contributor.author: Ann Meyer

title.none: Minnis, et. al., eds., Essays on Ricardian Literature (Meyer)

identifier.other: baj9928.0008.007 00.08.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ann Meyer, Claremont McKenna College, ameyer@benson.mckenna.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Minnis, A.J., Charlotte C. Morse, and Thorlac Turville-Petre, eds. Essays on Ricardian Literature In Honor of J. A. Burrow. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. Pp. xv, 358. $85.00. ISBN: 0-198-18282-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.08.07

Minnis, A.J., Charlotte C. Morse, and Thorlac Turville-Petre, eds. Essays on Ricardian Literature In Honor of J. A. Burrow. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. Pp. xv, 358. $85.00. ISBN: 0-198-18282-1.

Reviewed by:

Ann Meyer
Claremont McKenna College
ameyer@benson.mckenna.edu

The larger purpose of this collection of essays is to celebrate the professional accomplishments of John A. Burrow and to assert the central position of his book, Ricardian Poetry: Chaucer, Gower, Langland and the 'Gawain' Poet (London and New Haven, 1971) within the history of medieval English literary scholarship. The editors of this volume remind medievalists that it is Burrow's fine consciousness of the trilingual culture of late medieval Europe, of the relations between medieval English and Continental literature, as well as the "quietly impeccable" and "lucid style" of his scholarship that are just a part of what makes him an exemplary student and teacher of late medieval literary and intellectual traditions. (v) The fourteen essays, written by Burrow's friends, colleagues, and former students, help not only to define more clearly the nature of Burrow's impact on medieval studies today; they represent, too, a variety of intellectual disciplines and critical approaches, providing medievalists with an impressive array of studies of the major works and authors of Ricardian Enland. The first four essays focus specifically on Chaucer's poetry; essays five through nine offer fresh perspectives on late medieval French and English court culture, the uses of Anglo-Latin at the end of the fourteen century, Nominalism in the poetry of Chaucer and Langland, a study of the legal context for the word "trouthe" in Ricardian poetry, and an essay which focuses on Ricardian characteristics of late medieval English Romance. Essay ten is devoted to the poetry of Thomas Usk, and essays eleven through thirteen explore various aspects of the Pearl poet and his works. The final essay in the volume reviews some of the more influential scholarly contributions to the field and offers direction for future scholarship in medieval studies.

A. C. Spearing, "A Ricardian 'I': The Narrator of 'Troilus and Criseyde.'"

Spearing begins by reviewing questions scholars have explored in past studies of this subject. For example, should Chaucer's narrator be identified with the poet? Is the narrator the "victim of the poet's pervasive...irony"? Is the narrator "unreliable," or "naive"? Is the narrator the real subject of the poem--as one might view the Canterbury pilgrims in the telling of their own tales? Does the narrator "resolve ambiguity" or is this view a means of "safeguarding" the poem's (and therefore the poet's) perfection? (4) In response to this last question, Spearing argues scholars are mistaken in their efforts to see "Troilus and Criseyde" as a perfect poem. Instead, "'Troilus' is a genuinely exploratory poem" and therein lies its greatness. (5)

Spearing examines passages in the poem that provide evidence contrary to the argument of the "unreliable" narrator, as well as elements of the poem that "complicate the possibility of distinguishing any narrator at all." He identifies passages, for example, that call attention to the view of narrator as poet and urges scholars to acknowledge that such passages "represent a claim to inspiration and a correspondingly elevated style". (9) Chaucer's narrator is an "organizer of existing material" and "not just story-teller;" he is also a writer. (10) Spearing argues that Chaucer uses "rhetorical self-deprecation" through his narrator in order to emphasize the intensity of Troilus' suffering, and as a way of inviting readers to enter into the poem more fully--to experience the poem's "imaginative pleasures". (11, 13) Chaucer employs "metanarrative elements," like his first person references to poetic composition and his deictic qualifiers that suggest the presence of a Chaucerian audience: words such as "you," "oure," "now," "then," and "yet". (12) By these methods, Chaucer defines a narrator who speaks to an audience and who shares knowledge. (17) Yet, as is the case in The Canterbury Tales, there is no reason to attribute the "enonciation" to any identifiable individual.

Scholars have been mistaken in their tendency to equate narrative with the "utterance of a story-teller," since such an interpretation "has led critics to understand inconsistencies within the poem's first person discourse as symptoms of the story-teller's fallibility". (17) "Troilus and Criseyde" is a written text, not an oral text, Spearing reminds us; therefore, the story does not necessarily assume a "teller", who is a single, fictive, human person. David Brewer, writes Spearing, articulates the correct response: readers must imagine a "multiplicity of narrators" and must acknowledge that this multiplicity "will involve self-contradiction". (18) In Spearing's terms, this "unstable first person" is a Ricardian 'I'"--a narrator that belongs specifically to the Ricardian Age.

