- The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 2, December 1991
- p. pp. 131-133
- View Citation
Reviews 131 sophisticated use of patronage which served to limit open conflict. H e briefly traces the balancing of court and central government demands and city liberties with regard to competing claims to jurisdiction and the much resented monopolies, attributing much of their success to a cursus honorum whereby the elitefirstcut their teeth on local parish and company offices which provided an essential insight into the basic problems faced by ordinary citizens. H e is sceptical about the sense of identity created by the different and overlapping institutions in the city from livery companies to parishes, arguing that the formal records give a misleading impression of unity. In the same vein, he seeks to redress the optimistic interpretation of social policy provisions, recharting the chronological shifts in the demand for, and effectiveness of, poor relief. H e concludes that a seven percent demand for regular support swells to 18 percent in crisis times. The regulatory rote of the hospitals, concerned partly with physical welfare, partly with moral regeneration, particularly Bridewell's role in control of prostitution, is seen as only periodically effective. The need, he concludes, was greater than the relief available and the provisions eliminated the able-bodied for w h o m work was not available. This leads inexorably into criminality. Archer, like Slack, dubs problematic literary works such as that of Harmon, and sees criminality as a form of juvenile delinquency, not organized, whose alliances were impermanent with the possible exception of prostitution where the court provided protection to certain providers. The liberties, he claims, far from being notorious refuges for criminals, sometimes had their own internal well-developed local government which punished offenders and responded to government directives. Sybil M . Jack Department of History University of Sydney Astell, Ann W., The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1990; cloth; pp. xiv, 193; R.R.P. US$27.95 + 1 0 % overseas. Although it is still possible to read and write about medieval literature without succumbing to the tyranny of dialogically agitated environments or textual anxiety, theoretically informed criticism is becoming more common. Professor Astell, in her elegantly written book, employs reader-response theory teamed with Jungian psychology to explainfirsthow medieval commentators interpreted the Song and then how others reinscribed the reading process in various Middle English works. Her opening chapters m o v e briskly from Origen to the twelfth century. Here four major types of exegesis are identified and described: the ecclesiastical, the Marian, the Victorine and the Cistercian. These conespond to aspects of the 132 Reviews Bride representing 'the four major feminine archetypes delineated by Jungian psychologists: Virgin, Mother, Medial W o m a n , and Hetaira' (pp. 14-15). Whereas Patristic writers were content to explain the sacred meaning of the text, eschewing the literal sense, Astell argues that writers of the twelfth century broke new ground in eliciting an affective response from the reader/auditor. Since this person was most likely a male, the appeal was made to his 'recessive' feminine aspects. If the Bride in the Song was identified with the Church or Mary the response sought was exemplary. If the Bride was the soul, then the reader was asked to identify with her. At this stage gender confusion tends to set in. Astell thinks twelfth-century writers and readers solved the problem by recourse to recessive femininity and Jungian anima development. This conclusion is at odds with Caroline Bynum's suggestion that m e n found it preferable to endow the deity with feminine attributes. Astell, however, sees the commentaries as having an almost therapeutic role in integrating the masculine and feminine aspects of the reader. Thus St Bernard in his Sermones super Cantica Canticorum 'by evoking the anima within his monks ... helps them come to a deep self-knowledge ... and assists the inner feminine complementarity that supports and inspires their own striving for heroic sanctity' (pp. 76-7). Similarly texts influenced by the Song confirm and continue such strategies. Astell detects a nanative of anima development in Richard Rolle's biography. Although early in life the hermit projected his 'darker passions' on to women and warned against their proximity, later he was able to...