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Studies by Time Period > Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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Ben Jonson's 'Dotages'

A Reconsideration of the Late Plays

Larry S. Champion

Although there has been a general revival of interest in Ben Jonson's dramatic work in the past twenty years, little critical effort has been directed to his late plays -- dismissed by John Dryden as the "dotages" of an aging mind. Through a close reading of The Devil Is an Ass, The Staple of News, The New Inn, and The Magnetic Lady in light of Jonson's own theories of comedy, author Larry S. Champion demonstrates that they reveal the same precise construction and dramatic control found in his acclaimed masterpieces. Furthermore, these works reflect Jonson's continued emphasis upon realism and satiric attack, though they may not be equal in quality or dramatic effectiveness.

The brief and undistinguished stage runs of the late plays are not an accurate gauge of their dramatic merit. Rather than indicating an enfeebled mind, these late plays reveal Jonson to be a continuing innovator -- adapting the forms of the pastoral, the romance, and the morality play to the purposes of comic satire. Previous critics have charged that Jonson was merely desirous of regaining public favor at the expense of his artistic integrity. The present study suggests, however, that Jonson in these plays was in reality burlesqueing the popular fad of exaggerated romantic comedy, which he considered a degradation of the dramatic art.

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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition

Puhvel traces and evaluates the possible influences of Celtic tradition on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He discusses theories of the origins of the poem, draws parallels between elements in Beowulf and in Celtic literary tradition, and suggests that the central plot of the poem, the conflict between Grendel and his mother, is “fundamentally indebted to Celtic folktale elements.” The study is well documented and rich in references to Celtic literature, legend, and folklore.

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Beowulf and the Grendel-Kin

Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England

Helen Damico

n Beowulf and the Grendel-kin: Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England, Helen Damico presents the first concentrated discussion of the initiatory two-thirds of Beowulf’s 3,182 lines in the context of the sociopolitically turbulent years that composed the first half of the eleventh century in Anglo-Danish England. Beowulf and the Grendel-Kin lays out the story of Beowulf, not as a monster narrative nor a folklorish nor solely a legendary tale, but rather as a poem of its time, a historical allegory coping with and reconfiguring sociopolitical events of the first half of eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon England.

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The Bernward Gospels

Art, Memory, and the Episcopate in Medieval Germany

Jennifer P. Kingsley

Few works of art better illustrate the splendor of eleventh-century painting than the manuscript often referred to as the “precious gospels” of Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, with its peculiar combination of sophistication and naïveté, its dramatically gesturing figures, and the saturated colors of its densely ornamented surfaces. In The Bernward Gospels, Jennifer Kingsley offers the first interpretive study of the pictorial program of this famed manuscript and considers how the gospel book conditioned contemporary and future viewers to remember the bishop. The codex constructs a complex image of a minister caring for his diocese not only through a life of service but also by means of his exceptional artistic patronage; of a bishop exercising the sacerdotal authority of his office; and of a man fundamentally preoccupied with his own salvation and desire to unite with God through both his sight and touch. Kingsley insightfully demonstrates how this prominent member of the early medieval episcopate presented his role to the saints and to the communities called upon to remember him.

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Betrayal of Too Trusting a People. The UN, the UK and the Trust Territory of the Southern Cameroons

The UN, the UK and the Trust Territory of the Southern Cameroons

There is a growing body of literature on what was originally envisioned as a free political association of the French and British Cameroons and its dramatic effects on the 'British Cameroons' community. Anyangwe's new book is an attempt to write the history of the Southern Cameroons from a legal perspective. This authoritative work describes in great detail the story of La Republique du Cameroun's alleged annexation and colonization of the Southern Cameroons following the achievement of its independence, while highlighting the seeming complicity of the United Nations and the British Trusteeship Authority. In the process, Anyangwe unravels a number of myths created by the main actors to justify this injustice and, in the end, makes useful suggestions to reverse the situation and to restore statehood to the Southern Cameroons. The book is rich in archival research and informed by a global perspective. It convincingly shows the uniqueness of the Southern Cameroons case.

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Between Christian and Jew

Conversion and Inquisition in the Crown of Aragon, 1250-1391

By Paola Tartakoff

In 1341 in Aragon, a Jewish convert to Christianity was sentenced to death, only to be pulled from the burning stake and into a formal religious interrogation. His confession was as astonishing to his inquisitors as his brush with mortality is to us: the condemned man described a Jewish conspiracy to persuade recent converts to denounce their newfound Christian faith. His claims were corroborated by witnesses and became the catalyst for a series of trials that unfolded over the course of the next twenty months. Between Christian and Jew closely analyzes these events, which Paola Tartakoff considers paradigmatic of inquisitorial proceedings against Jews in the period. The trials also serve as the backbone of her nuanced consideration of Jewish conversion to Christianity—and the unwelcoming Christian response to Jewish conversions—during a period that is usually celebrated as a time of relative interfaith harmony.

