"False Friends" and Other Perils in Textual Glossing
of Middle English Romance
Readers and scholars who lack original literary texts and must rely on editions for critical and translation work realize that reliable and astute textual glossing and editorial practices are essential for fully appreciating a work, and that they can benefit from understanding the glossing process. Though this paper focuses on late Middle English romances, the comments apply to any text that contains words and/or phrases that need definition or clarification. Middle English is a lovely language but presents many challenges, such as "false friends" that resemble modern words but have different meanings; words with multiple and varying definitions; lack of standardization and thus obscure dialects and variants; and twisted syntax. And working with the manuscripts in which the poems are preserved pose these and more complex problems.
The most authoritative editions, published by the Early English Text Society since 1864 and some others provide glossaries at the back of the text, while other (more merciful) editions provide glosses in the margin parallel to the text or in footnotes, sometimes supplemented by a glossary. The casual or non-specialist reader can get a general sense of a work using glosses but may literally "gloss" over unclear words, phrases and passages, while the specialist who seeks in-depth study pores over every word, stays alert for faulty, questionable and missing glosses, and then corrects them, becoming editors.
The diligent text editor (and reader) chooses reliable resources. For Middle English, this includes the Middle English Dictionary (MED), completed in 2001 and available online. It is an invaluable tool but has a few limitations: some words that need clarification are not listed, and (understandably) not all Middle English texts are included, so that if those excluded contain specialized dialects, the word is not found. Stratmann's Middle English Dictionary can be helpful there, listing some words missing in the MED as well as variants, though the definitions are not as comprehensive. The OED can be consulted, although it is less sensitive to Middle English linguistics.
The editor must consider the skill level of the intended reader when glossing. Editions aimed at the more seasoned Middle English scholar may need less glossing, assuming the reader is familiar with many of the words, and attention should be paid to particularly difficult words due to their ambiguity and/or dialect, or for context clarification. Texts like the TEAMS editions, available online with glossing and notes, are prepared for those with lower level experience, particularly in college courses, and need more extensive glossing.1 Generally, glosses give the meaning of a word as it appears to relate to the subject text, although the word may have other applicable definitions that will be discovered if the MED, Stratmann or the OED are consulted. Therein lies the possibility of erroneous glossing depending on the editor's interpretation of the work or possible lack of thorough linguistic research. The MED is helpful in identifying the proper gloss, as it supplies quotations from the texts in which it appears for each definition.
The same applies to textual notes, the content of which should be appropriate to the audience, particularly references to other Middle English works which may be known to scholars but not to students. Also, scholars may be more interested in linguistic, intertextual and critical information than in references to historical and cultural matters with which they may be familiar and can be included in notes and/or a brief introduction. Those less knowledgeable about the authors and time period would benefit from more extensive background information in notes and an introduction, which may also include a plot summary.
Can there be too much glossing? Again, it depends on the editor's judgment based on the intended reader's skill level. Extensive glosses can add to the text and possibly overload the less experienced reader. Also, glosses next to the text or in footnotes can be distracting, although less so than separate glossaries but can still interrupt the flow of the text. A compromise used by some editors is glossing the more difficult words next to the text and also providing a separate glossary for more common words.
Glossing Middle English is very similar to translating a foreign language. Although Middle English is the predecessor of modern English (as is Anglo-Saxon to Middle English), it is separated from moderns by centuries of cultural and linguistic differences. Much of Middle English vocabulary is (or seems) familiar, particularly to readers of Chaucer, whose London dialect became the standard.2 However, works like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Piers Plowman confront readers with what appears to be a foreign language. Most works fall in between those by Chaucer and Langland and are partially accessible, though the peril of "false friends" always lurks.
One is seen in the word can, which the modern reader would automatically read as "to be able." However, according to the MED, it is a "modal verb stressing the fact of an act or event," as in "to do" and is generally used as "did," as in this example: "Faste can sche fare" ("Quickly she did go"; Sir Tryamour 395).3 But can is also a commonly used variant of kennen, "to know": "Now can Y no rede" ("Now I know of no remedy"; ST 595). So where the context does not plainly indicate the meaning of such words, they would best be glossed, at least initially, in editions prepared for the lower level reader of Middle English.
Many words have multiple meanings: hethen could rightly be taken as "heathen," but also means "hither" and "to mock." Ded/dede is "dead," "deed" and "did" (past tense of don, "to perform an activity"). The first impression of mene/meene is "to mean, to intend," but included among its many definitions are "complaint," "a course of action or method" such as "means to an end," "in common," "a company, fellowship/society," "midway," "mean" as in "golden mean," "moderation," and "lowly, poor." Some, such as myght, are easily distinguished by the context. The meanings are obvious when the unmarried queen of Hungary looks for "A nobull knyght that cowde or myght / Rewle hur londe wyth gode ryght" ("A noble knight that could or might rule her land with justice"; ST 637-38), and then sets a tournament to which knights "That then come to Hungary, / To go juste wyth ther myght" ("That then come to Hungary to joust with their strength"; ST 668-69). These lines likely need no gloss.
However, some are not so clear, like assente, which means both to agree and to submit or yield. The ambiguity of its use in a text is seen when the queen in Sir Tryamour, who is being sexually pursued by the king's steward, refuses to assente (23). While "submit" is the most fitting choice to express refusal of an immoral proposition, it might also be read as "assent" in the modern sense, to consent, agree, or condone.4 Another example is misreading bare as "bear" rather than the correct "boar." Ironically bore, a variant of bere, describes a bear, and is also a variant of bor, a boar, so it easy to see how confusion can occur.
Complexity of meaning is seen in words such as hardi, which may describe a person as strong in battle, fearless of danger, daring, resolute, bold, fierce, brave or valiant, and also audacious, presumptuous, rash or foolhardy. Obviously there is a great difference between bold or brave and rash or foolhardy, and the poet's intentions are not always clear. When the queen in Sir Tryamour upbraids the steward for trying to seduce her by telling him that he will greatly rue it if he is so "hardy" (100) as to act with "velanye" (101) towards her, is he bold, presumptuous or foolhardy, or perhaps all three? The editor can choose one or more words depending on interpretation, or not gloss, although that could lead the reader to encounter a false friend and assume the modern definition of strong, robust, or capable of enduring difficult conditions, which would be out of context.
Bolde presents similar problems. In modern English it is confidently assertive, adventurous, courageous, or forthright, impudent. Meanings extrapolated from the adverbial definitions in the MED are brave, fearless, bold, self-confident, trusting, free, open, reckless, arrogant, insolent, frivolous, blasphemous, vigorous, and forceful. Adjectives describe a person as a brave or noble warrior, arrogant, impudent, and shameless. When the queen asks the steward "How darste thou be so bolde?" (ST 84), the editor faces the same dilemma as with hardi. Later, in a combat scene, bolde is applied to both the hero, "He hewe on ther bodyes bolde" (ST 323), and the enemies, who "hewe on hym full boldely" (304). It is incumbent on the editor to try to divine the poet's attitude towards each, to determine the grammatical usage of the word, and to select the most fitting gloss from the many definitions, both positive and negative.
Another tricky area of Middle English (as in modern) is the pronoun, which varies in form and syntax order, as seen in this example from the invocatory introduction to Havelok:
Here I schal beginnen a rym —
Krist us yeve wel god fyn. (21-22)5
Here I shall begin a rhyme —
Christ give us a well good ending.
The inverted pronoun placement in the second line is routine and plain enough to need no glossing. Inversion can be used to excellent effect, as in this line praising Athelwold: "Hym lovede yung, him lovede holde" (Havelok 30). The inversion may not be noticed, however, and to one not knowledgeable with pronoun forms the line might be read "He loved the young, he loved the old," so it needs some untangling. Shepherd provides the helpful footnote gloss "He was loved by young, he was loved by old," while some other editors provide no gloss and leave room for misinterpretation.
Again, as in modern English, the ambiguous antecedent pronoun presents problems in Middle English, as seen in this excerpt from Sir Tryamour that describes the homecoming of the king and his troops from crusading across the sea:
So longe they drove upon the fome
That at the laste they come home
To hys owne lande
When the kyng and the quene were togedur agayne
They made mekyll joye, gle and game,
Then tolde the kynge hur tythande. (151-56)
They drove long upon the foam, and at last came home to the king's own land. When the king and the queen were together again, they made great joy, amusements and games, then told the king her tidings.
