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Reading romance in late medieval England: the case of the Middle English Ipomedon.

Along with the text's materiality, the reading modality constitutes an external variable that defines the reception of the literary work, and thus its signification. Despite its relevance, however, we often universalize our reading practices and assume that texts, both modern and medieval, have been conceived for silent and solitary readers with the same intellectual priorities as ours. This paradigm has proved so prevalent that it is even imposed when there are unequivocal indications that other reception modalities were intended by the author. (1)

As Roger Chartier recommends, "we need to stress that reading is a practice with multiple differentiations varying with time and milieu, and that the signification of a text also depends on the way it is read." (2) Consequently, any attempt to ascertain how medieval texts were perceived and interpreted by contemporary audiences needs to inscribe their reading in its corresponding cultural matrix, since reading is a socially and historically embedded activity.

Taking such methodological considerations into account this essay begins by delineating the socio-historical context for the reading of romances, and then inquires into the reading practices in late medieval England. Next, I place in this cultural framework the reading of a specific romance--the Middle English versions of Ipomedon (3)--in order to identify and interpret the reading styles by which contemporary audiences apprehended these texts. In so doing, this paper will examine the circumstances for the composition and transmission of the various instantiations of the romance using Coleman's ethnographic method.


As a socially framed practice, reading is susceptible to ideological changes defining those texts that are "worth reading," and those which are morally deleterious. (4) The social projection of the Middle English romances and their popularity made them vulnerable to moralizing and officious voices, whose discourse would evolve in rime from the committed acceptance of romances to their rejection and later condemnation. The author of the Cursor Mundi, a clerical text composed in English for the edification of the laity around 1300, appeals in the prologue to the public of romances, readers and auditors of stories of Arthur, Gawain, Kay, Tristram, and Isumbras among others (see lines 1-20), showing respect for their diversion when he admits that "to rede and here ilkan ys prest, / pe pynges pat ham likes best." (5) This is a rhetorical trick with which to attract more adherents, as the Cursor Mundi aires at conveying the Church's message more accessibly to those unschooled in Latin, for which purpose the author opts consciously for the English vernacular: (6)
   pis ilke boke ys translate
   vn-til Ingeles tonge to rede
   for pe loue of englis lede
   englis lede of engelande
   pe commune for til vnderstande.


Furthermore, he adopts a format reminiscent of the romances and with more inviting resonances for ordinary people than the standard pulpit idiom: "per-fore sum gestes wil I. shawe" (115). This fragment acknowledges the success of romantic narratives in captivating wide audiences, and rather than criticizing it, tries to apply the same formula that has granted the Middle English romances their popularity.

Half a century later the York ecclesiastical administrator William of Nassington, in the introduction to his Speculum Vitae, expresses a more critical opinion about romances, embracing the ideological discourse of official morality:
   I warne yow ferst at pe begynnyng,
   I wil make no veyn spekyng
   Of dedes of armes ne of amours,
   Os don mynstreles and oper gestours

   Al pow it mowe som men like,

   I thenke my spekeng schal not be;
   For I holde pat nowht bot vanyte.
   Bot pis schal be my spekyng:
   We speke of most nedful thyng,
   Pat sykerest is for soule and lyf
   Of man and womman, maiden and wyf.

(35-38, 46-52) (7)

Here William advances a value judgment in which personal tastes are no longer acceptable: the enjoyment of romances is a proof of vanity, as opposed to the more serious matters dealt with in his work, described by him as "of most nedful thyng." Here English is also preferred in order to spread the ecclesiastical doctrine among those uneducated in Latin, "for all lewed men namely," (8) although the secular format is no longer deemed appropriate.

It is difficult to assess to what extent this dissuasive message penetrated general awareness in late medieval England, (9) yet the relatively limited number of romances in extant manuscripts and in testamentary records, in spite of their apparent vigor, could denote a certain degree of resistance to commit them to paper, a medium identified with officialdom. Romance remained a focus for strong criticism, becoming the object of a vitriolic attack by the Humanists at the time when John Colyns was compiling his commonplace book and Wynkyn de Worde was printing Ipomydon B. This offensive was led by Thomas More, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and the Valencian Joan Lluis Vives, who disapproved of romances because they represented an order based on war and tyranny which collided with reformist ideas for a society ruled by peace and justice that would facilitate its political, economical, and ethical development. (10)

The first direct attack came from Erasmus in his Institutio principis christiani, printed in 1516 and expressly composed as a guide for the education of Prince Charles, who would succeed to the Spanish throne in 1519: "At hodie permultos videmus Arcturis, Lanslotis et aliis id genus fabulis delectari, non solum tyrannicis, verum etiam prorsus ineruditis stultis et anilibus." (11) This diatribe is couched in Latin, and hence it is not aiming at the masses, who were consumers of romances, but rather at the intellectual and political elite with the purpose of instigating a prejudice against the genre.

In 1524 Vives published his De institutione feminae christianae, containing also a tirade against the reading of romances, mainly by women. Vives included a list of romances popular in Spain, France, and Flanders that he condemns for their immorality, and their obsession with war and love. This treatise was soon translated into English by Richard Hyrde (1524-28) and published by Thomas Berthelet (1528-29; STC 24856), to become the most popular conduct book for women of the century (with at least nine editions until 1592), thus disseminating Vives's ideas in England. In his translation Hyrde decided to make certain alterations in order to adapt the contents of the original to his audience, and includes an extra list of romances popular in England featuring "Parthenope, Genarides, Hippomadon, William and Melyour, Libius, and Arthur, Guye, Bevis, and many other" (STC 24856, sig. [E.iv..sup.r]).

What can we infer from these instances of moralizing discourse? The increasing sharpness of their message and their insistence betray their lack of success over the course of more than two centuries; the increase both in the production of romances and in the number of extant manuscripts, together with the proliferation of printed editions confirms this view. (12) In addition, if the earlier views are expressed in a language accessible to the "lewed" public, the later ones prefer Latin, thus acknowledging the allure of the genre among the educated classes too. The popularity of romances cannot then be limited to the lower segment of society, but it is instead a literary phenomenon encompassing the whole social spectrum. (13)

All the previous quotes recognize an inherent attraction of the romances to a supposedly less discerning audience. Vives, who admits to having read some romances (1.5.32), shows his perplexity concerning the quasi-malevolent fascination of these texts, which in his opinion reveal the darkest side of human nature: "Quos omnes libros conscripserunt homines otiosi, male feriati, imperiti, vitiis ac spurcitiae dediti, in queis miror quid delectet nisi tam nobis flagitia blandirentur" (1.5.31). (14) There is an intent to denigrate romance, and those who express a taste for the genre, that inevitably culminated in the exclusion of romances from the literary canon. This humanist discrediting of romance reinforced an already marked tendency to ignore romance when contemplating the history of English poetry. Thus, ca. 1468 George Ashby pays tribute to the great authors of the English language, (15) and there is not one mention of the anonymous romancers or their popular works:
   Maisters Gower, Chauucer & Lydgate,
   Primier poetes of this nacion,
   Embelysshing oure englisshe tendure algate,
   Firste finders to our consolacion
   Off fresshe, douce englisshe and formacion
   Of newe balades, not vsed before,
   By whome we all may haue lernyng and lore.

(1-7) (16)

This reference appears in a work of political content written for the instruction of Edward, Prince of Wales (1453-71), in the government of his subjects; the intentional overlooking of romances fits the ideological pattern of the previous criticisms, deeming the genre unsuitable since it allegedly does not contain "lernyng and lore."

