Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Literary Use of Religious Formulae in Certain Middle English Romances

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Literary Use of Religious Formulae in Certain Middle English Romances

Article excerpt

lett vs thynk on hym that vs hathe bought

And we shall please god ther-fore.

(Stanzaic Morte Arthur, 3718-19)

Formulae invoking the saving power of Christ's Passion and the creating vigour of God the Father are numerous in the Middle English romances. Drawn from a variety of sources - the liturgy, the religious lyric, the private prayer - they rarely occasion more than a perfunctory comment, unless it be the charge of stylistic redundance.' The metrical ease transparently afforded by such patterns has diverted critical attention from the question of their potential relevance to literary context. Yet the startling power of their apposite usage in charged narrative moments (nowhere more than in Guinevere's renunciation of the temporal world, quoted above) prompts further investigation.

Whatever their status in the romances, other Middle English contexts credit formulae of this kind with considerable semandc weight. Beginning with a review of these contexts, this study will reassess the function of religious formulae in romance, focusing particularly on the deployment of Passiontide-tags in the stanzaic Morte Arthur and on formulae invoking the Creator in William of Paleme.2

In order to furnish examples of the formulae in question, and to show how these are typical of a wide range of story-types and verse-forms, the present study draws on a corpus of twenty metrical romances.3 Largely comprising tail-rhyme verse, the corpus includes five poems in octosyllabic couplets, and two in alliterative long lines. Differing story-types are represented on the one hand by a group of overdy homiletic romances, including Sir Amadace and Guy of Warwick, and on the other by a less explicitly pious assortment including Beues of Hamtoun and The Erl of Tolous.4 The most frequendy recurring formulae to be found in this corpus (conforming to the paradigm 'pronoun / proper noun + relative or co-ordinate clause') may be grouped under the following theological headings.5

Creator mundi: Him that schope mankynde' (A&A 85:1ο)6

Christus triumphans·. 'Ihesu, Jjat es hevens kyng' (SE 1)7

The Nativity: '[he] j^at yn Bedlem was borne' (J'C 574)®

The Betrayal: 'God |?at Judas sold' {A&A 107:5)'

Christus Patiens·. (i) 'God, that sofryd wonddes sare' (TP 335)

(ii) 'Him that weres coroune of ]porn' (Ath 270)

(iii) 'Hym £>at dyed on rod' (ET 13 6)10

Salvator mundv. 'God |>at al mankende haj? boußt' (GW 28:2)"

The Harrowing of Hell: 'He that harowed hell' (ET 256)12

Less numerous are references to the raising of Lazarus - 'Lord, Jsat rerede |se Lazaroun' (BH 28 39);13 the Trinity - 'Jhesu, that syttyth yn trynyte' (Oct 95 8);14 and an eschatological context: 'hym that all schall weide' (BF 5 5 8).15

These formulae exhibit three characteristics which suggest that they offered a range of literary and dramatic possibilities to the composers of Middle English romance.

First, they can be used to present differing aspects of God. The Creator mundi may be as readily invoked as the Salvator mundv, the Nativity as readily as the Passion. Historical and eschatological attributes may be rehearsed with equal facility.

Secondly, such formulae are, in fact, functional at various narrative levels. Within the narrative they appear in the prayers and oaths15 of characters, outside it they surface in narratorial prayers for audience, narrator or even fictional character; their use in introductory and exordial prayers unites all three within a Christian frame of reference.

Finally, these patterns are distinct from the secular formulae of romance in that they exhibit precise semantic and syntactic correspondence to the language of doctrinal instruction and popular piety, as manifested in lyrics, verse prayers, and charms. In these contexts a principle of apposite invocation is at work, governing the selection of formulae in which moral and doctrinal weight is invested. These contexts demand a brief investigation.

The use of religious formulae in homiletic literature is widely attested. They appear in Mirk's verse rendering of the Creed,17 and are frequently employed in the formulation of ethical imperatives. Thus Robert Mannyng's Handlyng Synne admonishes:

For hys loue |>at deyde on J>e rode,

Forswere 30W neuer for werldes gode.18

Apropos of the reading of the Gospel, the Lay Folks' Mass Book enjoins:

Whils hit is red, speke {jou noght,

bot jsenk on him {sat dere Jae boght.'9

And on a similar theme a moral lyric urges:

For Cristis loue, [?at bou3te {3e dere,

let no3t tonge haue al his wille.2"

