« AnteriorContinuar »
people in the time of Chaucer, with the exclusion of those glimpses afforded by the poet himself. A detailed account of Tim Gest of Robin Hood, John th-e Reeve, and other outlaw ballads, might therefore be out of place. It is otherwise with the Tale of Gamelyn, which has been handed down as an appendix to Chaucer's poems, and may once have been copied by him for the purpose of adapting it for the Canterbury Tales.1 This tale, the handiwork of some unknown minstrel, whose speech bewrayeth him as of the Eastern Midlands, occupies a place midway between the Anglicised romance and the popular ballad. On it is founded, indirectly and through Lodge, As You Like It.
A good old knight, a-dying, is much troubled about his property He has three sons, the eldest of whom The Taie of is a villain. In his need he sends for Gauieiyn. certain wise knights to aid in dividing the estate, and he adjures them particularly not to forget his youngest son, Gamelyn. For some reason the advisers ignore this injunction; but the old knight reproves them, and soon after gives up the ghost. The presentiments of the old man are now realised. The heir treats his brother scurvily. He gives him bad food to eat and wretched clothing to put on, and suffers his possessions to go to ruin. Gamelyn takes it all meekly, until one day he objects to be called "gadelyng." His brother orders him to be beaten, but the boy espies a "pestel" or staff under a wall, and seizing it, assumes the offensive against the serving-men. The heir himself, a miserable coward, flies for safety to a loft, whence he refuses to come down whilst the staff remains in Gamelyn's hand. Moreover, he promises to restore the land his father bequeathed Gamelyn, and to put everything in order. An apparent reconciliation follows, but the knight meditates treason.
1 In the Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by Richard Morris, LL. D., and published by George Bell & Sons, it is printed as The Cokes Tale of Gamelyn, but Dr Skeat has decided that the title is a later addition. (Clarendon Press edition, iii. 399.)
Not far from the castle a wrestling was cried, the prize consisting of a ram and a ring. Gamelyn asks permission to attend, and permission is granted in the hope that he may get his neck broken. Instead of that, the young man throws the champion, and on the morrow returns with a great rout. His brother, seeing this, tells the porter to lock the gate. Gamelyn forces it open, kills the porter, and flings his body into a well seven fathoms deep. He entertains his friends right royally, emptying in the process his brother's cellar; and on the eighth day the guests depart. The knight now comes out of hiding, and declares he will be forsworn unless Gamelyn allows himself to be bound hand and foot for throwing the porter into the well. Gamelyn consents, and forthwith the knight pretends that he is mad. After that the unnatural brother makes a feast for high and low; and there arrive, among others, abbots and priors, monks and canons. Gamelyn appeals to them for help, but the reverend guests answer him roughly. However, he wins over Adam the cellarer; and the pair, having furnished themselves with staves, serve the men of Holy Church much as Ulysses served the suitors. The monks conclude that it had been better for them had they dined at home on bread and water.
The sheriff, five miles away, is informed how Gamelyn and Adam have broken the king's peace, and sends a large party to arrest them. Forewarned, they betake themselves to the forest, where, hungry and thirsty, they light on a band of young outlaws dining. The "king" inquires their business, and Gamelyn explains
"He nioste needes walke in woode that may not walkc in towne."
He is made free of their company; and when the "king," having been pardoned, departs, Gamelyn succeeds to his place. Meanwhile the knight has been appointed sheriff, and Gamelyn is cried "wolf's head." Thereupon, outlaw as he is, he marches boldly into the moot-hall and reproaches his vile kinsman. For his pains he is cast into prison. But now another brother, Sir Ote, appears and goes bail for him. Gamelyn returns to the forest to see how his merry men fare, and, at the proper time, presents himself before the judge. The case, however, has been already heard, and Sir Ote sentenced to be hanged. But all is not over. With the help of his comrades, the outlaw-king seats himself in the judge's place, and the proceedings are reversed. Judge, jury, and sheriff are condemned and executed, no mercy being shown to the false knight, though he pleads hard for it. For love of Sir Ote, the real king forgives Gamelyn this outrage, and makes him chief justice of his forest.
English folk-song is cheerful and gay, answering to
the prosperous condition of the rising middle-class.
8cottish Langland mentions the burden, Trolliloli,
balladt. well known l&ter, as sung .<at t)ie ale»
Scottish minstrelsy, on the other hand, partakes of that "dour" quality which might else have been traced to Knox and the Reformation, and which certainly reached its acme in the Whigs. The earliest northern songs known to us, at any rate in writing, are those mocking ditties exchanged between Scot and Southron over the walls of Berwick, during the memorable siege, and preserved by the contemporary Pierre de Langtoft. Similar verses in disdain of the English, sung by the lassies after the battle of Bannockburn, have been handed down by Fabian. Seeing, however, that his chronicle was first published about 1500, absolute confidence cannot be placed in the text. Again, Barbour, about the year 1378, alludes to popular songs in honour of the Bruce. Considerations like these led Bishop Percy, and, after him, Sir Walter Scott, to fix on the Scottish border as the primitive home of the ballad; but the conjecture can only be endorsed with reference to the particular sort describing the warlike occupations and stirring deeds of the Border folk.
The original metre of the ballad seems to be, on the accentual system of scansion, a couplet consistiug of two members, of which the first has four and the second three accents, and exhibiting a mixture of alliteration and rhyme. The Carolingian romance, Ferumbras, is partly composed in this metre, with the addition of middlerhymes. This last innovation led to the two long lines being broken up into four short ones, rhyming abab. In some old ballads, however, like the Battle of Otterboum, recast in accordance with the later fashion, the alteration was not consistently carried out, and we get stanzas like the following:—
"Sir Harry Perssy cam to the walks,
Yet another variety evolved out of the septenarian couplet is that which has two lines of four accents, followed by one of three accents. This being repeated produces the-six-lined stanza so common in romance and parodied in Sir Tlwpas. The Tale of Gamelyn is in lines of four accents arranged in pairs, but the versification is extremely rough.
I have not been careful to distinguish between folksong and town-verse—as regards, at least, the inclusion of both subjects in the same chapter — because the dividing line between gentry and commons was much sharper than that between any sections of the commons themselves. Indeed, at this period the middle-class was, for literary purposes, only just coming into existence. Its nativity was signalised, partly by the spoiling (in a twofold sense) of the literary treasures of the gentlefolks, and partly by the exhibition of hatred and jealousy towards superiors. It was in northern France that these unainiable feelings obtained their fullest and most rancorous expression.