Title Background

The Displacement of Labor in Winner and Waster

The Displacement of Labor in Winner and Waster

After beginning in a manner similar to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Winner and Waster slips back and forth between the genres of satire and chanson de geste for the first fitt. It is not until the second fitt that the poem assumes the debate form, which it will maintain until the end. According to Harwood, this generic instability, mirrored within the first fitt by textual and narrative disruptions, is “the inevitable consequence of [the] writer’s working within two histories at the same time” (160). Neither the chanson de geste nor the satire affords him a genre that can accommodate the problem of “prospective peasant violence” (161). Harwood argues that the poet’s “ideological imperative” is to elide over the prospect of interclass warfare until it can debated, and finally, the positions of both Winner and Waster internalized by “Edward III . . . as the variable tactics of a successful ruler” (161). The background to the debates on economic conduct in Winner and Waster is then extensively analyzed against the context of civic troubles in Chester and the policies of Sir William Shareshull, and Harwood reads these circumstances as inscribed into the poem. If Winner and Waster’s end is unrecognizable from its beginning, then it is, Harwood argues, “the result [of a project] of a constantly renewed containment and mediation” (170).


Robertson and Uebel, The Middle Ages at Work, 157-77.

Cross Reference



Harwood, Britton J.