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Harley 2253 and the Jews of medieval Hereford
Daniel Birkholz

Shortly before Edward I’s 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews, Bishop of Hereford Richard Swinfield rebuked his flock for accepting invitations to a Jewish wedding. Chapter 2 seeks to discover, within texts preserved by Harley 2253, such trace as Hereford’s expelled minority may have left in the cultural imaginary of this borderlands region. Recent scholarship has established that Jews constitute an ‘absent presence’ central to both Christian devotion and conceptions of Englishness. Hereford has a unique profile as a frontier Jewish community, while the Harley manuscript straddles the historical watershed of 1290. This codex has not yet received Jewish studies-based inquiry. But understudied texts near its centre provide material: Anglo-Norman biblical paraphrases that feature the Levites (or priestly class of the Hebrews), and devotional travelogues attuned to the location of biblical and post-biblical Jews. Exploration of these Old Testament stories and Holy Land itineraries, wherein ancient ‘Hebreus’ and latter-day ‘Gyiws’ figure, suggests that Harley departs from period norms. Its texts (and additions) reveal a provincial copyist who is stuck in the distant past, yet perspicacious about Jews’ historical present. Jews have long been absent, but Harley 2253’s fellow clerkly traveller proves disarmingly cognizant of the challenges facing Levitican ‘captives among us’.

in Harley manuscript geographies
Last lyric things
Daniel Birkholz

Scholars equate medieval culture with death culture, but such conceptions derive from obsessions that developed in the wake of the Black Death. Texts that dance with death (or relocate us spiritually by means of it) are never far away in the Harley miscellany’s fifteen quires. But neither do we encounter quite so morbid an obsession with coming ‘endyngs’ as haunt later imaginations. After providing a primer on medieval death, ‘Dying with Harley 2253’ asks whether this compilation may, in its late-added final quire, function as a proto-Ars moriendi. Pre-eminent among plague-inspired genres, these multi-media ‘craft of dying’ handbooks served increasingly to script late medieval end-of-life experiences. But whatever genuflections its closing quire’s Anglo-Norman devotions and Latin treatises may perform, our manuscript’s earlier English pieces are not so easily overwritten. These lyric meditations propose death-facing trajectories and afterlife orientations that refuse to be theologically gainsaid. Harley 2253 archives multiple kinds of dying, and models plural approaches to the locational crisis (‘Wher next shal Y fare?’) that mortality produces. Appreciation of the sublime extremities to which medieval lyric delivers its audience helps demonstrate how contemporary encounters with lyric form—often just as death-bent—owe debts to early exemplars, the eschatologies of which underlie their own.

in Harley manuscript geographies
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Ye goon to … Hereford? Regional devotion and England’s other St Thomas
Daniel Birkholz

The Epilogue reviews how—after much anarchic pulling apart—the Harley miscellany comes together as a literary-cartographic compilation. Sacred space manifests here as a Hereford-centred ecclesiastical regionalism. Harley 2253 is famous for other genres, but saints’ lives govern its undertaking. Its saintly roster proves diverse (biblical/medieval; foreign/domestic; political/parodic), but committed to locally grounded sanctity. Providing a focal point for ‘Ye Goon to … Hereford?’ is St Thomas Cantilupe, a Hereford bishop (canonized 1320) whose cathedral shrine competed on even footing, for a while, with the royal-associated cult of Archbishop Thomas Becket, whose Canterbury shrine dominates English literary history (via Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) and cultural geography. Cantilupe’s fortunes recall those of the Harley manuscript within literary studies; both acquire meaning via their regionalist character. Reading Harley 2253 and Hereford Cathedral together challenges the dominance of Becket, Chaucer, and Canterbury Cathedral. To seek St Thomas of Hereford in the Harley manuscript is to borrow trouble codicologically—he won’t be found, any more than Becket’s shrine is reached by Chaucer’s Pilgrims. But pursuing his absent presence, in a book that privileges sanctified geography by planting local saints at threshold locations, does move us towards Hereford Cathedral, where a famous mappamundi awaits those approaching Cantilupe’s shrine.

