Acts of Interpretation: The Text in Its Contexts, 700–1600: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature in Honor of E. Talbot Donaldson ed. by Mary J. Carruthers, Elizabeth D. Kirk (review)
- Studies in the Age of Chaucer
- The New Chaucer Society
- Volume 6, 1984
- pp. 181-186
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEWS MARY]. CARRUTHERS and ELIZABETH D. KIRK, eds., Acts ofInter pretation: The Text in Its Contexts, 700-1600: Essays onMedi eval and Renaissance Literature in Honor ofE. Talbot Don aldson. Norman, Okla.: Pilgrim Books, 1982. Pp. xi, 385. $32.95. To honor a man whose contributions to the field of medieval studies have been as perceptive and judicious as E. Talbot Don aldson's requires caution by the editors of his festschrift. Mary Carruthers and Elizabeth Kirk have assembled twenty-one essays from Donaldson's students and colleagues that celebrate his career with a volume ofimportance for the specialist and generalist alike. Appropriately, eight of the essays speak of Chaucer, and two are directly concerned with Piers Plowman. The other eleven deal with the history of Old English scholarship, Beowulf, Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gower, Margery Kempe, Everyman, medi eval feasts, Thomas More, Edmund Spenser, and the "existential" mysteries in English poetry through Spenser. These essays are orga nized into nine units preceding a tenth part of the festschrift, a warm verbal portrait complementing the photograph ofDonaldson on the frontispiece. Part one, "The Problem of Interpretation," begins with an important article by Robert Hanning, "Sir Gawain and the Red Herring: The Perils oflnterpretation." Hanning'sessayconcentrates on the text of the green man's entrance and the description of the "penitential" fish at Hautdesert. Hanning sees the Christmas Eve fish as emblematic of all the "red herrings the Gawain poet places athwart our trail" (p. 23). I happen to see the Green Knight in apocalyptic terms which do not "solve" the poem, but which (I hope) constitute further evidence of the poet's interest in herring. Negative capability keeps the poet from providing a key to the "lel letteres loken." Marshall Leicester's "Synne Horrible: The Par doner's Exegesis of His Tale, and Chaucer's" is a subtle and witty investigation ofthe use and abuse oftypology by the Pardoner, by Chaucer, and by the modern critic: "The end ofthe tale shows that the typological imagination, by taking a God's-eye view, can all too easily deceive itselfinto playing God" (p. 48). 181 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Part two, "The Transmission of the Text," contains two essays on poetic revision. George Russell's "The Poet as Reviser: The Meta morphosis of the Confession of the Seven Deadly Sins in Piers Plowman" discusses the changes in B from A as the movement toward deeper social and political themes, while the changes from B to C are "repair work"-"a reworking which remakes the poem, which creates deliberately something different in kind from its predecessor" (p. 65). Eric Stanley's essay, "Translation from Old English: 'The GarbagingWar-Hawk,' or, The Literal Materials from Which the Reader Can Re-create the Poem," is a witty but sobering ramble through the pleasures and dangers of relying upon transla tion. See, for instance, Stanley's discussion of Samuel Henshall's eighteenth-century "translations" of Caedmon's "Hymn" and ''The Battle of Brunanburh." Part three, "The Textual Plane," contains Judith Anderson's "What Comes After Chaucer's But: Adversative Constructions in Spenser." Comparing "buts" in Spenser's Proem to book 6 of The Faerie Queene with Chaucer's General Prologue, Anderson raises the likelihood of Chaucer's influence on Spenser's use of irony and illogic and opens up possibilities of investigation for renewed re search on the literary relationship between Spenser and the "well of English vndefyled." In "The Grain of the Text," Derek Brewer illustrates the problems facing an editor of a text with variant manuscripts. Using Trot/us as his particular text, Brewer argues for intelligent emendation by a modern editor when it is based on a knowledge of historical philology and an awareness of metrics. A detailed examination ofBeowulf's report to Hygelac isthe subject of Edward B. Irving's "Beowulf Comes Home: Close Reading in Epic Context." Irving sees Hygelac as a "straight man" against whom we see the glory of Beowulf. This essay is remarkable for its contribu tion to our ever-increasing awareness of point-counterpoint in the poem's structure. Alfred David and Marie Borroff contribute essays to part four, "The Stylistic and...