To distinguish a Ricardian narrator from some other kind, Spearing compares Chaucer's narrator with Dante's famous narrator-pilgrim. First of all, Spearing points out, "Troilus and Criseyde" is generically different from the Divine Comedy. While Dante's poem is a visionary narrative with a first-person ascent through experience, "Troilus and Criseyde" is a medieval Romance in which the Troilus character rises through the heavenly spheres. One notes, of course, that medieval visionary narratives and medieval heroic narratives can--and conventionally do--share the fundamental motif of the journey, often with literal as well as metaphoric meanings. What Spearing rightly emphasizes, though, is Chaucer's particular treatment of the Romance journey: the poet is not primarily interested in Troilus' spiritual revelation; Chaucer is a poet, but he is not a mystic.

The "unfinished" and "exploratory" nature of Chaucer's poetry, Spearing argues, is what identifies him as "Ricardian". While the literary art of Gower and Langland may further support this understanding of Ricardian achievement, one must ask how the superbly polished art of the Pearl-poet is to be understood within Spearing's concept of Ricardian literary exploration.

Derek Pearsall, "Pre-empting Closure in 'The Canterbury Tales': Old Endings, New Beginnings."

Derek Pearsall also explores questions concerning the unfinished state of much of Chaucer's poetry, and he offers, like Spearing, an argument that encourages readers to view the matter with appropriate respect and awareness of the poet's creative process. Pearsall suggests that the incomplete poems "transcend...the petty bounds of our notions of completeness and aspire to represent the grand inconclusiveness and indeterminacy of all things." He argues in support of this view that Chaucer, "having nearly completed the whole work as first planned, deliberately devised a new plan for the poem in which the existing ending was superseded". (24) Pearsall's judgment of the Ellesmere manuscript's "privileged status" opposes that of many prominent Chaucerians. According to Pearsall, the text of Ellesmere, which scholars have generally regarded as more authoritative than the older Hengwrt, is, in fact, inferior to the Hengwrt and the order of the tales or fragments in Ellesmere is "editorial not authorial". (24) The Tales came to Chaucer's editors in an unordered (as opposed to "disordered") state and, therefore, the "privileged status" of the Ellesmere ordering is unjustified if one is interested primarily in Chaucer's intentions. Pearsall warns that readers remain unaware and unappreciative of Chaucer's creative process when they rely for their interpretations on editions that "collapse" the evolution of Chaucer's thoughts "into a single textual moment." Common editorial practice of relegating textual variants to brackets in the notes is one prominent example of this "collapse". Instead, Pearsall believes, the extant manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales represent "different stages" of the poem's existence, and it is with an awareness of this evolution that we must come to Chaucer's poetry. Pearsall encourages readers to remember that Chaucer had not one intention for his work, but many, and that these intentions were sometimes both contradictory and unresolved (28)

Pearsall reviews editorial decisions made by E. Talbot Donaldson and various critical views, including those of Kolve and Dinshaw, that demonstrate well the "theocentric" and "anthropocentric" interpretive consequences of past and modern editorial practice. The "ideal" edition of The Canterbury Tales, argues Pearsall, "should be edited partly as a bound book, with the first (though not the last) fragment fixed, and partly as a set of fragments in folders, with the incomplete information as to their nature and possible placement fully displayed." (31)

Pearsall turns to the last fragment (containing The Parson's Prologue and Tale and Chaucer's Retraction) in order to explain a discrepancy in the frame of the narrative. The host's announced agenda--the four-tale, two-way plan--contradicts the Parson's celestial ambition that the Canterbury journey be understood as a pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem [X (I) 45-51]. Pearsall argues that the host's plan, if carried out, "would, in every respect unmake the allegory, and assert a priority and propriety to worldly life quite inappropriate to the circumstances...[since] going home was not part of the spiritually significant or allegorizable part of the journey". (33) In partial response to Pearsall's argument, one notes that Chaucer the poet is not a serious allegorist in the sense, for example, that Dante the poet is. Further, the Parson's motivations may not reflect those of the poet--any more than we can conclude that the Miller's agenda is akin to Chaucer's. Indeed, the host's worldly plan and the Parson's aspirations may contradict one another precisely to encourage readers to question the appropriateness of a serious allegorical reading.

