Once upon a time, as my mother quoth to me, i'faith, there was a city--a city, I say--near the sea (may God's messenger send you many blessings!).
Ah...filler, filler, filler. How I love you. You are sprinkled daintily throughout every extant Middle English metrical romance like a plague of useless little flowers in a meadow.* By God...by Christ...by Mary, full of grace...by God's sond...by Christ's sond ...by Saint Loy...by Saint Charity...by other saints with good rhyming names**...as Isidore saith...as Austin saith...as myn auctor saith...quoth I...quoth he...God send you alle gode chere...as preest yn chapel...and on and on and on and on and on! Filler!
In medieval verse, filler words and lines fulfil a very specific function. It is not easy to go on for hundreds, if not thousands, of rhyming, scanning*** lines without plugging in a few inconsequential bits now and again. The better poets either manage the filler so well that the reader doesn't particularly notice it or draw attention to it for the sake of irony. Less good poets spend way too much time dragging in Saint Loy every time a character experiences joy, and the filler becomes painful to read.
The newspaper cartoonist has a similar practice, though it generally involves images rather than words. As you can see in today's Adam@Home, Brian Basset has run into a bit of a problem. He has a joke,**** but it is a three-panel joke: the sort of thing that would work well***** in a weekday strip. However, as he has absolutely no better ideas for his Sunday comic, he needs to fit his three-panel content into a six-panel format (with a seventh panel containing a header). His solution is the visual equivalent of the medieval filler line...appropriate enough for someone detailing the life and times of Chaucer's idiot scribe.
Look at the skill with which Basset makes it perfectly, deadeningly clear that he's got nothin'. After a header that is mostly wasted space, the cartoonist provides a hastily drawn picture of Adam's back. We only know it is Adam's back if we are foolish enough to keep reading; wise people who give up after the first panel may think they are looking at a lamp or perhaps someone's kilt. In panel 2, we see Adam (in a red plaid shirt) staring at an exercise bike. In panel 3, we also see Adam staring at an exercise bike, though now, in true medieval-romance-hack fashion, he also appears to be worrying about his weight, thus erasing the import of the joke that follows. The remaining panels contain the actual content of the strip.
It is gratifying that Basset has mastered this important medieval technique. Frankly, all cartoonists should. I hope they do; it gives me joy.
And now I'm finished, by Saint Loy.
*Or possibly lyk flowr in mede.
**I.e., not Saint George.
***Well, relatively scanning.
****Well, relatively a joke.
*****Well, relatively--oh, forget it.