Mum and the Sothsegger, Richard II, and Henry V.
The emblem of the garden - overgrown with weeds which are eradicated by the prudent gardener - as a mirror of the political condition of a nation was in common use in Shakespeare's day. There are many examples of classical and contemporary works which could have provided Shakespeare with details for his scene with the gardeners and the Queen.(2) Other sources, notably Virgil and Pliny and their commentators and imitators, are cited for the beehive passage in Henry V.(3) None of these possible sources, however, specifically relates to the monarchs of the tetralogy. It may therefore be significant that the medieval alliterative poem Mum and the Sothsegger, which is concerned with the private and political excesses of Richard II and Henry IV, contains a passage about an allegorical garden, followed immediately by a description of the beehive as an emblem of the perfect state.
Mum and the Sothsegger has an interesting manuscript history. The first section exists uniquely at the end of a mid-fifteenth-century manuscript of Piers Plowman.(4) It is divided as follows: Prologue (87 lines); Passus I (114); Passus II (192); Passus III (371); Passus IV is a fragment, trailing off after 93 lines. This is the work Skeat entitled Richard the Redeless and attributed to Langland. The nickname, 'Redeless', appears in the first line of Passus I and means 'Without counsel'.(5)
In 1928, a manuscript was put up for sale, and was identified by Kenneth Sisam and others as a continuation of Richard the Redeless.(6) Even before this, it had been observed that Richard the Redeless was known to Nicholas Brigham under the title Mum, Sothsegger ('Keep silent, Truthteller'), because John Bale records it as being in Brigham's possession.(7) The evidence is persuasive for accepting that the MS in the 1928 sale is a continuation (albeit with a lacuna) of Richard the Redeless. The first lines of R are translated by Bale into Latin, so there is no doubt that he is referring to the same work. He notes that the poem is called Mum, Sothsegger. The character Mum appears, however, only in M, warning Truthteller on a number of occasions that it is impolitic to speak one's mind. Furthermore, M has the inscription 'The lyff off kyng Rychard the ij' on its last cover in a fifteenth-century hand though, in point of fact, M makes no mention of Richard, devoting its admonitions exclusively to Henry IV. It seems, therefore, possible that the two fragments we now have formed a single work which offered hard-hitting criticism of Richard's reign, then firm advice to Henry. The unity of the two fragments has, however, been questioned;(8) nevertheless what is important for the theme of the present article is that R and M were very likely in Brigham's possession, and that the fifteenth-century cataloguer who wrote 'The lyff off kyng Rychard the ij' on M, and Bale who calls R 'Mum, Sothsegger' appear to have regarded the works as one. Nicholas Brigham (d. 1558), a Latin scholar and antiquarian, built Chaucer's tomb in Westminster Abbey and wrote its inscription. He held a post in the Exchequer.(9) As he lived in London and was possessed of a large library, it is by no means impossible that, some forty years later, Shakespeare had access to his books.
The Garden-image occurs in Richard II even before the scene with the gardeners and the Queen. In II. i. 31-68 (Gaunt's 'Methinks I am a prophet' speech) England is described as 'This other Eden, demi-paradise'; the country is 'This blessed plot, this earth' now let out by an incompetent Richard as if it were some tenement or paltry farm. This Eden-image regularly occurs, as will be seen later. Immediately after Gaunt's speech, Richard enters. Gaunt tells him of his wrongdoing, warning him that he is ill advised by 'a thousand flatterers'. Richard angrily tells him to silence his 'admonitions', which, were he not a near-relation, would have resulted in his execution. The Mum/Truthteller theme is immanent.
In Mum and the Sothsegger the narrator-persona, Sothsegger, comes to an idyllic garden, which he says is 'the gladdest gardyn that gome [=man] euer had' (944ff.). As he wanders about in it, the narrator sees an old man dressed in white, tending a hive of bees. He briefly describes his methods of cultivating the garden:
'I am gardyner of this [garth],' cothe he, 'the grovnde is myn owen Forto digge and to delue and to do suche deedes As longeth to this leyghhttone / the lawe wol I doo, And wrote vp the wedes that wyrwen my plantes; And wormes that worchen not but wasten my herbes, I daisshe thaym to deeth and delue oute thaire dennes.' (976-81)
garth = garden longeth = belong leyghhttone = garden wrote vp = root up wyrwen = destroy worchen = work
In the opening speech between the Gardener and his man in Richard II we find the following:
Gardener: Go thou, and like an executioner Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays, That look too lofty in our commonwealth: All must be even in our government. You thus employed, I will go root away The noisome weeds which without profit suck The soil's fertility from wholesome flowers. Man: Why should we, in the compass of a pale, Keep law and form and due proportion, Showing, as in a model, our firm estate, When our sea-walled garden, the whole land, Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers chok'd up, Her fruit-trees all unprun'd, her hedges ruin'd, Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs Swarming with caterpillars? (33-47)
Soon after this, the same motif (Mum/Truthteller) reappears when the Queen reprimands the Gardener for speaking truths. She also takes up the Garden of Eden trope: the Gardener is 'old Adam's likeness set to dress this garden', and she asks him, 'What Eve, what serpent, hath suggested thee | To make a second fall of cursed man?'
