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The Bureaucratic Muse

Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England

Ethan Knapp

Publication Year: 2001

Long neglected as a marginal and eccentric figure, Thomas Hoccleve (1367–1426) wrote some of the most sophisticated and challenging poetry of the late Middle Ages. Full of gossip and autobiographical detail, his work has made him immensely useful to modern scholars, yet Hoccleve the poet has remained decidedly in the shadow of Geoffrey Chaucer. In The Bureaucratic Muse, Ethan Knapp investigates the connections between Hoccleve's poetic corpus and his life as a clerk of the Privy Seal. The early fifteenth century was a watershed moment in the histories of both centralized bureaucracy and English vernacular literature. These were the decades in which Chaucer's experiments in a courtly English poetry were rendered into a stable tradition and in which the central writing offices at Westminster emerged from personal government into the full-blown modernity of independent civil service. Knapp shows the importance of Hoccleve's poetry as a site where these two histories come together. By following the shifting relationship between the texts of vernacular poetry and those of bureaucratic documents, Knapp argues that the roots of vernacular fiction reach back into the impersonal documentary habits of a bureaucratic class. The Bureaucratic Muse, the first full-length study of Hoccleve since 1968, provides an authoritative historical and textual treatment of this important but underappreciated writer. Chapters focus on Hoccleve's importance in consolidating key concepts of the literary field such as autobiography, religious heterodoxy, gendered identity, and post-Chaucer textuality. This book will be of interest to scholars of Middle English literature, autobiography, gender studies, and the history of literary institutions.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

It is a great pleasure to be able to thank publicly all those who have supported this project. First, I would like to thank David Aers, Sarah Beckwith, Fredric Jameson, Leigh DeNeef, and Lee Patterson, generous readers, good friends, and intellectual models for many years now; ...

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pp. 1-16

This book explores the writing of the poet Thomas Hoccleve and the early fifteenth-century bureaucratic culture that shaped that writing. The past decade has produced a stunning shift in the relative importance granted to the Introduction political and religious developments of the early fifteenth century. ...

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1. Bureaucratic Identity and the Construction of the Self in Hoccleve’s Formulary and ‘‘La Male Regle’’

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pp. 17-44

In its suggestion that his verse is material better suited to the social historian than to the literary scholar, this statement typifies much of the existing commentary on Hoccleve. What I would like to underline, however, is Tout’s characterization of the anecdotal elements of Hoccleve’s verse ...

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2. The Letter of Cupid: Gender and the Foundations of Poetic Authority

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pp. 45-76

The parameters, both material and textual, within which the autobiographical component so central to Hoccleve’s work was constructed, also frame one of his early compositions, the Letter of Cupid (1402).1 The literary culture of fifteenth-century England suffered a protracted crisis in authority, ...

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3. ‘‘Wrytynge no travaille is’’: Scribal Labor in the Regement of Princes

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pp. 77-106

It has been the aim of the first two chapters of this study to trace out the implications of an early bureaucratic culture as an important source of Hoccleve’s poetic persona, to argue on the one hand that the contemporary financial anxieties in those offices were a shaping influence on his experiment in autobiography and, ...

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4. Eulogies and Usurpations: Father Chaucer in the Regement of Princes

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pp. 107-128

Perhaps no ideology is so central to the institution of literary history as that of filial piety. Despite recent debate over the content and function of literary canons, and despite theoretical critiques of organic, continuous historical models, the implicit frame within which we read and teach is still grounded, ...

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5. Hoccleve and Heresy: Image, Memory and the Vanishing Mediator

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pp. 129-158

Modern critics usually characterize the religious Hoccleve as a harshly orthodox writer, the author of the ‘‘Address to Sir John Oldcastle,’’ and an enthusiastic cultural worker in the Lancastrian campaign against Lollardy. There is certainly much to support such an identification in Hoccleve’s poetry. ...

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6. ‘‘Ful bukkissh is his brayn’’: Writing, Madness, and Bureaucratic Culture in the Series

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pp. 159-184

There is something uncanny about autobiography. As Sartre put it, the writing of autobiography is essentially a posthumous enterprise, one in which the production of meaning requires the ghostly premonition of an ending, some conclusion to draw the narrative of a life to a close and endow it with meaning. ...

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pp. 185-186

So appeared the bureaucratic offices, and their inhabitants, to Balzac’s penetrating eye in 1838.1 Balzac describes bureaucracy here as a close cousin to the theater. It is a space entered for trifles, a space opposed to the well-lit realm of nature and the external world. ...


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pp. 187-204


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pp. 205-210

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052649
E-ISBN-10: 0271052643
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271027845
Print-ISBN-10: 0271027843

Page Count: 220
Publication Year: 2001