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kbohsali
Oct 22, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
In “An animal studies and ecocritical reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Iris Ralph disentangles contemporary views of the boundaries between the animal world and the world of mankind, to critically and read and reflect on Sir Gawain as a product of its historical moment. Although this text has recently been rediscovered, its audience would have understood scenes involving hunting and the natural world differently from contemporary readership. Using reader-response, eco and historical-cultural critical views, Ralph constructs a reading of Sir Gawain that acknowledges a greater acceptance of the similarities between the animal and human world and evaluates the use of animals in texts as important self-contained characterization and not just allegorical figures with which to read human qualities. Middle English/Norman audiences, according to Ralph, would have understood the animal and animality of the text as not entirely separate from humans, and any reference to animals would have been a glimpse into the animal world and not simply an allegorical trope. Ralph’s primary argument focuses on the triple hunt scenes, the tripling figures of Bertilak, Gawain and the fox, and attitudes towards animal rights and hunting. Ralph identifies the fox as a subject whose attitudes and behaviors reflect Gawain’s deception and Bertilak’s commitment to truth. Reading Gawain and the fox as foils, and similar subjects (both evasive and elusive) complicates the relationships between the human and animal because the poem notes the similar traits in both subjects and complicates ethical quandaries such as right and wrong and honesty and deception as both human and animal. Although, the fox in Gawain is both a subject and an allegorical stand in for deception and fraud which is consistent with the “literary tradition known as renardie in which foxes are allegorical figures for human deception and fraud” (439). Bertilak engages in deception by hunting, Gawain deceives Bertilak and the fox itself is a literary trope of deceit. Ralph reads this tripling as an ethical argument. The poet conflates the deception of the animal with the deception of humans, further conflating the animal and the human, and also potentially crafting an argument for vegetarianism and greater respect for the animal world or an argument for environmental conversation(438). Furthermore, the poet could be crafting an argument against hunting. Regardless, the poem is engaging with the morality of hunting, and violence in the animal kingdom. Ralph’s article was an excellent example of Middle English audience analysis through the application of contemporary theory. I was also intrigued that Middle English audiences were aware of, and interested in vegetarianism, conservation, and had such different views of the boundaries between the animal and human world. The use of literary analysis, audience analysis, and contemporary theory engaged with the text in its historical moment, while generating intrigue and understanding for a contemporary audience. My only critique of the article is its narrow view, but I think it’s singular focus on animals in the text reflects its potential for more ecocritical analysis.
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kbohsali
Oct 09, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
In Caroline M. Barron’s essay “William Langland: A London Poet,” Barron uncovers the background, and potential local of William Langland, author of Piers Plowman. Piers Plowman, to scholars and historian’s knowledge, was Langland’s entire life’s work and only text. This, along with the lack of information about Langland in Piers Plowman or in historical documents, makes the authorship, dating, and location of creation for this text difficult to trace. There is some scholarly consensus on dating because of the A, B and C version, but these dates are speculation. Although, dating is not as important to this particular text, scholars such as Anne Hudson argue that the Lollard aspects of the poem must be read in tandem with Wyclif’s life. Similarly, Barron’s article argues that location of the author during production, and determining where the author lived, is important to the work. Barron notes the difficulty of extracting biographical information of this text, and cautions against the “autobiographical fallacy” or attempting to gain information about Langland from the dreamer’s vision (92). But, within the work, there are few geographic mentions, one being Malvern Hills which are referred to three times in the poem, and various place names within London. Yet, the presence of Malvern Hills in the text and dialect and verse is more indicative of a transplant and provides evidence for an author who lived in the countryside and moved to London in the fourteenth century (92). There are references to other place names outside of London in the text, but, expect for Malvern Hills, these references have a “generic, or universal, quality and may well have been chosen to serve the needs of meter or alliteration” (93). For Barron, Langland’s identity as a London poet is important to his naïve discussion of government in the text. In Piers Plowman, Langland shows an understanding of law, but does not know “anything at all about government at the national level” (94). Langland gives the King a more absolutist roles, and only restrains this absolutism with reason and conscience, qualities the King must have. Langland also confuses the roles of a variety of governmental institutions, such as the Parliament. Although, he does have a precise understanding of local governments, including the mayor’s role in a town. This, along with his understanding of poverty, paints a picture of Langland as a potentially poor emigrant to the London area. Langland, according to Barron’s analysis of dialect and topographical mention, is typical of cosmopolitan men and women of the time, growing up in rural areas, moving to London, and then traveling throughout many regions and towns of England. Barron’s article touched on many aspects of authorship, transitioning between dating, location, analysis of Langland’s depiction of government, and the final section discussing John But and Langland. The article was informative, and included, potentially, too many sub sections that were not clearly demarcated. The article, for someone who is widely ignorant of the Middle English period, was incredibly helpful and formative to my understanding of Langland, but I do question the decision to include the section of government in the middle of the article. As I read the article, the analysis seemed out of place, and could have benefited from its own article.
