Tristrem in schip layThat last line's quite a shocker, isn't it? I read it, initially, as a hint of bestiality, a sort of menage à chien, and rushed--in my desultory way--to write a blog post, before I caught myself up short: what if the medievals knew this was funny?* In the spirit of our various posts about reuniting pleasure and scholarship, and in honor, too, of Wiley, I decided I wanted to try to allow the past a bit of unadulterated pleasure. While I'm sufficiently disenchanted to know there can never be such a thing, nonetheless I think we--or certainly, I--all too often treat all things in our field as pathological: the crisis of this and that, everything and its discontents, and so forth. It's as if what we study merits our attention only in direct proportion to its danger: it must threaten everything we know and are, it must keep its world under control only by strenuous disavowal, it must not be just a silly obscure pig joke or an article about farts (warning: pdf). Otherwise, we're wasting our time, letting ourselves and the medievals have too much fun, while real scholarship stomps past, fixing us with its baleful eye, upholding its sense of importance in a world that daily views us (perhaps justifiably so!) as less and less relevant.
With Ysonde ich night;
Play miri he may
With that worthli wight
In boure night and day.
Al blithe was the knight,
He might with hir play.
That wist Brengwain the bright
Thai loved with al her might
And Hodain dede also. (1684-94)
Of course, we can ask why the hint of Hodain mixing himself up in this way is funny. In part, it's recognition. I think we've all had a cold dog nose meet us where we'd rather be left alone. But there's also the mixup, the fact that nonhuman animals should not be involved--whether alive or dead--in sex. At least not with us. Why that is certainly merits a suspicious investigation into the psychopathology of the human--which is precisely the post I initially meant to write--but for now, I just want to let well enough alone. I had a laugh, shockingly, while reading a Middle English chivalric narrative. For that laugh, much thanks to whoever's responsible for Ser Tristrem, and much thanks to Alan Lupack for his excellent introduction to the TEAMS edition and his argument for its parodic content.
Now, an invitation, for the weekend and following, as we stumble towards the end of the semester. Either talk a bit about humor and scholarship, or, if you have something in mind--and I know this will be particularly difficult for the Anglo-Saxonists--give us a few medieval bits that you've decided to let be funny. Extra credit if it's not from Chaucer or Deschamps.
* Update: Okay, I know it probably means "And Houdain loved her too," in the sense of some kind of canine agape. And that's why the dog was so loyal to the two of them. But that joke is all the funnier, I think, for not being as straightforward as all that. Ok?