This article examines the acquisition of wisdom through literary text in medieval England. The most famous collections of wisdom in the Middle Ages were found in two Old Testament books attributed to King Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes which contains aphorisms, often arranged around themes and at times profoundly enigmatic in style. Old English epic poems, including Beowulf to Geoffrey Chaucer's Miller's Tale, also offered the medieval reader a measure of common sense with which to understand the chaos of human existence. This article suggests that the unlettered were not ignorant of the traditional knowledge of their society because a store of wisdom was preserved and transmitted in memorable sayings, proverbs, and maxims.
This article examines the debate over the vita activa versus the vita contemplativa in England across the late medieval and early modern periods. After considering the inversion of the traditional hierarchy of contemplative life over active life as the defining paradigm shift of modernity, it explains how contemplation and the contemplative enterprise offered a vocabulary and a conceptual framework for Francis Bacon’s sense of his own project. It also analyzes Margaret Cavendish’s appropriation of intellectual stances and methods associated with the contemplative life.
This article examines George Gascoigne's prose writing. Gascoigne's modern reputation rests principally upon four works: the prose fiction A Discourse of the Adventures passed by Master F.J., one of the earliest important texts in the history of the novel in English; his prose play Supposes, a source for Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew; his frequently anthologised poem, ‘Gascoignes wodmanship’; and ‘Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English’, the earliest essay on English composition. Three of these have significant prose elements: Master F.J. is partly prose and partly verse; Supposes is a prose comedy; and ‘Certayne Notes of Instruction’ is a prose essay on the art of versification. The sheer range of Gascoigne's prose work is extraordinary, but his longest prose works are all translations.
This article introduces and surveys the life and writings of the Anglo-Saxon monk, Ælfric of Eynsham (c.955–c.1010). It provides a summary of the main scholarly work that has been done on Ælfric, specifically in areas of editing, source study, historical context, translation, style, and reception, and gives suggestions for further research, particularly advocating the possibilities of comparative analysis and the adoption of Religious Studies methodologies. Ælfric is one of the most well-known authors of Old English prose, and has been seen as a representative of the late Benedictine Reform in England; however, recent scholarship points toward a rather more idiosyncratic figure with a more complex relationship to his historical moment and to his literary context.
This article examines sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century dialogue. It considers why so many writers chose to convey opinions or explore ideas in works laid out as conversations. The pervasiveness of the form is apparent in the sheer gamut of topics discussed ‘dialogue-wise’: subjects range from worshipping saints to the proper behaviour of women; from music to the art of warfare. Dialogue comes in many guises: descriptors on printed title-pages range from the neutral ‘colloquy’ or ‘discourse’ to the more formal ‘debate’ and ‘dispute’. In choosing to convey their ideas and opinions in a dialogue, early modern writers selected a form that had ideological resonances; it was a form which gestured towards the debate and verbal interaction that they believed should lie at the heart of successful governance and a healthy society — for many dialogues, the very solution lies in talking.
Margreta De Grazia
To an age enjoined to “Always Historicize,” anachronism is an embarrassment. It is not merely getting a date wrong, a chronological error. It is mistaking some aspect of a period’s regulative conceptualization of the world. It typically occurs when we impose our own modern conceptions onto the workings of the past. Sensitivity to anachronism and an understanding of history has generally been regarded as one of the defining features of the Renaissance, much to the detriment of the Medieval, that thereby becomes historically insensitive. This essay works to loosen our disciplinary commitment to chronology and periods by looking at other ways of relating to the past, beginning with a radical reconstrual of Lorenzo Valla’s exposure of the Donation of Constantine. It is not violations of chronology that Valla exposes but bad rhetoric. And it is from the arts of language that the essay hints at alternative ways of relating to the past, through narrative and figuration rather than numerical timelines and metaphysical periods.
This article fully considers the tradition and function of ancient Greek elegy. It is shown that the elegy uses its own peculiar hexameters existing in a codependent relationship with the elegiac pentameter. The article then addresses ‘the delights of elegy’. It concentrates on the hexameter as combined with the pentameter in the elegiac couplet. Additionally, the formal characteristics of elegy as a genre in the attested phases of Greek literature are explained. The article considers how the genre of elegy shows its capacity for performing the functions of forms that belong to the genres of epic and oracular poetry. There is a remarkably wide range of possibilities for the self-expression of a woman who is singing a lament. The lament of men in their sympotic singing of elegy may be a stylized and representational form of lament. There is a pleasure to be had in the sensuality of lament.
This article examines writing about rebellion and anti-social reform in medieval England. It discusses examples where carnivalesque inversion of social hierarchy reveals political dissatisfaction on the part of the rebels and suggests that what is constructed as definitively anti-social action on the part of the rebels should be seen as reformism rooted in a plebeian culture which monastic historiography sought to erase. It argues that if the quest for a rebel voice has often been undertaken at the expense of rebel textualities, then it can be concluded that the excavation of rebel ideology must begin by recognizing the desire for reform across all levels and institutions of fourteenth-century English society.
P. G. Maxwell-Stuart
The Elizabethans and Jacobeans along with all their European contemporaries lived simultaneously in the physical world and a spiritual realm inhabited by spirits, angels, demons, and the dead that constantly intruded, irregularly and mostly without warning, bringing humans and non-human entities into disturbing and often terrifying contact. This article discusses works about astrology, magic, and witchcraft in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
Orality—understood as the oral delivery of texts—is often assumed to have given way to literacy—the private reading of texts—over the course of the medieval period. The two entities are mutually exclusive and can be placed in a relationship of evolution that has preoccupied scholars of Middle English literature. Orality differs from “aurality,” which is defined as “the shared hearing of written texts” and combines aspects of both orality and literacy. Most scholars steer around the subject of aurality for a variety of reasons. This article explores some of the issues involved in aurality, explicates the practice of aurality, and considers some of the many potential directions for future research. It focuses on reports of British reading, with occasional references to the more abundant evidence about French and Burgundian reading, as well as recreational literature.