contributor.author: Michael Calabrese

title.none: Scase, New Medieval Literatures (Calabrese)

identifier.other: baj9928.9903.016 99.03.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Calabrese, California State University, mcalabr@calstatela.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Scase, Wendy, Rita Copeland, and David Lawton. New Medieval Literatures, Vol. 1. New Medieval Literatures. Oxford: Claren don Press, 1997. Pp. vii, 278. $70.00. ISBN: 0-198-18389-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.03.16

Scase, Wendy, Rita Copeland, and David Lawton. New Medieval Literatures, Vol. 1. New Medieval Literatures. Oxford: Claren don Press, 1997. Pp. vii, 278. $70.00. ISBN: 0-198-18389-5.

Reviewed by:

Michael Calabrese
California State University
mcalabr@calstatela.edu

New Medieval Literatures I is a bold new annual that aims to "break" some "seals," as Scase indicates in the subtitle to her introduction to the volume. These eclectic essays, about (by wise design) no particular subject but themselves, display the breath and depth of contemporary medieval critical studies. The essays address a range of subjects from Langland's readers to Icelandic immigration lore; they display at times detailed and laborious historicist research into book ownership and legal testimony, and, at times, they flaunt a knowledge of Adorno and Lacan. The editors hope that the current number will generate submissions, and they clearly hope that the annual will be a central place for research, debate, and discussion of ever evolving conceptions and analyses of new medieval literatures. The book ends and pledges ever to end with a critical survey of important work in medieval studies; this first volume concludes with Lawton's catalogue of significant texts in historicist, materialist, feminist, and cultural studies. By "new" the editors do not only mean the discovery of new texts--though haply this is the subject of Margaret Clunies Ross's initiating article on Iceland--but rather new attempts to expand medieval studies, to look at "literatures" of other periods and disciplines. Medievalists here "move beyond their specialist coteries to invoke comparative frames of reference while writing from the perspective of a disciplinary specialism in a particular literature" (7). New Medieval Literatures thus refers to any set of documents that can be brought to bear fruitfully on one's own subject. Though the essays do not form a whole, some topics such as Lollardy, the vernacular, systems of pedagogy, and medieval treatment of the Jews all appear in different essays, and, as the editors say, every author was asked to address some aspect of textual culture. Thus we might say that NML is a series of essays about how poems, plays, histories, revelations, sermons, and other kinds of medieval literatures may be read in relation to other medieval texts and discourses: musical, pedagogical, exegetical, heretical, biographical, documentary, historical--and all the appropriate Polonian permutations thereof.

I will survey the contents briefly and then discuss Lawton's survey of the field, but before doing so let me at least introduce an argument concerning the volume's strengths and weaknesses. Infinite variety is the volume's strength, as is the rigor of the individual studies, particularly those that trace a dramatic interplay between the Latin and the vernacular or between Orthodox and Lollard attitudes to the teaching of scripture. Some authors here can create arguments out of microhistory; from trial testimony and bookowners' glosses they connect the local and particular to larger movements in royal, religious, and national history. Some of the research is meticulous and tireless, setting the bar high for future attempts to uncover the medieval past. The use of unedited and primary research materials is widespread in this volume. The authors have done their homework.

One of the dangers withal is that the reader wonders, with Oscar Wilde, if we have not "sold our birthright for a mess of facts" (Wilde, "The Decay of Lying," De Profundis and other Writings, Penguin, 66). Wilde laments that the liar (the poet) has been replaced by the historian, whom one can find in the British museum, "shamelessly reading up on his subject" (60). The volume does not study literature as art, as fiction, as a "beautiful lie" but seeks rather (at its best) to locate a text in historical circumstances and show the dramatic interplay between art and life, or (at its worst)--to reduce literature to a reflection of or a vehicle for some sort of historical injustice or abuse of power. The critic here becomes an investigative reporter, exposing through these "new medieval literatures" some truth that poetry--the old literature--had labored to hide. Only a few of the articles inspired this fear, and even then to different degrees. I raise the issue at the outset because it is a central question for medievalists both in scholarship and in the classroom. History, seen as a depository of truth, can be very deceivingly comfortable in the oppositions and hierarchies it offers. The host of potential enemies is clear: orthodoxy, masculinity, the West, Christianity, heterosexual normativity. When we locate literature as a symptom or reflection of a social history of oppression, violence or marginalization, we produce strident and ethical arguments--in fact indisputable ones, for who would defend violence and oppression? But here we risk turning scholarship into an act of critical self-sanctification, displaying, or even imposing a rigorous and indignant moral critique on our authors, their creations, and on their cultures. The ethics of such work will stand, but the strength of the ethics does not guarantee the strength of the argument or the value of the criticism. To "always historicize" poetry is to forget that poetry is not just another text, another scrap of evidence. It is, rather, as Aristotle says, "a higher and more philosophical thing than history." Readers will want to consider the extent to which these new essays flout or respect this distinction--or the extent to which they flout it purposefully in an attempt to "break seals" and "break down. . . disciplinary discourses" (1).