The culprit here is "they," which clearly refers to the king and company in the first two lines, but is ambiguous in the last two. Is it the king and queen who make joy and games, or the king's company, and who tells the king about the queen's news (her pregnancy)? Hudson glosses the last line as "[she] told" the tidings, while Fellows suggests that "the line may be corrupt; one would expect the king to enquire, or to be told, the queen's news."6 Since the next two lines tell that "The kynge behelde the quene mylde / And sawe that sche was wyth chylde" (157-58), it would appear that "they" had told him and that he had not observed the queen's condition until it was pointed out to him, which makes Fellows' statement rather perplexing and demonstrates the different ways in which editors gloss difficult lines.7
Middle English syntax often does not accord with modern, frequently to accommodate rhyme scheme and sometimes apparently for prosodic effect, as in this example from Havelok. When Grim flees with his family and Havelok to save the hero's life (and his own), he sells his goods to finance their departure: he "solde sone al his corn" ("soon sold all his grain"; 699). Though similar inversions appear elsewhere in the poem, there are many places that follow what would be "normal" to moderns, so it seems to us that "solde" and "sone" could have been reversed. But here the author may have preferred the sound of the word sequence, perhaps subtle to moderns but appealing to the poet.
Two primary factors in glossing a Middle English text are defining words and phrases in context, and sensing their nuances. It is apparent from some editions that the editor focused on the word in isolation from the meaning of the work, with some peculiar results. For example, the word burde refers to both the trestle table set up in the hall for meals, and a lady or woman, literally a "bird," a complimentary comparison, and clothes means either fabric/cloth or garments/clothing. In Sir Amadace, one way in which the hero's generosity is described is by the way in which he shares food with all: "his mete he wold not spare" (160).8 The "burdes in the halle were never bare, / With clothes richeli dight" ("tables in the hall were never bare, arrayed with rich cloths; 161-62). When the editor mistakenly glosses burdes as "women" and presumably confuses clothes with clothing, the result is somewhat humorous and plainly out of context, lending a rather provocative image of ladies going about undressed elsewhere or at other times.9
Another dilemma is how "modern" glosses should be. Colloquialisms and idioms are appropriate if they reflect the same tone as the text but are otherwise to be avoided. There is a delicate balance between preserving the poet's voice and presenting glosses that render the poet's style in a readable manner to the modern reader. When a suitable word cannot be found for the Middle English, editors may choose readability but risk slipping into modern idiom that does not respect the author's prosody. For example, when Sir Amadace appears suddenly on the shore of a land far from his home, seemingly shipwrecked, the king sends a messenger to find out about the stranger. The messenger welcomes the knight and courteously "tithinges conne him fraynne" ("questioned him about his situation; Sir Amadace 555), and Foster's idiomatic gloss "asked him what's what" is not in keeping with the tone of the poem or the speaker's character.
When no modern equivalent can be found, occasionally the use of idiom cannot be avoided. For example, when the steward in Sir Tryamour claims to have found the queen and her lover together "wyth the dede," (185) the meaning is plain from the context but difficult to gloss, although it would be understood by the medieval audience. Among the MED definitions, two fit: the word "dede" as "an act of copulation, sexual intercourse," or the phrase "wyth the dede" as "in the act." However, the former is too coarse and the latter too modern to capture the author's tone in this poem, and other idioms such as "having sex," "doing the deed," etc. do the same damage. In this case, the editor opts for "in the act," but it may have been preferable to refrain from glossing and allowing the reader to interpret from the context.
In Sir Gowther, Laskaya and Salisbury choose to gloss "to deyle" as "have intercourse," which is appropriate to that passage, which warns against fiends such as those who impregnate women, for "to deyle with hom was wothe" ("to have intercourse with him [the fiend] was evil"; 102).10 The poet clearly chooses the word according to the context, as he uses the gentler "fonden" (90), "to enjoy or indulge in (pleasure, love-making, etc.)" in the previous stanza when the duke and duchess retire to bed to produce an heir, which the editors fittingly gloss as "make love."
