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Medieval Cultures

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Amoral Gower

Language, Sex, and Politics

Diane Watt

“Moral Gower” he was called by friend and sometime rival Geoffrey Chaucer, and his “Confessio Amantis” has been viewed as an uncomplicated analysis of the universe, combining erotic narratives with ethical guidance and political commentary. Diane Watt offers the first sustained reading of John Gower’s “Confessio” to argue that this early vernacular text offers no real solutions to the ethical problems it raises—and in fact actively encourages perverse readings.

Drawing on a combination of queer and feminist theory, ethical criticism, and psychoanalytic, historicist, and textual criticism, Watt focuses on the language, sex, and politics in Gower’s writing. How, she asks, is Gower’s “Confessio” related to contemporary controversies over vernacular translation and debates about language politics? How is Gower’s treatment of rhetoric and language gendered and sexualized, and what bearing does this have on the ethical and political structure of the text? What is the relationship between the erotic, ethical, and political sections of “Confessio Amantis”? Watt demonstrates that Gower engaged in the sort of critical thinking more commonly associated with Chaucer and William Langland at the same time that she contributes to modern debates about the ethics of criticism.

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Anne’s Bohemia

Czech Literature And Society, 1310-1420

Alfred Thomas

Anne’s Bohemia is the first general book in English to introduce the little-known riches of medieval Bohemian culture. Alfred Thomas considers the development of Czech literature and society from the election of Count John of Luxembourg as king of Bohemia in 1310 to the year 1420, when the papacy declared a Catholic crusade against the Hussite reformers. This period is of particular relevance to the study of medieval England because of the marriage of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, the figure around whom this book is focused.

Anne’s Bohemia provides a social context for the most important works of literature written in the Czech language, from the earliest spiritual songs and prayers to the principal Hussite and anti-Hussite tracts of the fifteenth century. The picture that emerges from Thomas’s close readings of these texts is one of a society undergoing momentous political and religious upheavals in which kings, queens, clergy, and heretics all played crucial roles. During the reign of Charles IV (1346-78), the Bohemian Lands became the administrative and cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire and Prague its splendid capital. Comparing and contrasting the situation in Bohemia with the England of Richard II, Anne’s Bohemia charts the growth and decline of the international court culture and the gradual ascendancy of the Hussite reformers in the fifteenth century. Expert but accessibly written, the book offers an engaging overview of medieval Bohemian culture for specialist and nonspecialist alike.

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Assembling The Lyric Self

Authorship from Troubadour Song to Italian Poetry Book

Olivia Holmes

Assembling the Lyric Self investigates the transition in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries from the first surviving Provençal and Italian manuscripts (mostly multiauthor lyric anthologies prepared by scribes) to the single-author codex-that is, to the form we now think of as the book of poems. Working from extensive archival and philological research, Olivia Holmes explores the efforts of individual poets to establish poetic authenticity and authority in the context of expanding vernacular literacy. As she moves from an overview to a consideration of particular authors (including Guittone d’Arezzo and Nicolo de’Rossi) and manuscripts, she both demonstrates the narrative and structural subtlety of many of the works and reveals unsuspected phases in a gradual historical shift.

Assembling the Lyric Self challenges received ideas about the origins of a genre (the author-ordered poetry book) and about periodization, including the traditional opposition between medieval conformity and Renaissance individualism. A major reassessment and redefinition of an entire tradition, this book will be essential reading for scholars not only of the Middle Ages but also of the early modern period whose precedents this book realigns.

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Bodies And Disciplines

Intersections of Literature and History in Fifteenth-Century England

Barbara Hanawalt

Centered on practices of the body-human bodies, the “body politic”--Bodies and Disciplines considers a fascinating and largely uncanonical group of texts, as well as public dramas, rituals, and spectacles, from multidisciplinary perspectives. These essays consider the way the human body is subjected to educational discipline, to corporate celebration, and to the production of gendered identity through the experiences of marriage and childbirth. Among the topics explored are the “theatrics of punishment,” including legal mutilation; the representation of the body of Christ as social ritual; adolescent misbehavior and its treatment; and conflicting ecclesiastical and lay models of sexual behavior. The contributors also trace the definition of “poor,” “foreign,” and “dissident” bodies, examining private and public issues surrounding social identities.

The result is a volume that incorporates insights from history, literature, medieval studies, and critical theory, drawing from the strengths of each discipline to illuminate a relatively little-studied period. Insightful and momentous, Bodies and Disciplines marks an important intervention in the development of cultural studies of late medieval England.

Contributors: Sarah Beckwith, U of Pittsburgh; Rita Copeland, U of Minnesota; Gail McMurray Gibson, Davidson College; Ralph Hanna III, U of California, Riverside; Felicity Heal, Oxford U; Ruth Mazo Karras, Temple U; Seth Lerer, Stanford U; Marjorie K. McIntosh, U of Colorado, Boulder; Miri Rubin, Oxford U; Paul Strohm, Indiana U.

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Book Of The Incipit

Beginnings in the Fourteenth Century

D. Vance Smith

In the first book to examine one of the most peculiar features of one of the greatest and most perplexing poems of England’s late Middle Ages-the successive attempts of Piers Plowman to begin, and to keep beginning, D. Vance Smith compels us to rethink beginning, as concept and practice, in both medieval and contemporary terms.

The problem of beginning was invested with increasing urgency in the fourteenth century, imagined and grappled with in the courts, the churches, the universities, the workshops, the fields, and the streets of England. The Book of the Incipit reveals how Langland’s poem exemplifies a widespread interest in beginning in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, an interest that appears in such divergent fields as the physics of motion, the measurement of time, logic, grammar, rhetoric, theology, book production, and insurrection.

