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  • Humor and Humoralism:Representing Bodily Experience in the Prologue of the Siege of Thebes

John Lydgate's early fifteenth-century Siege of Thebes is best known for its Prologue's continuation of The Canterbury Tales, in which it depicts its author meeting up with the pilgrims in Canterbury. Critics have disagreed, however, as to whether the Prologue represents a cheerful but heavy-handed tribute to Chaucer, or a less-than-amicable attempt to appropriate some of Chaucer's literary reputation by imitating his style. Thus, for John Ganim, Lydgate "has acknowledged his debt by virtually becoming a character of Chaucer," whereas for A. C. Spearing, a more rivalrous Lydgate "kill[s] Chaucer," "in order to live as a poet."1 This discussion has subsequently taken on ethical as well as aesthetic dimensions, with Scott-Morgan Straker's claim that "Lydgate establishes his authority as much by distancing himself from Chaucer's dubious morality as by associating himself with Chaucer's vernacular poetic."2 However, amid these varied positions on the relationship of the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, there has been little appreciation of the significance of Lydgate's body humor. Straker touches upon "the moral authority that Lydgate represents physically in the prologue" without further elaboration, and Lee Patterson comments that "in the Prologue Lydgate corrects what he would have seen as the Chaucerian misrepresentation of monasticism in The Canterbury Tales," without fleshing out, as it were, the details of Lydgate's act of "correction."3 Although John Bowers acknowledges more [End Page 458] directly the Prologue's jokes about bodily functions and gratifications, his conclusion—that the Prologue justifies, among other deviations from monastic tenets, the "personal comfort" of the author—does not take into account the critical agenda embedded in the Prologue's vulgar body humor.4 Both Bowers and Patterson have argued that the Prologue responds to an attempt by Henry V to reform the Benedictine Order. Whether or not the Prologue relates specifically to the process initiated by Henry, the critique implicit in the Prologue's body humor or, more specifically, its preoccupation with eating and digestion is most coherent when the Prologue is understood as a rebuttal of contemporary secular criticism of the Benedictines, articulated through a dialogue with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Neither Bowers nor Patterson addresses how the sheer crassness of the Prologue's humor is integral to this project, and Straker's alternative interpretation of Lydgate's critical agenda makes no reference to the comedy associated with Lydgate the Pilgrim's physicality.5

This absence has little to do with Lydgate, Chaucer, or the historical circumstances of composition, but much to do with the significance attributed to bodies in literary texts. There is widespread interest in bodies in Middle English literary criticism, but despite recent insightful scholarship into bodily matters—most notably for this discussion, in the form of reappraisals of scatological references—the subject of the consuming body remains relatively underexplored, pun intended.6 Susan Signe Morrison, [End Page 459] referring to Bryan Turner, points out a tendency, not limited to literary studies, for "recent attention to the body [to be] impatient with the material body, rendering it 'dematerialized by feminist, linguistic, and psychoanalytic theory.'"7 This insight can be usefully extended to include a consideration of the concept of self that informs the body and its symbolic associations in each of these discourses. Ian Burkitt argues that the modern experience of the self is split, along Cartesian lines, between the body and a sense of mind, rationality, or identity that is experienced as separate or "disembodied."8 This opposition reduces the body to the status of an unknowing machine, effectively depriving it of any capacity for agency. As a result, according to Burkitt, we do not habitually, or easily, attribute profound or higher meaning to the physical body itself, an argument that is also applicable to literary constructions of bodies, especially those exhibiting supposedly "base" desires and functions. This is relevant to the bodies represented in Middle English narratives because the split articulated by Burkitt shapes critical appraisals of body symbolism produced in this earlier historical moment. The critical debate around Lydgate's Prologue exemplifies how the hierarchization of mind and body of some critical approaches obfuscates medieval textual strategy.

The work of Morrison and Peter J. Smith has begun to address such unproductive dichotomies, but the humor of this text is not limited to scatology: the challenge, therefore, for a critical reading of the body humor of the Prologue is to resist reducing humor relying upon the consuming body to examples of an ill-judged foray into Chaucerian low style, and nothing more. The challenge, that is, is to remove Lydgate "forcibly from the Chaucerian shade," as Lisa Cooper puts it, in order to appreciate the complexity of embodiment and discursive interplay in his writing.9 The Prologue's carefully assembled pastiche of references to The Canterbury Tales participates in an almost paradoxical relationship between embodiment and textuality, where virtually every description of the physical self is either a literal fulfilment or a negation of a text or discourse whose authority is consequently affirmed or contested. Far from trivializing bodily matters, the Prologue's body humor not only bears the responsibility of upholding monastic authority; it also cautions a secular audience to distance itself from interference in matters monastic or risk identification with the boorish intrusiveness of Lydgate's Host. [End Page 460]

Such interference was epitomized when widespread criticism of laxity within the Benedictine order came to something of a head in the spring of 1421, when Henry V wrote to the abbot of Bury St. Edmunds to request that he convene a general chapter of the Benedictine order in England to be held in Westminster early in May.10 At this meeting on 7 May 1421, presided over by the abbot of Bury, the King's critical opening address, "providing striking testimony of the extent to which the secular power could now exercise authority over the Church within its domains," sought a return by the order to its foundational principles.11 Henry left England in 1421 and died in France in 1422, depriving the process of further momentum. Lydgate numbered Henry among his patrons, and Bury St. Edmunds was his own House; the Lydgate of the Prologue introduces himself as "Monk of Bery."12 Given, therefore, his relationships with both the king and the institution whose abbot was tasked with organizing the order to face the latter's criticisms, it is not inconceivable that Lydgate's reworking of The Canterbury Tales engages not only with a literary forebear but also with a topical and personally significant debate.

Because of uncertainty over the date of completion of the Siege of Thebes as a whole, however, objections have been made to the relevance of Henry's reforms to the Prologue.13 The timing of the text's composition, which coincides or at least occurs in close temporal proximity with significant events in England's war with France, has generated discussion about its potential historical referentiality. Based on an unidentified French prose redaction of the twelfth-century Roman de Thèbes, Lydgate's Siege, some 4,540 lines long, narrates the rise and fall of the city of Thebes from its foundation by King Amphioun through the unstable and at times treacherous succession of his lineage (namely, Edippus and his twin sons).14 It culminates in the siege of the city that brings about the death and downfall [End Page 461] of virtually all involved, regardless of their ethical rectitude or culpability, and seems to have been written with Chaucer's Knight's Tale in mind, as it leaves off where that tale begins.15 James Simpson detects in the Siege of Thebes, as he does in the Troy Book, "a powerfully anti-militarist voice that pictures itself in terms its audience cannot avoid . . . not the voice of Christian morality, but rather of prudential wisdom arguing extreme caution in committing a nation to the hazards of war, mainly because it will end badly."16 Patterson and Straker both find significance in the uncommissioned status of the work; although their conclusions differ, both see the text as addressing Lydgate's "poetic vocation," as expressing his relationship with the Lancastrian regime, or as "a manifesto for the poet's relationship to the political order."17