Such formulae also characterize Middle English prayers. They appear in prose in the exordial prayers of sermons, the petition for deliverance to heaven often collocating with the tag 'To the wiche he brynge vs J>at on the Rode bowßth vs';21 'To that mercye he vs brynge £>at for mankeend shed is blode on the Rode tre';22 'Pis crowne of liff graunte vs Crist, £at died for us on ]?e Rode Tree'.23 Verse prayers designed for lay use during the Mass draw extensively on such formulae; the Lay Folks' Mass Book furnishes an elevation prayer to Christ '£>at for me spilt {31 blode / and dyed opon Jjo rode',24 and an offertory devotion by 'Ihesu, {?at was in bethlem borne'.25 In addition, these formulae are found in great numbers in the private verse prayers of the period:

Iesu Crist of Nazare^,

Dat for vs all suffriddist de{j

Vpon Jdc rode tree;

Thorow vertu of ßowre woundes.v.

Dat 3e suffryd in 30ure lyue

Haue mercy on me.


Jesu, that deyed upon a tre

Owr sowlys for to wynne,

Schilde us from the fendis myght,

And fro dedly synne.27

God Lord f>at sittes in trone,

Nu and euer |du here my mone.28

Religious formulae are intricately involved in the texture and structure of such prayers. In addition to their function as independent prayer-tags, they may be employed as structural units in longer devotions.29 A particular series of formulations is 'embedded' thus in at least four devotional texts, among them the prayer of Richard de Caistre, itself derivative of an existing fourteenth-century hymn:

Ihü lorde, f>at madest me

And with |dí blyssyd blode hast bowght,

fforyeue f>at I haue greuyd ^e

In worde, werke, and thowght.

Ihü, for jji woundys smerte

on fote and handys too,

Make me meke and lowe in hert,

And |pe to loue as I schulde doo.30

Emphatic use is again made of these formulae in Middle English versecharms.31 In an exemplum from Handlyng Synne, a fiend attests to the tutelary virtue of Passiontide tags:

No Jjyng {>at man may of hym sey,

Do{d oure power so moche awey

As nemne fjat passyoun & Jjat rode. (8245-7)

The close relationship between the formulations of verse-charms and those of the romances is illustrated by a charm against fever:

I coungere the with the crowne of thorne

that on Iesus hede was done with skorne.

I coungere the with the precious blode

that Iesus shewyd vpon the rode,

I coungere the with woundes fyve

that Iesus suffred be his lyve.32

In formulae cognate with those of the romances, a charm for staunching blood invokes 'God was y bore in bethleem / & baptized in flum jordan'," whilst a charm against thieves invokes the Crucifixion:

Christ yt died on yt roode,

for Maries loue that by him stood,

& through the vertue of his blood,

Jesus saue vs & our good.14

Their apposite and considered usage in these contexts credits religious formulae with doctrinal seriousness and stylistic resonance. That these qualities may indeed be reflected in the use of formulae in the romances is illustrated by the homiletic Sir Amadace. Here, a Passiontide tag occurs in the fervent prayer of the impecunious protagonist:

Jhesu, as fiu deut on tre,

Summe of |ai sokur send |du me. (427-8)

That this formula constitutes a cogent petition is strongly implied by its appearance in non-fictional, contemporary analogues:

ffor Cristis loue ^at dyde on rode,

I praye ise, lorde, ^>ou here my steuene.55

This correspondence, the sombre context of invocation, and the pious tenor of the poem as a whole, all suggest that the formula in Amadace's prayer should not merely be dismissed as an empty filler. Indeed, if anything, the affective power of such formulae may be heightened rather than diminshed by narrative context, as is evident in the White Knight's exhortation to Amadace to remain strong in his faith and attend the restoration of his fortunes by God:

Now thenke on him, |?at deut on rode.

Dat for vs sched his precius blode,

For |>e and monkynd all ...

Repente [3e no3te {sat |ju hase done,

For he {sat schope bothe sunne and mone,

Full wele may pay for alle. (457-68)

By amplifying the Passiontide formula in the variant 'for ]?e and monkynd all', the White Knight directs the doctrinal import of the pattern at Amadace. The same strategy is evident, though in reversed roles, when Amadace, his fortunes restored, implores this hitherto benign revenant to forgo his claim upon the lives of his wife and child:

For his lufe Jsat deet on tre

Quatsever 3e will, do with me,

For him [sat deet on rode. (736-8)

The use of affective tags in both the a-rhyme and the cauda is dramatic and, inasmuch as this represents a life-and-death situation, apposite. Amadace's wife insists that the covenant he has made with the White Knight must be honoured, even at the cost of her own life. She twice impresses this upon him with moral urgency:

For hys luffe {^et deut on tre

Loke ßaure couandus holdun be

Goddes forbotte 3e me spare! (754-6)

For his lufe [)at deet on tre,

Loke 3aure couandus holdun be,

3ore forward was full fyne. (760-z)

As we have seen, this hortatory use of affective formulae replicates contemporary didactic injunctions - 'ffor his loue ^>at 30U der bovßth / Hold 30U stil & Iangel no3thV36 Again, the dramatic narrative context is likely to emphasize rather than diminish the doctrinal force of the pattern.

