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The Tale of Sir Thopas. - Geoffrey Chaucer, Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5) 
The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited from numerous manuscripts by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (2nd ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899). 7 vols. Vol. 5.
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The Tale of Sir Thopas.
In the black-letter editions, this Tale is called ‘The ryme of Sir Thopas,’ a title copied by Tyrwhitt, but not found in the seven best MSS. This word is now almost universally misspelt rhyme, owing to confusion with the Greek rhythm; but this misspelling is never found in old MSS. or in early printed books, nor has any example yet been found earlier than the reign of Elizabeth. The old spelling rime is confirmed by the A. S. rīm, Icel. rím, Dan. rim, Swed. rim, Germ. reim, Dutch rijm, Old Fr. rime, &c. Confusion with rime, hoarfrost, is impossible, as the context always decides which is meant; but it is worth notice that it is the latter word which has the better title to an h, as the A. S. word for hoarfrost is hrīm. Tyrwhitt, in his edition of Chaucer, attempted two reforms in spelling, viz. rime for rhyme, and coud for could. Both are most rational, but probably unattainable.
Thopas. In the Supplement to Ducange we find—‘Thopasius, pro Topasius, Acta S. Wencesl. tom. 7. Sept. p. 806, col. 1.’ The Lat. topazius is our topaz. The whole poem is a burlesque (see vol. iii. p. 423), and Sir Topaz is an excellent title for such a gem of a knight. The name Topyas occurs in Richard Coer de Lion, ed. Weber, ii. 11, as that of a sister of King Richard I; but no such name is known to history.
The metre is that commonly used before and in Chaucer’s time by long-winded ballad-makers. Examples of it occur in the Romances of Sir Percevall, Sir Isumbras, Sir Eglamour, and Sir Degrevant (in the Thornton Romances, ed. Halliwell), and in several romances in the Percy Folio MS. (ed. Hales and Furnivall), such as Libius Disconius, Sir Triamour, Sir Eglamour, Guy and Colbrande, The Grene Knight, &c.; see also Amis and Amiloun, and Sir Amadas in Weber’s Metrical Romances; and Lybeaus Disconus, The King of Tars, Le Bone Florence, Emare, The Erle of Tolous, and Horn Childe in Ritson’s collection. To point out Chaucer’s sly imitations of phrases, &c. would be a long task; the reader would gain the best idea of his manner by reading any one of these old ballads. To give a few illustrations is all that can be attempted here; I refer the reader to Prof. Kölbing’s elaborate article in the Englische Studien, xi. 495, for further information; also to the dissertation by C. J. Bennewitz mentioned in vol. iii. p. 424. It is remarkable that we find in Weber a ballad called ‘The Hunting of the Hare,’ which is a pure burlesque, like Chaucer’s, but a little broader in tone and more obviously comic.
1902.Listeth, lordes, hearken, sirs. This is the usual style of beginning. For example, Sir Bevis begins—
‘Lordynges, lystenyth, grete and smale’;
and Sir Degaré begins—
Warton well remarks—‘This address to the lordings, requesting their silence and attention, is a manifest indication that these ancient pieces were originally sung to the harp, or recited before grand assemblies, upon solemn occasions’; Obs. on F. Queene, p. 248.
1904.solas, mirth. See Prol. l. 798. ‘This word is often used in describing the festivities of elder days. “She and her ladyes called for their minstrells, and solaced themselves with the disports of dauncing”; Leland, Collectanea, v. 352. So in the Romance of Ywaine and Gawin:—
1905.gent, gentle, gallant. Often applied to ladies, in the sense of pretty. The first stanzas in Sir Isumbras and Sir Eglamour are much in the same strain as this stanza.
1910.Popering. ‘Poppering, or Poppeling, was the name of a parish in the Marches of Calais. Our famous antiquary Leland was once rector of it. See Tanner, Bib. Brit. in v. Leland.’—Tyrwhitt. Here Calais means the district, not the town. Poperinge has a population of about 10,500, and is situate about 26 miles S. by W. from Ostend, in the province of Belgium called West Flanders, very near the French ‘marches,’ or border. Ypres (see A. 448) is close beside it. place, the mansion or chief house in the town. Dr. Pegge, in his Kentish Glossary, (Eng. Dial. Soc.), has—‘Place, that is, the manor-house. Hearne, in his pref. to Antiq. of Glastonbury, p. xv, speaks of a manour-place.’ He refers also to Strype’s Annals, cap. xv.
1915.payndemayn. ‘The very finest and the whitest [kind of bread] that was known, was simnel-bread, which . . . . was as commonly known under the name of pain-demayn (afterwards corrupted into [painmain or] payman); a word which has given considerable trouble to Tyrwhitt and other commentators on Chaucer, but which means no more than “bread of our Lord,” from the figure of our Saviour, or the Virgin Mary, impressed upon each round flat loaf, as is still the usage in Belgium with respect to certain rich cakes much admired there’; Chambers, Book of Days, i. 119. The Liber Albus (ed. Riley, p. 305) speaks of ‘demesne bread, known as demeine,’ which Mr. Riley annotates by—‘Panis Dominicus. Simnels made of the very finest flour were thus called, from an impression upon them of the effigy of our Saviour.’ Tyrwhitt refers to the poem of the Freiris of Berwick, in the Maitland MS., in which occur the expressions breid of mane and mane breid. It occurs also in Sir Degrevant (Thornton Romances, p. 235):—
It is mentioned as a delicacy by Gower, Conf. Amantis, bk. vi. (ed. Pauli, iii. 22).
