Robin S. Oggins

title.none: Marvin, Hunting Law (Robin S. Oggins)

identifier.other: baj9928.0802.003 08.02.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robin S. Oggins, Binghamton University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Marvin, William Perry. Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006. Pp. ix, 198. $75.00 1-84384-082-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.02.03

Marvin, William Perry. Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006. Pp. ix, 198. $75.00 1-84384-082-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Robin S. Oggins
Binghamton University

The author's thesis is "that there was a changing correlation between courtly hunting ritual and its more-or-less sublimated violence in medieval epic and romance on the one hand, and the textuality of medieval hunting law on the other" (4-5). In the process he examines changes in English hunting law and how these affected hunting ritual. This is a novel approach. Others, most noteworthy Marcelle Thiebaux, have written about hunting and courtly literature. Writers on medieval hunting, such as John Cummins and Richard Almond, have included forest law in their accounts. But these authors have tended to treat hunting as fixed in time rather than as a dynamic activity that was modified when its circumstances changed.

Marvin finds four phases in the development of forest law: "(1) the res nullius law of the Romans and Germans...(2) the [Norman] royal forest law and the monopolization of hunting...(3) the privatization of the forest idea in the form of individual hunting monopolies of free chase, free warren and private park...and (4) the game law of 1390." Each phase provides the background against which the author "glosses select medieval texts" (14).

In his first chapter Marvin views Beowulf in terms of changing Germanic hunting culture. By naming his hall Heorot, "The Hart," Hrothgar emphasizes his role as distributor of venison-symbolizing wealth-as contrasted to the earlier practice of sharing of game. This parallels the growing development of royal hunting reserves replacing the earlier system of free capture with no territorial bounds.

Chapter two describes the Norman establishment of forest law with its sanctions of "maximum legal force" outside the common law. Marvin describes both criticism of courtly hunting, especially in John of Salisbury's Policraticus, and justification for the royal forests, as seen in Richard fitz Nigel's Dialogus de Scaccario. He concludes the result of the policy was "a privatization of the hunt itself" (63). Poaching is seen as an attempt to reassert "the ethos of the common chase" (80).

Chapter three begins with the assertion that the rise of private hunting grounds led to a corresponding increase in the "knowledge of hunting ceremony." Contemporaries obtained this knowledge through the study of treatises on hunting "as textualizations of ceremonial authority" (83). Marvin asks why the treatises appear so late when the ars venandi was known as early as Asser's biography of King Alfred. He then discusses the significance of hunting in Asser, in lives of Charlemagne, and in Aelfric's Colloquy. The chapter concludes with an extensive description and analysis of the treatises themselves, both from the viewpoint of the techniques of hunting and of the jargon of the sport.

Chapter four "illustrate[s] the function of ritualized slaughter in Sir Gawain [and the Green Knight]" (133). Marvin examines the rites of dismemberment and of the post-hunt homeward procession both in terms of their historic origins and significance and as they are portrayed in Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan. He then shows how the rites as seen in Bertilak's hunting in Sir Gawain are paralleled and exemplified in Gawain's seduction. Bertilak's lady, like her lord, hunts, only Gawain is her quarry--"the segregated spaces of hunting-park and bedchamber both appear dedicated to capture and proofing--congruent zones, so to speak, of medieval venery" (147).

Chapter five examines how between 1387 and 1392 "a local poaching war" in the West Riding of Yorkshire led to the game law of 1390. The "Beckwith Rebellion" began with a dispute over a forest office which escalated into attacks on the parks and foresters of John of Gaunt. Marvin sees the rebellion "as a medieval precursor to the riotous poaching of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries" (161). He then examines the "poaching feud" in The Romance of Sir Degrevant"-- a vivid dramatization of how hunting could be used as a means of harassment and intimidation" (165). An underlying motive of the 1390 game law was to control public disorder of the kind seen in the Beckwith Rebellion. The result was the first instance of English class hunting legislation. Previously hunting rights had been limited territorially. Now they were restricted to gentils who had lands or tenements worth 40 shillings or more per year. "Common hunting [was outlawed]...once and for all in name and act" (172).

Marvin has written an excellent book. He has effectively shown how the interrelated subjects of forest legislation, on the one hand, and hunting theory and terminology on the other became progressively class-limited and differentiated over time and how these changes were mirrored in contemporary literature. His work is not a history of hunting. He deals with hunting as sport and as symbolic protest: hunting for subsistence is largely passed over. So is the question of hunting theory versus actual practice. But then both would require a different kind of book altogether.