Middle English Texts  

Read the following account of the Death of King Arthur from Lawman’s Brut.  This poem, written around 1200 in the Southwest/West Midland area of England, is based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, written in Latin ca. 1138-39.  It is called the Brut because it begins with the story of the Trojan hero Brutus (not the one from Julius Casear) escaping the flames of Troy and heading west to found Britain.  Brutus is thus called the eponymous founder of Britain, the person who gave it its name, though all of this of course is legend rather than fact.

Translate the passage into modern English, then comment on the marked words, noting peculiarities of Middle English, differences between Old and Middle English, or differences between Middle and Modern English, or all of these.  You may comment on any additional linguistic matters as well.

Le Morte d’Arthur 

Arthur wes forwunded, wunder   ane   swithe.

                    wounded    wondrously    and     deeply


Ther to him com a cnave1  the wes of his cunne2.

                       knave, boy        who was                   kin


He was Cadores sune, the eorles3 of Cornwaile.


Constantin      hehte            the cnave; he wes than kinge4 deore.

               hight, was called


Arthur him lokede on, ther he lai on folden,

                                                           earth, ground


And thas word seide mide sorhfulle heorte:



                  “Constantin, thu art wilcume.  Thu weore Cadores sone.


Ich thee bitache here mine kineriche.

               entrust                          kingdom


And wite mine Bruttes5  a  to thines6 lifes;

       guard             Britons   ever                    lifetime


And hald heom all tha laghen tha habbeoth i-stonden a mine daghen,

         hold                             laws                  have              stood                       days


And alle tha laghen gode tha bi Utheres daghen stode.

                                good                  Uther’s     


                  “And Ich wulle varen7 to Avalun to vairest alre maidene,

                                           fare, go                              fairest of all   


To Argante, there quene, alven swithe sceone;

   (=Morgan le fay)                     elf        very   beautiful


And heo8 scal mine wunden makien alle i-sunde,

                                 wounds                            sound


Al hal9 me makien mid haleweighe drenchen10.

   whole                                      healing        drinks


And seothe Ich cumen wulle to mine kineriche



And wunien   mid Brutten mid muchelere wunne.”

        live, dwell           Britons              great             joy


                  Aefne than worden ther com of se wenden11

                       Even (at)                  words                     sea   travelling


That wes an sceort12 bat  lithen,    sceoven mid uthen;

                     short      boat   moving     shoved              waves


And two wimmen13 therinne, wunderliche i-dihte;

                women                                                          dressed


And heo nomen Arthur anan and a-neouste hine vereden

          they  took                    anon              next     to him  (fared) went in


And softe hine a-dun leiden, and forth gunnen hine    lithen.

                        down   lay (pl.)                       against them   (they) went, moved



                   Tha wes hit i-wurthen          that Merlin seide whilen,

             Then           become, happened               what                said  before           


That weore unimete      care   of Arthures forthfare.

          was   unmeasured   sorrow                        forthfaring [going forth]


Bruttes i-leveth yete that he bon   on live

            believe   yet                      be(s) alive


And wunnien in Avalun mid fairest alre alven,

            lives                                                     of all elves


And lokieth evere Bruttes yete whan Arthur cumen lithe.

         look                   Britons                                          comes back     


Nis naver the mon i-boren of naver nane14 burde i-coren

Isn’t  never                      born        never none        woman   chosen


The cunne of than sothe of Arthur sugen mare.

that  can                           sooth                       say 


But while                wes an witeghe, Merlin i-hate;

       while, once (there)                  wizard                 named, called      


He bodede       mid worde — his quithes weoren sothe —

       bodede, told  with words       quoths, sayings                  sooth   


That an Arthur sculde yete cum Anglen  to fulste.15

                       should                      the Angles    aid, save



Some hints, questions, guidelines:


1         How was cn-/kn- pronounced in OE, ME, MnE?  How has the meaning of knave changed?


2         Comment on changes in kin, kind


3         Why does eorl end in -es?


4         Why does king end in -e?


5         Why are Britons called Brutes here?


6         Comment on the pronouns thy, thu, thines.


7         Why is fare written with a v in this text?  And vairest, alven, vereden?


8         Comment on heo and the other 3rd person singular pronouns.


9         Is there a connection between hal, whole, and heal?


10     How has the meaning of drench changed?


11     How has wendan evolved in Modern English?


12     Why is sc- pronounced sh- in Modern English?  Can you think of other examples?


13     Discuss the history of the word woman.


14     You may have learned that two negatives make a positive; how do you account for all the negatives in this sentence?


15     Comment on Middle English spelling as contrasted with spelling in Modern English.