couple, noun; also cuple, cople, coupel, coupill (Scots), cowpill (Scots)

(1)  A pair or group of lines bound together by rhyme or by patterns of rhyme.  Often used in a way equivalent to ‘stanza’.

As in Modern English, couple in wider speech in Middle English meant a pair of things, often a pair of things joined together such as a man and woman joined in marriage, and, by extension, the leash or brace used to join together a pair of hunting dogs.  In French it can mean that which is bound together, such as a bundle of hay or straw.  It can also refer by extension to a pair or group of lines bound together by rhyme, akin to what we would call a stanza.  It is used in Middle Scots (in both cases by authors who had spent time in France) to mean stanza.  The narrator of the Kingis Quair tells his readers that he gives them the text of the birds’ song in praise of Spring in ‘the copill next’, i.e. in the following stanza.  The author of a mid-fifteenth-century Scottish chronicle, the Liber pluscardensis, also uses ‘coupill’ unambiguously to mean ‘stanza’.

The verb couplen is used by Robert Mannyng in his mid-fourteenth-century chronicle to refer, as Joyce Coleman explains, to the joining together of lines in a tail-rhyme stanza (both joining in sound and possibly also the bracing of rhymes by linking them together on the page).  Mannyng also uses copple as a noun to refer to a stanza when he explains, as Coleman demonstrates, how part of a complex tail-rhyme stanza might be left out by a reader or performer.

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