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Ruth Evans explores the under-recognised but striking use of rhyme-breaking in Chaucer’s poetry, present in the Canterbury Tales, the Book of the Duchess, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. Evans draws upon a recent resurgence of critical interest in the politics of form to argue that Chaucerian rhyme-breaking warrants closer attention not only for its ironic effect, but also for its potential to illuminate Chaucer’s position within the multilingual context of late-medieval England.
The racialisation of voice precedes the invention of race in the fifteenth century. Its most salient form within late medieval, Christian Europe is the comparison of the voices of non-Christian peoples to those of nonhuman animals, and the characterisation of their voices as inarticulata (unintelligible), drawing on the influential, fourfold categorisation of vox (voice) made by the late antique grammarians Donatus and Priscian. The hierarchical sorting of voices into the human and the bestial, the human and the barbaric, the intelligible and the unintelligible still shapes the way that we hear a supposed ‘essence’ of race in voices today. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, Canacee’s ability to understand birdsong connects the human and the nonhuman by figuring a nonhuman voice as vox articulata (articulate, intelligible). Giorgio Agamben names this point of conjunction and separation between the human and the animal a ‘caesura’, and urges that we must seek to understand the historical construction of the conflict between the animality and the humanity of man in order to address the violent political and social consequences of that separation. Poetry’s origins in in-spiration , breath, invites us to put race and poetics together at a moment in US and global history when Black people are struggling to breathe.
The Book of Margery Kempe’s third-person narration has received very little sustained analysis from a narratological perspective. Although the Book is not an autobiography in the modern sense, this chapter draws on Philippe Lejeune’s notion of ‘the autobiographical pact’ and his analysis of third-person narration in modern autobiographies to argue that Kempe’s use of the third person is a mode of figuration that both inscribes her divided identity and precludes the reader’s encounter with a knowable life. Autobiography holds out the promise of that encounter but ultimately thwarts it. After briefly contextualising Kempe’s practice in relation to late medieval devotional writing, the chapter uses the narratological distinction between the utterance [énoncé] and the enunciation [énonciation] to analyse the multiple effects of Kempe’s insistent reference to herself in the third person, either as ‘sche’ or ‘this creatur’. A further aspect of that third-person narration is Kempe’s distinctive, but understudied, use of the deictic ‘this’ in the phrase ‘this creatur’. The chapter argues that this usage contributes to Kempe’s radical understanding of her subjectivity in the Book as a process of self-begetting. Third-person narration allows Kempe to articulate her selfhood as a tension between identity and difference, unity and division, and also brings out what is implicit in all autobiographical texts, namely, their status as both writing – a written text – and as the documentary recording of a life.
In this chapter I address a gap in the study of medieval space, namely that there has been no systematic study by either medievalists or road historians of how European road travellers in the later Middle Ages found their way around: between countries, from one part of a country to another, or within unfamiliar towns and cities. How did travellers plan their journeys? What aids did they use for getting to their destinations? I present some of the evidence for medieval wayfinding, and provide some initial answers to these questions. I consider the use of guides, landmarks, maps, and urban signage, and draws on evidence from English literary texts and English-French phrasebooks. Wayfinding is simultaneously a technology, a memorial practice, and a cognitive competency. I argue that medieval wayfinding is best understood as a form of what Edwin Hutchins calls ‘naturally situated cognition’ or ‘distributed cognition, in that it depends on human co-operation. Moreover, the environment for medieval travellers was divided up into smaller, more manageable pieces and interconnections – what Kevin Lynch describes as paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks – that constitute a hierarchy of spatial knowledge that is significantly different from our understanding and negotiation of space today.
This collection of essays on roads in Britain in the Middle Ages addresses the topic from a cultural, anthropological and literary point of view, as well as a historical and archaeological one. Taking up Jacques Derrida's proposal that 'the history of writing and the history of the road' be 'meditated upon' together, it considers how roads ‘write’ landscapes. The anthology sets Britain’s thoroughfares against the backdrop of the extant Roman road system and argues for a technique of road construction and care that is distinctively medieval. As well as synthesizing information on medieval road terminology, roads as rights of passage and the road as an idea as much as a physical entity, individual essays look afresh at sources for the study of the medieval English road system, legal definitions of the highway, road-breaking and road-mending, wayfinding, the architecture of the street and its role in popular urban government, English hermits and the road as spiritual metaphor, royal itineraries, pilgrimage roads, roads in medieval English romances, English river transport, roads in medieval Wales, and roads in the Anglo-Scottish border zone.
This chapter opens with a consideration of Jacques Derrida’s intersection of the histories of roads and writing as forms of inscription (tracks, traces, or paths, on the landscape and on the page). These shared cultural histories of roads and writing suggest new ways of conceptualizing the study of the medieval road as material object and as difference: just as the road is the imposition of form on matter, so is writing the imposition of form on nature. In the next section, discussion moves to the question of road nomenclature in medieval Britain. Where ‘road’ serves well enough to denote the universal set of modern commuter routes, medieval terminology is more particularized, more in tune with the contours of the material environment. Some caution is thus necessary in treating medieval roads as a ‘system’. The chapter then argues for a consideration of the medieval road less as a physical entity than as a right of passage: as function rather than physical structure. We then turn to consider how the legacy of Roman roads in medieval Britain and the powerful fiction of the king’s four roads served the social imaginary both in law and literature. In the last section, we offer summaries of the individual book chapters of the volume.