Sir Amadace is one of the most overtly pious of the romances: the religious stance of the narrator, and the story's moral pattern, are largely responsible for providing the wider context against which these formulae resonate. Yet, as will become apparent with regard to the stanzaic Morte Arthur and William of Palerne, examples of the considered use of religious formulae are manifest in the non-homiletic verse also. (Indeed, this and the very fact that such patterns are common to both kinds of romance does much to render problematic modern genre distinctions.) Thus a tag from Guy of Warwick, uttered by the king in his appeal to Guy to combat the giant Colbrond,

for him Jjat dyed on rode,

& Jaat for ous schadde his blod,

To bigge ous alle fre,

Take |3e batayle now on hond, (246:7-10)

is employed with equal cogency in the more secular Erl of Toious, in the emperor's vow of vengeance upon the protagonist:

He sware be hym, {jat dyed on rod,

Met nor drynk schuld do hym god,

Or he vengedd bee. (136-8)"

That stylistic use may be made of these formulae in non-homiletic romances is eloquently demonstrated in Havelok - a poem in which both the selection and the expression of divine attributes are so unusual that the resulting patterns barely admit of classification as formulae.38 A striking example occurs in the episode of Goldboru's imprisonment by Godrich, with the narrator's pertinent appeal to Christ to free the heroine as surely as he freed another from still more intractable bonds:

Jesu Crist, that Lazarun

To live broucte fro dede-bondes

He les hire wit hise hondes. (3 31-3)

Such examples illustrate the dramatic and literary possibilities which arise from a contextually relevant invocation of the deity - possibilities to which the Middle English romance tradition may well have been more receptive than has hitherto been granted. The stanzaic Morte Arthur and William of Paleme, in exhibiting a consistently apposite use of religious formulae, reinforce this impression; these poems form the subject of what follows.

The treatment of formulaic elements in the stanzaic Morte is among those factors which prompt Dieter Mehl's ascription of a 'literary' provenance to the poem:

The rhyme-scheme which makes some demands on the author's ingenuity (abababab), the frequent alliterative formulas, and the effective use of stanzalinking, especially in the more important episodes, show clearly that this is no naive story-telling, but that the author was a conscious stylist who tried to give some shape to his poem.19

In this light, the poet's very selection of religious formulae argues that these should be viewed not simply as prosodie fillers but as stylistic devices which carry with them a strong aesthetic charge. The poet generally condenses the matter of the French La Mort le Roi Artu, yet among his additions are affective Passiontide formulae: usually periphrastic forms which demonstrate - with irony - the shared religious consciousness of the feuding parties. The first such pattern occurs in the argument between Lancelot and Guinevere, where the queen, on the misinformation of Gawain, accuses her knight of transferring his affections to the Maid of Ascalot:

launcelot fülle stille then stode,

his herte was hevy as Any stone;

So sory he wexe in his mode,

For Routhe hym thought it all to-torne.

'Madame,' he said, 'For crosse and Rode,

What by-tokenyth all this mone?

By hym {jat bought me with his blode,

Off these tydandes know I none.' (760-7)40

The emotive content of the scene is heightened considerably by the evocation of the Crucifixion and the blood of Christ by a speaker who apprehends his own heart as 'to-torne'. Just as Sir Amadace, his spouse, and the White Knight resorted to these formulae in the manifestation of devotion or admonition, so Lancelot employs them in protesting fidelity. Similarly, pleading for rescue from execution after the episode of the poisoned apple, Guinevere employs an equally emotive tag alluding to Christ's sacrifice 'for vs' to urge Hector to her defence:

For hym that on the Rode gon sprede,

And for vs bare the crone of thorne,

Estor, [sic] helpe now in thys nede,

Or, certes, to-day my lyfe is lorne! (1392-15)

In this context the connotations of the tag are manifold. It protests the queen's innocence as much as her desperation; it foreshadows the threat of painful death; above all, it manifests intense emotion.