1917.rode, complexion. scarlet in grayn, i. e. scarlet dyed in grain, or of a fast colour. Properly, to dye in grain meant to dye with grain, i. e. with cochineal. In fact, Chaucer uses the phrase ‘with greyn’ in the epilogue to the Nonne Prestes Tale; B. 4649. See the long note in Marsh’s Lectures on the English Language, ed. Smith, pp. 54–62, and the additional note on p. 64. Cf. Shak. Tw. Nt. i. 5. 255.
1920.saffroun; i. e. of a yellow colour. Cf. Bottom’s description of beards—‘I will discharge it in either your straw-colour beard, your orange-tawney beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow’; Mids. Nt. Dr. i. 2. In Lybeaus Disconus (ed. Ritson, Met. Rom. ii. 6, or ed. Kaluza, l. 139) a dwarf s beard is described as ‘yelow as ony wax.’
1924.ciclatoun, a costly material. From the O. Fr. ciclaton, the name of a costly cloth. [It was early confused with the Latin cyclas, which Ducange explains by ‘vestis species, et panni genus.’ The word cyclas occurs in Juvenal (Sat. vi. 259), and is explained to mean a robe worn most often by women, and adorned with a border of gold or purple; see also Propertius, iv. 7. 40.] Ciclatoun, however, is of Eastern origin, as was well suggested in the following note by Col. Yule in his edition of Marco Polo, i. 249:—
‘The term suklát is applied in the Punjab trade-returns to broad-cloth. Does not this point to the real nature of the siclatoun of the Middle Ages? It is, indeed, often spoken of as used for banners, which implies that it was not a heavy woollen. But it was also a material for ladies’ robes, for quilts, leggings, housings, pavilions. Michel does not decide what it was, only that it was generally red and wrought with gold. Dozy renders it “silk stuff brocaded with gold,” but this seems conjectural. Dr. Rock says it was a thin glossy silken stuff, often with a woof of gold thread, and seems to derive it from the Arabic sakl, “polishing” (a sword), which is improbable.’ Compare the following examples, shewing its use for tents, banners, &c.:—
Richardson’s Pers. and Arab. Dict. (ed. Johnson, 1829), p. 837, gives: ‘Pers. saqlatūn, scarlet cloth (whence Arab. siqlāt, a fine painted or figured cloth)’; and the derivation is probably (as given in the New E. Dict.) from the very Pers. word which has given us the word scarlet; so that it was originally named from its colour. It was afterwards applied to various kinds of costly materials, which were sometimes embroidered with gold. See Ciclaton in Godefroy, and in the New E. Dict.; and Scarlet in my Etym. Dictionary.
The matter has been much confused by a mistaken notion of Spenser’s. Not observing that Sir Thopas is here described in his robes of peace, not in those of war (as in a later stanza), he followed Thynne’s spelling, viz. chekelatoun, and imagined this to mean ‘that kind of guilded leather with which they [the Irish] use to embroder theyr Irish jackes’; View of the State of Ireland, in Globe edition, p. 639, col. 2. And this notion he carried out still more boldly in the lines—
1925.Jane, a small coin. The word is known to be a corruption of Genoa, which is spelt Jeane in Hall’s Chronicles, fol. xxiv. So too we find Janueys and Januayes for Genoese. See Bardsley’s English Surnames, s. v. Janeway. Stow, in his Survey of London, ed. 1599, p. 97, says that some foreigners lived in Minchin Lane, who had come from Genoa, and were commonly called galley-men, who landed wines, &c. from the galleys at a place called ‘galley-key’ in Thames Street. ‘They had a certaine coyne of silver amongst themselves, which were half-pence of Genoa, and were called galley half-pence. These half-pence were forbidden in the 13th year of Henry IV, and again by parliament in the 3rd of Henry V, by the name of half-pence of Genoa. . . . Notwithstanding, in my youth, I have seen them passe currant,’ &c. Chaucer uses the word again in the Clerkes Tale (E. 999), and Spenser adopted it from Chaucer; F. Q. iii. 7. 58. Mr. Wright observes that ‘the siclaton was a rich cloth or silk brought from the East, and is therefore appropriately mentioned as bought with Genoese coin.’
1927.for rivéer, towards the river. This appears to be the best reading, and we must take for in close connexion with ryde; perhaps it is a mere imitation of the French en riviere. It alludes to the common practice of seeking the river-side, because the best sport, in hawking, was with herons and waterfowl. Tyrwhitt quotes from Froissart, v. 1. c. 140—‘Le Comte de Flandres estoit tousjours en riviere—un jour advint qu’il alla voller en la riviere—et getta son fauconnier un faucon apres le heron.’ And again, in c. 210, he says that Edward III ‘alloit, chacun jour, ou en chace on en riviere,’ &c. So we read of Sir Eglamour:—
Of Ipomydon’s education we learn that his tutor taught him to sing, to read, to serve in hall, to carve the meat, and
See also the Squire of Low Degree, in Ritson, vol. iii. p. 177.