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kbohsali
Sep 26, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
Maureen L. Walsh’s essay “Re-imagining Redemption: Universal Salvation in the Theology of Julian of Norwich,” addresses the rhetoric of universality and inclusivity of salvation in Julian of Norwich’s Showings. The essay focuses on the question of salvation in the Showings, but uses the argument of salvation, and different readings of salvation, to posit the larger, and more contentious, claim about Julian’s identity as a female mystic. Specifically, Walsh argues that Julian’s Showings develop “a theology of universal salvation,” which is read as a recategorization of the text (190). Walsh argues that Norwich’s identity as a theologian has been overlooked because her Showings are written atypically and are not reflective of the traditional theologian structure or method. According to Walsh, Norwich retains her identity as a mystic, and should continue to be referred to as a mystic, but her work has theology qualities that bring its current categorization as a mystical work into question (191). Walsh highlights Norwich’s “openness toward the salvation of more than just Christians,” as the primary theologic claim made in her work. This, along with Norwich’s reconception of sin and redemption through similar ideas of openness, love, and forgiveness, challenge the church’s teaching, placing Norwich as a theologian outside of the authority and the teachings of the Church. Norwich’s assertion that “all will be well,” is in direct opposition to Cyprian of Carthage’s position that baptism is a prerequisite for salvation (192). She also argues that the experience of salvation is directly related to rest, bliss and union. Walsh’s argument is well constructed, but it could have benefitted from a clearer definition of mystic and theologian. This could be an issue of ignorance on my part, but the difference between mystic and theologian, and discussing Norwich’s identity as a mystic who writes theology confused the argument. Related to this is the missing conversation of gender in Walsh’s article. Through a contemporary lens and a relativist lens, Norwich’s work can be read as a theologic text, but with historical context the male dominated field of theology would have been barred to women, particularly mystics. Walsh does discuss Norwich’s challenges as a female mystic, and the difficulties she faced as a woman writing against the church, but the discussion of gender was missing from Walsh’s later discussion of theology. Secondly, Walsh’s article was critically fragmented and could have benefited from more synthesis between sections. The topic of theology, a key component of Walsh’s argument, was abandoned for the topic of salvation and bliss. These sections were clearly evidential, but both arguments were at odds. Walsh attempts to reaffirm both arguments by discussing Norwich’s subversion of the church, and presumption of authority, but the conclusion to these arguments is, intentionally, unsatisfying. Norwich continues to challenge the church and assert her claim that God’s teachings are inclusive, and salvation is open to everyone, but the author never clarifies her identity as a theologian or a mystic, or perhaps the point is that one can be both. And is Walsh's statement that Norwich can be a mystic and write theology at odds? Or is this a question of Middle English intersectionality?
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kbohsali
Sep 17, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
Although short, Jonathan Hsy’s “’Be more strange and bold’: Kissing Lepers and Female Same-Sex Desire in The Book of Margery Kempe” is an interesting introduction to queer identity in The Book of Margery Kempe. Hsy argues, or rather “examines,” chapter 74 of the narrative when Kempe asks permission to kiss lepers and is only given permission to kiss female lepers. According to Hsy, this chapter evaluates Margery’s legal and objective status as a married woman as she is only given permission to have “illicit contact” with women, and continues a tradition of association between leprosy and lechery (190). These particular observations are explicit within the narrative, but Hsy goes on to comment on the text’s conflation of desire, and contagion. As Margery kisses these women, she “elicits erotic desires in the leper in this moment, and further posit that this woman’s unarticulated desire—like leprosy—might be conceived as contagious” (192). The conflation of contagion and desire, and lechery and leprosy is also potentially dangerous for the reader, and premodern annotations of the text indicate that this passage was of particular embarrassment or concern (193). Annotations for this chapter ask readers to be “more strange & bold” against a potential “gostly enmy,” revealing an attempt to divert attention from this chapter for fear of contagious desire (193). Analysis of historical reader response has always struck me as a foolish endeavor. Who is ever to say how an audience with different cultural values reacted to a text in a society where literacy was rare. But, Hsy’s analysis extrapolates reader response from textual evidence, and later annotations. For this reason, I consider Hsy’s conclusion reasonable. Kempe values her chastity, and her pseudo, spiritual marriage to her faith and God over her identity as a mother and wife, a literary trope reflected in many of the married religious martyrs who choose chastity over societal roles, and female saints whose martyrdom is based on their ability to deflect and protect themselves from unwanted sexual advances, or their role as wives and mothers. Instead, Hsy reads Kempe’s vows of chastity and treatment of female lepers as a reflection of queer identity. Hsy’s analysis of this chapter, and Kempe, is fascinating because it initially seems obvious, yet it is not something I considered after the short section I read. As I read Hsy’s piece, I was reminded of the narratives of Judith, St. Eugenia and St. Euphrosyne. Saints that not only rejected their socially binding roles but rejected social expectations of femininity. In future works on Kempe and queer identity, it would be interesting to look into the readership and how texts that celebrate female transgression of social roles prepared readers for or contributed to the Kempe narrative.