With the degeneration of the poem's world into civil war, the resonance of affective formulae is still stronger. When, after the bitter first battle at Joyous Guard, papal intervention offers the prospect of peace, a conciliatory bishop of Rochester bids Lancelot return Guinevere to Arthur and 'Thynke on hym that you dere bought' (2299). The archbishop of Canterbury receives shorter shrift when his appeal to Mordred - 'for cryste on Rode' (3004) - to abandon his own intention of marrying the queen is violently rebutted:

be hym that for vs suffred payne,

These wordys shalt thou lyke full ylle!

with wilde hors thou shalt be drayne

And hangyd hye vpon An hylle! (3012-15)

It is interesting that so widespread is the Christian scheme of reference in the romances that it allows for the use of these patterns, perhaps ironically, by immoral characters such as Mordred. Religious formulae are thus situative in that they sketch the universal relationship between God and man; be he sinner or penitent, the frame of reference is the same. Mordred's utterance hardly signals a pious disposition, however, and the archbishop flees to the woodland hermitage that will house the surviving knights, lamenting that England must endure such 'sorrows sore'.

Affective formulae also occur in the plea of Arthur's emissary to Mordred that battle be delayed 'For hys loue that dyed on Rode' (3247), and in the explicidy pious context of Bedivere's appeal for shelter and admittance to the ascetic life, when he encounters a hermit at Arthur's grave:

'Ermyte,' he sayd 'with-oute lesynge,

here lyeth my lord that i haue lorne,

Bold arthur, the beste kynge

That euyr was in bretayne borne.

yif me som of thy clothynge,

For hym that bare the crowne of thorne,

And leue that i may with the lenge,

Whyle i may leve, And pray hym forne.' (3550-7)

In the French source this plea is reported: 'si prie tant l'ermite qu'il le reçoit en sa compaignie'.41 The poet has deliberately written an emotive speech for Bedivere; he has selected a Passiontide-tag as a stylistic device to colour it.

Despite the inclusion of the barge scene, the poem entertains no ambiguities concerning Arthur's fate. The king appears never to have reached Avalon, a location which held promise of relief from suffering:

I wylle wende a lytell stownde

In-to the vale of Avelovne,

A whyle to hele me of my wounde. (3515-17)

Such relief comes only in the parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, where the queen focuses upon the redemptive virtue of Christ's own wounds:

my sowie hele I wyll A-byde,

Telle god sende me som grace,

Throw mercy of his woundys wyde. (3655-7)

This image, and the same alliterative formula, is taken up and expanded by Malory:

Therefore, sir launcelot, wyte thou well I am sette in suche a plyght to gete my soule hele. And yet I trust, thorow Goddis grace and thorow Hys Passion of Hys woundis wyde, that aftir my deth I may have a syght of the blyssjed] face of Cryste Jesu, and on Doomesday to sytte on Hys ryght syde; |fo]r as synfull as ever I was, now ar seyntes in hevyn.42

The divine signification of Christ's wounds enables the repentant queen to turn from the 'batayle sore' to her Redeemer and to capture the hortatory tone of moral lyrics in enjoining Lancelot to do likewise:

lett vs thynk on him that vs hath bought,

And we shall please god ther-fore;

Thynke on this world, how there is noght,

But warre and stryffe And batayle sore. (3718-21)

Guinevere's exhortation is heeded; Lancelot joins his surviving comrades in the woodland hermitage, where their devotions and diction show them to be typical adherents of the affective piety of the Middle Ages. Thus when the ailing Lancelot recognizes in himself the proprieties mortis - 'my baleffull blode offlyffe is bare' (3839) - his brethren's assurance 'hyt is bot hevynesse of your blode' (3853) is made 'for hys loue that dyed on Rode' (3851). Subsequendy, Bors's threnody for his late companion invokes an equally affective paradigm:

Alias ... that I was borne!

That evyr I shuld see thys in dede! ...

Ihesu, that crownyd was wir h thorne,

In heuyn hys soule foster and fede! (3890- 5)4·1

Contemporary analogues again attest the cogency and familiarity of this petition:

Ihesu, for |>i blodi heued,

]pat wit thornes was beweued ...

Make my herte mek & mylde,

to be Jji seruant dene.44

Formulae which present other aspects of God do appear in the stanzaic Morie. These too contribute to their narrative contexts.45 Yet the consistently apposite use of Passiontide tags in scenes of battle, death, lamentation and devotion inevitably emphasizes affective images of Christ and points up the suffering common to the protagonists and their Redeemer. The poetic and dramatic force of these formulae becomes cumulative during a reading of the work, and they clearly made an impression upon Malory. It is fitting, then, that the poem concludes with reference to the 'sore' wounds of Christ:

And yit is Arthur beryed thore,

And quene Gaynour, as I yow nevyn;

With monkes that ar Ryght of lore.

