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4 - A Failure to Communicate: Multilingualism in the Prologue to Of Arthour and of Merlin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 May 2021

Susanna Fein
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Kent State University.
A. S. G. Edwards
Affiliation:
Professor of Medieval Manuscripts, School of English, University of Kent
Helen Phillips
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Cardiff University
Derek Pearsall
Affiliation:
Professor Emeritus of English, Harvard University, Honorary Member, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York
Cathy Hume
Affiliation:
Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University, Illinois.
Ralph Hanna
Affiliation:
Emeritus Professor of Palaeography, University of Oxford
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Summary

SCHOLARSHIP on the French of England has recently explored the relationship between English and French during the Hundred Years War. However, the period of escalating political tension between England and France from the War of Saint-Sardos to the start of the Hundred Years War (1323–37) has received comparatively little attention. The Auchinleck manuscript (Edinburgh, NLS, MS Advocates 19. 2. 1), compiled during this time of strain between France and England, remains notable as a nearly monolingual manuscript. Previous studies have seen its high volume of Middle English texts as indicative of an increased demand for works in English. Rather than being written in English for its own sake, however, the Prologue to the Auchinleck romance Of Arthour and of Merlin is written in English while communicating anxiety over a perceived loss of French. The Prologue depicts French as a means to avoid needless bloodshed before the Hundred Years War, and it helps reveal a militaristic shift in England's perception of French after that war began.

The Prologue to Of Arthour and of Merlin

The Auchinleck Prologue to Of Arthour and of Merlin does not appear in any other extant copies of the romance, and it might have been added to appeal to the specific tastes of a patron. If the Prologue is an original creation for the Auchinleck manuscript, it would not be the only text adapted to fit the desires of the manuscript's compilers. The Prologue's poetic style is noticeably different from the text that follows, and it makes no specific reference to the romance Of Arthour. In fact, the Prologue concerns itself more with education than with the following text. As a space that primes readers’ or listeners’ expectations, the Prologue indicates the romance's intended audience and contributes to our understanding of the book's understood readership. Although scholars have examined questions of audience for Of Arthour, they have not considered in detail its prologue's association between knowing French and Latin and enacting the reduction of violence:

Childer tat ben to boke ysett

In age hem is miche te bett

For tai mo witen and se

Miche of Godes priuete

Hem to kepe and to ware

Fram sinne and fram warldes care,

And wele ysen ȝif tai willen

Tat hem no tarf neuer spillen –

Auauntages tai hauen tare

Freynsch and Latin eueraywhare. (lines 9–18)

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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