Wyse wordes withinn: Private Property and Public Knowledge in Wynnere and Wastoure
This essay reads Wynnere and Wastoure in the context of the late medieval monarchical household’s growing interest in standardizing values such as measurements. Standardization allowed the king to assess exactly how much his subjects owned and tax accordingly in order to increase his own household’s revenue. Criticism of Wynnere and Wastoure often focuses on the prologue’s censure of contemporary linguistic practices and tends to argue that Wynnere and Wastoure narrates an interpretive “crisis” in fourteenth-century England. Examining the interplay between semantic, socio-political, and economic references reveals, however, that the poem fails to exhibit any true anxiety regarding moments of textual obfuscation. Instead, it illuminates the financial benefits produced by frustrating readers’ knowledge about economic holdings; the poem shows how equivocation can keep information about private property from the public eye. This article ultimately argues, then, that Wynnere and Wastoure narrates a resistance to the bureaucratic mechanisms of royal standardization by embracing linguistic ambiguity.
Modern Philology, 107 (2010), 507-27.