But there is no compelling reason to assume that the Prologue was completed at the same time as the much longer tale. Indeed, the Prologue offers some internal evidence for its dating, referring to a rare astronomical event occurring in 1421, soon after Henry's initial request for a monastic convention on the question of reform.18 The simplest explanation for this reference is that the event it describes took place while Lydgate was writing. Bowers points out that the Prologue specifically addresses a number of the thirteen articles of complaint formulated on Henry's behalf concerning the laxity of monks.19 Furthermore, Bowers has speculated that the popularity of Chaucer's caricature of a monk was itself potentially a focal point for animus against the Benedictines during this period, a possibility that deserves serious consideration.20 Lydgate's presentation of himself as a character in his own narrative is of course indebted to Chaucer's fictionalization of himself in The General Prologue; however, it is also worth emphasizing that the body of Lydgate the Pilgrim as monk dominates the dynamics of his "Chaucerian" emulation. Thus we find a [End Page 462] confluence, in this short text, of a date significant to the process of reform, many of the topics of Henry's reform, the interest in Chaucer's Monk, and the pointedness of the Prologue's body humor toward issues concerned with monasticism. Straker nevertheless argues that the Prologue makes little sense if read in relation to Henry's drive for reform, claiming that this "historical occasion . . . is too specific for the evidence to support."21 But even if it was not certainly prompted by this particular royal intervention, Lydgate's reworking of The Canterbury Tales coheres into an unapologetic response to antimonastic sentiment.

I argue that the Prologue simultaneously compresses and reorganizes material from three sections of The Canterbury Tales—The General Prologue, The Melibee-Monk's Tale link, and The Nun's Priest's Tale—into a stark dialogue concerned largely with bodies. Where Chaucer's Monk's decadent body symbolizes a complete flouting of the Rule of St. Benedict, Lydgate's Prologue reaffirms the Rule's authority through an obedient body, simultaneously rejecting external (secular) criticism as inappropriate. I will first outline how the Prologue reworks The Canterbury Tales to focus on the monastic corpus: since Lydgate's engagement with The General Prologue has probably received more critical attention than any other single aspect of the poem, I will only touch upon the most pertinent points for understanding the Prologue's body humor before turning in more detail to the other two relevant sections of The Canterbury Tales. I will then examine how the resulting focus on bodies produces not only a declaration of discursive authority but also potentially dispossesses the Prologue's audience of the authority to disagree.

As much as Lydgate "inhabits" the fictional framework created by Chaucer, the reworking of The General Prologue in Lydgate's Prologue also carefully sets Lydgate the Pilgrim-Monk apart from Chaucer's pilgrims, especially Chaucer's Monk.22 While Bowers notes that each detail of Lydgate's self-description also corresponds with one of Henry's criticisms of monastic conduct, Lydgate's insistence on his fictional self's meagre physical state also seems directly to target Chaucer's assertion that the text of the Rule (or the rule of the Text) has become irrelevant to monastic life.23 [End Page 463] Monasticism demands a stringent subjection of the body to the Rule of St. Benedict; Benedictine monks are to "corpus castigare" (chastise the body) and "delicias non amplecti" (not to seek soft living).24 The Benedictine rules on food permit the monks to eat what is necessary to sustain themselves while avoiding distracting, and potentially sinful, physical gratification: "et ut numquam subripiat monacho indigeries; quia nihil sic contrarium est omni christiano quomodo crapula, sicut ait Dominus noster: Videte ne graventur corda vestra crapula" (above all things, however, gluttony must be avoided, so that a monk never be surprised by a surfeit; for there is nothing so unfitting for a Christian as surfeiting, according to our Lord's words: Take heed lest your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting).25 Chaucer's Monk's indulgence in food is so extreme that it supplants the Rule—"The reule of Seint Maure or of Seint Beneit—/ . . . / He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen" (ll. I.173, 177). Physically, the Monk of The General Prologue "was a fair prelaat; / He was nat pale as a forpyned goost. / A fat swan loved he best of any roost" (ll. I.204–6). Lydgate the Pilgrim, however, of "Sclender . . . koyse" and "late fed in a feynt pasture" (ll. 102, 104), could well be described as a "forpyned goost," "That loke so pale al deuoyde of blood" (l. 89). Lydgate responds to Chaucer's Monk's radical deviation from Benedictine tenets through the physical frailty of Lydgate the Pilgrim's body and the worn state of its accoutrements. The fictional Lydgate thus counters Chaucer's derision (and contemporary disapproval, potentially including Henry's criticisms) by embodying the Rule, or making the word flesh.26

The contrast between the two monks (and the critical implications of the Prologue's humor) is intensified by Lydgate's reworking of the link [End Page 464] between Chaucer's Tale of Melibee and The Monk's Tale, the second source of material for his pastiche. The Monk in The General Prologue is represented as an all-around bon vivant; his predilection for eating well is prominent among his lapses, but it constitutes only part of his generally active masculinity. In The Melibee-Monk's Tale link, his sexual prowess is emphasized. Chaucer's Host begins with a general appreciation of the Monk's physical presence, speculating on the sense of entitlement given off by the Monk's demeanor:

I vowe to God, thou hast a ful fair skyn;It is a gentil pasture ther thow goost.Thou art nat lyk a penant or a goost:Upon my feith, thou art som officer,Som worthy sexteyn, or som celerer,For by my fader soule, as to my doom,Thou art a maister whan thou art at hoom;No povre cloysterer, ne no novys,But a governour, wily and wys,And therwithal of brawnes and of bonesA wel farynge persone for the nones.

(ll. VII.1932–42)

What the Host notices in the Monk's comportment here is inappropriate enough, since, as the twelfth degree of humility in Chapter 7 of the Rule states, "si non solum corde monachus, sed etiam ipso corpore humilitatem videntibus se semper indicet" (a Monk should not only be humble of heart, but should also in his behavior always manifest his humility to those who look upon him).27 However, it quickly degenerates further into a meditation on his virility:

I pray to God, yeve hym confusiounThat first thee broghte unto religioun!Thou woldest han been a tredefowel aright,Haddestow as greet a leeve as thou hast myghtTo parfourne al thy lust in engendrure,Thou haddest bigeten ful many a creature.

