I thought the social and religious contexts surrounding this week’s works were rather interesting. While I was reading the exempla, it was difficult for me to relate to them. The content, while absorbing at parts, was rather foreign to me. Upon reflection however, I found that a version of exempla are still commonly used today. I’ve personally heard them in their original context of sermons. Pastors often teach morality through a story framed by shared life experiences such as childhood or personal relationships. Throughout the tale, the congregation laughs at the amusing and sobers at the somber because they can relate to similar experiences in their own lives. This emotional connection makes the moral lesson much more poignant and effective. I can understand why these exempla were rather popular in their time.
Monthly Archives: March 2015
One aspect of our discussion today that interested me, was how the “fendys” were the cause, or instigators, of the sin in “The Incestuous Daughter” and “The Jealous Wife.” In the former, we (and the Bishop) see them dragging the woman with a chain around her neck, obviously leading her in the path of sin. In the later, the husband automatically attributes his wife’s behavior (of murdering their children and herself) to the fiends. Even in “The Knight who Forgave his Father’s Slayer” and “Sir Cleges,” there is much moral ambiguity. As we discussed in class, there is no distinct explanation of why the first Knight killed the father, only that the son Knight should avenge his father’s death because it’s “right” to do so. In “Sir Cleges,” the Knight’s generosity leads to his own poverty, and after complaining (and some violence) God graces him with more riches than he had before. Their religion in the end saves them, but I wonder what their behavior has to do with it.
The last two texts particularly made me wonder what role free will served in Medieval Catholicism. It seems that the fiends lead the characters into great folly that is only saved through their (or their loved one’s) religious repentance. Admittedly, I know very little about Catholicism, but I wondered, what role did “free will” have in the middle ages–in these texts the characters’ bad actions are attributed to the Devil(s) while their good actions of prayer and contrition are their own and worthy of God’s mercy. I guess, as Exemplum works, this emphasized the importance of God’s will and mercy over that of humans.
The Power of God’s Mercy
In both The Incestuous Daughter and The Jealous Wife, a lesson of God’s power and mercy is conveyed to its readers. In both texts, a sinful person if forgiven and accepted into heaven because God (and Mary) deem them worthy to go to heaven. Even though both the daughter and the wife are murderous and sinful, because of either their own prayer for forgiveness or a loved one’s devotion they are accepted by God into heaven. The over arching theme in both poems is that of God’s mercy. In The Jealous Wife, Mary’s battle with the fiends is evidence of God’s power by speaking out and explaining to them that they do not choose who they take to hell, God does. Similarly, The Incestuous Daughter depicts the sinful daughter as wearing chains of the devil around her neck and being accompanied by four fiends, until the bishop speaks of God’s mercy in front of them and the chains fall away. Once the words of the bishop are heard, the daughter feels them in her heart, sheds tears, and the fiends and chains flee. Both descriptions of the fiends fleeing demonstrate the power of God. In both texts, God holds a higher power than the devil and chooses who goes to hell.
The lesson of God’s mercy in these exempla is especially relatable because like most exempla, the characters are not given names. To appear as a type of “everyman” or universal person, the characters are referred to as “daughter” or “wife” rather than a specific name. This technique of universality suggests that everyone is a sinner but everyone is also able to receive God’s mercy. This would help readers understand that like the daughter, one should sincerely ask for forgiveness even if the Catholic sacrament is unable to be performed and like the wife, even without asking for forgiveness God has the power to choose if you go to heaven or hell. Both pieces encourage the act of asking for forgiveness especially when it comes to emotion. The sincerity of the request for forgiveness is just as important as the act of praying for forgiveness. It is only when the word reaches the daughter’s heart and she sheds a tear and feels the mercy of God that the fiends flee. Emotional importance is also demonstrated through the devoted husband in The Jealous Wife.
A Very Merciful God
I really enjoyed the two poems The Jealous Wife and The Incestuous Daughter. Despite the different circumstances in the two, the message remains relatively similar: God’s mercy is boundless and consistent. If you want forgiveness, he will give it to you, and it does not always have to be through the traditional and formal ways that the Church typically enforces. The physical representations of the Devil and Sin were especially interesting, because it showed how in the Middle Ages, people didn’t seem to be faulted for doing wrong based on their free will – rather, the Devil was the one controlling you, making you ‘mad’. Forgiveness seems much easier (and more convenient) to get this way, versus blaming someone for being inherently evil, without any outside forces intervening. I am not sure how uncommon these messages were for the time, but they seem rather unorthodox to me. These poems certainly hold an appeal for the layperson, though, and are attractive in their plot – if these women committed such horrible acts and still are granted mercy, then the average sinner’s life is likely to also reach salvation if he or she truly wishes!
For the Love of Family
I’m curious about the back-story of the incestuous daughter: how she got to be incestuous and evil and how long the affair took place. Although the text is more of an example than an actual drama, I would like to know the context behind the daughter’s behavior. Did the father start his daughter with this behavior or did the fiends make the daughter approach her father?