Let me review the contents. Margaret Clunies Ross's piece "Medieval Icelandic Literary Production" develops the work of Kurt Schier by tracing how those who migrated to this "terra nova" during the "landnam" or "land taking" constructed narratives, produced stories and books recounting family struggles--all to "establish and maintain their authority, not only over other humans but over the land itself" (13). Textual production was a means of establishing "who they were, where they came from, and how they could justify their existence to themselves, their gods, and other people" (12): "the texts that were produced gave various kinds of territorially expressed authority to those individuals who controlled or authorized their production" (13). By tracing family sagas and the "Book of Settlements," Clunies Ross shows how the settlers could legitimate their immigration and land-taking in relation to all supernatural forces. She offers us the marvelous image of the settlers tossing "high seat pillars" (a sacred object from the home) overboard into the rough, rude sea, settling where they landed, confident the homeland gods approved. Christianity did not end the role of numinous objects in settlement (see pp. 20-25). Settlers depicted their actions as consonant with whatever divine force they needed to appease: "the advent of Christianity by no means extinguished the land rights and authority of the Christian descendents of the first settlers. Rather, the new religion preserved the authority vested by the pagan deities" (25).

The larger literary historical significance, which Clunies Ross arrives at well, is that we must recognize this new medieval literature in the context of European "origin myths" like those of "Troy Rome and Britain": the Icelanders, she concludes, "added a fourth matiere, the matter of the North, to medieval Western literature" (30). Throughout she argues clearly and cogently, composing a model of textual analysis and scholarly prose, humane and thoughtful, bringing the family saga to life in dramatic, sea-tossed splendor. She has no doubt opened up this new literature for other Icelandic scholars to continue to explore.

Paul Strohm's "Counterfeiters, Lollards, and Lancastrian Unease" studies the confession of one William Carsewell, arrested in 1419 on suspicion of counterfeiting and treason. Strohm argues that though the explosive and sensational confession is not likely to be true, it nonetheless displays a series of conspiratorial connections between counterfeiters, Lollards, traitors, and blasphemers, revealing their "commonality as threats to Lancastrian repose." As Strohm well puts it: "Carsewell delivers handsomely" (31). Strohm identifies and examines seriatim four areas of anxiety that Carsewell's confession intentionally ignites: insurrection, mistrust of monastic nationalism, treason and blasphemy (particularly concerning the materiality of the eucharistic host). The reader might already rightly suspect overlap and conspiratorial interconnectedness between these areas, and Strohm also "handsomely delivers" showing how royalty and orthodoxy fear the conspiratorial confluences of these forces. This is great stuff: Carsewell, we see, if I understand Strohm, is a poet, a fiction maker, like Wilde's "wandering caveman" reporting boldly how he "dragged the Megatherium" from its cave or slew the "Mammoth in single combat" (Wilde 72). But these fictions reveal history, anxiety about change, about the loss of Lancastrian power and authority.