(ll. VII.1943–48)

Chaucer's Host is unrestrained in his judgment of his new acquaintance and continues in the same vein, musing on the procreative powers of the clergy (ll. VI.1949–62). Yet, nothing in the text suggests that we should doubt the truth of this description; the humor of the Host's admiring words in this exchange rests upon their inappropriateness and their moral impoverishment, rather than their falsity. The Melibee-Monk's Tale link thus not only provides the structure for Lydgate's Host's train of thought, but also suggests (perhaps assisted by the enthusiastic narrative voice of The General Prologue) the limited ethical framework through which his perceptions are interpreted. [End Page 465]

Lydgate's Prologue retains the intrusiveness and inappropriateness of the interpretation of the Monk's body associated with Chaucer's Host in The Melibee-Monk's Tale link, but Lydgate transposes his Host's attention from sex to appetite:

"Daun Iohn," quod he, "wel broke ye youre name!Thogh ye be soul beth right glad and light!Preiyng you soupe with vs to-nyght,And ye shal haue made at youre devisA gret puddyng or a rounde hagys,A Franchemole a tansey or a froyse.To ben a Monk Sclender is youre koyse;Ye han be seke I dar myn hede assure,Or late fed in a feynt pasture.Lift vp youre hed be glad, tak no sorowe!And ye shal hom ride with vs to-morowe!I seye, whan ye rested han your fille.Aftere soper Slepe wol do non ille.Wrappe wel youre hede with clothes rounde about!Strong notty ale wol mak you to route."

(ll. 96–110)

The verbal echo of "feynt pasture" with Chaucer's "gentil pasture," where the respective monks are thought to have been fed, is an obvious allusion to the The Melibee-Monk's Tale link.28 The latter observation by Chaucer's Host conforms to the description in The General Prologue of the well-fed Monk, bringing the narrative voice into alignment with the Host's at this point and intensifying the attention to, and signification of, the pampered, consuming body of Chaucer's Monk. Lydgate's "feynt pasture" alludes directly to The Melibee-Monk's Tale link, but the reference serves to recall—and, I would argue, to conflate—the concurrence of judgment from two separate passages of The Canterbury Tales, one made by the narrative voice and the other by the Host. Lydgate's Host urges Lydgate the Pilgrim to eat rich, meat-based dishes, presumably staples of a "gentil pasture," evoking the preference of the Monk of The General Prologue for roasts, condensing features from these separate passages in a way that emphasizes eating. The "decidedly low-budget menu," as Martha Carlin characterizes the Host's suggestions, intensifies the sense of physical debasement associated with Lydgate's Host.29 The Host sees no moral [End Page 466] implications in the consumption of the foodstuffs that he mentions, just as Chaucer's Host was oblivious to the impropriety of the sexuality that he detected in his Monk.30 Lydgate's Host shares with Chaucer's this ability to see certain "truths" that bodies cannot hide, as well as the lack of inhibition in expressing his judgments of others. Thus, he also sees clearly the poverty ("Thogh youre bridel haue neiþer boos ne belle" [l.85]; "Vpon youre hede a wonder thred-bar hood" [l.90]) and, most importantly for the ensuing jokes about appetite, the physical frailty of his new acquaintance, "That loke so pale al deuoyde of blood." Lydgate is employing here techniques taken directly from Chaucer's Host's assessment of the Monk in The Melibee-Monk's Tale link; while the Host's appraisal may not be incorrect, it misses the point.

While Lydgate the Pilgrim's pale complexion may be due in part to his recent illness (ll. 68–72), it also signifies his status as a pious, studious monk, simply by lacking the more highly colored complexion of one who embraces physical activity and a rich diet. Oblivious to the spiritual valence of Lydgate's pallor, the Host's inference of imbalance takes us below Lydgate's skin: the lack of color that he sees in Lydgate's face introduces a humoral component to this assessment of his new acquaintance. I will briefly outline the broader implications of this introduction of humoral discourse into the Prologue's stratagem of critique before turning to the parallels between the comic use of humoral medicine in The Nun's Priest's Tale and the Host's dispensation of medical advice.

Gail Kern Paster points out that humoralism is usually treated by literary critics as archaic background information rather than as a system of understanding the body that was lived as true in Early Modern Europe, an argument that is also applicable to medieval Europe.31 Paster argues that the activities of the internal body in humoral discourse convey a sense of self that has become opaque to modern readers, for whom medical discourse has been purged of the affective and the ethical.32 One significant implication of this argument is that modern readers need actively to resist imposing a reductive, purely physiological interpretation of humoral discourse on premodern texts. (And, as the author of the Dietary, one of the most widely circulated poems in Middle English, Lydgate is most certainly attuned to the relationship of the ethical with the physiological in this [End Page 467] system of understanding the embodied self.)33 The practice of medicine was tightly intertwined with religious belief in medieval England, but, even so, there were competing ethical perspectives on bodily health. Faye Getz identifies a distinction, dating from antiquity, between medicine as practiced by a professional in return for payment and a philosophical harmonizing of the body with its environment, a conception of medicine that meshed well with Christian ideas of healing.34 Lydgate's pallor in the Prologue belongs to the latter viewpoint; it is appropriate not only for a convalescent but also for a monk living as he should, signifying a spiritually healthy subordination of the body to the soul's requirements. By contrast, the Host's inference of deviation from a secular standard of bodily health, and (as I shall discuss) his subsequent "prescription" for the supposed problem, suggest a mechanistic understanding of the body, indifferent to philosophical or, more explicitly, spiritual harmony. This imposition is rejected by Lydgate the Pilgrim-Monk, for whom this state is, presumably, "normal" according to spiritual calibrations.35 He attempts to counter the Host's perceptions by responding that he is a monk and he has "no shame" (l. 95), but this rejection is not recognized by the Host, whose secular (and, I believe it is implied, therefore inferior) outlook governs his powers of interpretation.

When Lydgate's Host propels his humoral diagnosis of Lydgate the Pilgrim's diet to its logical conclusion, he all but follows it personally down Lydgate's gullet into his stomach and bowels:

Tak a pylow þat ye lye not lowe!Yif nede be Spare not to blowe!To holde wynde, be myn opynyoun,Wil engendre Collikes passiounAnd make men to greuen on her roppys [End Page 468] whan thei han filled her mawes and her croppys.But toward nyght ete some fenel Rede,Annys Comyn, or coriandre sede!

(ll. 111–18)

Despite the change in subject matter, we see reproduced here the clear but inappropriate train of thought on the part of Chaucer's Host that guides his lewd meander from the Monk's qualities of leadership to his sexual potency in The Melibee-Monk's Tale link. There is an analogous logic in this Host's assumption that because Lydgate is a monk, he must also be a glutton, leading the Host to propound the management of the ill effects of a rich diet. The Host's medical advice thus offers further proof of his inability to understand Lydgate's vocation, offering a mechanistic form of humoral therapy for a problem that no obedient Monk should suffer from in the first place.36

While the Host's "prescription" clearly mimics the associative structure of The Melibee-Monk's Tale link, it substitutes as the vehicle for this critique another form of physicality, namely, the consuming body, for the sexuality of Chaucer's text. Whatever the reasons for this shift, given Lydgate's attentive and pointed inclusion of many details from The Canterbury Tales, it would be an odd lapse in strategy if this passage bore no specific reference to Chaucer. As the dispenser of medical advice in a humorous context, Pertelote of The Nun's Priest's Tale offers a potential inspiration for Lydgate's Host, if not an outright allusion.37 This tale makes available Chaucerian material that emphasizes food, digestion, and humoral discourse, the same characteristics that supplant the sexual subject matter of The Melibee-Monk's Tale link. There is a further significant similarity: The Nun's Priest's Tale combines these features with an indictment of misplaced authority.38 Pertelote the hen offers a humoral interpretation of the dream of her Lord Chauntecleer the rooster: [End Page 469]

Swevenes engendren of replecciouns,And ofte of fume and of complecciouns,Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.