When Sothsegger leaves the Gardener in the medieval poem, he asks who shall have the mastery, Mum or the Sothsegger (1091-1102). The Gardener says that the Sothsegger lives in man's heart; God placed Adam in a 'paradise terrestre' to serve him in truthfulness (1222-32). To Adam's offspring (mankind) there is the promise of Eden, followed by heaven, if man will give reasonable obedience to authority and will speak the truth boldly.
As well as the coincidence of theme, there seem to be verbal echoes in these passages: 'root away the noisome weeds' / 'wrote vp the wedes'; 'we . . . keep law' / 'the lawe wol I doo'; 'wholesome herbs swarming with caterpillars' / 'wormes that . . . wasten my herbes'. There is also the executioner motif: 'like an executioner cut off the heads' / 'daisshe thaym to deeth'.
In Henry V there is a return to the Eden image, fittingly in the mouth of the most senior cleric of the Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The young king is described as the garden of Paradise with the offending Adam whipped out of it (I. i. 28-31). In the next scene it is again Canterbury who takes up the beehive image (I. ii. 187-204). The hive has its hierarchy with the king-bee at the top. His servants are magistrates, merchants, soldiers, masons, etc. All combine to make a harmonious commonwealth.
The Dreamer-narrator in Mum and the Sothsegger, having asked the Gardener who he is and how the beehive is organized, receives a detailed answer in which the Gardener acknowledges that his authority is Bartholomew (974-1086).(10) He mentions at some length the culling of the drones, a detail that does not appear in Bartholomew, though it is recommended in FitzHerbert's Book of Husbandry (1523).(11) The early part of the description in Mum and the Sothsegger is worth noting because of its closeness to Canterbury's speech:
Thay haue a king by kinde that the coroune bereth, Whom thay doo sue and serue as souurayn to thaym alle, And obeyen to his biddyng, or elles the boke lieth. The highest hoole in the hyue / he holdeth hit hymself, For there thay setten hym in his see by hym-self oone, And maken mansions by-nethe / that mervail hit is to knowe The bilding of the boures / that the bees maken. For the curiousiste carpintier vndre [cope] of heuene Couthe not caste thaire copies / ne cuntrefete thare workes. Thaire tymbre and thaire tile stones / and al that to thaym longeth, Thay feycchen hit of floures in feldes and in croftes. (999-1009)
kinde = nature coroune = crown sue = follow holdeth = possesses hit = it see = throne oone = alone curiousiste = most skilful cope = vault caste thaire coples = devise their rafters to thaym longeth = relates to them croftes = enclosed fields
Canterbury is anxious to make the beehive organization hint at the spoils of war. The military detail derives, of course, from the account in the Georgics of the rivalry between two kings. This element is not present in Mum and the Sothsegger; but in general the vocabulary of Shakespeare's account bears a striking similarity to the passage above:
. . . for so work the honey-bees, Creatures that by a rule in nature teach The act of order to a peopled kingdom. They have a king and officers of sorts; Where some, like magistrates, correct at home, Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad, Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings, Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds; Which pillage they with merry march bring home To the tent-royal of their emperor: Who, busied in his majesty, surveys The singing masons building roofs of gold, The civil citizens kneading up the honey, The poor mechanic porters crowding in Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate, The sad-ey'd justice, with his surly hum, Delivering o'er to executors pale The lazy yawning drone. (187-204)
of sorts = of various ranks executors = executioners
Baldwin makes a convenient survey of possible sources of the beehive passage, himself inclining to the view that it was not Virgil's text (Georgics, iv. 152ff.) that was Shakespeare's immediate source, but rather the section De apum generibus by the Virgilian commentator Iodocus Willichius (in his Virgilius, Opera (Venice, 1544)).(12) Baldwin mentions that the roof-making of the masons in Shakespeare is ultimately from Virgil's 'tenacis suspendunt ceras' (they hang aloft clinging wax). It may be of some significance that the author of Mum and the Sothsegger gives an expanded description of the building with specific mention of rafters and tiles (lines 1007-8), and this may have some relationship to Shakespeare's 'building roofs of gold' (line 198).
