Medieval Wanderers

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Julian of Norwich "Revelations of Divine Love"

As the guest exclaimed at the Marriage Feast at Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine, "Surely you have saved the best for last!" This is my response to Julian of Norwich. I have throughly enjoyed reading and studying it for my presentation Thursday 21 April 2005. I was interested in several issues. First, Julian's repeated declarations that she believes "what Holy church teaches, for in all things I saw this blessed showing of our Lord as one who is in the presence of God, and I never peceived anything in it that bewilders me or keeps me from the true teaching of Holy Church" (11). She first mentions this in Chapter 6 (ST) and again in Chapter 16 (ST), saying "God showed me the very great pleasure he takes in men and women who strongly and humbly and eagerly receive the preaching and teach of Holy Church; for he is Holy Church; he is the foundation; he is the substance" (24). It appears to me that not only circumvents charges of heresy but she claims authority for her revelations, or as she put it, "showings." Second, I was interested in the way her requests and God's showings so frequently appear in threes. This seems to me to fit in with the recurring emphasis on the Trinity. Third, the coherence and comprehensiveness of her understanding of the "showings." They seem to "hang together" and build from showing to showing. The Long Text (LT) provides such a richness of reinterpretation as in the 5th showing where she laughs during the revelation of the Passion defeating the Fiend, and states "it pleases him [Christ] that we should laugh to cheer ourselves, and rejoice in God because the Fiend has been conquered" (13). It brought to mind the chapel with Rodney Howard Brown. She expands on this in the Long Text, saying "I wished that all my fellow Christians had seen what I saw and then they would all have laughed with me" (61) and develops the theme of the sorrow of men that the devil caused will be turned to joy on the Judgement Day and the sorrow he "would have liked to bring them will go with him eternally to hell" (62). Fourth, the emphasis on Jesus as our Mother who in his humility and gentleness sustains us with himself and the connection with the holy sacrament. Our text notes that this is "no literary conceit but a reflection of medieval scientific understanding that milk is reprocessed blood" (xxii). Finally, I saw clearly what Aimee mentioned in class concerning Julian transmuting the courtly ideal into the a spiritual truth as Julian mentions Christ's "courtesy." I would be interesting in seeing responses to any of these topics or of course, any aspect of Julian's writing that stood out to you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Layamon’s Brut

Before I say anything else, I want to say that the title I’m using for this blog in no way represents a correct spelling of the author’s name. However, since the “yogh” (funny-looking squiggly letter) doesn’t want to transfer to this website, this spelling will have to do. Most of the research on Brut spells the author’s name “Layamon,” although I’ll discuss the problems with this when I give my presentation.

We find in Brut a history of the kings of England, which Layamon wrote based on a French work by a Norman author (Wace), which Wace wrote based on a Latin work by a French author (Geoffrey of Monmouth). Something that struck me as interesting, as I read this, was how very “English” it was. Though it was composed after the Norman Conquest, there are very few French words, and thematically it seems to glorify the British kings of old. Even the poetic techniques utilized in Brut resemble Old English more than Middle English. I wonder if Layamon wanted to record his history of the English kings (the first such record in the English language) so that, in that blending of Norman and Saxon tradition that was beginning to occur, the inherently British parts of their history, mythology, and society would be preserved.

Although composed in the early 1200s, Brut is written in a much more archaic version of Middle English (quite similar to Old English) than many of the works we have read lately. I found that, stylistically, Brut almost seemed to be more a product of Anglo-Saxon times than a product of the Middle Ages. Do you agree or disagree? What elements of Brut seem to be Anglo-Saxon?