(ll. VII.2923–25)

She then offers a consequent prescription of a medical treatment:

For Goddes love, as taak som laxatyf.Up peril of my soule and of my lyf,I conseille yow the beste—I wol nat lye—That bothe of colere and of malencolyeYe purge yow; and for ye shal nat tarie,Though in this toun is noon apothecarie,I shal myself to herbes techen yowThat shul been for youre hele and for youre prow;

Pekke hem up right as they growe and ete hem yn.

(ll. VII.2943–50, 2967)

Robert Pratt has found that much of Pertelote's discourse, as well as Chauntecleer's response, is indebted to Robert Holcot's Super Sapientiam Salomonis, an "entertaining" commentary delivered as lectures at Cambridge in 1334–36.39 Pratt concludes that the two chickens expound comically reworked versions of the juxtaposed interpretations already outlined in Holcot:

To be sure, each debater sometimes quotes out of context, and each simplifies the argument, both by distortion and by free omission of details not relevant to the immediate purpose. But the oppositions, the postures of debate, are already in Holcot's treatise, awaiting Pertelote and Chauntecleer.40

The arguments of each are, as Pratt describes them, generally distorted or poorly grasped by their exponents. The humor arises from the inherent inappropriateness of the agents espousing these learned discourses; by their very natures, inappropriate agents misunderstand and corrupt the materials that they handle. Given the question implicit in Lydgate's Prologue as to who has the authority to evaluate the monastic body, the ineptitude of the debaters in The Nun's Priest's Tale is as significant as the subject matter itself as a potential point of connection.

The culmination of the ironies and incongruities in the debate between the hen and cock is achieved through that gold standard of bodily humor, the scatological joke: "For Goddes love, as taak som laxatyf" (l. VII.2943), Chaucer has Pertelote declare, skillfully fusing the base and the learned aspects of the poem, as well as the verisimilitude and the absurdity with which he is working. If indeed Lydgate has meshed the structure of The Melibee-Monk's Tale link with the humoral content of Pertelote's diagnosis in his Host's unsolicited and unedifying appraisal of Lydgate the [End Page 470] Pilgrim, then this laxative joke, which is the climax of Pertelote's assessment of Chauntecleer, plays a similar structural role to Lydgate's Host's fart joke, which serves as the climax, or nadir, of his advice. In the lines preceding the joke, the Host emulates the status of a physician, advising Lydgate the Pilgrim to cover his head, drink strong ale, and use a pillow in order to sleep well;41 abruptly, but maintaining this authoritative stance, he then encourages him to "blow" and spends five lines expanding upon this theme before suggesting which spices to consume to avoid the condition known as "collikes passioun," a disorder of the part of the bowels that is the most closely aligned with the act of excretion.42 Pertelote similarly spends several lines elaborating on the benefits and practicalities of a purge before advising which medicinal herbs Chauntecleer should consume. In both cases, the conditions and treatments themselves are not being ridiculed; discursive learnedness is reconnected with embarrassing bodily functions with a suddenness that undermines the authority of the would-be diagnostician.

Like Pertelote, Lydgate's Host shows an incongruously learned streak, tailored to demonstrate his intellectual weakness. Where Pertelote's analysis ends with her telling Chauntecleer to go and peck his prescription straight off the plant, the Host's preferred therapies include "Strong notty ale" to make Lydgate the Pilgrim sleep, truly an innkeeper's perspective on the art of physic.43 Lydgate's Host's grasp of the medical properties of the spices that he recommends—"Annys Comyn, or coriandre sede"—is questionable.44 The more important resonance of [End Page 471] the Host's exhortation to consume spices with wine after dinner is that this was the culmination of any rich meal.45 Just as Pertelote brought a chicken's touch to her learned subject matter, the Host's version of humoral medicine is indelibly marked by an innkeeper's outlook on life. Although Lydgate nowhere refers to the Host's profession in the Prologue, his status as an innkeeper in The General Prologue, a provider of bodily gratification, is suggested in Lydgate's Host's emphasis on physical comfort in all respects, even the (pseudo-)medical manipulation of the body in order to escape the consequences of overindulgence (that is, the surfeits that are clearly forbidden by the Rule).46 If The Nun's Priest's Tale informs the Host's speech, then the disjunction between the authority with which the Host endows himself and, to put it bluntly, his stupidity is reinforced, underlined through the echoes of Pertelote in the Host's medical advice.

The critique embedded in the Prologue's seemingly inconsequential jokes about body functions relies on the significance invested in the body by the intersecting and colliding discursive "authorities" of the Benedictine Rule, the learned tradition(s) of humoral theory, the literary talents of Chaucer, and Lydgate's own literary status, bolstered by his vocation. [End Page 472] If Lydgate the Pilgrim-Monk's body articulates fidelity to the ideals of monasticism and resistance to the Host's attempted interference, thereby upholding the Rule's authority, then Lydgate's Host's distortion of that symbolic body represents far more than a blunt imitation of just one of Chaucer's many characters. The Host's lack of discursive authority is inextricable from his preoccupation with the body's digestive processes, an association that constitutes an attempt to deter the poem's audience from embracing clichéd antimonastic sentiment.

Lydgate's Host differs as significantly from Chaucer's as does Lydgate's Monk from Chaucer's. However, where the contrast between the monks is relatively straightforward, Lydgate's Host's "renovation" also results from the compression of the much longer Canterbury Tales into the 176-line Prologue, over seventy lines of which are taken up with the Host's direct speech. Carlin points out that innkeeping was not a low-status profession, but she acknowledges that Chaucer's Host's conduct "degenerate[s]" after The General Prologue.47 While the Host was by no means the lowest ranked of Chaucer's pilgrims, his confused and at times tactless interpretations generated humor by failing to uphold social conventions associated with gentle status. In Lydgate's Prologue, the diversity of pilgrims actually participating in the fiction has been reduced to the Host and Lydgate the Pilgrim. Within this new dynamic, the Host is both the only secular representative and also the sole representative of base behavior. Lydgate's Host is the mouthpiece for Chaucer's fiction, the only voice given to one of Chaucer's creations.48 Chaucer's Host may have been somewhat brash and forceful, but Lydgate's Host is a compendium of Chaucerian prejudice; Lydgate combines Chaucer's Host's inappropriate speculation on the Monk's virility (transposed by Lydgate to appetite) with a variety of "Chaucerian" features that were not in fact associated with the Host in The Canterbury Tales. The insinuations that Chaucer's narrative voice makes about the Monk in The General Prologue are now voiced directly by the Host. The incongruity of Pertelote's medical advice is also replayed by the Host. Even the looming presence of Chaucer's Monk throughout the Prologue is presented as a stereotype existing in Lydgate's Host's imagination rather than as a character in his own right from Chaucer's fiction.49 [End Page 473] Lydgate's Chaucerian Host is no longer one persona among many; he could be described as emblematic of The Canterbury Tales more generally. The Prologue virtually reduces The Canterbury Tales to the Host, and Lydgate's Host, as the representative of Chaucer's literary practice, subjects Lydgate's own literary persona to an erroneous and inappropriate barrage of prejudice. Just as Lydgate's Host has no real authority over the medical discourse that he rehearses, or over Lydgate the Pilgrim-Monk's spiritual vocation, but claims them anyway, the Prologue's response to the unsympathetic treatment of monks in The Canterbury Tales implies that Chaucer's text lacked legitimate authority for its implicit criticisms. Recognizing that Chaucer's Host has a talent for perceiving but misunderstanding, Lydgate compresses the comic, fictional framework of The Canterbury Tales into this one voice, and attempts to turn it back on Chaucer's fiction.