The context for the consumption of romances can then be inscribed in that dimension of life that Bakhtin defines as "nonofficial, extraecclesiastical and extrapolitical," which represents "a second world and a second life outside officialdom." (17) This is an ambiguous reality without neatly delineated limits, which allows for promiscuous roaming in uncharted social territories such as adultery, incest, and rape, to name but a few. Romances, with their apparent escapism, succeed in addressing these familiar issues, and in promoting a cultural self-examination. The reception of the Middle English romances needs to be framed in this socio-historical milieu, defined by the simultaneous popularity and marginalization of the genre.


How were the romances read in this cultural context? Or, in other words, what are the reading modalities that define the experience of romances by their contemporary audiences? Since the mid-seventies, with the emergence of reader-response criticism and the development of a phenomenology of reading, increasing attention has been paid to the impact of both the reader and the reading practice itself on the aesthetics of literature. Regarding the historicity of reading, scholarly interest has culminated in the recent publication of A History of Reading in the West (1999), edited by Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier, (18) which focuses on the development of this practice and its multiple variations through time. The chapter on the later Middle Ages is written by Paul Saenger, who, unfortunately, rather than describing the different modes of reading in the period and their implications, makes an effort to provide evidence supporting his theory on the emergence of silent reading. (19) Besides failing to do justice to its title, this chapter bases its argument on an implicit acceptance of the orality/literacy theory, which imposes an evolutionist paradigm--from an early oral and public existence of literature to the more sophisticated silent and private reading. This is a simplistic view that Joyce Coleman has dismantled cogently, proposing alternatively the coexistence of various practices. (20) The blind acceptance of Saenger's views would demand a reassessment of our previous statements concerning the popularity of Middle English romances, since even supposing that only a reduced percentage of manuscripts is still extant, they would not suffice to justify the romances' success, had they only been accessible for solitary and silent reading; (21) we need to allow for the continuity of other reading modalities that include the public and aural performance of literature as Joyce Coleman suggests.

The problem we are faced with when proposing this reading bimodality--concurrent aurality and dividuality (22)--is that the only hard evidence available to reconstruct the reading styles applied to the Middle English romances in particular consists of the manuscripts and their metatextual comments. The influential "revisionist" school, led by critics such as Derek Brewer and Derek Pearsall, have espoused an unbalanced codicological positivism which asserts private reading as the only mode of reception, and scribal copying as the only mode of transmission. (23) One of the crudest manifestations of this approach refers precisely to the Middle English Ipomedon: "despite the compositional and stylistic differences between the verse and prose versions, there is no evidence in the books themselves to suggest that any of the extant copies [of the ME Ipomedon] were designed for public rather than private reading." (24) Obviously, a public reading is by definition ephemeral and leaves no physical trace; the metatextual allusions to a possible oral dimension for romances, however, are equally rejected by these critics with the following argument:

On the whole it can be taken as a general rule that references within a romance to a listening audience do not provide a certain indication of the actual mode of delivery, since some dramatization of the author-audience relationship is characteristic of nearly all literature. (25)

Accepting the impossibility of fully recovering the modes of romance reading by its contemporary audience is not the same as excluding methodologically the historical existence of any form of reading experience other than private and individual. The one-sidedness of this approach is further proved by the critics' lack of interest in investigating the reading possibilities the codex afforded. Hugh of St. Victor in his influential Didascalicon (ca. 1127) distinguishes three forms of reading relevant to our discussion: "trimodum est lectionis genus: docentis, discentis, vel per se inspicientis, dicimus enim 'lego librum illi,' et 'lego librum ab illo,' et 'lego librum'" (3.7). (26) Although this division is conceived in a scholastic context with mainly theological and philosophical texts in mind, it demonstrates how the same object, the book, lent itself to being appropriated by an individual in at least three different ways. The first two possibilities correspond to the performing and receiving end respectively of the aural modality, the former as prelector or public reader from a written text, and the latter as listener of a prelected text. These aural performances promote the social dimension of literature and emphasize the centrality of the book for the literary experience in the manuscript era, thus substantiating the popularity of certain genres despite their limited remains. The third type specified by Hugh, "per se inspicientis," correlates with private reading, yet a further distinction between voiced and silent reading would be possible. The model described by Hugh is pertinent to our case as it reveals the same multiplicity of appropriations that Coleman recognizes for this period: "The bimodality peculiar to late medieval English literature could be described as combining aurality and 'dividuality'--i.e., tolerating either a public or a private reading" (Public Reading, 41).


In order to determine whether the English versions of Ipomedon fit this bimodal paradigm, or whether on the contrary they are susceptible only to dividual appropriation as Meale seems to suggest, I adopt Coleman's ethnographic methodology, whose starting point consists in collecting all the internal references to textual transmission and reception in each of the versions, taking these allusions as pragmatic features. (27)

The Middle English author of Ipomadon A, who towards the end of the fourteenth century translates directly from a manuscript of Hue de Rotelande's work no longer in existence, (28) anticipates the aural format of his text's reception, and is aware of the demands of this type of performance. (29) First of all, the length of the poem suggests that only on some special occasions would there be a continuous reading of the entire text, though that possibility cannot be ruled out since it was the ideal format for the author, as the narrator confesses: "This long day no tome I had / To tell the sorow that she made" (6075-76) (my italics). (30) The Middle English redactor counts upon the prelection of his text as a social event with recreational purposes in a leisurely atmosphere. This assumption accords with contemporary witnesses of romance reading in medieval England. See for instance, in the Parlement of the Thre Ages, Youth's enumeration of favorite pastimes, which include,
   With ladys full louely to lappyn in myn armes,
   And clyp thaym and kysse thaym and comforthe myn hert;
   And than with damesels dere to daunsen in thaire chambirs;
   Riche Romance to rede and rekken the sothe
   Of kempes and of conquerours, of kynges full noblee,
   How thay wirchipe and welthe wanne in thaire lyues.

(247-52) (31)

The social character of the other activities in this list and the participation of "ladys" and "damesels" suggest that the reading of romances mentioned would likewise include women in its collective scope. (32) This allusion is particularly relevant in the case of Ipomadon A, not only for its contemporaneousness, but also for the fact that the author of the Parlement writes in the same West Yorkshire dialect, and is cognizant of the text of Ipomadon A. (33) The depiction of public reading of romance in the Parlement alludes to a reality shared with the author of Ipomadon A, who envisions the same context for the enjoyment of his text and presents to his audience a familiar horizon of expectations.

Notwithstanding the constraints the fixity of the written text imposes on an aural performance, the public reading of Ipomadon A is construed by its author to invite and accommodate the direct involvement of the audience. Thus, before the beginning of the true action, the participation of the public is encouraged: "Yff ye will witte, wythoute layne, / Further spyre ye bus" (44-45). The strategic placement of the invitation at this point serves several purposes: it allows for a short break to clarify the key elements presented thus far, for not everybody may have heard of Sicily, or the family relations of the characters may need repetition; or it simply may serve to provide a recapitulation, since people's attention at the beginning tends to be low, and it is not hard to imagine members of the public arriving late for the prelection with the corresponding distraction for the audience. With this appeal to the public, the author skillfully obtains for the prelector the necessary attention and understanding for the satisfactory progression of the performance.