Lollard doctrine (heresy) is at the center of much of this: "to the orthodox understanding, the Lollard inhabited a world desperately stripped of symbolic meaning, a physical world detached from the spiritual realities beyond" (43). Hence Lollards were thought to "overestimate the material," a judgement that explains the alleged connection to counterfeiting. This sort of doctrine, while obviously heretical, most troubles the Lancastrians because it denies the sort of mystification that they needed to justify usurpation. Counterfeiters refuse to acknowledge any "transformative powers of the king" (58), who must create and exploit belief in just such transformative power in order to sustain his position and authority. Thus the Lollards and all their sect "equally attract Lancastrian enmity by treating the world as irreducible matter, as what it seems to be, rather than what it might be made to seem" (58). A new king's power rests upon what it may be made to seem. Section 3 of the essay applies these paradigms of anxiety to Lancastrian poets, such as Hoccleve who strives for the authority that comes from tradition and the clear genealogical association to Chaucer. Poets and kings both need legitimacy, and, if I understand Strohm's connections, Hoccleve's "reprobation of Lollardy" (51) reflects a reliance on orthodoxy similar to that which the Lancastrians promote to justify their own legitimacy. I would wonder why Carsewell committed such a fanciful and "deliberate" act of self-incrimination? Perhaps, I think Strohm implies, he did it as an act of resistance--something which real counterfeiters had no time for or interest in doing. Thus Strohm--and I hope he would agree with this formulation-- celebrates the "fancy" of Carsewell, giving us in the process a new medieval literature: the lie of the resistant counterfeiter, combatting the transcendental authority of church and crown, and all other magical forms of legitimacy. [Strohm's book on the entire subject has recently come out; in it he no doubt expands some of these exciting connections.]

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Steven Justice combine for the next essay, "Langlandian Reading Circles and the Civil Service in London and Dublin," focusing on Hoccleve, Usk, and other readers, imitators, glossers, and owners of Langland manuscripts. They argue that Piers Plowman found a burgeoning readership among civil servants: [I]t appears, then, that civil servants and legal clerks, many of whom participated in book production themselves, were one of the central audiences for English writing, and remained so even by the time Douce 104 [a Dublin manuscript] was made in 1427.(70) This interest in Langland helps explain why figures, such as "John But," driven by the "zeal of communal authorship," meddled in the text, writing or revising various passus as they wished, some producing the "Z-text" which scholars used to think was Langland's. Some of these interventions arise from a need to finish the story of Langland's authorship of the poem, an attempt to set the Langland record straight, praising Will (Langland) for "profitable werkes" (see 70-73). The authors argue that Usk's citation of both Chaucer and Langland before his execution in 1388 (the poems may have interested him because they discuss free will) displays that Langland and topical "Langlandiana" ( Richard the Redeless, James Yonge's Secreta secretorum) were urbane, vital documents, taking their place in the legal, political life of late 14th- and early 15th-century London, mainly because of the interest of legal scribes and civil servants. The evidence indicates, our authors conclude, that Piers: was not so utterly removed from the continental urbanity of Chaucer's metropolitan readership as it has been sometimes thought. Indeed the two poets seem generally to have shared a readership--shared it with each other, and with Gower and Chaucer and (later) Hoccleve, and with all those scribes who propagated and sometimes elaborated their texts. (83) The article is rather meticulously learned and detailed. It is not, to tell the true truth, a page-turner. But from the minutiae about handwriting and examination of the coterie's in-jokes based on Latin glosses arises a picture of who was reading Langland and how they perceived and employed him. Though this is not an essay on Langland's influence or legacy, per se, it provides a context for understanding who had interest and access to the poems, enabling further study of Langland, whom we now must associate more closely with book production centers in London. As an incitement to more study of Langland in historical context, the authors do examine the historical immediacy and political topicality of Richard the Redeless, thus contextualizing a prominent piece of Langlandiana.

