Analogy of Wynnere and Wastoure in the Middle of the 14th Century

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Every where in life there are opposite forces which cannot exist with out one another. These things, whether opposing actions or opposing thoughts, often in the end cannot exist without one another. For if in the end one prevailed, there would be an unbalance. You cannot have ying without yang or life without death. In Wynnere and Wastoure there is a harmony between the two characters. While this harmony may be unclear to both of the characters, it becomes evident after each volley of arguments that there is no winner in this battle. Wynnere cannot exist without Wastoure.

Wynnere and Wastoure is a book steeped in the social problems of the time. The poem is dated from 1352 to 1353. The book was written around the end of the black plague and around the same time as the hundred year’s war. With the death of many Europeans due to the black plague there was shortage of workers and a rise in wages which lead to a decrease in the wealth of the upper class.

The rain of Edward the III put England into large amount of debt. He created a large debt for England by constantly borrowing to fund the hundred year’s war. This constant flow of cash in a circle of borrowing, spending and repaying can be seen much like the relationship between Wynnere and Wastoure. (Lois Roney, 1076) As a result of the economic troubles of England a need to educate the public in fiscal policy must have been prevalent in England.

In the initial scene a stage is set. A battle between two armies, one of Wynnere and one of Wastoure. The two armies are easily separated by their social status. The army of Winner is made up of merchants, lawyers, friars and the pope. The Winners are clearly the emerging wealthy middle class. Both the lawyers and merchants in that period of time were becoming wealthier and wealthier. The friars and Pope (the church in general) was also extremely wealthy and had become so only in a short amount of time compared to the age of the nobility in England. The army of Waster can be seen as the nobles. Here we can see that this battle sets the stage for the rest of the book. A battle between Wynnere, the emerging wealthy class, and Wastoure, the old noble class of wealth which is becoming gradually less powerful. (Gardiner Stillwell, 242)As the two are called before the King they offer arguments for their side before the battle. With each argument Wynnere and Wastoure counter each others points with valid arguments which make the reader value both sides. (Nicolas Jacobs, 488) Winner’s first attack on Wastoure attacks Wastoure for what he is more then his policies. He admires his own frugality and attacks Waster’s pride. The attack on Waster’s pride can be seen as more of an attack on the pride and ideology of the noble class which was evident in the time period when the book was written between the merchant and noble classes. His argument offers valid points. Waster comes back with reasonable counterpoint. He counters that winner’s winning are of no good to the community if they are not spent. HE tries to make the point that the poor and unfortunate will suffer unless there is a circulation of goods and wealth in the community. He tries to prove that winner’s piling of goods in his house will only collapse the house on himself and his soul (W&W, 259-62). In this initial argument winner is first viewed as a commoner possibly trying to assert himself in the noble world and be levelheaded with his financial situation. The first impression of Waster was of a noble man who lacks thriftiness and throws away his money. However after their first conversation the reader is left with the impression that Winner is actually more selfish then.

Waster and Waster are for the poor. It seems that Waster splits the middle ground more then Winner. He tries to spread the wealth around, while Winner is seen as hoarding the wealth. Winner’s counter to Waster’s argument does not try to exploit if Waster really spends to spread the wealth, but attacks Waster more personally by attacking him morally. He attacks the way in which Waster accumulates debt. He accuses Water of lusting over things like property and defaulting on his loans and legal agreements. Winner on the other hand fails to recognize that because of this he is able to take advantage of these cheap properties and collect more wealth. This is a prime example of how Winner needs Waster. Winner counters Wasters argument that his spending spreads the wealth by trying to point out that Waster’s wastefulness is source of the shortage which causes the poor to be poor.

Waster then tries to validate his extravagance by countering with his generosity. He tries to exonerate his extravagance by giving the excess to the poor and providing work for the poor from the creation of extravagant feasts and clothes. Winner counters by saying that no matter what excess is given to the poor if the food and clothes were not extravagant, there would be much more to go around. Winner provides a valid point by stating this, but as Winner says this he backs himself into a corner. If money is saved it does nothing but enrich the friars and other merchants. It does not serve the poor any better then extravagant spending. Here again the reader sees a striking similarity between the two extremes, and it becomes even more evident that neither extreme is correct. The only correct solution can be achieved through meeting in the middle of these two extremes. Neither Winner nor Waster is always correct.

Up to this point both Winner and Waster have proved that neither of the two sides is absolutely correct. Their attacks against each other have raised moral problems with each other’s sides. If one were to follow Winner’s view, the act of hoarding and saving everything could be seen as a lack of appreciation for Gods gifts to men. Waster points this out by saying that if Winner never uses the gifts created by God then he never will appreciate them and will ignore the goodness of God (Nicolas Jacobs, 491). Waster’s practice of extravagance is no better. The extravagance can be seen as a waste of Gods gifts to men, when his gifts could be used much more wisely. Winner’s long hearted description of the banquet which Waster throws can be seen as an example of this waste. Winner seems to put his entire rebuttal into the description of the feast. So much so that the feast takes a large amount of lines. He seems to want to really drive home to the reader the extravagance of Waster. While neither is correct, the reading shows even more clearly that you cannot have a Waster without a winner. There needs to be a balance struck between the two ideals.

