In the Medieval Locker Room: Double Entendre in a Fourteenth-Century Courtly Love Poem
Abstract: The late medieval English lyric, “Annot and John,” is deceptively tedious. In the poem, the speaker praises his beloved by comparing her to five different encyclopedic lists of nice things: precious stones, flowers, birds, spices, and heroes. These lists are dull and repetitive, though they demonstrate real erudition. There are twelve foreign borrowings in the first stanza alone, and the
metrical scheme is unusually complex. Each ten-line stanza features:
1) an AAAAAAAABB rhyme scheme,
2) at least four alliterating words per line, and
3) an additional alliterating pair tying together the A and B groups.
This baroque structure is impressive technically, but not aesthetically, and most critics do not find much to admire in “Annot and John.” Moore (1951), for example, states that the poem’s “dilatation accomplishes only synthetic unity and advances the art of the lyric not at all” (pp. 32-33). However, I argue that such criticism relies on a mistaken reading. The poem is not a straightforward love lyric. Rather, it is an extended double entendre, presented with mock seriousness but full of suggestive humor. The technical complexity is meant to be over the top, which is a point made previously by Ransom (1985), who interprets the poem’s as a satirical take on courtly love. This presentation will include additional examples of “filthy” puns from the poem to support Ransom’s interpretation. I will also discuss examples from elsewhere in the medieval literary tradition that support a satirical reading of the poem.