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Purse, Complaint of Chaucer to his

The Oxford Companion to Chaucer
Douglas Gray

Purse, Complaint of Chaucer to his, 

a short poem of three rhyme royal stanzas and an envoy of five lines addressed to Henry IV, surviving in a number of manuscripts, and first finding its way into print in Caxton's Anelida and Arcite (1477–8). The envoy can be dated towards the end of Chaucer's life, after the acceptance of Henry as king on 30 September 1399. He reconfirmed Richard II's annuity in a document which was issued in mid-February 1400, and partial payments were made. It may be that Chaucer was short of money in this period, and that, as is often assumed, the poem with its envoy was directed to the king, although there is no independent evidence that it was presented to him. Since the envoy is not found in all of the manuscripts, it has sometimes been thought that it may have been a later addition to an already existing poem. With the envoy the Complaint is a clear example of a ‘begging poem’, of which there are earlier French examples; without it it would be a more general lament about the lack of money, of which there are examples in both French and English. Chaucer's poem stands out for its wit and originality. The purse is addressed as ‘my lady dere’ and the poem is a mock love complaint. He beseeches her (with clever playing on the words ‘light’ and ‘hevy’) for mercy—‘beth hevy ageyn, or elles mot I dye’, repeated as a refrain. Let me hear your ‘blissful soun’, and see ‘your colour lyk the sonne bright | That of yellownesse hadde never pere’, he prays. As his emotion rises she becomes (like the Virgin Mary) his heart's guide and ‘quene of comfort and of good companye’, the light of his life and his saviour ‘doun in this world’ where he is ‘shave as nye as any frere’—shaven (of money) as closely as a friar's tonsure.


Rv, see Benson, Larry D. (ed.) 656, 1088–9;Find this resource:

    Pace, George B., and David, Alfred (1982) (eds.), The Minor Poems Part One (Variorum edn., Norman, Okla.), 121–32;Find this resource:

      Scattergood, V. J.(1995), ‘The Short Poems’, in Minnis (1995), 510–12;Find this resource:

        Ferris, Sumner (1967–8), ‘The Date of Chaucer's Final Annuity and of the “Complaint to his Empty Purse”’, MP 65:45–52;Find this resource:

          Strohm, Paul (1992), ‘Saving the Appearances: Chaucer's Purse and the Fabrication of the Lancastrian Claim’, in Barbara A. Hanawalt (ed.), Chaucer's England Literature in Historical Context (Minneapolis), 21–40 (repr. in Strohm, Hochon's Arrow: The Social Imagination of Fourteenth-Century Texts, Princeton, 1992).Find this resource:

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