Personally, the section of Brut printed in our textbook is not one of my favorite parts, although it’s a significant moment because it’s when Arthur decidedly defeats the Saxons and drives them from the land (they’ve been more than a nuisance for many, many years at this point). I was trying to think why that section, as opposed to some of the others, was included, and I wonder if perhaps it is stylistically important in some way. In this blog, I’d love to see a discussion on the Anglo-Saxon elements in this work, as well as any thoughts you have on Layamon’s depiction of Arthur as compared to your previous perceptions of the Arthurian figure. And of course, anything else you think is interesting.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Chaucer's "Reeve's Tale" and "Prioress's Tale"

First, I enjoyed very much the contrast of the two types of stories ("The Reeve's Tale," a comic fabliau, based out of two similar French analogues, Jean Bode's "Gombert and the Two Clerks" and the anonymously written "The Miller and the Two Clerks," and "The Prioress's Tale," a Miracle of the Virgin) and of the types of characters who relate them: the reeve, a "cherle" as our text says, and a religious. If you have not yet had a chance to read these in a modern translation, click on the following link. At the left of the page, you will be able to choose the Edition (choose Modern English) and Tale/Section (choose either The Reeve or The Prioress.)

I enjoyed the sense of "revenge" in The Reeve's Tale, which appears on several levels. First, as our text tells us, a reeve, as a foreman of an estate, would be likely to harbor resentment against millers since most millers were considered to cheat those for whom they ground grain. The Miller's Tale ends with a carpenter - similar to Chaucer's reeve, Oswald, who is a carpenter - being cuckolded, beaten and humiliated. The Prologue makes clear that Oswald did not find the Miller's tale funny and that he forbears to respond in kind, although that is precisely what he does. The miller Simon (or Symkyn) is not only cuckolded but his daughter is violated or ravished depending on how one interprets the story (more on this later.) Thus, a miller is humilated just as a carpenter had been. There is also the revenge within the story itself of the two cheated students upon Simon for chasing off their horse and stealing some of the flour belonging to the university. But I suggest that there is also a third revenge: the wife, pretending to strike Aleyn (Allan), actually beats her own husband. One online criticism of the text (by Gary L. Balliet, in his essay, "The Wife in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale: Siren of Sweet Vengeance") suggests that the wife has been humiliated by her marriage to Simon and considers Aleyn and Symkyn to be "doubles" and uses this as her chance for revenge. Of course, another way to look at this tale is to view the wife and daughter as victims who are denied their voice in protest at what is little more than a rape (although the wife is said to have a "merie" time, and Chaucer tells us thatAleyn and the daughter Malyn are "hard at it.") Yet another way to look at the tale is that it may well be more "true to life" in all its hardness and baseness concerning this particular social stratum of the Middle Ages. Still, I found elements of humor in it despite what may appear to be the victimization of the two women, perhaps not coincidentally, manage each in their own way to get back at the miller whose behavior has led to this situation. I enjoyed the commentary that the story provides concerning morality and honor.

"The Prioress's Tale" is quite different not only in tone - there is nothing even remotely humorous in this story of death and devotion - but in the treatment of a dark issue: anti-Semitism. While I prefer to think that the anti-Semitism of the story is Chaucer's commentary on the anti-semitism of the Middle Ages (despite papal stances condemning persecution of the Jews during this period) and "belongs" as it were to the Prioress and not to Chaucer, a case can be made for it belonging to Chaucer himself. I found much of the story to reflect the story of the innocent Joseph, betrayed by his brothers who wished for his death: ll. 113-114 state: "Fro thennes forth the Jewes han conspired / This innocent out of this world to chace" or "From that time on, the Jews plotted to rid the earth of this innocent child." Further echoes of the Joseph story are found in line 119 ("And kitte his throte and in a pit hym caste" - Joseph was thrown into a pit), lines 124-125 ("Mordre wol out, certeyn it wol nat faille, / And namely theras th'onour of God shal sprede" - Joseph reminds his brothers that "though you meant it for evil, God mean it for good") and line 175 ("This newe Rachel bringen fro his beere" - the boy's widowed mother [similar to Joseph's widowed father] is a "second Rachel" and Rachel was the mother of Joseph.) This tale seems to me to make a microcosm of the Prioress: she is at once anti-Semitic in her story which resonates with all the persecution of the innocent by wicked Jews such as Herod and this is "not a good thing" and yet she advocates devotion to Christ's mother Mary who aids the weak and helpless, and this is a "good thing." She is like all of mankind: flawed, yet able to receive God's grace.

