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Ellman, Richard Joseph.
Historical imagination in/and literary consciousness :
b the afterlife of the Anglo-Saxons in Middle English literature
h [electronic resource] /
by Richard Joseph Ellman.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: This thesis explores the afterlife and literary presence of the Anglo-Saxons in three literary works from the Middle English period. Middle English writers appropriated classical and French traditions for decidedly English purposes, but relatively few scholars have noted the way in which individuals in the Middle English period (particularly in the fourteenth century) drew upon and (re)constructed an organic English identity or essence emblematized by the Anglo-Saxons. Post-Conquest English men and women did not relate to their Anglo-Saxon forebears in an unproblematic manner; changes in language and culture, precipitated by the Norman Invasion, placed a vast, unwieldy gap between Middle English culture and Anglo-Saxon traditions. The uneasy relationship between the Middle English period and the Anglo-Saxon period marks Middle English literature's relationship with Anglo-Saxon precedents as one of negotiation and contestation. Through an examination of Chaucer's The Man of Law's Tale, and the anonymous Athelston and St. Erkenwald, I consider the ways in which Middle English writers conceived of their notions of "the past," and how such associations affected and generated new modes of thought in a relational and, at times, oppositional manner. This thesis explores the anxiety of relating to a past tradition that was recognizably "English" yet profoundly "other," and I analyze discourses on several distinct (occasionally conflated) "others," including Jews, Muslims, and "easterners" in order to suggest the trepidation of relating to a past tradition that was uncanny due to a familiarity that was quite unfamiliar. Middle English literature encounters, and, at times, recoils from this difference, and the works which I consider domesticate and make known/knowable the "primitive" Anglo-Saxon past.
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Advisor: Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D.
The fourteenth century
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Historical Imagination in/and Literary Consciousness: The After life of the Anglo Saxons in Middle English Literature by Richard Joseph Ellman A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment Of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Dep artment of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D. Sara Deats, Ph.D. Heather Meakin, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 6 2009 Keywords: medieva l historiography the f ourteenth c entury, literary appropriation periodization, Chaucer, St. Erkenwald Athelston Copyright 2009 Richard Joseph Ellman
Dedication For my Mom and Dad most of what I do would not be possible without your unfailing sup port. And for my brother Michael, who has endured many years of my strange rants, and has occasionally entered into them, turning my monologue into a dialogue.
Acknowledgements This thesis would not have been possible without the assista nce, guidance, and support of many people. Dr. Nicole Guenther Discenza, my major professor, has been an invaluable mentor ever since our first meeting in 2005; her insight and wisdom have been crucial at every new turn in my academic career. A word of app reciation is also in order for the members of my thesis committee, Dr. Sara Deats and Dr. Heather Meakin. Thank you for your feedback during the draft process, and for providing me with the first audience with whom I could share my work.
i Table of Conten ts Abstract ii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two : Medieval Historiography and Relating to the Past A Review of Literature 8 Ch apter Three : The Mirror and Infinite Regression in St. Erkenwald : The Fourteenth Century meets the Anglo Sa xons meeting the Celts 1 9 Chapter Four : Athelston Athelstan, and the Profitable Appropriation of the Past 2 8 Chapter Five : Chauc er and the Anglo Saxons: Estrangement, and Disconcerting Myths of Continuity 3 6 Chapter Six: Conc lusions 5 2 Works Cite d 5 6
ii Historical Imagination in/and Literary Co nsciousness: The After life of the Anglo Saxons in Middle English Literature Richard Joseph Ellman ABSTRACT This thesis explores the afterlife and literary presence of the Anglo Saxons in three literary works from the Middle English period. Middle English w riters appropriated classical and French traditions for decidedly English purposes, but relatively few scholars have noted the way in which individuals in the Middle English period (particularly in the fourteenth century) drew upon and (re)constructed an o rganic English identity or essence emblematized by the Anglo Saxons. Post Conquest English men and women did not relate to their Anglo Saxon forebears in an unproblematic manner; changes in language and culture, precipitated by the Norman Invasion, placed a vast, unwieldy gap between Middle English culture and Anglo Saxon traditions. The uneasy relationship between the Middle English period and the Anglo relationship with Anglo Saxon precedents as one of negoti ation and contestation. and the anonymous Athelston and St. Erkenwald I consider the ways in which Middle English writers ed and generated new modes of thought in a relational and, at times, oppositional manner. This thesis explores the anxiety of relating to a past tradition (occasionally
iii trepidation of relating to a past tradition that was uncanny due to a familiarity that was quite unfamiliar. Middle English literature encounters, and, at times, recoils from this difference, and the works which I consider domesticate and make known/knowable the Saxon past.
1 Chapter One Introduction The long held belief that the Norman Conquest represented a cultural apocalypse has been challenged by scholars who have emphasized continuity and gradual change as opposed to the agonistic model that formerly placed a crisp border between the Anglo Saxon period and the arrival of the Normans. James Campbell traces the dim inishing presence of the Anglo Saxons in his book The Anglo Saxons and he boldly asserts that (240). However, many scholars now contend that 1066 might be more conve nient than correct as an absolute border for the Anglo Saxon period R ecent critical studies that problematize the divide between the Anglo Saxon and the Middle English period s do not proceed from a merely theoretical basis; critical statements such as Tho mas A. Anglo Saxon Chronicle and R. D. A History of Old English Literatur e seek to bridge the otherwise unwieldy gap between the Anglo Saxons and the Normans via an examina tion of historical records and literary texts 1 One should resist both the lurid accounts of cultural destruction and the convenient myths of continuity that do not adequately take the profound changes of the Norman Conquest into account. Looking through the lens of history allows Frank Stenton, in Anglo Saxon England Saxon 1 The preservation of Anglo Saxon texts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as well as the continuation of the Peterborou gh Chronicle constitute, according to Fulk and Cain, a political statement Frantzen in his book, Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teach ing the Tradition (226 7).
2 however, a statement such as this obviously requires a flexible definition of Anglo Saxon, one which can comfortably accommo date Norman difference 2 Only by examining th e life of a typical English man or woman are we able to note that according to Stenton, at least be said that to the ordinary English man who had lived from the accession of King Edward to the death of King William, the Conquest must have seemed an s us to to the silence of the actual Anglo Saxon men and women who l ived through what Stenton characterizes as a truly traumatic period of history. Alexander R. Rumble, editor of Writing and Texts in Anglo Saxon England collects essays which consider a wide variety of Old English manuscripts and texts, beyond the relative ly limited number that are anthologized and taught today, allowing one to glimpse greater opportunities for continuity and cultural transmission. Certainly the debate that would oppose cultural disaster against peaceful continuity requires a middle positi on, but this thesis does not seek to resolve the debate over the immediate impact of the Norman Conquest. 2 While Stenton argues that the Anglo Saxon tradition continued, generally, Stanley B. Greenfield and Daniel G. Calder, in their book A New Critical History of Old English Literature note that the Norman Conquest greatly affect Conquest greatly curbed the influence which lfric and Wulfstan might have had on the development of
3 The life of the average English person in the twelfth century, and his or her liminality between the two periods (Anglo Saxon and Middle English) re mains a contentious question without a clear answer. One can say, however, with relative certainty, that to a f ourteenth century individual the Anglo Saxon period must have seemed strange, distant, and yet uncannily familiar. Medieval habits of engaging wi th and representing historical material usually do not attempt anything approaching historical realism or authentic vraisemblance Ancient Greeks and Romans sport chain mail, and Moses can pray to Jesus and Mary without any undue complication in any number of medieval texts While the re appropriation of classical and continental material for decidedly English purposes has been studied extensively, relatively few scholars have commented upon the way in which the Anglo Saxons were read and transmitted for a fourteenth century audience. Contemporary engagements with the past are not necessarily more authentic and our unstated intentions and ideologies but the debates centered upon do not occupy a central place in the current discussion. This thesis centers on the fourteenth The Vision of History in Early Britain that bears significantly on the present analysis. Ha nning defines the medieval historical imagination as: the faculty which perceives the reality of the past; the response, evoked by the record (accurate or inaccurate) of history, which identifies that record with the human condition, seen as a timeless an d continuing phenomenon. The historical imagination minimizes the temporal distance between past and present, and emphasizes instead their proximity and continuity. (3)
4 Medieval historical imagination depends upon an accessible and relatable history which has a sense of closeness to contemporary life. History can inform contemporary actions because of its immanent presence a fact which also creates discomfort when the purportedly familiar looks quite unfamiliar. However, tha t this engagement with the past must necessarily proceed from a theological or philosophical point of view (1). Although the moral and religious elements are always present in Tale for instance, interest in history does share bo th a nationalistic and authentically historical interest that manifests itself by means of curiosity about the Anglo Saxon past. 3 Bede, and Geoffrey of Monm outh (the subject s Chapter two outlines the medieval tradition of historiography (and what it can tell us about the range of di fferent kinds of possible encounters with the past), and the chapter specifically analyzes the opinions informed by contemporary critical theory that have revolutionized our thinking about the medieval sense of the past. After chapter two, this thesis t urn s specifically to three Middle English texts written in the fourteenth century : the anonymous poems St. Erkenwald and Athelston Tale By the fourteenth century, many writers began to investigate the historical records 3 Antonia Gransden notes that the in terest of many chronicles contemporary with Edward III regarding the Anglo backwards glance of Higden grew out of his displeasure over the celebration of French language at the expense of English, and his distrust of French culture generally remains consonant with the growing English precedents.