Pearsall credits Charles Owen with his essential view that the host's version of The Canterbury Tales project represents Chaucer's revised scheme, after he had already written The Parson's Tale and the Retraction, but that Chaucer never carried out the appropriate, systematic changes that would correspond to his revised way of thinking. The Parson's Tale and the Retraction are the endings of the poem that, to Chaucer's mind, "no longer existed". (34) Pearsall likens Chaucer's creative process to the building stages of Westminster Abbey in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The edifice had been "finished" at various stages of architectural projects carried out during the reigns of Henry III, Richard II, and Henry V, but the building would then be rendered "incomplete because of the introduction of a new and grander design". (38)

Carol M. Meale, "Women's Piety and Women's Power: Chaucer's Prioress Reconsidered."

Carol Meale offers a historicized reading of The Prioress's Tale. She argues that the Prioress gives an impression of aspiring "to gentility, and public recognition of her standing". (43) She argues that "Chaucer's depiction of female piety and devotional practice is a partial one, the result of a process of conscious selection of detail," and that an awareness of what Chaucer leaves out in this depiction is "crucial" to readers' interpretation of both pilgrim and tale. (44) Meale examines fragmented biographical evidence of "enclosed women" contemporary with Chaucer. She looks at two houses of Benedictine nuns: first, the Priory of St. Leonard's at Stratford at Bow in Middlesex and second, Barking in Essex. She looks at reading habits, clothing, displays of piety and the interest in miracles. She points out that Chaucer would have been acquainted with traditional models of female piety, and she questions, therefore, what his motivations were in his own portrait of a medieval English Prioress. Meale concludes, "Chaucer articulates a spirituality in the Tale which was especially apt for women, and specifically for women religious. But [these] are opposed to the satirical method adopted in the construction of the Tale's narrator." (66)

N. R. Havely, "Muses and Blacksmiths: Italian Trecento Poetics and the Reception of Dante in the 'House of Fame'."

"The House of Fame as a Chaucerian response to Dante," Havely writes, is "partly determined by other Italian writing on the status of poetry, and by the reputation of Dante as a vernacular author in the culture of late fourteenth-century Florence." (62) Chaucer's interest in creating The House of Fame, is, therefore, part of his larger concern with the status of poetry in his day. Havely discusses Boethius' influence on Chaucer's poem and Boccaccio's response in his De genealogia deorum gentilum to the medieval debate over the value of poetry. Both Boccaccio and Chaucer, he argues, are addressing the question of the status of poetry with an "awareness of both Boethius and Dante," each confronting the problem of the Muses in Book I of Boethius' work and glossing Dante's lines in Inferno 2.7-9 (68-69)

Havely observes that the question of the status of poetry had intensified during the Italian trecento "partly because of the expansion of vernacular literacy and partly because of the advance of Latin humanism." Furthermore, Dante's reputation as a vulgare poeta florentino--a writer of comedy, as opposed to Virgilian epic--was established by the time of Chaucer's visit to Florence in the spring of 1373. The House of Fame Dante by such poets as Antonio Pucci and Franco Sacchetti.

Ardis Butterfield, "French Culture and the Ricardian Court."

Butterfield's essay is an ambitious and compelling reflection upon Anglo-French relations in the later fourteenth century. The author returns to the question of "how fully we can categorize the writing produced in England during this period as 'English', given our awareness of the dominant nature of contemporary European and, especially, French vernacular writing". (84) Butterfield argues that the wars between England and France during this period "stimulated" rather than defended "national identity". The war was more of a "family quarrel", rather than an "expression of hostile difference". (83) Butterfield's primary areas of study in this essay include language, politics, and literary as well as musical art. The linguistic character of late medieval England, he reminds us, is trilingual (Latin, English, Anglo-Norman); hence, the vernaculars did not "separate" into discrete, culturally exclusive linguistic groups: "people often wrote a shifting kind of lingua franca". (85) Official documents provide evidence for this "circulation of...mixed language, with Latin serving as the "grammatical constant," and English and French "added according to context". (85)

English and French military activities had predictable effects upon language and geographical identities. English men and women gave English pronunciations to the names of French towns, for example, and Edward III's son, The Black Prince was "a French liege lord". Froissart's career provides a fascinating example of the mixed "cultural status" that interests Butterfield. After Queen Philippa's death in 1369, Froissart returned to the French mainland to work for the duc de Brabant and Gui II de Chatillon. Yet, Butterfield views Froissart's Chroniques as a display of his "obsession with English aristocratic politics...an instance of French historiography that becomes utterly English". (86)

