers and, more particularly, of Saturn. But, 
according to the Boethian philosophy, which Chaucer is reflecting 
in this poem, the planetary powers are not the final arbiters. It is 
fittingly left to Theseus, who stands outside the conflict and can 
see a little more than the other human actors, to recall the 'Firste 
Moevere', 'the prince and cause of alle thyng', who, when he first 
made the fair chain of love, 'Wei wiste he why, and what thereof 
he mente'. With this concluding speech Theseus removes the 
human conflict, and its apparently unjust resolving, to a yet more 
distant plane where earthly affairs, however they may seem to men, 


are part of an established order, a plan in which, though he 
cannot hope to understand it, man should acquiesce. 

I have tried to show only the main features of the organization 
of the Knight's Tale, but there is much on a lesser scale which 
reveals similar methods. I will mention one instance only. It is 
well known that, in place of Boccaccio's diffuse account of the 
many champions who come to fight for Palemon and Arcite, 
Chaucer describes two champions only, Lygurge and Emetreus. 
Thereby his story obviously gains in brevity, neatness, and vivid- 
ness. What is more important, it also gains in significance. The 
two champions stand as representatives of the two opposing forces 
in the coming tournament, and so, ultimately, as representatives 
of the two rival knights. The two descriptions, though entirely 
different in detail, are alike in manner, suggesting the same kind 
of parallelism as between Palemon and Arcite, between things 
similar yet dissimilar. In several ways this comparatively minor 
piece of reorganization could be said to epitomize what Chaucer 
does in his tale as a whole. 

It is a far cry from this finely ordered tale to the treatises of the 
rhetoricians, and I can produce no logical proof of a connexion 
between them. I can only hope that the various links which I have 
tried to establish between the Arts of Poetry and Chaucer's practice 
are sufficiently strong to support my feeling that this kind of order 
is the product of a genius which has known the discipline of a 
training in medieval rhetoric, or, more properly speaking, in the 
'art of poetry'. 

As my last examples I shall take three tales the tales of 
the Pardoner, the Manciple, and the Nun's Priest in which the 
methods of presentation are much more directly related to rhetori- 
cal teaching. Indeed, it can be said of all three, diverse as they are 
in subject and mood, that in them Chaucer used rhetorical methods 
more or less as the rhetoricians themselves intended. Manly 
remarked of the Pardoner's Tale that the story of the three rioters 
displays Chaucer's 'advanced method' (by which he meant that the 
rhetorical influence in it is slight) and that 'the long passages of 
rhetoric, placed between the opening twenty lines, . . . and the 
narrative itself, are thoroughly explained and justified by their 


function as part of the Pardoner's sermon'. 1 This, I think, gives 
a false impression. The Pardoner's Tale does not consist of a more 
or less unadorned story plus some passages of rhetoric. On the 
contrary, the whole discourse which is known as the tale of the 
Pardoner is a closely integrated unity. In the opening twenty lines 
to which Manly refers, the Pardoner provides the setting for a story 
by describing a company of 'yonge folk that haunteden folye'. As 
he explains, these young folk spent their time whoring, playing at 
dice, eating and drinking excessively, and swearing oaths 

so greet and so dampnable 
That it is grisly for to heere hem swere. 

The Pardoner then pauses to dilate upon some of these sins, in 
particular upon lechery, gluttony, gambling, and swearing. He 
uses for this purpose various means of amplification, apostrophe 
and exemplwn being his favourites. When he has finished inveigh- 
ing against the sins, he tells the terrible tale of the three rioters. 2 
This is an impressive illustration not only of his favourite theme, 
'Radix malorum est cupiditas', but also of what may befall those 
who commit the sins he has preached against, and he rounds it off 
w r ith a final apostrophe against homicide, gluttony, hazardry, and 
swearing. The story and the tirade against the sins are so closely 
connected with one another that one can either regard the story 
as an exemplum illustrating the tirade, or one can consider the 
story as the central point and the dilations upon the sins as ampli- 
fications of it. Either way, the whole tale is organized according to 
rhetorical methods. 

