Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > “Piers the Plowman” and its Sequence > Mum, Sothsegger
  John But Wynnere and Wastoure; The Parlement of the Thre Ages  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

I. “Piers the Plowman” and its Sequence.

§ 27. Mum, Sothsegger.


In one of the MSS. of the B-text occurs a fragment of a poem which is usually associated with Piers the Plowman. It has no title in the MS. and was called by its first editor, Thomas Wright, A Poem on the Deposition of Richard II; but Skeat, when he re-edited it in 1873 and 1886, objected to this title as being inaccurate, and re-named it Richard the Redeless, from the first words of passus 1. Henry Bradley has recently called attention to the fact that it was known to Nicholas Brigham in the first part of the sixteenth century as Mum, Sothsegger (i.e. Hush, Truthteller). There can be no doubt that this was, as Bradley suggests, the ancient title; for it is not such a title as would have been chosen either by Brigham or by Bale, who records it. The copy seen by Brigham, as it had a title, cannot have been the fragmentary copy that is now the only one known to us. Wright regarded the poem as an imitation of Piers the Plowman; Skeat undertook to prove, on the basis of diction, dialect, metre, statements in the text itself, etc., that tit was the work of the same author. But claims of authorship made in these poems are not conclusive, as will be seen in the discussion of the Ploughman’s Tale; and the resemblances in external form, in dialect, in versification, etc., on which Skeat relies, are not greater than might be expected of an imitator, while there are such numerous and striking differences in diction, versification, sentence structure and processes of thought from every part of Piers the Plowman, that identity of authorship seems out of the question. The poem, as had been said, is a fragment; and Skeat thinks that it may have been left unfinished by the author in consequence of the deposition of Richard. But the MS. in which it is found is not the original, but a copy; and the prologue seems to imply that the poem had been completed when the prologue was written. The author professes to be a loyal subject and friendly adviser of Richard, but the tone of the poem itself is strongly partisan to Henry of Lancaster, and, curiously enough, nearly all the remarks in regard to Richard imply that his rule was entirely at an end. This latter fact is, of course, not incompatible with Skeat’s view that the poem was written between the capture and the formal deposition of Richard, i.e. between 18 August and 20 September 1399. As to the form and contents of the poem it is not a vision, but consists of a prologue, reciting the circumstances of its composition, and three passus and part of a fourth, setting forth the errors and wrongs of Richard’s rule. Passus I is devoted to the misdeeds of his favourites. Passus II censures the crimes of his retainers (the White Harts) against the people, and his own folly in failing to cherish such men as Westmoreland (the Greyhound), while Henry of Lancaster (the Eagle) was strengthening his party. Passus III relates the unnaturalness of the White Harts in attacking the Colt, the Horse, the Swan and the Bear, with the return of the Eagle for vengeance, and then digresses into an attack upon the luxury and unwisdom of Richard’s youthful counsellors. Passus IV continues the attack upon the extravagance of the court, and bitterly condemns the corrupt Parliament of 1397 for its venality and cowardice.   80

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  John But Wynnere and Wastoure; The Parlement of the Thre Ages  
 
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