Indira Ghose, Denis Renevey (Editors). The Construction of Textual Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Literature. SPELL 22, 2009

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Table of Contents


 Introduction, 11


Eric Stanley (Oxford)
Pre-Texts: Essential Ambiguities in Textuality, 21


Katrin Rupp (Neuchatel)
Rethinking (Generic) Textual Identity in “The Miller’s Tale”, 41


Ioana Balgradean (Geneva)
Narrating Sloth in Medieval Literature: the Knowledge of Feelings            , 61


Ad Putter (Bristol)
The Poetry of “Things” in Gower, The Great Gatsby and Chaucer, 81


David Wallace (Pennsylvania)
Problematics of European Literary History, 1348-1400, 101


Louise Wilson (Geneva)
Writing Romance Readers in Early Modern Paratexts, 121


Stephen Orgel (Stanford)
Spenser from the Gutters to the Margins: An Archaeology of Reading, 141


Ladina Bezzola Lambert (Basel)
Shakespeare’s Belated Lucrece, 161


Regula Hohl Trillini (Basel)
Hamlet and Textual Re-Production: The Case of “To Be or Not to Be” (1561-1726), 181


Helen Wilcox (Bangor, Wales)
“Joves Great Priviledge”: Identity and Mortality in Early Modern Women’s Writing, 201


Antoinina Bevan Zlatar (Zurich)
Reforming Eve’s Sin: Milton and the Mystery Cycles, 221


Notes on Contributors, 241


Index of Names, 249



Pre-Texts: Essential Ambiguities in Textuality

Eric Stanley

The word pre-text is ambiguous. There is, first, the pretexta worn in Rome by those who had not yet advanced to the toga virilis. Secondly, the word means “pretence,” spelt pretense in the United States, and so confusable with pre-tense (if there is such a word), perhaps part of the verbal paradigm. Thirdly, a pre-text may be a text before the text; if so, there may be also a post-text, a text after the text. Some medieval texts may show pretextual and post-textual complexity, and in this paper Sir Gowther and Gregorius are used to exemplify such textualities.


Rethinking (Generic) Textual Identity in “The Miller’s Tale”

Katrin Rupp

With his firm intention to requite the tale of the Knight, the drunken Miller announces that his forthcoming tale will be “a legende and a lyf,” both terms strongly suggesting that it will actually be a hagiography. In this paper I want to examine how the generic textual identity of The Miller’s Tale can be reassessed by placing it specifically in relation with the two saints’ lives in the Canterbury collection, The Prioress’s Tale and The Second Nun’s Tale. Such a re-evaluation of the Miller’s fabliau hinges, I shall argue, on the subversive connection that can be made between the bodies that populate the three tales.


Narrating Sloth in Medieval Literature: the Knowledge of Feelings

Ioana Balgradean

The present paper sets out to explore the specific mechanisms inherent to what I venture to call the courtly affection of sloth and its subcategories of sorrow, grief, anxiety, fear, etc. I will be dealing with an intertextual dialogue, which accounts for, and, in a feedback dynamics, impacts on the conceptual configurations recorded in narrative constructs. The intertext at the core of this study engages the twelfth-century pre-text Eneas and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. It construes itself around a lexical network which articulates the emotion of sloth, while informing the transmission and reformulation of a narrative web of emotional constructs in later medieval literature. My analysis will endeavour to highlight the emergence of an epistemology building on the intricate narrative relationship between diegetic interpersonal actions and events, the eye and the heart as interactive organs of feeling, and the movement of the passions felt within the body. I will be grappling with an economy of affect that is conceptualised as kinesic and kinaesthetic, suggesting an epistemological alternative to the Augustinian theory of emotion as will, which prevailed in the Christian West for over seven hundred years.


The Poetry of “Things” in Gower, The Great Gatsby and Chaucer

Ad Putter

This essay considers the use of the word “thing” in a range of Middle English writings (Gower, Chaucer and mystical authors). It argues that the vagueness of the word can paradoxically be a source of strength. Gower in his Confessio Amantis and Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde use “thing” with a lively sense of its power to conceal and tantalize, and in mystical writings and Chaucer’s Second Nun’s Tale its blankness becomes suggestive of the darkness of God.


Problematics of European Literary History, 1348-1400

David Wallace

This essay mediates upon the challenges of formulating a collective literary history of medieval Europe. It grapples with issues of geographical extent and temporal span: where does Europe begin and end, and how many generations of literary activity is it possible to cover in a single manageable project? It argues for sequences of places, rather than of national blocks (English literature, French literature, Italian literature, etc.) as the best way of representing the complexities and connections of medieval textual production. The essay represents the state of thinking brought to the conference in Berne in October 2008; the project continues to evolve.


