I’ve written about William Dunbar’s “My ladye with the mekle lippis” twice before, first, for a session at the Medieval Academy Conference in Philadelphia on teaching race and racism, and then again, in response to student discussion during my undergraduate History and Literature course. The first paper chiefly worried at what I termed the poem’s precocious antiblack racism: if antiblack racism assumes its most endemic and familiar form as a white supremacist justification for the transatlantic slave trade and New World colonial chattel slavery, what do we do with a poem whose misogynoir seems too soon?Full bibliography on misogynoir and Dunbar’s poem can be found in the two previous posts, “”Middle Scots Misogynoir: On Teaching Dunbar’s ‘My Ladye with the Mekle … Continue reading Dunbar, after all, wrote long before any large-scale Scottish or even English involvement in the European enslavement of people of African descent. Surely we don’t want to suggest a transhistorical, transcultural antiblack racism. Where is Dunbar getting these notions? What’s required for that paper is much better knowledge of discourse around dark-skinned people in medieval Europe.
My second piece concerned the poem’s rhetorical chaos: Dunbar has written a parodic portrait of a courtly lady, describing her as repulsive rather than beautiful. Straightforward enough, except that the logic of Dunbar’s portrait breaks down in the second stanza. When the genre of the poetic portrait requires him to describe her face, Dunbar inserts this ambiguous simile: “And lyk a gangarall onto graep” (‘and like a toad to grasp onto’). I suggested that strangeness of this moment in Dunbar’s poem points to the mixed desire and contempt for Black women in white supremacy; formal incoherence is a symptom of the cultural and psychological incoherence of white supremacy.
To that post, I’d add another datum. The last two stanzas concern the results of the tournament:
Quhai for hir saek with speir and scheld
Preiffis maest mychtellye in the feld,
Sall kis and withe hir go in grippis,
And fra thyne furth hir luff sall weld –
My ladye with the mekle lippis.
And quhai in fedle receaves schaem
And tynis thair his knychtlie naem,
Sall cum behind and kis hir hippis
And nevir to uther confort claem,
My ladye with the mekle lippis.
[whoever for her sake with spear and shield proves most powerful in the (tournament?) field shall kiss and grab hold of her,As I have remarked before, John Conlee’s notes to this poem badly need revision. He glosses this phrase as “embrace,” but Dunbar means something rougher. The Dictionary of the Older … Continue reading and thenceforth will enjoy her love, my lady with the big lips. And whoever in the field receives shame and loses his knightly name shall go behind her and kiss her hips and never again be entitled to any other pleasure, my lady with the big lips]
The winner and the loser both kiss the woman. One kisses her lips, and the other her “hips,” clearly meant as a euphemism for her ass, in a scene perhaps modeled on Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale, where Alison famously tricks a besotted clerk into kissing her ass before farting on him. The refrain’s “lips” draw the reader through the poem, offered both as a prize to the tournament victor and a repeating sign of what Dunbar wants us to understand as the prize’s repulsiveness (although I can add, as an aside, that the size of women’s lips in reverent courtly poetry is, to my knowledge, not a common object of concern: no woman in such poetry is ever praised for her “normal” or “small” lips). And when the knight kisses the “mekle lippis” and grabs hold of her, he grabs onto we are meant to believe feels like a toad: grippis is essentially the same word as the graep of “And lyk a gangarall onto graep.” Dunbar’s joke is that winner and loser come out the same, because the prize is not worth the fighting; but he’s also signaling that same mixture of desire and contempt that is such a key feature of disgust, and especially of white supremacist desire for black women.Thank you to Nicholas Eppert for recommending Jennifer C. Nash “Black Anality” GLQ 20.4 (2014): 439–460, as a framework for reading this stanza. That, alongside Kathryn Bond Stockton, Beautiful … Continue reading
One last point, briefly, here: Dunbar’s poem begins
Lang heff I maed of ladyes quhytt,
Nou of an blak I will indytt
[I have written for a long time about white ladies; now I will write about a Black]