1931.ram, the usual prize at a wrestling match. Cf. Gk. τραγῳδία.
stonde, i.e. be placed in the sight of the competitors; be seen. Cf. Prol. A. 548, and the Tale of Gamelyn, 172. Tyrwhitt says—‘Matthew Paris mentions a wrestling-match at Westminster, 1222, in which a ram was the prize, p. 265.’ Cf. also—
1933.paramour, longingly; a common expression; see the Glossary.
1937.hepe, mod. E. ‘hip,’ the fruit of the dog-rose; A. S. hēope.
1938. Compare—‘So hyt be-felle upon a day’; Erle of Tolous, Ritson’s Met. Rom. iii. 134. Of course it is a common phrase in these romances.
1941.worth, lit. became; worth upon=became upon, got upon. It is a common phrase; compare—
1942.launcegay, a sort of lance. Gower has the word, Conf. Amant. bk. viii. (ed. Pauli, iii. 369). Cowel says its use was prohibited by the statute of 7 Rich. II, cap. 13. Camden mentions it in his Remaines, p. 209. Tyrwhitt quotes, from Rot. Parl. 29 Hen. VI, n. 8, the following—‘And the said Evan then and there with a launcegaye smote the said William Tresham throughe the body a foote and more, whereof he died.’ Sir Walter Raleigh (quoted by Richardson) says—‘These carried a kind of lance de gay, sharp at both ends, which they held in the midst of the staff.’ But this is certainly a corrupt form. It is no doubt a corruption of lancezagay, from the Spanish azagaya, a word of Moorish origin. Cotgrave gives—‘Zagaye, a fashion of slender, long, and long-headed pike, used by the Moorish horsemen.’ It seems originally to have been rather a short weapon, a kind of half-pike or dart. The Spanish word is well discussed in Dozy, Glossaire des mots Espagnols et Portugais dérivés de l’Arabe, 2nd ed. p. 225. The Spanish azagaya is for az-zagaya, where az is for the definite article al, and zagaya is a Berber or Algerian word, not given in the Arabic dictionaries. It is found in Old Spanish of the fourteenth century. Dozy quotes from a writer who explains it as a Moorish half-pike, and also gives the following passage from Laugier de Tassy, Hist. du royaume d’Alger, p. 58—‘Leurs armes sont l’azagaye, qui est une espéce de lance courte, qu’ils portent toujours à la main.’ The Caffre word assagai, in the sense of javelin, was simply borrowed from the Portuguese azagaia.
1949.a sory care, a grievous misfortune. Chaucer does not say what this was, but a passage in Amis and Amiloun (ed. Weber, ii. 410) makes it probable that Sir Thopas nearly killed his horse, which would have been grievous indeed; see l. 1965 below. The passage I allude to is as follows:—
Readers of Scott will remember Fitz-James’s lament over his ‘gallant grey.’
1950. This can hardly be other than a burlesque upon the Squire of Low Degree (ed. Ritson, iii. 146), where a long list of trees is followed up, as here, by a list of singing-birds. Compare also the Romaunt of the Rose, l. 1367:—
Observe the mention of notemigges in the same, l. 1361.
Line 21 of the Milleres Tale (A. 3207) runs similarly:—
‘Of licorys or any setewale.’
Maundeville speaks of the clowe-gilofre and notemuge in his 26th chapter; see Specimens of E. Eng. ed. Morris and Skeat, p. 171. Cetewale is generally explained as the herb valerian, but is certainly zedoary; see the Glossary. Clowe-gilofre, a clove; notemuge, a nutmeg. ‘Spiced ale’ is amongst the presents sent by Absolon to Alisoun in the Milleres Tale (A. 3378). Cf. the list of spices in King Alisaunder, ed. Weber, 6790–9.
1955.leye in cofre, to lay in a box.
1956. Compare Amis and Amiloun, ed. Weber, ii. 391:—
See also Romaunt of the Rose, ll. 613–728. But Chaucer’s burlesque is far surpassed by a curious passage in the singular poem of The Land of Cockaygne (MS. Harl. 913), ll. 71–100:—
1964.as he were wood, as if he were mad, ‘like mad.’ So in Amis and Amiloun (ed. Weber), ii. 419:—
Cf. note to l. 1949.
1974.seinte, being feminine, and in the vocative case, is certainly a dissyllable here—‘O seintè Márie, ben’cite.’ Cf. note to B. 1170 above.
1977.Me dremed, I dreamt. Both dremen (to dream) and meten (also to dream) are sometimes used with a dative case and reflexively in Old English. In the Nonne Prestes Tale we have me mette (l. 74) and this man mette (l. 182); B. 4084, 4192.
1978.An elf-queen. Mr. Price says—‘There can be little doubt that at one period the popular creed made the same distinctions between the Queen of Faerie and the Elf-queen that were observed in Grecian mythology-between their undoubted parallels, Artemis and Persephone.’ Chaucer makes Proserpine the ‘queen of faerie’ in his Marchauntes Tale; but at the beginning of the Wyf of Bathes Tale, he describes the elf-queen as the queen of the fairies, and makes elf and fairy synonymous. Perhaps this elf-queen in Sire Thopas (called the queen of fairye in l. 2004) may have given Spenser the hint for his Faerie Queene. But the subject is a vast one. See Price’s Preface, in Warton’s Hist. Eng. Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, pp. 30–36; Halliwell’s Illustrations of Fairy Mythology; Keightley’s Fairy Mythology; Warton’s Observations on the Faerie Queene, sect. ii; Sir W. Scott’s ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, &c.