They Rede and synge with mylde stevyn:

'Ihesu, that suffred woundes sore

Graunt vs All the blysse of hevyn!' (3964-9)

In such an austere context the tag is powerfully resonant. It evokes, and suggests the supplicants' mindfulness of, the 'woundes sore' of the poem's dramatis personam, the slaying of Gaheriet and Gaheries 'Wythe many A doulfell dethes wounde' (1963); the 'wepynge sare' of battle (2244) with its attendant 'woundys wykke and wyde' (3365). Whilst the prayer is ostensibly the utterance of the hermits, it also serves as a narratorial ending, closing the work as a literary artefact. There is no foregrounding of the narrator to invite a benediction upon an audience, and thus no abrupt detachment from the narrative. Like the other affective formulae of the poem, this closing appeal is semantically apposite, suggesting, as Guinevere has realized, that the Passiontide contract which promises redemption represents a suffering as keen as that experienced in the world of the poem.

By contrast, the alliterative romance William of Palernew exploits formulae invoking God as Creator.47 Involving physical and supernatural disguises, the poem presents the motif of the high birth concealed in the yeoman; the homo ferox emerging as homo civilis. When the love of William and Melior is obstructed by his ostensibly low status and her arranged marriage, the two elope disguised in bearskins. A werewolf provides the couple with food, shelter and subsequently a second disguise as a hart and a hind. Later, William's mother disguises herself as a hind, the better to orchestrate a silvan meeting with the fugitives. Eventually the noble lineage of both William and the werewolf is revealed, it transpiring that the latter is in fact Alphouns, prince of Spain, who has been rendered lupine by the necromancy of his stepmother. Thus in a narrative replete with transformations of form, class and status, it is striking to find a panoply of formulae invoking God as Creator: 'Crist f?at |>e / me made' (987, 3148); 'God |Dat me gaf £>e gost and |je saule' (992> 1 5 59» 2120, 3386); 'God, £>at madest man and al middelerjpe' (1004); 'he |>at made man' (1433); 'God |>at me made' (1743, 2001); 'grete God £>at gart me be fourmed' (2082); 'for his love {?at let us be fourmed' (3007); 'Crist ... J)at al mankinde schaped' (31 20); 'Good |?at me fourmed' (3984); 'God fsat us wrou3t' (4366); 'Crist, )?at me wrou3t (4624); 'Crist J>at us wroußt' (5420)·

Similar formulae are encountered in the French source and it might be contended that the alliterative form is responsible for their proliferation in the English poem.48 Yet, once again, an assessment of the formulae in context reveals that many of them exhibit an apposite relationship both to their immediate narrative context and to the theme of physical, supernatural and social transformation. Thus, as William and Melior are sewn into their bearskins by the faithful servant Alisaundrine, Melior, commenting on William's feral appearance, invokes God as Creator, thus foregrounding her natural form and her own disguise. This suggests self-consciousness in the use of the tag:

so breme a bere 3e beseme a burn on to Ioke,

pat icham agrise, bi God J>at me made,

to se so hidous a si3t of youre semli face! (1742-4)

The Creator tag does not appear at this point in the French source. Its inclusion here, and the fact that it should issue from a courtly lady disguised as a bear, does suggest a narratorial awareness of the more ludicrous aspects of the situation.

This same awareness is still more evident in the episode which unites William and his mother (although their recognition of kinship comes only at the end of the poem). Now disguised as a hart and a hind, the lovers are spotted by William's mother, queen of Palermo. She dons the latter disguise herself and ventures into the forest, where she overhears their conversation. When the lovers take fright and challenge the queen in her hind's form, her use of tag in response is far from redundant:

'Nay, bi Crist,' sede ^e quen, 'Jjat al mankinde schaped,

I nel fle fui fer for fere of 30U3 tweyne!

I wot wel what 3e ar and whennes 3e come;

al {3e kas wel i knowe Jsat 3e am komen inne ...

I am swiche a best as 3e ben, bi him |jat us wrou3t.' (3118-33)

The queen's use of these formulae generates dramatic irony in indicating her awareness of the true identity of the 'bestes' and implying the humankind to which they in fact belong. This appropriate use of tag is sustained as the queen announces '3e ben welcom to me, bi Crist J>at me made' (3148), and William vows to take up batde against her enemies 'by £>at menskful Lord £)at us alle made' (3164).

The use of Creator tags is equally considered in the episode of Alphouns's disenchantment. William, confident that the prince may 'be maked man a3eine', bids the king of Spain rejoice 'bi him [>at us wrou3t' (4129-32). The enchantress stepmother is summoned to court, and William's threat to punish her should she not reverse the metamorphosis is made 'be God j^at us wrou3t' (4366). The spell is lifted, and the prince himself soon swears by God '^>at gart me be fourmed' (4468).