This is certainly not the only occasion in the course of the reading that the prelector would be interrupted, as the author also foresees when stating, "Ther is no other ping to ax" (5912). The probing into the text would not be unidirectional between the audience and the purveyor of the reading, among other reasons because the latter is not necessarily any more knowledgeable than the former, since his function is exclusively limited to reproducing verbally the written text; as the narrator reveals, "The storye wettnes thus" (5662), he is a mere intermediary. (34) On the contrary, the interpretation of the text would be performed as collective action, with everybody's participation in the construction of meaning as the frequent use of the first person plural pronoun confirms. These audiences would share not only the negotiation of meaning, but their reactions to the story too. In a sermon delivered on Good Friday, 1403,Jean Gerson relates the emotiveness of the public during the performance of a romance:

Quant un chanteur de romans, vel historiarum, narre les paroles, les faiz d'ung bon prince qui fut gracieulx a regarder, vigoureux a guerroyer, courtois, adoucy et de bon aire a pardonner, il est voulentiers et doucement oy et escoute; et quand il vient au point de la mort, il n'y a nul ne nulle qui ait le cueur si dur qui ne commance a applaudir et a plorer. (35)

Consequently, when we picture the public delivery of a romance, we need to erase the image of the silent and diffident audiences that nowadays attend concerts or recitals. Instead the listening public of romances were expected to be proactive: they wanted to be part of the event and to enrichit with their contribution; they were a public whose audiate competence or audiacy was much more developed than ours. (36) The text contains discursive markers to delimit episodic sequences for the benefit of a listening audience, such as "now we leve ... and speke of...." This form of narrative segmentation, characteristic of romances, enables the audience to grasp the story's structure more clearly, making the understanding and enjoyment of the event less demanding (cf. Bradbury, Writing Aloud, 4).

Occupying a central space in the prelection was the book itself, on which the aural performance depended for its own actualization. Because of the scarcity of books and the low level of literacy at this time, (37) the idea of the book was infused with a certain degree of esoterism, and its physicality was perceived as the signifier of authority. In its references to books, Ipomadon A--despite the conspicuous silencing of its sources so typical of romances--construes them, on the one hand, with the authoritativeness proper to nameless savants (cf. n. 29), and, on the other hand, treats them as icons of sacralization when they are used as oath tokens: "Brode bokys were brought oute thanne; / To swere the kyng Dayre began" (5999-6000). (38) Endowing the idea of the book with these qualifies, the English redactor is also extending this veneration to the object before the eyes of the audience. To sum up, the translator of Ipomadon A envisages the prelection of his text as a social event, involving a participatory audience with a sufficient level of audiacy.

The circumstances for the composition and transmission of Ipomydon B have generated little scholarly discussion but a great variety of opinions as the following brief chronological survey indicates: Kolbing argues that "der autor von Ip. B das frz. gedicht in einer hs. gelesen, dann aber, ohne dieselbe zur seite zu haben, den stoff frei aus dem gedachtniss reproducirt hat" [the author of Ip. B read the French poem in a manuscript, but then, without having it, reproduced it freely from memory] ; John Edwin Wells considers that "The Lyfe of Ipomydon is a greatly condensed version of the ten thousand lines of the French, apparently produced from memory"; Laura Hibbard Loomis states that Ipomydon B "was perhaps made from memory of Hue's ... romance"; Pearsall considers it "a prosaic redaction for a popular audience of the important northern tail-rhyme Ipomadon [A]"; Lillian Herlands Hornstein believes that this version was "composed before 1425, perhaps from memory," and adds that "all versions derive ultimately from Ipomedon by Hue de Rotelande"; Dieter Mehl opines that "very likely the two poems [Ipomadon A and Ipomydon B] were composed quite independently of each other"; Lee Ramsey remarks that Ipomydon B is "directly dependent upon the Anglo-Norman poem"; Brenda Thaon states that "the author of Version B is thought to have composed his poem from memory, although this ... is open to discussion"; Meale goes a step further in suggesting that each version "is an independent redaction of the Anglo-Norman work"; Erik Kooper identifies some instances of textual and narrative disruption that he attributes to a stage of memorial transmission; Bradbury states that Ipomydon B "shows more evidence of memorial transmission than the earlier version [i.e., Ipomadon A]"; based mainly on the orthographical variation of the personal names in all the texts, Purdie argues that "all three Middle English versions of Ipomedon were translated independently from the Anglo-Norman." (39)

With the exception of the comparative analysis of personal names by Purdie, the scattered examples selected by Kooper, and Kolbing's early examination, none of the other scholars mentioned furnishes any evidence to substantiate their views. (40) I thus propose to scrutinize the text for any reference that may shed light on the composition and transmission of Ipomydon B, as well as on its relation to the other versions, including the Anglo-Norman original. (41) To test the possible implication of memory in the transmission of this version, I apply the method developed by Murray McGillivray, (42) although in this case we are limited to narrative evidence as there is no alternate close parallel version that would permit us to incorporate textual variations into this analysis.

McGillivray establishes that the two alterations evincing memorial transfer are anticipations and recollections. The former consist "of the insertion of words or phrases several lines or scenes before their proper place," (43) a kind of confusion unlikely to happen with a scribe limited by the physical textuality of his exemplar. In Ipomydon B there is at least one subtle case of anticipation, although it modifies the causality of the narrative. When Ipomydon travels to Calabria for the first time to enter the service of the heiress, he instructs his retinue in the preservation of his anonymity:
   Ipomydon to hys men gan sey,
   That ther be none of hem alle
   So hardy, by hys name hym calle,

   "Ne man telle, what I am,
   Where I shall go ne whens I cam!"

(228-30, 233-34)

This premature injunction imposes a perception of Ipomydon's later incognito as a premeditated scheme, precisely in the version where the hero's incognito is less developed. On the contrary, Ipomydon's realization of the potential of his hitherto preserved anonymity occurs both in the Anglo-Norman original (1783-88), and in Ipomadon A (1745-49) after the hero's initial separation from the Fere and after his mother's death.

In terms of recollections, we have the opposite phenomenon, which also hints at the memorial transmission of a text, since "a scribe or compositor could not ... be supposed to have the intimate acquaintance with a later part of the text which would be a necessary condition for anticipations" (McGillivray, Memorization in ME Romances, 50). The reporter of Ipomydon B had originally forgotten to mention the death of Ipomydon's mother, which in the other versions is positioned after his leaving Calabria (Ipomedon, 1721-24; Ipomadon A, 1673-75). (44) This episode contains a key element for the overall narrative structure of the story, since on her deathbed she reveals to Ipomedon the existence of a brother of his whom she conceived with another man before marriage, and then hands him a ring as a recognition token. This scene appears in Ipomydon B right after his father's death by association of ideas (1560-74). (45) It seems that neither of these modifications is intentional, and that they should be attributed to the vagaries of memorial transmission.

As McGillivray comments, "such confusion of episodes, descriptions, or speeches from different parts of a romance is the strongest possible indication of memorization" (Memorization in ME Romances, 63). The probability of memorization of this romance suggested by the previous examples is further strengthened by a series of internal inconsistencies unlikely in the case of written composition. These inconsistencies transpire in a conflict between the diegetic and extra-diegetic levels, that is, in a disjunction between what the fictional characters know and what they are supposed to know in view of the information revealed to the external audience (cf. Kooper, "Lyfe of Ipomydon," 120). Beside the two cases discussed by Kooper (ibid., 120), there are a number of discrepancies that deserve our attention for their bearing on the composition and transmission of the romance.

After the nameless "eyre of Calabre" and Ipomydon gaze upon each other passionately, she reflects on her conduct and the consequences she would face were their love to be discovered: "Pan shuld she falle in slandre (46) / And lese myche of hyr honoure" (441-42). (47) This conclusion has no basis in the story as presented in Ipomydon B, since as far as we know Ipomydon is the son of a king and his less chivalric side is as yet to be disclosed; in addition, the heiress has not pronounced her proud vow as in the other versions (cf. Mehl, ME Romances, 62-63). When Ipomydon decides to leave after her upbraiding, Jason tries to convince him to stay, saying that, "She [the Fere] louythe the in all manere" (476; cf. Ipomedon, 1343, Ipomadon A, 1302); the immediate question is, how does he know?