5 of the Anglo Saxons and to transform such chronicles into literary works. The question, as limned in the preceding paragraph, still lingers : why, exactly would it be necessary to cast a backwards glance to the Anglo Saxons? The Anglo Saxons were a people whose language would have been probably incomprehensible to Chaucer and most of his contemporaries, and their culture would have seemed quite alien indeed While a myriad of nebulously defined goals likely informed the writers who created literary representation s of the Anglo Saxons in the fourteenth century this thesis examines the three mentioned texts in order to note the several different purposes for which the Anglo Saxons were invoked in Middle English literature. St. Erkenwald an anonymous poem, occupi es the central discussion of chapter three. The poem deals with familiar issues that recur in medieval literature (the reclamation of virtuous pagans, the miracles of saints, etc.) even while it provides a useful point of entry into discourses on the past. Chapter three continues the discussion of Anglo Saxons provides a n exterior frame for the inner encounter of the Anglo Saxons with the Celts whom they had previously displaced. The multiple levels of regression make St. Erkenwald quite relevant for discussions of cultural encounters and historical appropria tion, and I argue that the poem serves primarily as a vehicle for exploring ways of relating to the past as outlin ed by medieval historiographers and historians in chapter two. While the discussion of St. Erkenwald nter with the Anglo Saxons as an opportunity for theoretical speculation about such encounters generally, chapter treatment of the anonymous Athelston explores the decidedly
6 critical literature that has been written about Athelston observes its concrete concerns, such as locating legal precede nts important for the fourteenth century nobility in the Anglo Saxon era, and this thesis reiterates these readings with important modification. The portrayal of the barbarous king Athelston (modeled on the historical Athelstan), however, introduces the re ader to the real differences that existed between the An glo Saxons and their fourteenth century descendants. 4 The useful myths of continuity which achieve success in St. Erkenwald begin to falter in Athelston and as the genuine oth erness of the Anglo Saxons betray s the desires of the fourteenth century poets who would otherwise elide difference for cultural cohesion and historical continuity. The Man of develop s some of the insights elucidated in chapter four in order to provide a new look at s primary concern for the portrayal of the Anglo Saxons in as opposed to a discussion of either Muslim Syria or Custa nce as a character, will join a relatively small group of critical statements which seek to examine this often ignored aspect of the tale. Chapter six presents general conclusions informed by the specific analyses of the previous chapters. While the entir e thesis investigates the backwards glance of the fourteenth century (and, in some ways, our own twenty first century backwards glance that views fourteenth century writers viewing the Anglo Saxons), chapter six explores the implied tension that constructs 4 I here follow scholarly convention as employed by Elaine Treharne and others in distinguishing the historical Athelstan from the literary Athelston by the variant spelling employed by the poem which
7 imagining. The final chapter questions contemporary desires for a truly clinical, scientific variety of history, and it asserts the importance of historical imagination and appropriation in the present era w comfortably to the past.
8 Chapter Two Medieval Historiography and Relating to the Past A Review of Literature A general survey of the variety of his t oriograph ical methods by which fourteenth century writers could engage with the past lays the groundwork for the specific ways in which Middle English writers appropriate and re imagine historical events While the treatment of the Anglo Saxon past varies in each of the three texts und er present consideration, all of the texts operate within the well defined paradigm s for historical interaction as elaborated by medieval historians and historiographers. This unity of methodology among the three texts analyzed demands a generic overview o f the possible ways of reading the past. However useful the following survey might prove, I do not wish to suggest that the treatment of the past in St. Erkenwald Athelston Man of or any other fourteenth century literary work must n ecessarily follow a conveniently systematic formula that can reduce these masterpieces into constituent isolated elements. G eneral way s of interacting with the past as outlined here should be understood to be more of a guideline that demarcates and limits extremes, and one which does not necessarily seek to fix or itemize historical gazes and literary appropriations. This chapter presents a representative review of the critical literature which informs much of this thesis. The contemporary critics and histo rians cited here provide the theoretical framework which undergirds the remainder of the thesis, and their views of fourteenth century historiography reveal perhaps more about the unstated intentions which underwrite almost all of the major historical writ ers of the fourteenth century.
9 Historical objectivity remains as untenable an idea in the current postmodern era as it did in the Middle Ages, and any claims towards it (either medieval or modern) should be held suspect. If one attempts an analysis of med ieval literature with this idea in mind, the outcome will be a reading of fourteenth century literature that gains in cultural understanding whatever it might otherwise lose in historical accuracy. Derek The Paradox of the Archaic and the Modern in La Brut explores the view(s). We may learn quite a bit from medieval senses of history and the past as Brewer dealing with historical events are of special ostensibly seeks to explore a histor ical event in a dispassionate manner performs two aptation, in this system, not only represents the past in terms of the present (thus placing a cultural marker on the literary re produc tion of history), but it does so in a nave manner which actually conceals the appropriation of history. In the case of the Brut La treatment of the material, which emphasizes the differences between past and present, re subsumes cultural and histo rical difference. 5 Medieval treatments of the past that claim accurately to represent earlier times quite strategically place contemporary ideas into the mouths of more primitive people in order to assert the universal and timeless nature of contemporary v alues. The past, in other words, serves the present, and the present 5 Brewer notes that La amon displays a well recognition that he was dealing with an earlier stage of history and a more primitive people than his own, to whom a more primitive presentation would be appropri
10 achieves a celebration of contemporary ideas and mores via historical differentiation which marks the past as past only in order to support present concerns. Those who would elaborate fou rteenth century values through the appropriation and control of the Anglo Saxon past found the written word a ready source of immediate authori ty. Engaging with the past and using it for any purpose can lead to an impasse as soon as the writer discovers th e otherness (whether linguistic, cultural, legal, etc.) of the Anglo Saxon era 6 A fully informed appropriation of history would seem to demand a solid knowledge of the differentiating markers that indicate the pastness of the past This notion of history however, represents a contemporary attitude that is quite unlike the medieval engagement with it. In her book, Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past Janet Coleman emphasizes the literal minded nature of the medieval re ader, who (3). Texts (both literary and historical) have timeless and universal meaning s for medieval readers , which can be assessed presupposin g a knowable world to which a reader has immediate and direct access. The Athelston poet, or Chaucer in his according to Coleman, can discuss incidents from the Anglo the social and text itself supplies the most important materials; contexts were usually patterned 6 Anglo Saxon culture should have c ome to bear this burden of otherness, since in earlier eras Anglo dead/unreadable text both frightens the reader (who demands immediate access) and creates an opportunity for anachronistic projection which resurrects the meaning of an otherwise mysterious script.
