Feminine Characters

I found it interesting that both of our readings this week centered around female characters.  Whats more, the works each also seem to sympathize with these females.  In Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Prologue and Tale,” the narrator does not understand why Walter should test his wife and in L’Envoy de Chaucer, the narrator urges women to gossip and flaunt all they want and not act like Gisilde, because that would be impossible.  In Henryson’s “The Testament of Cresseid,” the narrator seems to honestly attribute the terrible things that happen to Cresseid to bad luck or fortune.

Further, I felt that these poems were very interested in emotions, even more so than many others we have read.  In “The Clerk’s Tale,” Gisilde’s lack of emotion at the beginning is emphasized again and again as she must appear constant to her husband’s orders.  Only at the end do we see the outburst of repressed emotion through her hugs and fainting.  In Henryson’s telling of Cresseid, her emotion (as well as Troylus’s through his fainting) comes through so strongly in the end when she learns who the man was and wills away her belongings.  I am interested in the idea of gendered emotion in Medieval England, and these two complicated texts seem to speak to this issue in interesting and somewhat contradictory ways.

Collective Emotion

In her introduction, Trigg’s emphasizes “collective” rather than individual or personalized emotion.  This reminded me of Rosenwein’s “emotional communities,” but felt broader, or more encompassing, I guess.  Trigg argues that “emotions and passions can be governed or manipulated” either “individually or collectively” and that there were/are “social, cultural, and political frameworks” in which people “experienced, performed, and narrated their emotions.”  We must rely on the representation of these emotions especially, of course, in texts.  She also ditches the “affect theory” in favor of History of emotion, which emphasizes social construction-ism.

I thought her arguments made sense, especially in light of the exemplum we have been reading.  These texts, though about individuals, would have been read in a sermon (or to a family in the case of CA61), so very much in a collective setting.  What I find so interesting, and what we have been exploring all semester, is how these texts evoked feelings in the reader or listener, that may be different from those experienced (or represented) by the characters within the text.  In the “Jealous Wife” and “Incestuous Daughter,” for example, listeners may have felt repulsed by the characters actions at first because murder, suicide, and incest are behaviors that are culturally not approved of.  By the end, however, the poems may have been comforting to readers because God’s mercy saves even the worst sinners at the last moment.  The readings from Tuesday, however, might have be unsettling to readers who perhaps, like “sinner” and the “squire,” had not yet sought God’s mercy.  The purpose of the four is the same though and through their emotional evocation they confirm a religious belief.

Free will?

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.

Analyzing Emotion

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.

God, our Friend

I found The Book of Margery Kempe to be interesting and even humorous at times, if a bit redundant (as other students have pointed out).  If I understand correctly, she sort of rambles about England, causes an uproar with her incessant crying (that is meant to inspire faith in others), gets in trouble with officials, and then talks her way out of it.  It seems that many people condemned her as a heretic and Lollard while others blessed her.  As far as I could tell, she never seems to suffer that much, other than initially, and claims to enjoy suffering, because it is for Christ who suffered much more.

My favorite moments were the scenes with her (poor!) husband and those where she talked her way out of trouble (such as with the bear story) because these seemed the most personal and most reflective of everyday life.  One thing that struck me while reading was how “personal” Christ was to Margery.  When “our Lord spoke to this creature when it pleased him” in Chapter 86, God is very in touch with Margery and speaks to her pleasantly and almost un-God-like.  He is not a stern, angry God  but a comforting one.  Was this a common way of depicting God at the time or another of Margery’s antics?

Religious Emotion

While reading from A Revelation of Love, I was actually surprised by the lack of emotion that came through Norwich’s text.  Obviously, she is writing about an experience that was extremely important to her and probably to religion at the time.  She walks us through these visions which are full of suffering, pain, happiness, love — all sorts of emotions — but somehow they didn’t really come through to me as I was reading, as say, the cross’s emotion did in “Dream of the Rood.”  It might be the very matter of fact way that she maps out what will happen in each chapter and the frank descriptions, but despite the levity of what Norwich is describing, the text felt almost bland.  It greatly contrasts (but also compliments) the fervor and emotion of Margery Kempe I think.  But then again, people thought Kempe was insane.  So I wondered: does Julian of Norwich check some of the emotional excitement in order to be taken more seriously?