Later on, when Ipomydon goes into service at King Melliagere's court, the Queen supposedly comes to Ipomydon's defense when stating:
   All men konne not of justynge:
   Though he [Ipomydon] kanne not of such dedys,
   He may be gode at other nedis!


These comments would probably have sounded awkward for first-time listeners, since Ipomydon's disinclination to fight is still unrevealed, and hitherto he has proved his chivalric value in the tournament organized to celebrate his knighting, in which "Ipomydon pat day was victoryus" (539).

When Ipomydon later goes in disguise to take part in the three-day tournament, we are not told that he changes his attire while at the hermitage, so that the reference to "pe knyght, / That in white harneise was dight" (829-30) is initially obscure. It also surprises that the "burgeyse" or townsman responsible for distributing the horses Ipomydon obtained during the tournament is able, despite his partial knowledge of the story, to draw a connection between the "quenys leman" and the "strange squyer" (1375-1408), when in Ipomadon A he mentions only the "Drew-la-rayn" (5132; cf. Ipomedon, 6760).

This disagreement in knowledge always goes in the same direction: the internal characters appear to have more information than the story enables them to. The Middle English reporter is certainly unaware, but he may not be too concerned about it, since his direct interaction with the audience would permit him to fill any gap, for there is no doubt that he had a clear idea of the overall plot. Instead, the corrector who prepared the setting-copy for the printed edition must have noticed some of these inconsistencies and other ambiguities as some of the minor changes introduced suggest, which have made Meale state that "the corrector made more sense of the text than did the scribe whose work he was revising." (48) Kooper concludes that,

The Lyfe of Ipomydon represents an example of what may have been a carefully revised text that has become corrupted in the course of its existence. This existence was probably at first oral, followed by a written stage during which the combined forces of failing memory and sloppy copying made inroads on the text ("Lyfe of Ipomydon," 121-22).

I agree with Kooper's diagnosis, but not with the etiology he advances to account for the alleged corruption of the text. The problems arise not only from faulty memory, but also from the contextual dislocation that the transfer of a peroral text into a written format generates: (49) the variability inherent in the former clashes with the fixity the latter demands; the constraints of the written medium annihilate the fluidity of the peroral creation. (50) Hence, this version as we have it would be a unique variant, a transcription either of an artificial dictation or of an actual performance, but in either case lacking the interplay between performer and audience of the actual recitation.

Apropos of Ipomydon B's textual filiation, the orthographical evidence presented by Purdie (Ipomadon, xiv) to support the theory of the Middle English versions' direct dependence on the Anglo-Norman poem would be invalidated in the case of the couplet text by the recognition of the effects of memorial transmission, which allows for multiple spelling variations. By pointing out the affinities and discrepancies with the other versions, however, we should be able to identify a possible source. An element of departure between Ipomydon B and the Middle English redactions is the translation of the French sobriquets applied to the hero in Calabria and in King Melliagere's court: while in the other texts our hero is known as "straunge valet" and "Drew-le-rayne" (Ipomadon A) / "drwe lay roigne" (Ipomedon C), respectively, in Ipomydon B he is referred to as "the strange squyere" and "the quenys lemman" (cf. Kooper, "Lyfe of Ipomydon," 116-17). Note, however, that the text of Ipomadon A provides an explanatory gloss:
   Eche man callyd hym the Drew-le-rayne;
   That ys as moche for to saye
   As leman to the quene.


And in the next occurrence of this synonymous phrase, it corresponds to the form in Ipomydon B: "quenis leman" (3469; cf. line 4178). In the prose Ipomedon C, the first mention also contains an English translation, though their equivalence is not indicated explicitly: "men shuld call him the quene derling, drwe lay roigne" (335.42-43).

In the case of the "strange squyere," this collocation appears in Ipomydon B only after the hero has been designated as a "squeer" (line 320). And this is, too, the title that Ipomedon receives in the prose version when the Feers regrets having chided him: "so many a grete lorde, as I might have, bothe kinges and dukes, and now lufe a squiere" (327.13-14; emphasis added). Later he is described as "hire straunge squyere" (328.37), but this sobriquet is immediately replaced by "le valet estraunge" when the Feers reveals to Eman the name of her beloved in a kind of riddle (cf. Ipomedon, 1499-1524, and Ipomadon A, 1439-56). This terminological change is avoided in Ipomydon B by the cancellation of the previous scene.

The natural selection operated by the memorial transmission of the romance would favor vernacular words, but it is easy to imagine that the same translation was integrated into the Middle English source version, or that this would come up during the performance. The preference for the English words in collocations shared with the two Middle English texts suggests the ascription of Ipomydon B to the English tradition, a possibility strengthened by the existence of a feature common to the three English versions that does not figure in the Anglo-Norman: they coincide in establishing a correspondence between the color of the armor Ipomedon wears in the three-day tournament and the color of the most successful hound on the respective days. (51) Of the two English versions, chronology favors Ipomydon B's dependence on the tail-rhyme version, which is confirmed by their similar treatment of the story in terms of the omissions and expansions in relation to the Anglo-Norman text. (52) The prose Ipomedon C is a less likely candidate as a base for Ipomydon B as it deviates from the other texts in transforming Leonyn and his relatives into giants. Thus, it seems more plausible that the composer of Ipomydon B would have been inspired by a variant of Ipomadon A as Pearsall suggested.

The transcription of this text would in turn promote a different reception modality: the involvement of a performer who had memorized the romance would no longer be necessary, as an able reader would suffice. (53) To what extent does the text reflect this transition to the written medium? As expected, the narrative contains markers of oral delivery: the narrator addresses the audience directly, and even integrates himself into the community of readers lato sensu with the use of "we." (54)

There are, however, two references which are fundamental in articulating the aural dimension of this romance in its present form: "Till eftesone we of hym rede" (line 1076), and "as saythe pe boke" (1910). The latter is simply a stock authentication formula in rhyming position, and perhaps by itself would have been insufficient to establish an aural format. Conversely, the former confirms the bookishness of the event and exhibits the multi-faceted character of the reading activity in the Middle Ages that Hugh of St. Victor described; "we ... rede" comprises both the actual prelector who translates the graphemes into phonemes ("lego librum illi"), and the passive listeners ("lego librum ab illo"). The verb "rede" is not limited in this sense to describing a mechanical operation of decoding written signs, but instead alludes more inclusively to the reception of a written text either visually from the book, or aurally through the agency of a mediator. Troilus and Criseyde furnishes us with an instance of a prelected audience using the same subject pronoun "we" when Criseyde tells Pandarus, "This romaunce is of Thebes that we rede; / And we han herd how that kyng Layus deyde" (2.100-1), (55) while the actual prelector is Criseyde's maiden. From a modern perspective, dominated by the hegemony of the solitary and silent reader, it may seem striking that a listening audience could be the active subject of the verb "rede"; hence, we need to distance ourselves from the modern paradigm and position the reading activity in its appropriate context to comprehend more fully that the experience of literature in general and of our texts in particular was a collective activity. I have no doubt that this semantic expansion of "read," or rather, its later reduction, mirrors the habits of contemporary society.