11 anachronistically on contemporary medieval life. The past needed to be interpreted and made topical for contemporary affairs, and Coleman asserts that medieval readers had little interest in historical events for their own objective value. Coleman further argues (558); thus, the past could be read in the context of the present while only being relevant to the extent that it clarified contemporary issues. In her analysis, Coleman presents a persuasive account of exactly how so many medieval authors were able to (re)write the past without agonizing over historical accuracy or what we would today term as historical research. The Anglo Saxons were thus poised to assist a fourteenth century audience with discovering and constructing an authentically English identity. While Anglo Saxonism, as defined by Frantzen and Niles is always an appropriation for the purposes of leveraging power, Robert Allen Rouse makes an important distinction by noting that the Anglo Saxon past has a lingering presence. 7 Anglo Saxonism relates to power but it is, shaped not merely by the needs of the present, but also by the persistence of the past, in landscape, place The Anglo Saxon period continues to haunt the fourteenth century, whether or not Middle English writers explicitly decide to invoke it for their purposes. That the historical impulse should arrive at precisely the same time (the fourteenth century) that a desire for national o r ethnic identity arose may at first appear surprising, and, indeed, these two facets of the period s eem unrelated. Matthew Boyd Gol d i e, in his 7 In Anglo Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity Allen J. Frantzen and John D. Niles define Anglo through which a self conscious national and racial identity first came into being amon g the peoples of the region we transformed into an originary myth available to a wide variety of political and social interest
12 book Middle English Literature: A Historical Sourcebook asserts that fourteenth century chroniclers, such as Ra 1). Burgeoning notions of what is English depended upon both a look backward in history (to the Anglo Saxons, for instance) a Historical awareness and national identity appear to work in union, according to Goldie, as the desire for historical antecedents may arise from a desire to demarcate not only tracts of ti reign, provided John Trevisa and others with historical documents that made possible an exploration of the Anglo Saxon past. While the medieval conventions of historiography demanded an accessible point of cultural origin ation into which fourteenth century writers easily placed the Anglo Saxons, the connection with the past can proceed only when writers elide the differences between the Anglo Saxons and the fourteenth century English The modern scholar perhaps delights in Anglo Saxon difference and he or she might begin studying the Anglo Saxons in order to appreciate and understand the differences. Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspective has, in many wa ys, outlived its useful ness and many of its conclusions are today deeply problematic. However, was important in combating the desire to essentialize humanity and artistic expression in problematic the remainder of his
13 book is, bespeaks an attitude towards that past that remains important today. One should and contemporary methods of reading and relati ng to the past. St. Erkenwald Athelston are not primarily interested in the reproduction of a unique and other past for the specular gaze of the contemporary reader: these texts read and employ history for very speci fic cultural and political purposes that often require minimizing, and not augmenting, the separation between past and present. Any celebration of the pastness of the past threatens to undermine the cultural project of elaborating English identity and trad ition; if writers genuinely represent the Anglo Saxon past as profoundly other the widening gap between past and present will consume the constructed notion of fourteenth century Englishness at its point of origin. 8 Fourteenth century theories of historio graphy and historical interaction reveal much about the potential uses of the Anglo Saxons as a theoretical object, but reviewing the stated methods of medieval readers and writers illumes only a portion of this study. Contemporary theorists and critics ha ve reshaped our understanding of the medieval notions of the past, and their penetrating analyses have revealed many of the concealed ideological bases that inform fourteenth century historical appropriations of the Anglo Saxons. While the desire to manage the Anglo Saxons as a symbolic object has political and nationalistic dimensions, Mark Amodio notes that a certain amount of historical nostalgia occurred subtly over a considerable period of time. Middle English poetry, like 8 None of the three major works which I consider genuinely portray the Anglo Saxons as profoundly other. Even Chaucer, whose representation of the Anglo Saxons has perhaps the greatest potential for cultural alienation, transforms the Anglo Saxons from absolute other into a domestic/known other.
14 Middle English identity, is f ragmented, and certain strands of the Middle English tradition trace back to Old English oral poetry, but only in a complex way, as other influences (continental, for example) modified the native tradition. The Old English oral tradition decayed and gave w ay to literate habits organically, before the Norman Invasion, according to Amodio (80 82). We should thus resist the tendency to mark Old English as primarily oral and Middle English as primarily written, as exchanges between the two forms of expression a re impossible to separate in an unproblematic manner. The lingering linguistic presence (or trace, more probably) of Old English within Middle English must have made a glance backwards towards the Anglo Saxons somewhat cussion of the oral/literate divide quite conveniently emblematizes the divide between Old/Middle English, to a certain extent. While the Middle English language, and identity, contains persistent traces of the Old English language and Anglo Saxon culture, it appears that the remaining residue of the Anglo Saxons prompted the desire for a historical gaze back in time. Cent ur y Views of the Anglo Saxon Past views twelfth century historical interests in the Anglo Saxon past as arising from both an interest, on the part of remaining Anglo Saxon monks, in their own past traditions (which appeared threatened by Norman clerics), and from a desire for historical writing in a more general sense. Twelfth century historians invoked Sallust, Horace, and Cicero, and wanted to create an English tradition of historiography modeled on the Roman model; such a project necessarily involved an investigation of the Anglo Saxons, according to Campbell (133 4). Campbell primarily notes the political and
15 reli gious implications of elevating certain Anglo Saxon models above Norman ones. Various kings and clerics throughout the twelfth century chose p articular Anglo Saxons as paradigmatic figures imbued with symbolic importance. While this article presents ch necessarily constructs Anglo Saxons against Normans. Other more recent works have elaborated remaining post Conquest Anglo Saxons to appropriate the pre Conquest Anglo Saxons either began with tacit political motives from the onset or elaborated them in the process of glorifying the lost past. In all instances of historical appropriation, failure to note the practical purposes informing such moves may result in the continued obscurity of the ideology informing the transformation of history into litera ture. century literature that takes the Anglo Saxons as its subject matter can inform, in a general way, the possible motives behind invoking the Anglo Saxons in the fourteenth century. While the volume edite d by Swan and Treharne focuses specifically upon the rewriting of Old English in the twelfth century (and is thus somewhat outside the purview of this study), their volume importantly illustrates the lingering presence of Old English literature in post Con quest England. The survival of remediated Old English texts copied in the twelfth century leads one to believe that there was an audience interested in Old English writings but Swan and s Old English
16 research may determine who commissioned the copying of Old English texts, but, according to Swan and Treharne, the existence of these texts give s some insight into twelfth nature, as described by Swan and Treharne, of these twelfth century manuscripts illumines the complex ways in which medieval readers and writers engaged with their own past, even remaking it in the process. The concept of the interactive nature of historical and literary productions bears significantly on this present analysis The i nteractive medieval text, described by Swan and Treharne, owes much to Julia intertextuality fits comfortably into any discussion of medieval habits of reading and hermeneutics, as medieval readers, when abl e, always availed themselves of numerous classical, Biblical, and interdisciplinary intertexts which informed their primary text under analysis. David Macey, in his Dictionary of Critical Theory defines intertextuality as: [The theory that] any text is es sentially a mosaic of references to or quotations from other texts; a text is not a closed system and does not exist in isolation. It is always involved in a dialogue with other texts. Intertextuality is not simply a matter of influences which pass from on e author to another, but of the multiple and complex relations that exist between texts in both synchronic and diachronic terms. (203 4)
17 provides a crucial context for und Anglo Saxon past. straightforward and never easy to trace. Indeed, the question of determining a fixed origin of which interpretations a nd appropriations are merely an iteration contains a basic flaw, as it fails to grasp the interlacing mosaic of history/literature, reader/writer, and even Anglo Saxon/Norman. If the Norman Invasion, and the markedly different culture that accompanied i t, othered the Anglo Saxons, the project remained an incomplete one. 9 The Anglo Saxon identity, however strange and other it must have appeared by the fourteenth century, was nevertheless insolubly bound up with a burgeoning notion of Englishness. England itself was invoked as a unifying symbol, according to Catherine Clarke in Literary Landscapes and the Idea of England, 700 1400 Of particular interest are the ways in which an essentialized and idealized England stands to unify disparate historical period s, as Clarke looking back toward the Middle English period, which itself looked back toward Anglo Saxon England. 10 While language, political habits, religion, and other important elements of daily life changed greatly over this period, the notion of the stability of England (as an island kingdom) and its unified borders served as a controlling metaphor which supported the myth of 9 From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066 1307 Clanchy contends that William the Conqueror was associated into t Saxon elites whom he deposed represented a markedly different tradition (11). 10 England as a controlling image in the nineteenth century and the colonial era, marks her text as one which traces many of the ideas of this thesis well into historical periods beyond the present investigation.