The restoration of Alphouns to human form constitutes one of the more spectacular transformations of the work, which concludes with the coronation of William as Roman emperor. With his acceptance of the robes of state, and the translation of his foster-father from cowherd to earl, the series of transformations, marked by formulae evoking a Creator proactive in these voluntary or enforced shape-shiftings, is concluded. Consequently, as in the Morte, the consistent presentation of the deity in a particular mode makes no small contribution to the tone of the poem and to the expectations evoked in the reader. Here that tone is sanguine. The benign Creator of this poem's world, like the lesser artificer who figures that poem forth, holds his creatures safely in hand.

By their contribution to literary context in these romances, religious formulae show themselves to be more than mere line-fillers. The paradigms they encode, and the tonality they bring from devotional and doctrinal contexts, serve to imbue these formulae with an aesthetic charge - accessible through apposite usage, and often strikingly resonant in the vows and pious prayers of the Middle English romances.



I should like to thank Professor Douglas Gray, Dr Vincent Gillespie, Dr Robert Beddow and the editors of Medium Mvum for commenting on an earlier draft of this article.

1 Characterizations of such formulae as mere 'fillers' include Laura Hibbard Loomis, 'The Auchinleck Manuscript and a possible London bookshop of 1330-40', PMLA, 57 (1942), 595-627 (pp. 607-8), and W. R.J. Barron,· English Medieval Romance (London and New York, 1987), p. 173.

2 As oral-formulaic studies of Old English poetry have highlighted, it is notoriously difficult to define a formula. A working definition for the religious patterns considered in this study may be hazarded as: pronoun/proper noun + relative or coordinate clause.

3 The romances consulted in order to present a sample of the most typical formulae are listed below, together with the abbreviated form assigned to each text:

Amjs andAmiloun, ed. Françoise Le Saux (Exeter, 1993) (A eirA); Atheisten, ed. A. Mcl. Trounce, EETS 224 (London, 1951) (Ath); The Avowing of Arthur, ed. Roger Dahood (New York, 1984), (AoA); Beues of Hamtoun, ed. Eugen Kolbing, EETS, es 46, 48, 65 (London, 1894) (BH); Ιλ Bone Florence of Rome, ed. Carol F. HefFernan (Manchester, 1976) (BF)\ The Erl ofTolous, ed. Gustav Lüdtke (Berlin, 1881) (ET); Emare, ed. Edith Rickert, EETS, es 99 (London, 1908) (Em)·, Guj of Warwick, ed. Julius Zupitza, EETS, es 42 (London, 1883) (GW); Havelok, ed. G. V. Smithers (Oxford, 1987) (Hav)\ The King of Tars, ed. Judith Perryman, Middle English Texts 12 (Heidelberg, 1980) (KT); Le Morte Arthur, ed. J. Douglas Bruce, EETS, es 88 (London, 1903) (SMA); Morte Arthure, ed. Mary Hamel (New York, 1984) (AMA); Octavian, ed. Frances McSparren, EETS 289 (London, 1986) (Oct); Sir Amadace, ed. Christopher Brookhouse (Copen- hagen, 1968) (SA)\ Sir Eglamour, ed. Frances E. Richardson, EETS 256 (London, 1965) (SB); Sir Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle, ed. Auvo Kurvinen (Helsinki, 1951) (JG); The Siege of Melayne, ed. Sidney J. Herrtage, EETS, ES 35 (1880) (SM)·, Torrent of Portyngale, ed. E. Adam, EETS, ES 51 (London, 1887) (TP)\ William of Palerne, ed. G. H. V. Bunt (Groningen, 1985) (WP); Ywain and Gawain, ed. Albert B. Friedman and Norman T. Harrington, EETS 254 (London, 1964) (YG).

4 A strain of piety may, of course, be detected in the majority of the romances. The isolation of a group of penitential works according to a common narrative paradigm might be tenable: see Andrea Hopkins, The Sinful Knights: A Study of Middle English Penitential Romance (Oxford, 1990), pp. 12-24.

5 The theological headings applied in the tabulation of these formulae allow the grouping of patterns which, whilst metrically and semantically divergent, are clearly linked in concept, e.g. 'Him £>at dyde on rode' {A&A jz:4); 'God, that Dyed on the Rood' (TP 64}); 'the Renke that on the Rode dyede' (AMA 3217).