As with idioms, editors may resort to euphemisms for clarification when they cannot find appropriate modern words or find them distasteful, but this is not advisable. Watts uses the example of the lover's dialogue with Reason in Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose;11 when the personification uses the word "coilles" (testicles"), she is accused by the lover, Amant, of being uncourteous. Reason responds that the use of euphemisms are not necessary when speaking of good things that have been created by God, and it is better not to resort to glosses but to use plain text.12 There are parallel euphemisms in Middle English works. Chaucer's Wife of Bath refers to sexual anatomy with terms such as "bele chose" (WB 510),13 the female counterpart to "coilles." Chaucer chooses the polite French term, which means "beautiful thing"; Benson gives its literal meaning and adds the parenthetical gloss "sexual favors," which is still slightly euphemistic. It may be appropriate to gloss a euphemism with its modern form, but that may also need glossing when it is not clear. The Wife uses another, quoniam (WB 608), which Benson glosses as "whatsit" along with its Latin meaning of "because or whereas," which is not helpful. In his edition, Fisher also gives the Latin definition in his gloss but adds that the word is used like "bele chose" as a euphemism for genitalia,14 demonstrating Reason's preference for the use of plain text "unencumbered by the circumlocutions of glossing."15 As Watts concludes, "in its proper form glossing can clarify what is obscure in stories and strip away the integuments with which the poets clothe the truth in their works."16
Obviously the debate over the use of euphemisms is long standing and may be culturally influenced depending on social attitudes towards frank language. For example, in modern editions of Sir Tryamour the word "horcop" is glossed as "bastard," as it is defined in the MED and Stratmann. However, in Copland's sixteenth-century printing of the poem, it is glossed "another mannes chylde."17 In the glossary of her edition, Schmidt presents the inventive circumlocution "child begotten in adultery," presumably based on "hor" ("a woman who commits fornication or adultery") ignoring Stratmann, which she lists in her bibliography.18 Apparently Copland and Schmidt, like Amant, found such plain text as "bastard" uncourteous. However, this practice verges on another Middle English meaning of "glosen": to falsely embellish words or interpret a text falsely.
Another approach is to occasionally use archaic, literary, poetic, formal or historical words, though these can be puzzling to the modern reader. Defense for their use is expressed by Tolkien in On Translating Beowulf, since many of the words in that Anglo-Saxon poem are archaic themselves,19 which may also apply to Middle English works. Further, he feels that archaisms, which may better represent the thought of a character set in an earlier time, were "literary, elevated, recognized as old (and esteemed on that account)," and their use was the sign of "poetical" verse.20 He advises translators of Beowulf not to "deliberately eschew the traditional literary and poetic diction . . . in favour of the current and trivial" but warns that archaic or poetic words must be those that "remain in literature, especially in the use of verse among educated people. . . . They must need no gloss."21 Shepherd follows this philosophy when glossing anone as "anon" rather than the modern "sooner, shortly" in his edition of Ywain and Gawain. His glossing theder as "thither" rather than "to or towards that place," and cherle as "churl" instead of "an ill-bred person"22 also illustrates the poetic economy that can say in a single word what takes many in modern English.
There are a number of stock words and phrases sprinkled throughout Middle English romances. "Stock" may infer meaningless traditional use, often as a filler for meter or rhyme, but not always. For example, for "wele or wo" is a commonly used phrase that means "for good or bad," "for better or worse," or more colloquially, "no matter what" and usually expresses devotion, like that of Sir Roger's hound who would not leave his dead master "for weyle nor woo" (ST 382). Phrases like "withoute lesynge" ("without lying") and "the soth to say" ("to tell the truth") and words like "verament" ("truly," "indeed") affirm the veracity of a character's statement, and sometimes the poet's. Similarly, authors validate their tales with phrases like "os hyt ys in the story tolde" ("as it is told in the story") and "the boke says" ("the book says") in order to authenticate their work through reference to source material (whether real or not) in an age that honored (and expected) textual tradition and transmission through appropriation with no concept of plagiarism.
