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Civil Humans v. Animals
This extremely graphic and brutal representation of the Jews, reminds me of the presentation of the Jew in the previous text we read, The Prioress’ Tale. In these stories the Jews commit brutal acts of violence and are both times punished for their actions. In this particular text, the suffering of the Jew is graphically described in a way that makes them seem fiendish, reflecting the violent acts they commit. The poem justifies the stereotype of the Jew during this time as violent and destructive. On the other hand we see glimpses of human qualities here and there in the Jews but each time we are reminded of their inhumanity. By offering this teetering between human-animal representations the author offers a civil balance that forces the reader to consider the human qualities of them. At the same time the prologue plays a huge role throughout the poem as it sets the readers attitude towards the Jew as negative. With this attitude the reader side with the Christians who are also fallen as they go against the Christian doctrine to justify a wrong. It is interesting to see this dual view of both groups, highlighting their imperfection while pushing limits of their savagery, Christian and Jew.
Violence of the Siege of Jerusalem
What struck me most about reading the Siege of Jerusalem was the abundance of violence. This explicitly discussed violence is often connected with the anti-Semitic theme prevalent in the text. As the introduction points out, the author seems to stray multiple times between referring to the Jews as “noble” and pitying them, or reflecting upon how these “faithless people” were “spineless in a fight, and false of belief” (Siege of Jerusalem 13). I was slightly confused by the cause for this straying between sentiments. The introduction states that this reflects the varying medieval Christian views of Jews, but based on the fact that one author is believed to have written the work I would assume there would be a more consistent view of the Jewish people.
The graphic violence described in the text is another aspect that would appear quite controversial. One description that I found particularly telling of this violence occurs during battle when “he takes aim at the elephants, which were so abhorrent, And cuts out the entrails with well-sharpened spears: Intestines burst forth so that a hundred ground-clearers Would be hard- pressed to bury what remained in the field” (Siege of Jerusalem 14). This is certainly not the only occurrence of violence in the text, but perhaps one that resonated most due to my love of elephants. The violence seems to be intended to enhance the anti-Semitism of the text.
Anti-Semetic Christianity: Ignorance or Propoganda?
The Siege of Jerusalem details the Roman conquest over the Jews in a manner that portrays the Jews as evil lesser beings and as sympathetic warriors. However, the in general terms, the poem revels in the slaughter of the Jews as rightful vengeance for the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the means in which the author portrays Jews seems almost intentionally ignorant, occasionally referring to them with typical Eastern stereotypes, like employing war elephants in battle. Though these depictions are certainly incorrect, the author utilizes these stereotypes to make Biblical allusions, like when Christian forces were beset by war elephants in the book of Maccabaeus. However, this is further complicated when considering that the book of Maccabaeus featured the Jews as the heroic forces beset by terrorizing forces with war elephants that yet emerge victorious. Though the comparison is complex, the author intends to demonstrate that the Jews, while previously upheld in God’s favor, have fallen from grace and now occupy the role of violent savage threatening the Christian way of life. In this way, the author further condemns Judaism, instead of my previous impression of glorifying it.
In the introduction of The Testement of Cresseid, the longstanding question was posed of whether the author believe that Cresseid’s fate is well deserved or is he sympathetic to her plight. In my interpretation of the text, Henryson is sympathetic to Cresseid’s plight. The poem seems to be written for the purpose of giving Cresseid the opportunity to redeem herself, and one must have pity to give such a chance. It is argued that The Testament was written as a warning to the medieval audience of how quickly fate can change, but Cressied is still doomed in a sense to live a lowly life, as a beggar. The only good that comes from this speculated ending is Cresseid’s redemption and her final encounter with Troilus. This ultimately gives medieval readers, who were familiar with Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, a peace of mind from knowing Cresseid’s fate. By keeping the odds against Cresseid, the poem is more easily accepted as a final fate rather than offering a happy ending that is too far removed from the orignal text. Though the poem relays an important message, it is my belief that the text ultimately gives Cresseid a chance at redeption spanning from the author’s own sympathy of her.
