Mimi Ensley
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Temporality and timelessness in artefacts, relics and romance
in Difficult pasts
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This chapter centres the metaphor of the ‘museum’ to explore one of the most popular Middle English romances to persist across the Reformation divide: Guy of Warwick. It compares the presentation of Guy’s artefacts in John Lydgate’s Guy of Warwick with Samuel Rowlands’s 1609 Famous History of Guy, Earl of Warwick. Both Lydgate’s and Rowlands’s Guy narratives present textual representations of artefacts associated with Guy’s romance. Objects like Guy’s sword, the axe of the giant Colbrond and the rib of the Dun Cow that Guy was supposed to have killed in Coventry become central to the longevity of Guy’s romance and to some authors’ conceptions of the material pre-conquest past. While Lydgate’s narrative positions these objects as relics, signalling the triumphs of Christianity over time, Rowlands’s text ‘musealises’ the artefacts, making them portals to and preservers of the distant, tenth-century past. Guy’s objects, in Rowlands’s text, become tourist sites and museum pieces. In both Lydgate’s poem and Rowlands’s, though, the artefacts feed off of the narratives that describe them; books become virtual museums or virtual reliquaries. The chapter ends with a comparison between Guy’s artefacts and those associated with the legends of King Arthur, demonstrating the different perspectives on the role of the romance past in the world of the present.

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Difficult pasts

Post-Reformation memory and the medieval romance


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