Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > The Middle Scots Anthologies: Anonymous Verse and Early Prose > Fabliaux
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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.

XI. The Middle Scots Anthologies: Anonymous Verse and Early Prose.

§ 11. Fabliaux.

Fabliaux, in the manner of the Freiris of Berwik,  62 are not numerous. The Thrie Priestis of Peblis is a long didactic tale, or set of tales, with a politico-social prupose, kin in spirit with Lyndsay’s verse, or the prose Complaynt of Scotlande, or the fragementary recension of the Talis of the Fyve Bestis in the Asloan MS. The truer note of the fabliau is struck in the tale of The Dumb Wyf, in which a dumb woman is, by her husband’s desire—and to his own undoing—made to speak.
The leist deuill that is in hell
Can gif ane wyff hir toung;
The grittest, I [char]ow tell,
Cannot do mak hir dum.
There is, throughout the collections, no lack of cynical fun at the expense of woman, according to the lively tradition of The Romance of the Rose, and not a little of that severer satire and audacious double meaning which we find in Dunbar  63 1; occassionally, as in Sic Perrell in Paramouris lyis, and invariably with sober warning rather than satirical purpose, the verse-makers discuss “menis subtell slicht.” There is church satire, too, in Sir John Rowllis Cursing, a tedious invocation of “Godis braid malisoun” upon those who stole Sir John’s five fat geese and other fowls. The anathema is so paralysing in its fulness that it is well the writer becomes merciful at the close and prays
Latt nevir this sentence fall thame vpone,
Bot grant thame grace ay till forbeir
Resset or stowth  64 of vthir menis geir;
And als agnae the geir restoir
Till Rowle, as I hafe said befoir.
There is not much to choose between a “cursing” and a “flyting.”

Note 62. theft. [ back ]
Note 63. See Chapter X. [ back ]
Note 64. Cf. Sempill’s Ballat on Margret Felming, callit the Fleming Bark in Edinburcht, his Defence of Crissell Sandelandis, and another on three women “being slicht wemen of lyfe and conversatioun.” This type of poem is by no means rare in Scots. [ back ]

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