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kbohsali
Sep 12, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
In Diane Speed’s , “The Saracens of King Horn”, she attempts to determine the identity of the Saracens who invade Suddene and kill King Murry, ousting Horn from his promised throne, and exiling the Queen. Speed’s primary argument is that Saracens are not figures from real life, but are instead literary figures, taken from Norman, Greek and Latin texts, that are representative of an unidentified heathen population. Previous research assumed the Saracens were Vikings, or Danes, but the details surrounding their homeland, religion (Saracens are generally identified as Islamic), and language are vague, at best, and there is no description or characteristic of King Horn’s Saracens that would indubitably connect them to a real group of Saracen invaders. There is also little evidence to connect the Saracens to a Viking invasion. Instead, Speed believes that King Horn is adopting a common trope in heroic epic that conflates enemy invasions and violence with a historic enemy in literature, the Saracen. Speed comes to this conclusion after exhaustive analysis of chansons de geste, which regularly uses Saracen to denote an enemy. The Saracen trope was common, and Saracen, a term used to denote a Islamic or pagan middle eastern group, was soon representative of barbarism, paganism, heathenism, and violence. Speed argues that the Saracen trope was adopted from French (Norman) literary traditions. The primary evidence that the text uses to argue that Saracen is reference to a trope, and not a historical invasion, is the reference to the Saracen homeland as paynyme or pagandom, referring to the Saracen leader as an Admiral, which is a French and Latin rooted word, and the reference to them as being “black” or “dark” (Speed 580). Finally, the trope of Islamist groups and Christian groups warring over land rights, and religious conversion is a common trope in chansons de geste (Speed 588). The description of Saracens in chanson de geste tradition and King Horn are nearly identical, and, according to Speed, disproves theories that try to correlate the Saracen invasion to a historic invasion. Instead, the Saracens from King Horn are French and Latin literary tropes that are adopted by the Anglo-Normans in the Middle Ages. Speed generates most of her evidence for this literary trope through evaluation of Norman texts, lyrics, and epics, an interesting choice considering Anglo-Saxon England also had a literary tradition involving Saracens, and the demonization of Saracens. It is also mildly suspect that Speed does not delve into the etymology of Saracen, which evolved from the Semitic root Saraceni meaning to steal, rob, plunder and the Arabic root Sariq meaning thief, marauder or plunderer (Beckett 19). The word Saracen evolved to mean nomad and was typically used as a literary trope to familiarize or identify the other (Beckett 19). The final missing piece of evidence is Bede, who used the term Saracen to differentiate descendants of Abraham’s wife Sarah, rather than Hagar (Beckett 18). This distinction rendered Saracen’s religiously illegitimate and stained future descendants with their lineage from a slave-woman. I think that in focusing on literary inspiration, and lineage, Speed’s choices are interesting, and stem from an obvious desire to promote a Norman literary lineage. Yet, disregarding major Latin and Anglo-Saxon texts that deal with Saracens, as well as Anglo-Saxon definition of Saracen is a suspect choice if literary influence is the conclusion of the article. Perhaps, awareness of this literary tradition is new, and I also want to note that Speed’s article was written decades before Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of the Islamic World. Overall, Speed’s article was compelling, although could potentially have done away with the section on giants in the text. Although interesting, it was not as important to her argument as her other sections. References: Beckett, Katharine Scarfe. Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. 2003. Speed, Dianne. “The Saracens of King Horn.” Speculum, vol. 65, no. 3, 1990, pp. 564-595.
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kbohsali
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