But Who Will Bell the Cat?: Deschamps Brinton, Brinton, Langland, and the Hundred Years War
This essay is part of the forum on ‘Langland and the French Tradition’, edited by R. D. Perry and Elizaveta Strakhov. It centres on L’s use of the ‘belling the cat’ fable, which appears as an allegory for 1376–77 parliamentary politics in the Rodent Parliament scene of the Prologue of PPl, and is also found in a sermon by Bishop Thomas Brinton delivered about parliament in 1376. Agreeing with Ralph Hanna that Brinton derives the use of the fable from L, and not the other way around, Strakhov notes that the fable also appears in the political work of the Continental French poet Eustache Deschamps a decade later. After tracing the origins and development of the ‘belling the cat’ fable, Strakhov shows that it is only being used in specific, politicized contexts by these three authors, whereas its previous literary uses are moralizing, but not in any way topical. Strakhov goes on to argue that all three authors invoke the fable as commentary on the ongoing Hundred Years’ War. The fable’s connection to war is an overt conclusion in the case of Deschamps; in the cases of L and Brinton, she demonstrates this reading by supplementing textual analysis of the fable and its context with evidence for the centrality of war concerns to the Parliaments of 1376 and 1377 taken from Parliamentary Rolls for that period, as well as Thomas Walsingham’s Chronicon Angliae and the Anonimalle Chronicle. Strakhov thus offers, in the first place, a new reading of the Rodent Parliament’s allegory as being directly about the Hundred Years’ War. Rather than conclude, however, that L and Brinton and Deschamps must therefore have a literary relationship of influence, she suggests instead that the mutual use of the same fable to critique war on both sides of the Channel suggests that the Hundred Years’ War emerges in this period as a major cultural force fomenting a cross-Channel literary milieu. Much like Cold War culture in the twentieth century, the Hundred Years’ War, Strakhov concludes, fosters its own set of literary scripts and produces its own literary transregional microcosm, into which we must also place L.