18 continuity which rises above (and obscures, ultimately) all differences of time and circumstance. The multiple contemporary analyses of the appropriation and interaction with the past, as a defined category, provide an important context which reveals the more tacit and often concealed ideological reasons for invoking the Anglo Sa xons as an idea in the fourteenth century. In the following chapters, I specifically explore the portrayal of the Anglo Saxons, and their cultural leverage, in the three texts ( St. Erkenwald Athleston ) which will occup y the remainder of this thesis.
19 Chapter Three The Mirror and Infinite Regression in St. Erkenwald : The Fourteenth Century meets the Anglo Saxons meeting the Celts The anonymous fourteenth century poem St. Erkenwald has been rather negl ected by critics. Scholars who have investigated critical issues germane to the poem have generally entered into debates about the authorship of the poem (most notably, the intriguing possibility that it might have been authored by the Pearl poet), or its vitae 11 Despite the relative Saxon past, a few scholars have treated this feature, and this thesis builds upon their initiatory efforts. St. Erkenwald offers a unique opportunity for those interested in the ways of relating to the past that were available to fourteenth gains direct, unmediated contact with the past via a discussi on with a reanimated corpse, and St. Erkenwald in this sense, provides one with a case study of fourteenth century interaction with the Celtic and Anglo Saxon past. However, St. Erkenwald further presents itself as a poem about historical interaction and relating to the past in a more general way, as the specific actions of St. Erkenwald radiate outwards to encompass a much larger examination about the past, its significance, and its possible uses. The entire project of salvaging the pagan Celtic past occu rs via a posthumous baptism, administered 11 Malcolm Andrew, Ronald Waldron, and Clifford Peterson, in their edition entitled The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet group St. Erkenwald with the other generally accepted texts attributed to the Pearl poet ( Pearl Cleanliness Patience and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ) without much consideration over the controversy of anthologizing St. Erkenwald as unquestionably a text written by the Pearl poet.
20 by St. Erkenwald. After hearing the life story of the pagan judge, St. Erkenwald compassionately calls out to God: By Goddes leue, as longe as I my t lacche water And cast vpon i faire cors and carpe es wordes, 20). 12 Within the poem itself, St. Erkenwald (an Anglo Saxon) confronts own Celtic past; outside of the poem an imagined fourteenth century reader encounters the Angl o Saxons as they meet the Celts, while the twenty first century reader comes to the po em with yet another historical level of remov e The many layers of interpretation which St. Erkenwald both contains and invites make it a particularly with the Anglo S axon past. This chapter asserts that the specific interactions between Celtic past and Anglo Saxon present within St. Erkenwald emblematizes the historical gaze of the fourteenth century writer more generally. One could take this assertion to its logical c onclusion, and posit St. Erkenwald as an allegorical interaction between past and present (in which, the different historical moments are represented by St. Erkenwald and the talking corpse). Although this thesis does not make such an imaginative leap, the 12 May grant that you have life just long enough (and not one moment longer) for me to reach water and cast it upon your bea baptize you in
21 individual interactions between the characters within St. Erkenwald should always, I contend, suggest the larger questions informing historical imagination and literary appropriation. The several layers of historical interaction, as posited by Monika Ott er, serve as a useful framework for the present discussion analysis of the appropriation of the past should make this poi nt quite clear (Coleman qtd. in Otter 388). The past was to be studied primarily for appropriation, but historical continuity versus discontinuity are not mutually exclusive; rather, they lie on a continuum ess of historical continuity a lways presupposes an awareness of St. Erkenwald acts as an ideal specimen text as to 391). In the opening lines of the poem, the imagined fourteenth century reader (or auditor) experiences an immediate estrangement upon hearing that St. Erkenwald takes as its subject the Anglo Saxon bishop who lives t fulle longe sythen / Sythen Crist suffride on cro sse and 1 2). 13 Christianity and, more speci fically, to its arrival to Britai n, also recalls a fact that must have surely been an embarrassment to the poe t century audience: namely, the persecution of the Christian Britons by the initially pagan Anglo Saxons. The poet anticipates this unpleasant historical incident which uncomfortably places his Anglo Saxon ancestors as persecutors of Christians and he effectively recalls the event early in the poem, so 13 on the cross and established
22 wonder, then, how exactly a fourteenth century audience would have been expected to relate to their Anglo Saxo n forebears, whom the poet casts as barbarous and perhaps unrecognizable for a fourteenth century audience. The Anglo Sa 7) are described as the group that: B ete oute e Bretons and bro t hom into Wales And peruertyd alle e pepul at in at place dwellide. en wos this reame renaide mony ronke eres Til Saynt Austyn into Sandewiche was sende fro e pope; en prechyd he here e pure faith faythe and plantyd e trouthe And conuerty d alle e commu nnates to Cristendame newe. ( 9 14). 14 While the opening lines of the poem remain historica l l y accurate, the pagan Anglo Saxons, imagined here as marauding murder er s of the Christian Britons, provide the poet with a point of cultura l origin that must have proved difficult for fourteenth century Christians to imagine. With the unpleasant details of the pagan Anglo Saxons still at the St. Augustin e of Canterbury, and the second arrival of Christianity in England. The 11) only momentarily cast the Anglo Saxons as the problematic ynt Austyn into S 12). 14 all the people that dwelled in that place. Then was this realm renounced for many violent years, until St. Augustine was sent, from the pope, t o Sandwich; then he preached the pure faith here and planted the truth, and he converted all the people to Christianity again
23 The poet partly accomplishes his goal of making the Anglo Saxons into acceptable ancestors through a violent suppression of the strange and uncanny nature of the pagan Anglo Saxons. 15 re uncomfortable chapters of English history help the poet in his goal of reclaiming the Anglo Saxons, his fully formed sense of history, as John Burrow terms it, helps the poet create a rather important and nuanced distinction. Burrow also notes a highly developed sense of historical verisimilitude that marks this poem as complex. The poet clearly distinguishes between the Anglo Saxons and the Celtic Britons, two peoples prior to the poet himself, whom he has amazingly managed not to conflate ( Burrow 122). The Erkenwald poet genuinely attempts to present the different cultures and moments in time in a complex way, and his distinctions between, for instance, the Anglo Saxons both before and after their conversion to Christianity assist in making the Anglo Sa xons a people whom a fourteenth century audience could easily recognize as English. With this important distinction in place, the Erkenwald poet can comfortably cast the Christian Anglo Saxons as his cultural and spiritual predecessors. The Christian Anglo Saxons are presented as a people with very little in common with the pagan Anglo Saxons, and the Christian Anglo Saxons emerge as an originary point for identity formation without the undue complication that would otherwise arise from a fully detailed dis cussion of any pagan inheritances that must have assuredly lingered. Vestiges of paganism that might taint the newly Christianized Anglo Saxons are summarily dismissed by the poet, and he 15 I employ the term uncanny ( unheimlich in German) as elaborated by Freud in his famous essay on the uncanny in literature. The reader senses the presence of the uncanny when the familiar and the unfamiliar uncomfortably merge, producing an encounter that is both like and unlike ordinary life, and thus deeply disturbing.