It is possible that the idea of including a scene with an allegorical garden in Richard II suggested itself to Shakespeare from studying Mum and the Sothsegger. He may well have been eager to read a text which was regarded by one of its owners at any rate as 'The lyff off kyng Rychard the ij', and which was of immediate relevance to the political situation of the tetralogy he planned. There is certainly a remarkable similarity of vocabulary in the passages by the two authors.
After the account of the bees in Mum and the Sothsegger, the Dreamer tells the old man that he is grateful and is sure that the tale has a moral which is too mystical for him to understand. The significatio is, of course, that Henry should listen to advice and attend to the just governance of his kingdom. If Shakespeare read this, it may well have reinforced and given specific political application to an image already familiar to him in Virgil and his commentators, and have recommended itself as an apt emblem of the ideal commonwealth which might follow the troublesome reign of King Henry IV.(13)
1 All Shakespeare references in this article are to the Arden editions of Richard II, ed. P. Ure (London, 1956), and Henry V, ed. J. H. Walter (London, 1954).
2 See particularly Richard II, Introd., pp. li-lvii, and notes on p. 119. Among other works which discuss the Richard II garden scene and its likely sources are: J. Satin, Shakespeare and his Sources (New York, 1966); J. Wilders, The Lost Garden (London and Basingstoke, 1978), ch. 7; G. Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London and New York, 1960), iii. 353 ff. I am grateful to John Scattergood of Trinity College Dublin for drawing my attention to the image of England overgrown with weeds which must be eradicated (on this occasion by Edward IV) in Society of Antiquaries MS 101, lines 73-80, published in T. Wright (ed.), Political Poems and Songs relating to English History (London, 1859, 1861); also in R. H. Robbins, Historical Poems of the XIV and XV Centuries (New York, 1959), 222-6. See further V. J. Scattergood, Politics and Poetry in the Fifteenth Century (London, 1971), 193-6.
3 Henry V, 22; T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespeare's Smalle Latine & Lesse Greeke (Urbana, 1944), ii. 472-9.
4 Cambridge University Library MS Ll. iv, 14. Skeat included it in his edition of Piers Plowman, arguing that the poem was also by Langland. See Piers Plowman, ed. W. W. Skeat (Oxford, 1886), ii, pp. lxxxii-lxxxiii.
5 It was first published by T. Wright in 1838 and entitled by him Poem on the Deposition of Richard II.
6 The two parts were collated and edited in one volume by M. Day and R. Steele, EETS OS 199 (Oxford, 1936). I have used their text in this article. The editors distinguish between the two MSS by calling the historically earlier ('Richard the Redeless') 'R', and the later ('Mum and the Sothsegger') 'M'. They note that MS M is from the second third of the fifteenth century, and that it is 'annotated freely from other manuscripts of the poem'. I have drawn on their editorial matter for my remarks on the history and date of the MSS. R mentions the execution of Scrope, Bushy, and Green in July 1399 (Passus II, 152-75). It is addressed to Richard as living, and this section, therefore, was written before February 1400.
7 See H. Bradley, MLR 12 (1917), 202, and his note in Atheneum, 21 Apr. 1906, p. 481, that John Bale records it in the possession of Brigham (Bale, Index Britanniae Scriptorum, ed. R. L. Poole (Oxford, 1902), 479). Bale (1495-1563) published his catalogue first in 1548, and later with additions in 1557 and 1559.
8 See D. Embree, 'Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger: A Case of Mistaken Identity', N&Q NS 22 (1975), 4-12.
9 DNB vi. 330-1.
10 Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De Proprietatibus Rerum, Lib. xii, cap. iii. The passage about bees is printed as App. I (pp. 79-81) in Day and Steele (edd.), Mum and the Sothsegger. For John Trevisa's translation, see M. C. Seymour (ed.), On the Property of Things (Oxford, 1975), i. 609-14.
11 Ed. W. W. Skeat, English Dialect Society (London, 1882), 76.
12 Baldwin, Shakespeare's Smalle Latine, ii. 472-9.
13 For the opportunity to undertake the above and other studies, I am grateful to the following: Pembroke College Cambridge, for granting sabbatical leave; the University of Cologne for electing me to a Visiting Professorship; the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst for a research award.
Since this article was written, Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger have been included in an excellent edition of medieval texts: Helen Barr (ed.), The Piers Plowman Tradition (London, 1993). Though the question lies outside the scope of my article (see n. 8, above, and the passage in the text to which it refers), it is interesting to see that Barr (pp. 15-16) considers that the two poems are by the same author, although the one is not a continuation of the other. The single authorship explains why 'their previous entanglement in the Bale reference and the inscription ["The lyff off kyng Rychard ij"] on the Mum manuscript is far from fanciful".
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|Publication:||The Review of English Studies|
|Date:||May 1, 1995|
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