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c o n t e n t s Preface vii Acknowledgments xi chapter one Historical Criticism and the Development of Chaucer Studies i chapter two The Disenchanted Classroom 31 chapter three Court Poetry and the Invention of Literature: The Example of Sir John Clanvowe 56 chapter four “What Is Me?”: Hoccleve and the Trials of the Urban Self 84 appen dix to chapter 4 Beinecke MS 493 and the Survival of Hoccleve’s Series 110 Patterson-000FM 9/17/09 4:02 PM Page v chapter five Making Identities in Fifteenth-Century England: Henry V and John Lydgate 120 chapter six The Heroic Laconic Style: Reticence and Meaning from Beowulf to the Edwardians 155 chapter seven Writing Amorous Wrongs: Chaucer and the Order of Complaint 181 chapter eight Genre and Source in Troilus and Criseyde 198 chapter nine “Rapt with Pleasaunce”: The Gaze from Virgil to Milton 215 chapter ten Brother Fire and St. Francis’s Drawers: Human Nature and the Natural World 234 Notes 252 Index 341 vi Contents Patterson-000FM 9/17/09 4:02 PM Page vi p r e f a c e In preparing this collection of essays, two quotations have frequently been in my mind. One is Faulkner’s well-known line from Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The other, more recent and less well known, is from a newspaper interview with Harold Pinter: “It’s as if it never happened. It’s all in the past and who cares? But let me put it this way—the dead are still looking at us, waiting for us to acknowledge our part in their murder.”1 The first passage is about the grip of the past on the present, the second about the responsibility of the present to the past. Faulkner refers to the way an individual’s past distorts the sense of social responsibility (in this case Temple Drake’s legal obligations); Pinter refers to the way the erasure of a social past (in this case the bloodshed caused by the invasion of Iraq) enables an evasion of individual responsibility (who cares?). Two dialectics are at work: between the past and the present, and between the individual and the social . These are dialectics familiar to every medievalist. What Faulkner and Pinter provide is the recognition that they bear a significance that must be defined as moral. Whatever moral meaning the essays in this collection bear is, I hope, implicit—although not to the point of invisibility. I cannot pretend that even the most resolutely specific of them does not carry some sense that vii Patterson-000FM 9/17/09 4:02 PM Page vii central human values are always involved, however local, even technical , the work. The dead are always looking at us, and our complicity in their murder is to forget them. The past is still present, no matter how rapid the rate of innovation. There is a deep continuity in human history . Were there not—if the past really were a foreign country where they do things differently—then we could not understand it at all.2 But clearly we do, and we do because the past is, in a sense that we should not allow ourselves to ignore, us. Our responsibility to the past is a responsibility to the present; and only in understanding the dead as fully and accurately as we can are we able to understand ourselves. The most remarkable and yet often dismaying quality of the literature of the past is that it reads us while we read it. The one persistent recognition that emerged from writing these otherwise quite disparate essays is that whatever the text (Beowulf, The Siege of Thebes, The Series) and whoever the people (Henry V, John Clanvowe, Capt. Lawrence Oates), the values at issue remain central to contemporary life. I am not blind to the fact that this is a claim all historians—whether of literature or of the past tout court—almost always make. But that doesn’t mean that it should not continue to be made, if only to remind those of us who seek to understand the past that we are simultaneously trying to understand the present—and, even more pertinently, our own lives, both professional and personal. The first two chapters of this book are methodological. Chapter 1 has previously been published as the opening chapter of Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature, a book that appeared...


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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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