24 imagines the cultural and religious change as occurring in a simple manner, not unlike his account of the rededication of the pagan temples to Christ: He turnyd temples at tyme at temyd to e deuelle And clansyd hom in Cristes nome and kyrkes hom called; He hurlyd owt hor ydols and hade hym in sayntes And chaungit cheuel y hor no mes and chargit hom better. ( 15 18). 16 While the mod ern reader might detect a bit of irony (noting, perhaps, the syncretism and relative ease with which such a profound religious conversion was seemingly accepted by the great majority of Anglo Saxo ns), the poet presents a straightforward conversion that completely, if too easily, alters the religious and cultural character of the previously pagan Anglo Saxons. Monika Otter similarly observes that the scene in which the temple of the pagan gods is re change from paganism to Christianity; on the other hand, it asserts material continuity However, the alternative would create an untenable situation for the Erkenwald poet, as he claims that the pagan Anglo Saxons worshipped, ( (21) which seems to confuse Judaism and animist pagan beliefs. 17 Confronted with ancestors who seemingly share the conflated characteristics of Jews, Muslims, animists, Satanists, and pagans, the distinction and ultimate recuperation of the Anglo Saxons 16 changed temples that had belonged to name, and called them churches; he hurled out idols and brought in saints, and quickly changed their names 17
25 presents itse lf as an urgent cultural project that the Erkenwald poet must undertake to redeem his Anglo Saxon ancestors The animated talking corpse, for which St. Erkenwald is perhaps best remembered, would seem to bear little relevance to the present discussion cen tered upon historical imagination and a desire for cultural origins and originary myths. Indeed, the vita generally, a nd more specifically, with poem s that seek unable to accept the salvation of Christ. As this aspect of the poem appears most predominant, it remains unsurprising that most of the critical li terature has tended to concentrate on St. Erkenwald argue, as a relatively small number of critics have, that the speaking corpse serves as an emblem for historical inquiry and a desire to know ancestors in a direct, unmediated way. The interactions with the miraculous corpse symbolize, according to John itself (36). However, the Anglo Saxons in St. Erkenwald eng age problematically with the past of the Celtic Britons (as told by the speaking corpse) even as the fourteenth century readers of St. Erkenwald engaged in a complicated relationship with both Anglo Saxon and Celtic forebears mentione d in the poem. The Ang lo Saxons in the poem who delve as well as a spiritual and political enterprise. Their effort brings them face to face with a forgotten pre Saxon past literally embodi St. Erkenwald playfully manipulates the inventiones
26 sees them) deal with how to relate to the past in a complex way. The miraculous speaking corpse acts as very basic wish fulfillment, as the imagined encounter allows St. Erkenwald (and the fourteenth century re aders of St. Erkenwald ) to converse with the past, emblematized here by the corpse. Not only does the poet present the fantasy of speaking with the past, he furthermore presents an accessible past that can be understood directly (the difference s of speech that would Celtic language and English language are never considered ). The failure of the poet to represent the diversity of language seems at odds with his otherwise nuanced presentation of the past, but it might ultimately reflect his move towards expediency (previously noted in his desire to quickly transform pagans into Christians) in the names of myths of cultural continuity, as vita genre su ch as the presence of xenoglossia 18 Whatever the impetus, the Erkenwald poet clearly presents his poem as one that demonstrates cultural identity and a variety of possible ways of relating to the past. The poet achieves a reconstruction of the Anglo Saxon past that, though usually recognizable and domesticated, occasionally betrays the trace of difference which always threatens to potentially alienate the poet and his fourteenth century audience from their desired contact with their Anglo Saxon ancestors. S t. Erkenwald thus presents a vision of the Anglo Saxons that both reproduces them for a fourteenth century audience even as it salvages both that past from the deleterious influence of the pagan origin of the Anglo 18 the practice or faculty of using intelligibl ).
27 Saxons, and by extension, the fourteenth century English men and women who might have read or heard the poem performed.
28 Chapter Four: Athelston Athelstan, and the Profitable Appropriation of the Past Nebulous concepts such as historical imagination, and a general desir e to reclaim the past from its more unsavory aspects mark St. Erkenwald Anglo Saxon past as anything but straightforward. In contrast to this complicated relationship a number of seemingly uncomplicated (and calculated) objectives inform the anonymous Athelston Saxon history. Many scholars have, to date, noted the eminently practical purposes that made Athelston an important cultural link between the fourteenth century and the Anglo Saxons. Rec ent criticism has generally focused upon the importance of the poem for the burgeoning notion of English law (which sought, not unlike the later English Reformation, organic English traditions originating during the Anglo Saxon era), and a few critics have also applied feminist readings to the poem, in order to elucidate the situation of both Anglo Saxon and fourteenth century women. 19 English exceptionality emerges via comparison with French legal practices, and the kinds of law (English and French) are e mblematized by the views espoused by the archbishop and Athelston, respectively ( Young 96). The Athelston poet invokes Anglo Saxon England in order to propagate a myth of continuity history, from Anglo Saxon times to the fourt distinguishing nce ( Young 96). Although it 19 James Campbell, in The Anglo Saxons notes that rule by reason and wise advisors was imagined to exist in the Anglo Saxon era, and Alfred himself emblematized the variety of good government that was, at times in the fourteenth century, lacking (241).
29 remains impossible to know exactly what currency the name of Athelstan carried for fourteenth have suggested a king who was pious, Young 98). the Anglo Saxon past, this aspect of the poem has been often overlooked though, as I will note, a few imp ortant initiatory statements have appeared in recent years. Athelston was imbued with many important meanings for its original fourteenth century audience, and thus its setting in distant Anglo Saxon England allows the author to implicitly comment on Edwa r d III and Richard II who were Treharne 505). The Athelston poet, like many other writers in the Middle Ages, makes no particular attempt at historical accuracy, and instead pr ojects contemporary concerns onto a past that requires the explication of a fourteenth century writer to glean moral insights. When compared to St. Erkenwald which notes at least an emerging interest in the res of that poem, Athelston demonstrates that its primary concern remains fourteenth century England; in this reading, the Anglo Saxon past merely provides a means through which to discuss contemporary affairs. If one develops the notion of the Anglo Saxon settings as a faade which concealed contemporary debates, then a reading which setting can illuminate many of these previously hidden concerns The Anglo Saxon setting may serve as a subtle method because, if Athelston is truly about the past, such discussion would in no way interrogate contemporary fourteenth century gender norms
30 ( Bradbury 149). The notorious kick, by which Athelston kills his unborn child, represents fourteent h century abuses of royal power, and again, such issues become safe to analyze Both the Anglo Saxon context and the queen herself matter less, according to Bradbury, as the romance primarily Saxon past here allows for a safe place in w hich to debate issues of gender and monarchial power. If Anglo then it seems fitting that Athelston Rouse 99). The Anglo Saxon period serves as a theoretical framework in which to discuss rat her complex contemporary issues : The construction of the Anglo with a method of approaching the representation of Anglo Saxon England as a cultural space in wh ich contemporary legal concerns could be articulated during the later Middle Ages. ( Rouse 130). The imagined importance of P arliament and good government also serve to contrast, in the mind of the Athelston poet, with the perceived abuses in his own era. As previously noted, the Anglo Saxon setting of Athelston might always have been a mere faade, as Athelston is clearly set in Anglo Saxon England, albeit an Anglo Saxon England that is culturally and geographically continuous with the fourteenth century England of the Rouse 132). A modicum of vacillation occurs as the Anglo Saxon England portrayed in the poem is simultaneously like and unlike fourteen th century England. The past is imagined and idealized, but this fabulation is based upo n historical
31 precedent and folk memory ( Rouse Saxon to legitimate post conquest power within a meta narrative of conti nuity between past and present ( Rouse 133). Discussions that relate to Athelston supposed importance for English law hint at the more generalized and theoretical importance of Anglo Saxon England for the fourteenth century that this thesis seeks to emphasize. The t reatment of historical material provides an opportunity for Middle English writers to adapt and manipulate the historical records (or imaginatively fill in the many historical gaps in the records). Davenport observes of Athelston that: loose reference to the pre Conquest history of the reign of Athelstan (924 32) and the life of St. Edmund has been fused with allusion to the post Conquest confrontation between Beckett and Henry II within folklore motifs of sworn brotherhood and trial by ordeal; the recover able history is a matter of disjointed pieces rather than a coherent sequence. (27) Conquest romance tends to lump Davenport 39). 20 History often provides the impetus for exploring a particular topic, but many romances ( Athelston included) do not deal seriously enough with English history to support the 20 emphasis upon the Erkenwald s sense of history but this apparent discrepanc y reveals more about the specific differences that exist in the ways that the Erkenwald poet and Athelsto n poet handle historical material. In this sense, neither Davenport nor Burrow necessarily enunciates a totalizing account of medieval historiography o r historical imagination.
