Bludy Serk The Robert Henryson

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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(1460) One of the minor poems attributed to Robert Henryson, "The Bludy Serk" is a simple allegory of 120 lines, comprising a tale whose meaning is highlighted for the reader in a moral. It tells the story of a king whose daughter is abducted by a giant. Imprisoned in a "deip dungeon," she suffers while the king searches for a champion capable of defeating her captor. A knight fights and succeeds, but is left mortally wounded. Dying, he asks the lady to take his bloody shirt, remembering it and him when other suitors come to woo her. She refuses all others. The final stanza of the tale anticipates the moral in identifying her fidelity as the duty which humanity owes to Christ, who died "For sinfull manis saik" (l. 94).

The king is identified with the Holy Trinity, the lady with the human soul, and the giant with Lucifer. The knight is Christ, whose death redeemed humanity from the "pit" of Hell, and pious meditation on this sacrifice emerges as a duty that will preserve the believer from the temptation of sin, represented by the wooers. The theme of Christ as lover-knight is common in medieval literature. However, Henryson's treatment is distinctive, highlighting the romance elements present in the narrative by adopting the simple style and meter of the ballad (see ballad stanza). Moreover, Henryson's method here resembles that of his Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, since the relationship between tale and moral is more complex than the formal division between the two would suggest. Rather than being separate, the content of the tale foreshadows the moral— for example, in the emphasis placed on the depth of the dungeon, and on the resemblance between the giant's fingernails and "ane hellis cruk."

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