The book lays bare the intensity of the mutual hostility between Christians and Jews in medieval Spain. Tartakoff's research reveals that the majority of Jewish converts of the period turned to baptism in order to escape personal difficulties, such as poverty, conflict with other Jews, or unhappy marriages. They often met with a chilly reception from their new Christian brethren, making it difficult to integrate into Christian society. Tartakoff explores Jewish antagonism toward Christians and Christianity by examining the aims and techniques of Jews who sought to re-Judaize apostates as well as the Jewish responses to inquisitorial prosecution during an actual investigation. Prosecutions such as the 1341 trial were understood by papal inquisitors to be in defense of Christianity against perceived Jewish attacks, although Tartakoff shows that Christian fears about Jewish hostility were often exaggerated. Drawing together the accounts of Jews, Jewish converts, and inquisitors, this cultural history offers a broad study of interfaith relations in medieval Iberia.

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Between the Living and the Dead

A Perspective on Witches and Seers in the Early Modern Age

By Eva Pocs

In examining the relics of European shamanism in early modern age sources, the techniques and belief-systems of mediators found in the records of witch-craft trials from the 16th-18th centuries, the author's goal was to explore the kinds of communication systems known to early modern Hungarians, the role of these systems in the everyday life of the village, and how they were connected to contemporary European systems. In addition, the author investigates the relations and changes of paradigm of the systems defined. The book represents a contribution to the most up-to-date international research into historical anthropology and the study of religions, drawing on Eastern European material and literature not previously included. On the basis of her material and analysis, the author contributes a number of new details, identifying new types of mediators and sys-tems which function right up to the twentieth century.

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Beyond a Common Joy

An Introduction to Shakespearean Comedy

Paul A. Olson

“Soul of the age!” Ben Jonson eulogized Shakespeare, and in the next breath, “He was not of an age but for all time.” That he was both “of the age” and “for all time” is, this book suggests, the key to Shakespeare’s comic genius. In this engaging introduction to the First Folio comedies, Paul A. Olson gives a persuasive and thoroughly engrossing account of the playwright’s comic transcendence, showing how Shakespeare, by taking on the great themes of his time, elevated comedy from a mere mid-level literary form to its own form of greatness—on par with epic and tragedy.

Like the best tragic or epic writers, Shakespeare in his comedies goes beyond private and domestic matters in order to draw on the whole of the commonwealth. He examines how a ruler’s or a court’s community at the household and local levels shapes the politics of empire—existing or nascent empires such as England, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire or part empires such as Rome and Athens—where all their suffering and silliness play into how they govern. In Olson’s work we also see how Shakespeare’s appropriation of his age’s ideas about classical myth and biblical scriptures bring to his comic action a sort of sacral profundity in keeping with notions of poetry as “inspired” and comic endings as more than merely happy but as, in fact, uncommonly joyful.

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Beyond Reformation?

An Essay on William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the End of Constantinian Christianity

David Aers

In Beyond Reformation? An Essay on William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the End of Constantinian Christianity, David Aers presents a sustained and profound close reading of the final version of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the most searching Christian poem of the Middle Ages in English. His reading, most unusually, seeks to explore the relations of Langland's poem to both medieval and early modern reformations together with the ending of Constantinian Christianity. Aers concentrates on Langland’s extraordinarily rich ecclesiastic politics and on his account of Christian virtues and the struggles of Conscience to discern how to go on in his often baffling culture. The poem’s complex allegory engages with most institutions and forms of life. In doing so, it explores moral languages and their relations to current practices and social tendencies. Langland’s vision conveys a strange sense that in his historical moment some moral concepts were being transformed and some traditions the author cherished were becoming unintelligible. Beyond Reformation? seeks to show how Langland grasped subtle shifts that were difficult to discern in the fourteenth century but were to become forces with a powerful future in shaping Western Christianity. The essay form that Aers has chosen for his book contributes to the effectiveness of the argument he develops in tandem with the structure of Langland’s poem: he sustains and tests his argument in a series of steps or “passus,” a Langlandian mode of proceeding. His essay unfolds an argument about medieval and early modern forms of Constantinian Christianity and reformation, and the way in which Langland's own vision of a secularizing, de-Christianizing late medieval church draws him toward the idea of a church of “fools,” beyond papacy, priesthood, hierarchy, and institutions. For Aers, Langland opens up serious diachronic issues concerning Christianity and culture. His essay includes a brief summary of the poem and modern translations alongside the original medieval English. It will challenge specialists on Langland's poem and supply valuable resources of thought for anyone who continues to struggle with the church of today.

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Beyond Tragedy

Structure and Experience in Shakespeare's Romances

Robert W. Uphaus

In this compact, yet comprehensive exploration of Shakespeare's romances, Robert W. Uphaus suggests that the romances bring us to a realm of human and dramatic experience that is "beyond tragedy." The inexorable movement of tragedy toward death and a final close is absorbed in romance by a further movement in which death can lead to renewed life, characters can experience a second time of joy and peace, and the audience's conventional expectations about reality and literature are challenged and enlarged.

In the late tragedies of King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, Uphaus finds the tragic structure augmented by elements that will later contribute to the form of the romances. Turning then to the romances themselves, he sees these plays as forming a profession in which Pericles is a brilliant outline of the conventions of romance and Cymbeline is romance taken to its dramatic limits, in fact to the point of parody. Through his fresh and provocative readings of the plays we experience anew the delight of Shakespearean romance and glimpse the world of renewal at its heart.

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