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Rereading The Nun's Priest's Tale
Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is one of the most popular of The Canterbury Tales. It is only 646 lines long, yet it contains elements of a beast fable, an exemplum, a satire, and other genres. There have been countless attempts to articulate the “real” meaning of the tale, but it has confounded the critics. Peter W. Travis contends that part of the fun and part of the frustration of trying to interpret the tale has to do with Chaucer’s use of the tale to demonstrate the resistance of all literature to traditional critical practices. But the world of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is so creative and so quintessentially Chaucerian that critics persist in writing about it. No one has followed the critical fortunes of Chauntecleer and his companions more closely over time than Peter Travis. One of the most important contributions of this book is his assessment of the tale’s reception. Travis also provides an admirable discussion of genre: his analysis of parody and Menippean satire clarify how to approach works such as this tale that take pleasure in resisting traditional generic classifications. Travis also demonstrates that the tale deliberately invoked its readers’ memories of specific grammar school literary assignments, and the tale thus becomes a miniaturized synopticon of western learning. Building on these analyses and insights, Travis’s final argument is that The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is Chaucer’s premier work of self-parody, an ironic apologia pro sua arte. The most profound matters foregrounded in the tale are not advertisements of the poet’s achievements. Rather, they are poetic problems that Chaucer wrestled with from the beginning of his career and, at the end of that career, wanted to address in a concentrated, experimental, and parapoetic way.
The Rhetoric of sacramental Devotion in Early Modern England
Combining theoretically engaged analyses with historically contextualized close readings, Divine Subjection posits new ways of understanding the relations between devotional literature and early English culture. Shifting the critical discussion from a “poetics” to a “rhetoric” of devotion, Kuchar considers how a broad range of devotional and metadevotional texts in Catholic and mainstream Protestant traditions register and seek to mitigate processes of desacralization—the loss of legible commerce between heavenly and earthly orders. This shift in critical focus makes clear the extent to which early modern devotional writing engages with some of the period’s most decisive theological conflicts and metaphysical crises. Kuchar places devotional writing alongside psychoanalytical and phenomenological theories and analyzes how religious and conceptual conflicts are registered in and accommodated by the predication of sacramental conceptions of the self. Through a devotional rhetoric based on context-specific uses of linguistic excessiveness, early modern devotional writers reimagined a form of sacramental identity that was triggered by, and structured in relation to, a divine Other whose desire preceded and exceeded one’s own. Through readings of works by Robert Southwell, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, Thomas Traherne and other lesser known authors, Divine Subjection explores how writers reimagined the sacramental continuity between divine and human orders amid a range of theological and philosophical conflicts. Kuchar thus examines how rhetoric of sacramental devotion works to construct ideal religious subjects within and against the broader experience of desacralization.
The Early Modern Atlantic World
In Europe and North and South America during the early modern period, people believed that their dreams might be, variously, messages from God, the machinations of demons, visits from the dead, or visions of the future. Interpreting their dreams in much the same ways as their ancient and medieval forebears had done—and often using the dream-guides their predecessors had written—dreamers rejoiced in heralds of good fortune and consulted physicians, clerics, or practitioners of magic when their visions waxed ominous. Dreams, Dreamers, and Visions traces the role of dreams and related visionary experiences in the cultures within the Atlantic world from the late thirteenth to early seventeenth centuries, examining an era of cultural encounters and transitions through this unique lens.
In the wake of Reformation-era battles over religious authority and colonial expansion into Asia, Africa, and the Americas, questions about truth and knowledge became particularly urgent and debate over the meaning and reliability of dreams became all the more relevant. Exploring both indigenous and European methods of understanding dream phenomena, this volume argues that visions were central to struggles over spiritual and political authority. Featuring eleven original essays, Dreams, Dreamers, and Visions explores the ways in which reports and interpretations of dreams played a significant role in reflecting cultural shifts and structuring historic change.