Victims to Fate
One of my classmates touched upon a recurring theme I have had difficulty reconciling with other aspects of Medieval thinking – the idea that people are “victims” to fate. This has been apparent in the texts we read in Ashmole, such as The Incestuous Daughter. The daughter in this work is acting out the will of devils influencing her, and ultimately suffers the consequences of following their instructions. The consequence of this is eternal torment in hell. The narrator in Cresseid pities her because of the misfortune she was destined for, and the suffering she experiences throughout her life. These are just two examples of this recurrent theme. Yet what I have trouble reconciling is that the narrator in Cresseid seems to be alone in his pity for Cresseid. While I think this is part of his intent, as we discussed in class, to encourage others to feel the same sentiments for Cresseid. But is the narrator reflecting a Medieval interpretation? Or is Henryson’s view of Cresseid unique from other Medieval opinion regarding the sinful as victim to fate?
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.
As I was reading the texts for this week, a question entered my brain: “why don’t we ever read anything happy?” At first it was only a grumbling, sarcastic question. Then I really thought about it and realized that most of the literature with a narrative or plot is rather depressing. It’s full of emotional manipulation, abuse, punishments from higher powers, unjust deaths, and the slaughtering of children. These tropes can be seen in works of both religious and secular natures. Most of this pain, suffering, and torture is used to teach the characters, and thus the readers, a moral lesson: do not commit adultery, beware of fate, do not slander religious authority or God, trust the Virgin Mary, and so many more. This teaching method is on a whole other level in the Middle Ages than anything contemporary I’ve read. It’s very visceral and painful for both the characters and the reader, instilling in them a desire to comply with anything to avoid a similar fate. I found this pattern rather interesting. Thoughts?
Chaucer and Henryson
I find it very interesting that both tales we have read this week are written by authors who worked off the tales of other authors of the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale was first written by Boccaccio, although Chaucer most likely hadn’t read that, instead he read the latin translation of Petrarch and wrote his own version in the Canterbury Tales. Henryson, too, read Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde before writing The Testament of Cresseid even states in his prologue that he read Chaucer’s story to try to sleep at night and secondly read an addition to the story that focuses on downfall of Cresseid. Henryson tells the reader that the piece is:
Maid to report the lamentatioun
And wofull end of this lustie Creisseid,
And quhat distres scho thoillit, and quhat deid.
Through this introduction, we learn that the story we are about to read is about Cresseid and her downfall. While Chaucer’s story focuses a lot on Troilus, this story will focus on Cresseid. I think that it is interesting that authors used each other’s pieces to build their own work on. It seems that Henryson wanted to express the tale of Cresseid as he imagined it, focusing on her distress in a sympathetic way. Like Chaucer did in Clerk’s Tale, where he focus is less on the allegory that Petrarch infused in his tale. Rather than speaking a religious message, Chaucer tells his audience not to tell a religious message, or to encourage women to ask like Griselda, but instead to tell everyone to be “constant in adversitee” (Chaucer 1146). Chaucer’s tale was able to bring a whole new meaning and purpose to an old story.
Trigg offers alternative ways to define emotion and affect in her essay. The one that stuck out most to me is “affect” as the modern day definition of “emotion.” I find it appealing because I never thought of affect as an emotion and never really understood the actually definition, but when compared to passion, emotion, feelings etc. I come to understand it as another way to describe feeling.
When Trigg defines affect as the modern word for emotion. I was surprised because I though it was an older word dealing with feeling because of the time period that we are studying as well as encountering the Affective Theory section of the course. She compares this to the older version of emotion that she defines as the passions, which was more familiar to me because I have done my own studies on the passions in literature.
After reading the essay I understand affect to be an feeling similar to emotion but at the same time Trigg offer different ways of defining affect that makes the actual meaning unclear, which supports her assertion that when studied within a certain context the meaning is up for interpretation. But overall, this study of feeling, passion, emotion, and affect help us to understand people and event of different time periods as the meanings change but the contexts to which they apply remain constant over time.