Bedroom comedy cuts a window onto the doings of a new social class, the commercial nobility. Money makes Gilbert mayor, creates first-class eligibility for Irma, and eventually heals her severely-tested marriage to Bertram. But shall morals change with fortune?
The plot, an eternal one, calls for putting chastity on trial against material gain. And at first glance, we might rule that there is no real question about how the noble values fare against the baser ones. Irma predictably bends not an inch before the storm of temptations hurled at her by Hugh, the bragging, villainous cynic, even against the urgings of her friends and family. She holds to virtue and wins--what?
She keeps her loving husband, of course. And her self-respect, the loss of which, she says, would amount to utter perdition. But the sturdy faithfulness of her example is wasted on nearly everyone else. Her confidants, having told her to take the cash and let the chastity go, are shocked and shamed to discover what disastrous business such a transaction would have been.
No, the main stake is the money, which she manages to win by a clever trick (divinely inspired, the poet remarks). What the story tells us at every turn is that riches brought (or bought) respect worth any gamble, and that financial ruin was the worst thing that could happen to a climber, however virtuous.
No other works in medieval literature go under the name of Ruprecht von Würzburg, and only a single manuscript of this one exists. But the plot has been in use for a very long time, in many literatures, both oriental and western. The setting Ruprect uses plainly identifies his source as French. Verse romances treating the theme were popular in the thirteenth century, examples being those by Gibert de Montreuil and Gerard de Nevers, but Ruprecht's version is not a direct translation of any of these. It seems rather that he deserves a place with the pioneers who took advantage of the storyteller's freedom to compose variations on the history of the human condition.