Lydgate's Host is unequivocally declared to be "ful of wynde and bost, / Lich to a man wonder sterne and fers" (ll. 80–81), suggesting both his ability to intimidate and a lack of sensitivity in his dealings with people: as Patterson notes, "unlike Chaucer's Host, whose treatment of the pilgrims varied from jocular familiarity to gallantry and even obsequiousness, Lydgate's is simply overbearing."50 Although this lack of nuance in Lydgate's version of the Host might be attributed to his inferior poetic talents (along the lines of Spearing's argument), the emphasis on the impossibility of dialogue with the Host is coherent when read as a rejection both of Chaucer's representation of monasticism and of the contemporary antimonasticism that draws upon Chaucer's caricature. Lydgate is able to show through the interaction between his fictional persona and the Host—or, more accurately, through the lack thereof—that there is no convincing, effective response to prejudice, or even that it would be undignified to try; his fictionalized self manages very few words indeed in the Prologue. Furthermore, the association of the Host's thinking with excremental bodily functions ("Collikes passioun") articulates a forceful condemnation of both Chaucer's fiction and monasticism's contemporary detractors. That shift in register from the public, social behavior of eating (consumption) to the internal workings of an individual body (digestion and excretion) constitutes a more unpleasant intensification of intrusiveness than do Chaucer's Host's speculations on his Monk's virility. Chaucer's Host's musings on the Monk's sexual prowess, including likening him to a tredefowel, may be undignified, but the equivalent suggestion of animality in the Prologue is substantially more degrading, through the Host's dehumanizing representation of eating as the filling of maws and crops. The choice of vocabulary is strikingly devoid of consideration of [End Page 474] the complex role of food within medieval Christianity.51 Lydgate's Host's descent into Lydgate the Pilgrim's bowels tells us forcefully that the Host does not know where to stop; as if his gastronomic rantings were not enough, he then ignores the boundaries of the inner and outer self and follows his own fantasy about Lydgate's eating habits, and all that they symbolize, right into his interior and (to the Host) unknowable self. This intrusive voice, promulgating a stereotype of monastic appetite, effectively discredits itself.

Up to this point, this reading might give the impression that the Prologue is strident in its rejection of Chaucer's caricature, adopting an unmistakably patronizing stance toward an audience that might hold Chaucer in high regard. However, the very combination of vulgarity and literary allusiveness through which the body is presented in this text serves to render the Prologue's more arrogant undertones into a more palatable offering. Once again, appreciating the complexity of the Host's voice is crucial to understanding this effect. Lydgate's relentlessly boorish Host is a rather déclassé character, and as such, it is implied, his opinions are not worthy of those of more gentle dispositions. The Host's unrefined behavior, especially his vulgar discourse on body functions, is crucial to Lydgate's ability not to offend a potential courtly, or even royal, audience, which could not be expected to identify with his Host's crassness. Notwithstanding Morrison's important point that the excremental should not be simplistically associated with lower-class status, the Prologue's body humor encourages its audience to disengage from criticism of the Benedictines, by presenting antimonastic commonplaces as ignorant and lower-class.52 On the one hand, the Prologue's body humor condemns Chaucer's caricature of monasticism as opinionated, unsubstantiated, and unedifying, unworthy of serious consideration by an audience that regards itself as innately gentle. On the other hand, recognizing the Prologue's attentive allusions to The Canterbury Tales would potentially flatter and reward Lydgate's audience, reinforcing a sense of refinement at a more intellectual level. The Prologue's rejection of criticism of monasticism simultaneously affirms a sense of good breeding and rewards the audience by appealing to its literary sophistication.53 [End Page 475]

Identifying this textual effect brings a new perspective to disagreements over the Prologue's potential for critique of contemporary events. About the Prologue's topicality, Patterson claims,

Put simply, the Prologue to the Siege argues that the king's program to reform the Benedictines is both unwanted and unnecessary: just as the pilgrim Lydgate resists the Host's overbearing directives, so the monastic establishment as a whole needs no political direction in order to perform its traditional functions. Thus Lydgate asserts both compliance with and independence from unreasonable commands.54

Although my own reading of the Prologue's body humor is in general agreement with Patterson's argument, it is difficult to see, as Straker has observed, how Lydgate could possibly get away with such treatment of Henry, if the King was indeed the intended primary audience: "such censure would require astonishing temerity from a poet who is otherwise so diplomatic."55 Nevertheless, Straker's claim that Patterson "reads Lydgate's Host not just as an emblem of secular authority, but as an allegorical representation of Henry V himself" is unjustified; if anything, Patterson is all too vague on how Lydgate's stratagem could have been received by the King.56 Despite his disagreements with Patterson, Straker shares with him the belief that Lydgate, because of his vocation, is confident of his discursive authority over Chaucer.57 The Prologue's low body humor supports this conclusion, as Lydgate the Pilgrim-Monk emerges essentially untouched by the Host's "Chaucerian" barrage. If the Prologue is intended for the king himself, it is a daring stratagem, but not as fraught as Straker asserts. However, the Prologue's belittling of monasticism's critics, which [End Page 476] is achieved by aligning them with the boorish Host, need not be seen as exclusively directed at Henry V; the Prologue seems to defy any "gentle" audience to believe the ignorant rantings of the Host, creating space for an alternative, sophisticated, and ethically superior distance from antimonastic sentiment.58

Close consideration of the consuming body not only within medieval culture but also in contemporary culture is crucial for understanding the complexity of Lydgate's Prologue to the Siege of Thebes. Largely as a result of the limited symbolic significance that we currently assign to eating, critical readings of the text have generally accepted at face value the jokes made by the Prologue's Host about bodily functions—especially excretion, but also the filling of maws and crops—that threaten to reduce their subject to a debased physicality (or, more specifically, animality). The Host's attempted reduction of Lydgate the Pilgrim to a mere bodily cycle of consumption and excretion is itself a critical stratagem, designed to identify and repudiate ignorant and misplaced interference in monastic affairs as precisely that. The very injustice of the Host's narrow interpretation of the body depends upon the availability of alternative, richer, and more complex meanings associated with embodiment in fifteenth-century England. This is most strikingly apparent in the comic use of humoral discourse in the Prologue, which registers competing medieval viewpoints on the body's capacity for spiritual experience. However, while it is inarguably desirable to attend to more sophisticated medieval notions of the body in order to realize more fully the text's symbolic potential, it must also be said that the crudeness of the Prologue's intrusive discussions about appetite and excretion is not obscured from us by a great cultural gulf. The critical difficulties associated with teasing out textual references to the body in the Prologue are indicative of a broader need to cultivate understanding within historically oriented literary criticism of the relationship between embodiment and the literary text. Scrutinizing contemporary as well as medieval discourses on the body's symbolic dimensions can only enrich critical debate. [End Page 477]

Melissa Raine
School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

Footnotes

1. John M. Ganim, Style and Consciousness in Middle English Narrative (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), p. 10; A. C. Spearing, "Lydgate's Canterbury Tales: The Siege of Thebes and Fifteenth-Century Chaucerianism," in Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays, ed. Robert F. Yeager (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1984), p. 359.

2. Scott-Morgan Straker, "Deference and Difference: Lydgate, Chaucer, and the Siege of Thebes," Review of English Studies, 52 (2001), 5. While I agree with this statement, the reading offered here differs markedly from Straker's.

3. Straker, "Deference and Difference," p. 8; Lee Patterson, "Making Identities in Fifteenth-Century England: Henry V and John Lydgate," in New Historical Literary Study: Essays on Reproducing Texts, Representing History, ed. Jeffrey N. Cox and Larry J. Reynolds (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), p. 100, n. 29.

4. John M. Bowers, "Controversy and Criticism: Lydgate's Thebes and the Prologue to Beryn," Chaucer Yearbook, 5 (1998), 99. Bowers argues that the Prologue represents a retrospective granting of secular approval and an understanding of lapses already committed by the historical Lydgate: "[Lydgate] uses the Host as a voice of secular opinion to ventriloquize permission for actions already taken, exemptions already exploited, and dispensations already transformed by Lydgate into a lifestyle of mobility, personal comfort and social-climbing ambition" (p. 99).

5. Robert Meyer-Lee points out the emphasis on the physical body in Lydgate's "indirect self-portrait" without addressing the Host's reaction to this presentation. "Lydgate's Laureate Prose," in John Lydgate: Poetry, Culture, and Lancastrian England, ed. Larry Scanlon and James Simpson (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2006), p. 38.

6. For recent work on scatological humor in Middle English, see Susan Signe Morrison, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer's Fecopoetics, The New Middle Ages (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); and Peter J. Smith, Between Two Stools: Scatology and Its Representations in English Literature, Chaucer to Swift (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2012). Consumption is gaining attention in Lydgate studies: see Lisa H. Cooper, "'His guttys wer out shake': Illness and Indigence in Lydgate's Letter to Gloucester and Fabula duorum mercatorum," Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 30 (2008), 303–34; Andrea Denny-Brown, "Lydgate's Golden Cows: Appetite and Avarice in Bycorne and Chychevache," in Lydgate Matters: Poetry and Material Culture in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Lisa H. Cooper and Denny-Brown, The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 35–56; Christine F. Cooper Rompato, "Stuck in Chichevache's Maw: Digesting the Example of (Im)Patient Griselda in John Lydgate's 'A Mumming at Hertford' and 'Bycorne and Chychevache,'" in At the Table: Metaphorical and Material Cultures of Food in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Timothy J. Tomasik and Juliann M. Vitullo (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), pp. 73–92.

7. Morrison, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages, p. 2.

8. Ian Burkitt, Bodies of Thought: Embodiment, Identity and Modernity (London: Sage, 1999). Although there are more recent contributions to concepts of embodied subjectivity, Burkitt's Bodies of Thought remains one of the most concise and compelling critiques of Cartesianism in a burgeoning field. Simon J. Williams and Gillian Bendelow, The Lived Body: Sociological Themes, Embodied Issues (London: Routledge, 1998), also provides a useful discussion of the devaluation of the body since Descartes.

9. Cooper, "'His guttys wer out shake,'" p. 314.

10. M. G. A. Vale, Henry V: The Conscience of the King (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2016), pp. 193–97, offers a particularly useful account of these events. See also Patterson, "Making Identities," p. 93; and Martin Heale, "The Monk," in Historians on Chaucer: The 'General Prologue' to the Canterbury Tales, ed. S. H. Rigby and A. J. Minnis (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 152–53.

11. Vale, Henry V, p. 195.

12. Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, ed. Axel Erdmann and Eilert Ekwall, EETS e.s., 108, 125, 2 vols. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1911, 1930), I, l. 93. All citations from the Prologue are from this edition. Subsequent citations are given parenthetically.

13. Believing that the Siege of Thebes was completed before Henry's death are Paul Strohm, "Hoccleve, Lydgate and the Lancastrian Court," in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 640–61 (esp. p. 651); and Lee Patterson, "Making Identities," p. 74. James Simpson disagrees: "'Dysemol daies and Fatal houres': Lydgate's Destruction of Thebes and Chaucer's Knight's Tale," in The Long Fifteenth Century: Essays for Douglas Gray, ed. Helen Cooper and Sally Mapstone (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 15–33. However, the much shorter Prologue is not specifically implicated in any of these arguments.

14. Erdman and Ekwall, eds., Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, II, 6, 10–14.

15. See Stephanie Trigg, Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern, Medieval Cultures (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 92.

16. James Simpson, "John Lydgate," in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Literature, 1100–1500, ed. Larry Scanlon (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009), p. 211.

17. Patterson, "Making Identities," p. 74 (see his discussion on pp. 74–75); Straker, "Deference and Difference," p. 2 (see also p. 39).

18. The astronomic event took place on 27 April 1421, and is discussed in Johnstone Parr, "Astronomical Dating for Some of Lydgate's Poems," PMLA, 73 (1952), 463–74. Henry requested that a convention on the topic of reform be held at the beginning of May of that year (Bowers, "Controversy and Criticism," p. 94).

19. Bowers, "Controversy and Criticism," pp. 95–97; see also John M. Bowers, ed., The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions, TEAMS Middle English Texts (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992), pp. 11, 20. Martin Heale, "The Monk," makes a similar observation (p. 152).

20. As Bowers puts it, "because the Canterbury Tales quickly became a staple of the literary culture created by the Lancastrian regime, it is even conceivable that his satiric caricature of the Monk contributed to Henry V's sudden concern for laxity among the Benedictines" ("Controversy and Criticism," p. 95).

21. Straker, "Deference and Difference," p. 14. Note that Straker does not refer to John Bowers's detailed discussion of the relationship between the Prologue and Henry's articles for reform.

22. Straker also observes that "the way in which Lydgate portrays both himself and Chaucer's pilgrims distances him from Chaucer's anticlericalism" ("Deference and Difference," p. 2).

23. Lydgate's rusty bridle and skinny horse (ll. 74–75) appear to be direct responses to Chaucer's Monk's stable, containing "Ful many a deyntee hors," and his bridle, which could be heard "Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere / And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle" (ll. I.168, 170–71), The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). All citations of Chaucer are from this edition. Subsequent citations will be made in the text. As Bowers notes, the second article of Henry's criticisms addresses decoration on horses ("Controversy and Criticism," p. 96). It also decries extravagant livery on servants; considering Lydgate the Pilgrim's dress (l. 73) and his single servant's empty purse (l. 74), humble dress for his man is implicit here. Chaucer's Monk's clothing, "his sleves purfiled at the hond / With grys" (ll. I.193–94), and the gold pin with a love knot fastening his hood, contrasts very much with Lydgate the Pilgrim's simple garb. The subject of the fifth of Henry's Articles is elaborate clothing (Bowers, "Controversy and Criticism," p. 96). As to their comparative financial states, Chaucer's Monk kept "grehoundes" to service his passion for hunting, "for no cost wolde he spare" (ll. I.190, 192). Lydgate the Pilgrim's purse is empty, as it should be. The eleventh article criticized "monks who left their cloister to seek outside amusements of exactly the sorts lampooned by Chaucer" (Bowers, "Controversy and Criticism," p. 95), and article four objects to monks possessing money of their own (Bowers, "Controversy and Criticism," p. 97). Lydgate is also perhaps responding more generally to the disrespect shown by Chaucer's monk for his order's Rule: "The reule of Seint Maure or of Seint Beneit—/ By cause that it was old and somdel streit / This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace, / And heeld after the newe world the space" (ll. I.173–76).

24. The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, ed. and trans. Justin McCann (London: Burns Oates, 1952), pp. 26–27. Chapter 4 of the Rule also includes "non vinolentum" (not a wine-bibber) and "non multum edacem" (not a glutton) among the tools of good works (Rule, ed. and trans. McCann, pp. 28–29).

25. Rule, ed. and trans. McCann, pp. 94–97, emphasis in original.

26. Straker states that "Lydgate's self-portrait carefully inverts Chaucer's description of Piers the Monk in The General Prologue" ("Deference and Difference," p. 6).

27. Rule, ed. and trans. McCann, pp. 46–47.

28. Denny-Brown argues that the prominence of food and consumption in Lydgate's Bycorne and Chychevache are pointedly concerned with "matter itself and how a good Christian . . . negotiates the innate human appetite that comes with a material body" ("Lydgate's Golden Cows," p. 46, emphasis Denny-Brown's). It could be argued that in the Prologue there is a similar interest in the negotiation of appetite, which in the case of the monastic body is achieved through adherence to the Rule.

29. Martha Carlin, "'What Say You to a Piece of Beef and Mustard?': The Evolution of Public Dining in Medieval and Tudor London," Huntington Library Quarterly, 1 (2008), 209. Meat consumption is restricted to sick monks in the Rule (see Rule, ed. and trans. McCann, pp. 90–91).

30. Bowers does not consider these foods to be inappropriate; see "Controversy and Criticism," p. 97. However, the humor of the passage relies precisely on their association with indulgence and surfeiting.

31. Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and The Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), p. 6.

32. Paster, Body Embarrassed, pp. 6–7. For the historical process that renders medieval understandings of the body distinct from but also forerunners to modern attitudes toward embodiment, see Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

33. On the circulation of Lydgate's Dietary, see Melissa Raine, "Searching for Emotional Communities in Late Medieval England," in Emotions and Social Change: Historical and Sociological Perspectives, ed. David Lemmings and Ann Brooks, Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought, 89 (New York: Routledge, 2014), pp. 65–81. See also Julie Orlemanski, "Thornton's Remedies and the Practices of Medical Reading," in Robert Thornton and His Books: Essays on the Lincoln and London Thornton Manuscripts, ed. Susanna Fein and Michael Johnston (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 2014), pp. 251–55; and Jake Walsh Morrissey, "'To Al Indifferent': The Virtues of Lydgate's 'Dietary,'" Medium Aevum, 84 (2015), 258–78.

34. Faye Getz, "To Prolong Life and Promote Health: Baconian Alchemy and Pharmacy in the English Learned Tradition," in Health, Disease and Healing in Medieval Culture, ed. Sheila Campbell, Bert Hall, and David Klausner (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), pp. 141–51, esp. p. 143.

35. This distinction is more clearly maintained in Lydgate's Dietary, where medical practitioners are disparaged in favor of a regime of daily physical and ethical self-management: "This resceyte bought is at no poticarye, / Of master Antony nor of master hewe, / To all indifferent þe rycheste dietary." Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, ed. Rossell Hope Robbins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), p. 76, ll. 78–80. See also Faye Getz, Medicine in the English Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 59–60.

36. For Cooper, Lydgate in both the Letter to Gloucester and Fabula duorum mercatorum "mines medical treatises for what effectively become commercial puns" ("'His guttys wer out shake,'" p. 319), where the search for medically defined forms of excess is shown to be the futile opposite of what is needed. Lydgate's strategy in the Prologue also focuses on humoral discourse only to dismiss its appropriateness to the problem at hand.

37. Straker notes the occurrence of the same proverb in ll. 49–57 of the Prologue and the end of The Nun's Priest's Tale ("Deference and Difference," pp. 4–5).

38. It is possible that Lydgate the Pilgrim is also meant to suggest the Nun's Priest, whose name is John, who rides a "jade / . . . both foul and lene" (ll. VII.2812–13), and is addressed with "rude speche" by the Host (l. VII.2808). His virtuosic tale is presented as nothing more than a sign of obedience to the Host, while the teller himself remains enigmatic. Whereas Bowers assumes that Lydgate the Pilgrim assents to the treatment meted out by the Host, Straker argues that the tale Lydgate tells signifies a refusal to submit to the Host's demand for a jovial narrative ("Deference and Difference," esp. pp. 11–12.) Indeed, we are nowhere told that Lydgate the Pilgrim submits to any of the Host's intrusive instructions, except for telling the tale, which does not constitute a corporeal violation of the kind targeted by either Chaucer or Henry V's list of reforms.

39. Robert A. Pratt, "Some Latin Sources of the Nonnes Preest on Dreams," Speculum, 52 (1977), 541.

40. Pratt, "Some Latin Sources," p. 541.

41. Lydgate's Dietary begins with advice to cover one's head at bedtime. The Host's advice to drink in order to sleep is also specifically prohibited in the Dietary (Secular Lyrics, ed. Rob-bins, p. 73, l. 6). It is intriguing to wonder whether these moments in the Prologue might be tongue-in-cheek allusions to Lydgate's own Dietary, signaling the Host's misappropriation of that advice; however, the date of the Dietary's composition is not known.