1979.under my gore, within my robe or garment. In l. 2107 (on which see the note) we have under wede signifying merely ‘in his dress.’ We have a somewhat similar phrase here, in which, however, gore (lit. gusset) is put for the whole robe or garment. That it was a mere phrase, appears from other passages. Thus we find under gore, under the dress, Owl and Nightingale, l. 515; Reliquiae Antiquae, vol. i. p. 244, vol. ii. p. 210; with three more examples in the Gloss. to Böddeker’s Altenglische Dichtungen des MS. Harl. 2253. In one of these a lover addresses his lady as ‘geynest under gore,’ i. e. fairest within a dress. For the exact sense of gore, see note to A. 3237.
1983.In toune, in the town, in the district. But it must not be supposed that much sense is intended by this inserted line. It is a mere tag, in imitation of some of the romances. Either Chaucer has neglected to conform to the new kind of stanza which he now introduces (which is most likely), or else three lines have been lost before this one. The next three stanzas are longer, viz. of ten lines each, of which only the seventh is very short. For good examples of these short lines, see Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knyȝt, ed. Morris; and for a more exact account of the metres here employed, see vol. iii. p. 425.
1993.So wilde. Instead of this short line, Tyrwhitt has:—
But none of our seven MSS. agrees with this version, nor are these lines found in the black-letter editions. The notion of spying with one’s mouth seems a little too far-fetched.
1995. This line is supplied from MS. Reg. 17 D. 15, where Tyrwhitt found it; but something is so obviously required here, that we must insert it to make some sense. It suits the tone of the context to say that ‘neither wife nor child durst oppose him.’ We may, however, bear in mind that the meeting of a knight-errant with one of these often preceded some great adventure. ‘And in the midst of an highway he [Sir Lancelot] met a damsel riding on a white palfrey, and there either saluted other. Fair damsel, said Sir Lancelot, know ye in this country any adventures? Sir knight, said that damsel, here are adventures near hand, and thou durst prove them’; Sir T. Malory, Morte Arthur, bk. vi. cap. vii. The result was that Lancelot fought with Sir Turquine, and defeated him. Soon after, he was ‘required of a damsel to heal her brother’; and again, ‘at the request of a lady’ he recovered a falcon; an adventure which ended in a fight, as usual. Kölbing points out a parallel line in Sir Guy of Warwick, 45–6:—
1998.Olifaunt, i. e. Elephant; a proper name, as Tyrwhitt observes, for a giant. Maundeville has the form olyfauntes for elephants. By some confusion the Mœso-Goth. ulbandus and A.S. olf[Editor: illegible character]nd are made to signify a camel. Spenser has put Chaucer’s Olifaunt into his Faerie Queene, bk. iii. c. 7. st. 48, and makes him the brother of the giantess Argantè, and son of Typhoeus and Earth. The following description of a giant is from Libius Disconius (Percy Folio MS. vol. ii. p. 465):—
Sir Libius says:—
Another giant, 20 feet long, and 2 ells broad, with two boar’s tusks, and also with brows like bristles of a swine, appears in Octouian Imperator, ed. Weber, iii. 196. See also the alliterative Morte Arthure, ed. Brock, p. 33.
2000.child; see note to l. 2020. Termagaunt; one of the idols whom the Saracens (in the medieval romances) are supposed to worship. See The King of Tars, ed. Ritson (Met. Rom., ii. 174–182), where the Sultan’s gods are said to be Jubiter, Jovin (both forms of Jupiter), Astrot (Astarte), Mahoun (Mahomet), Appolin (Apollo), Plotoun (Pluto), and Tirmagaunt. Lybeaus Disconus (Ritson, Met. Rom. ii. 55) fought with a giant ‘that levede yn Termagaunt.’ The Old French form is Tervagant, Ital. Tervagante or Trivigante, as in Ariosto. Wheeler, in his Noted Names of Fiction, gives the following account—‘Ugo Foscolo says: “Trivigante, whom the predecessors of Ariosto always couple with Apollino, is really Diana Trivia, the sister of the classical Apollo.” . . . . According to Panizzi, Trivagante or Tervagante is the Moon, or Diana, or Hecate, wandering under three names. Termagant was an imaginary being, supposed by the crusaders, who confounded Mahometans with pagans, to be a Mahometan deity. This imaginary personage was introduced into early English plays and moralities, and was represented as of a most violent character, so that a ranting actor might always appear to advantage in it. See Hamlet, iii. 2. 15.’ Fairfax, in his translation of Tasso (c. i. st. 84), speaks of Termagaunt and Mahound, but Tasso mentions ‘Macometto’ only. See also Spenser, F. Q. vi. 7. 47. Hence comes our termagant in the sense of a noisy boisterous woman. Shakespeare has—‘that hot termagant Scot’; 1 Hen. IV., v. 2. 114. Cf. Ritson’s note, Met. Rom. iii. 257.