Some phrases like "I wote," "I wene" and particularly "Ywys" ("I know/believe") are often used as fillers, though they can also function as affirmation. The group of phrases that include "so mote Y spede," "so mote Y the," "so have I wyn" ("as I hope to prosper/thrive") and "by God on leve" and "so God me rede," equivalents of "I swear," can be difficult to identify as meaningful or conventional. The editor may guide the reader in determining which is relevant to the context and which is a filler, as does Fellows who explains that the steward's claim to the king that "Ye were evyr in my thoght, / Bothe lowde and stylle" ("You were always in my thought, both aloud and silently"; ST 197-98) though a stock expression "may have here more than a conventional significance, denoting that the steward proclaimed his loyalty as well as maintaining it inwardly (or so he says)."23
Editors of Middle English texts generally work with the manuscripts (or copies thereof) that preserve the works and may face a number of difficulties, including damaged and/or incomplete manuscripts that are missing lines and/or pages. Missing parts can sometimes be supplied from other manuscripts of the work, as is done with Sir Orfeo, which is missing the prologue in the Auchinleck manuscript usually used for editions. The missing lines are generally replaced with the first fourteen lines from another poem in the same manuscript, Lai le Freine, supported by similarities with two other surviving manuscripts of Sir Orfeo.24 Some scholars postulate the content of missing parts of works, such as the ending of King Edward and the Shepherd, through comparison with other versions of the tale, though this is sometimes unreliable and can skew interpretation. The process involves conjecture that the separate texts are in agreement, which is not always the case. For example, Sir Gowther survives in two complete manuscript versions, the differences between which lead to different readings, one having a secular orientation and the other a hagiographic.
Manuscripts often preserve works written (or recited) years earlier, frequently in dialects different from the original. They are subject to scribal error and/or emendation and dating problems, which hamper attempts to identify a profile of author and audience. A word can sometimes be defined by comparison with its use in other versions, but when there is only a single extant manuscript, editors must sometimes make a guess or admit failure, especially if the work is written in a unique dialect.
When working with the manuscripts, glossing as clarification must be extended to textual matters. Interpretive editorial procedures are required in order to preserve prosody, and at that point editors become part poet. Manuscripts may often lack punctuation, stanzaic form and division, word division, and even titles, all of which are resolved by the editor and consequently may vary between editions, as seen in two editions of Sir Tryamour, one by Fellows and the other by Hudson. Both use the same manuscript, Cambridge University Library Ff 2.38 from the late fifteenth century, the only complete surviving text of the late fourteenth-century poem.
Both editors divide the stanzas alike, presumably based on rhyme scheme,25 although Hudson indents the tail rhyme line, while Fellows does not. There are some differences in capitalization such as "Y" (modern "I"), which is capitalized by Hudson but not Fellows, which may be true to the manuscript but initially confusing to the reader. These are relatively minor matters compared to punctuation which, like word glossing, affects interpretation, tone and mood.
In this excerpt from Sir Tryamour, a change in meaning is caused by a shift in commas, as the steward tries to seduce the queen and hide it from the king:
And we schall do so prevely
That, whethyr he leve or dye,
Ther schall wete no wyght. (94-96)
whether, lives, dies
And we schall do so prevely
That whethyr he leve or dye
Ther schall wete no wyght.
In the first, edited by Fellows, no one will know of their affair, whether the king is alive or dead. In the second version, by Hudson, no one will know whether the king is alive or dead.
Hudson tends to be conservative in punctuating, and Fellows quite liberal. Compare, for example:
Of the quene let we bee —
And thorow the grace of the Trynyté
Grete wyth chylde sche was!
And of Kyng Ardus speke we,
Farre in hethennes ys he
To werre in Goddys grace. (127-32)
Of the quene let we bee
And, thorow the grace of the Trynyte,
Grete wyth chylde sche was —
And of Kyng Ardus speke we:
Farre in hethennes ys he,
To werre in Goddys grace.
Let us leave the queen, who through the grace of the Trinity was great with child, and speak of King Ardus, far away in heathen lands to war on God's behalf.
As editors know well, commas, semicolons, colons and dashes can be helpful in creating phraseology, but as evidenced in the above, they can interrupt the narrative flow, especially if overused. The first excerpt is edited by Hudson and shows her spare punctuation which allows narrative continuity, while Fellows' forces the reader to halt at every line. If her version were converted into prose, an editor might suggest changes that would bring it more in line with Hudson's, especially regarding dashes, which the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Handbook and Style Manual suggest be used sparingly. Although referring to prose style, the caution applies to poetry as much or more, since the inclination is to pause after each line rather than to read verse as fluid text, and accentuating breaks at the end of the lines with punctuation intensifies the discontinuity.
