May no Man Slepe in youre Halle

Original Text: 
Cambridge University Library MS. Add. 5943, fols. 170v-71r; Rossell Hope Robbins, ed., Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952): no. 31, pp. 27-28. PR 1203 S4 1952 Trinity College Library. Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, eds., The Index of Middle English Verse (New York, 1943): no. 2135. Z 2012 B86 General Reference Robarts Library.
3    Madame,
4  For dogges,
5    Madame,
8  To dryue awey the dogges,
9    Madame.
13  To dryue awey the dogges,
14    Madame.
15May no man slepe in youre halle
16  For rattys,
17    Madame,
18  For rattys,
19    Madame,
20      But gyf he haue a tent of xv enche
22  To dryve awey the rattys,
23    Madame.
24  Iblessyd be suche knappes
26  Vnder my lady lappes
27  To dryve awey the rattys,
28    Madame.
30  For flyes,
31    Madame,
32  For flyes,
33    Madame,
34      But gyf he haue a tent of xv enche
36  To dryve awey the flyes,
37    Madame.
38  Iblessyd be such byes
41  To dryve awey the flyes,
42    Madame.


1] The title, "Cantelena" in the MS, is Latin for "old song."
Lines or parts of lines 5, 9, and 19-23 -- missing or damaged in the original -- are extrapolated from the clear pattern set by the rest of the poem. The stanza here follows the rhyme, not the original MS lineation, which sometimes is of prose.
Retainers forced to bed down on the floor of a manor hall where everyone ate had to put up with scavengers like dogs, rats, and flies while trying to catch some shut-eye.
Sexual innuendo in expressions like "my lady's chamber" is often complimentary, but both the implied size, functions, and sheer capacity of "my lady's hall," and the barnyard troping on horny sleeplessness, lend a rawer-than-usual edge to an "old song" addressing the beloved who is gifted by a much higher station in life than that enjoyed by the retainer-poet-lover. Back to Line
2] For: because of. dogges: dogs; contemptible fellows. Back to Line
6] But gyf: unless. tent: tent to sleep in; also, probe used to insert in a wound or bodily cavity, i.e., penis. Back to Line
7] twey: two. clogges: blocks of wood, tied to something to prevent it from moving or from getting lost, i.e., testicles. Back to Line
10] Iblessyd: the past participle, `blessed' or `blest.' Back to Line
11] gyuef: give, administer. bogges: unclear, but perhaps bugs ("bugbears'), or two half-pecks or bodges (a measure), or budges, a type of bill or sharp weapon. Back to Line
12] By twyne: "my twyne" in MS. Back to Line
21] letheryn: leathery. knappes: knops, knobs; also knocks, sharp blows. Back to Line
25] swappes: strokes, blows (MS reads "smappes," a term not found). Back to Line
29] May: "Ma" in MS. Back to Line
35] byes: byss, fine linen. Back to Line
39] suyes: "sways," swinging. Back to Line
40] By tuynne: between. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: