In addition to rethinking received historical divisions, scholars have traversed other kinds of borders and oppositions, such as that between the sacred and the secular, or between Christianity and its religious others. Scholars such as Claire Waters, Edwin Craun, and Barbara Newman have reconsidered our understanding of religious communities by showing how they depend upon and intersect with secular aspects of medieval culture; (4) just as Elizabeth Allen, Cathy Sanok, Katherine Little, and Susan Phillips have rigorously reexamined pastoral practices, most notably confession and exemplarity. (5) Similarly, studies by Anthony Bale, Lisa Lampert, Steven Kruger, and others have exposed how the supposedly "marginal" question of Jewish identity is in fact central to constructions of Christian selfhood and community. (6)
Intersecting with the new interest in reconceptualizing Christian ideals, ideologies, and practices is a freshly inflected sense of material cultures. Scholars, such as Kellie Robertson, Sarah Beckwith, and Seeta Chaganti, have delineated the materialism at work in Christian literatures and in so doing have also troubled received notions of the relationship between objects and subjectivities. (7) The material object at the heart of medieval literary studies--the manuscript--has been made new by scholars taking seriously the call for a new philology. For instance, Alexandra Gillespie, Elizabeth Scala, Raymond Clemens, and Timothy Graham have rejuvenated the disciplines of paleography and book studies by demonstrating how rigorous attention to the material conditions of the text, its production, transmission, and circulation, are relevant, indeed crucial, to literary and cultural analysis of the medieval past. (8) Part and parcel of that work is a focus on readership, both in terms of imagined audiences as well as the responses of actual readers. New theories of reading, and what Rebecca Krug terms "literate practice," espoused by Krug, Mary Erler, and Jessica Brantley have deeply enriched our sense of medieval vernacularity. (9) Medievalists as well have heeded the late twentieth-century plea in literary criticism generally for a new formalism and aestheticism and have taken up Steven Justice's recent call for a return to the "literary."
To be sure, the above trends constitute only a portion of the varied, rich, and provocative work that has emerged in recent years within medieval studies. Thus, rather than focusing on one particular new direction in the field, in this special issue of PQ, we bring together scholarship that reflects the generative multiplicity of medieval studies in the new millennium. Tracing and cutting across several of the new directions assumed in the field, the essays that follow all offer fresh readings of texts and practices, readings that often query some of the usual categories and binaries that have structured the field. Engaging topics as diverse as fashion, medicine, minstrelsy, dance, and secularism, these essays demonstrate the richness and heterogeneity of medieval scholarship today.
The first section of the issue, entitled "Dressing and Redressing the Body," presents two essays contributing to the ongoing interest in medieval studies on the body and material culture. In "Fashioning Change: Wearing Fortune's Garments in Medieval England," Andrea Denny-Brown makes new the familiar medieval image of Lady Fortune by reminding us that the shifts and alterations associated with the female icon emerge not only in her moving wheel but also in the sartorial changes that occur on her body. In an analysis that ranges from twelfth-century discussions by Alain de Lille and Jean de Meun to late medieval accounts of Fortune by Chaucer, Lydgate, and Charles d'Orleans, Denny-Brown tracks the notable attention writers devote to both the sumptuous clothes and the ragged garments donned by the notoriously fickle Lady. Situating those images of Fortune in terms of the economic climates in which they emerged, Denny-Brown demonstrates how Fortune came to serve as a telling indicator of consumer habits and agency during the rise of a market and money-based economy in the Middle Ages. Far from an inhuman goddess, Fortune emerges in Denny-Brown's analysis as a surprising model of human subjectivity that speaks to such issues as English varietas, mortality, and the life of things in medieval society and culture.
