Title Background

Death and Liffe.

Death and Liffe.

An edition of the poem, with introduction, notes, bibliography, and glossary. The corrupt state of the text in the unique, seventeenth-century MS. (the Percy Folio MS.) dictates a conservative editorial procedure under the assumption that in many cases the exact wording of the original cannot be recovered or reconstructed. The provenance of the original is uncertain, but some evidence from spelling (squ as sw) and loss of French /k/ points to the north; words in the poem apparently obsolete after the fifteenth century establish a terminus ad quem at the end of that century. Death and Liffe most closely resembles WW in presenting a narrator falling asleep in a woodland setting who witnesses the confrontation of two personifications of opposing principles. Its use of the memento mori theme suggests comparison with P3A, Pride of Lyf, King Hart, and the final passus of PPl B and C. For most of the poem, Lady Life is identified with natural temporal life, which must succumb to death, but when Death claims to have defeated Christ on the Cross, she assumes a second symbolic identity as everlasting life. Skeat went too far in claiming that Death and Liffe was wholly dependent on PPl (especially B.18) for its portrayal of Christ’s atonement as a struggle between contrasting forces of life and death. Parallels clearly exist (e.g., B.18.27-35 and Death’s assault on the natural world in Death and Liffe; Death fighting in Kynde’s army in both poems), yet often the context and allegorical values of images common to both poems differ considerably.

Rev. Helen Barr, MAE 60 (1991): 304-05; A. S. G. Edwards, YLS 5 (1991): 196-99; T. Turville-Petre, Speculum 66 (1991): 392-94; Susanna Greer Fein, Medievalia et Humanistica ns 19 (1992): 217-21; Peter Happé, Anglia 110 (1992): 216-19; Bengt Lindström, Studio Neophilologica 64 (1992): 119-21; E. G. Stanley, N&Q ns 39 (1992): 216-17; Elizabeth Williams, YES 22 (1992): 270-72.


Speculum Anniversary Monographs 15. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1989.


Donatelli, Joseph M. P.