In addition, to me, the "kernel" or "grain" placed by Mary on the boy's tongue represents the Eucharist, and reminds the reader that Mary herself points to the Son she bore as the "white flower."

I would like to see discussion on both tales concerning either some of the points I have raised or others that occur to you.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Delightfully Gruesome "Confessio Amantis"

We have already discussed the morbid nature of our section of Confessio Amantis. Therefore, I will waste no great space in rehashing our earlier discussion. However, there is one quote I would like to mention. I was a little irritated with Rosemounde when her husband said to her "'Drink with thi fader, dame', he seide./And sche to his biddinge obeide" (Lines 153-154). The woman doesn't even question her husband as to what she is drinking from. Certainly she can see she is drinking from a golden skull. Does she not even question if this is a real skull or not?

All right, here is the real topic of my blog. C. S. Lewis said that "the artistry of the Confessio Amantis has not always been recognized. Gower has told us that his design was to 'go the 'middel weie/And wryte a bok betwen the tweie,/Somewhat of lust, somewhat of lore'—that is, in a more familiar critical language, to combine 'profit with delight'" (The Allegory of Love 198).

First of all, I love that Lewis uses the word 'artistry'. It gives me a sense that I am reading something wonderful, and not just another story about someone at war who killed someone's loved one.

Secondly, I have to admit, for myself, that I am usually one to shy away from the morbid. Yet I found that I was strangely fascinated, or if you will, delighted, by the story, especially during the more gruesome sections. I found the skull business to be rather interesting. It makes me wonder if the writer has anything to do with that feeling.

Therefore, I pose the following questions. Is Gower successful in combining 'profit with delight'? Also, do the more gruesome scenes seem to be the more delightful to read, or is that just me? Finally, do you feel that the use of 'confession' makes a greater impact than if the story had been written with a narrator, as Lewis suggests in his book?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I found this story interesting...I think because I really understand nor 'buy' the story. I feel like this story crosses that line between creating an element of fantasy and disbelief and pure conjecture where the plotline forces you to assume and agree with the author's assumptions in order to even simply follow the story. Let me explain more specifically...
Now perhaps it was my inexperience with Middle English and truly understanding/translating what is being said, but...
The story never explained for me WHY the judge deserved to be baptized after death so as to be able to enter heaven. The poem does as good a job as possible within the constraints of alliterative rhyming, of expressing the judge's good deeds and 'outstanding virtues' BUT why him. I am sure that there are many people who die who aren't baptized and yet lived virtuosly and honorable in God's sight. Why aren't they allowed post-death baptisms? I didn't feel like this poem estbalished for me why this man deserved above others a second chance. Also, isn't the whole point of Salvation and Christ being the only way through which man may enter heaven that we must make a decision here on earth before our deaths to accept him and serve him and according to the church of Middle English, be baptized. Well....why didn't the judge do this? If he lived so virtuously how did he manage to die and not be baptized? The story again fails to complete the exposition and crucial information needed to accept the premise of the story and thus experience the conclusion.
Well, now let us move on to Erkenwald himself... WHY him? What about Erkenwald made him so spectacular that he was the chosen priest to baptize the judge? God had preserved that body for some time. He obviously took great pains waiting just for the right moment and the right man. I am still unclear as to what made Erkenwald that man. The story appears to present the idea of Erkenwald being the priest that happened upon the corpse. Why hadn't someone happened upon it earlier? Did Erkenwald have 'magical' or 'holy' tears? Is that what made Erkenwald the man needed? His tears? See...(no pun intended) these are all questions that I couldn't answer, and yet so plauged me during the reading of the poem that I could concentrate on little else.
I don't want to leave you, my fellow Wanderers, with simply negativity and confusion. Therefore, here is a little taste of my conjecture (Peter this is mostly for you considering your blog on Gawain):
The Book describes the poem by stating "The miracle in question does not figure elsewhere in the saint's dossier. It appears to have been a pious invention of the poet himself" (221). Absolutely!!! If this were infact based even remotely in truth there would be other confirmations of it in church history and "mythology." The church appears to have been extremely meticulous in its stories and records of its saints, I wouldn't dare accuse them of a coincidental lax on Erkenwald's story. Rather, the poem gave me the 'vibe' of being more along the lines of a premature Gothic Novel. A gothic story with the inclusion of Christian theological elements (much like The Monk).
Now, that all said...I liked the poem. I love Gothic Novels and enjoyed that sort of feel to the poem. Also, the sections that I did translate, where absolutely beautifully written. It is not simply alliteration, but intricately and gloriously put together alliterative verse.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Delinquent Sir Gawain and His Precious Green Knight