But this organization is for a special purpose. By his words at the 
end of his Prologue, 

A moral tale yet I yow telle kan 
Which I am wont to preche . . ., 

1 See Chaucer and the Rhetoricians , p. 20. 

2 Actually, although Chaucer writes, 'Thise riotoures thre of which I telle* 
(C 661), he has not previously mentioned them. This has led some critics to 
suspect that the tale of the three rioters was not originally connected with the 
preceding 'homily on the sins of the tavern' (see Carleton Brown, The Pardoner' s 
Tale, 1935, for an exposition of this view). If Carleton Brown is right, and it is 
not a mere oversight that the three rioters are not mentioned in the opening lines 
of the Tale, one can only marvel at the skill with which two originally distinct 
elements have been amalgamated and interrelated. 


the Pardoner has led the reader to expect something related to a 
sermon. What Chaucer gives him is not a sermon constructed 
according to the elaborate rules of the Aries praedicandi (which 
would, in any case, have been unsuited to the Pardoner's usual 
audience, and his present one), but a tale so presented that it will 
create the illusion of a sermon. It has some of the regular features 
of a sermon. The theme is known, for the Pardoner has said that 
he has only one. His final apostrophe against the sins acts as a 
peroration, and is followed by a benediction. 1 In his dilations upon 
the sins of hazardry and swearing there is a slight suggestion of the 
'division' of the theme, so essential a part of the medieval sermon; 
for these are branches of avarice, as appears from a passage in the 
treatise on the seven deadly sins which forms part of the Parson's 
Tale a passage which is actually echoed by the Pardoner. 2 But 
for the most part the illusion depends upon the Pardoner's 
examples, especially the Scriptural ones at the beginning, and on 
his direct attacks upon the sins, or the sinner: 

O glotonye, ful of cursednesse! 
O cause first of oure confusioun! 

O dronke man, disfigured is thy face . . . 

It depends, that is, on a few common rhetorical devices devices 
fitting for a preacher and appropriate in the mouth of the Pardoner, 
who has told us that, as he preaches : 

Myne handes and my tonge goon so ycrne, 
That it is joye to se my bisynesse. 

So the tale is shaped for its ultimate purpose, the completing of the 
portrait of the Pardoner; but that purpose is only fully achieved 
by the complex pattern of irony which Chaucer has woven into it. 

1 See C 895-903, and 916-18. 

2 See Parson's Tale, De Avaricia (Robinson's ed., p. 301): 'Now comth 
hasardrie with his apurtenaunces, as tables and rafles, of which comth deceite, 
false othes, chidynges and alle ravynes, blasphemynge and reneiynge of God, and 
hate of his neighebores, wast of goodes, mysspendynge of tyme, and somtyme 
manslaughtre.' Compare with this passage Pardoner's Tale, C 591-4. The tale 
of the three rioters gathers up most of the sins mentioned in the passage in the 
Parson's Tale. 


The Pardoner, who feels himself to be so much cleverer than his 
victims, delights in and confidently exploits the cheap irony of his 
preaching against his own vice : 

I preche of no thyng but for coveityse. 
Therfore my theme is yet, and evere was, 
Radix malorum est cupiditas. 

He is not, however, as clever as he believes himself to be, for the 
Host is not gulled by him. But this is a small part of his self- 
deception; its full extent is 1 revealed by his own sermon. In his 
tale of the three rioters, who went out to seek for death and after 
they had given up the search found it at one another's hands, 
there is an irony which cuts so much deeper than any the Pardoner 
shows himself to be conscious of, that we feel him, equally with 
them, to be the victim of it. He understands no more than they 
that the wages of sin is death. 1 

It is a descent from this tale to the Manciple's. Yet, in its 
method, the Manciple's Tale resembles the Pardoner's, and even 
more closely the Nun's Priest's, and I doubt whether it is any more 
dependent for its form on rhetorical devices than^they are. When, 
therefore, it is condemned as being over-rhetorical, it would seem 
to be condemned for the wrong reason. The real difference between 
it and the other two tales is that, in it, Chaucer appears to have 
been interested in rhetorical devices only for their own sake ; there 
is no motive for the amplification of the story of Phoebus and the 

In the Nun's Priest's Tale Chaucer uses almost every means of 
amplification known to the rhetoricians, inter pretatio, comparatio, 
prosopopoeia, apostrophe, digression, description; and he uses them 
precisely as the rhetoricians intended, to amplify, or extend, the 
little tale of the cock and the fox. It may be objected that this is 
a different case altogether; that here Chaucer is ridiculing the 
rhetoricians and is using their own methods to show them up. He 
is, of course, amusing himself at their expense; this would be clear 

1 I am indebted to Miss M. M. Lascelles for some suggestions about Chaucer's 
handling of the Pardoner's Tale and the Nun's Priest's Tale, but she is not 
responsible for any statement made here or any opinion expressed. 


if there were no echoes of Geoffroi's Nova Poetria 1 and no allusion 
to his famous apostrophe on the death of Richard I : 

O Gaufred, deere maister soverayn . . . 

Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy loore 

The Friday for to chide, as diden ye ? 

But when this mockery is quoted (as it sometimes is) to prove that 
Chaucer saw the folly of applying rhetorical methods to poetry, 
it should be remembered that, if he is here attacking rhetorical 
methods, he is at the same time attacking much of his own most 
serious poetry. The apostrophe 'O destinee, that mayst nat been 
eschewed!' is not in itself more ridiculous than some of Troilus's 
bitter outcries against Fortune. The joke lies in the incongruity 
between the high-sounding line and the farmyard birds to whose 
fate it refers: 

O destinee, that mayst nat been eschewed! 
Alias, that Chauntecleer fleigh fro the bemes! 
Alas, his wyf ne roghte nat of dremes! 

The joke is a better one if it is recognized that fine apostrophes and 
tragic exempla have their proper functions. It is the best joke of all 
for those who, like Chaucer and presumably his readers, had been 
taught the rhetorical doctrine of the three styles, and knew that the 
only fitting style for the farmyard was the stylus humilis. 2 

I would ask you to consider for a moment what would happen to 
the Nun's Priest's Tale if all traces of rhetorical amplification were 
to be removed from it. (This means the delightful descriptions of 
the cock and the hens as well as Chauntecleer's examples of pro- 
phetic dreams, the apostrophes, asides, and so on.) There would 
be nothing left but the bare bones of the story, something utterly 
different in kind from the subtly humorous poem which Chaucer 
created for a quick-witted and sophisticated audience. It is in- 
conceivable that Chaucer should not have been aware of the extent 

1 On these echoes, see Marie P. Hamilton, ' Notes on Chaucer and the 
Rhetoricians*, P.M.L.A. xlvii (1932), K. Young, 'Chaucer and Geoffrey de 
VinsauP, Modern Philology, xli (1944), and a brief note by R. A. Pratt, 'The 
Classical Lamentations in the "Nun's Priest's Tale" ', M.L.N. Ixiv (1949). 

2 On the doctrine of the three styles see Faral, pp. 86 ff., and, for a more 
recent discussion, De Bruyne, Etudes d'esthetique medievale, ii, pp. 41 ff. 


to which the structure of his story, and all that gave it its special 
quality, depended on rhetorical methods. Chaucer often makes 
fun of things for which he had a serious regard, and particularly in 
the Nun's Priest's Tale he mockingly alludes to many things in 
which he elsewhere shows deep interest the significance of dreams, 
for example, and the question of pre-destination and free will. So 
it seems to me likely that if, as we read the Nun's Priest's Tale, we 
laugh too heartily and unthinkingly at the rhetoricians, there is a 
danger that Chaucer may be laughing at us. 


Only the more important of the author's many reviews are included 

in this list 


The Middle English Prose Psalter of Richard Rolle of Hampole', 

M.L.R. xvii (1922), pp. 217 ff. and 337 fT. ; xviii (1923), pp. 381 ff. 

'A Characterisation of the English Medieval Romances', E. and S. xv 

(1929), pp. 98 ff. 

'Another Collation of the Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales', 

M.JEv. i (1932), pp. 42 ff. 

'The Relationship of Chestre's Launfal and Lybeaus Desconus\ M.JEv. 

vii (1938), pp. 29 ff. 

'Legal Phraseology in a passage in Pearl' (with Naomi D. Hurnard), 

M.JEv. xvi (1947), pp. 9 ff. 

'Chaucer's "Good Ear'", R.E.S. xxiii (1947), pp. 201 ff. 

'Some Reflections on Chaucer's "Art Poetical" ', Sir Israel Gollancz 

Memorial Lecture, British Academy (1950). 

Contributions to The Year's Work in English Studies 
Chapter on Middle English, vi-xv (1925-34). 
Chapter on Chaucer, Lydgate, and Gower, xvi (1935). 
Chapter on Chaucer, xvii-xxxii (1936-51). 


Floris and Blancheflur, ed. A. B. Taylor, R.E.S. iv (1928), pp. 220 ff. 
Writings ascribed to Richard Rolle, Hermit of Hampole, and Materials for 
his Biography, Hope Emily Allen, R.E.S. v (1929), pp. 79 ff. 
Valentine and Orson: a study in Late Medieval Romance, Arthur Dickson, 
R.E.S. vi(i93o), pp. 331 ff. 
The Gests of King Alexander of Macedon, F. P. Magoun Jr., R.E.S. vi 

toa ). PP- 329 ff. 

