Earlier today I was reading over the third branch of the Mabinogi, Manawydan, and I was struck by its comic representation of England and its economy.
This branch of the Mabinogi finds Manawydan and his friend Pryderi feasting away for some years in Wales. This eventually gets old, and Manawydan decides that they should go and make some money. Manawydan's preferred destination for this isn't Wales, land of enchantment, year-long feats, and magic mice, but England, land of a thriving market economy. When Manawydan and Pryderi make their way to the bustling city of Hereford they take up what seems to be a rather mundane vocation: saddle-making. They're pretty good at making saddles, so much so that the other saddlers in Hereford become envious and decide to eliminate their competition. Manawydan then thinks it prudent for them to move on rather than start a fight in Hereford, so they find another town and make shields. Unfortunately for them, their shields are of such quality and number that the local shield-makers decide, like the saddlers in Hereford, that these interloping Welshmen need to be killed. Manawydan and Pryderi move on.
In their third incarnation as functioning members of the English manufacturing class Manawydan and Pryderi become shoemakers. Manawydan figures that shoemakers aren't violent enough to cause them any trouble, and they set about making leather shoes. Here the text of Manawydan becomes intriguingly specific in its language of shoemaking. Manawydan buys ready-made leather rather than bothering to tan the stuff himself, and he's conscientious enough to buy the best cordwain for his shoes--except for the soles, which can be made of the cheap stuff. Naturally, the local shoemakers decide to do away with Manawydan and Pryderi, for whom the third time is the charm: they return to Wales.
What fascinates me so about Manawydan's depiction of what goes on over there, across the border in Lloegyr (England), is the palpable, comic sense that just next door to enchanted Wales, a place in which one might very well come across the king of the underworld while hunting or find one's countrymen magically transformed into mice, is England, a land in which a sophisticated enough market economy exists that consumers care about what kind of leather goes on the bottoms of their shoes. The message here seems to be that the Welsh certainly have the ability to compete with their English neighbors but lack the innate viciousness that's necessary to sustain oneself in the seemingly cutthroat racket that is shoemaking. I read Manawydan as slyly poking fun at the rapidly developing English market economy while refusing to rule out eventual Welsh participation in such an economy.
I'm curious, as always, to hear what readers might have to say. And now I turn my attention to the Sweden-England game.