2002.slee, will slay. In Anglo-Saxon, there being no distinct future tense, it is expressed by the present. Cf. go for will go in ‘we also go with thee’; John xxi. 3.
2005.simphonye, the name of a kind of tabor. In Ritson’s Ancient Songs, i. lxiv., is a quotation from Hawkins’s Hist. of Music, ii. 284, in which that author cites a passage from Batman’s translation of Bartholomaeus de Proprietatibus Rerum, to the effect that the symphonie was ‘an instrument of musyke . . . made of an holowe tree [i.e. piece of wood], closyd in lether in eyther syde; and mynstrels beteth it with styckes.’ Probably the symphangle was the same instrument. In Rob. of Brunne’s Handlyng Synne, ll. 4772–3, we find:—
Godefroy gives the O.F. spellings cifonie, siphonie, chifonie, cinfonie, cymphonie, &c.; all clearly derived from the Greek συμϕωνία; see Luke, xv. 25. Cf. Squyre of Lowe Degre, 1070–7.
2007.al-so mote I thee, as I may thrive; or, as I hope to thrive; a common expression. Cf. ‘So mote y thee’; Sir Eglamour, ed. Halliwell, l. 430; Occleve, De Regimine Principum, st. 620. Chaucer also uses ‘so thee ik,’ i. e. so thrive I, in the Reves Prologue (A. 3864) and elsewhere.
2012.Abyen it ful soure, very bitterly shalt thou pay for it. There is a confusion between A. S. súr, sour, and A. S. sár, sore, in this and similar phrases; both were used once, but now we should use sorely, not sourly. In Layamon, l. 8158, we find ‘þou salt it sore abugge,’ thou shalt sorely pay for it; on the other hand, we find in P. Plowman, B. ii. 140:—
‘It shal bisitte ȝowre soules · ful soure atte laste.’
So also in the C-text, though the A-text has sore. Note that in another passage, P. Plowman, B. xviii. 401, the phrase is—‘Thow shalt abye it bittre.’ For abyen, see the Glossary.
2015.fully pryme. See note to Nonne Prestes Tale, B. 4045. Prime commonly means the period from 6 to 9 a.m. Fully prime refers to the end of that period, or 9 a.m.; and even prime alone may be used with the same explicit meaning, as in the Nonne Pres. Ta., B. 4387.
2019.staf-slinge. Tyrwhitt observes that Lydgate describes David as armed only ‘with a staffe-slynge, voyde of plate and mayle.’ It certainly means a kind of sling in which additional power was gained by fastening the lithe part of it on to the end of a stiff stick. Staff-slyngeres are mentioned in the romance of Richard Coer de Lion, l. 4454, in Weber’s Metrical Romances, ii. 177. In Col. Yule’s edition of Marco Polo, ii. 122, is a detailed description of the artillery engines of the middle ages. They can all be reduced to two classes; those which, like the trebuchet and mangonel, are enlarged staff-slings, and those which, like the arblast and springold, are great cross-bows. Conversely, we might describe a staff-sling as a hand-trebuchet.
2020.child Thopas. Child is an appellation given to both knights and squires, in the early romances, at an age when they had long passed the period which we now call childhood. A good example is to be found in the Erle of Tolous, ed. Ritson, iii. 123:—
Compare Romance of ‘Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild,’ pr. in Ritson, iii. 282; the ballad of Childe Waters, &c. Byron, in his preface to Childe Harold, says—‘It is almost superfluous to mention that the appellation “Childe,” as “Childe Waters,” “Childe Childers,” &c., is used as more consonant with the old structure of versification which I have adopted.’ He adopts, however, the late and artificial metre of Spenser.
2023. A palpable imitation. The first three lines of Sir Bevis of Hampton (MS. Camb. Univ. Lib. Ff. ii. 38, leaf 94, back) are—
In a long passage in Todd’s Illustrations to Chaucer, pp. 284–292, it is contended that mery signifies sweet, pleasant, agreeable, without relation to mirth. Chaucer describes the Frere as wanton and merry, Prol. A. 208; he speaks of the merry day, Kn. Ta. 641 (A. 1499); a merry city, N. P. Ta. 251 (B. 4261); of Arcite being told by Mercury to be merry, i.e. of good cheer, Kn. Ta. 528 (A. 1386); in the Manciple’s Tale (H. 138), the crow sings merrily, and makes a sweet noise; Chanticleer’s voice was merrier than the merry organ, N. P. Ta. 31 (B. 4041); the ‘erbe yve’ is said to be merry, i. e. pleasant, agreeable, id. 146 (B. 4156); the Pardoner (Prol. A. 714) sings merrily and loud. We must remember, however, that the Host, being ‘a mery man,’ began to speak of ‘mirthe’; Prol. A. 757, 759. A very early example of the use of the word occurs in the song attributed to Canute—‘Merie sungen the Muneches binnen Ely,’ &c. See the phrase ‘mery men’ in l. 2029.
2028. The phrase to come to toune seems to mean no more than simply to return. Cf. Specimens of E. Eng., ed. Morris and Skeat, p. 48—
‘Lenten ys come wiþ loue to toune’—
which merely means that spring, with its thoughts of love, has returned. See the note on that line.