Writing Romance Readers in Early Modern Paratexts

Louise Wilson

The paratexts of early modern romances perform a more complex role than merely advertising the text to potential bookbuyers; they serve less as straightforward, rhetorical testimonies to the profit and pleasure of the text and instead engage their readers in intricate ways which can be read as participating in the creative culture of the early modern printing house. Romances attracted readers from all social and intellectual levels and were bought and consumed in large quantities, yet they remained sources of concern for commentators dubious as to whether they could be considered suitable reading material. The romance preliminaries I cite both address the status of real reading communities and produce irreverent fictional constructions of readers and their readerly engagement with this much-criticised genre. By reading romance front matter alongside contemporary criticism of the genre and textual traces of the late Elizabethan book trade, I argue that these paratexts are significant sites in which the value of reading romances is defended as it is simultaneously subjected to ironic scrutiny.


Spenser from the Gutters to the Margins: An Archeology of Reading

Stephen Orgel

The print revolution was in significant ways a reading revolution and a revolution of dissemination and reception, and for histories of the book to encompass this aspect of the subject we must consider reading specifically in relation to ownership, the ways in which reading is also a work of appropriation and a mode of dialogue. Book history is also a sociology of the use of margins and flyleaves. The essay discusses two early annotated Spensers, one an angry Puritan rebuttal to The Faerie Queene, the other a comprehensive elucidation. Both show reading as an active intervention in the cultural life of an early modern classic.


Shakespeare’s Belated Lucrece

Ladina Bezzola Lambert

Shakespeare’s retelling of the old Lucretia story in The Rape of Lucrece is marked by belatedness. Written in the wake of many classical, medieval and Renaissance writers, the poem follows a long literary tradition. It moreover confronts a debate, initiated by Augustine, about Lucretia’s role in the rape, the morality of her suicide, and the legend’s larger historical significance. By the sixteenth century, Lucretia had also become a popular motif in the visual arts. For Shakespeare, coming as a latecomer to the age-old preoccupation with Lucretia entails an awareness of both the danger and the potential the story holds. My essay is concerned with Shakespeare’s approach to the moral debate about Lucretia. This approach depends, first of all, on the privileged access his poem offers to Lucrece’s private thoughts and emotions,1 but also on the way his Lucrece enters into dialogue with many themes and motifs employed in earlier versions of her story, with the contemporary genre of the female complaint, and with representations of Lucretia in the visual arts. Shakespeare’s poem dramatizes the attempt to rehabilitate Lucretia’s character and establish her authority over her story. At the same time, it emphasizes the contested nature of this authority.


Hamlet and Textual Re-Production: The Case of “To Be or Not to Be” (1561-1726)

Regula Hohl Trillini

Shakespeare’s plots are staged and re-adapted world-wide as his, although most of them are borrowed. This double reproduction process has an analogue in the more localised success stories of phrases and metaphors from his plays. The fact that they live on as quotations and idioms in literary and everyday language is often cited as evidence for Shakespeare’s genius, but is rarely investigated. Research in connection with the HyperHamlet databank, a corpus of Hamlet quotations (www.hyperhamlet.unibas.ch), shows that Shakespeare was reproductive as a phrasemaker, too. Many frequently-quoted phrases are based on pre-existing formulae to which he gave a particularly memorable form. The case study of “to be or not to be” shows that Shakespeare “consistently seems compelled to outperform the very texts that provided the basis for his own mastery” (James Lynch), not only in plots but also in smaller linguistic units.


“Joves great Priviledge”: Identity and Mortality in Early Modern Women’s Writing

Helen Wilcox

This essay is an exploration of early modern women’s writing about death, looking particularly at the impact of ideas of mortality on the understanding and inscription of female identity. The authors include Anne Southwell, Lucy Russell, Elizabeth Jocelin, Martha Moulsworth, Ann Fanshawe, Mary Carey, Katherine Philips, Hester Pulter and Margaret Cavendish, spanning the denominational spectrum from Roman Catholic to Quaker. Their chosen genres include poetry, devotions, autobiography and advice books, with contexts of authorship which range from apparently private writing in manuscript to the public permanence of texts literally carved in stone. The first section of the essay analyses examples of early modern women’s writing in response to four main kinds of loss: the deaths of mothers, husbands, friends and children. In the second section, the focus is on the importance of mortality to the construction of early modern female identities. Issues raised include the gendering of death, the impact of mortality on women’s sense of themselves as writers, and the prevailing intertextual influences (particularly classical and biblical) on ideas of women and death. The underlying aim of the essay is to advance our investigation and appreciation of a rich and as yet relatively unfamiliar body of early modern women’s writing.


Reforming Eve’s Sin: Milton and the Mystery Cycles

Antoinina Bevan Zlatar

This paper proposes to read the Temptation and Fall of Eve in Book IX of Paradise Lost alongside the same episode in the Chester Mystery Cycle so as to bring Milton’s choices alive. If Chester insistently casts Eve’s sin as one of the seven deadly sins – gluttony, Milton casts her trespass predominantly as a violation of the first and second prohibition of the Decalogue – idolatry. These two tabulations of vice were not mutually exclusively but by the sixteenth century the Decalogue of Exodus had effectively superseded the patristic 7 deadly sins, especially amongst reformers keen to stress sola scriptura. I will argue that in subsuming Eve’s gluttonous delight in the apple under the greater fault of worshipping a false god in the shape of the apple tree, Milton, wholly in keeping with his Protestant poetics, subtly subordinates the Church Fathers to the Scriptures.

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