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Talking with the Taxman about Poetry: England's Economy in ''Against the King's Taxes" and Wynnere and Wastoure

"THE LAW THAT makes my wool the king's is no just law" ("Non est lex sana quod regi sit mea lana"), proclaims the anonymous Anglo-Norman and Latin poem whose editorial title, "Against the King's Taxes," reflects the depth of its antipathy to royal exactions. This eighty-five line macaronic poem, probably composed in the late 1330s, rails against the extortions of wool collectors, the pride of the great, and the process of tax granting. Written at least a decade later, the Middle English Wynnere and Wastoure imagines England's economy more expansively. While "Taxes" bases its polemic arguments on Christian eschatology's threats and rewards for individual souls, Wynnere and Wastoure invests itself in the collective economic good of the realm. Imagining England's wealth as a single shared treasury, the later poem seamlessly integrates moral and economic principles in an enactment of the political status quo. Whereas "Taxes" laments the injustice of parliamentary tax grants, Wynnere presents us with an idealized poetic representation of the same process. These two texts provide some of the most richly detailed poetic treatment of the English economy in the fourteenth century, but they tell us the most when put in comparison. Their marked differences provide insight into the genre of political poetry and the relationship between political thought and poetic creation in this period..

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