Smith offers a theoretical understanding of beginning that departs from the structuralisms of Edward Said and the traditional formalisms of A. D. Nuttall and most medievalist and modernist treatments of closure. Instead, he conceives a work’s beginning as a figure of the beginning of the work itself, the inception of language as the problem of beginning to which we continue to return.

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Chaucer At Large

The Poet in the Modern Imagination

Steve Ellis

In this learned, lively, and wide-ranging book, Steve Ellis conducts us on a tour of the appearances that the greatest writer of Middle English has made throughout English-speaking culture in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Surveying the uses to which Chaucer has been put in modern times, Ellis presents a compelling picture that goes beyond the figure and work of this eminent writer to show us the reach of his imaginative power.

In novelists’ and poets’ responses to Chaucer, children’s versions of his work, modern translations, adaptations for stage, television, radio, and film, and the marketing of Chaucer’s "heritage," Ellis traces Chaucer’s presence among us-from the permutations of his writings in the work of such authors as William Morris, W. B. Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, Henry James, and D. H. Lawrence to its presentation in the Canterbury Tales Experience museum in Canterbury, England. Animated, witty, as critically acute as it is far-reaching, this work, appearing in the sixth centenary of Chaucer’s death, tells us much about a writer at the heart of our cultural tradition and, perhaps, more about that tradition itself.

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Chaucer’s England

Literature in Historical Context

Barbara Hanawalt

Chaucer’s England presents new interpretations of late fourteenth-century English society through a unique combination of historical inquiry and literary analysis.  Beginning with the turbulent reign of Richard I and Bolingbroke’s coup, the contributors look at organized crime, illiteracy, patronage, the influence Richard might have had personally over the remarkable literary production of the period, the concepts of gentility that shaped Chaucer’s own thinking, the pervasive influence of hunting on medieval literature, the role London played as the center of both the court and the literary world, and more.

Contributors to the volume include:

Caroline Barron, Royal Holloway and Bedford College

Michael Bennett, University of Tasmania

Lawrence Clopper, Indiana University

Susan Crane, Rutgers University

Richard Firth Green, University of Western Ontario

Barbara Hanawalt, University of Minnesota

Nicholas Orme, University of Exeter

Nigel Saul, Royal Holloway and Bedford College

Paul Strohm, Indiana University

David Wallace, University of Minnesota

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Chaucer’s Queer Nation

Glenn Burger

Bringing the concerns of queer theory and postcolonial studies to bear on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this ambitious book compels a rethinking not only of this most canonical of works, but also of questions of sexuality and gender in pre- and postmodern contexts, of issues of modernity and nation in historiography, and even of the enterprise of historiography itself. Glenn Burger shows us Chaucer uneasily situated between the medieval and the modern, his work representing new forms of sexual and communal identity but also enacting the anxieties provoked by such departures from the past.

Burger argues that, under the pressure of producing a poetic vision for a new vernacular English audience in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer reimagines late medieval relations between the body and the community. In close readings that are at once original, provocative, and convincing, Chaucer’s Queer Nation helps readers to see the author and audience constructed with and by the Tales as subjects-in-process caught up in a conflicted moment of "becoming."  In turn, this historicization unsettles present-day assumptions about identity with the realization that social organizations of the body can be done differently.

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Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference

Marilynn Desmond

Christine de Pizan, an Italian-born writer in French in the early fifteenth century, composed lyric poetry, debate poetry, political biography, and allegory. At times complicit, at times subversive, at times revisionary, her texts constantly negotiate the hierarchical and repressive discourses of late medieval court culture. How they do so is the focus of this volume, which places Christine’s work in the context of larger discussions about medieval authorship, identity, and categories of difference.

Contributors from the fields of history, literature, legal theory, art history, and medieval studies offer a truly interdisciplinary perspective on the Christine corpus. Their essays address Christine’s textual interventions into the discourses of warfare and rape, her anxiety about the efficacy of education, and her adoption of a vernacular prose style. The authors situate Christine’s texts within medieval medical discourse, debates between theology and philosophy, the tradition of Ovidian discourse, and the iconography of late medieval manuscript culture. They also explore the ways in which her work was shaped by institutional patronage, by its reception in early print culture, and by later compilation. 

Establishing Christine de Pizan’s corpus as part of the legacy of critical feminist discourse, this volume ultimately demonstrates the great value of premodern textual cultures for postmodern accounts of difference.

Contributors: Michel-André Bossy, Brown U; Cynthia J. Brown, U of California, Santa Barbara; Mary Anne C. Case, U of Virginia; Thelma Fenster, Fordham U; Mary Weitzel Gibbons; Monica H. Green, Duke U; Judith L. Kellogg, U of Hawaii, Manoa; Roberta Krueger, Hamilton College; Deborah McGrady, Western Michigan U; Benjamin M. Semple, Yale U; Charity Cannon Willard; Diane Wolfthal, Arizona State U.

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Congenial Souls

Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern

Stephanie Trigg

Congenial Souls surveys the critical literature from the late Middle Ages to the contemporary period to show how editors and critics constructed various voices as a response -- even a supplement -- to Chaucer's work. Concentrating on turning points in the history of this discourse and in the creation of a special Chaucerian community, Trigg arrives at the fraught notion of a critical community in our day. What, she asks, do feminist studies or cultural studies portend for such an author-based literary communion? And if Chaucer is the original "dead white male" author, what will happen to Chaucer studies and medieval studies in the new millennium? The moment is propitious, Trigg suggests, for Chaucerians to investigate their own critical history and its inherent contradictions. Richly informed, her work establishes a strong basis for such an examination.

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