I found the three “Miracles of the Virgin” tales to be interesting and even entertaining to read, but in each poem, at least one line or description had me writing “ew” in the margins.  In the first, “The Monk Who Could Only Learn Ave Maria,” I felt humorous pity for the poor guy who could only learn two words of his prayers.  Then I was taken a bit aback when after his death “they dug and discovered the lily root coming right out of his mouth” (23).  They are happy about this discovery, but I found it sort of gross that they dug up his grave and saw a flower growing from the corpse.  In the second poem the poor beggar boy is found “ful depe idrouned in fulthe of fen” and “very foully spattered” as a side note tells us.  He throat has also been split open (which, surprise, a lily is later found in).  Finally, in the last poem, the Virgin Mary breast feeds the sick monk and this is described as “marvelous,” but to me seemed sort of disgusting.  Obviously, the Virgin is rewarding those, whether in life or death, who sang or spoke praises to her.  But they really left me wondering how these things would have been read and received at the time.  Would medieval readers have found these descriptions empowering, humorous, or just gross? And is disgust an emotion??

Emotional history and literature

Plamper’s article complicates our understanding of ‘feeling’ even more as he attempts to find a working definition of emotion that can ultimately be used to discuss emotions throughout history.  While all the definitions and philosophies of emotion were a bit overwhelming, I found the article interesting in light of our studies.  At one point, the author asks, “Can emotional reactions to ‘real’ events that affect me directly be compared or even equated with emotional reactions to cultural products such as novels, films, or computer games?”  Aristotle, he says, considers these emotional reactions to “have a lesser force” (14).  But I think most literature enthusiasts would disagree — of course the emotional reactions are real and probably the same.  The question then becomes, is there a difference between how literature affects us and how it might have been different at the time and place it was written.  Of course, as Palmer points out, “emotional thinking during the Middle ages is not so well researched as that in antiquity, and furthermore had little influence on subsequent centuries” which makes the task of “Feeling Medieval” more difficult (17).

SN. Another point that stood out to me was that in the “court painting of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century North Indian Islam no indication of the face as the site of emotion,” it is all in “bodily movement, colour,” etc.  This immediately reminded me of the images we looked at in class and the contrast between Medieval paintings and contemporary depictions of courtly love, where the faces are the main sites of emotion.

The Jeweler

I found the last half of the poem to be slower and slightly less interesting than the first half, mainly because of the constant biblical references and long dialogues.  I did however find myself paying more attention to the fact that the speaker is identified as a jeweler after we talked about this in class.  The poem, with its constant repetition and play on word meanings, also plays on this idea.  As we discussed, his occupation leads him to claim his own authority in evaluating or “deeming” fine jewels and pearls and leads to his questioning Pearl and the theological concept she represents in the second half.  I couldn’t help but relate this to the long descriptions of the city that “bejeweled the base generously;/ twelve cross beams there set on stone…” which begins in stanza 83 and ends in 87.  I thought it was appropriate that he would envision this bedazzled city, but also thought this reinforced the idea that God is the ultimate jeweler and the last lines suggest this as well: “He made us to be His faithful line,/ like precious pearls in Prince’s pay.”  By no longer mourning Pearl, it seems that the speaker is also giving up the materialistic ways that come with his profession and with life in general.

I found the Exeter Ellegies to be evoking and powerful — excellent examples of how emotion or “feeling” can be expressed in literature and transcend time and culture.  My favorite, however was “Wulf and Eadwacer” which the introduction calls “one of the most obscure poems in Old English” (40).  Even though we have little or no context on the background or narrator of the elegy, I still found it a moving poem.  The battle imagery of the first two stanzas seems to introduce us to the narrator’s internal conflict and heartache.  Wulf, who is a “bold warrior” embraces the narrator and “it was sweet to me, yet I also despised it” (lines 11-12).  As the introduction suggests, the female speaker is married, but loves Wulf who seldom comes and perhaps takes the child of the married couple–lines that can be translated in multiple ways.  The last two lines of the elegy, “One can easily split what was never united,/the song of the two of us” stood out to me (18-9).  The poem and these last beautiful lines in particular, can be interpreted in so many ways, but still, the speaker’s “feelings” come across, and somehow we can sympathize with her heartache.