32 Of course, the presence of the historical Athelstan lingers somewhere just beneath the veneer of the poem, though, given the Athelston the historical record, an accurate understanding of the historical personage can only reveal so much. The Athelstan of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is a decidedly heroic figure displaying the familiar warrior ethos of the Anglo Saxon era, and his portrayal is, in other words, quite divergent from what is presented in the Middle English Athelston ( 109). B arely recognizable as a warrior in the tradition of Beowulf the image of Athelston (distinct from both the historical Athelstan and the celebrated portrait of Athelstan the Chronicle Athelston is entirely changed by the fourteenth century political context. Athelston must navigate the dangerous world of political intrigue and legal statu t es, which contrasts greatly with both the Anglo Saxon historical figure and the romanticized figure of the Chronicle Athelston is alternately Chronicle Athelstan because of his involvement in the complex workings of P arliament and fourteenth century legal codes and more barbaric (because of his act of infantic id e) than the actual Anglo Saxon king. implores hi m to temper justice with mercy, he violently reprimands her by saying: Hast thou broke my commaundement With hys foot he would not wonde He slowgh the chyld ryght in her wombe; She swow ynd amonges hem alle. (279 84).
33 This violent presentation certainly distanced fourteenth century readers and auditors from their Anglo Saxon forebears, and such gratuitous displays of violence complicate the entire project of cultural continuity across the rift opened by the Norman Conquest. T he general importance of Athelston for the fourteenth century is worthy of analysis as is revealing (as much as possible) the real Athelstan of history, but it might be more profitable to observe the way in which the tually receives a romanticized treatment by the poet. Through an analysis of the historical records and the legendary material that had coalesced around Athelstan by the fourteenth century, Treharne argues that the Athelston poet achi eves a degree of verisimilitude by choosing real characters and events (instead of the more fantastical characters who appear in other romances) that serves to lend realism in order to strengthen the didactic impact of the poem. Athelston does not overly p raise the Anglo Saxon king, or set him apart as a Treharne 2). While Athelston himself may be flawed, the poet f inds the Anglo Saxon era (or, more properly, Anglo Saxon England as he has constructed it in the poem) as morally superior and guided by good governance in which the Church and the state rule harmoniously over the English people. The early histories of the historical Athelstan noted his piety, his warrior ethics, and his importance in English legal history. The mixture of historically accurate material portrayal of an Anglo Sax ( Treharne 12). I contend that the barbarism of Athelston, particularly in the murder of his unborn child in the womb, serves to distance fou rteenth century readers thereby making
34 the intended dida ctic message of the poem more difficult to comprehend. This feature of the poem, along with the Anglo term (14). While the poet does not attempt com plete historical objectivity of Anglo Sax on judicial and cultural features which are semi legendary, however, appears to be an attempt to impart authenticity to the text and such authenticity seeks to make a connection between past and present more tenable ( Treharne 15). Athelston might contain many possible references to the tyranny of Richard II, but: It seems more likely that Athelston is a narrative, not about one king in particular, choice of the Anglo Saxon Athelstan, a legendary king of piety, justi ce, and authority, is important. The poem then, positively encourages the audience to look back to days of a perceptibly more successful monarchy, one which worked closely with the Church to legislate a divinely inspired judicial system, and one which could be regarded as spiritually superior to later medieval successors. ( Treharne 20) Anglo Saxon England and its system of laws figure as a moral icon, but the more distancing features of the poem (the strangeness of the names, the ordeal by fire, and the barbarity of the king) makes such a connection with the past more problematic. To date, critics have yet to note the way in which the estranging qualities of Athelston (as noted above) seriously undermine the cult ural project which connects the fourteenth century with the Anglo Saxon period for a myriad of purposes, including the observable goal of locating legal precedents in the Anglo Saxon period, and the more intangible desire of identifying with the past in or der to establish a sense of seamless
35 continuity (the stated objective, in my reading, of the Erkenwald aspects of the poem remain dormant, and they lurk just beneath the ostensibly unified as they do in St. Erkenwald The excavation perhaps the most convincing appropriation of the Anglo Saxon heritage in Middle English literature, and one which simultaneously un earths and re subsumes the strange qualities of the ancestors.
36 Chapter Five: Chaucer and the Anglo Saxons: Estrangement, and Disconcerting Myths of Continuity has often been read as an uncomplicated (if imaginative) narrative that presents an alternative account of the Christianization of the Anglo Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum Chaucer offers a tale in which a n exiled woman is responsible for the reintroduction of Christianity to England. Bede recounts that: Gregory prompted by divine inspiration, sent a servant of God named Augustine and several more God fearing monks with him to preach the w ord of God to the English race. (37). The official account offered by Bede narrative which ly guided by God from Syria to England. While the work of God clea interest in human characters and personal trials persuade him to provide a lively and e account in which only the will of God matters, and not the particulars which make especially dramatic. it is through her that Chaucer connects with his often unfamil iar ancestors. Custance comes from Italy, and her Romance language and Catholicism must surely have seemed more familiar than the strange language and pagan beliefs of the pre Christian Anglo Saxons. Custance eventually achieves what Chaucer himself desire s throughout the tale: a
37 union of the two different, and, at times, opposed cultures. Custance remains Roman and Catholic, and becomes, through marriage, English. If Chaucer cannot wholly redeem his pagan forebears, he can at least improve their lot by an imaginative encounter which allows the Anglo Saxons direct access to Christianity and Latin culture. Custance has garnered much critical attention, as both the vessel of Christian teaching (in more traditional scholarship) and as a woman who escapes from h er fianc and his murderous mother. Syria, the place from which Custance embarks has also received critical attention, as presents a confrontation between the Christian West and Muslim East. Over the past twenty to thirty years, scholarship has generally centered upon and its relation to discourses of gender, Orientalism, and profitable combinations of the two. Custance, a Christian woman, and the Sowdanesse, a Muslim woman, have provided a critical impetus for investigating the way in which religion, culture, and gender interact with one thou Semyrane the secounde! / O 358 60), seemingl y women who usurp male prerogatives. T he criticism which has elucidated the complicated workings of Orientalism and gender concerns has provided new insights into Chaucer despite all of the informative scholarship that has appeared on in recent years relatively few critical statements have dealt with the often overlooked, marginalized others who, in many ways, form the mirror image o f the Muslim Syrians: the pagan Anglo Saxons. If, as Nicholas Burns suggests, pagan Anglo Saxon England and Muslim
38 of the second group of others whom Chaucer presents (20). Of course, that these others (whom Burns pairs with the Muslim Syrians) are the Anglo uttered in the presence of her father, that 281 2) feminine inferiority in decidedly Christian b imagined here is literally Syria, the image foreshadows Northumbrian shore, in an England that she finds strange and as unlike her home in Rome as Syria. Chaucer never explicitly connects England with the previously mentioned unconscious, uneasiness about attempting to relate to his pagan forebears. How exactly can the Christian, civilized fourtee nth century England which Chaucer knew have originated from such an unpromising beginning? Chaucer must, as a matter of historical tic Christian population, those Cristen fol k been fl ed from that contree Thurgh payens, t hat conquereden al aboute The plages o f the north, by land and see. To Walys fledde the Cristyantee Of olde Brit 541 5).
39 Saxon s makes any investigation of this occasionally omitted aspect of complex. While scholars have generally eschewed analysis of the Anglo Saxons for other salient elements of the tale (as noted previously), some have begun investigating Saxon past, traditions, The Tale of Sir Thopas parodies English romances (like Athelston ) in a rather unflattering manner. 21 Scholars have long assumed that Sir Thopas exemplified notes a number of similar phrases and devices in Troilus and Criseyde a work usually cited as o Sir Thopas cannot simply condemn the English romances wholesale because of the Thopas like elements in Troilus according to Bradbury. Chaucer related in a more complex manner to the native English traditions, and Bradb ury ultimately concludes that Chaucer parodies the more extreme abuses of tail rhyme romance, instead of dismissing the genre entirely This modified embrace of as Bradbury observes that 4). If one begins to read The Canterbury Tales on a symbolic level, then ostensibly historical material transforms from dispassionate accounts into a lively d ialogue between past and present. Edward Condren effectively casts The Canterbury Tales as not so much 21 For a more complete account of The Tale of Sir Thopas and its jaunty tale rhymes clichd Sir Thopas as presented in Larry The Riverside Chaucer (91 7 23).