We should be jarred by the second line’s missing “ladye.” “Lady” comes in soon enough, in the poem’s refrain, and we might forgive its omission here, too, because of metrical exigencies: but the contrast between “ladyes quhytt” and “an blak” still sounds dismissive. This line, like the poem as a whole, aims to put this woman in her place; at the same time, it puts white ladies in theirs, outside Dunbar’s portrait of a woman he calls barrel shaped, catfaced, apemouthed, and toadskined. The dynamic at work is obviously abjection. Dunbar’s Black Lady is made the bear all the pollution of the body, and all the mingled disgust and desire and appetite and loathing of sexuality, but only after he shoos white ladies off the stage. It’s a truism that white supremacist works generate whiteness and blackness simultaneously. Dunbar’s poem invites further reading along those lines.I have in mind Peter Erickson’s observation, more than 20 years ago, that Othello is a play that “also very much involves the fashioning of a discourse of racial whiteness” (“The … Continue reading
Some historical contextualizations of the poem doubt that an actual Black woman was offered as a tournament prize that Dunbar’s poem seems to be targeting. The woman on offer might have been dressed as an exotic prize, decked out in fabric to indicate her Blackness without actually being of immediate African descent herself. Be that as it may, Dunbar’s poem is meant to be about a Black woman, in a tournament context. Furnished with these bare facts, as well as the record of Scottish tournaments in 1507 and 1508 featuring a richly appareled “blak lady”For one description, Ian Simpson Ross, William Dunbar (Brill, 1981), 70. allow me to sidestep any unnecessarily sophisticated interpretation that would take the poem away from its obvious historical referent.
I’ll frame this discussion by observing that the bare tournament records say nothing negative about the woman being offered as a prize. Per one contemporary Scottish chronicler, the Black Lady theme seems to have been suggested to King James IV by a knight who arrived at James’ tournament with a lady known as the “White Rose.” James elected, therefore, to fight anonymously as the “Black Knight,” or, per other records, as a “Wild Knight.” Robert Lindesay, The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland, ed. Ae. J. G. Mackay, 3 vols., 242-43 The chronicle speaks primarily of the King’s prowess and very little about the woman for whom James and the other knights were striving. The accounts book of Scotland’s Lord High Treasurer likewise have nothing negative to say about her: it is, as one might expect, only a list of expenses for costumes and other decoration.The Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, Vol 3. 258-59.
It is not until 19th-century historians edit this medieval material that the Black Lady suffers insults, in introductions written by scholars steeped in the values of English worldwide colonialism. Here, from James Balfour in 1901:
There was an odd strain of unconventionality in the character of James. That he, the very pattern of a Paladin of chivalry, should set up an absolute negress at a tournament, if not exactly as the Queen of Beauty, at least as one whose excellencies were to be defended at the sword’s point, seems well-nigh incredible.James Balfour, ed. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, Vol. III, xlviii
And she is insulted, prior to that, of course, in Dunbar’s poem. Dunbar and Scottish poetry was in the habit of rough humor and trading in insults. That being the case, this poem’s particular character of insults still has the capacity to shock, precisely because they are so familiar.
Nevertheless, we should not assume that Dunbar’s poem reflects the values of the Scottish court. If they did, why would this woman be the object of so much ceremony? It is hard to imagine the Scottish King, so eager to portray himself as the paragon of chivalry, striving for an ironic victory: rather, the “Blak Lady” is featured, presumably, for her exoticism, matched by James’s own costume. Chaucerians will remember Lygurge (Chaucer’s spelling of Lycurgus) of Thrace, arriving at a tournament of the Knight’s Tale in a golden chariot and wearing a bear’s skin, “as the gyse was in his contree,” and, opposing him, Emetreus, the King of India, adorned with pearls, his beautiful blond hair hanging down in fashionable ringlets. Some time earlier, in 1331, Edward III of England led off his London tournament with a procession that featured knights dressed and masked as Mongols, leading ladies “all of whom were dressed in tunics of red velvet and capes of white cameline,” each led on a silver chain by her knight.Quoted from Sierra Lomuto “The Mongol Princess of Tars: Global Relations and Racial Formation in The King of Tars (c. 1330),” Exemplaria 31.3 (2019): 171-92 [172, Lomuto’s … Continue reading Tournament organizers loved the exotic.
