Weekly Review 9: March 15-17 (by Leslie Gibson)
This week we began our discussion talking about the Hardman essay after Dr. Seaman announced that she was allowing us to revise our midterm exams (Due Saturday night by midnight in Oaks.) Maria discussed the essay in terms of four manuscripts: the early manuscripts (Auchinleck and Thornton) and the later manuscripts (Heege and CUL). In her essay Hardman recognizes that these manuscripts are different than the Ashmole 61, but they are in the same family. Dr. Seaman brought to our attention that this writing, more demonstrative than analytical, is typical of the scholarly writing that goes on in manuscript studies.
Maria brought to light that the earlier manuscripts included more histories than the later ones. Hardman argues that this is because they were concerned with creating an English national identity, particularly the Auchinleck. The Auchinleck is well known for trying to create an English national identify in terms of Christianity. Many of the histories include victories over the Saracens and Christian noteworthiness. Auchinleck was written for use within the family, to educate and inspire. The Thornton manuscripts are also riddled with histories throughout and while they, too focus on establishing a national Christianity, they are less concerned with the conquering of the Saracens and more concerned with the idea of the Saracens having the most potential for conversion. The Thornton manuscripts were also written to be used by families and was for personal use as opposed to use by a priest or a clergy member to instruct the masses.
The later manuscripts, like the Auchinleck after the Crusades and a kind of civil war (War of the Roses), are less concerned with histories and more with extreme weather conditions and social and political events. They work to establish an emotional history and identity as opposed to a military one. The Heege manuscript reflects ideas of how God may have been angry with them before and how they can appease him now. It expresses what a utopian society England could be if they would all work together. The CUL manuscript excludes histories and concentrates on the private life of the family.
We then moved on to talk about Lybeaus Desconus and we focused primarily on how this version of the “Fair Unknown” functions within that subgenre of romance. We also talked about how the supporting characters (Elaine and Wyndeleyn) are introduced in that they are described by their clothes instead of physical appearance. We discussed how Lybeaus is described in the first 30 lines as being courtly, untrained but having the ability to be trained. We also know from the beginning that he is of noble blood (something we usually find out much later in other versions). We ended class by discussing that nobility is behavior, not blood.
Thursday we discussed at length the final paper and project for the first half of the class, then Dr. Seaman introduced some blog posts to the class and opened a discussion. Michael’s blog post commented on the violence in Lybeaus Desconus and how it seems to be excessive but necessary. This violence may have been contradictory to what we thought about knights because this violence is so highlighted, but so is his reason for doing it. My blog post brought to light the ending of Lybeaus Desconus and how it can be a big jarring when taken out of the context of the romance genre. Eric noted that when you read the ending with the rest of the tale, it doesn’t seem out of place or strange but when you take it out of the text or look at it closely, it “could all seem a little ridiculous.” Dr. Seaman pointed out that people’s expectations were not that these romances were realistic, but that they worked more symbolically and, much like today, people will allow for some implausibility if it functions within the story’s thematic purpose.
We spent the rest of the class discussing cuckoldry and how it was really only applicable to men because if a man cheated, it was not necessarily celebrated by society, but it also wasn’t damning. If a woman cheated, it reflected poorly on the man because he is supposed to be in charge of her, to keep her in line. It’s understood that a cuckold is both unable to please his wife sexually and is unable to make her mind him. We talked about Sir Corneus in that says that it is meant to be a joke, but it establishes a brotherhood amongst cuckolds, one in which King Arthur is a member. This makes it not so bad after all.
We talked about The Jealous Wife in terms of religious piety and the power of prayer and devotion. And we ended our discussion Thursday by discussing The Incestuous Daughter and how it shows that even if you are the worst of the worst, as this daughter was, you can still be forgiven. Dr. Seaman brought to our attention that this story received some negative attention due to its almost Lollard (or pre-Protestant) view of forgiveness since it states that if you are on your death bed, all you have to do is confess to a friend or if you don’t have a friend, say it aloud to yourself and God.
“What do you do as a Knight? You build your reputation.” – Dr. Seaman
Eric: “Wouldn’t there by some socially negative connotations if men were cheating on their wives?”
Dr. Seaman: “Well it’s like today, we don’t have a word for man-whore. Not a negative one at least. None of us are going to say: ‘Oh yeah, that’s so awesome!’ but our culture responds more negatively to promiscuous women than men.”
“The Fair Unknown” tradition
Preview of Next Week [Jocelyn will be secretary]:
Tuesday we continue with Ashmole 61, working our way through the last third or so of the manuscript. We have four more items to encounter, the last two of them very short religious items. The Short Charter of Christ (a short version of a very popular medieval text) is particularly intriguing by the way Christ presents his will here, signing the text the way he had in human form signed over his body to pay for humans’ sin. Prior to these two short texts are Ypotis and the Northern Passion. Ypotis is a distinctively medieval (and in many ways very “foreign” to us) text, in this case a dialogue set in the context of the classical past—but, as with much from that past, it is Christianized here. See what you can make of it, and how it conveys to you a different way of engaging with the ideas and knowledge of the past than we are familiar with. Regarding the Northern Passion, I encourage you to read Shuffelton’s Explanatory Notes before reading the poem, because the material is familiar to many of us and yet distinctive in ways (particularly its anti-Semitism) that is better approached with a sense of medieval English/Christian attitudes toward Jews that is provided in the Explanatory Notes—not to “excuse” it but to position it in terms of larger trends rather than seeing Rate or the author himself as personally rabidly anti-Semitic. Shuffelton says there that Rate’s placement of this long poem in the middle of the manuscript, amidst a number of other religious texts “is, of course, entirely in keeping with the orthodox piety of the late fifteenth century, which placed the suffering of Christ at the center of its devotion, but it also hints at Rate’s own interests and perhaps his design for the manuscript as a whole.” What interests and designs might you see hinted at with this?
We will also on Tuesday discuss the chapter on John Lydgate from the Cambridge Companion. Lydgate was the most prolific English author of the 15th century (and perhaps of any century, really), and author of the Dietary that we will be discussing Thursday.
For Thursday, Lydgate’s Dietary will return us, in part, to the conduct texts of the early part of the manuscript, though with a difference. Consider what that difference is, and how this text seems to be working at this point in the manuscript (as compared to the early portion). Regarding the other Ashmole 61 item for Thursday, Shuffelton notes in the Explanatory Notes that Maidstone’s Penitential Psalms were very popular throughout the Middle Ages, until Wyatt and others translated them in the Early Modern period in England. Consider, as you read, the particular kind of orientation to the various possible ways of representing the material. I really encourage you to make use of Shuffelton’s Explanatory Notes for this item, since taken “as is” they can seem like simple translations of scripture. Also on Thursday we will discuss Claire Sponsler’s essay on the Dietary, a critical essay that I find particularly impressive and enjoyable. Sponsler is one of my favorite critics on this subject (and others, for that matter). Elle will be taking us through that essay.