restricted access Culture and History, 1350–1600: Essays on English Communities, Identities, and Writing ed. by David Aers (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS DAVID AERs, ed. Culture and History, 1350-1600: Essays on English Com­ munities, Identities, and Writing. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992. Pp. 213. $29.95 cloth, $15.95 paper. The disciplines ofhistory and literature are on a most productive common course at the moment. The intersections of historical and literary inquiry have led to an expanding ofhorizons in both fields. David Aers's collection of essays· explores the contributions of "radical" historians and literary scholars. The book's title is broad enough, but readers should know that several other themes dominate these essays and are, perhaps, more interesting than communities or identities. The question of a continuity or discontinuity from the Middle Ages into the early modem or Renaissance period is a theme of two of the essays and appears again in Aers's concluding reflec­ tions. A second theme concerns questions of inclusions and exclusions of people and groups. The celebration ofthe Eucharist was certainly a way to mark inclusion within the community, but it was also a useful tool for exposing those who were outside Christianity. To be ofthe royal court or to be excluded from it draws attention to the creation of hierarchical bound­ aries. The marginalization of women's work speaks to the sexual differen­ tiation in economic values. Aers takes to task the Renaissance literary critics for establishing what are false barriers between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. His annoy­ ance with the "master narrative" is readily understandable to a medieval historian such as myself who must fight similar battles for similar reasons. Among historians the political turning point of the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 is taken as the watershed. How peculiar to assume that all English families awoke on the morning after the battle and declared that the "golden age ofwomen" was now over and extended families were now out of style. As Aers observes, it is equally strange that literary critics should pinpoint a change in writing about identity to Hamlet when similar self-reflection can be found in Augustine of Hippo's Confessions. He points to the structure of disciplinary training that divides specialists by chrono­ logical period and the need to tell a narrative with a clear beginning--0ne not confused by a past that may suggest continuities rather than clean breaks. 143 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Peter Womack addresses directly the question ofdrama in the transition period. His essay indicates how different the community that performed and viewed the civic religious plays was from the one that played and viewed the sixteenth-century London theater. His observations point to discontinuity rather than continuity. The attempts of cities to make their plays conform to the Reformation theology failed, he argues, because urban communities changed. Likewise, the national theater that evolved in Lon­ don expressed a new, broad, nationalistic concept of both community and theater. It is not Hamlet and individual introspection that marks the break with the past but rather Shakespeare's history plays and the acceptance of absolute monarchy's triumph over the old, medieval regime. Judith Bennett has criticized the master narrative of historians, particu­ larly as applied to the histoty of women in the work force. She has quite rightly attacked the unrealistic and naive view that the late Middle Ages was a "golden age for women" economically and that their position deterio­ rated in the early modern period. Continuity is a more accurate descrip­ tion. The essay is carefully researched, always a delight to historians, but her interpretation seems very presentist. She is critical of viewing a work life within the context ofpatriarchy as providing independence for women. Of course it did not; only with twentieth-century hindsight would one presume that independence was the measure of women's economic worth. Medieval women had few economic options, and those outside a family structure actually offered women less protection than those within it. While family and household economies did not provide equal opportunity for males and females, both legal and traditional protections for wives and daughters made it less a tyranny than she depicts. Single servant girls did not flee from marriage to gain independence but rather saw marriage as a...