Essentially, interpretations of the tournaments like this strike me as incorrect:
This exotic antithesis of courtly beauty is the prize of the tournament, juxtaposing performing slave with spectating noblewoman. Aligning himself with the exotic other against which the court defines itself….here two symbols of the non-courtly and non-civilised converge.Clare McManus, “Marriage and the Performance of the Romance Quest: Anne of Denmark and the Stirling Baptismal Celebrations for Prince Henry,” in A Palace in the Wild: Essays on Vernacular … Continue reading
If the late medieval Scottish court is much like other courts of this era, imagined (like Chaucer’s court of Theseus) and otherwise, the “exotic other” was not exactly alien to court but rather enlivened it through its magnificent, surprising difference, or through its manifestation of the fantasies of power or “cutting loose” that could be enjoyed by embodying the imagined outsider.I have in mind, for example, the catastrophic Bal des Ardents of 1393. More importantly for Dunbar, see Geraldine Heng, summarizing the work of Jean Devisse and Michael Mollat, in The Invention of … Continue reading Kathleen E. Kennedy has written written of the fashion among fifteenth-century English priests for vestments made from imported cloth, decorated with Arabic, or at least Arabic-seeming, writing.“Moors and Moorishness in Late Medieval England,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 213-51 . The opposite of courtly was not the exotic, and the exotic was not necessarily the “non-civilized.” Rather, the opposite of the courtly was churlish, but even poor English — as Kennedy’s article shows — had the means to enjoy the exotic, given evidence of an English taste for inexpensive Málagan pottery, which was often decorated with Arabic script.
Furthermore, the tournament’s Black Woman’s recent arrival in Scotland tells us nothing about her legal status. We have records of dark-skinned people of recent African descent — whom we can call, with some anachronism, Black people — living in Scotland in this era, some of them paid entertainers, some of them friars and thus, one imagines, publicly preaching and dispensing spiritual advice, some of them recorded as married with children, some provided with servants, and at least one, Peter the More, traveling to France on royal business, and provided with a pension at the end of his service.Paul Edwards, “The African Presence in the British Isles: An Inaugural Lecture on the Occasion of the Establishment of the Chair in English and African Literature at Edinburgh … Continue reading As Paul Edwards observes, if the subject of Dunbar’s poem was in fact taken by Scottish pirates from a captured Portuguese ship, she may well have been enslaved, by the Portuguese, and then freed by the Scottish, albeit free — or, perhaps more accurately, not enslaved — in a country far from her first home. She was indeed performing, one has to presume more or less willingly, and performing in what might have seemed to her strange and frightening entertainments — at one point, she was made to vanish into a cloud through the stagecraft of an “Igramanciar”Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, and Joyce Miller, “Introduction,” Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland (Palgrave, 2007), 5. — but projecting slavery onto any Black person in Britain in this period is an instance not only of misplaced sympathy, but also of flattening the complexity of late medieval and early modern British and African contact by projecting the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade backwards.More accurate readings could be generated by consulting, for example, Herman L. Bennett, African Kings and Black Slaves: Sovereignty and Dispossession in the Early Modern Atlantic (University of … Continue reading Doing so obscures the fact that these horrors, and the attendant systems of belief, chief among them White Supremacy, emerged historically, and that, like anything historical, they are the result of human choices, and can be, even now, perpetuated, or perhaps undone.
Dunbar, therefore, stands to one side of the Scottish court, mockingly, when he insults the King’s prize.
My chief concern here will be with Dunbar’s toad comparison, and, by extension, the negative animalization of this actual, Black woman. It’s easy enough to call Dunbar’s words a “dehumanizing” or “animalizing” comparison: he compares her to an ape, a cat, and a toad, drawing on rhetorical traditions of representing ugliness, particularly the ugliness of peasants.Classic examples include the Wild Herdsmen of both Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain and Aucassin et Nicolette. See Jan Ziolkowski, “Avatars of Ugliness in Medieval Literature,” The Modern … Continue reading However, despite the policing of the line between human and animal in medieval philosophy and theology, animalization in the general culture was not necessarily bad in itself. Certain humans routinely sought to differentiate their bare humanity from the general run of humans by supplementing it with animal associations. “Dehumanization,” if we could call it that, might therefore sometime elevate rather than diminish someone’s status. Jesus Christ was the “lamb of God,” for example: human or even divine meekness was best understood by associating it with the proverbial harmlessness of sheep. And knights happily likened themselves to certain animals that served as emblems of chivalric and courtly virtues. King Richard I of England was called the “lion-hearted,” and the hero of Chrétien de Troyes’ twelfth-century Yvain travels incognito as “the Knight with the Lion”: he has, by that point in the story, acquired a lion companion who fights alongside him, but manuscript illustrations double the physical lion with a painting of a lion on his shield.
