Studies in Spenser, Milton and the Theory of Monarchy

By Ruth Mohl | Go to book overview
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THE LITERATURE of the estates of the world, so clearly developed in medieval France and England, was further enriched for the modern reader by the publication in 1936 of the fifteenth-century satire Mum and the Sothsegger.1 Discovered in the west country, near the locale of Piers Plowman, to which it bears a number of similarities, it reviews the condition of "all kinds of estates,"2 from king to peasant, in the eventful last days of Richard II and the early years of the reign of Henry IV. Though a part of the newly discovered manuscript is a fragment of alliterative verse already published 3 under the title Richard the Redeles, the much larger part concerning the case of Mum and the Truthteller was unknown to modern readers and seems to have been largely neglected since its publication. The question of the relation of the two fragments is unsettled; but since in the sixteenth century they were known as one poem under the title of Mum, Sothsegger, since their language and form are identical, and since certain ideas in the two parts are closely related,4 there is good reason for considering them here together as parts of a single poem.

Many of the characteristics of the literature of estates as they are to be found in other works of this type are also found in Mum and the Sothsegger. Its classification of all society, its stress on the necessity of the three estates and on the duties of each to the others to maintain a stable realm, its indication of the faults of each class, its doctrine

Eds. Mabel Day and Robert Steele, E.E.T.S., orig. ser., 199 ( London: Oxford University Press, 1936).
Alle maniere estatz, p. 50, l. 793.
Twice by Thomas Wright and later, in 1873, by W. W. Skeat. It was Skeat theory that the poem was unquestionably written by the author of Piers Plowman, Langland, but Thomas Wright said it was not by Langland.
See editors' Intro., pp. xviii-xix.


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