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.
From the proliferation of temporal and affective
potentialities in Douglas’s dream vision poem, discussion here shifts to WilliamDunbar’s The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo
( c . 1507). Whereas Douglas’s text is deeply solipsistic and achieves its
narrative grotesque within the psyche(s) of a single persona, Dunbar’s work creates
antinomy – and ultimately the narrative grotesque – via its complex interplay
of speakers and poetic form. These multiple ‘voices’ offer to the audience a
philosophical and aesthetic concerns in literary narratives.
This study considers two Older Scots poems that exemplify the narrative
grotesque, namely Gavin Douglas’s The Palyce of Honour
( c . 1501) and WilliamDunbar’s The Tretis of the Tua
Mariit Wemen and the Wedo ( c . 1507). Narrowing focus to these two texts
allows for a forensic examination of the multivalent forms and outcomes of the narrative
grotesque. When it is applied as a framework for reading medieval texts the narrative
grotesque will be shown to be an
Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque , p.
Bawcutt (ed.), WilliamDunbar , Volume 2, p. 287; the note to
lines 60–3 calls attention to the similarity of the passage with Lydgate’s
The Floure of Curtesy (c.1401): ‘[…]
“Alas, what may this be, / That every foule hath his lyberté / Frely to
chose, after his desyre, / Everyche his make thus, fro yere to yere?’ (53–6).
Line references from John Lydgate, The Floure of Curtesye , in
The Chaucerian Apocrypha
their quasi-omniscient role, achieves a sense of cathartic release from the confused
manipulations of the text.
For associations with the latter see Calin, The
Lily and the Thistle , pp. 109–11.
Ross, WilliamDunbar , pp.
The Pardoner’s Tale , for instance, does not cross into
this grotesque sphere because he still purports to preach Christian teachings. The
MF, poems by Sir Richard Maitland (1496–1586), with a couple by his son, John (James VI’s chancellor), and the many by WilliamDunbar form the greater part of the compilation, as far as can be established from the manuscript’s disarranged state. 43 The emphases are thus on family piety, personal behaviour and aspects of court life.
The two elrich fantasies included in MF, Lichtoun’s ‘Quha doutis?’ and Roule’s ‘Devyne poware’, have been placed in a group of diverse works, including those by Dunbar, Lydgate, Douglas, Henryson, Stewart and the anonymous Christis
treatment by Macrobius and Calcidius, is magnified in Douglas’s interpretation of the
form. Despite the almost rote nature of literary dream visions by the opening of the
sixteenth century, Douglas affects an innovative take on the form by incorporating humanist
perspectives into the popular medieval mode.
Despite their waning popularity across the rest of Europe, dream visions
were a popular mode in Scotland in the fifteenth century. Two pre-eminent Scottish makars,
WilliamDunbar and Robert Henryson, engage the genre
moments which reveal the intersection of ideas, affect, and form.
In Gavin Douglas’s The Palyce of Honour and WilliamDunbar’s The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo
new correspondences were discovered by means of the narrative grotesque: they share a
concern with poetic making that is expressed in weird and wonderful new shapes and
patterns; their self-conscious interrogations of medieval forms and perspectives create an
unlikely blend of genres, voices, and structures that, in turn, materialise into
See J. Radden (ed.), The Nature of Melancholy
from Aristotle to Kristeva (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) .
Line references from The Knightly Tale of
Golagros and Gawane , ed. Ralph Hanna (Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society,
Bawcutt (ed.), WilliamDunbar , Volume 2, p. 290; note to line
206: ‘St Valentine is first recorded as the patron of lovers and mating
other words, the Scottish Church’s ﬁnances were shot through with
practices which violated the spirit and, in some cases, the letter of the law.
More important, perhaps, was the widespread perception that this was so. It
was a truism that whenever a major beneﬁce fell vacant, ‘the great men of
the realm will have it for temporal reward’.15 The poet WilliamDunbar asked,
in a satire on the seizure of valuable beneﬁces by the powerful:
Whether it is merit more
To give him drink that thirsts sore
Or ﬁll a full man till he burst
And let his fellow die for thirst.16