As the Three Fitt begins Waster steps up the attack against Winner. He focuses more on the Winners focus on thrift. He attacks Winner’s defense of thrift as nothing more then a rejection of Gods goodness and his lack of concern for the poor. He gives the example thatThurgh the poure plente of corne that the peple sowes,That God will graunte of his grace to growe on the erthe,Ay to appaire the pris, and it passe nott to hye,To hope aftir an harde yere to honge thiselven (W&W, 270-274)Waster states that because the growing season was good the prices will remain low and the crops which he had been saving will be of less value. Winner will then hope for a bad growing season to drive the prices back up. Waster tries to focus the attack on the merchants in Winners army by attacking the way they handle their new found wealth. He tries to emphasize that wealth is the only thing they care about and they care little for the poor. He again is attacking the morality of Winner. As the poem progresses it seems that the poem is less about the financial problems with spending and saving, and more about the moral consequences between spending and saving. Nevertheless the solution still seems to be the same A Waster cannot exist without a Winner. If one exists without the other, not only will there be financial consequences, but moral ones also. Even Waster sees that there cannot be a Winner without a Waster.

Whose wele schal wyn, a wastour mposte he fynde,For if it greves one gome, it gladdes another. (W&W 390-391)While he did not have the intention of validating Winner’s point of view along with his own, it provides the reader with more reinforcement. To counter this Winner once again attacks waster’s extravagant nature, with his extravagance in women’s clothes. Waster counters this attack by telling Winner that it is his money and he can do whatever he wants with it. Winner in saying this forgets that if it was not for Wasters extravagance in spending, there would be no money for Winner to obtain from sales and save. Through the past four hundred some lines it seems that both Winner and Waster have fairly weak arguments. Nicolas Jacobs suggests that:"The argument could go on indefinitely, for the two antagonists seldom answer each other’s arguments and devote their speeches to recapitulating and expanding points they have already made, frequently in a thoroughly inconsequential way." (Nicolas Jacobs, 494).

In one of Waster’s final attacks accuses Winner of being Slothful and lazy. He accuses of Winner of waiting to make repairs to his house and cursing when the weather is too bad to make repairs to his house. Thus Waster says Winner will be able to save money by not doing the repairs and have an excuse for not completing those repairs. He repeats the same argument he has in all of the other examples which he has given; Winner will not invest into anything and therefore can not help the poor. He only cares about hoarding his money.

With the arguments made the king is called in to decide once and for all who will win the debate between Winner and Waster. The King’s judgment suggests that he to believe that neither of these points of view are good in excess, but are only good when used in moderation together. It suggests that they are useful together in moderation, but cannot work usefully independently.

Throughout the attacks against each other, both Winner and Waster have both extremely personal and demoralizing shots against each other. The fact that the issue even had to be resolved by a third party makes both Winner and Waster seem childish. When you look at the picture of how the dispute was settled, it looks even more like two children who have been fighting, and their father, the king, had to settle the dispute once and for all. Just like most childish arguments neither child is right and both are at fault for the problem. Both Winner and Waster were incorrect in their attacks and were blinded by their view points. As reader could begin to clearly see as they progressed through the book, one cannot have a Winner without a Waster or a Waster without a Winner.

Throughout the lines there constant references to God and the moral consequences of each others fiscal actions. Due to the time period which this was written in it can be hypothesized that the reason each point was turned into moral repercussions was because of the huge universal belief in the church and the large collective knowledge in the moral beliefs of the church. If an author wanted to spread knowledge of economic policy and teach his readers about the value of spending and saving the best way to do that would be to relate it to something that most readers of the period share in common. The most unifying thing in England was clearly the church. What better way to show that you cannot have a winner without a waster, then to relate it to morality. Winner’s fault is that he does not fully appreciate the gifts from God because he does not use them. Waster’s fault is that in his over extravagance, he wastes some of Gods precious gifts when they could be used more wisely. Both of their faults show that a person must appreciate the gifts from God and use them, but also must make sure that they do not misuse them. The reader can then draw from this, and see that an economic policy of saving has to be balanced with a policy of spending. The constant repeating of the same argument in different ways and the bickering between both characters made them both seem childish and idiotic. This could have served the purpose of making those who were reading the book develop a lack of respect for anybody who harbored one point of the view or the other and would cause people to understand that both in moderation are useful.

Through out the book as each character makes their arguments, it becomes quite clear that if either of the character’s views were employed completely, the economy would struggle. For the economy to function sufficiently there has to be a harmony created between Winner and Waster. Through the jousting back and forth between Winner and Waster the fiscal debate turns into on one morality and the abuse of God’s gifts to humans. As Winner and Waster attack each other on these grounds it becomes even more evident that neither Winner nor Waster could ever be totally correct. To achieve a good fiscal and moral economic policy, there would have to be a balance struck between the Winner and Waster.

Works CitedJacobs, Nicolas. "The Typology of Debate and the Interpretation of Wynnere and Wastoure." The Review of English Studies. Vol. 36 No. 144 (1985): pp481-500Roney, Lois “Winner and Waster’s "Wyse Wordes": Teaching Economics and Nationalism in Fourteenth- Century England" Speculum Vol. 69 No. 4 (1994): pp1070-1100Stillwell, Gardiner " Wynnere and Wastoure and the Hundred Years War" ELH Vol.8 No.4 (1941): pp241-247