Next is Nicholas Watson's "Conceptions of the Word: The Mother Tongue and the Incarnation of God," which I must say is a stellar piece of critical prose, clear, humane, well-organized with a strong central thesis, not overtly polemical in tone, full of helpful signposts and rhetorical questions. I take the time to praise the essay because of its exemplary power for both students and scholars. Watson's subject is the power and authority of vernacular texts. To paraphrase the argument: opponents of the Lollards sought to oppose their desire to translate scripture into English by providing other vernacular texts more appropriate to the crudity of the unlearned, while the learned themselves read Latin texts and scripture. Watson starts with a look at Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus, which opposed the Wycliffian notion that scripture should be available in English and thus served as a substitute for the Bible. Vernacular texts, not a vernacular Bible, are best for the unlearned: Clerics can use God's flesh as a ladder to ascend to heaven, learning to meditate on the mysteries of the divinity. For the unlettered, though, God is accessible only in the incarnate form in which he appears in the beautifully cadenced prose of the Mirror, whose readers are specifically instructed not to ascend. . . . In this model only Latin is the language of process, of the spirit and of heaven, while, if the mother tongue can give birth to Christ and dispense spiritual nourishment to its users, it can only do so in the crudest sense. Like the birth mothers of medieval biological theory, the vernacular is merely a passive recipient of structures that originate elsewhere.(97-98) Watson then examines five tests that raise the power and status of the vernacular and give it its role in "process": "The Prickynge of Love," "Pore Caitif," "A Book to a Mother," Piers Plowman, and Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love. The crux of the matter lies in the theology of incarnation, for the vernacular will gain status and authority as it reflects the Incarnation, experience of the Incarnation being all any Christian would ever need. Thus the vernacular becomes not merely a remedial pacifier for the unlearned but the very focus of Christian experience of the highest order. The power of this vernacularity transcends the concerns of the orthodox-Lollard debaters, who were too involved in "seductive dichotomies," though, as the last section argues, the vernacular's challenge to Latin law gives a radical dimension to the conflict (see 122-124).

These five works, says Watson, "offer a view of the vernacular as equal, or superior, to Latin as an instrument of revelation, and a view of their readers as equal, or superior, to the learned in their capacity to receive such revelation" (102). Dramatic study of the vernacular texts follows, which I could not recommend more highly. In such works as Julian Revelation, the vernacular becomes the very locus of the Incarnation, the place where God shows his need (mirabile dictu) to seek and penetrate man, what Langland calls "kynde knowing" which God and man mutually share. God wants to know man, and a vernacular poem like Piers "reverses the hierarchic picture of society presented in Love's Mirror by arguing that Christ's humanity, the 'lewed' Christians associated with it, and the vernacular poem which represents both come closer to the truth than Latin learning. Not only that, the poem offers a vision of this truth not just to its human readers but to God" (118). Watson's subject, then, is this dramatic nexus between God, the Christian, the Incarnation (the Word) and vernacular literature, and the role these all play in the empowerment of both women and men opposing institutional authority. Yet he does not overplay the historical drama or depict heroes and villains; rather he situates the role of the vernacular text in theological history and institutional practice. Does the study have larger implications? Might Pearl and Cleanness fit into Watson's analysis? What is supposed to happen in these vernacular texts and to which audience? The reviewer welcomes dialogue on this and all issues discussed.

Following Watson is another of the volume's gems, Rita Copeland's "Childhood Pedagogy, and the Literal Sense: From Late Antiquity to the Lollard Heretical Classroom." The essay gets off to a rocky start, mired in "horizontal archaeologies" and "diachronic genealogies" and a fashionable reference to Homi Bhabha and "nationalism pedagogy," but with that all past her, Copeland conducts a stunning argument about how orthodox forces used the ancient concept of the literal sense to keep a Christian public infantilized and therefore politically repressed. The confinement to the literal--something all teachers do to children because that's good for them--"is exported from the actual domain of children and raised to the status of a symbolic category that can be applied to adults as a discursive instrument of political oppression" (127). Her argument should be read in close connection to Watson's, for much of what she says about the "literal" applies to his argument about the vernacular. Orthodoxy sought a means to control the production of meaning and saw Lollard doctrine on the vernacular and on the literal as threats to this control. The Lollards in Copeland's essay do this, of course, because they do not see the literal as elementary and childlike; instead: "Lollard teaching refuses the distinctions between `puerile' and scholastic apprehensions of the literal sense of Scripture, thus also refusing the ideological justifications for limiting interpretive agency in teaching the literal sense" (147). The Lollards support a "communal hermeneutical praxis" (148); assuming "exegetically competent engagement on the part of his auditors" the Lollard teacher takes his place in a "pedagogical community that--by its very existence--turns the act of reading into individual political agency" (150). Might we call the Lollards the first teachers of "active learning," of a sort? With cogent, caring prose Copeland penetrates fascinating aspects of Lollard culture, taking us, in a sense, beyond the literal level of religious controversy.

