20 April 2024

Kissing; the English Way

The author of the medieval English religious play the Resurrexio Domini sometimes gives the impression of introducing Kisses as amatter of course. The play is written in Middle Cornish; naturally, the rubrics or stage directions are in Latin.

So, when the Lord visits His Mother after He has risen, Maria amplexatur eum et osculatur. After He has reassured her, Osculantur et separant. During the dialogue between the Magdalen and the 'Gardener', she desires, not just to 'touch' Him, but to kiss ... perhaps His Head, or certainly His feet. When Jesus visits His disciples, "the doors being closed", on the first occasion osculatur eos. And, the second time He thus appears, again, osculatur eos et dicit

The biblical texts do not suggest these embellishments.

There is, indeed, other evidence available for this national peculiarity (and I quote here from P S Allen). Desiderius Erasmus, a frequent visitor to early Tudor England, tells a correspondent that, in England, wherever you go, you will be received osculis; when you depart, osculis dimitteris; you go back, suavia will be returned to you; when you receive visitors, propinantur suavia; when they leave you, dividuntur basia; if you meet anywhere, basiatur affatim; finally, wherever you go, suaviorum plena sunt omnia. How mollicula, how fragrantia these kisses will be! Soon, it will not be a matter of spending just ten years in England, you will want peregrinari there till you die. 

In  the Christiani Matrimonii Institutio, he describes weddings which are so disorderly that a wretched girl will have to join hands with drunks and crooks, and ... apud Britannos etiam oscula

A Frenchwoman, welcoming George Cavendish in 1527, observed "Forasmuch as ye be an Englishman, whose custom is in your country to kiss all ladies and gentlewomen without offence, and although it be not so here in this realm, yet will I be so bold to kiss you, and so shall all my maidens.".

Cardinal Wolsey, no less, met the Countess of Salisbury "whom my lord kissed bareheaded, and all her gentlewomen".

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