6 Cf. GW 1453; SMA 2449; TP 2664; BH 4352.

7 Cf. Ath 810; AMA 28 5; BH 2633; Em 1033.

8 Cf. SG 589; WP 1802; SM 430.

9 Cf. A<&A 135:7; SM 465; SMA 3250; KT 906.

10 (i) Cf. YG 2871; BF 913; SMA 3968; KT η 80.

(ii) Cf. GW 22:5; SE 292; A&A 25:2; SMA 3555.

(iii) Cf. SA 457; SMA 3247; SE 994; SM 1456.

11 Cf. SA ny,A&A 51:1 ; Ath i}6; AoA 646.

12 Cf. Ath 422; TP 1799; WP 3725; YG 2874.

13 Cf. Hav 331; GW 252:1.

14 Cf. A&A 1:1; Ath 420; BH 4430; GW 299:5-6.

15 Cf. SMA 2917; TP 1628; GW 254:3; Oct 249.

16 Our formulae occur frequently in both solemn and belligerent oaths. A Mc.I. Trounce, 'The English tail-rhyme romances', MjE, i (1932), 87-108, 168-82, suggests the 'fondness for oaths was distinctly English' (p. 170), though similar patterns do appear in the French romances. The formulae employed appear not to replicate contemporary chivalric, judicial or guild oaths. Cf. the formula for the oath of fealty cited in Sir Frederick Pollock and F. W. Maitland, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1968), I, 298, and that given for guild oaths, 'as godd you helpp and holydom, as by thes boke', in Early English Gilds, ed. Toulmin Smith and Lucy Toulmin Smith with Lujo Brentano, EETS 40 (London, 1870), pp. 188, 316-19. The Old French oath for participants in judicial encounters is given in R. Howard Bloch, Medieval French Literature and Law (Berkeley, Calif., 1977), pp. 24fr.; that for the ordeal is described in Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water The Medieval fudicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986), pp. 14, 24, 26-8, et passim. See further MED, s.v. 'sweren'.

17 John Mirk's Instructions for Parish Priests, ed. Gillis Kristensson (Lund, 1974), lines 426-53.

18 Handlyng Synne, ed. Idelle Sullens (New York, 1983), lines 2761-2.

19 The Lay Folks' Mass Book, ed. Thomas Frederick Simmons, EETS 71 (London, 1879), text B, lines 18 3-4.

20 1MEV 3371; Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century, ed. Carleton Brown, 2nd edn, rev. G. V. Smithers (Oxford, 1957), no. 115, lines 25-6. See also no. 120, lines 62-4.

21 Middle English Sermons, ed. W. O. Ross, EETS 209 (London, 1940), p· 8.

22 Ibid., p. 45.

25 Ibid., p. 99. On tags appearing in sermons and in sermon notebooks, see Secular Lyrics of the XlVth and XVth Centuries, ed. Rossell Hope Robbins (Oxford, 1952), p. xviii; Siegfried Wenzel, Verses in Sermons (Cambridge, Mass, 1978), passim, and Preachers, Poets and the Early English Lyric (Princeton, NJ, 1986), pp. 98ff.

24 The Lay Folks' Mass Book, text B, lines 4}3-4.

25 Ibid., text B, line 247.

26 Printed in Rossell Hope Robbins, 'Popular prayers in Middle English verse', Modem Philology, 36 (1939), 337-350 (p. 338). On prayer tags cognate with those of romance, see further Robbins, 'Private prayers in Middle English verse', Speculum, 36 (1939), 466-75, and 'Levation prayers in Middle English verse', Modern Philology, 40 (1942), 131-46.

27 IMEV 1756; English Medieval Lyrics, ed. Douglas Gray (Exeter, 1975), no. 50.

28 Robbins, 'Popular prayers', p. 346.

29 See ibid., pp. 348-50.

30 IMEV 1727; Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Carleton Brown (Oxford, 1939), no. 64, lines 1-8. The verse hymn upon which de Caistre's prayer is based {IMEV 1752) is printed in Religious Lyrics of the XlVth Century, ed. Brown, no. 94; analogous formulations appear in IMEV 1691, printed in R. H. Robbins, 'The Gurney series of religious lyrics', PMLA, 54 (1940), 369-85, 382-4, and in IMEV 2451.

31 On charms, see Douglas Gray, 'Notes on some Middle English charms', in Chaucer and Middle English Studies in Honour of Rossell Hope Robbins, ed. Beryl Rowland (London, 1974), pp. 56-71; C. F. Bühler, 'Prayers and charms in certain Middle English scrolls', Speculum, 39 (1964), 270-8; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1971), ch. 7; Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven, Conn., 1992), pp. 266-98.