2034.for paramour, for love; but the par, or else the for, is redundant. Iolite, amusement; used ironically in the Kn. Ta. 949 (A. 1807). Sir Thopas is going to fight the giant for the love and amusement of one who shone full bright; i.e. a fair lady, of course. But Sir Thopas, in dropping this mysterious hint to his merry men, refrains from saying much about it, as he had not yet seen the Fairy Queen, and had only the giant’s word for her place of abode. The use of the past tense shone is artful; it implies that he wished them to think that he had seen his lady-love; or else that her beauty was to be taken for granted. Observe, too, that it is Sir Thopas, not Chaucer, who assigns to the giant his three heads.
2035.Do come, cause to come; go and call hither. Cf. House of Fame, l. 1197:—
Tyrwhitt’s note on gestours is—‘The proper business of a gestour was to recite tales, or gestes; which was only one of the branches of the Minstrel’s profession. Minstrels and gestours are mentioned together in the following lines from William of Nassyngton’s Translation of a religious treatise by John of Waldby; MS. Reg. 17 C. viii. p. 2:—
I cite these lines to shew the species of tales related by the ancient Gestours, and how much they differed from what we now call jests.’
The word geste here means a tale of the adventures of some hero, like those in the Chansons de geste. Cf. note to l. 2123 below. Sometimes the plural gestes signifies passages of history. The famous collection called the Gesta Romanorum contains narratives of very various kinds.
2038.royales, royal; some MSS. spell the word reales, but the meaning is the same. In the romance of Ywain and Gawain (Ritson, vol. i.) a maiden is described as reading ‘a real romance.’ Tyrwhitt thinks that the term originated with an Italian collection of romances relating to Charlemagne, which began with the words—‘Qui se comenza la hystoria el Real di Franza,’ &c.; edit. Mutinae, 1491, folio. It was reprinted in 1537, with a title beginning—‘I reali di Franza,’ &c. He refers to Quadrio, t. vi. p. 530. The word roial (in some MSS. real) occurs again in l. 2043. Kölbing remarks that the prose romance of Generides is called a royal historie, though it has nothing to do with Charlemagne.
2043. No comma is required at the end of this line; the articles mentioned in ll. 2044–6 all belong to spicery. Cf. additional note to Troilus, vol. ii. p. 506.
2047.dide, did on, put on. The arming of Lybeaus Disconus is thus described in Ritson’s Met. Rom. ii. 10:—
2048.lake, linen; see Glossary. ‘De panno de lake’; York Wills, iii. 4 (anno 1395).
2050.aketoun, a short sleeveless tunic. Cf. Liber Albus, p. 376.
The Glossary to the Percy Folio MS., ed. Hales and Furnivall, has—‘Acton, a wadded or quilted tunic worn under the hauberk.—Planché, i. 108.’ Thynne, in his Animadversions (Early Eng. Text Soc.), p. 24, says—‘Haketon is a slevelesse jackett of plate for the warre, couered withe anye other stuffe; at this day also called a jackett of plate.’
It is certain that the plates were a later addition. It is the mod. F. hoqueton, O. F. auqueton; and it is certain that the derivation is from Arab. al-qoton or al-qutun, lit. ‘the cotton’; so that it was originally made of quilted cotton. See auqueton in Godefroy, hoqueton in Devic’s Supp. to Littré, and Acton in the New E. Dict.
2051.habergeoun, coat of mail. See Prol. A. 76, and the note.
2052.For percinge, as a protection against the piercing. So in P. Plowman, B. vi. 62, Piers puts on his cuffs, ‘for colde of his nailles,’ i.e. as a protection against the cold. So too in the Rom. of the Rose, l. 4229.
2053. The hauberk is here put on as an upper coat of mail, of finer workmanship and doubtless more flexible.
2054.Jewes werk, Jew’s work. Tyrwhitt imagined that Jew here means a magician, but there is not the least foundation for the idea. Mr. Jephson is equally at fault in connecting Jew with jewel, since the latter word is etymologically connected with joy. The phrase still remains unexplained. I suspect it means no more than wrought with rich or expensive work, such as Jews could best find the money for. It is notorious that they were the chief capitalists, and they must often have had to find money for paying armourers. Or, indeed, it may refer to damascened work; from the position of Damascus.
2055.plate. Probably the hauberk had a breastplate on the front of it. But on the subject of armour, I must refer the reader to Godwin’s English Archaeologist’s Handbook, pp. 252–268; Planché’s History of British Costume, and Sir S. R. Meyrick’s Observations on Body-armour, in the Archaeologia, vol. xix. pp. 120–145.
2056. The cote-armour was not for defence, but a mere surcoat on which the knight’s armorial bearings were usually depicted, in order to identify him in the combat or ‘debate.’ Hence the modern coat-of-arms.
2059.reed, red. In the Romances, gold is always called red, and silver white. Hence it was not unusual to liken gold to blood, and this explains why Shakespeare speaks of armour being gilt with blood (King John, ii. 1. 316), and makes Lady Macbeth talk of gilding the groom’s faces with blood (Macbeth, ii. 2. 56). See also Coriol. v. 1. 63, 64; and the expression ‘blood bitokeneth gold’; Cant. Tales, D. 581.
