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!
Author Archives: Taylor Thompson
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 Rosenwein’s argument is sound, and it is always refreshing to see outdated theories, like Huizinga’s and Elias’s, be revised.
Kempe: A Complex ‘Creature’
I thought Rosenfeld’s article was pretty complex and a little hard to understand, but the content that I managed to digest was rather interesting. The point that stuck with me the most was Rosenfeld’s idea that Kempe “attempts the perhaps impossible task of performing exemplary singularity” – that is to say, she “contruct[s] a notion of exemplarity that preserves the…integrity of both imitator and imitated” (111). As I thought about this in relation to the text, I could see what she means. Especially with her example of how in the very beginning, Kempe describes herself as both a wretched sinner and an example for others. Throughout her book she makes clear that she is at a certain level of devotion most are unable to reach, a model God created – hence why they often mock her. It is their way, according to Rosenfeld, of trying to bring her back to their level. It is interesting that she tries to stand out, yet also looks to be imitated by others – hence why she wrote, or had a scribe write, her book. I also liked the idea that both private and social constructions of exemplarity are essential to the construction of one’s own identity. This, to me, is pivotal to Kempe – she thrives on what others think of her, whether it be the gift of scorn or admiration, as well as her personal strength through her devotion to Christ.
Ultimately, I am not convinced to like Kempe. This article did, however, allow me to appreciate her book more complexly. I hope class discussion tomorrow will help me understand it more wholly.
Emotion: Historically and Frustratingly Complex
This was a lengthy but interesting work, and I feel further invested in the study of emotion and how it pertains to our class after reading it. There was a lot of information in this article, but the main thing that I took away from it is how difficult it is and has been through history to define emotion, as well as the questions that surround it. Plamper rarely directly answers the questions he titled his chapters with, instead reviewing different ways people have approached such questions beginning with Artistotle into modern day. This emphasizes how complex and nearly impossible to concretely conceptualize emotion is: “everyone knows what [it] is, until asked to give a definition” (11). I like the idea that rather than seeking hard truths to the questions surrounding emotion, it is more productive to instead look at the different ways people have tried to answer them as time has passed.
There were two points in these chapters that I found most interesting. One, I enjoyed reading about Artistotle’s definition of “pathos”, and the idea that emotions have positive and negative traits simultaneously – for example, anger producing pain as well as the imagined possibility of ‘sweet’ revenge. This made me think about how this could be applied to the emotion of love or desire. Love produces the obvious pleasure of mental and physical satisfaction and joy, but could also be negative because of the possibility of it being taken away, or the person of your affection hurting you.
Secondly, I was also fascinated by Plamper’s talk about how many of the modern day metaphors for emotion may date back to how the Greeks defined it, as they imply an external force (i.e. overcome with rage, love-struck). I think this idea has also been addressed in another article we have read for class, and this just further helped to show how concepts of emotion have a lineage that has found ways to stay with us despite ever-changing definitions and constructs.
Not So Chivalrous
Sir Orfeo is portrayed as a heroic figure in this poem, and in many ways he is. After all, he is able to rescue his kidnapped queen and return to his kingdom at the end, which solves nearly all the problems that had developed during course of the poem. This being said, I noticed several faults of Orfeo that make him less chivalrous in my eyes. For example, when his queen is taken, he does not go on any quest to search for her – rather, he abandons his kingdom and community to become a recluse, using his harp to create melodies for the pleasure of woodland creatures and, for the most part, spends his days sulking in his depression. This state reminded me of some of the ideas the narrators in the Exeter Book Elegies were concerned about. It is as if Orfeo had accepted Fortune/Wyrd’s will, and let it be, miserable as he was. It is not until he lays eyes on his wife in silent passing that he leaves his self-imposed exile and finds a way to rescue her. This is an interesting depiction of our main character and hero, despite the ultimate happy ending of the poem.
Wyrd is Weird!
I found the depiction of Wyrd in these poems absolutely fascinating. Fate seems to only be thought of as something relentless and uncontrollable. The narrators in both The Wanderer and The Seafarer woefully succumb to what they feel Wyrd has planned for them, as she is “fully fixed” (41). The preoccupation with Fate’s intentions, and why she allows so many troubles to overwhelm the world, seems to be a trend in most of the elegies, even though some speakers are able to come to some sort of acceptance about the inevitability of Wyrd through their personal revelations about God.
The Ruin was my favorite of the elegies. As the text explains, I really appreciate the physical “decay” of the poem, both the unintentional and intentional. I would be interested to see the look of the original manuscript. This elegy also seems to be one that, in my opinion, best describes the ruthlessness of Wyrd on the physical world. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why other speakers are able to find solace with God – he represents something intangible, and thereby is unable to succumb to the Ruin of what beauty Earth and Man creates.