Pauses caused by dashes also produce emphasis by isolating text. The exclamation mark also creates emphasis, as seen in the excerpts above. In the first, the queen's pregnancy is highlighted by Hudson, while in the second, Fellows treats it as unremarkable, again demonstrating the editor's ability to create tone through punctuation. In conversation, exclamation marks can set a speaker's mood and character. In the following excerpt from Sir Launfal, Laskaya and Salisbury use the exclamation mark generously to depict Guenevere's anger at being rejected by the knight as well as her self-willed personality:
Sche seyde, "Fy on the, thou coward!
Anhongeth worth thou hye and hard!
That thou ever were ybore!
That thou lyvest, hyt is pyté!
Thou lovyst no woman, ne no woman the —
Thou were worthy forlore!"
She said, "Fie on thee, you coward! You are worth hanging high and hard! [Alas] that you were ever born! That you live is a pity! You deserve to be destroyed!" (685-90)26
While editors become part poet when handling manuscripts, they also become part commentator when glossing. In his discussion of Chaucer's attitude towards glossing, Watts notes that the poet distinguishes "between a text and an interpretive account of the text"27 and that his Parson suggests an "easy separation of gloss from text,"28 but that in the Book of the Duchess Chaucer also "allows that the gloss and text cannot be so readily separated; the gloss informs both the shape and the meaning of the text and thereby becomes an inextricable part of what the text is."29 Generally, Chaucer's characters offer interpretive glossing of text, but Watts' (and Chaucer's) observations also recall textual glossing. Though the two modes differ, they also have much in common. Like the function of interpretive glossing noted by Watts, word glossing "serves as an interpretive tool for revealing truth rather than as an impediment to honest inquiry."30
The relationship of gloss and commentary to text is discussed within a variety of critical theories like those of Derrida and Bakhtin, but even to a non-theorist it is clear that both become part of the text and set its direction. As Remein notes of commentary, glossing participates in the poem.31 His vision that "the foothold between poem and commentary, reality and dream . . . stands to be worn down so there is an incalculable commerce and indeed substantial mixing between the two regions of writing"32 can also be applied to glossing. However, as a poet his inquiry is whether his work begins as poem or commentary,33 whereas the work of glossing is performed on and becomes part of an extant text, and the reader must depend on editorial definition and clarification, which can determine interpretation.
In his Introduction to Volume 2 of Glossator regarding commentary, Dobran opens with a quote from Nietzsche that is also relevant to textual glossing: it demands "one thing above all: to go inside, to take time, to become still, to become slow."34 Conscientious glossing requires patience and often creeps along in search of meaning—hours, perhaps days to decipher a line or two of text, which depends on a single word, phrase or tangled syntax. Dobran continues Nietzsche's thoughts about the "model of devotion" that involves intimacy with the text and approaching obscurity with curiosity and research which "approximate a rough ethics of thinking the text, rather than about the text as a completed or completable event."35
An editor who does not "think inside the text" can become a "false friend" by misinterpreting and misrepresenting a work. All texts, including creative and documentary, are subject to interpretation by reader, editor and critic, and scribes when working with manuscripts. It is sometimes said that one cannot completely recreate or reenter the medieval mindset, but to properly gloss a text from another time and place the editor should attempt to work within context, which includes the author's intent, and the culture in which the work was created and is therefore embedded in the text. Otherwise, the glossed text will represent modern thought and meaning rather than that of the original. Watts' observation that "glossing can both conceal and reveal and it can both open and close a text"36 refers to the Wife of Bath's interpretive glossing but fits textual glossing as well.
This applies to concepts as well as words, phrases, punctuation and other editorial matters. Historical data presented in notes is helpful, as is reference to cultural custom and ideology. But frequently concepts have passed beyond modern perspective and experience. A good example is trouthe, which the modern reader would first read as "truth." There are sixteen definitions in the MED; among the most prominent are fidelity; a promise, pledge, oath; honor; integrity; adherence to plighted word; honesty; sincerity, veracity; and moral soundness. Though listed separately, in the medieval mind most of the aspects of trouthe were interrelated. Some are valued today as a measure of character and trust but are no longer the cornerstone that bound medieval society and economy.