In "Pedagogy, Violence, and the Subject of Music: Chaucer's Prioress's Tale and the Ideologies of `Song'" Bruce Holsinger studies the nun's Miracle of the Virgin in the context of two discourses that involve violence. He investigates the literature of pedagogy--the teaching of music and song, in which boys are beaten to learn--and the literature of music and violence, that is, texts, distinct from the pedagogical context, in which music and violence are in some way associated. By the latter Holsinger refers to, for example, Ambrose's celebration of the sweet music, the "melodious death throes" of the four dying children in 4 Macabees (160). In addition, a German poet around 1300 hears "sweet music" when the "glorious savior was nailed and fastened to the cross. . . struck again and again" (161 and illustration 163). For the former, Holsinger brings to light a number of texts that define the methods of "schoolroom disciplina." The texts and illustrations are all stunning, and one learns much about medieval methods of learning notes, memorizing, controlling the vocal chords. Holsinger has done some striking research into methods of teaching music, taking us through works such as Guido of Arezzo's "Epistola de ignoto cantu" (cited in an 18th century edition).

The fault lies not in the research and the detailed historical information about music theory, featuring a wonderful image of the "Guidonian hand" (a human hand used as a chart for tones), but rather in the connections to Chaucer's tale and to violence against the Jews. Holsinger employs some fuzzy logic and does some fudging. We are not surprised to hear that medieval schoolboys were beaten to learn music, but the little clergeon makes no reference to musical pedagogy, saying he'll learn his song even if he gets beaten for neglecting his grammar.

Holsinger seems to acknowledge this--he reads the text well--but he overrides it, arguing that the boy "acknowledges the inextricability of pedagogical violence from his own musical instruction." But the boy has extricated them, and Holsinger is reduced to arguing very weakly that the boy's words about neglecting his primer "imply a hidden but inevitable intimacy between the beating of a child and his acquisition of musical knowledge" (175). The words "implying a hidden" fail to convince. The event is just not there in the poetry. I believe here that the author is straining to display a connection between this difficult and ideologically loaded tale and the exciting new literature he wishes to bring to bear on it. Thus, after this crux he can freely talk about how the boy "fantasizes the violence of pedagogical discipline" and "the sinister but enabling threat of schoolroom violence" (176). Too much Foucault.

However, this problem leads to the larger problem--the connection of music to the massacre of the Jews. Holsinger wants to use Adorno's image of "seared stigmata" to argue how Christian music brings harmony to its own but division and exclusion for its hated enemy. Quid Adorno cum prioressa? We do not need Adorno to perceive that the tale assumes the "Jews' exclusion from Christian musicality and their eternal damnation," as self-evident. Who would imagine that the Jews here, so iconic and even allegorical, so Satanic, could be anything but so excluded? Holsinger works toward a conclusion that should rather be a starting point. Must we also argue that the music of Dante's celestial spheres excludes Satan and all his myriads in the Inferno?

The author, thus, is too hasty in connecting all the forms of violence he discusses: in musical pedagogy, in scriptural exegesis and in the punishment of the Jews in Chaucer's tale. After discussing studies of vocal chord stress, Holsinger maintains that: if "human music" [the Boethian music of soul/body harmony] can threaten bodily injury, social strife, even death, the clergeon's song must ring inherently violent--violent against the "throte" through which it passes twice a day and against the non-Christian community disrupted and massacred by the end of the narrative.(190) So disruptive is the boy and so un-relaxed is his throat (since he did not formally study song) that his murderers "perhaps, respond accordingly" to his "ful loud" cry! This is obviously (I hope) the author's comic aside, but if the essay seeks to sensitize us to literatures of violence in the context of Christian religious or racial hatred, readers will have to decide for themselves the effectiveness of the critic's (sinister?) approval of the tale's murder.