The lion emblem both advertised Yvain’s leonine character — his bravery, strength, and nobility — and differentiated him from other knights, necessary to underscore his heroic nobility, and, more practically, necessary also as armor grew increasingly full-bodied as the Middle Ages drew to a close (even in Yvain, written and set in the twelfth century, the hero nearly kills his dear friend Gawain in a fight, before each removes his armor in exhaustion and, ashamed, finally recognize each other). By the later Middle Ages, associations between aristocrats and animals imagery grew more elaborate, sometimes punning on the family name in emblems whose decipherment signaled membership in a noble in-group.Susan Crane, The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing, and Identity During the Hundred Years War (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, for an excellent treatment of such emblems.
Here we have, for example, two knights jousting in tournament, from Antoine de la Salle’s strange didactic chivalric romance, Little John of Saintré, where the Count of Orgel wears a stag on his helmet, itself wearing, as Antoine’s text says, a jeweled collar, while Sir Enguerrant, more simply, decorates his helmet with “très bel chapellet de diverses fleurs et feuilles” [very handsome headgear with various flowers and leaves].Après le roy d’armes, venoit le comte d’Orgel qui, sur ung très bel et puissant coursier, portoit sur ung tronsson de lance le demi heaulme de messire Enguerrant, sur lequel estoit ung … Continue reading Antoine’s lack of an explanation for the stag and floral emblems itself suggests an ideal reader already cognizant in the punning games of noble families.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, aristocratic emblems sought out certain animals and shunned others. Toads were, at most, a rarity. It might surprise modern readers how much medieval people loathed them. One example: in the twelfth-century, Gerald of Wales wrote of a Welsh man tormented by hordes of frogs. His friends hoisted him into a tree to help him escape, but the next day, they found nothing remaining but his bones. Closer to Dunbar’s likely reading, the entry on frogs in a widely available late medieval encyclopedia, the Liber de proprietatibus rerum [Book of the Properties of Things] by Bartholomew the Englishman repeats information from earlier encyclopedias, the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville and (Latin translations) of Aristotle’s work on animals, but towards the end of an otherwise disinterested study, Bartholomew editorializes in his own words: “þe frogge is watery and morische, cryinge and slymy, wiþ a grete wombe and ysplekked þervnder and is venemous and abhominable þerfore to men and most yhated”On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum, M. C. Seymour, ed., Book XVIII, Vol 2, 1242. (the frog is watery and lives in moors, noisy and slimy, with a large belly and spotted underneath, and is it poisonous and abominable to people and very much despised).
The few references to heraldic frogs I could find are, as expected, all negative. In a legend dating to the later middle ages, either Clovis or Pharamond — the legendary last pre-Christian king of the Franks — bore an emblem of “.III. crapaux ouvré d’euvre doree” [three frogs in goldwork], a sign of his allegiance to the devil, until, with his conversion to Christianity, they were miraculously transformed to the three fleur-de-lys characteristic of French nobility.Michael Randall,“On the Evolution of Toads in the French Renaissance.” Renaissance Quarterly 57.1 (2004): 126–164, 129 for the quotation from La Belle Hélène de Constantinople. For the image, … Continue reading Another armorial frog appears in The Deidis of Armorie, a late medieval Scottish heraldic bestiary, written roughly a decade before Dunbar’s poem. The treatise’s manuscripts feature illustrations of heraldic emblems with accompanying commentary, often drawn from natural history. After explaining that frogs are noisy, but quiet down in fear if they hear anything, the treatise says that whoever first bore a frog emblem as their heraldic device was boastful, but likewise fall silent whenever they heard the enemy, so that “thai are bettir armyt with learis and baueouris þan ony uvtheris persounys”L. A. J. R. Houwen, ed. The Deidis of Armorie: A Heraldic Treatise and Bestiary (Scottish Texts Society, 1994), 49. Thank you to Misty Schieberle for providing me with scans of Houwen’s edition. (they are better armed with lies and blabbering than any other persons are).