in Harley manuscript geographies
The implications of mobility
Daniel Birkholz

Chapter 1 proposes that the once-canonical ‘Harley Lyrics’ require literary-geographical re-contextualization. These poems’ backwater status is not native, but a consequence of the peripheral location assigned them by metropolitan narratives preoccupied with formal-genealogical influence. Harley 2253 was produced for a gentry household near Ludlow, Herefordshire, by a copyist using exemplars from across England and beyond (Paris, Avignon, Ireland). By attending to lyric transmission, and through readings of genre and geography, ‘Harley Lyrics and Hereford clerics’ demonstrates how, notwithstanding the provincial gentry setting of their copying, these adaptable poems align formally and socially with another textual community. This underlying context lies in the well-travelled secular clerks and episcopal officials of Hereford Diocese. The collective experience of such men was defined by unusually pronounced mobility, cohort solidarity, and district boosterism. But if these clerical lives, given incessant travel, are defined by spatial dislocation, so too are the Harley Lyrics preoccupied with geographical displacement. Waxing nostalgic for a ‘hom’ located vaguely ‘by west’, they idealize the figure of a beloved ‘levedi’ [lady] or ‘lef in lond’ [love in land]) who is brought into being through passionate poetic longing. Such (imported) conventions bespeak the cosmopolitanism of the Harley Lyrics, while underlining their regional orientation.

in Harley manuscript geographies
Author: Daniel Birkholz

This study brings emergent methodologies of literary geography to bear upon the unique contents—or more to the point, the moving, artful, frequently audacious contents—of a codex known as London, British Library MS Harley 2253. The Harley manuscript was produced in provincial Herefordshire, in England’s Welsh Marches, by a scribe whose literary generation was wiped out in the Black Death of 1348–1351. It contains a diverse set of writings: love-lyrics and devotional texts, political songs and fabliaux, saints’ lives, courtesy literature, bible narratives, travelogues, and more. These works alternate between languages (Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin), but have been placed in mutually illuminating conversation. Following an Introduction that explores how this fragmentary miscellany keeps being sutured into ‘whole’-ness by commentary upon it, individual chapters examine different genres, topics, and social groupings. Readers from literary history, medieval studies, cultural geography, gender studies, Jewish studies, book history, and more, will profit from the encounter.

Harley 2253 is famous as medieval books go, thanks to its celebrated roster of lyrics, fabliaux, and political songs, and owing to the scarcity of material extant from this ‘in-between’ period in insular literary history. England’s post-Conquest/pre-plague era remains dimly known. Despite such potential, there has never been a monograph published on Harley 2253. Harley Manuscript Geographies orients readers to this compelling material by describing the phenomenon of the medieval miscellany in textual and codicological terms. But another task it performs is to lay out grounds for approaching this compilation via the interpretive lens that cultural geography provides.

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The counterfactual lessons of Gilote et Johane
Daniel Birkholz

Counterfactualist approaches to the past are standard in certain subdisciplines of history, and prevalent in film and fiction. But literary criticism and medieval studies have only begun to consider the phenomenon, despite counterfactual history’s potential for opening up the past in new ways. Chapter 3 risks the censure of ‘responsible’ historians by asking what implications an interweaving of genre prescription, gender ideology, and historical contingency may have for the practice of counterfactual literary medievalism. Its case study, drawn from an eclectic quire of Harley 2253, is an obscure Anglo-Norman bourde (jest, tale) known as Gilote et Johane: a genre-bending hybrid in which two damsels debate sexual mores, take lovers, outwit fathers, confound priests, advise passing wives, preach their audacious ‘lesson’ to churches full of femmes, then burst forth to spread their mobile erotic doctrine ‘across all England and Ireland’. As our narrator frames it, the tale is designed to provoke outrage and redoubled vigilance; however, Gilote et Johane's imagination of an alternative social future enables other, less deterministic species of response. Taking seriously the radical counterfactual vision presented by this rollicking ‘cautionary tale’ allows readers to re-map medieval gender relations, while reassessing Harley 2253’s place in Anglo-Norman and English literary history.