Contributors: Emma Anderson, Mary Baine Campbell, Luis Corteguera, Matthew Dennis, Carla Gerona, María V Jordán, Luís Filipe Silvério Lima, Phyllis Mack, Ann Marie Plane, Andrew Redden, Janine Rivière, Leslie Tuttle, Anthony F. C. Wallace.
Long recognized as one of the greatest medieval philosophical theologians, John Duns Scotus made his most innovative theoretical contributions in the area of metaphysics. A careful and detailed study of his argument for the existence of God and the theory of knowledge that makes this possible provides the most direct access to his basic ideas. Unlike the Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas or Anselm's famous Proslogion argument, Scotus's proof is of another order of complexity and amounts to a little "summa" of his metaphysics. Among those theologians to accept Aristotle's scientific theory, Scotus is perhaps the first to realize fully its negative consequences if the philosophical doctrines of divine illumination and the analogical concept of being interact. His treatment of the God-question is distinguished for its deliberatively holistic approach to what was conventionally a series of unrelated topics.
phenomenology for the godforsaken
Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350-1700
In The Embodied Word: Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350–1700, Nancy Bradley Warren expands on the topic of female spirituality, first explored in her book Women of God and Arms, to encompass broad issues of religion, gender, and historical periodization. Through her analyses of the variety of ways in which medieval spirituality was deliberately and actively carried forward to the early modern period, Warren underscores both continuities and revisions that challenge conventional distinctions between medieval and early modern culture. The early modern writings of Julian of Norwich are an illustrative starting point for Warren’s challenge to established views of English religious cultures. In a single chapter, Warren follows the textual and devotional practices of Julian as they influence two English Benedictine nuns in exile, and then Grace Mildmay, a seventeenth-century Protestant gentry woman, “to shed light on the ways in which individual encounters of the divine, especially gendered bodily encounters expressed textually, signify for others both personally and socio-historically.” In subsequent chapters, Warren discusses St. Birgitta of Sweden’s imitatio Christi in the context of the importance of Spain and Spanish women in shaping a distinctive form of early modern Englishness strongly aligned with medieval religious culture; juxtaposes the fifteenth-century mystic Margery Kempe with the life and writings of Anna Trapnel, a seventeenth-century Baptist; and treats Catherine of Siena together with the Protestant Anne Askew and Lollard and Recusant women. In the final chapters she focuses on the interplay of gender and textuality in women’s textual representations of themselves and in works written by men who used the traditions of female spirituality in the service of competing orthodoxies.
One of the messages that Emily Dickinson wanted to communicate to the world was her great love of William Shakespeare—her letters abound with references to him and his works. This book explores the many implications of her admiration for the Bard. Páraic Finnerty clarifies the essential role that Shakespeare had in Dickinson’s life by locating her allusions to his writings within a nineteenth-century American context and by treating reading as a practice that is shaped, to a large extent, by culture. In the process, he throws new light on Shakespeare’s multifaceted presence in Dickinson’s world: in education, theater, newspapers, public lectures, reading clubs, and literary periodicals. Through analysis of letters, journals, diaries, records, periodicals, newspapers, and marginalia, Finnerty juxtaposes Dickinson’s engagement with Shakespeare with the responses of her contemporaries. Her Shakespeare emerges as an immoral dramatist and highly moral poet; a highbrow symbol of class and cultivation and a lowbrow popular entertainer; an impetus behind the emerging American theater criticism and an English author threatening American creativity; a writer culturally approved for women and yet one whose authority women often appropriated to critique their culture. Such a context allows the explication of Dickinson’s specific references to Shakespeare and further conjecture about how she most likely read him. Finnerty also examines those of Dickinson’s responses to Shakespeare that deviated from what might have been expected and approved of by her culture. Imaginatively departing from the commonplace, Dickinson chose to admire three of Shakespeare’s most powerful and transgressive female characters—Cleopatra, Queen Margaret, and Lady Macbeth—instead of his more worthy and virtuous heroines. More startling, although the poet found resonance for her own life in Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth, she chose, in the racially charged atmosphere of nineteenth-century America, to identify with Shakespeare’s most controversial character, Othello, thereby defying expectations once again.
Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Historians and cultural critics face special challenges when treating the nonhuman natural world in the medieval and early modern periods. Their most daunting problem is that in both the visual and written records of the time, nature seems to be both everywhere and nowhere. In the broadest sense, nature was everywhere, for it was vital to human survival. Agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine, and the patterns of human settlement all have their basis in natural settings. Humans also marked personal, community, and seasonal events by natural occurrences and built their cultural explanations around the workings of nature, which formed the unspoken backdrop for every historical event and document of the time. Yet in spite of the ubiquity of nature’s continual presence in the physical surroundings and the artistic and literary cultures of these periods, overt discussion of nature is often hard to find. Until the sixteenth century, responses to nature were quite often recorded only in the course of investigating other subjects. In a very real sense, nature went without saying. As a result, modern scholars analyzing the concept of nature in the history of medieval and early modern Europe must often work in deeply interdisciplinary ways. This challenge is deftly handled by the contributors to Engaging with Nature, whose essays provide insights into such topics as concepts of animal/human relationships; environmental and ecological history; medieval hunting; early modern collections of natural objects; the relationship of religion and nature; the rise of science; and the artistic representations of exotic plants and animals produced by Europeans encountering the New World.
Soldier Poets in the Age of Shakespeare
English Mercuries examines war and literature through the writings of veterans who came home from their deployments to pursue literary careers. From their often neglected writings emerges a new picture of the Elizabethan world at war. For centuries Elizabethan England has been characterized by booming patriotism and martial energy, and the literature of this period, epitomized in works like Shakespeare’s Henry V, has been seen as celebrating a proud and defiant kingdom unified around its wars with Spain. Beneath this patriotic veneer, however, was a country withering under the costs of seemingly endless military commitments and ripped apart by doubts about the purpose of war and mistrust of state officials who advanced their own political interests through war at the expense of the people who had to fight and pay for it. These misgivings are a powerful undercurrent in much of the literature of the period, even the most ostensibly patriotic works, but it is in the writings on war by soldier poets where they are most clearly pronounced. Fashioning themselves as servants of both Mars and Mercury (the god of war and the god of writing), Elizabethan soldier poets focused their war stories on the gritty realities of military campaigning, the price individuals paid for serving the state, and the difficulties of returning to civilian life. The book reconsiders some familiar writers like John Donne and Ben Jonson in the context of their military experiences and provides comprehensive studies of some important but underappreciated soldier poets like Thomas Churchyard, George Gascoigne, and John Harington.
In Search of a Lost Sensibility
"Richard, Duke of Aquitaine, son of the King of England, remained with Philip, the King of France, who so honored him for so long that they ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them. And the King of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the King of England was absolutely astonished at the vehement love between them and marveled at what it could mean."
Public avowals of love between men were common from antiquity through the Middle Ages. What do these expressions leave to interpretation? An extraordinary amount, as Stephen Jaeger demonstrates.
Unlike current efforts to read medieval culture through modern mores, Stephen Jaeger contends that love and sex in the Middle Ages relate to each other very differently than in the postmedieval period. Love was not only a mode of feeling and desiring, or an exclusively private sentiment, but a way of behaving and a social ideal. It was a form of aristocratic self-representation, its social function to show forth virtue in lovers, to raise their inner worth, to increase their honor and enhance their reputation. To judge from the number of royal love relationships documented, it seems normal, rather than exceptional, that a king loved his favorites, and the courtiers and advisors, clerical and lay, loved their superiors and each other.
Jaeger makes an elaborate, accessible, and certain to be controversial, case for the centrality of friendship and love as aristocratic lay, clerical, and monastic ideals. Ennobling Love is a magisterial work, a book that charts the social constructions of passion and sexuality in our own times, no less than in the Middle Ages.