Sharing with Denny-Brown an interest in medieval understandings of death, Glenn Davis sheds new light on Soul and Body II by reading the Old English poem as a gauge of Anglo-Saxon anxiety over the vulnerability of the human body to sickness and decay. Scholars have long recognized how medieval Christian discourse, with its elevation of an eternal spiritual realm, denigrated the body and indeed all worldly matter as merely transient, temporal entities that do not merit the attention of the pious Christian. More recently, Carolyn Bynum and other critics have taught us how much medieval Christian thinking was indeed embodied. For example renderings of the Last Judgment, with their very literal visualization of the resurrection of the dead, acknowledge anxiety on the part of the faithful over the fragmentation of their corpses. (10) Contributing to and complicating this work on the body, Davis shows how the gruesome, obsessive interest in the decay of discrete body parts in Soul and Body II sets the poem apart from other Anglo-Saxon religious texts and links it instead with another, medical literary tradition--exemplified by the Hiberno-Latin prayer Lorica of Laidcenn--which values the body solely as physical entity. While other Anglo-Saxon soul and body texts, as well as Anglo-Saxon hagiographic narratives, exhibit a certain confidence in the supremacy of the spiritual over the physical, Soul and Body II suggests both how eschatology was fraught for an Anglo-Saxon population anxious about sickness and mortality and how attentive Anglo-Saxons were to bodily processes and physiognomy.
Extending Denny-Brown's and Davis's investigation into medieval material culture, the second section, "Performing Manuscripts/ Manuscripts as Performance," offers paired essays by George Shuffelton and Seeta Chaganti that radically reconsider the medieval uses of manuscripts recording or scripting performance. Both Shuffelton and Chaganti not only present new methodologies for paleographic inquiry but also complicate our understanding of late medieval reading and performance practices. Shuffelton's "Is There a Minstrel in the House?" shifts the terms of the age-old debate about medieval minstrels--a debate he argues is fundamental to the discipline of medieval studies. Rather than siding with either skeptics who dismiss the idea of minstrels altogether or romantics who espouse the notion of a robust culture of professional oral composition, Shuffelton unpacks the medieval myth of the minstrel, demonstrating that what lies behind it is both a romance nostalgia and more importantly, a thriving practice of domestic aurality. At the center of his essay is Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61, a medieval "household book" once thought to be a minstrel manuscript. This manuscript, for Shuffelton, is ideally suited to the mealtime entertainment of a medieval household, containing texts that are appropriate for oral delivery, in terms of length, meter, and subject matter, that have been further adapted by the compiler to make oral performance easier. Ashmole 61, Shuffelton argues, reveals that "spoken entertainment" in late medieval England was performed not by professionals (or not exclusively by them) but by all members of the family--by children as well as by the patriarch. Shuffelton reveals that audience of Ashmole 61, and through them the late medieval families who owned such household books, had both a sophisticated sense of domestic entertainment and a "deep investment in oral entertainment as the centerpiece of domestic life." This commitment derived from the nostalgic romance depictions of minstrels and minstrelsy contained in the manuscript's pages--in texts such as Sir Cleges and Sir Orfeo. By reconsidering the medieval myth of the minstrel, Shuffelton illustrates the vital effect that these figures had on late medieval culture: "minstrels helped to define, legitimate, and even romanticize" the performance of Middle English popular verse.
If Shuffelton demonstrates how the mythology of the minstrel is no mere modern phenomenon but itself extends back to the Middle Ages, so too does Seeta Chaganti historicize a seemingly contemporary dynamic. Namely, she shows how a simultaneous interest in and aversion to variance was shared by medieval writers and contemporary scholars alike. In the early 1970s Paul Zumthor revolutionized scholarly thinking on manuscript variation when he put forth his theory of mouvance, which argued for relinquishing investments in notions of textual authority and authenticity by highlighting the anonymity and textual mobility of most medieval manuscripts. Chaganti contends that although Zumthor's idea of mouvance continues to inform work on manuscript traditions, the precise place of "movement" in mouvance remains unanswered. In an effort to put the movement back into mouvance, Chaganti engages the art form linked most intimately with mobility, dance. Looking at both modern dance criticism and the manuscripts, texts, and practices associated with the medieval carol, Chaganti demonstrates how scholarly editing practices and theories share with dance a certain tension related to issues of autonomy, agency, and control. Just as scholarly editors ambivalently move between celebrating textual variation and desiring to fix texts in relation to an authoritative original, dancers, dance theorists and carol texts engage the fraught relation between the improvised, willful and varied movements of the dancer and efforts by choreographers and others to control and limit a dancer's actions. Culminating in an analysis of manuscripts containing the "Holly and Ivy" carol, Chaganti shows how an ambivalence "toward both control and its abdication" accounts for the mouvance we witness in the carol's variants.
