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The early years

Evidence suggests that Mandeville's Travels was written between 1351 (the date of completion of Jean Le Long's translations) and March 1357 (the date of the signing of the treaty between England and France after the battle of Poitiers). This chapter presents a summary of the evidence concerning the dissemination and readership of Mandeville's Travels in England before the appearance of Pynson's print c. 1496. Mandeville's Travels, written while hostilities still plagued the countryside, was sent to Paris, the major book-producing centre of Europe, possibly by the author anonymously very early on, and by c 1360 was part of the staple of the Parisian stationers. Three other Latin manuscripts of Travels are recorded in the book- lists of the Cluniac priory of Monks Bretton, Yorkshire, the Premonstratensian house at Titchfield, Hampshire, and the Augustinian abbey at Leicester. The chapter shows that Travels was known and read by gentry and clergy alike.

in A knight’s legacy
Texts, contexts and influence

In the search for Sir John Mandeville that occupies Giles Milton's The Riddle and the Knight (1996), Milton identifies a range of connections and differences between the 'religions of the book' (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) with the intention of indicating Christian legitimacy in opposition to misguided Islam and demonised Judaism. Regardless of the nature of Mandeville's reflections, there is no doubt that his presentation of Islam was hugely influential. Milton chooses not to refer to Mandeville's depiction of the Prophet Muhammad; this is the focus of this chapter. The chapter considers the source for a small part of The Travels. It is concerned with the uneven character of Mandeville's conception of Islam and Muhammad. The portrayal of Islam in Mandeville's Travels appears ambivalent - the emphasis upon religious common ground between Islam and Christianity does not demonise with the same polemic found in many contemporary texts.

in A knight’s legacy
Early modern travel tales

This chapter presents two main objectives: to show that texts modelled upon the Mandevillian mode were not only published and read in early modern England, and they were fascinatingly excluded from the collections of travellers' tales. Balanced against those are two perhaps equally intriguing silences: about the motivations that spurred writers as well as publishers, and about whether or not readers could make distinctions between volumes of the kind categorised as 'Mandevillian' and those based upon actual travels. While early modern tellers of tales might be excused because they could not distinguish between camel meat and beef, no such qualification can be made for those recent and current critics, because attempts at separating travels from 'travel lies' simply highlight the questionable ideological mainstays that underpin their literary and critical foundations. People should celebrate the intellectual skills of the forgers of these texts that continue to have a Mandevillian afterlife.

in A knight’s legacy
The well- travelled tyrant and some of his unchecked baggage

Over the last ten years or so, a culture of war has returned to prominence in English- speaking societies, and war has broken out again as a favoured topic in the criticism of early modern English drama. This chapter recalls that the discourse of early modern (if not modern) warfare almost invariably turns on a religious axis at bottom, the rhetoric of crusade on the paradoxical premise that the exercise of power over life and death is human practice but divine prerogative. The Catholic 'tyrants' and Tamburlaine's hegemony that extends to the feminine sphere in and through Zenocrate, are discussed. The chapter proposes that perhaps the most culturally prominent instance of a combined metaphysical and military narrative, the biblical encounter between the Jewish heroine Judith and the Assyrian general Holofernes, hovers in the background of Marlowe's Tamburlaine plays.

in A knight’s legacy
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The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away

Patience is a poem that combines discussion of a moral quality with biblical narrative, in the case of Patience, one narrative only, the story of Jonah. It is reader-friendly and engaging. In both poems human beings are at odds with God, but the outcomes are very different. Patience sets out to explore the meaning of the virtue of its title. Through its God, the poem exemplifies and explains a more spiritual view of patience which the narrator gives no sign of understanding. The reader is led to suspect that his total lack of comment on Jonah's second lesson indicates that he is not only out of sympathy with Jonah but himself does not understand God's forgiveness of the Ninevites. Patience does not end with a prayer, a confirming sign, perhaps, that its narrator is meant to be seen as not attuned to spiritual matters.

in Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems
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The last shall be first

Pearl is a religious dream-vision in which the dream is largely taken up by dialogue between the narrator or dreamer, as a figure in his dream, and a woman who is a fount of divine wisdom. It does not engage significantly with the fourteenth century. Its interest lies rather in relating Christian doctrine to universal life-experience, and particularly in the problem that some of the basic tenets of that doctrine fly in the face of basic human instincts and attitudes. The narrative of Pearl is multi-layered, with the poet creating a dreamer-figure separate from himself whose attitudes differ significantly before, in, and after his dream. If the dreamer is to be taken as a representative figure for all humanity then the poem demonstrates that the ways of God can never be justified to men, for the distance between God and man is too great to be bridged.

in Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems

Richard Brome's satirical travel drama The Antipodes of 1636-1638 is a late example of the Renaissance vogue for English plays which engage with the idea of New Worlds and colonial politics. This chapter focuses on another influential source for Brome's play, Mandeville's Travels, and examines the significance of the relationship between the texts in two related ways. Firstly, Brome's importation to 1630s 'London' of Mandevillian monstrousness is explored, specifically with regard to gender behaviour and sexual appetite. Secondly, the chapter examines the status accorded to Mandeville's text in The Antipodes and in the early to mid-seventeenth century more generally, in order to pose larger political and generic questions concerning the ways in which dramatic texts use travel writing in this period. In The Antipodes, Brome represents the characters' various social problems and health issues as types of madness or moral sickness.

in A knight’s legacy
The legend and its early modern reworkings

This chapter is concerned with one of the staples of Mandevillian lore, the figure of Prester John, whom the 'knight of transmission' portrays as 'a grete Emperour of Ynde'. It attempts to retrieve part of the Priest-King Arthur's complex itinerary through medieval and early modern imaginations. The emergence of the Prester John legend and its success are first and foremost the products of crusading Europe's ambivalent attitude towards the East. A cited extract shows how, from his very first appearance, Prester John is an embodiment of the ambivalence, caught half-way between the pagan past of classical authorities and the present of Christian Crusaders. A look at the appellations for some of the early manuscripts and editions bears witness to the diversity of responses which the work elicited from its early audiences: it was described with terms as diverse as 'livre', 'geste', 'romant', 'tractatus', 'itinerarium', 'voiage and trauayle'.

in A knight’s legacy
‘The fantastic ethnography’ of Sir Walter Ralegh and Baconian experimentalism

Sir Walter Ralegh mentions Mandeville twice: once in The Discoverie of Guiana and again in The History of the World. Like anthropologists later, he considers the 'fables' of The Travels as meaningful narratives that can be explained rationally, and it is no surprise that his reading of the Acephali was current until the nineteenth century. This chapter discusses an example of the Acephali that shows how by resorting to an early source Ralegh manages to distance himself from the iconographical and fabulous tradition. Ralegh's travel narrative is based on epistemological strategies that adumbrate in many ways the Baconian method, even if it is a far cry from the factual objectivity of the Royal Society experimentalists. Critics have often dismisses Ralegh as a mere dabbler in natural history and travel literature, but Ralegh is one of the finest readers and interpreters of his time, capable of mastering very distinct hermeneutic systems.

in A knight’s legacy
The beautiful lie

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a record of, and tribute to, the beauties and pleasures of chivalric life. Gawain tells the story of a fearsome green-skinned knight who rides into King Arthur's court, and issues a challenge: will one of them strike a blow at him with his axe, and agree to receive a return blow in a year's time? Chivalry is presented throughout as offering an attractive front to the world with nothing solid underpinning it. In life as well as in literature, chivalry emphasises the importance of polite and honourable behaviour and speech, lavish display, and other external manifestations. The confessions in the last part of the poem point to a fundamental difference between the secular chivalric and the Christian ethical systems. The games and the glamour end in Morgan, and the code of honour leaves Gawain, the pearl of knights, a broken man.

in Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems