Gawain on Marriage: The Textual Tradition of the De coniuge non ducenda

Edited and translated by
A.G. Rigg

Studies and Texts 79. 1986. xii, 104 pp. ISBN 978–0–88844–079–2

The De coniuge non ducenda (composed ca. 1225–1250) was one of the most popular antimatrimonial satires of the later Middle Ages. It is a cheerful poem and not very serious. Its protagonist is the Arthurian hero Gawain, who was known not only for valour but also for unfortunate entanglements with women. He is planning to marry, but three “angels,” Peter of Corbeil, Lawrence of Durham and John Chrysostom (representing a trinity of Power, Wisdom and Grace), set out to dissuade him. Their arguments are drawn partly from traditional antifeminist satire and biblical proverbs, but they stress not the obstacles that marriage poses to the scholar or cleric but the disadvantages for the ordinary working man.

The poem survives in over fifty manuscripts. The present edition is the first to utilize all the manuscripts, to describe the structure of the poem, and to analyze the textual transmission. Close study of the manuscripts reveals a broad division into two main traditions, A and B, but also suggests that the poem was often known by heart, and so the text was contaminated from remembered versions and perhaps sometimes even written down from memory. Also, scribes felt free to extemporize and to write their own lines. The text edited here, from Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 450, represents as closely as possible the poem’s best-known (and probably earliest) form. The modern English verse translation attempts to capture the light-hearted tone. There is a selective apparatus of variants and a commentary on sources, points of interest for the textual tradition, etc. The Appendix presents briefly three later adaptations of the poem, in Latin, French, and Middle English.

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