Moving from the life of the medieval manuscript to the particularities of medieval space, the final duo of essays, "Traversing Secular and Sacred Spaces," explores the strikingly porous boundary between sacred and secular jurisdictions and spaces in late medieval England, from cloistered women who were conversant with the lay community that surrounded them to sanctuary men who exploited sacred spaces to evade secular judgment. Claire Waters's "Holy Familiars: Enclosure, Work and the Saints at Syon Abbey" investigates the multi-faceted role that saints, male as well as female, played in the imagination and spiritual life of the sisters and brethren of Syon Abbey. At Syon, Waters agues, the saints "performed a simultaneous function of enclosure and exposure for both Birgitta and her order" that both structured and licensed not only practices within the monastery but also the public aspects of their spirituality. Saints provided a new model for spiritual kinship--"a holy extended family" between the members of the abbey's community and more surprisingly, between the abbey and its lay congregation. They served as a means to subvert traditional gender and ecclesiastical hierarchies by introducing a model of collaborative labor that made equivalent and mutually dependent the work of the nuns and their male brethren. Most importantly, the saints provided a model for imagining, and in turn, a means of realizing the public mission of this secluded monastic community, allowing its members to transcend the boundaries of an enclosed life. Rather than focusing exclusively on the abbey's female networks, Waters uses the texts of the Syon community--Birgitta's Revelations, The Myrour of Our Lady, and a fifteenth-century hagiography collection compiled at the abbey--to explore the saints' roles in the lives of both male and female members of this religious community, revealing a conception of labor, profession, and familial networks that was "less hierarchically confining and less strictly gendered" than current critical paradigms might lead us to expect.
If Waters teaches us how medieval monks and nuns crossed the thresholds of their convents into the public sphere, Elizabeth Allen's essay shows us how secular personages crossed into sacred spaces. Allen's essay, entitled, "'As mote in at at munster dor': Sanctuary and the Love of this World," investigates the terms and consequences of the debate over sanctuary that raged in late fourteenth-century England. Focusing on the fiercely debated and widely publicized Hawley-Shakell affair, Allen demonstrates the ways in which the arguments posed and rhetorical strategies deployed by two of the affair's most vehement commentators, Wyclif and Walsingham, reveal and complicate issues of jurisdiction and space at the heart of the sanctuary controversy. Sanctuary, Allen argues, does not manifest the power of the medieval church, but rather illustrates the "mutual dependence of church and secular government," and ultimately the profanation of the saeculum by secular practices. Through sanctuary practice, "holiness gets bound up with instability and contingency." Deploying this historical debate as an interpretative lens, Allen turns in the second half of her essay to a reading of Patience--a poem deeply invested in the "world-oriented usefulness of sacrality" on display in sanctuary practice. Allen uses her richly textured understanding of sanctuary not simply to provide a more nuanced account of one of the poem's central tropes, but rather to ask readers to reconsider fundamentally the poem as a whole, by complicating its articulation of penance, of the saeculum, of sanctuary, and of divine aegis.