Winner and Waster and Death and Liffe, ed. Sir Israel Gollancz, R.E.S. 
ix(i933), pp. 2i 3 ff. 


Eger and Grime, ed. James Ralston Caldwell, M.L.R. xxix (1934), pp. 

446 ff. 

Athehton. A Middle English Romance, ed. A. Mel. Trounce, R.E.S. xi 

('935)>PP- "sff- 

Seinte Marharete pe Meiden ant Martyr, ed. Frances M. Mack, R.E.S. 

xi (i93S) PP- 337 ff- 

The Manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Sir William McCormick, 

R.E.S. xi (1935), pp. 342 ff. 

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales und das Decameron, Lorenz Morsbach, 

M.JEv. ^(1935), pp. 54 ff. 

Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde, abridged and ed. R. C. Coffin; Chaucer: 

the Pardoner's Tale, ed. Carleton Brown, M.JEv. vi (1937), pp. 144 ff. 

The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson, M.lEv. 

vii (1938), pp. 204 ff. 

The Battle of Maldon, ed. E. V. Gordon, M.JEv. viii (1939), pp. 156 ff. 

Sawles Warde, ed. R. M. Wilson; The Conflict of Wit and Will, ed. 

Bruce Dickins, R.E.S. xvi (1940), pp. 72 ff. 

The Battle of Brunanburh, ed. Alistair Campbell, M.JEv. ix (1940), 

PP- 35 ff - 

Early Middle English Literature, R. M. Wilson, M.^Ev. x (1941), 
pp. 47 ff. 

Halt Meidhad, ed. A. F. Colborn, R.E.S. xvii (1941), pp. 117 ff. 
The Text of the Canterbury Tales, John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, 
R.E.S. xviii (1942), pp. 93 ff. 

Essays on King Horn, Walter H. French, R.E.S. xviii (1942), pp. 330 ff. 
Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', ed. W. F. Bryan 
and Germaine Dempster, M.IEv. xii (1943), pp. 78 ff. 
The Literary Relationships of Chaucer's 'Clerkes Tale', J. Burke Severs, 
M.&v. xiii (1944), pp. 47 ff. 

Chaucer's World, compiled by Edith Rickert, ed. Clair C. Olson and 
Martin M. Crow, R.E.S. N.s. i (1950), pp. 156 ff. 
The Poet Chaucer, Nevill Coghill, R.E.S. N.S. ii (1951), pp. 159 ff. 
Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales, W. W. Lawrence; Chaucer the 
Maker, J. Speirs, R.E.S. N.s. iii (1952), pp. 377 ff. 
The Lost Literature of Medieval England, R. M. Wilson, M.JEv. xxii 
) PP- 3 1 ff - 


JElfric, 140. 

Against a Wen, Charm, 24. 

Alanus de Insulis, De Planctu Naturae, 

107, 112. 

Alexander A, 54 ff. 
Alexander B (Alexander andDindimus), 

54 ff- 
Alexander C (Wars of Alexander), 

54 ff. 

alliterative prose, 139-40. 

alliterative verse: style and diction, 
23-24, 26, 47; 'popular' and 'clas- 
sical', 26 ff., 37-38; audience of, 
47 ff. ; echoed by Chaucer, 139 ff. 

Amis and Amiloun, 9. 

Ancient Mariner, n, 13, 14. 

Ancren Riwle, 144. 

Ancrene Riwle, 25. 

Anglo Saxon Chronicle, 37; poem on 
the death of Edgar, 26; Alfred and 
Godwin, 26, 28. 

Artes prcedicandi, 171. 

Art of Poetry, see Rhetoric. 

Athelston, 9. 

Augustine, St., 94. 

Ballads, 16. 

Battle of Maldon, 62. 

Bede, Ecclesiastical History, 30. 

Bennett, Arnold, 8. 

Beowulf, 10, 23, 36, 37, 62, 74. 

Bestiary, 26. 

Boccaccio: // Filostrato, n6ff., 155, 

156; Olympia, 69; Teseida, 107, 128, 

Boethius, De Consolatione Philoso- 

phiae, 107, no, 128, 132-3, 135, 

163, 166, 168. 
Bonaventura, St., 93. 
Book of Privy Counselling, 139. 
Bradwardine, Thomas, 94-95. 
Breton lais, 14, 16, 21-22. 

Chansons de geste, 5, 19-21. 