I myself enjoyed what I took as a moment of levity, but that is not Holsinger's overall tone or focus. He is mainly interested in getting from Asia to Auschwitz. For it is in his second paragraph that he introduces Adorno, as "a German Jew" writing "less than twenty years after the liberation of Auschwitz" (158). Indeed, but whether poetry is possible or not after Auschwitz, is literary criticism of the Prioress's Tale? The word is too powerful, too affective (perhaps the Prioress's affective tale invites an affective criticism?) and, despite the powerful ethical strain it invokes, is too "disruptive" in its overdetermination of all that follows. Despite these criticisms, Holsinger still provides one of the most fascinating and provocative "New Medieval Literatures," bound to have a continuing place in medieval literary studies, including in studies of the Prioress's Tale, which continues to elude our historicist detective work.

The next essay, Ruth Evans's "When a body meets a body: Fergus and Marry in the York Cycle" focuses on the complex "staging" of Mary's body in a lost play, a missing pageant commonly called "Fergus," so named for the Jewish protagonist who profanes Mary's body--at which point, his arms stick to the body, he calls on St. Peter, is healed and converted. Though the pageant must not have reached canonical status (and so was not codified) we know the story from existing iconography. Evan's subject is the Masons' refusal to do the play because, as a York ordinance reports it, "the pageant is not contained in sacred scripture and used to produce more noise and laughter than devotion" (199). The Masons, accordingly, wanted a play that was "in harmony with sacred scripture" and one which they would not have to put on in the dark--evidently staging schedules would require that this pageant would not get as many daylight performances as other plays. This controversy is fascinating and wonderful, a real behind-the-scenes look at the York production history and one of the few records of audience reaction.

But Evans, beyond bringing this material to light, does little with it that I can understand, and her essay is rife with jargon and citation of authorities. The opening pages are almost a parody of scholarly prose: I believe that it is necessary to work with the historical difference of medieval bodies in ways that take in a deconstructive attention to their signifying practices, not urging nostalgia for their authentic `stuffness' but engaging the textuality of the category 'body.'" (196) Her discussion of style also confuses: This essay seeks not so much to explore the cultural intelligibility of Mary's body, as to look in another direction. . . namely how the modes of address of staged bodies construct identities for the audiences. By "modes of address" I mean nothing less than a concern for "style" and its effects, but emphatically not in the sense of stylistics or formalist analysis, or with pejorative connotations of style as essentially "surface." Rather I mean the ways in which the styles of the text and of bodies in performance enlist their audiences in the process of representation, invite them to take up positions and elicit their desires. (196) At stake in all this, we are not surprised to hear Evans say, is "a politics of visualization" (197). But what is this politics? Evans accuses the Masons, with absolutely no reason or evidence at all, of wanting to produce Herod instead of Fergus because it may be "more manly." I cannot reproduce (or construct) the logic of this diffuse and speculative essay, but it has something to do with the male need to present Mary as pure, as part of the "construction and maintenance of masculine Christian identity." (All this may seem odd to be saying about a text that does not exist but Evans also examines the extant Marian pageants from York). The Jews are involved, I surmise, because the Christians use them in this bizarre play to display their own anxiety about Mary's body, a body that "reassures in her unchangingness" but "also disturbs" (209): thus, "the vilification of the Virgin by the despised Jews does not only confirm the Jews as `other' but is also available to be read as a displacement of the masculine anxiety provoked by the sexual aspects of Mary's body" (208). Evans then returns to the laughter and asserts that "my argument from here on depends on reading the figure of Fergus as a form of the masquerade, a form of non-essential cross dressing" since "Jews were often seen in the Middle Ages as feminized" (211). More may be afoot: Fergus may refer to the Irish, or even to the "disabled" (he does lose his arms), so Evans wants to call Fergus, then, a figure for the "excluded other of urban artisanal identity" (204).

"However fragmentary the evidence," continues Evans tellingly, I tentatively suggest that if the curious episode of "Fergus" is anything to go by the possibilities of this lack of ontological certainty about the body may have been recognized and exploited by the medieval metteurs-en-scene of a range of spectacles, and the effects of this precariousness of identity, inescapably social as well as physically gendered, may have been felt amongst their audiences and by their sponsors. (212) Evans is right to compile these qualifiers: "however fragmentary," "tentatively suggest," "if," "may have been" (twice). Throughout, she is too eager to pursue "a flouting of the male gaze" and a "derision of masculinity" (210, the latter a phrase quoted from an essay on Joan Riviere's 1929 essay on "Womanliness as Masquerade"). I attack the jargon, the gibberish, the anti-masculine rhetoric, but I also claim that the basic premise of the essay is misguided and fundamentally misunderstands the sacred power of the drama: Mary offers a model of sexual identity which involves the dissimulation of her reproductive, sexual--and hence temporal--nature under a masquerade of purity. Such a masquerade elicits male approval, but may also be designed to avert male retribution, perhaps for her powers of intercession, which. . . . were usually reserved for Christ.(207) Mary's "masquerade of purity" to "avert male retribution"? Male retribution against the Virgin?! This entire conflict is fantastical.

