The Social Contracts of "mete and drink" in The Tale of Gamelyn

Ward, Renée (2021) The Social Contracts of "mete and drink" in The Tale of Gamelyn. In: Food and Feast in Premodern Outlaw Tales. Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture . Routledge. ISBN 9780367224905

The social contracts of “mete and drink” in The Tale of Gamelyn

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Medieval outlaw tales often foreground the functions of food and feasting, especially the role these play in the creation of social bonds or in the establishment of social status. Think, for instance, of the lavish multi-course meal Robin sets before Sir Richard in A Gest of Robyn Hode. The Tale of Gamelyn, however, starkly contrasts such scenes. No swans, pheasants, or sweet-meats fill the lines of this ballad. Instead, a lack of detail characterizes its descriptions of food and feasts, as the ballad refers only occasionally to “mete and drink,” “wyne,” or, in the moment closest to the feasts of Gest, to the “two or thre” courses served during the banquet Gamelyn’s brother hosts. Yet this is not to say that food and feasting are less important in Gamelyn than they are in other outlaw tales. Indeed, as this paper argues, here they are a motif that inextricably links the development of the ballad’s protagonist to major thematic concerns such as justice and fellowship. Food and feasting act as social contracts—as tools of alliance (good and bad)—and as indicators of lawful and appropriate behaviour, especially behaviours connected to social norms concerning hospitality and generosity. In doing so, they also simultaneously highlight the importance of space within the social and legal systems and the problems that arise when the boundaries between domestic space (the feast hall) and civic space (the mote hall) blur. Through its protagonist and his engagement with food and feasts, the ballad restores the boundaries between the domestic and civic spaces, and stresses the superiority of the former over the latter. More importantly, although the ballad suggests that leadership skills and responsible behaviour are crucial to Gamelyn’s various social roles, it ultimately demonstrates that social order rests upon traditional structures and the practice of primogeniture.

Keywords:Medieval Outlaws, Gamelyn, Food, Feasts, Civic Spaces, Hospitality, Generosity, Justice, Fellowship, Primogeniture
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q323 English Literature by topic
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q321 English Literature by period
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
ID Code:30403
Deposited On:07 Mar 2018 09:29

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