Ipomedon C represents the last stage in the textual development of the romance tradition in medieval England, namely, the shift to prose. (56) It is a late summary that successfully reshapes the original material derived from a variant of Hue's text. (57) The phraseology in the prose Ipomedon C transmits the same sense of aurality as the other versions, with the narrator integrating himself into the audience by means of the collective "we." The only form of reception constructed by the redactor is auditory, without a single explicit reference to the visual reading of the romance. (58) The bookishness of this text becomes more apparent with numerous allusions to the authenticating book, source of the story and guarantor of faithfulness. The story does not mention any book as Ipomadon A does, but here the couriers carry written messages, thus attenuating the oral textuality of the version: e.g., when the notables of Calabria accepted King Melliagere's involvement in the negotiations about the Feers's betrothal, they "sent messangers with lettres of this matiere" (332.33-34; cf. 330.8-9), and the only reading event in the English texts is depicted thus: "the king saw thes lettres" (332.35). The use of a look-type verb, as Coleman calls it, insinuates a tendency towards a privatized sense of reading that coexisted with aurality. In Hue's text the messengers also carry letters (2096), but here they are the ones who read the letters aloud while the King listens:
   Ne voldrent fere lunc sugur,
   Mes mustre li unt cume sage
   De chef en chef tut lur message;
   Il les escute bonement,
   Les brefs q'il portent bien entent.


[They didn't want to stay for long, but they showed him as wise men their entire message from beginning to end; he listens to them quietly, and understands properly the letter they carry.] (59)

Conversely, in Ipomadon A no written message is introduced, and it only states that "They [Sir Drias, Sir Amfyon, and Sir Madon] told there message all and sum" (2004). (60) The three versions bring different textual priorities which ultimately activate separate performative contexts.

The prosification of the story has been interpreted by Meale as an unambiguous sign of its dividuality: "In stylistic terms Longleat [MS 257, which contains Ipomedon CI appears well adapted to the needs of the private voice of the solitary reader, with all inappropriate references to the act of recitation excised." (61) The survey of transmission-reception terminology (cf. n. 58), however, confirms that the reception format conceived for this text is aural, thus correcting the second part of Meale's statement. But out romance is not an exception, since a cursory examination of the works of Malory, the greatest prose writer of fifteenth-century England, assures us that he also anticipated an audience of listeners. (62)

I have devoted a good part of this article to countering previous assumptions about the aurality of out texts, or rather their lack of it. Since these texts existed in a bimodal context, the characteristics of the dividual style applied to recreational works need also to be examined. The relative scarcity and expensiveness of books meant that only a literate elite, formed by members of the nobility and merchant class with the necessary economic potential, had direct access to manuscripts. Nonetheless, this reduced circle of literati could expand to readers economically less capable by means of the lending of books, a common practice as can be inferred from the following preface written by John Shirley (d. 1456):
   And whane ye haue pis booke ouerlooked
   Pe right lynes with pe crooked
   And pe sentence vnderstonden
   With Inne your mynde hit fast ebounden
   Thanke pe Auctoures pat pees storyes
   Renoueld haue to youre memoryes
   And pe wryter for his distresse
   Whiche besechipe youre gentylesse
   Pat ye sende pis booke ageyne
   Hoome to Shirley pat is right feyne
   If hit hape beon to yowe plesaunce
   As in pe Reedyng of pe Romaunce
   And alle pat beon in pis companye
   God sende hem Ioye of hir lady.

(89-102) (63)

This book, British Library Additional MS 16165, compiled in the 1420s, would seemingly have been used in a public reading, as the last two couplets suggest, and would subsequently have been lent by Shirley to some member of the audience, of that "companye" formed by "bope pe gret and pe comune" (18), for him or her to reread the texts. This rereading represents a more intimate encounter with the text which aims at completing the prelecrion through a hermeneurical exercise to grasp the "sentence," and through a memorizing effort to compensate for the lack of books. This is a clear instance of intensive reading, the type of private reading prevailing at this time. This lecture intensive emerges as a result of the limited availability of books, the unwavering reverence for the book as a physical object, and the textual veneration inherited from scholasticism. In this private geography the reader has a more personal and intellectual relation with the text increased by repeated encounters; as Charrier and Roche comment, "la frequentation intense des memes textes lus et relus faconne les esprits, habitues aux memes references, habites par les memes citations." (64)

This private experience could be appropriate for the reading of devotional material for its meditative character, or for the reading of erotica for its intimate nature. (65) The solitary reading of romances, however, would be an incomplete experience for it lacked the interaction promoted by prelection, "the delights of social response, of the communally indrawn breath, the interplay with others in passion and idea about the mutual experience." (66) We should thus visualize the private reading of romances as an activity complementary to public performance.

Nonetheless, we must admit that the various instantiations of our romance, within the bimodal system exposed, were also experienced dividually, but only by a limited group of people: the owners of the manuscripts containing them, the families of the owners, and maybe their circles of close friends with sufficient reading competence, among whom these objects could have been circulated. (67)

To sum up, the three Middle English renditions of Ipomedon share two fundamental characteristics, namely their voiced textuality and great awareness of a present audience. Thus, the audience are positioned in aural relation to the text for them to hark/hear/listen, and their presence becomes palpable through the continuous addresses to "ye." (68) In addition, these texts display clear awareness of their writtenness, including Ipomydon B despite having gone through an eminently oral-memorial stage, while containing no metatextual reference to private reading, since its only reading verb has an aural dimension.

By adhering to the prevailing contemporary reception format, the English redactors of Ipomedon are acknowledging the social reality of their texts: they know, as Coleman states, "that stories become texts, which become physical books, which, most likely [and I would add 'ideally'], become prelected words" (Public Reading, 107). And I add "ideally" because the only way to reach a wide public was through the aural dissemination of texts, which in turn could fuel the commercial production of manuscripts. These coordinates were valid at the moment of inscription of the texts, which predates by up to a century the production of the extant manuscripts in which Meale found no indication of aurality. Coleman's research in this direction leads to the conclusion that, in spite of an incipient ascendancy of private reading, aurality was still the predominant format for recreational texts, and thus the channel envisioned by authors. Likewise, the performative references in our texts would still have pragmatic validity when they were committed to paper and parchment, thus leaving the premises of the so-called revisionist school as an unfounded imposition of our reading style upon texts located in a different environment.


(1) Joyce Coleman denounces this practice in her critique of the fictive orality theory as applied to Chaucer's works (Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France [Cambridge U. Press, 1996], 57-60). For a response to Coleman's views, see D. H. Green, The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150-1220 (Cambridge U. Press, 2002), 37-41. I have greatly benefited from helpful comments and suggestions offered at various stages by Prof. Alice Colby-Hall, Prof. Andrew Galloway, Prof. Thomas D. Hill, Dr. Chris Warnes, and Prof. Winthrop Wetherbee. I would also like to acknowledge the financial assistance for conducting the research involved in the preparation of this essay provided by the Medieval Studies Program (Cornell Univ.) and the Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion Internacional.

(2) "Reading Matter and 'Popular' Reading: From the Renaissance to the Seventeenth Century," in A History of Reading in the West, ed. Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999), 276.

(3) This romance was written originally in Anglo-Norman by Hue de Rotelande (ca. 1180), and is preserved in three separate English renditions: the tail-rhyme Ipomadon A, the couplet version Ipomydon B (printed by Wynkyn de Worde at least on two occasions: STC5732.5 and 5733), and the prose Ipomedon C. When alluding to the story in general terres, I always use the Anglo-Norman title and the spellings of this version (ed. A.J. Holden [Paris: Klincksiek, 1979] ); in contrast, when referring to a specific English redaction, the spelling of proper names in such rendition is preferred. For the tail-rhyme version I quote from Ipomadon, ed. Rhiannon Purdie, EETS os 316 (Oxford U. Press, 2001), and for the other two versions I use Ipomedon in drei englischen Bearbeitungen, ed. Eugen Kolbing (Breslau: Koebner, 1889).