Overall, I found these elegies to be all quite beautiful, even though they are rather depressing at times. They certainly evoke emotions of sadness, pity, and even triumph in modern day readers, showing yet again the transcendence of certain emotions through time.
Back Away from the Stereotypes
I really enjoyed Rosenwein’s article, as it offered a very expansive view of both how the Medieval era (as well as present day) is thought to have expressed, or in some cases, failed to repress, their emotional states. One goal of this class, I believe, is to continuously look for ways to contextualize the past without letting our present stereotypes about how things must have been affect the way we read these works too much (to ask for this to disappear altogether would be impossible). Rosenwein does a great job of introducing us to her argument of emotional communities, which discredits the “ruling narrative” of an uncontrolled past followed by a controlled present. So, in a sense, Rosenwein is doing something that we, as Medieval scholars, should strive to do – release previous stereotypes and notions and see things more abstractly than what might be the ‘easy’ thing to believe.
Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with Rosenwein’s argument, I think that her article is invaluable to us as we are introduced to more Medieval texts. Now we have a better sense of how emotional studies have developed over time, and are hence offered different ways of considering the Medieval period. That being said, I will argue that Rosenwein’s theory seems to be the most forgiving. I particularly appreciated, as someone has already mentioned, the psychcological theories behind emotion that she introduces to us. Yet more proof that the studies of Psychology and English are wonderful complements of each other.
All Art is Theft
I thought these lyrics were great to read at the beginning of the semester, as they offered us a brief but still enjoyable immersion into Middle English. Though the topics of the lyrics ranged from the death of Jesus to chanting for beer, the lyric that stood out most to me was Betwene Mersh and Averil (250). Maybe it is because I am particularly fond of early British literature, but this lyric reminded me so much of the lamenting love sonnets of Sir Thomas Wyatt during the Tudor reign, and to go further back, to the sonnets of Petrarch in Italy. I was shocked by the similarities in the mindset of the speaker – incredibly in love with a women that (I presume) does not return his affections, and willing to suffer and long for her through poetry rather than attempt any sort of emotional journey of getting over her. Also, like Wyatt and Petrarch, these love poems seemingly focus on the beloved, but are actually much more focused on the feelings and woes of the speaker – making him the true subject! For example, the speaker laments, “Bote he me wolle to hire take, / For to ben hire owen make, / Longe to liven ichulle forsake, / and feye fallen adoun” (250-251). The dramatic woes are lovely and give me deja vu, even though this was written before the poetry I am used to reading. Having studied Wyatt and Petrarch at length, these similarities were striking to me. Especially because Petrarch was writing during the Italian Renaissance, which came right after the Medieval Period – perhaps he was inspired by lyrics like these when writing his love sonnets? All art is theft, after all!
Emotion – Debilitating or Enlightening?
I really enjoyed these chapters, as it brought me back to our discussion in class about the importance of emotion in almost everything we do, and, though often overlooked in a typical English class, in what we write. Reading about the universality of some emotions, most notably joy, fear, and the more complex love, was a great benefit as we begin to delve into Medieval literature. Though the Middle English is daunting (for me at least), I think that we all will find it very productive to find the parts of the literature that transcend the difficult language into a realm of what appears to be universal understanding. Though I do not have much experience with Medieval literature, I think that it will be interesting to make inferring the emotion of the pieces a priority, especially since it doesn’t seem like it will often be overwhelmingly obvious, like it would be during the Romantic period.
I found Evans’ discussion about higher cognitive emotions the most interesting, especially his comment that they may be the “cement that binds human society together” (21), despite how emotion is often seen as a weakness, something that deters one from rationality. Does anyone have anything to add, perhaps from personal experience, to his argument about how emotion is not a weakness so much as a strength? Apart from the obvious survival factors that Evans addresses, I could add to his argument from a non-biological perspective. The morality that certain emotions give us, like guilt, shame, envy, etc., is what makes us uniquely human. They may give us flaws and play a part in mistakes we make, but these flaws give us a complex character and self that vastly surpasses any other animal. Emotion should be revered, good or bad, not just because it helps us evolve as a species and universally communicate, but because our experiences with it help us develop a strong understanding for who we are, who we aspire to be, and in turn how we perceive and establish relationships with others. I’m sure many have argued that this is one of the overarching ‘goals’ of a fulfilled life.
Overall, I’m glad I had the chance to read these chapters. This is not a topic I typically get to ponder in an English class, and I look forward to how this will play a part in our readings this semester.