Review of Week 3: Jan 25, 27 (by Lindsay Spindler)
This was the first week of student presentations.
Tuesday: Before Kiwanee started her presentation the class took a moment to discuss the Introduction and first chapter of Scanlon’s The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Literature 1100-1500. We established that Scanlon’s main focus of his introduction was to 1) Re-evaluate what was already out there and 2) Look differently at the texts. One Text Scanlon references is the Cursor Mundi, which captivates us with its use of language written for the common reader. At the time it was thought that if you were going to have learned thoughts it should be written in Latin and poetic thoughts should be in French. The author of the Cursor Mundi is writing for the un-learned English.
Middle English was first studied, in the modern era, through philology, with the literary texts providing examples of the English language at different times. Then it came to be read by taking historical events and blending them with literature. English studies after World War I established looking at texts as literary texts specifically, separate from their historical moments. Mostly studies were author driven which questions the relation that we have with an author versus the anonymous texts that are so common in the Middle Ages, with its different attitude toward authorship.
Scase’s essay “Re-inventing the Vernacular” showed the relationship of English literature to the other languages of trilingual England (French and Latin). The new language and style lacks the standards that had been established in Latin and, later, in French. This causes the language of Middle English literature to be unstable but gives the reader and writer more freedom of expression.
Kiwanee presented on Lerer’s article “Medieval English Literature and the Idea of Anthology” which highlighted how anthologies were composed. We established that selections were based on either the readers or the buyers and were compiled with strong non-intellectual material that was read for pleasure. Languages such as French Latin and English created a tradition within the texts themselves in how they were structured. With a guided selection collections were more personalized towards the reader. Caxton modernized anthologies by structurizing the narrative and editing the material for the modern age and seemed to think of that role as more authorial than that of the writer of the individual texts.
Thursday: We started discussing Barker’s interpretation of Culture in terms of everyday practices. We established that “culture” can be anything that holds meaning within a network of such practices. From there we discussed the difference between studying culture and cultural studies. Studying culture is a way of describing the practices of a community while cultural studies has a particular aim of analysis, along with description.
Next we discussed Mortimer’s (via Green) section on “Basic Essentials.” The things that most stuck out to the class was the actual presence of structure in anything from time to measurements even if it wasn’t standardized. Also, the class was curious about the common occurrence of people (especially the men) crying. Not only were the differences pointed out, but the commonality of manners. Those raised in the South found things such as where to sit at the dinner table the same as it was during the Middle Ages. Depending on your class position meant the kind of training in manners you would receive as well as exposure to scenarios in which certain expectations would be met.
Josh then presented on Green’s chapter in Scanlon’s Cambridge Companion to M.E.L. on “Textual Production and Textual Communities” (25-36). Textual communities within ME society gave readers a sense of identity through collective readings and their relationship to that material as specifically presented through texts. The handwritten books were shared among those in the community and helped shape their identity. The Lollards’ concern is from a different view of the text. They questioned the institution of the church and did not want a middleman such as a priest or a monk. They insisted that the act of praying was the same as the act of reading and that language was just another way of worshiping. These ideas had Lollards challenging the church through their relationship to texts.
Within the community there was the idea of textual versus the interpretive. The textual community (Stock) had to address the transition from written to typed as part of the interpretation, while the interpretive community (Fish) shared a set of understandings which could be interpreted like a different text altogether depending on if it is read by a group of doctors or law students, for instance.
Still smelling of cellophane, Codex Ashmole 61 was opened in order to read the Editor’s Introduction. We pointed out the various themes including didactic material which can be as quirky and eccentric as it is preachy as well as the topic of the Afterlife, which would be more freely talked about due to the plague. We took a good look at how the book itself is broken down with notes in the sidebar (glossing) as well as more detailed notes in the back of the book (explanatory notes). We read a little of “Saint Eustace” which is so far about a hunter and a deer that can project images between his horns.
Scanlon on the Cursor Mundi: “This author writes for unlearned English speakers, especially those at spiritual risk, so that they may learn to amend themselves” (2).
Lerer on Literature: “Literature is taken here to mean formal writing that gives or purports to give pleasure (with or without edification and merely pleasure-through edification)” (1251).
Barker (through Hall) on the parameters of cultural studies: “Cultural studies is discursive formation, that is, a cluster (or formation) of ideas images and practices, which prove ways of talking about, forms of knowledge and conduct associated with, a particular topic, social activity or institutional site in society” (Hall, Barker 5).
“Cultural studies is constituted by a regulated way of speaking about objects (which brings into view) and coheres around key concepts, ideas and concerns” (Barker 5).
Mortimer on “Basic Essentials”: “Other sorts of market goods include items that are not required on a day-to-day basis. Furs of hares, rabbits, kids, foxes, cats and squirrels…are available in the market, but there is insufficient demand in most small towns for many shops to be dedicated to such commodities on a daily basis…” (93).
Green on Textual Community: “However, where Fish’s interpretive communities concern themselves with the text as an object of interpretation, for Stock textuality is itself a kind of interpretation” (26).
Folio- A page with print on both sides (recto and verso).
Quire – with a number of pages that are folded in half and then sewn together in order to make a book by being collected with other quires
Watermarks- can help to decide the date of the manuscript if made in paper. Many different book makers had their own unique watermark which can help point not only to where the book was made but when.
Anglicona- a handwritten font that was used to be a legible as possible.
Preview for Next Week (Jessica will be class secretary):
Tuesday, we will “Learn to Behave,” in our first encounter with the texts in Ashmole 61. (As with the next few weeks, the assignment for Tuesday will include items from the anthology along with one critical piece, and then Thursday we will continue discussing those Middle English texts from Tuesday along with supplemental secondary materials.) This week’s Ashmole readings bring us hagiography (a saint’s life), the story of St. Eustace whose encounter with a talking deer we started in class Thursday. After that you will read two items of conduct literature in which a parent instructs a same-sex child in the appropriate ways for them to behave in the world. Think about the quite different kinds of instruction the daughter and the son receive, and what seems to be at stake for both of them. Pay attention, too, to the tone and style of each of these poems (items 3 and 4). Item 2 is our first encounter with John Lydgate, a prolific poet of the 15th century–whose satirical poem appears here without any attribution to Lydgate. **REMEMBER: The Explanatory Notes beginning on p. 415 of Ashmole 61 will offer you helpful information about each of the items you’re reading for Tuesday. Pay special attention to the material about Lydgate on p. 421.
We will also on Tuesday be led by Jocelyn through a discussion of the editors’ introduction to Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England, a course textbook that we’ll be spending a lot of time with over the next few weeks (indicated by “R&T,” for the editors’ names [Radulescu and Truelove], on the course schedule). Remember to check the blog Monday night or Tuesday before class for Jocelyn’s precis and notes on her presentation. I would like these discussions to become increasingly student-driven, without as much input from me, which depends on the class’s being fully prepared.
For Thursday we will read about Literature and about Education & Recreation, in two chapters in the Gentry Culture book. Suzanne will lead our discussion of Radulescu’s chapter on Literature (that is, gentry literature)–which pertains very directly to what we are reading in Ashmole 61.