(4) See Elizabeth Long, "Textual Interpretation as Collective Action," in The Ethnography of Reading, ed. Jonathan Boyarin (U. of California Press, 1993), 192-93.

(5) Cursor Mundi: A Northumbrian Poem of the XIVth Century in Four Versions, ed. Richard Mords, EETS os 57, 59, 62, 66, 68, 99, 101 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1874-93), lines 25-26, quoting from the Fairfax version with minor punctuation changes.

(6) See John J. Thompson, "The Cursor Mundi, the 'Inglis tong,' and 'Romance,'" in Readings in Medieval English Romance, ed. Carol Meale (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994), 99-120.

(7) Thompson, 116.

(8) From an excerpt in Nicholas Watson, "The Politics of Middle English Writing," in The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280-1520, ed. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne et al. (Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1999), 336-37.

(9) For other examples of this commonplace criticism, see Manfred Gorlach, The Textual Tradition of the South English Legendary (U. of Leeds, 1974), 263 n. 13.

(10) See Robert P. Adams, "Bold Bawdry and Open Manslaughter: The English New Humanist Attack on Medieval Romance," HLQ 23 (1959-60): 33-48, esp. 34-35. For a full account of this polemic, see Alex Davis, Chivalry and Romance in the English Renaissance (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003), 6-19.

(11) Opera Omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, ed. O. Herding, trans. Neil M. Cheshire and Michael J. Heath (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing, 1974), 4.1:179-80. "But today we see a great many people enjoying the stories of Arthur and Lancelot and other legends of that sort, which are not only tyrannical but also utterly illiterate, foolish, and on the level of old wives' tales." Also see The Education of a Christian Prince, with the Panegyric for Archduke Philip of Austria, ed. and trans. Lisa Jardine (Cambridge U. Press, 1997), 61.

(12) Cf. Velna Bourgeois Richmond, The Popularity of Middle English Romance (Bowling Green U. Popular Press, 1975), ch. 1, esp. p. 3. Meale considers the number of romances published until 1534-35 as meager when compared with the number of romances that circulated in manuscript form from the thirteenth century onwards. According to her calculations, there are eighty-nine romances in extant codices against twenty-one printed editions, which are increased to thirty-five when printed romances without an extant manuscript version are counted ("Caxton, de Worde, and the Publication of Romance in Late Medieval England," The Library, 6th ser., 14 [1992]: 285-87). Notwithstanding the necessary caution for the relative value of the evidence, these figures might indicate, contrary to Meale's opinion, a concentration of romance publication in just over fifty years since the introduction of the printing press in England, which increased the circulation of romances and exacerbated the moralists; as Helen Cooper argues, "prints of medieval metrical romances formed the bulk of popular reading for much of the sixteenth century" ("Romance after 1400," in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace, [Cambridge U. Press, 1999], 717). For a list of the romance texts composed in English before 1400 and with circulation after 1500, see Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford U. Press, 2004), 409-29.

(13) For the various meanings ascribed to the ideologically charged term "popular" in the context of medieval romance, see Jane Gilbert, "A Theoretical Introduction," in The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance, ed. Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert (Harlow: Longman, 2000), 15-20.

(14) De institutione feminae christianae, ed. Constant Matheeussen and Charles Fantazzi, tran. Charles Fantazzi (Leiden: Brill, 1996-98), 1:47. "All these books were written by idle, unoccupied, ignorant men, the slaves office and filth. I wonder what it is that delights us in these books unless it be that we are attracted by indecency."

(15) For the date, see Robert J. Meyer-Lee, "Laureates and Beggars in Fifteenth Century English Poetry: The Case of George Ashby," Speculum 79 (2004): 709-11. Previously, John Scattergood had suggested 1463 in "The Date and Composition of George Ashby's Poems," Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 21 (1990): 168-71, and Margaret Kekewich 1470-71 in "George Ashby's The Active Policy of a Prince An Additional Source," RES n.s., 41 ( 1991 ): 533.

(16) Active Policy of a Prince, ed. Mary Bateson, EETS Es 76 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1899).

(17) M.M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (MIT Press, 1968), 6.

(18) Prior to this, see Robert Darnton, "First Steps Towards a History of Reading," Australian Journal of French Studies 23 (1986): 5-30. In relation to a history of readers, see Jonathan Rose, "Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences," JHI 53 (1992): 47-70.

(19) His contribution to A History of Reading in the West is titled "Reading in the Later Middle Ages" (pp. 120-48), but he presents similar arguments to those used in his previous "Silent Reading: Its Impact on Late Medieval Script and Society," Viator 13 (1982): 367-414. See also his Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford U. Press, 1997).

(20) Public Reading, ch. 1, esp. pp. 20-27, where she alludes to the assumption among medievalists of Walter Ong's model. See also Andrew Taylor's cautions in "Fragmentation, Corruption, and Minstrel Narration: The Question of the Middle English Romances," Yearbook of English Studies 22 (1992): 48.

(21) Cf. Albert C. Baugh, "The Middle English Romance: Some Questions of Creation, Presentation, and Preservation," Speculum 42 (1967): 9. See also Harriet E. Hudson, "Toward a Theory of Popular Literature: The Case of the Middle English Romances," Journal of Popular Culture 23 (1989): 31-50.

(22) Coleman defines "dividuality" as follows: "Applied to the private reading of written texts, whether the reader read in complete silence or voiced the text as he or she went along" (Public Reading, 228).

(23) For an overview of this school's postulates, see Putter and Gilbert, 3-7.

(24) Carol M. Meale, "The Middle English Romance of Ipomedon: A Late Medieval 'Mirror' for Princes and Merchants," Reading Medieval Studies 10 (1984): 142. She reiterates this position in the same paragraph: "the MSS in which they [i.e. the ME versions of Ipomedon] circulated in the late Middle Ages were quite clearly designed as reading texts" (ibid., 142). Gisela Guddat-Figge, however, mentions the Chetham manuscript containing Ipomadon A as a probable example of a book used for oral presentation (Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Middle English Romances [Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1976], 50).

(25) Derek Pearsall, "The English Romance in the Fifteenth Century," Essays and Studies n.s., 29 (1976): 61. Roger Walker agrees with Pearsall in considering that these addresses to the audience "are often used as mere conventions and are not always to be taken literally" ("Oral Delivery or Private Reading? A Contribution to the Debate on the Dissemination of Medieval Literature," Forum for Modern Languages 7 [1971]: 39).

(26) Didascalicon: De Studio Legendi. A Critical Text, ed. Charles Henry Buttimer, The Catholic University of America Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Latin, vol. 10 (Washington: Catholic U. Press, 1939), 57-58. Also see The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts, trans. Jerome Taylor (Columbia U. Press, 1961), 91: "Reading ... is of three types: the teacher's, the learner's, and the independent reader's. For we say, 'I am reading the book to him,' 'I am reading the book under him,' and 'I am reading the book.'"

(27) Public Reading, 148. As Coleman states, the goal here is completeness, rather than selecting specific passages, so that the resulting picture is representative. For the Middle English versions of Ipomedon, this information appears below in notes 29, 54, and 58.

(28) See Victoria Anne Baum Bjorklund, "The Art of Translation in Ipomadon: From Anglo-Norman to Middle English" (PhD diss., Yale U., 1977), 45; Purdie, Ipomadon, lxxi-lxxii; A. V. C. Schmidt and Nicolas Jacobs, ed., Medieval English Romances (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 2:274. For a description of the extant Anglo-Norman manuscripts, see Holden, Ipomedon, 16-23 (which Purdie follows, Ipomadon, lxi-lxii), and Ruth J. Dean, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, ANTS OP 3 (London: ANTS, 1999), entry 162. For an analysis of the relationship between Ipomadon A and the Anglo-Norman original, see Kolbing, Ipomedon, xxxvi-xlvi.

