In the final chapter on The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, the widow’s response is shown to be the culminating speech in the text. Her discourse is delivered in the form of a medieval sermon. As a preacher, the widow is shown not to parody the genre nor use it ironically; rather, she engages the form as a suitable apparatus for delivering her exposition of a ‘venerean’ morality. This morality plays off of anti-feminist discourses and conduct literature. But, the widow’s sermon complicates any reading of the text as simply an embodiment of anti-feminist discourse; William Dunbar integrates various allusions to allegorical representations of Venus, especially as found in other Scottish poems, such as Dunbar’s The Goldyn Targe and Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid, in order to invest her discourse with a deep and pervasive ambivalence. The narrative grotesque shows the ways in which these influences and discourses are ligatured together in order to question modes of authority, rhetoric, and generic boundaries.
The conclusion draws together several correspondences and divergences between The Palyce of Honour and The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo. Textual hybridisation and transfiguration are noted as key themes; concepts of authenticity, veracity, and eloquence in poetic expression are also discussed in their various contexts in the two texts. This brief collation is presented as locus for further applications of the narrative grotesque in medieval texts. The literary complaint and animal allegories, specifically avian, are both touched on as possible venues for this strategy to be used.
In this chapter the first response, delivered by the ‘first wife’, is examined in detail. Her response is shown initially to inhere with the conventional demande d’amour, despite veering towards sexual innuendo and humour. Her fantasy of free love and female sovereignty is compared to medieval conduct literature, especially the Scottish poem The Thewis off Gud Women. Her response, however, abruptly shifts tone, subject matter, and form in order to deliver an excoriating flyting against her husband. The Scottish poetic invective form depends on a vivid and horrifying vocabulary of abuse in order to deride opponents. The wife ably employs this in her attack on her husband, which reveals explicitly the sexual and emotional abuse to which she is subject. Her fluid discourse once again shifts as she casts herself as manipulating her husband with sexual favours in exchange for luxury material items. The complex and uncomfortable tone and subject matter created by the trio of themes is explicated by the narrative grotesque: William Dunbar destroys conventional ‘languages of love’ and perceptions about eloquent emotional expression and replaces them with discourses that meld horror and humour. This displacement of one pole of expression for another, however, is shown to be equally problematic in terms of subjectivity, authenticity, and veracity.
In the final chapter on The Palyce of Honour the narrative strands are brought together by examining the ways in which Gavin Douglas weaves together pagan allegory with Christianity. The poem is demonstrated to create multiple intersecting hierarchies that highlight Douglas’s humanist-complected understanding of poetics as a mode of divine illumination. The figure of Venus in medieval cosmology and astrology is especially important to this phase of the discussion. Meanwhile, the motifs of are developed from their introduction in the previous chapter. Lastly, Douglas the poet is integrated as contributing yet another subjectivity through his dedication to James IV of Scotland which brings the Scottish king into the hierarchies discovered by the dreamer-narrator.
This chapter builds on the previous one by focusing more closely on the temporal dissonance and thus multiple subjectivities created between the two protagonists: Douglas the dreamer and Douglas the narrator. It is shown that their voices create an affective antinomy that appears most vividly at moments of textual rupture and fusion. This narrative grotesque reveals Gavin Douglas’s self-conscious exploration of the role of the poet and of poetics in society; a pursuit greatly influenced by the precepts of Italian humanism. This concern is in part demonstrated through the recurring motifs of harmony and transfiguration. Furthermore, his destruction of medieval dream vision conventions is shown through contrastive comparisons with Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowls and The House of Fame. The inset literary complaint is also demonstrated to multiply this destructive effect by reimagining the purpose and form of the complaint as a discourse about love.
The introduction briefly outlines the literary culture of fifteenth-century Scotland and the contexts in which Gavin Douglas and William Dunbar were writing. Each text is described and some pertinent critical discourses regarding the works are discussed. Next, the narrative grotesque is situated within a broader critical history related to the critical term ‘grotesque’, which arose in reference to architectural decorations in the late fifteenth century before being adopted into other intellectual discourses. The narrative grotesque is defined as a distinct variety of the grotesque, since it is not limited to visual images and, rather, extends to textual corruptions, hybridisations, and ruptures that are paired with the dissonant affective reactions of horror and humour. The Palyce of Honour and The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo are shown to be exemplary starting points for the wider application of the narrative grotesque, since both exhibit numerous and varied ‘grotesqueries’.
The second wife’s response is demonstrated to be a sort of distorted mirror of the first wife’s: she adopts many of the motifs, expressions, and concepts introduced in the first response, but reforms them anew. She also flytes her husband, but her flyting is more concerned with the performance of courtliness and courtly love. Her response includes an inset literary complaint, which is wholly unusual for the mode. In addition to highlighting similarities between her complaint and that delivered by the dreamer in Palyce, Richard Holland’s The Buke of the Howlat and The Quare of Jelusy are presented as Scottish intertexts. Concepts of melancholia and lovesickness are interwoven throughout her speech to create a grotesquely warped conglomeration of signification.
This chapter presents the French courtly love debate, the demande d’amour, as the scaffolding that supports William Dunbar’s longest poem, The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo. The demande d’amour is assessed against the conventions typical of the French form as well as a near-contemporary Scottish example, Sir Gilbert Hay’s inset demande in The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour. This leads into a broader discussion of poetics in fifteenth-century Scotland, especially as represented in Dunbar’s wider corpus. Next, the composition of the locus amoenus, the frame garden, is contextualised by other examples from Dunbar’s poetry. The narrator’s role in the poem is shown to be highly influential to the concepts of narratology and subjectivity. These various aspects of the text are demonstrated to intersect at moments of narrative grotesque where conventions and expectations are ruptured and reformed in distorted and dissonant ways.
This book introduces a new critical framework for reading medieval texts. The narrative grotesque decentres critical discourse by turning focus to points at which literary texts distort and rupture conventional narratological and poetic boundaries. These boundary-warping grotesques are crystallised at moments affective horror and humour. Two seminal Older Scots works are used to exemplify the multivalent applications of the narrative grotesque: Gavin Douglas’s The Palyce of Honour (c. 1501) and William Dunbar’s The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo (c. 1507). These texts create manifold textual hybridisations, transfigurations, and ruptures in order to interrogate modes of discourse, narratological subjectivities, and medieval genre conventions. Within the liminal space opened up by these textual (de)constructions, it is possible to reconceptualise the ways in which poets engaged with concepts of authenticity, veracity, subjectivity, and eloquence in literary writing during the late medieval period.
This chapter locates Gavin Douglas’s poem, The Palyce of Honour, within a wider medieval tradition of dream vision poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer’s dream vision poems, The House of Fame and The Parliament of Fowls, as well as Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid are presented as intertexts to Douglas’s vision. Douglas’s text is shown to fracture typical expectations of the dream vision landscape, the dreamer’s interaction with this landscape, as well as the narrator’s conceptualisation of the process of recording the dream vision. The poem is then set in conversation with concepts of Italian humanist poetics, which conceived of the poet as a divine conduit, a prophet, that could transmit divinely inspired discourses. The framework of the narrative grotesque is applied in order to elucidate the ways in which Douglas warps the medieval genre to integrate humanist philosophies of poetics into his work.