The documents Evans offers surrounding "Fergus" suggest that the Masons didn't want to produce the play any more because they thought it was pretty stupid. Instead of accusing them of all sorts of racist and antifeminist crimes, done in order to sustain their "complex social identity and subject-position" (204), let's give them some credit for their insight.

In the next essay, "Ageism: Leland, Bale and the Laborious Start of English Literary History, 1350-1550," James Simpson takes us cogently through the "construction" of the Middle Ages by two Renaissance bibliographers, John Leland and John Bale. One hears, these days, of much that is "constructed" in one way or another, but it is quite refreshing to see a study of something that doubtlessly was just that, constructed, as Protestant England tried to define the previous age as ideologically dark and barbaric. But, and here is the rub and the main point of Simpson's article, when these literary historians catalogue the prior, dark age they simultaneously find points of light that anticipate their own (we all know how Chaucer and Langland were embraced by Reformers). The question and the irony is that if you find enough such points of light, then how dark really is that dark age? If they anticipate us too well, then perhaps the whole plan to "seal off the medieval past" is, as Simpson so clearly argues, a "heroic yet doomed" project (214). The playfully flippant term "ageist" works well, as Simpson describes the burden of our very first medievalists: Both Leland and Bale rescue their cultural heroes by describing them as wholly exceptional figures, almost miraculously (`nature repugnyng') capable of resisting the obscurantist culture of their period. Any other explanation would damage the 'ageist' bias on which Tudor historiography is built.(218) Throughout, Simpson captivates us with episodes from this odd, ironic history. Both historians glorify their own age as they lament the destruction of books that Henry oversaw, and yet that destruction itself created the setting for the historiography. Simpson puts it well: Leland's raison d'etre for constructing a British past is in part, then, the fact that the past is undergoing destruction by Leland's own patron. . . . His own act of recording the past is a part of the process that destroys (or, if you will, creates) `the past'. (221) Bale, who takes up Leland's work when Leland goes insane (!) and Henry dies, emphasizes Protestantism much more than Leland, who writes "without any characteristically Protestant flavor" (225-6). And yet "what upsets Bale almost more than popish superstition is Protestant destruction of books" (224). This attack on his own age reveals "the profoundly divided sensibility of the revolutionary thinker" for whom "Antichrist [in one particular quoted passage] turns out not to be the Catholic Church so much as its challenger" (224).

Simultaneously though, Bale glorifies the various figures, such as Wyclif who, in Bale's words, "Alone and first, after the liberation of Satan [stood forth] and carried the light of truth in that murky age" (232). All these tensions reveal that both writers and the entire Tudor historicist project labors under "profoundly divided impulses": "the act at once petrifies the past (by literally ruining it, in the case of the monasteries) and provokes the desire to preserve the `monuments' of the past" (234). Simpson does not finally call for an end to our use of the term Middle Ages but does invite us to "historicize [its] construction" (235). In a tasteful, humane, and lucid essay, Simpson makes a compelling case for such study, lest the "positing of a Middle Age" become itself "a denial of history" (235).

The final chapter is David Lawton's "Analytical survey I: Literary History and Cultural Study," an innovative alternative to reviews. One might first say that this puts the review of scores of books in one person's hands, but Lawton knows this and says in the first paragraph that this is and will be in future numbers "one person's view and therefore polemical" (237). Since the chapter surveys of what Lawton sees as significant work in cultural studies I will not survey his survey or criticize his top 100, so to speak, but we should note certain features of his impressive and very useful glosses on the last 10 years or so in medieval cultural studies. In fact, if I may historicize intertextually, one might associate this survey with the work of Leland and Bale. Perhaps this regular feature in NML will, to varying degrees, destroy or construct the medieval critical past--that's assuming we should turn our critical gaze upon ourselves, just as we turn it upon our authors. Leland went crazy; let's hope for better for his heirs in New Medieval Literatures.

