``The Freiris of Berwik'': A critical edition

Edward-David E Ruiz, University of Rhode Island


The Freiris of Berwik, an anonymous fabliau with satirical over-tones, is a rarity in late 15th-century Scottish comic poetry. Its suspenseful narrative pace, historically authentic setting, language rich in Scottish idiom, and empathetic characters have long been ignored. A definite improvement over its French and German analogues, it has been juxtaposed with Chaucer's The Miller's Tale and The Reeve's Tale. Belonging to a well-established tradition that includes oeuvres and writers of the Middle Ages and the best satirical poetry of the Scottish Chaucerians--Henryson, Dunbar, and Douglas--it inspired Ramsay's The Monk and the Miller's Tale, a popular comic poem during the resurgence of early 18th-century Scottish poetry, and has been studied by intrepid German critics.^ Scotland of the Middle Ages witnessed clerical abuses by mendicant friars, some of which have been reported in historical texts, and duly authenticated and documented in statute books. Beneath the impressive wit and humor of The Freiris of Berwik poet lurks a great intolerance of some mendicants, specially both Dominicans and Franciscans, but his moralizing is terse and emphatic. He offers no quick solution; instead, he challenges his readers to help improve the sorry state of the human condition.^ In Berwik, the nocturnal tryst of a rich Franciscan abbot and the shrewd young wife of a simple inn-keeper, the sudden arrival of her husband, the feats of necromancy and riotous abracadabra by an alert Dominican and his conniving frere, and the ensuing fast-paced brouhaha that leads to the denouement, reveal plenty about each in this inventive poem.^ This dissertation begins with an introduction/overview of the poem as a fabliau, followed by an account of the literary tradition to which the poem belongs, a glimpse of the anthologists who included the poem in their collections, a history of the criticism of the poem, and a critical study of the work itself. The text is based on the Bannatyne MS (1568), presently housed at the National Library of Scotland; variant readings from the subsequent editions are included, from the Maitland Folio MS (ca. 1570-1586) to the McCordick (1996). Historical/interpretive notes, mostly concerned with interpretation of textual problems, precede a comprehensive glossary which, for facile cross-reference, indicates in which line or lines a word appears. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Medieval|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Edward-David E Ruiz, "``The Freiris of Berwik'': A critical edition" (1997). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9805249.