Dame Sirith is often discussed as the earliest Middle English comic narrative. I argue that this designation is misleading: Dame Sirith is better considered as a distinct representative of a well-developed multilingual tale tradition. This tradition descends from an exemplum in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina clericalis. When considered in the context of its French and Latin analogues, Dame Sirith shows consistent features that recast its central tensions as an opposition between ecclesiastical and mercantile values. In the poem’s use of the rich Middle English term “wis,” the Dame Sirith-poet emphasizes this tension between church and market in a manner consistent with fabliau verbal play.


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