Like Leland and Bale we all have our own heroes, our own conception of what constitutes light in the darkness. Lawton is quick to say, though, that the citations are "not nominations for merit awards" (238). Well, as former Senator Bumpers would say when someone says, "these are not nominations for merit awards," they're nominations for merit awards. Lawton particularly favors work that "consciously bring[s] our modernity into dialogue with our understanding of the medieval" (240). Robertson [only one of two names I will mention so as not to offend with praise or neglect any in our academic "compaignye"] appears in bono as the first wave of interdisciplinary medieval studies. Textual study of manuscripts is praised; terms such as "new philology" and "new medievalism" are queried and problematized; an "unduly respectful attitude to canonicity" is chided; cultural geography is noted with praise, as are those who "dismantle monolithic models of medieval culture" (247) and, in general, all who question such boundaries as periodization, discipline, gender. One scholar is praised for "confident use of Kristeva on the symbolic body" (249), while others (not always named) get the occasional and sometimes confusing slam. For example, feminist work on English texts, with a couple of named exceptions, is "rarely the most innovative" (249), and debates in Chaucer studies "run along overdetermined grooves" because [it is implied] "French specialists on the whole tend to be more comfortable or more deeply acquainted with literary theory than many of their English speaking counterparts" (246).

All this is exciting and controversial, and overall the survey is learned and informative, a Herculean piece of synthesis and a service to the journal's readers. However, in a number of cases Lawton overvalues historicist debunking. He praises one critic for showing us, alas, that the fabliaux are not funny, or at least not really funny for women. As Lawton puts it, the research here has, "one hopes, put paid to any notion that the misogynist laughter of some medieval genres such as the fabliaux is unproblematic;" such laughter is "another institutionalizing tool" (250). Experience may be a better judge than authority here. My class on the Miller's Tale this very week featured not a little not unproblematic laughter. Further, Lawton praises work that focuses on [as he paraphrases the argument] the "too often minimized" misogyny in Boccaccio whose "colonization of his women readers" restricts response to his stories. "The essay is full of detailed cultural observation," writes Lawton brightly, such as the fact that medieval wedding dresses are deemed to belong to men, not to their wives, and the chests (casoni) in which they were stored were often adorned with the Griselda story itself" (249). The casoni are interesting, displaying one use of the legend, but to use these scraps of social history to launch an attack on Boccaccio for misogyny and colonialism is reductive and illogical. Poetry (I use the word here as Boccaccio himself would use it) is not history. This type of critical performance turns the scholar into a sort of homo ethicus/femina ethica, uncovering some past injustice that literature obscures and about which we should all be duly outraged. In the current volume Holsinger ends his article with the desire to "corrode the gem-like elegance and poetic precision [of the Prioress's Tale's] rhyme royal stanza by excavating the violent musical representations that the `natural music' of Chaucerian poesis works to obscure" (192). What lovely prose, but it wants to "corrode" the poetry that "obscures" a history of violence? Poetry never obscures; it only conveys. Some critics featured or praised here in NML seemingly want to get poetry out of the way, to corrode this impediment (is it at once a hostile witness?) to our discovery of histories of injustice and violence. What are the professional and political implications of such work, of such critical "performances"? Is criticism "performance"?

But I must change the tone and reiterate my praise for the present volume, most of which wisely avoids the potential "over-confidence in much historicist work," that Lawton warns against (256) in his survey. What Scase, Copeland, and Lawton want (if I may presume upon their desires) from this new journal is "lively and fruitful debate" (words mentioned in a slightly different but applicable context at 257). They also--wonderfully--want medievalists to write well, offering a rhetorically stunning passage from Fradenburg as example (260). Lawton ends the essay and the first volume of New Medieval Literatures I with a discussion of ethics, expressing the passionate and compelling hope that the new journal will help us look not only for "reparations" but also for "truth of all kinds" (261). Piers the Plowman could not argue with that, and neither will I.