(29) Cf. the survey of the transmission-reception phraseology in Ipomadon A that follows. Transmission: "The wyse man and the boke seys" (220), "Wyse men saye" (3686), "But ofte is sayd be men of skole" (6436); "now leve we ... and speke of ..." (1766-67, 2285-86, 2991-92, 5102); "That/This/Thus (dare) I (savely/ trewly) saye/tell" (2422, 4238, 4613, 5327, 5890, 8801); "Forthy the bokys tellyth ychone" (2501), "as tellype the boke (5829) "I can not tell (you)" (3719, 8832). Reception: "till all that wol here" (2), "now shall ye here" (3142, 4405), "haue ye now harde" (8858); "I hope ye haue harde speke of non" (20); "As I haue harde be tolde/seyde" (144, 4513).

(30) The prelection in consecutive installments is attested by Jean Froissart's famous reading of his Meliador (over 30,000 lines) for Gaston Phebus, Count of Foix in the course of ten weeks, as Froissart explains in his Dit du florin.

(31) Ed. by M. Y. Offord, EETS os 246 (London: Oxford U. Press, 1959), quoting from the Thornton text (British Library, Additional MS 31042). It was in all likelihood composed in the late fourteenth century; cf. Robert E. Lewis, "The date of the Parlement of the Thre Ages," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 69 (1968): 380-90.

(32) Here I depart from Coleman's analysis of this passage, where she argues that "given further his [Youth's] preference for tales of military conquest, we may assume he more probably shared the experience with his male friends" (Public Reading, 183). Youth isolates the episodes and elements he finds more attractive in romances. He is simply expressing a focalized opinion which would agree with the traditional male viewpoint, rather than defining a sort of "epic" type of "romance" as Offord indicates (Parlement, 51 n. to lines 250-52). Ipomadon A fits the description perfectly, as it narrates the story of "kempes" [warriors, champions], of "kynges full noblee" and their victories. Probably a female character would have stressed the more sentimental side of the tale.

(33) See Offord, Parlement, xxvi, and Purdie, Ipomadon, xxxvii-xlvii. As part of a roll call of proverbial lovers Parlement reads, "Sir Ypomadonn ["ypomodon" in the Ware fragment, British Library, Additional MS 33994] de Poele, full priste in his armes, / Pe faire Fere de Calabre, now faren are they bothe" (lines 618-19). As Purdie states, "this citation demonstrates the possibility that the anthor of the Parlement knew the English tail-rhyme Ipomadon [A]" (Ipomadon, lx).

(34) This line when pronounced by the prelector acquires the meaning of a faithful mediator between the written text and the audience, while for the private reader this line is an example of literary authentication. See Nancy Mason Bradbury, Writing Aloud: Storytelling in Late Medieval England (U. of Illinois Press, 1998), 137; and H. L. Levy, "As Myn Auctour Seyth," Medium Aevum 12 (1943): 25-39.

(35) Quoted by Janet M. Ferrier, French Prose Writers of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1966), 97. "When a singer of romances, or of gestes, relates the words and deeds of a good prince who was fair to look upon, vigorous in battle, courteous, gentle, and debonair in victory, he is willingly and sweetly heard and listened to; and when he comes to the hero's death, there is neither man nor woman so hard-hearted as not to start applauding and crying," trans. Coleman, Public Reading, 29.

(36) The terms "audiate" and "audiacy" are taken from Coleman, who uses them to describe "experienced and able hearers who are accustomed both to the matter and manner of traditional oral and aural literature," Public Reading, 228.

(37) Although there was an increase in literacy among the laity, that percentage would still be negligible in absolute terms. See J. B. Trapp, "Literacy, Books and Readers," in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, 1400-1557, ed. Lotte Hellinga and J. B. Trapp (Cambridge U. Press, 1999), 31-43

(38) Fol. 238r of the Ipomadon manuscript begins with the following line: "Ne boke to ende in all his lyff" (line 2887), but we lack a context to interpret this reference since the previous folio is missing, and there is no parallel allusion in the Anglo-Norman original. For a description of the manuscript, see my articles "Manchester, Chetham's Library MS 8009 (Mun.A.6.31): A Codicological Description," Revista Canada de Estudios Ingleses 47 (2003): 129-54, and "The Middle English Versions of Ipomedon in their Manuscript Context," Manuscripta 49 (2005): 69-93, esp. 85-91.

(39) Kolbing, Ipomedon, lxi; Wells, A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1400 (Yale U. Press, 1916), 148; Loomis, Mediaeval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-Cyclic Metrical Romances (Oxford U. Press, 1924), 225; Pearsall, "The Development of Middle English Romance," Mediaeval Studies 27 (1965): 104; Hornstein, "Miscellaneous Romances. II. Composites of Courtly Romance," in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500, ed. J. Burke Severs (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967), 1:154--Tadahiro Ikegami dates its composition, however, to the second half of the fifteenth century ( The Lyfe of Ipomydon [Tokyo: Seijo University, 1983], 1:lxiii-iv); Mehl, The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), 58; Ramsey, Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England (Indiana U. Press, 1983), 47; Thaon, "La Fiere: The Career of Hue de Rotelande's Heroine in England," Reading Medieval Studies 9 (1983): 68 n. 4 (Thaon, however, goes on to deny memorization any influence on the shaping of this version, attributing all changes to the redactor's conscious determination and to his consideration for a less sophisticated audience); Meale, "The ME Ipomedon," 136; Kooper, "The Lyfe of Ipomydon: An Appraisal," in Medieval Heritage: Essays in Honour of Tadahiro Ikegami, ed. Masahiko Kanno et al. (Tokyo: Yushodo Press, 1997), 120-22; Bradbury, Writing Aloud, 24 (however, there is no single indication of memorial transfer in Ipomadon A); Purdie, Ipomadon, xiv: she is aware of the difficulties of pinning down the origin of Ipomydon B (p. xv), but adds that "the evidence of the names ... suggests immediately that neither The Lyfe of Ipomydon nor the prose Ipomedon derives from the tail-rhyme Ipomadon [A]" (ibid., xv).

(40) Kolbing enumerates fifteen random cases of discrepancy between Ipomydon B and the other versions that make him intuit the memorization of the text, although he provides no demonstration for his hypothesis (Ipomedon, lix-lxi). The lack of supporting evidence in this matter is not at all surprising: as Nancy Bradbury states, "the likelihood and the importance of memorial transmission ... is the most methodologically problematic and least explored of the means of romance provenance," Writing Aloud, 113.

(41) No comparison is made with the prose version because we can be certain that Ipomydon B does not derive from it, as will be seen below.

(42) Murray McGillivray, Memorization in the Transmission of the Middle English Romances (NewYork: Garland, 1990).

(43) Harry R. Hoppe, The Bad Quarto of "Romeo and Juliet": A Bibliographical and Textual Study (Cornell U. Press, 1948), 128. Quoted by McGillivray, Memorization in ME Romances, 46; see also 48-49.

(44) See Ikegami, "The Making of Ipomydon, a Late Fifteenth-Century Popular Romance," in A Pilgrimage through Medieval English Literature, ed. Hiroe Futamura (Tokyo: Nan'un-do, 1993), 177. In this essay, Ikegami ignores any incongruity and unconvincingly argues that the version's peculiarities are in fact consciously motivated by the poet, who "works out a plot of his own, trying to provide the story with a rationalization" (180).