The loss of faith in trouthe began as personal oaths and service as the bases of the lord/vassal relationship were replaced by a money economy, especially after the onset of the Plague (1348-49). As Chaucer laments, "Somtyme the world was so stedfast and stable / That mannes word was obligacioun" but "now it is so fals and deceivable" in word and deed that the world is "turned up-so-doun" (Lak of Stedfastnesse 1-5).37 This extended to all interpersonal relationships, as voiced by the author of Ywain and Gawain: "trowth, and luf, es al bylaft" ("truth and love are all lost"; 35).38 Thus glossing trouthe or its variants and forms as "truth," loyalty," "oakthkeeping" and other meanings, while appropriate in context, fails to encompass the concept as perceived by the medieval.
As mentioned in the beginning of this essay, these observations can be applied to literature of many other time periods, cultures and languages, and for general interest, critical and translation work. The more familiar readers and scholars are with textual glossing and related editorial practices, the better their experience and appreciation of a text will be. Awareness of faulty glossing can lead to frustration but also to linguistic adventures.
1 The TEAMS Middle English Texts Series is published by Medieval Institute Publications at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
2 Middle English covers a long range of time, from approximately 1100 to 1500, and underwent extensive development. Early Middle English is considerably less recognizable (and more difficult) from that of the later period, on which this study focuses.
3 Sir Tryamour, Four Middle English Romances: Sir Isumbras, Octavian, Sir Eglamour of Artois, Sir Tryamour, ed. Harriet Hudson (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996). Henceforth cited as ST. All citations from Sir Tryamour are from this edition unless otherwise noted.
4 Definitions of modern English are from the Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary.
5 Havelok, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995).
6 Jennifer Fellows, ed., Sir Tryamour, Of Love and Chivalry: An Anthology of Middle English Romance (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1993) 304.
7 In their study of Latin manuscript glossing, Clemens and Graham explain that early glosses (before they became increasingly complex from the twelfth century onwards), offered simple explanations for words and phrases. One type of gloss, the suppletive, "might note the noun to which demonstrative or relative pronouns referred" (39). Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007). This practice is done only infrequently in modern Middle English editions.
8 Sir Amadace, ed. Edward E. Foster (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997).
9 Although nudity is not common in Middle English romance, there are poems in which women appear partially undressed, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Launfal.
10 Sir Gowther, The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).
11 Watts sees Jean's Roman "as a text which provides its own gloss" and its "mingling of text and gloss" as influencing Chaucer's poetic practice. William Watts, "Glossing as a Mode of Literary Production: Post-Modernism in the Middle Ages," Essays in Medieval Studies 8 (1991): 62.
12 Ibid. 61.
13 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987).
14 John H. Fisher, ed., The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977).
15 Watts 61.
17 James Orchard Halliwell, ed., The Romance of Syr Tryamour (London: The Percy Society, 1846. Rpt. LaVergne, TN: Legacy Printing, 2011) 59n.
18 A. J. Erdman Schmidt, ed., Syr Tryamowre: A Metrical Romance (Utrecht: Broekhoff, 1937).
19 J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Translating Beowulf," The Monsters and the Critics, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins, 1997) 54.
21 Ibid. 55.
22 Stephen H. A. Shepherd, ed., Ywain and Gawain, Middle English Romances (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995).
23 Fellows 305.
24 Stephen H. A. Shepherd, ed., Sir Orfeo, Middle English Romances (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995) 174n.
25 The two earlier editions, The Romance of Syr Tryamoure, ed. J. O. Halliwell (London, 1846) and Syr Tryamowre: A Metrical Romance, ed. Anna Johanna Erdman Schmidt (Utrecht, 1937), are not divided into stanzas.
26 Sir Launfal, The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).
27 Watts 59.
28 Ibid. 60.
30 Ibid. 61.
31 Daniel C. Remein, "New Work: A Prosimetrum," Glossator Vol 1 (2009): 115.
32 Ibid. 92.
33 Ibid. 90.
34 Ryan Dobran, "Introduction," Glossator Vol. 2 (2010): 1.
36 Watts 64.
37 Geoffrey Chaucer, "Lak of Stedfastnesse," The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987).
38 Ywain and Gawain, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995).