Chanson de Roland, 9, 19-20 ff. 

Chaucer, Geoffrey, i, 4, 7, 15, 47-48, 
8 1, 85, 93; ABC, 153; Book of the 
Duchess, 2, 97, 100 ff., 103, 108, 
147, 153, 156-8, 160, 162-5; 

Canterbury Tales, 99, 104; Clerk's 
Tale, 97; Complaint of Venus, 102; 
Franklin s Prologue, 150; Franklin's 
Tale, 22; Friar's Tale, 144; House 
of Fame, iooff., 116, 149-50; 
Knight's Tale, 68, 103, 140, 141, 
158, 159, 164-5, 166-9; Legend of 
Good Women, 98-99, iooff., 108, 
141 ; Manciple's Tale, 158, 169, 172; 
Man of Law's Tale, 21, 139, 140, 
142, 151, 165; Merchant's Prologue, 
158; Merchant's Tale, 156, 159-60; 
Miller's Tale, 144, 164; Nun's 
Priest's Tale, 97, 169, 172-4; 
Pardoner's Tale, 144, 169-72; Parle- 
ment of Foul es, 97 ff., 143, 144, 148, 
J 53~4, J 59> J 6o, 1634; Parson's 
Tale, 140, 171; Prioress's Prologue, 
140; Prioress's Tale, 97, 148, 157-8; 
Prologue, Canterbury Tales, 8, 98, 
140, 154-5, 1 60; Reeve's Tale, 144; 
Retractation to, Canterbury Tales, 
102, 135; SirThopas, 11, 142-3, 144; 
Squire's Tale, 150, 159, 160; Sum- 
moneys Tale, 140, 145, 146; Troilus 
and Criseyde, 2, 77, 99, 101, 104, 
109-10, 114, iisff., 148, 150, 155, 
156, 163, 173; Wife of Bath's Tale, 
11-12, 145, 147, 156, 158; Wife of 
Bath's Prologue, 145 ff., 158. 

Chevalere Assigne, 9. 

Chretien de Troyes, 7, 22, 33; Cleges, 
126; Lancelot, 99; Yvain, 99. 

Cicero, 152-3; see Macrobius, Som- 
nium Scipionis. 

Cleanness, see Purity. 

Courtly Love, 77 ff., 99-100, 108, 112- 
14, 125-7, 129-30, 136-8. 

Dante, 69, 95, 107, in, 135, 143, 

Death and Liffe, 52-53. 

de Bohun, Humphrey, Earl of Here- 
ford, 48, 53. 

Departing Soul's Address to the Body, 
24-25, 26, 27, 37-39- 

Deschamps, 100. 

Description of Durham, 26. 

Destruction of Troy, 57-58. 

i 7 8 


Dryden, Conquest of Granada, 9. 
Duke Rozclande and Sir Ottuell of 
Spayne, 20. 

Eliot, T. S., 156. 

Emare, 8, 9, 21-22. 

Evrard the German, Laborintus, 151. 

Fabliau, 21. 

Fair Annie, ballad of, 16, 17-18. 

Fight at Finnsburuh, 28. 

Floris and Blauncheflur , 3. 

Froissart, 100, 103; L'Espinette amou- 

reuse, 101. 
Fuerres de Gadres, 55. 

Geoffrey of Monmouth, 30-32. 
Geoffroi de Vinsauf, Nova Poetria, 
103, 150, 151, 158, 160, 162, 164, 

165, 173. 

Ger\ais of Melkley, 152. 
Giraldus Cambrensis, 25. 
Gower, Confessio Amantis, 21, 22, 99, 


Grave, The, 24, 25. 
Gregory the Great, St., 92. 
Guido ciella Colonne, Historia Troiana 

(Historia Destructionis Trojae)^, 57- 


Guillaume de Lorris, see Roman de la 

Guy of Warwick, 3, 9, 12. 

Havelok, Lay of, 3, 8, 9. 

Henry of Huntingdon, 25. 

Hind Horn, ballad of, 16, 18. 

Historia de Prehis, 54 ff. 

Horn Chdde and Maiden Rimnild, 16, 


Huchoun, 47. 
Huon de Bordeaux, 19. 

Ipomadon A, 141. 

John of Salisbury, 151-2, 153. 

John Ball, Letter to the peasants of 

Essex, 48. 
Joseph of Arimathie, 59-61. 

Keats, John, 13. 

King Horn, 5, 9, 12, 16, 19, 38, 39. 

King of Tars, 1 1 . 

