In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER ety in the bag. Are they all ‘‘documents’’? Should we pay attention to the differences, say, between pamphlets and quittances and ragman rolls, and, if so, why? Also given that documents ought to be stored in official places, what is the significance of the bag’s having been concealed by mitered Mum and his confederates for many years? These were all questions that, given the nature of Steiner’s enterprise, I hoped to find addressed. In sum, I felt that this book made some large claims that were difficult to sustain, and in other places did not push material as far as it ought to go. There is excessive recapitulation of material that bloats the trajectory of the argument. But while I am in disagreement with many of the arguments and the consistency of the methodology, this is a book that made me think, and indeed to reread in a new light the texts that it examines. Helen Barr Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford Emily Steiner and Candace Barrington, eds. The Letter of the Law: Legal Practice and Literary Production in Medieval England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. Pp. viii, 257. $45.00 cloth, $19.95 paper. The Letter of the Law is an unusual collection of essays by diverse hands in that it reads, with few exceptions, almost as if it were a single-authored book on its subject. That is a compliment both to the discipline of the contributors and the management skills of the editors. Indeed, the contributors follow the general theses of one of the editors, Emily Steiner, in her highly regarded book, Documentary Culture: vernacular literature calls upon legal discourse to validate its own production. At the same time, vernacular literature also explores the contradictions, interstices, and exceptions ignored in formal legal documents. Literature , that is, both critiques formal legal institutions and proposes its own alternative legal fictions. Such an approach differs from many Law and Literature studies, such as the largely Hegelian enterprise of Theodore Ziolkowski, who reads major shifts in legal practice into key works of literature throughout history, and of the anti-Hegelian enterprise of PAGE 364 364 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:57 PS REVIEWS Richard Posner, who argues that literature and law are entirely distinct discourses that bear a different relation to language and practice. Indeed , the volume as a whole, with few exceptions, owes its intellectual allegiance less to the subdiscipline of literature and law studies and more to the critical historicism of recent medieval English studies, especially the work of Paul Strohm and David Wallace, and to a relation between discourse and practice that has engaged French social theory, especially the work of Bourdieu and Foucault. That is, the themes of many of the chapters are political rather than exclusively legal concepts, such as power, authority, resistance, and affinity. Steiner and Barrington begin the volume with a helpful introduction, clearly setting forth the argument of the book and summarizing the contribution of the various chapters, frankly necessary given their density and allusiveness. Those chapters cover a wide range of writings and authors. Christine Chism delinks the Robin Hood ballads from their folkloric and romantic contexts, and reads them as complex critiques of power relations as centralized authority displaces local baronial control. Depending on their context, the Robin Hood ballads create parodic or parallel legal and governmental systems within and between the greenwood and the official world, but rather than always valorizing Robin and his men, the various plots stress the proper exercise of power and judicial authority. Jana Mathews offers an understanding of the trial scene in Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid, noting the association of the heroine (and the narrator) with descriptions of landscape, thereby metaphorizing the relation of the female subject to the land, raising the vexed questions of land and ownership (especially where females were involved ) that obsessed fifteenth-century Scottish legal proceedings. By visiting leprosy upon the heroine, her very legal personhood is thereby obliterated, but she reasserts her agency by her ‘‘Testament,’’ a legal document that reinscribes her subjectivity. Andrew Galloway’s ‘‘The Literature of 1388 and the Politics of Pity in Gower’s Confessio Amantis...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 364-367
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.