2060. Cf. Libeaus Desconus, ed. Kaluza, 1657–8:—
And see the editor’s note, at p. 201.
2061. ‘A carbuncle (Fr. escarboucle) was a common [armorial] bearing. See Guillim’s Heraldry, p. 109.’—Tyrwhitt.
2062. Sir Thopas is made to swear by ale and bread, in ridiculous imitation of the vows made by the swan, the heron, the pheasant, or the peacock, on solemn occasions.
2065.Iambeux, armour worn in front of the shins, above the mailarmour that covered the legs; see Fairholt. He tells us that, in Roach Smith’s Catalogue of London Antiquities, p. 132, is figured a pair of cuirbouilly jambeux, which are fastened by thongs. Spenser borrows the word, but spells it giambeux, F. Q. ii. 6. 29.
quirboilly, i. e. cuir bouilli, leather soaked in hot water to soften it that it might take any required shape, after which it was dried and became exceedingly stiff and hard. In Matthew Paris (anno 1243) it is said of the Tartars—‘De coriis bullitis sibi arma leuia quidem, sed tamen impenetrabilia coaptarunt.’ In Marco Polo, ed Yule, ii. 49, it is said of the men of Carajan, that they wear armour of boiled leather (French text, armes cuiracés de cuir bouilli). Froissart (v. iv. cap. 19) says the Saracens covered their targes with ‘cuir bouilli de Cappadoce, ou nul fer ne peut prendre n’attacher, si le cuir n’est trop échaufé.’ When Bruce reviewed his troops on the morning of the battle of Bannockburn, he wore, according to Barbour, ‘ane hat of qwyrbolle’ on his ‘basnet,’ and ‘ane hye croune’ above that. Some remarks on cuir bouilli will be found in Cutts, Scenes and Characters of the Middle Ages, p. 344.
2068.rewel-boon, probably whale-ivory, or ivory made of whales’ teeth. In the Turnament of Tottenham, as printed in Percy’s reliques, we read that Tyb had ‘a garland on her hed ful of rounde bonys,’ where another copy has (says Halliwell, s. v. ruel) the reading—‘fulle of ruelle-bones.’ Halliwell adds—‘In the romaunce of Rembrun, p. 458, the coping of a wall is mentioned as made ‘of fin ruwal, that schon swithe brighte.’ And in MS. Camb. Univ. Lib. Ff. v. 48, fol. 119, is the passage—
In Sir Degrevant, 1429, a roof is said to be—
Quite near the beginning of the Vie de Seint Auban, ed. Atkinson, we have—
i.e. but it was not adorned with gold nor other metal, nor with precious stones, nor ivory, nor rewel. Du Cange gives a Low Lat. form rohanlum, and an O. Fr. rochal, but tells us that the MS. readings are rohallum and rohal. The passage occurs in the Laws of Normandy about wreckage, and should run—‘dux sibi retinet . . . ebur, rohallum, lapides pretiosas’; or, in the French version, ‘I’ivoire, et le rohal, et les pierres precieuses.’ Ducange explains the word by ‘rock-crystal,’ but this is a pure guess, suggested by F. roche, a rock. It is clear that, when the word is spelt rochal, the ch denotes the same sound as the Ger. ch, a guttural resembling h, and not the F. ch at all. Collecting all the spellings, we find them to be, in French, rohal, rochal, roal; and, in English, ruwal, rewel, ruel, (reuylle, ruelle). The h and w might arise from a Teutonic hw, so that the latter part of the word was originally -hwal, i.e. whale; hence, perhaps, Godefroy explains F. rochal as ‘ivoire de morse,’ ivory of the walrus (A. S. hors-hwæl). The true origin seems rather to be some Norse form akin to Norweg. röyrkval (E. rorqual). Some whales, as the cachalot, have teeth that afford a kind of ivory; and this is what seems to be alluded to. The expression ‘white as whale-bone,’ i.e. white as whale-ivory, was once common; see Weber’s Met. Romances, iii. 350; and whales-bone in Nares. Most of this ivory was derived, however, from the tusk of the walrus or the narwhal. Sir Thopas’s saddle was ornamented with ivory.
2071.cipress, cypress-wood. In the Assembly of Foules, l. 179, we have—
‘The sailing firr, the cipres, deth to pleyne’—
i. e. the cypress suitable for lamenting a death. Vergil calls the cypress ‘atra,’ Æn. iii. 64, and ‘feralis,’ vi. 216; and as it is so frequently a symbol of mourning, it may be said to bode war.
2078. In Sir Degrevant (ed. Halliwell, p. 191) we have just this expression—
2085.love-drury, courtship. All the six MSS. have this reading. According to Wright, the Harl. MS. has ‘Of ladys loue and drewery,’ which Tyrwhitt adopts; but it turns out that Wright’s reading is copied from Tyrwhitt; the MS. really has—‘And of ladys loue drewery,’ like the rest.
2088. The romance or lay of Horn appears in two forms in English. In King Horn, ed. Lumby, Early Eng. Text Soc., 1866, printed also in Mätzner’s Altenglische Sprachproben, i. 207, the form of the poem is in short rimed couplets. But Chaucer no doubt refers to the other form with the title Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild, in a metre similar to Sir Thopas, printed in Ritson’s Metrical Romances, iii. 282. The Norman-French text was printed by F. Michel for the Bannatyne Club, with the English versions, in a volume entitled—Horn et Riemenhild; Recueil de ce qui reste des poëmes relatifs à leurs aventures, &c. Paris, 1845. See Mr. Lumby’s preface and the remarks in Mätzner.
