Wynnere and Wastoure in Robert Thornton’s ‘Up Sodowne’ World
Marginalia, Vol. 8, Cambridge Yearbook (2007-2008)
In Wynnere and Wastoure we are faced with a poem which is artistically complex, physically incomplete and textually corrupt. This situation intensifies the imperative to bring all the available evidence to bear on critical interpretations. The ‘generous production of meanings and voices’ which successive generations of scholars have discerned in the poem is partly a reflection of its internal complexity but also a function of continued uncertainty about its date, original milieu and ending. What is needed to stem the multiplication of possible meanings is a fixed and reliable perspective from which to approach the text. Historical, generic and political contexts have been proposed, yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to one of the most authoritative framing-devices available to us: that of British Library MS Additional 31042, the only manuscript in which Wynnere and Wastoure survives. I would like to suggest that Wynnere and Wastoure addresses topics and articulates attitudes which are pervasive in Robert Thornton’s manuscript and that consideration of how this text relates to several others in the volume can suggest fresh and illuminating readings of the poem’s ambiguities. Interpretation is often a matter of deciding what degree of emphasis should be assigned to each part of the text. This is particularly true of an incomplete work like Wynnere and Wastoure.