This poem has been the subject (or victim, depending on your perspective) of a literal mountain of literary criticism, and I doubt I will say anything new on the topic. While this bothers me a bit because of my thirst for the unique and my distate for the cliche, I have promised to comment on this poem and so I shall.

Knowing the story line as I read the actual poem made for emphases on certain aspects of the poem which I dare say probably wouldn't have stood out if I'd been ignorant of the basic plot as I read the work. Two such aspects which particularly caught my attention are the near involvement of King Arthur and the theme of slothfulness in Gawain the Pure.

King Arthur almost kills the Green Knight himself. When the GK (which may also stand for the medieval "Gude Kwalitae" fashion guide) first issues his proposition, King Arthur steps into the ring because all of his knights are chicken. It is only the quick thinking and smooth talking of our dearly beloved Sir Gawan, nephew of the King, which prevents this tale from being "King Arthur and the Green Knight."

Suppose with me for a moment that Sir Gawain had been sick that first fateful evening, unable to attend the dinner. Pretend King Arthur had kindly cut the oddly colored knight in two, and the year has now passed: the King is now on his quest to let the rogue knight return his blow. Presuming the King would have been more honest than his beloved nephew, the poem may in fact have turned out to be an original version of "Mort d'Artur," leading one to the conclusion that Sir Gawain actually preserved the entire Arthurian kingdom by stumbling forward and asking for permission to bash the stranger.

Yet if King Arthur had allowed the GK to have his strike, would his enemy have actually cut him down? Or, if even Sir Gawain had returned the magic sash, would the knight have taken a slice at anyone at all?
My contention is that the Green Knight's character, as displayed through his unoffensive challenge at the King's Court and his hospitality expressed to Gawain, was not as interested in killing a challenger as he was interested in showing off his sash. If King Arthur had been his antagonist, I believe the knight would have refrained from killing Arthur simply because Arthur is king; if Gawain had been honest, I believe the knight would have let him go unharmed. So perhaps Gawain didn't actually do anything very heroic; all the same, it's an interesting thing to think about.

The development with slothfulness I mentioned was just noticing how the author has Gawain sleeping and relaxing all day while the Green Knight is out hunting and being productive. That is all.

So in sum: exactly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"Sir Orfeo"

I had never read or even heard of Sir Orfeo before working on it for this class, and I really think it has become one of my favorite of what I have read in this class. First, I was fasinated by the long history of the story, which I outlined in my presentation. After class, Shaina commented to me how the Orpheus story has been utilized in a modern play, again reminding me of the transcendence, really, of the story itself. It has been used in many different contexts--pagan Greek, Celtic, Christian, modern--and I would suggest that that is because of its resonance with the Great Eucatastrophe, as Tolkien would put it. In Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories," he speaks of the four elements of the fairy story: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. I think that it is because Sir Orfeo fits this model so well that it is a recurring theme in literature. I found it particularly interesting how many Christians in the medieval period would interpret the story allegorically as Christ descending into hell to redeem the soul. In that way, the story ties in with the theme of the harrowing of hell, which we have already seen in Piers Plowman. I would be interesting in all of your opinions on Sir Orfeo as a fairy story (as defined by Tolkien) and on the Christianization of the story. Some more recent critics assert that any Christian interpretation of the story is reading into it something that is not there. Other aspects of the story that I liked besides the "echo of evangelium" were the beautiful fairies, who reminded me of Tolkien's Elves, the theme of married love (rather than adulterous love), the image of Orfeo as a saint figure in the wilderness, and the symbol of the harp as an enchantment that harmonizes the cosmos, nature, and the Otherworld.