MiddleEnglish poetry is
anything but the ideal way of preparing him to understand something old
and difficult and complicated; for in his eagerness to find what
must be there he will very likely miss what is
there.’ For instance, far from the story of the fall being the
centre of the ‘Nun’s Priest’s tale’, Coghill and
Tolkien argued that it was only ‘jestingly invoked’ by means
This book on Geoffrey Chaucer explores the relationship between Chaucer's poetry and the change and conflict characteristic of his day and the sorts of literary and non-literary conventions that were at his disposal for making sense of the society around him. Critics who consider the social meaning of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales fall into two main schools: those who present his social thought as an expression of the dominant spirit or ideology of his day and those who see Chaucer as possessing a more heterodox voice. Many of the present generation of Chaucer critics have been trained either as 'Robertsonians' or as 'Donaldsonians'. For D. W. Robertson, even those medieval poems which do not explicitly address religious issues were frequently intended to promote the Augustinian doctrine of charity beneath a pleasing surface; for E. Talbot Donaldson, there are 'no such poems in Middle English'. The book sets out the basics of the Augustinian doctrine of charity and of medieval allegorical theory and examines 'patristic' interpretations of Chaucer's work, particularly of the 'Nun's Priest Tale'. It looks at the humanist alternative to the patristic method and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the patristic approach. The book also outlines some of the major medieval discourses about sexual difference which inform Chaucer's depiction of women, in particular, the tendency of medieval writers to polarise their views of women, condemning them to the pit or elevating them to the pedestal.
particular type of literature, the
MiddleEnglish romances, texts which became witnesses of a ‘new
“bourgeois-gentry” cultural formation’. 2
Literature, here defined in an all-inclusive way, rather
than material for entertainment purposes, is traditionally assessed in
relation to authorship, authorial intention, audience and
socio-political context, and thus an investigation into the influence of
fourteenth century, MiddleEnglish usage. 28 In formal terms, an alien was understood as someone who owed no direct allegiance to the sovereign power, the king, and was thus separated off from his direct subjects. It is important to note, however, that ‘alien’ was just as applicable to visitors as it was to permanent settlers: in general, the law of alienage that emerged from the thirteenth century made no formal distinction between such sub-categories. 29 Consequently, while all immigrants were aliens, not all aliens were immigrants.
, under Henry IV and Henry V, it was also manifested in the self-conscious rejection of French and the adoption of MiddleEnglish as a language of authentic communication between the king and his subjects. 6 Another very important element of the new Englishness was an emphasis on independence and self-determination, captured in the concept of sovereignty, which entered English political rhetoric from the time of Edward I. The idea was used across the period to argue both for the territorial integrity of English dependencies (especially Gascony) and for English immunity
, as lack of wisdom or foolishness, first appears in MiddleEnglish via Old French around 1422 in Hoccleve’s Tale of Jonathas. 37 In patristic and medieval philosophical discussions there may be a conceptual difference between stultus and insipiens. The etymology of in-sipiens , implying the contrasting lack of, is obviously derived from sapiens , while stultus is connected with stolidus ‘dull, obtuse’. ‘The question whether there is a difference arose for Salvian from the Vulgate Psalm-text which says that both will perish: simul insipiens et stultus
distinctive features of later Marcher
society is intriguingly suggested by the MiddleEnglish poetic version
of Guthlac’s life included in the South English Legendary.106 In this poem,
Guthlac’s family is said to be ‘of þe march of Walis’107 – that is, ‘from the
March of Wales’. The MiddleEnglish author of Guthlac’s life in the South
English Legendary saw such distinctive geographical and cultural features in
his biography that this most Anglo-Saxon of saints was ascribed without
hesitation to the March of Wales itself, suggesting cultural continuity in the
region of the
and Saxons in MiddleEnglish romance, for example, is typical in its remarks
that ‘chronicle accounts of the years following the Norman Conquest
capture the political reality of so many Anglo-Saxon noblemen who, upon
losing their lands and positions, retreated into exile’, while ‘the English who
did not die in this process, fled’.5 These ‘disenfranchised Anglo-Saxons’ are
understood to have ‘sought exile on their native soil’, where they ‘used the
forest as a base of operation for the guerrilla war they would wage against the
Normans for several years after the
Socio-cultural considerations of intellectual disability
5239–41, cited in Matejovski, Motiv des Wahnsinns , 231, 232.
100 Matthias Lexer, Mittelhochdeutsch Taschenwörterbuch (Stuttgart: Hirzel, 38th edn, 1992), s.v. vriunt.
101 Billington, A Social History of the Fool , 4; Exeter College, Oxford, MS 42, fol. 12r.
102 Billington, A Social History of the Fool , 10 for modern English, 126n17 for MiddleEnglish transcription of Bodleian Library MS Laud. 683, lines 41–4; cf. ‘The Order of Fools’, in Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular
tax assessors and the royal Chancery remained fairly static and consistent over the period covered by this study. However, the interpretation of these labels can provide a significant challenge. Latin, French and MiddleEnglish terms were all used in official documents to describe people’s places of origin, and the distinctive cultural resonances of these different linguistic labels are not always clear. 1 Particular problems emerge in the overlap or conflict between generic and specific terms. For example, many people were noted as ‘French’; but in some places