It is not quite clear why Chaucer should mention the romance of Sir Ypotis here, as it has little in common with the rest. There are four MS. copies of it in the British Museum, and three at Oxford. ‘It professes to be a tale of holy writ, and the work of St. John the Evangelist. The scene is Rome. A child, named Ypotis, appears before the Emperor Adrian, saying that he is come to teach men God’s law; whereupon the Emperor proceeds to interrogate him as to what is God’s Law, and then of many other matters, not in any captious spirit, but with the utmost reverence and faith. . . . There is a little tract in prose on the same legend from the press of Wynkyn de Worde’; J. W. Hales, in Hazlitt’s edition of Warton’s Hist. of Eng. Poetry, ii. 183. It was printed in 1881, from the Vernon MS. at Oxford, in Horstmann’s Altenglische Legenden, Neue Folge, pp. 341–8. It is hard to believe that, by Ypotys, Chaucer meant (as some say) Ypomadoun.
The romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton (i.e. Southampton) was printed from the Auchinleck MS. for the Maitland Club in 1838, 4to. Another copy is in MS. Ff. 2. 38, in the Cambridge University Library. It has lately been edited, from six MS. copies and an old printed text, by Prof. Kölbing, for the Early Eng. Text Society. There is an allusion in it to the Romans, meaning the French original. It appears in prose also, in various forms. See Warton’s Hist. of Eng. Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, ii. 142, where there is also an account of Sir Guy, in several forms; but a still fuller account of Sir Guy is given in the Percy Folio MS., ed. Hales and Furnivall, ii. 509. This Folio MS. itself contains three poems on the latter subject, viz. Guy and Amarant, Guy and Colbrande, and Guy and Phillis. ‘Sir Guy of Warwick’ has been edited for the Early Eng. Text Society by Prof. Zupitza.
By Libeux is meant Lybeaus Disconus, printed by Ritson in his Metrical Romances, vol. ii. from the Cotton MS. Caligula A. 2. A later copy, with the title Libius Disconius, is in the Percy Folio MS. ii. 404, where a good account of the romance may be found. The best edition is that by Dr. Max Kulaza, entitled Libeaus Desconus; Leipzig, 1890. The French original was discovered in 1855, in a MS. belonging to the Duc d’Aumale. Its title is Li Biaus Desconneus, which signifies The Fair Unknown.
Pleyndamour evidently means plein d’amour, full of love, and we may suspect that the original romance was in French; but there is now no trace of any romance of that name, though a Sir Playne de Amours is mentioned in Sir T. Malory’s Morte Darthur, bk. ix. c. 7. Spenser probably borrowed hence his Sir Blandamour, F. Q. iv. 1. 32.
2092. After examining carefully the rimes in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Mr. Bradshaw finds that this is the sole instance in which a word which ought etymologically to end in -ye is rimed with a word ending in -y without a following final e. A reason for the exception is easily found; for Chaucer has here adopted the swing of the ballad metre, and hence ventures to deprive chiualryë of its final e, and to call it chivalry’ so that it may rime with Gy, after the manner of the ballad-writers; cf. Squyre of Lowe Degre, 79, 80. So again chivalryë, druryë become chivalry, drury; ll. 2084, 2085. We even find plas for plac-e, 1971; and gras for grac-e, 2021.
2094.glood, glided. So in all the MSS. except E., which has the poor reading rood, rode. For the expression in l. 2095, compare—
2106. The first few lines of the romance of Sir Perceval of Galles (ed. Halliwell, p. 1) will at once explain Chaucer’s allusion. It begins—
Both Sir Thopas and Sir Perceval were water-drinkers, but it did not impair their vigour.
In the same romance, p. 84, we find—
These quotations set aside Mr. Jephson’s interpretation, and solve Tyrwhitt’s difficulty. Tyrwhitt says that ‘The Romance of Perceval le Galois, or de Galis, was composed in octosyllable French verse by Chrestien de Troyes, one of the oldest and best French romancers, before the year 1191; Fauchet, l. ii. c. x. It consisted of above 60,000 verses (Bibl. des Rom. t. ii. p. 250) so that it would be some trouble to find the fact which is, probably, here alluded to. The romance, under the same title, in French prose, printed at Paris, 1530, fol., can be an abridgement, I suppose, of the original poem.’
2107.worthy under wede, well-looking in his armour. The phrase is very common. Tyrwhitt says it occurs repeatedly in the romance of Emare, and refers to folios 70, 71 b, 73 a, and 74 b of the MS.; but the reader may now find the romance in print; see Ritson’s Metrical Romances, ii. pp. 214, 229, 235, 245. The phrase is used of ladies also, and must then mean of handsome appearance when well-dressed. See Amis and Amiloun, ed. Weber, ii. pp. 370, 375. Cf. l. 1979.
2108. The story is here broken off by the host’s interruption. MSS. Pt. and Hl. omit this line, and MSS. Cp. and Ln. omit ll. 2105–7 as well.