Today we’d view the familial relationship of the daughter and her parents and look at things from a psychological view rather than a religious view. Instead of viewing the daughter’s sins, a psychological view would assess her childhood to pin point the origin of her flaw and unruly behavior. Based on the context she did not value family, which is illustrated in the murder of her parents and children, psychologically a situation from the past would be the source of the daughter’s behavior or attitude towards family. Comparatively, it can be argued that the fiends control over her is just that powerful to turn the daughter against her loved ones and children.
A curious moment is the poem is the daughter’s contrition. What was the cause of the heartbreak? Did finally see her misdeed from a human perspective or was it the bishops hesitance to properly address her confession unbearable? Although the poem offers a lesson its incompleteness leaves me guessing.
While I like and agree with Rosenwein’s theory that throughout history, and even now, people operate in emotional communities, for my own research of medieval texts, I would prefer methods closer to those used in McNamer’s “Feelings.” As Rosenwein describes it, tons of diverse, yet connected, sources must be gathered and then analyzed for “gestures” of emotion before speculating on the emotional community that may have existed. Even though the heavy reliance on speculation is also present in McNamer’s method, I like that she uses historical context and then reads deeply into the text, using all those English major skills we’ve been honing. Her readings of the two works, though not entirely clear to me, we’re interesting and unique. I have read Sir Gawain before but probably just skimmed right over the stanza she analyzes so extensively. Her focus on the performity of the texts (and of emotion) also struck me as something that definitely should be taken into account when working with medieval literature.
A New Theory for an Old Age
This article was definitely an extension of the Rosenwein article that my group presented for class, wherein Rosenwein gave a history of emotion building up to her ultimate idea about emotional communities. For me, this introduction was her putting the emotional community theory specifically into the context of the Middle Ages, and I appreciated being able to review her argument that emotions are shaped by our different cultures. I find it hard to believe that historians and scholars alike have so easily taken on the “unmediated, child-like” grand narrative, as I would assume (and hope) that people naturally would like to look at things more complexly. That being said, I can understand the convenience of simplifying a time period where sources are more limited and it takes much more effort (sometimes even unorthodox interpretation, as McNamer proved) to be able to discern the different emotions that abounded so long ago. Rosenwein’s argument is sound, and it is always refreshing to see outdated theories, like Huizinga’s and Elias’s, be revised.
Emotional Communities: Functional or Otherwise
In the introduction to Rosenwein’s novel Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages, she investigates the nature of the social and personal expectations for expressions of emotions in the Middle Ages. In this investigation, she discovers that previous conceptions about the how individuals expressed emotion in the Middle Ages have led to misunderstanding in the scholars that later studied it. In particular, she cites Johan Huizinga’s approach, which stated that the “Middle Ages was the childhood of man” (Rosenwein 5). Huizinga believed that emotions ran rampart in the Middle Ages, with little regard to restraint and temperance. However, Rosenwein soon finds this to be untrue, as Huizinga’s approach attempts to discern meaning in the expressed emotions of the citizens of the middle age through the context of contemporary society. Without understanding the vastly different and complex social systems that made up the Middle Ages, it is easy to misinterpret the behaviors of some social classes as unreasonably restrained, and others as unreasonably expressive. However, the reality of the these differences lies in a multitude of different “emotional communities,” defined by features like socio-economic status, religious involvement, and the nature of the subject that inspires the emotion. Though the breadth of information required to correctly discern the motives behind expressed emotion in the Middle Ages is expansive, it is necessary in order to correctly interpret the motives and reasons for the expression.
Rosenwein touches upon the distinction in a number of different cultures between emotions and sentiments and how they relate to emotional communities of the Middle Ages, and how the two concepts are not the same, “Many European languages have more than one word for the phenomena that Anglophones call “emotions,” and often these terms are not interchangeable,” (Rosenwein, 3). This made me wonder about the modern implications of the two terms “emotional” and “sentimental.” From my experience, emotional seems to imply readily changeable feelings such as mood swings while sentimental suggests a positive, reflective type of feeling. Based on this experiential analysis, the words sentiment and emotion are akin to that of the French, German, and Italian distinction between the two. While Rosenwein relates these terms to emotional communities of the Middle Ages, she emphasizes that these definitions are not final. In this respect, the distinction between the two is clear for emotional communities of the Middle Ages as well as modern emotional communities, though to different extents for each age.
Emotion in Context
The author suggest that emotions should be examined in the context of the emotional community. Rosenwein says, “Thus an important part of my method is to gather a dossier of materials (almost always written sources) that belong together because they point to an identifiable group…” (Rosenwein, 26) I agree with her point coupled with the her next claim that gestures, exclamations, tears and so on are all symptoms of emotions. The author is asserting that the person feeling emotion is acting within their own community of emotion and the historian or scholar must examine the symptom and produce an interpretation. When this is applied to a text such as Julian of Norwich we can begin to uncover first her emotional community and second how these emotions function with or against her setting. This method allows for scholars to analitacally based on the emotion of a person within their context greater than previous interpretations.