In one sense, the above may be taken as a lengthy aside: at tournaments, women, or courtly women in particular, generally participated by spectating and sometimes assessing the performance of the knights to determine the victor. To my knowledge, they would not have sallied forth bearing enormous animal emblems on their heads. I have studied the frog in detail in the context of noble heraldry to emphasize that animalization in late medieval courtly culture is not necessarily degrading, and that, nevertheless, no one would want to be associated with certain kinds of animals: to list those from Dunbar’s poem, cats, apes, and toads.
Our response to these insults can seek to rescue Dunbar’s target from his poem. We can rebuild, as I have begun to do, our historical knowledge of actual Black women at the court of James IV, and we can “humanize” her by countering, point by point, the bestializing insults to her beauty.For a recent treatment of the dangers of such counternarratives of beauty, see Tressie McMillan Cottom, “In the Name of Beauty,” Thick and Other Essays (The New Press, 2019), e.g., … Continue reading But recent work in Black posthumanism suggests another route. Advancing both Sylvia Wynter’s historicization of the racialized, supposedly universal category of “Man” and the Afropessimist critique of the fundamental exclusion of Black people from universal humanity, this work rethinks the relationship between animality and Blackness as something other than simply a “dehumanizing” insult. Bénédicte Boisseron’s Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question, Joshua Bennett’s Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man, and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World all counter a liberal humanist attempt to include Black people within the regime of normative humanity. Instead, Bennett sees in the rats, dogs, and mules of classics in African American literature the opportunity to find new forms of insurgency and resistance, reclaiming these “dehumanizing” comparisons for himself and his community. Boisseron does similar work, primarily with the Afro-Diasporic Francophone literature of the Caribbean. And Jackson too, along with sustained engagement with the materialist posthumanisms, with the work of Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglass, Nalo Hopkinson, Octavia Butler, Wangechi Mutu, Jesmyn Ward, and Audre Lorde. As Jackson argues, “Antiracism has too often limited our critique of ‘animalization’ to a critique of the term’s scope instead of disrupting its authority in the management of life….’The animal’ as symbol, as trope, as locus of possibility, must be rethought and transformed” (53, original emphasis).
Tellingly, each of these critics draws on a largely Black archive. They are not recuperating the animalization of Black people in work like Dunbar’s or from more recent white supremacist fantasies. Rather, they seek new lines of flight or fugitive models of existence in work that already wants to make room for Black people to thrive. Their attention can be even more selective than that. Notably, as one of the participants in my graduate seminar observed, Jackson’s reading of Beloved draws on the circuit of watching and being watched between Mister, a rooster, and Paul D., chained and gagged; but Jackson does not draw on the scene where Sethe overhears the slaver Schoolteacher and his pupils drawing up a list, using ink Sethe herself made, that divides Sethe’s human from her animal characteristics. Even material turned up in Morrison herself might prove unsuitable for the needs of a Black recuperative posthumanist.
My goal here is not to find Boisseron, Bennett, or Jackson wanting. Instead, I simply want to mark the lines I will not cross until I am led by scholars who, much more than I do, have skin in the game. I am in no personal physical danger from the processes this post describes; they are. It therefore feels like an obvious injunction for me to wait. For now, some of the key points I draw from Jackson are these: that “a critique of anthropocentrism is not necessarily a critique of liberal humanism” (15, and also see 17-18 and 34); that “animalization and humanization of the slave’s personhood are not mutually exclusive but mutually constitutive” (46) and:
the subversion of binaries need not be seen in opposition to establishing them. Instead, both their establishment and transgression are possible routes for the monopolization of power as power’s subversion may very well be its reorganization. (156)
Dunbar’s Black woman has been animalized, and at a tournament, she is surrounded by men who too have been animalized. She has been animalized, one presumes, unwillingly; the knights, willingly, albeit within the fraught negotiations of will and choice necessary for any participation in any culture. Nevertheless the degrees of coercion vary as do the chances of opting out successfully. So too the kinds of animalization vary. The knights are linked through heraldry with lions, deer, bears, pike, swans, some of these majestically violent, but all of them elite. Dunbar loads his target with a costume of despised animals, perhaps sexual in the aggregate, but not erotic, or at least not in any socially permissible manner. Chaucer’s Alison, from the Miller’s Tale, is also animalized, and still more, but when he likens her to a weasel, to blackthorn berries, to a castrated ram, to a narrow tree, he entwines her amid a rustic landscape of idle, languid contentment, offers as ideal “For any lord to leggen in his bedde, / Or yet for any good yeman to wedde.”