40 a series of tales as an occasion for disparate discussions regarding nearly everything in the world from a fourteenth century perspective (3 4). 22 By the time of Tale Condren suggests that Chaucer has allowed his pilgrims to get away from him, as the pilgrims and their characters move closer towards symbolism and allegory (64). ography and a sense of the past) bears importantly on this thesis, as her presence allows for immediate/unmediated access to the Anglo Saxon past which Chaucer hopes to connect with symbolically via her. o contact the Anglo Saxons. However, if Chaucer were to have consulted the Beowulf manuscript (in a highly imaginative scenario) he would probably have been unable to read it; this, undoubtedly, would have reasserted the unwieldy gap between the Anglo Saxo ns and the fourteenth century audience that Chaucer desires to traverse This distance, symbolized in the above example by the unreadable text, presents no particular problem for Custance, as Chaucer endows her with the xenoglossia that he cannot achieve. 23 Christine Cooper focuses and she asserts that Custance is gifted with xenoglossia vita a miracle in which one is able to communicate and be understo od in a language with which the 22 The Canterbury Tales as an occasion for disparate discussions recalls The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales among many other creative opportunities, evidently had a practical usefulness for Chaucer in providing a secure and easily assigned home for earlier pieces which might otherwise be given little 23 with the Anglo Saxons presents no particular problem, as long as he transfers that desire to Custance. For the importance of xenoglossia in St. Erkenwald refer to p. 26.
41 saint has little previous familiarity (28). That Custance is capable of displaying xenoglossia Cronicles n many languages and able to Cooper xenoglossia is a clear indicator of life. Historical and literary precedents exist for Custance, but she is example of a xenoglossic holy women who possesses a complete access to and master Cooper 32). That other such holy women a re not to be found in hagiographical literature of t he period may not be surprising; special linguistic place allows Custance to participate equally in the worlds of Latinity and the vernacular simultaneously (as stated, the wish of Chaucer hims elf, perhaps) while ( Cooper 32). In microcosm, Custance then becomes The burgeoning interest i n the role of the Anglo Saxons in has grown organically from the initial analysis of Custance, and the trend has shifted to include discussion of Custance and her interaction with the Anglo Saxons; recently and perhaps, controversiall y the dialogue has begun to leave Custance out of the picture, and has focused on the Anglo Saxons as an independent object of inquiry. One might, then, focus upon the i mportance of time in (perhaps taking a cue
42 from the Host) 24 Asser Raybin analyzes the problematic features of applying a masculine world view of linear history to the feminine principle (typified by Custance) which remains static and constant (65). The intr oduction to the tale envisions the passage of time as analogous to insignificant in the afloat on th Chaucer employed the image of the sea for the specific associations a medieval reader would have assuredly discerned ( qtd. in Raybin 66). While afloat on the sea, Custance is un able to reckon time even as the significance of time disappears into abstraction. One might note d future collapse into an infinite vision of all time (Raybin 67) Custance achieves independence from a decidedly masculine concept of time, coming life is spent at sea, she often comes ashore, suggesting the way in which even the devout between the spiritual and the physical ( Raybin 68). Perfection, ideality, and spirituality are admired as they manifest in the personage of Custance, but hers cannot be an 24 After the narrator specifies the exact time during which the Man of Law tells his t ale (l. 1 15), the
43 existence lived in complete isolation; for her story to be meaningful, she must, of necessity, engage with the world, venturing into historically bound locales even as she ( Raybin 69). The emblematic na ture of Custance, who, while even on land, remains in close proximity to the sea (and always becomes clear As an emblematic character, Custance represents he Raybin 70). Existing as a contrast to the temporal (and decidedly world. If Raybin implicitly connects the feminine experience with a unique insight into the processes of history, then Susan Schibanoff connects feminism and Orientalism; like Raybin, Schibanoff makes no specific references to the Anglo Saxons, but, giv en their paired presentation in the tale, her insights reveal a great deal about the Anglo Saxons. Women and others are paired, in this tale, and even multiple others (Muslims and Anglo Saxon pagans, for instance) are conflated; because of this, the notion that bears significantly on any discussion of the Anglo Saxon others regarding class conflict in The Canterbury Tales in he r definition, Islam and femininity, which become closely linked in the tale (249). 25 Failing to see any sympathy for Islam 25 For this analysis, refer to chapter five (p. 244 Chauce r and the Subject of History
44 within the tale (a speculative leap, I think) Schibanoff suggests that Chaucer portrays Islam as different from Christianity as idolatrous 26 The threat of Islam (and later, the threat of the feminine) is a not a threat of the outlaw, but the dangerous he gate, but within the city walls. Although Schibanoff fails to do so, this important insight points directly to the pagan Anglo Saxons, whose similarity and di fference alternate in a problematic way for Chaucer and for Custance herself. Offering a paired reading which considers gender and ethnicity Schibanoff joins many other Schibanoff argues that, withi [as] such reductiveness facilitates his creation of phrase that she never defines completely ) (250). Tracing the demonstrat es that Augustine may have been the heightens our awareness to binary opposites, even as it reduces modes of experience to stereotypes ( Schibanoff 251). There remains an observable difference in the way in which pagans and Muslims are discussed in the fourteenth century ; while virtuous classical pagans are acknowledged, medieval writers and theologians allowed for very few virtuous 26 I disagree with Schibanoff, as she finds almost no sympathy for Islam in The his tale does not degenerate into a catalogue listing of the vices of non Christians, as often does.
45 Muslims Whenever a good Saracen appears in medieval literature he is deemed a pagan ( Schibanoff 251). 27 Profligate w omen and Muslim others remain necessary according to Augustinian doctrine, as heretics who by reminding them of unseen enemies Schibanoff 252). Making a leap from Muslim discourse to document well known texts which define and redefine the figure of the virago (252). The ( Schibanoff 253). Highlighting and forcing difference even when similarity appears more abundant become the means by which the Man of Law emphasizes the e vil nature of women and Muslims ( Schibanoff 253 254). The te ndency to highlight difference has already been noted in the present study, and it functions in much the same way as it does in St. Erkenwald Analyses of the function of feminine and marginalized experience in The Man of reveal, th rough analogy, certain ancestors, as the Anglo Saxons Schibanoff become more transparent (25) Profitable though these comparisons may be, direct analysis of the marginalized Anglo Saxons must, of necessity, complete the 27 The many pagan often appear with French names, are almost always a cover for Muslim warriors Faerie Queene (see the trio of knight: Sans Joy, Sans Loy, and Sans Foy, depicted in book I).
46 One can connect to the court of Richard II, and doing so reveals, as scholars of Athelsto n have, the important role of the Anglo Saxons during the Ricardian period. ( Dugas 27) Cu obscuring other important questions over the historicity of the tale, often ignored by scholars. The tale seems and this concern focuses the discussion of aristocratic p rerogatives squarely on the personage of Alla, the Northumbrian king ( Dugas goals, demonstrating the authority and divine right to kingship even as that kingship is legitimated in an implicit conne ction made between Anglo Saxon England and Rome. Establishing authority via lineage was absolutely essential during the M iddle A ges, with kings ascribing their ancestry to individuals like Aeneas, and the Trojans before him, and uncertainties arose (29). Scholars have typically treated the Roman, Greek, and Trojan historical mode ls of authority in great detail but relatively little attention has been directed towards other his torical models of kingship and authority ( Dugas 30). During the Anglo Saxon and pre Anglo authority in a familiar locale, namely England itself ( Dugas 30). then n to the Ricardian period, which leads to the intriguing ributable to interest in the Anglo Saxons ( Dugas 30).