in Harley manuscript geographies
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Harley manuscript geographies
Daniel Birkholz

The Introduction describes the shifting place of the Harley manuscript within English literary history. Following early promotion by nationalist antiquarians (impressed by its unique vernacular poems), the volume enjoyed a period of historiographical consequence, followed by decline into oblivion. After description of Harley 2253 as a material object and rehearsal of its publication history, there follows enumeration of thirteen ‘Aspects of the miscellany’ as a codicological form particular to this era. ‘Harley manuscript geographies’ next examines two related methodologies: first, the burgeoning subfield of ‘literary geography’, and second a materialist philology (or History of the Book) approach known as ‘manuscript geography’. Harley 2253 remains famous for certain Middle English items (chiefly, love-lyrics and political songs). Yet the compilation is linguistically mixed (containing Anglo-Norman and Latin), diverse of genre, and fascicular (produced in sections later stitched together). Appreciating the constitutive irony of Harley studies—that this variegated artefact, so often at odds with itself, keeps being sutured into ‘whole’-ness by commentary upon it—prepares the way for subsequent chapters. These undertakings are distinct textually and topically, but share a baseline proposition: that the Harley manuscript is a book interpretively produced, as much as it is a storehouse of vernacular treasures found.

in Harley manuscript geographies
Steven Earnshaw

Towards the latter half of the nineteenth century a new aesthetic, predominantly European in its earlier incarnations, reacts against Realism and produces what is collectively termed 'modernism'. Towards the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s a new aesthetic came to dominate, called 'postmodernism'. If modernism and Realism had some common points of contact, the relationship between Realism and postmodernism is completely antithetical and antagonistic. Much of what has been said about postmodern writing applies to magical realism. This chapter provides a detailed account of Postmodernism and magical realism by considering two exemplary texts, namely Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. It looks at Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End, which describes the minutiae of everyday life in the office of an advertising agency, with the unusual device of using the first-person plural for its narrative perspective.

in Beginning realism
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Series: Beginnings
Author: Steven Earnshaw

Terms used to describe artistic practices have different meanings from their common usage, but 'realism' as an aesthetic idea cannot be too far removed from the way we would talk about something 'real'. This book explores the artistry and aesthetics of realist literature, along with the assumptions of realist literature. It examines the different ways in which theorists, critics and philosophers conceptualise 'realism'. The book argues that a 'realist' sensibility is the ground on which other modes of literature often exist. It considers verisimilitude that is associated with the complexity of realism, describing the use of realism in two ways: capital 'R' and small 'r'. A set of realist novels is used to explore preliminary definition of realism. The STOP and THINK section lists some points to consider when thinking about realist works. The book looks at the characteristics of the Realist novel. It deals with the objections raised in discussions of Realism, from the Realist period and twentieth- and twenty-first century criticisms. The book provides information on the novel genre, language that characterises Realism, and selection of novel material. It looks at crucial elements such as stage design, and a technical feature often overlooked, the aside, something which seems non-realistic, and which might offer another view on Realism. The book talks about some writers who straddled both periods from the 1880s and 1890s onwards, until the 1920s/1930s, gradually moved away from Realism to modernism. Literary realism, and Aristotle's and Plato's works in relation to realism are also discussed.

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Steven Earnshaw

Many critics and theorists regard discussion of literary realism as one related solely to the novel genre. However, Realism was such a dominant force in the nineteenth century that poetry and drama were obliged to respond to it. It is 'the idea of poetry' that is under siege. This chapter discusses the idea of poetry conceived in different ways. It provides examples from the mini-canon of novels to show how the Realist novel is in thrall to the idea of poetry, while at the same time by its very form continues to operate against the idea of it. A STOP and THINK section helps readers explore the possibility of realism in poetry. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh represents the pressure in the nineteenth century for art to be 'realist', responding to concerns such as those articulated by Arthur Hugh Clough.

in Beginning realism