Wicked horses : women's will in Harley 2253
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British Library MS Harley 2253 is a unique fourteenth-century miscellany consisting of 140 folios and containing 116 different texts, including lyrics, political poems, fabliaux and other secular and religious texts in verse and prose, Latin, Middle English and Anglo-Norman. While the so-called “Harley Lyrics” popularized by Brook’s edition may have registered widely on scholarly radar, many of the non-English texts in the collection have failed to elicit critical attention. However, these texts are vital points in the narrative of English literary history. In particular, the four Anglo-Norman fabliaux included in Harley 2253 constitute a majority of the extant pre-Chaucerian fabliaux produced on the English isles, and of these, Le Dit de la Gageure and Du Chevalier a La Corbeille have no Old French analogues. This report explores the Anglo-Norman fabliaux in this manuscript, their relationship to the continental French tradition and to the subsequent English (ie. Chaucerian) fabliaux incarnations. Specifically, I argue that representations of female desire – figured as an opposition between “stillness” and doing one’s “will” – surface in these obscene misogynist stories that simultaneously objectify and colonize the female body. “De Clerico et Puella”, Le Dit de la Gageure and Le Chevalier qui fist Les Cuns Parler all include an unmarried female who articulates her sexual desire freely, a sharp contrast to the traditional cuckoldry plot of Old French fabliaux which revolves around a married woman’s illicit affairs. Indeed, the grotesque images of sexual violence and the pornographic images of sexual fulfillment in these pre-Chaucerian fabliaux are not contained by the ecclesiastic context from which these texts originate, but rather they linger and are transformed by the female characters, patrons, readers and hearers of the medieval manuscripts in their domestic contexts.