47 as adjudicator of the laws, recalling the (still prevalent) maxims and myths associated with King Alfred and other Anglo Sa xon kings ( Dugas 31). What Chaucer accomplishes by law and authority prefigure his miraculous conversion to Christian ity while highlighting Dugas 32). As with the pagan court of Syr ia, and the classical world of of an imagining of the past that is decidedly colored by a present world view. The past and present, in this case, blur into one seamless vision of time which according to Dugas, Tale cultur al formation of tra nslatio imperii according to Dugas (37). triu mph of Christianity (Dugas 38) The present analysis, which shifts attention from feminine experience studied in isolation, to the role of culture and mythology in creating a national identity, may be understood symbolically by moving the central discussi on from Custance to Alla. However, Chaucer does not allow Alla to say anything of much significance, and, as Christine Cooper suggests, Custance (in a religious or emblematic reading of the tale)
48 needs to speak while Alla listens. 28 Alla haunts the tale, a Anglo Saxon past which remains, like Alla himself, unknowable and alienated. The silence might be strategic, though, and I that story as told by Gower and Chaucer does not on the face of it tell us very much about fourteenth century views of Anglo reluctance to be overly specific (with regards to national/linguistic differences) says quite a bit, in my view, about Anglo Christian Rome and pagan England erases the otherwise uncomfortable differences which, as Frankis points out, remain especially problematic as Chaucer casts his own ancestors as the pagans who drove away British Christians from England (91). Chaucer Saxon era because of its importance in ecclesiastical history it was, after all, the period during which Christianity came to England. religiously motivated transformation of Anglo r very much appropriated historical material for his own purposes; historical verisimilitude, as noted xenoglossia (a subject taken up by Christine Cooper) also erases cultural differenc es, making the Anglo Saxons receptive to Christian learning and Roman culture (90). Chaucer narrates, according to Frankis, with the primary purpose of exploring Christian/pagan tensions, and information about opinions of the Anglo Saxons can only be glean ed tangentially as 28 33).
49 it may appear strange that Chaucer reclaims the Anglo Saxon past through an imagined connection with Rome (via Custance), an entirely English tale, free from Roman influence, would leave Chaucer alone to confront the profound otherness of the pre Christian Anglo Saxons to whom he cannot relate directly without the mediating term of Christian Rome, emblematized by Custance. This reading of places Christian Rome firmly at the center ious interrogation by Chaucer, and while he investigates the history of England, he never attempts to reorient medieval maps (which placed England in the northwest corner of the world) showed that relatively small size (as medieval maps) serve to accentuate English difference in order to leverage power (Lavezzo 8). Medieval English writers thus lived in the margin s, and were free to fabulize imaginative histories and originary myths. Lavezzo finds to be The Canterbury Tales nd we should consider
50 distinguishing England from Rome as a ance of the Catholic Church are celebrated by Chaucer, particularly through Custance, the attention lavished upon Anglo Saxon England declares its importance in a rather unconventional sense. me, she neglects to notice the importance of the Anglo Saxons as emblematic of a desire to trace the history of a newly authorized people. Chauce century England makes necessary the search for historical precedent s that The M undertakes. Where Lavezzo wants the reader to note the separation from the cultural hegemony of Rome (but not, of course, from the religious unity of Rome), she fails to note the audacity of detailing the lives of the Anglo Saxons, that on ly becomes possible exists as an idealized locale whose borders, geographies, and even history are no t entirely clear. As Frankis and Lavezzo have noted, the unspecified geography of the tale does not affect its overall goals. With these considerations of imagined space and fabulized history in mind, Peggy A. Knapp posits that Chaucer was able to create a theoretical English community/identity through his works. Knapp explores Chau the imaginative faculty actually involved real creation via mythopoei a imagination as an active, even an aggressive, intellectual process rather than a passive Knapp 136). Connecting Chaucer with h is most innovative
51 imagination and its ability to represent objective, rational reality (142). However, Chaucer departs from Dante insomuch as Chaucer presents/imagines a community, while Knapp 142). Chaucer appears as the first European writer to employ imagi nation as creation for the purposes of constructing a picture of community, writ large (the nation of England) and small (the fellowship of twenty nine pilgrims). More important than what Chaucer imagines is by what means he imagines, namely, in the Englis h language. Knapp quotes Benedict Anderson and others who contend that the universal and totalizing features of Latin Christendom tended to suppress and mask regional and proto national differences (143). To write in English seriously undermines the unifyi ng myth of the cohesion of Latin Christendom, even as it elaborates new bases (linguistic and national) for bonds of association and community. Writing in English assumes an English readership who have t ongue appeals. Chaucer positions himself towards an English community even as he creates that community, in microcosm, in The Canterbury Tales
52 Chapter Six: Conclusions Disparate, and, at times, conflicting approaches inform the historical appropriation of the Anglo Saxons in the fourteenth century literary consciousness. The Anglo Saxons become, for fourteenth century writers, a floating concept engaged for a o century literature threatens to posit the fixity of the Anglo Saxon past. If one allow s the Anglo Saxons, as presented in late medieval texts, to signify a simple immobile historical image, the evolution and appropriation of the Ang lo Saxons becomes obscured. A desire to leverage power, whether that power is cultural, political, Saxons in the medieval texts surveyed here. While the desire for power all ows fourteenth century writers, readers, and auditors to ventriloquise the Anglo Saxons, who cannot speak directly for themselves, the encounter with the past never occurs in an uncomplicated or simple manner. The profound otherness of the Anglo Saxons rem ains: their paganism (before conversion), language and cultural tradition all threaten to collapse the entire Saxon past leads him to confront the pre Christian Anglo Saxons and their persecution of British Christians. In this countrymen (despite their religion) or with his fellow Christians (despite their different cultures and languages ) ? Chaucer, in his characteristic ally playful style, carefully avoids the situation by saving his pre Christian ancestors via their encounter with Custance, a
53 Christian woman from Rome. The overall effect of a cursory reading of The Man of leads one to believe that Chaucer has succeeded in having it both ways he does, after all, end the tale with a final vision of the Anglo Saxons as wholly English and wholly Christian. However, one might interrogate this convenient myth of cultural continutity, and question the intangible loss follows from a religious colonization by Rome and its Church. two fourteenth century texts discussed in this thesis. The unpleasa nt details of the Anglo Saxons persecution of Christians and worship of idols and devils concerns the Erkenwald poet enough to mention these historically accurate realities, but his decision to discuss these concerns in the beginning of the poem allows hi m to conceal these events quickly (and, one senses, nervously) by turning to a discussion of St. Augustine. The savagery of Athelston seriously distances a contemporary twenty first century audience as much as it presumably troubled the fourteenth century audience and the Athelston poet himself. But the poet passes over these disconcerting details, and instead emphasizes the good governance imagined in the Anglo Saxon era. The historical imagination, as outlined in chapter one, never promised to be an accu rate re presentation of historical events in a cool, dispassionate retelling. The three poets discussed in this thesis have the latitude to selectively present a representative (or nt narrative established by the poets. I have argued that St. Erkenwald can inform contemporary readers about the variety of possible historical encounter s during the fourteenth century, even as Athelston presents the ways in a fourteenth century poet can modify the general
54 kinds of historical encounters outlined in the discussion of St. Erkenwald and craft such builds upon the first two varieties of historical appropriati on, even as it persuasively interrogates the limits of such imaginative histories and their role in the construction of English identity. The paired presentation of Muslim Syria and Anglo Saxon England reveals something unsettling (in the minds of medieval readers) about the estrangement of the past from the present, and this distance makes the project of historical appropriation all the more urgent, as the otherness of the Anglo Saxon past demands an explanation and reconciliation which Chaucer, the Erkenw ald poet, and the Athelston poet all try desperately to construct in their respective works While all three writers achieve a modicum of success, the three works leave a d not necessarily condemn the medieval writers for the open questions that remain; rather, the historical imagination of the fourteenth century should, instead, persuade readers to A culture cannot achieve historical objectivity, and the quest for it leads towards the perilous situation in which one might believe that historical appropriation belongs to the past, while perfect historical ac curacy can exist in the present. W hen history begins to appear clinical and dispassionate, contemporary readers should search all the more vigorously for the subterranean assumptions and values which always linger beneath the surface. This thesis has analyzed medieval notions of the past, generally, and spec ific interactions between past and present in order to unkennel hidden biases which dwell within all historical documents and literary appropriations. Historical imagining is always already a re
55 imagining: the trace of the past has already escaped, and eve n if grasped, it would forever present a lacuna into which contemporary values and ideas would reanimate the dead/unreadable historical text.
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