The issue closes with review essays by Jessica Brantley and Maura Nolan, who discuss recent publications in two hotly contested areas of medieval studies: manuscript studies and periodization. Dovetailing with the essays in the volume's second section, Brantley's essay, "Modern and Medieval Books," traces an exciting recent development in manuscript studies--the "whole book" approach to medieval manuscripts that seeks an "integrated and holistic understanding" of medieval texts. Although whole book approaches may pose the danger of applying modern categories to medieval material, the advantages of these approaches far outweigh the risks. By adopting a much broader and more rigorous approach to manuscript context, "whole book" studies not only give paleographic analysis a "greater relevance to the field as a whole," but also they offer modern critiques a new insight into medieval reading culture. Maura Nolan's review essay, "The New Fifteenth Century: Humanism, Heresy, and Laureation," examines recent critical work on the century that lies between the "apex" (read Chaucerian) period of medieval literary studies in England during the fourteenth century and the so-called renaissance of sixteenth-century England. The new fifteenth-century studies, as Nolan demonstrates, offers fresh, if often radically diverse, ways of framing and understanding literary history. Such reformulations of periodization include reminders of the debt premodern writers owed to their fifteenth-century predecessors, and the idea that the era of Lydgate epitomizes a salutary heterogeneity in late medieval English culture that disappeared with the emergence of the homogenizing and centralizing forces of the renaissance.
University of Iowa and Northwestern University
(1) In addition to their own scholarship crossing the reformation divide, Simpson, Aers, and Beckwith are editors of the Trans-Reformation Studies Series at Notre Dame University Press. See also the recent collection, edited by Gordon McMullan and David Matthews, Reading the Medieval in Early Modern England (Cambridge U. Press, 2007).
(2) Bruce Holsinger, The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (U. of Chicago Press, 2005); Kathleen Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism (Duke U. Press, 1998).
(3) Louise Fradenburg and Carla Freccero, eds. Premodern Sexualities (New York: Routledge, 1996); Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (Columbia U. Press, 2003); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ed., The Postcolonial Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).
(4) Claire M. Waters, Angels and Earthly Creatures: Preaching, Performance, and Gender in the Later Middle Ages (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); Edwin D. Craun, Ethics and Power in Medieval English Reformist Writing (forthcoming from Cambridge U. Press); Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
(5) Elizabeth Allen, False Fables and Exemplary Truth in Later Middle English Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Cathy Sanok, Her Life Historical: Exemplarity and Female Saints' Lives in Late Medieval England (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Katherine C. Little, Confession and Resistance: Defining the Self in Late Medieval England (South Bend, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 2006); Susan E. Phillips, Transforming Talk: The Problem with Gossip in Late Medieval England (University Park: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 2007).
(6) Anthony Bale, The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms 1350-1500 (Cambridge U. Press, 2006); Lisa Lampert, Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2005) ; Steven E Kruger, The Spectral Jew: Conversion and Embodiment in Medieval Europe (U. of Minnesota Press, 2006).
(7) Kellie Robertson, The Laborer's Two Bodies: Literary and Legal Productions in Britain, 1350-1500 (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); Sarah Beckwith, Signifying God: Social Relation and Symbolic Act in the York Corpus Christi Plays (U. of Chicago Press, 2001); Seeta Chaganti, The Medieval Poetics of the Reliquary: Enshrinement, Inscription, Performance (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
(8) Alexandra Gillespie, Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate, and Their Books 1473-1557 (Oxford U. Press, 2007); Elizabeth Scala, Absent Narratives, Manuscript Textuality, and Literary Structure In Late Medieval England (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Cornell U. Press, 2008).
(9) Rebecca Krug, Reading Families: Women 's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England (Cornell U. Press, 2002); Mary C. Erler, Women, Reading, and Piety in Late Medieval England (Cambridge U. Press, 2002); Jessica Brantley, Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England (U. of Chicago Press, 2008).
(10) Carolyn Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (Columbia U. Press, 1995).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||medieval literary studies|
|Author:||Lavezzo, Kathy; Phillips, Susan E.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Richard Aldington: An Autobiography in Letters.|
|Next Article:||Fashioning change: wearing fortune's garments in medieval England.|