King Orfeo, 16. 

Knight of Courtesy, 9. 

Kyng Alysaunder, 82. 

LaBamon's Brut, 25, 26, 28 ff., 46, 


Lai le Freine, 16-17. 
Langland, William, see Piers Plowman. 
Lestoire del Saint Graal (Grand Saint 

Graal), 59-60. 
Liber Catonianus, 153. 
Lollius, 115-16. 
Lybeaus Desconus, 8, 9, 12, 13. 
Lycidas, 85, 96. 
Lydgate, Fall of Princes, 116; Troy 

Book, 3, 4, 5. 
Lyfe of Ahsaunder, 3, 4, 9. 

Machaut, 100; Jugement dou Roy de 

Beliaigne, 103. 
Macrobius, Somnium Scipionis, 103, 

105-7, 159. 

Malory, Morte Darthur, 61, 65, 
Marie de France, 17, 22. 
Matthieu de Venclome, Ars versifica- 

toria, 103, 150-1, 164. 
Morte Darthur, see Malory. 
Morte Arthur e, alliterative, 3, 5, 9, 21, 

61 ff., 161. 

Orosius, Historia adversus Paganos, 54. 
Oton de Graunson, 108; Songe sainct 

Valentin, 102. * 
Ovid, 107; Metamorphoses, 2. 
Owl and Nightingale, 99, 102. 

Parliament of the Three Ages, 49, 50-52. 

Partonope of Blois, 141. 

Patience, 68 ff. 

Pearl, 68-70, 73-74, 82, 85 ff., 156. 

Petrus Chrysologus, 92. 

Piers Plowman, 8, 48, 50,51,52,68, 74, 


Proverbs of Alfred, 26, 38. 
Proverbs of Hendyng, 25. 
Purity (Cleanness), i5,68ff., 139, 161. 

Quatre Fils d'Ayrnon, 19. 
Quintilian, 152-3, 154. 

Rabanus Maurus, 151. 

Raymund, St., of Pennaforte, Summa, 

Rhetoric: used by Chaucer, 103-6, 
113, 131-2, 149 ff.; by Machaut and 
Froissart, 103; by the Pearl Poet, 
73-74, 84, 93; in La3amon's Brut, 
42-43 ; in Joseph of Arimathie, 60. 



Roland and Vernagu, 9. 

Romances, i ff. ; meaning of term, 

2fT.; alliterative 53ff.; Arthurian, 

10, 20, 53; of Charlemagne, 5, 20; 

tail-rhyme, 142-3; (see also separate 


Roman d'Alixandre, 55. 
Roman de Balain, 152, 165. 
Roman de Brut, see Wace. 
Roman de la Rose, 69, 90-91, 100-1, 

103, 125-6, 130, 137. 

Saint's Legends, 15-16. 

Sawles Warde, 144. 

Scale of Perfection, 139. 

Seinte Marker etc t 139. 

Siege of Jerusalem, 58-59. 

Siege of Thebes > 2. 

Sir Aldingar, 16, 18. 

Si' Eglamour of Artois, 21. 

Sir Ferumbras, 3, 20. 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 5, 
6, 8, 9, 13-14, 23, 48, 51, 52, 
68-69, 73, 74 ff-, 87, 93, 139, 164, 

Sir Isumbras, 16. 

Sir Launfal, 10. 

Sir Orfeo y 6, 9, 10, 13-14, 16. 

Sir Perceval of Galles t 12, 13. 

Sir Torrent of Portyngale, 2 1 . 
Sir Tristrem t 143. 
Somnium Scipionis, see Macro bius. 
Song of Roland, 9, 20. 
South-English Legendary, 15, 16. 
Sowdone of Babylone, 20. 
Squyr of Lowe Degre, 5-6. 
Suite du Merlin, 152. 

Trevisa, 48. 

Towneley Second Shepherd's Play t 15. 

Usk, Testament of Love, 92. 

Virgil, 115, 134. 

Vernon MS., Lyrics of, 88. 

Wace, Roman de Brut, 30, 36, 40, 42-45. 
Wade, Story of, 25. 
Weddynge of Sir Gawen, 10. 
William of Malmesbury, 25. 
William of Palerne, 48, 53 ff. 
Winner and Waster, 49 ff. 
Worcester Fragments: First, 24, 26; 

others, see Departing SouVs Address 

to the Body. 
Wyntoun, Andrew, Orygynale Crony- 

kil, 47. 

Ywain and Gawain, 9, 141.