(45) Cf. Kooper, "Lyfe of Ipomydon," 113, and Kolbing, Ipomedon, lix-lx, where he comments that "die reihenfolge der handlungen ganz aus dem gedachtniss geschwunden" [the sequence of the action vanished entirely from memory].

(46) Here I reproduce the manuscript reading instead of adopting Kolbing's emendation, "in deshonoure." Note also that Kolbing's manuscript reading, sclandre (p. 269 n. to line 441 ), is inaccurate. The manuscript clearly reads slandre (BL Harley MS 2252, fol. 60r). Cf. Ikegann, Lyfe of Ipomydon, 1: line 441.

(47) Her namelessness has been used as an indication of memorial transmission, which Thaon has rejected by arguing that "the translator would have to be unusually absent-minded to forget the name of a heroine which occurs so many times in the poem," and by suggesting that her innomination "is not due to forgetfulness ..., but comes from a conscious desire on the part of the translator" ("La Fiere in England," 58, 60). Thaon does not take into consideration the lady's special onomastic situation of not having a proper name, but rather an epithet, which prevents easy memorization.

(48) "Wynkyn de Worde's Setting-Copy for Ipomydon," SB 35 (1982): 167.

(49) Coleman defines "peroral" as "applied to texts composed, stored, and performed with no recourse to writing" (Public Reading, 230; see also 40).

(50) Cf. D. F. McKenzie, "History of the Book," in The Book Encompassed: Studies in Twentieth-Century Bibliography, ed. Peter Davison (Cambridge U. Press, 1992), 298. On the variability of oral transmission, see Ruth Finnegan, Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context (Cambridge U. Press, 1977), 57.

(51) See Purdie, Ipomadon, 292 n. to line 3555 ff.

(52) See Rosalind Field, "Ipomedon to Ipomadon A: Two Views of Courtliness," in The Medieval Translator: The Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, ed. Roger Ellis (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1989), 138-39. The attention devoted to the Day after the Tournament and the final encounter between Ipomedon and Capaneus offers the following figures with percentages in relative terms: Ipomedon 6600-7174 (5.42%), 9917-10408 (4.64%); Ipomadon A 4912-5596 (7.69%), 8192-8732 (6.07%); Ipomydon B 1295-1523 (9.72%), 1935-2112 (7.54%). The tendency hinted at by Field becomes more prominent in Ipomydon B.

(53) The debate on minstrels' involvement in the transmission of romances is still unsettled and I will leave the question open. Some of the most relevant contributions are Baugh, "ME Romance"; Michael Chestnut, "Minstrel Reciters and the Enigma of the Middle English Romance," Culture and History 2 (1987): 48-67; Karl Reichl, "The Middle English Popular Romance: Minstrel versus Hack Writer," in The Ballad and Oral Literature, ed.Joseph Harris (Harvard U. Press, 1991), 243-68. On the possibility of a minstrel acting as a prelector, see Coleman, Public Reading, 224-25 n. 3. The allusions, to minstrels and the gifts they receive in Ipomydon B could relate it to a minstrel performance (see lines 547, 2254, 2258, 2270); cf. Kooper, "Lyfe of Ipomydon," 117.

(54) Cf. the list of transmission-reception markers that follows. Transmission: "I shall you telle" (3), "here will I telle" (549); "as I you/yow say(e)/sey/telle" (104, 979, 1553, 1828, 2244, 2249, 2265, 2301); "Turne we now ... And speke/talke (we) of" (750, 1595-96, 1955-56) ; "Till efte sone we of hym rede" (1076); "as saythe pe boke" (1910); "I can not say/discryve" (2212, 2320); "I dare wele say" (2221). Reception: "Lystene a while and herken to me" (2); "as ye may/shall(e) here" (515, 1638, 1651, 1873).

(55) Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).

(56) Pearsall, "Development of Romance," 105.

(57) See Purdie, Ipomadon, xiv-xvi. Pearsall, however, states that "it is an abridged version of the tail-rhyme Ipomadoun [sic]" ("English Romance in the 15th c.," 74).

(58) Cf. the survey of transmssion-reception phraseology that follows. Transmission: "Now le (y)ve we ... and speke/tell" (323.13; 345.22); "the wise man saith" (324.37; 326.36; 352.1); "the storie telles" (325.38); "I [the narrator] spake of before" (332.26); "the boke saith/sais" (332.41; 339.19; 342.47; 347.8). Reception: "as ye shal here aftre" (325.40); "that ye have herd of before" (333.3).

(59) I'd like to acknowledge the assistance of Prof. Colby-Hall in preparing this translation. Marie-Luce Chenerie considers that messengers delivered the contents of the letters orally (Ipomedon, in Recits d'amour et de chevalerie, XIIe-XVe si cle, ed. Danielle Regnier-Bohler [Paris: Robert Laffont, 2000], 73 n. 3). In any case, the king does not read them.

(60) It is worth mentioning that the author of Ipomadon A appropriates himself of the simile by describing himself as messenger of Ipomadon: "His mensyngere makythe he [Ipomadon] me" (line 8878). This message, however, has a graphic representation, unlike the case of his diegetic heralds (with the exception of line 8764).

(61) "The ME Ipomedon," 142, emphasis mine. See also Pearsall, who believes that prose is intrinsically more suitable for a solitary reading: "The advantage of prose to a reading public as opposed to a listening audience was obvious" ("English Romance in the 15th c.," 72, and n. 1); the same idea is expressed in his "Middle English Romance and Its Audiences," in Historical and Editorial Studies in Medieval and Early Modern English for Johan Gerritsen, ed. Mary-Jo Arn and Hanneke Wirtjes with Hans Jansen (Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1985), 45. Such an advantage doesn't appear to be so obvious, since the same episodic markers are used here as in the other versions (cf. n. 58). For a recent description and discussion of the manuscript, see my articles "Longleat House MS 257: A Description," Atlantis: Revista de la Asociacion Espanola de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos 27, no. 1 (2005): 79-89, and "The ME Versions of Ipomedon in their Manuscript Context," 78-85.

(62) See Coleman, Public Reading, 213, 227 n.8, and "Reading Malory in the Fifteenth Century: Aural Reception and Performance Dynamics," Arthuriana 13 (2003): 48-70.

(63) John Shirley: Book Production and the Noble Household in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Margaret Connolly, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), 208. On Shirley's literary activities, see also A. I. Doyle, "English Books In and Out of Court from Edward III to Henry VII," in English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages, ed. V.J. Scattergood and J. W. Sherborne (London: Duckworth, 1983), 163-82; and A. S. G. Edwards, "John Shirley and the Emulation of Courtly Culture," in The Court and Cultural Diversity, ed. Evelyn Mullally and John Thompson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997), 309-17.

(64) "Les pratiques urbaines de l'imprime," in L'Histoire de l'edition francaise, ed. Henri-Jean Martin, Roger Chartier, and Jean-Pierre Vivet (Paris: Promodis, 1984), 2: 419-20.

(65) See Andrew Taylor, "Into his Secret Chamber: Reading and Privacy in Late Medieval England," in The Practice and Representation of Reading in England, ed. James Raven et al. (Cambridge U. Press, 1996), 43.

(66) William Nelson, "From 'Listen, Lordings' to 'Dear Reader,'" University of Toronto Quarterly 46 (1976-77): 113.

(67) The composition of the audiences of our romance is discussed in my forthcoming article "Reconstructing the Audiences of the Middle English Versions of Ipomedon," Studies in Philology 103.2 (2006).

(68) Although the Anglo-Norman original does not show the same concern for defining the mode of interaction between the audience and the text, it does recognize a public of auditors composed by "Cil ki de oir talent avront," line 46 [Those who desire to listen].


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Author:Sanchez-Marti, Jordi
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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