Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'And Shold Have Been Oderwyse Understond': The Disenchanting of Sir Gromer Somer Joure

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'And Shold Have Been Oderwyse Understond': The Disenchanting of Sir Gromer Somer Joure

Article excerpt

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The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle for the Helping of King Arthur? a mid-to late fifteenth-century romance written in the dialect of England's East Midlands and extant in only one early sixteenth-century manuscript,2 has been edited, translated, modernized, and anthologized at least fifteen times from the nineteenth century to the present day.3 Despite the poem's availability, it has received scant critical attention. What notice is given the work is either manuscript oriented or corollary to broader topics; it is treated in conjunction with other works of the loathly lady genre, or investigated as one of Malory's possible sources.4 It is perhaps because of this scholarly neglect of the work itself that half-hearted theories regarding the poem's influences have been allowed to stand unchallenged.

The most questionable of these theories concerns the name of the villain of the piece, Sir Gromer Somer Joure. The name is generally understood to be a Middle English-French composite, translatable as 'man of the summer day', and is glossed 'summer's day man' or 'summerday man' with little or no commentary.5 P. J. C. Field alone expresses dissatisfaction with glosses of the name. He writes, 'the gloss sometimes offered of "summer's day man" is as despairing a guess as is the consequential derivation from Hafgan King of Annfawn in the Mabinogiori'.6 But Field does not himself offer a theory of the name's origin, and the 'summer's day' gloss perdures.

This interpretation of the name has led many of the poem's editors and critics to characterize Gromer Somer Joure as an otherworldly figure or as representative of the uncivilized natural world. These readings have themselves thus acted as a kind of enchantment upon the figure of Gromer Somer Joure. The reiteration of his imagined alliance with the forces of magic and nature has caused the character to be, like his sister in the poem, 'oderwyse understand' (line 694)7 - perceived as something other than that which he is. By examining the character's supposed otherworldliness, and by positing an alternative source for the name in French romance, I hope to release Sir Gromer from the spell cast upon him.

Despite continual associations of his name with 'summer', and consequent interpretations of the figure as a representative of uncultivated nature, or even as a kind of supernatural forest-sprite, Gromer Somer Joure is, in the poem itself, the most mundane of characters. He is not dressed in any manner suggestive of nature or the supernatural, but is clad in full armour. Although he is described as 'quaynt' (line 53), the word did not have the meaning of 'strange' in Middle English, and possibly alludes to Gromer's propensity for trickery.8 As for Gromer's complaint, it is most pragmatic - he believes Arthur to have taken his lands unjustly in order to give them to Gawain.

Nowhere does the character evince or claim magical ability. Although Gromer attempts to use the spell cast upon his sister Ragnelle to his own advantage, he had no role in that enchantment. Gromer threatens Arthur with physical force and, when Arthur correctly answers his question and defeats Gromer's purpose, Gromer merely curses Ragnelle for having revealed the answer to the riddle. Although Gromer's remaining where he is at the end of his final meeting with King Arthur, while the king returns to Carlyle, might indicate that Gromer's permanent residence is Inglewood Forest, it should be remembered that he is a nobleman bereft of land and home, not a woodland native.

Sir Gromer has no male predecessor in the loathly lady corpus, or even in the Celtic folklore that Sigmund Eisner argues provides the source for this genre.9 Traditionally, the only male figure of any importance in these works is the hag's groom. Otherwise, both the enchantress and the riddler are female. The presence of Sir Gromer Somer Joure, like that of the bold Baron of Tarn Wadling in the fifteenth-century ballad form of the romance,10 lends the traditional loathly lady plot a note of chivalric realism in the form of a male aggressor with a complaint concerning the king's right to redistribute property to court favourites. …

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