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REVIEWS considerable attention to both authorial sources and the generic backgrounds of mummings, disguisings, and the triumph. History thus becomes legible through intertextuality as royal, aristocratic, and civic elites, schooled by vernacular learning in particular, recognize the literary framing of exemplary and ceremonial discourse. Nolan’s book reflects wide reading in late medieval literature and culture, at the same time that it insists on bracketing Henry VI’s minority as a distinct moment within Lydgate’s literary career. Her detailed analysis of the texts suggests that our understanding of Lydgate’s career needs to move beyond the taxonomies of major and minor works if we are to understand the full scope of his writing as cultural practice as well as poetic composition. Nolan’s book also tells us something about our own moment of critical practice, which, if history depends on literary form and intertextuality, might have already become recognizably posthistoricist . Robert R. Edwards The Pennsylvania State University Kellie Robertson. The Laborer’s Two Bodies: Labor and the ‘‘Work’’ of the Text in Medieval Britain, 1350–1500. New York: Palgrave Macmillan , 2006. Pp. ix, 276. $65.00. The punning subtitle on the dust-jacket, cited above, differs from the more concise subtitle listed on the book’s title page: Literary and Legal Productions in Britain. The discrepancy perhaps testifies to the last-minute challenge of selecting just the right brief description for a muchlabored -over manuscript. It may also indicate the difficulty of capturing the essence of a complex argument about an unstable term like ‘‘work.’’ Kellie Robertson’s study of the ‘‘cultural logic’’ governing both the material discourses of labor law and the symbolic discourses about labor during a historical period (1350–1500) when defining and regulating work were high on the national agenda is a tour de force of medieval cultural studies. This intricately constructed and densely argued book should be read by all interested in late medieval English society, but it has postmedieval implications also, which are indicated in the epilogue about sixteenth-century discussions of labor and in a coda about conPAGE 539 539 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:45 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER temporary theoretical developments. The central argument of the book is that there is an intimate—if complex and changing—relationship between material and immaterial worlds, between labor laws, laboring bodies, and the social imaginary of labor. Thus, ‘‘juridical discourse produced significant semiotic and epistemological shifts in areas far removed from the immediate concerns of policing labor shortages’’ (p. 3). Each of the book’s five chapters provides an in-depth exploration of a development in medieval labor history with its discursive implications for both law and literature. Chapter 1 explains the punning titular reference to Kantorowicz’s concept of the ‘‘king’s two bodies’’ by arguing that the period also identified two laboring bodies—-one theologically and the other juridically defined. Through new regulatory strategies such as branding and corporal punishment, the government attempted to produce a laboring body whose identity could be controlled in response to labor shortages, plague, and rebellion. ‘‘Good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ workers were represented in the visual arts and the flourishing cult of St. Walstan, patron saint of agricultural workers. Robertson argues that the cult was ‘‘an orchestrated use of a hagiographical symbol to help enforce labor obligations at a time of drastically changed master-servant relations’’ (p. 33). The chapter ends by looking at fourteenth-century poets, who entered into the day’s dominant discourse by emphasizing the social usefulness of their labor. Most provocatively, Robertson sees Langland construing writing as a ‘‘hybrid third term’’ (or type of labor between material and immaterial) that was called on to ‘‘enforce the difference’’ between good and bad labor. Chapter 2 focuses on Chaucer’s ‘‘social imaginary’’ in the 1380s, a time when he was justice of the peace in Kent and, in Robertson’s view, would have spent the bulk of his time enforcing labor regulation. This neglected period becomes a key example of ‘‘how regulation of material labor influences the production of immaterial literary labor’’— specifically Chaucer’s Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. Intellectual labor becomes in the process both an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 539-542
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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