Background on Elynour Rummynge

Connected Background



Introduction and Background to

Of the poem there are a single manuscript and five print witnesses. According to DIMEV, these are MS London, British Library Addit. 22504, ff. 35v-36v (fragment transcript of early print); Certayne Bokes by Lant and Tab from around 1545; an early edition by Marshe and Kynge; one by John Day from around 1563, Marshe’s 1568’s Workes, and fragments of an edition (1521) by either Wynkyn de Worde or Henry Pepwell.

The poem is written in Skeltonic verse and comprises of 623 lines. Because the lines,

     And of the Portyngales;
     Wyth, ‘Lo, gossyp, iwys,
     Thus and thus it is,
     There hath ben greate war
     Betwene Temple Bar
     And the Crosse in Chepe,
     And thyder came an hepe
     Of mylstones in a route.’ (ll. 355-62)

refer to the May Day riots of 1517, Scattergood asserts that it is likely that the poem dates from around this period (449). Additionally, Scattergood mentions that a record survives of a real ‘Alianora Romyng’, a ‘common tippellar of ale’ in Leatherhead, Surrey, who was fined 2d for selling too expensive ale in 1425 (450). The pub ‘Rummyngs House’ still exists today under the name ‘The Running Horse’ where you can enjoy “noppy ale” (l.102) – hopefully without “hennes donge” (l. 197) – while reading Skelton’s Elynour Rummynge on the wall.

In her book, Elizabeth Fowler argues that Elynour Rummynge is “like an architect’s folly in which the gingerbread ornament of misogyny overwhelms a barely-recognizable structure of ideas” as opposed to “a piece of exuberant but realistic description of an alewife” the poem is generally conceived to be (134). Furthermore, she criticises the fact that Skelton’s critics pay more attention to the extravagance of the poem and disregard its main argument. Fowler states “[i]f we cannot see (as critics of the poem have not seen) literary character as constructed by reference to social person, we ignore its specific historical arguments and cannot discover how it works” (135). According to Fowler, the references to socials person built into Elynour’s character will reveal her origins in literary tradition, clerical antifeminism, and economic thought. In Fowler’s view, Skelton composes a “commentary on social persons and topoi drawn from ecclesiastical, sexual, economic, and political sources” (135).

Stanley Fish, on the other hand, derives the poem’s social ‘realism’ from the poem’s visual technique. Fish, drawing on statements by W. H. Auden and C. S. Lewis, equates the poem with a painting: “[t]he Tunning of Eleanor Rumming is a picture, a verbal painting – and designedly nothing more … to read the poem is to see a canvas prepared before (or through) your very eyes” (251-3). This manner of interpreting the poem will bring out the “experimentalism” of the poem, yet Fowler claims that this leads the reader “away from its primary formal features and its overridden tone of disgust and enthusiast opprobrium” (137). Fowler states that the poem’s overt misogyny makes it hard to concur with Fish’s reading of the poem’s moral and philosophical neutrality (137).