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REVIEWS Loeb or other editions of the traditional Latin text of the Consolatio, and they now have another source of information regarding where and how Chaucer used material from Trevet and the Remigian commentary tradition . Jennifer Arch Washington University in St. Louis William Perry Marvin. Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006. Pp. ix, 198. $75.00. Did we really need another book on hunting in medieval literature? William Marvin makes a good case that his book is indeed needful. The originality of his contribution lies in his attention to the political and ideological dimensions of the hunt. The basic tenet of Roman law, that wild game is nobody’s property and everyone is free to hunt, accorded with the practices of Germanic tribes; but, over the course of the medieval period, hunting in England gradually became a privilege of the few—of kings, who after the Conquest began privatizing vast tracts of land as ‘‘royal forests,’’ or of noblemen, who soon followed the trend by converting land into private hunting reserves. The tensions between these processes of ‘‘afforestation’’ and ‘‘imparking’’ and the old customs of ‘‘free capture’’ provide the unifying thread in the best parts of this book. The worst part is the first chapter on Beowulf. Anyone maintaining that hunting is central to this poem would have to be most ingenious. And Marvin is. He argues that the building and naming of Heorot (‘‘Hart’’) are symbolic of the institution of a particular social order (hierarchically organized) and of the hunting ethos of ‘‘delayed return’’ hunters (who act as a corporate body). By contrast, Grendel’s attack on Heorot symbolizes the backlash of the ruthless individualism associated with the older ‘‘immediate return’’ hunters (who hunt for instant selfgratification ). The fact that Beowulf is not about hunting does not deter Marvin. There are, after all, plenty of other critics who talk about things that are not in a text. Marvin’s model is David Aers, who ‘‘illustrates in the case of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight how a socio-economic factor such as the agricultural labor of the peasantry is critical to the represenPAGE 523 523 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:39 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER tation of élite chivalric subjectivity’’ (p. 33). Illustrates? And, of course, some other interpretations of Heorot’s meaning are equally wild. Marvin says he is ‘‘encouraged’’ by the fact that his interpretation ‘‘can hardly be more speculative than what has already been said about the pagan stag cult’’ (p. 21). I agree that there are many tenuous interpretations about in the field, but that should not encourage anyone to produce more. The second chapter is valuable, for there Marvin looks at texts that really do share his interests. ‘‘Bloodsport and the Symbolic Order of the Forest’’ is devoted to writers at the court of Henry II, in particular John of Salisbury, the great critic of the hunt, and Richard FitzNigel, a royal apologist. Marvin sees and shows clearly that the stakes in the twelfthcentury hunting debate are very high. The royal forests were subject to the king’s arbitrary rule. The common law did not apply in this domain, and so Henry II’s policy of afforestation and his enthusiastic pursuit of the hunt came to be seen as indicative of his absolutist aspirations. The invention of ‘‘forest law’’ politicized hunting in novel ways. The third chapter deals with the Artes venandi of England, and contains some thoughtful observations about the point of hunting rituals. Practical considerations may have mattered rather less in these rituals than did the competition for social distinction. Marvin is right to emphasize that English hunting manuals are as much about ‘‘correct speaking ’’ as they are about ‘‘doing,’’ but I doubt that this insistence was peculiar to English hunting manuals. The same fussiness about terminology can be found in French authors: witness Henri de Ferrières, who (c. 1375) wrote that all things related to the hunt should be done and named properly, ‘‘for words well spoken proceed from understanding, especially since the manner of words has been ordered in accordance with the art of venery.’’ Marvin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 523-525
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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