42. "Þe þridde gut hat colon in grewe, and is ioyned faste to þe neþer openynge of al þe body. And in þis gut is bred a wel gret sikenes þat hatte colica passio, and comeþ of grete st[r]eitnes of þat gut oþir of gadrenge of grete and of coolde humours, and so of stoppinge of þat gut withinne. So seiþ Constantinus and Galien super amphorismorum." On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa's Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum: A Critical Text, ed. M. C. Seymour, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, 1988), I, 252.

43. Martha Carlin points out that "the better English inns in Chaucer's day provided private chambers, fine public rooms, ample stabling, and good food," in "The Host," in Historians on Chaucer, ed. Rigby and Minnis, p. 467. In the early fifteenth century, quality dining outside private residences was still strongly associated with lodging at an inn; see Carlin, "'What Say You to a Piece of Beef and Mustard?,'" pp. 205–6.

44. As Patricia Willets Cummins explains, "a cold remedy is proper for a hot illness. An herb with a laxative effect is desirable for a constricting illness. Something which softens cures something hard." Cummins, ed., A Critical Edition of Le Regime tresutile et tresproufitable pour conserver et garder la santé du corps humain (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Department of Romance Languages, 1976), p. xx. According to Trevisa's translation of De Proprietatibus Rerum, fennel is hot and dry in the second degree (On the Properties of Things, ed. Seymour, II, 959). It would therefore seem to be appropriate for treating a condition caused by excessive cold humors, as colic is, although Trevisa does not list intestinal ailments in his discussion of fennel seed. Erdmann and Ekwall note that "in the seventeenth century a certain variety of fennel was known as red fennel, on account of the colour of the leaves" (Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, II, 99). Its medical properties "as stated by Dodonaeus and Raius are exactly such as the Host has in view in recommending 'fenel Rede' to Lydgate" (Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, II, 99). Anise seems to be an appropriate treatment for a digestive disorder; it "haþ vertu to tempre and to make neisshe, to consume and to waste and destroye ventosite, and to conforte digestioun . . . it is ful good and profitable in vertu and ful heleful and hol-some" (On the Properties of Things, ed. Seymour, II, 909). But coriander can be positively harmful; an excessive amount "brediþ woodnesse and lesynge of witte . . . [Isider] seiþ, ytake in mete heteþ and constreigneþ and hardeþ, and brediþ slepe . . . Macer in is his book seiþ þat 'þe vertu of þe herbe coriandre is colde, and haþ somwhat of cruel vertu'" (On the Properties of Things, ed. Seymour, II, 933).

45. On the importance of spices in aristocratic life, see Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England c.1200–1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 62–63; Kate Mertes, The English Noble Household 1250–1600: Good Governance and Politic Rule (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. 110; C. M. Woolgar, The Great Household in Late Medieval England (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1999), p. 129. Note that the sin of gluttony included not only the quantity but also the type of food; see Hugh Magennis, Anglo-Saxon Appetites: Food and Drink and Their Consumption in Old English and Related Literature (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), pp. 92–94. Piers Plowman suggests a close association between spices, gluttony, and the alehouse, if not the inn, when Gluttony is led into temptation on the way to Mass by Betene the Brewster: "'Y haue good ale, gossip Glotoun, woltow assaye?' / 'Hastow,' quod he, 'eny hote spyces?' / 'Y haue pepur and pyonie and a pound of garlek, / A ferthyng-worth of fenkelsedes, for fasting-dayes y bouhte hit.'" William Langland, Piers Plowman: The C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall, Exeter Medieval English Texts and Studies (Exeter: Univ. of Exeter Press, 1994), ll. 6.357–60.

46. Cooper Rompato discusses the conflation of physical and social gratification with medicinal utility in Lydgate's "A Mumming at Hertford" ("Stuck in Chychevache's Maw," p. 81).

47. Carlin, "Host," p. 461.

48. Bowers notes that the Host's "voice excludes all others, even to a large extent Lydgate's own" ("Controversy and Criticism," p. 94).

49. The scatological humor of The Miller's Tale and The Summoner's Tale (although without the connection to medical discourse) might well be present in the minds of an audience familiar with The Canterbury Tales. Smith describes "the complexity and refinement of Chaucer's scatological rhetoric—a rhetoric that . . . for all its ingenuity and refinement, appears superficially coarse" (Between Two Stools, p. 52). Although Lydgate's scatological humor is crude by comparison (not only superficially), it is a pointed, purposeful crudeness.

50. Patterson, "Making Identities," p. 76. Straker, "Deference and Difference," also considers Lydgate's Host to be "overbearing" (p. 10) and "tyrannical" (p. 11).

51. Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), is probably the best known (albeit problematic) study of this relationship. See also Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Food and the Body: Some Peculiar Questions in High Medieval Theology, Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 69 (Leiden: Brill, 1999). On monasticism more specifically, see Barbara F. Harvey, Living and Dying in England, 1100–1540: The Monastic Experience (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

52. Morrison, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages, p. 2.

53. Although crude by modern standards, medieval conduct literature demonstrates that it was desirable to refrain from inflicting bodily emanations upon fellow diners. See, for instance, John Russell's Book of Nurture, in Early English Meals and Manners, ed. F. J. Furnivall, EETS e.s., 32 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1868), pp. 134–37, ll. 277–311. Concerning the question of literary sophistication, while I question Bowers's argument that Chaucer's fiction authorizes the historical Lydgate's irregular mode of living, I acknowledge the probability of his broader point that the Prologue to the Siege of Thebes positions "the Canterbury Tales as the foundational classic of a newly formed vernacular tradition and the political identity of Chaucer as the author whose work has been singled out for this textual business" ("Controversy and Criticism," pp. 92–93). See also Trigg, Congenial Souls, pp. 91–97, for a discussion of the relationship between Lydgate's emulation of Chaucer in the Prologue and the establishment of Chaucer as an "author." Lydgate's very stratagem of attempting to compact the Canterbury Tales into the Host's voice and thus to control it testifies not only to its monumental importance in Lydgate's own work but also to its predominance in the climate of literary expectations within which he was composing.

54. Patterson, "Making Identities," p. 95.

55. Straker, "Deference and Difference," p. 13.

56. Straker, "Deference and Difference," p. 13.

57. Straker, "Deference and Difference," p. 10. Straker also points out that what Lydgate had to gain from aligning himself with Chaucer's version of literature is open to question: "Lydgate's disingenuous protestations of inadequacy must not blind us to the fact that he earned the approbation of the most socially exalted patrons of literature in England. By the time he wrote the Siege of Thebes . . . [i]t is difficult to imagine how much more authority Lydgate could have wanted, or how imitating Chaucer could have conferred it upon him" ("Deference and Difference," pp. 12–13).

58. See Bowers's discussion of London, British Library, Arundel MS 119 as a manuscript emanating from a courtly milieu ("Controversy and Criticism," p. 111).

Additional Information

ISSN
1945-662X
Print ISSN
0363-6941
Pages
458-477
Launched on MUSE
2018-09-25
Open Access
No
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