“Boundaries are blurred” in all these instances, and humans are animalized, but variously. Animalization may in fact be inevitable, and indeed so inevitable that it may challenge dominant systems in no way at all to insist that “humans are animals too.” Among dominant humans, perhaps none refuses animalization entirely except philosophers.Which is why, in Gelli’s Circe, none of Circe’s animals agree to be transformed back into humans except the elephant, the only one who had been a philosopher.
The issue, finally, or for now, is not that Dunbar has animalized this woman, but that he has insulted her. And simply calling him out for “animalizing” her will get us no closer to understanding the nature of what Dunbar has done, and what is still being done by his uncountable epigones.
|↑1||Full bibliography on misogynoir and Dunbar’s poem can be found in the two previous posts, “”Middle Scots Misogynoir: On Teaching Dunbar’s ‘My Ladye with the Mekle Lippis,” and “More on Dunbar’s Racist Poem: On Rhetorical Chaos“|
|↑2||As I have remarked before, John Conlee’s notes to this poem badly need revision. He glosses this phrase as “embrace,” but Dunbar means something rougher. The Dictionary of the Older Scots Tongue defines grippis as “pl. (with in or to), a close or firm hold of another person, esp. in struggling,” with this line from Dunbar serving as its first illustrative example. Dunbar’s “A Wooing in Dunfermline,” as bizarre as the poem is, uses “imbrace” and “braisit”: Dunbar knew a hug from a grasp.|
|↑3||Thank you to Nicholas Eppert for recommending Jennifer C. Nash “Black Anality” GLQ 20.4 (2014): 439–460, as a framework for reading this stanza. That, alongside Kathryn Bond Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer” (Duke UP 2006), will be key to further work. Further work will have to be done on the medieval medical conclusion that dark-skinned people are “hotter” than light-skinned people, and that, as a result, Black woman are “hotter,” and therefore more concupiscent. See Albert the Great, Questions Concerning Aristotle’s On Animals, trans. Irven M. Resnick and Kenneth F. Kitchell (Catholic University of America Press, 2011), XV.468. See a related observation in Helen Rodnite Lemay, trans. Women’s Secrets: A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’ De secretis mulierum with Commentaries (SUNY Press, 1992), 111. Jackson, On Becoming Human, discussed below, also provides a relevant quotation, from Hortense Spillers’ Black, White, and in Color 155, “the black female is a creature of sex, but sexuality touches her nowhere.”|
|↑4||I have in mind Peter Erickson’s observation, more than 20 years ago, that Othello is a play that “also very much involves the fashioning of a discourse of racial whiteness” (“The Moment of Race in Renaissance Studies” Shakespeare Studies 26 (1998): 27-36 — thank you to Vimala Pasupathi for turning me onto this essay.|
|↑5||For one description, Ian Simpson Ross, William Dunbar (Brill, 1981), 70.|
|↑6||Robert Lindesay, The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland, ed. Ae. J. G. Mackay, 3 vols., 242-43|
|↑7||The Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, Vol 3. 258-59.|
|↑8||James Balfour, ed. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, Vol. III, xlviii|
|↑9||Quoted from Sierra Lomuto “The Mongol Princess of Tars: Global Relations and Racial Formation in The King of Tars (c. 1330),” Exemplaria 31.3 (2019): 171-92 [172, Lomuto’s translation of the chronicle’s original Latin.]|
|↑10||Clare McManus, “Marriage and the Performance of the Romance Quest: Anne of Denmark and the Stirling Baptismal Celebrations for Prince Henry,” in A Palace in the Wild: Essays on Vernacular Culture and Humanism in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Scotland, ed. L. A. J. R. Houwen, Alasdair A. MacDonald, and Sally Mapstone, Peeters, 2000, 189.|
|↑11||I have in mind, for example, the catastrophic Bal des Ardents of 1393. More importantly for Dunbar, see Geraldine Heng, summarizing the work of Jean Devisse and Michael Mollat, in The Invention of Race in the Middle Ages, 190, “By the time of the late Middle Ages, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries…a vast proliferation of exotica makes the depiction of blacks – especially in armorial bearings and heraldry – fashionable, and increasingly commonplace.” Somewhat confusingly, on the same page, Heng ascribes The Masque of Blackness to Dunbar: I have to assume she meant the poem I’m discussing here, as Ben Jonson, not Dunbar, is responsible for The Masque of Blackness, which dates to about a century later after Dunbar’s poem.|
