Tale of Gamelyn, The

Tale of Gamelyn, The
(ca. 1370)
   Gamelyn is a vigorous tale of family rivalry and corrupt justice composed during the later 14th century in the northeast Midlands of England. It is written in MIDDLE ENGLISH at a time when this was becoming a more popular language for writing ROMANCES, but Gamelyn has more in common with a folktale like Cinderella than with stories of knights errant, COURTLY LOVE, or military exploits. In its directness the tale is akin to the BALLADS, but it is written in rhymed couplets in poetic lines with seven stressed syllables and irregular feet. Moreover it has at its center issues of property, inheritance, and justice that were the preoccupation of the nobility. As a result the poem seems to be a transitional work, evidence of the diverse forms that romance could take outside the continentally influenced tastes of the royal court.
   On his death bed, a knight setting his affairs in order commands his friends to divide his property among his three sons and not to neglect the youngest, Gamelyn. But after the knight passes on, his eldest son, John, takes Gamelyn into his own house, treats him poorly, and neglects his farms, forests, and livestock. When Gamelyn comes of age, he looks at his property and becomes enraged with his brother. After winning a wrestling match, Gamelyn invites the crowd of onlookers home for a party, infuriating his brother. John, in turn, tricks Gamelyn into allowing himself to be bound while John throws a party for his own friends.When the taunting becomes more than Gamelyn can bear, he breaks loose and beats the guests with a staff before running to the woods and joining a band of outlaws. While Gamelyn is in the forest, John is appointed sheriff of the county and makes it his objective to try Gamelyn in court. He forces Gamelyn to appear by threatening to try the third brother, Sir Ote, in his place, and then bribes the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.When Gamelyn sees that the court is corrupt he throws the judge out of his seat and takes his place.He then pronounces judgment on his brother John, the judge, and the 12 jurors: All are guilty, all are hanged. Gamelyn has much in common with ballads of ROBIN HOOD and other stories of medieval English outlaws. Like the Romance of Fouke le fitz Waryn and the Gesta Herewardi, the story is concerned with property rights, although it takes place at a lower social level. Gamelyn, too, becomes an outlaw as the only means of achieving justice when faced with powerful and unscrupulous adversaries. In this, he is unlike Robin Hood, who is a perpetual inhabitant of the forest and the outlaw status. But like Robin Hood, and unlike many displaced youthful heroes of romance, Gamelyn achieves his goal through physical skill and his innate sense of justice rather than due to the accident of noble birth. Thus Gamelyn stands in a middle ground between the tastes and politics of chivalric romance and those of the popular ballad.
   The tale has connections to two great figures of English poetry, Geoffrey CHAUCER and William Shakespeare. Gamelyn was preserved only in manuscripts of the CANTERBURY TALES, where it is sometimes identified as “The Cook’s Tale of Gamelyn.” In fact, the language and style are unlike Chaucer’s and there are no good grounds for identifying him as the author. Some scholars, however, have speculated that he may have known the story and considered adapting it for one of the Canterbury pilgrims. If so, it is tempting to think of him assigning it to the Yeoman, a member of the rural gentry who would appear to have been the audience for Gamelyn, rather than to the urban Cook. Gamelyn was not included in the earliest printed editions of the Canterbury Tales, but it was read and adapted by Thomas Lodge as his prose romance Rosalynde or Euphues Golden Legacie (1590). This work transferred the action to the home of a French knight in Bordeaux and exchanged the exclusively masculine interests of the Middle English poem for a plot centered on love. Shakespeare, in turn, subdued the violence further, removed the outlaws, and further transformed the forest exile into a pastoral idyll in As You Like It (1599).
   Bibliography
   ■ Kaeuper, Richard.“An Historian’s Reading of The Tale of Gamelyn,”Medium Aevum 52 (1983): 51–62.
   ■ Keen,Maurice. The Outlaws ofMedieval Legend. London: Routledge, 1961.
   ■ Knight, Stephen, trans.“The Tale of Gamelyn.” In Medieval Outlaws: Ten Tales in Modern English, edited by Thomas H. Ohlgren, 168–186. Stroud: Sutton, 1998.
   ■ Scattergood, John. “The Tale of Gamelyn: The Noble Robber as Provincial Hero,” in Readings in Medieval English Romance, edited by Carol M.Meale. Cambridge: Brewer, 1994, 159–194.
   ■ Skeat,W.W., ed. The Tale of Gamelyn from the Harliean Ms. No. 7334, Collated with Six Other Mss. Oxford: Clarendon, 1884.
   Timothy S. Jones

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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