32 IMEV 3911 ; Secular Lyrics, ed. Robbins, no. 65, lines 7-12.

33 Cf. IMEV993. On this charm, see T. M. Smallwood, 'God was born in Bethlehem: the tradition of a Middle English charm', ALE, 58 (1989), 206-23, and J. M. McBryde, 'Charms for thieves', Modern Language Notes, 22 (1907), 168-70. The text given here is that printed by McBryde (p. 168).

34 The text is from ibid., p. 169. For examples of such conjurations within the romances, see WP 3127-31, and The Awntyrs off Arthure, ed. Ralph Hanna III (Manchester, 1974), lines 133-4.

35 IMEV 241; Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, no. 50, lines 2-3.

36 IMEV 3812; Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Brown, no. 179, lines 13-14.

37 In such wrathful asseverations, the use of a periphrastic formulation may well be significant in that it distinguishes the utterance from the profane oaths of the period. Moralists complained widely of the use of such oaths, frequently citing the scriptural injunctions against the practice in Matthew v.34-7 and James v.12. The notion that profane oaths dismember the body of Christ surfaces in many homiletic exempla (e.g. Handlyng Synne, ed. Sullens, p. 20). Pulpit treatments include Middle English Sermons, ed. Ross, p. 99 (lines 26ff.), p. 103 (lines 4ff.). See also The Book of Vices and Virtues, ed. W. Nelson Francis, EETS 217 (London, 1942), pp. 61-3; A Myrour to I^wde Men and Wymmen, ed. V. Nelson (Heidelberg, 1981), pp. 216-17\Ayenbite of Inwyt, ed. Richard Morris, EETS 23 (London, 1866), pp. 63-5; Dives and Pauper, I, ed. P. H. Barnum, EETS 280 (London, 1976), pp. 221-62. For further references, see G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1933), pp. 414-25; Rosemary Woolf, The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1968), pp. 395-400.

38 See, e.g., the invocation of the miracles - rarely formulated in the romances - at Hav 542-3: 'Jesu Christ, Jsat makede to go / The halte and doumbe speken', and the unorthodox Creator tag at 1168: 'God, ^at makes to growen ije korn'.

39 Dieter Mehl, The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1969), p. 186. See also Robert W. Ackerman, in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. R. S. Loomis (Oxford, 1959), p. 490: 'though many of the common romances clichés appear, they generally advance the action rather than serve as mere line-fillers', and Helaine Newstead's appraisal in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, ed. J. Burke Severs, I (New Haven, Conn., 1967), p. 52: 'Although the typical mannerisms of the minstrel style are evident, they never impede the skilful and concise management of the action.' Richard A. Wertime argues for the poet's clear artistic purpose in 'The theme and structure of the stanzaic Morte Arthur', PMLA, 87 (1972), 1075-82.

40 All references are to Le Morte Arthur, ed. J. Douglas Bruce, EETS, es 88 (London, 1908).

41 La Mort le Roi Artu, ed. Jean Frappier, 3rd edn (Geneva and Paris, 1964), p. 252.

42 The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, ed. Eugène Vinaver and P. J. C. Field, 3rd edn, 3 vols (Oxford, 1990), p. 1252, lines 11-17.

43 Cf. the pointed use of this pattern in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien and ?. V. Gordon, 2nd edn, rev. Norman Davis (Oxford, 1967), lines 2529-3°.

44 1MEV1702; Religious Lyrics of the XlVth Century, ed. Brown, no. 123, lines 19-24.

45 Cf. Guinevere's prayer for Lancelot at 1415-18; Creator tags appear at 373, 468, 1387, 2438-9, 2449, 3942; Gawain employs an eschatological tag at 2917, 'hym that All thys world shall welde'.

46 All references are to William of Palerne, ed. Bunt (see n. 3 above).

47 In William, unlike, say, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the inherent qualities of alliterative style tend not to generate religious formulae of extreme semantic divergence from those of the couplet or tail-rhyme romances (see n. 5 above). Full-line formulae differ principally in their use of alliterating synonyms for 'man', whilst tags confined to the b-line differ hardly at all. For example, compare WP 1669, '\>At blisful barn J>at bou3t us on ]pe rode', with BF 2186, 'Jhesu |>at bou3t vs on the rode'; WP 3725, 'he Jjat heried helle', with ET256, 'He that harowed hell'; and WP 3133, 'him f>at ous wrou3t', with KT 606, 'him |>at ous ha]? wrou3t'.

48 Guillaume de Palerne, ed. H. Michelant (Paris, 1876). The poem includes invocations to 'Dieux, qui formas le premier home' (3182), and such periphrases as 'le roi qui fist le mont' (7275).

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