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Acts of Recognition

Essays on Medieval Culture

Lee Patterson

Publication Year: 2010

This volume brings together Lee Patterson’s essays published in various venues over the past twenty-seven years. As he observes in his preface, “The one persistent recognition that emerged from writing these otherwise quite disparate essays is that whatever the text . . . and whoever the people . . ., the values at issue remain central to contemporary life.” Two dialectics are at work in this book: that between the past and the present and that between the individual and the social, and both have moral significance. The first two chapters are methodological; the first is on the historical understanding of medieval literature and the second on how to manage the inseparability of fact and value in the classroom. The next three chapters take up three “less-read” late medieval writers: Sir John Clanvowe, Thomas Hoccleve, and John Lydgate. Each is used to illuminate a social phenomenon: the nature of court culture, the experience of the city, and Henry V’s act of self-making. The following chapter explicitly links past and present by arguing that the bearing of the English aristocrat comes from a tradition beginning with Beowulf and later reinvoked in response to nineteenth-century imperialism. The next three chapters are the most literary, dealing with Chaucer and with literary conventions in relation to a number of texts. The final chapter is on the man Patterson considers one of the most important of our medieval ancestors, Francis of Assisi.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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Historical Criticism and the Development of Chaucer Studies

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pp. 1-30

By the early 1980s, the word historicism—indeed, the very word history— had become highly charged both in the local field of medieval studies and in literary criticism generally. And yet the charge was in each instance of a different valence: for the medievalist the phrase “historical criticism” was a code word for a densely...

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The Disenchanted Classroom

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pp. 31-55

Discussions of pedagogy are subject to many different interests, not all of them compatible and some even disagreeable. The genre asks for descriptive pragmatism, a dispassionate account of the materials and strategies of teaching a certain body of texts. But as soon as one begins to reflect on why one does what...

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Court Poetry and the Invention of Literature: The Example of Sir John Clanvowe

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pp. 56-83

“The language of poetry naturally falls in with the language of power. . . . The principle of poetry is a very anti-leveling principle. . . . Poetry is right royal. It puts the individual before the species, the one above the infinite many, might before right.”1 Hazlitt’s disillusioned comments on the politics of poetry—comments prompted...

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"What Is Me?": Hoccleve and the Trials of the Urban Self

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pp. 84-109

As the Male Regle nears its end, Hoccleve asks, with the willful naiveté that makes his poetry at once enigmatic and endearing, “Ey, what is me Þat to myself thus longe / Clappid haue I?”1 Hoccleve is the most strenuously autobiographical poet of early English literature: not until at least Donne, or perhaps even Wordsworth and the high Romantics, do we find his equal in self-observation.2 To...

Appendix to Chapter 4

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pp. 110-119

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Making Identities in Fifteenth-Century England: Henry V and John Lydgate

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pp. 120-154

The courtship to which the title of this section alludes was recently entered, not for the first time, as a metaphor for academic collaboration by Brian Stock, who rather lamented its pertinence. “There are,” he said, “fewer areas of agreement than there might be between empirical historians and students of literature...

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The Heroic Laconic Style: Reticence and Meaning from Beowulf to the Edwardians

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pp. 155-180

The near oxymoron of my title can best be explained, at the outset, by one of its most famous instances. Capt. Lawrence Oates was a member of Robert Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1910 –12. On the fatal return trip his frostbitten feet would no longer allow him to continue walking, and—knowing...

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Writing Amorous Wrongs: Chaucer and the Order of Complaint

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pp. 181-197

“Death is the mother of beauty.” Wallace Stevens’s dictum reminds us of the long-standing, perhaps permanent link between poetry and loss, writing and absence. We write of and out of what we lack, what we imagine to be possible (happiness, understanding), and what we hope, by our writing, to discover or recover: this is what Stevens meant when he described us as “natives of poverty, children...

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Genre and Source in Troilus and Criseyde

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pp. 198-214

The purpose of this essay is to answer two questions. The first is so familiar that to ask it is—at least according to received opinion—already to answer it: why, at the end of Troilus and Criseyde, does Chaucer define his poem as a “tragedye” (5.1786)? The second, despite its obviousness, seems never to have been asked at all, much less answered. C. S. Lewis told us many years ago “What Chaucer...

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"Rapt with Pleasaunce": The Gaze from Virgil to Milton

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pp. 215-233

In Book 1 of the Aeneid Aeneas and Achates enter Carthage shrouded in a protective mist and make their way to a temple sacred to Juno where they await the coming of Dido. As they wait, Aeneas sees a “wonderful thing” that for the first time gives him hope of safety and the promise of better things.1 On the walls of the temple, representations of the battles of Troy are laid out ex ordine, evidence that news...

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Brother Fire and St. Francis's Drawers: Human Nature and the Natural World

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pp. 234-251

One of the most familiar of the many stories of Francis and the natural world is the tale of the wolf of Gubbio. First briefly reported about 1290, it is now best known in the elaborate version that appears in the popular Fioretti or Little Flowers of Saint Francis. A ravenous wolf that is terrorizing the town is reprimanded by a fearless St. Francis, who says that if the wolf will stop eating the townspeople...


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pp. 252-340


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pp. 341-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780268089795
E-ISBN-10: 0268089795
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268038373
Print-ISBN-10: 0268038376

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: Images removed; no digital rights.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 694144516
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Acts of Recognition

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Subject Headings

  • Literature and society -- England -- History -- To 1500.
  • England -- Civilization -- 1066-1485.
  • Historical criticism (Literature).
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
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