|↑12||“Moors and Moorishness in Late Medieval England,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 213-51 .|
|↑13||Paul Edwards, “The African Presence in the British Isles: An Inaugural Lecture on the Occasion of the Establishment of the Chair in English and African Literature at Edinburgh University,” Centre of African Studies, Edinburgh University, Occasional Papers 26 (1990), 7-13|
|↑14||Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, and Joyce Miller, “Introduction,” Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland (Palgrave, 2007), 5.|
|↑15||More accurate readings could be generated by consulting, for example, Herman L. Bennett, African Kings and Black Slaves: Sovereignty and Dispossession in the Early Modern Atlantic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), and, more recently, François-Xavier Fauvelle, The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages, trans. Troy Tice (Princeton University Press, 2021).|
|↑16||Classic examples include the Wild Herdsmen of both Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain and Aucassin et Nicolette. See Jan Ziolkowski, “Avatars of Ugliness in Medieval Literature,” The Modern Language Review 79.1 (1984), pp. 1-20. Closer to Dunbar is John Lydgate’s parodic “My Fayr Lady,” which observes, for instance, “She is no bot, she is a barge”: James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, ed, A Selection from the Minor Poems of Dan John Lydgate (1840).|
|↑17||Also see BnF fr. 1433, 1v, containing L’âtre périlleux (The Dangerous Cemetery) and Yvain, which, somewhat confusingly, seems to show Gawain, the hero of the former, bearing a lion shield.|
|↑18||Susan Crane, The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing, and Identity During the Hundred Years War (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, for an excellent treatment of such emblems.|
|↑19||Après le roy d’armes, venoit le comte d’Orgel qui, sur ung très bel et puissant coursier, portoit sur ung tronsson de lance le demi heaulme de messire Enguerrant, sur lequel estoit ung demy cerf, d’or macif, portant un collier où estoient par tiers un très bel rubis, et ung très bel diamant et ung très bel balaiz, chascun enclos entre deux belles perles. Après le demy heaulme venoit messire Enguerrant armé de toutes ses armes, excepté du chief, auquel il portoit ung très bel chapellet de diverses fleurs et feuilles, sur ung très bel et puissant destrier, housse d’un très riche veloux cramoysy, figuré, tout brodé d’or sur or, et bordé à grant bort d’ermines, et en sa dextre main ung tronçon de lance sur lequel son bras se reposoit.|
|↑20||On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum, M. C. Seymour, ed., Book XVIII, Vol 2, 1242.|
|↑21||Michael Randall,“On the Evolution of Toads in the French Renaissance.” Renaissance Quarterly 57.1 (2004): 126–164, 129 for the quotation from La Belle Hélène de Constantinople. For the image, the blog post at the British Library “Toads and ermine (and other coats of arms),” 25 June 2019, by Clarck Drieshen. Charles Arthur Fox-Davies’ A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909) can cite only one instance of a Toad or Frog used in English heraldry, and suspects it might have actually been “three buckets of water” (258).|
|↑22||L. A. J. R. Houwen, ed. The Deidis of Armorie: A Heraldic Treatise and Bestiary (Scottish Texts Society, 1994), 49. Thank you to Misty Schieberle for providing me with scans of Houwen’s edition.|
|↑23||For a recent treatment of the dangers of such counternarratives of beauty, see Tressie McMillan Cottom, “In the Name of Beauty,” Thick and Other Essays (The New Press, 2019), e.g., “When I say that I am unattractive or ugly, I am not internalizing the dominant culture’s assessment of me. I am naming what has been done to me. And signaling who did it.”|
|↑24||Which is why, in Gelli’s Circe, none of Circe’s animals agree to be transformed back into humans except the elephant, the only one who had been a philosopher.|