Butterfield discusses an English literary organization that was a French" cultural import", the London puy, or guild that held poetry contests as a "means of enhancing the self- image of England's prime urban centre". (88) She considers further cultural exchanges--political, linguistic, and artistic--associated with the marriage between Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. A study of royal patronage of the art in late medieval England and on the Continent provides rich evidence of cultural differences, as Butterfield demonstrates. (97 ff)

Another instance of public cultural interaction "came about through the passing on of short phrases, refrains, lyrical or musical compositions from one country to the other." (99) We find this kind of exchange in "formes fixes" (for example, rondeau, ballades, motets). Works by Machaut, Gower, and Chaucer provide good examples. It is the trilingual literary accomplishments of John Gower, according to Butterfield, that exemplify "the cultural integration of French and English at its most profound, and yet with the curious and complex tensions in that relationship evident across his writing as a whole". (108) Butterfield looks at Gower's French poetry and argues--contrary to previous critical judgments--that the poet's idiom, vocabulary, and structure are often "closely linked" with contemporary French lyrics. (109)

A. G. Rigg, "Anglo-Latin in the Ricardian Age."

In this superbly informed and well-organized essay, A. G. Rigg examines the role and status of Anglo-Latin writings in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. In the first part of the essay, Rigg measures John Burrow's ideas "against the background of Anglo-Latin literature in general". In the second part, he focuses on the "distinctive features" of Anglo- Latin literature written during the Ricardian Age. (122-3) Rigg compares Latin and English relations between writers, craft, and textual community. He discusses Latin as a professional tool and gives examples of Latin writers' awareness of their participation in a rich, elite literary tradition. An important area of research on these matters are writers' use of the Latin rhetorical tradition and Latin literary conventions. Rigg's study includes a look at specific compositional and stylistic techniques, including irony, humor, the use of dramatic simile and metaphor. He observes that Anglo-Latin literature between 1100-1300 contains no heroes, "even where the topics might have produced them". (127) Further, Rigg points out a reversal of a vernacular dream- vision convention in the Anglo-Latin tradition and provides an example of this reversal: Nigel Whiteacre's Speculum stultorum.

Rigg addresses the linguistic transition in England in the late fourteenth century, namely the replacement of Latin with English as the language of literature. This transition was the result, Rigg points out, of socio-economic, political, and religious trends. Latin was not in decline; the "textual community"--defined by Rigg as international communication, historiography, law, science, philosophy, and theology--still operated mainly in Latin. Furthermore, scholars and bibliophiles treasured books written in Latin. While French yields to English in the courts and in Parliament, Latin maintained its place as "the prestige language".

Next, Rigg examines various linguistic and literary elements (like rhyme, meter, form, and lexicon) of Anglo-Latin writings of the Ricardian era in order to identify characteristics similar to those identified by Burrow for the English poets. For example, Latin was used for heraldic and commemorative functions. The Latin poets' handling of historical matter ranges from unornamented treatments like the Chronicon metricum, to Thomas Barry's metrical history, the "Battle of Otterburn," to Gower's "manipulation of history" in his Cronica. Rigg gives further discussion to Gower's Visio (Vox clamatis, Book I) to determine its relations to vernacular dream vision poetry. In the Visio, Rigg observes, "we see several of the themes of Ricardian vernacular poetry: the concern with the validity of dreams, the traditional garden setting, and the mechanisms of transition within the dream. (135-7)

A. J. Minnis, "Looking for a Sign: The Quest for Nominalism in Chaucer and Langland."

Minnis' interest here is Chaucer and Langland's treatment of the salvation of non-Christians and the relationship of these treatments to fourteenth-century Nominalist thought. Minnis discusses the difficulty of defining "nominalism". The nominalist topics he explores in this essay deal with the "dialectic of the divine power, the economy of grace and justification, the relationship between free-will and destiny, and the nature of the covenant between God and man". Minnis provides an intellectual context for the ideas associated with the doctrine, facere quod in se est, a doctrine associated with the thought of William of Ockham, Robert Holcot, and John Wycliff.

After examining key sections of The Squire's Tale, The Franklin's Tale, and Troilus and Criseyde, Minnis concludes that Chaucer's poetry does not give strong evidence of distinctive, "radical, specifically Nominalist ideas", however much Chaucer may introduce relevant questions related to Nominalist thought (148-9) Minnis sets Langland's views within the context of Peter Lombard's distinction between "sacrament" and res in his Libri sententiarum and Aquinas' explanation of baptism (baptismus sanguinis, baptismus flaminis, also called baptismus pententiae). The key to Langland's views on the salvation of non-Christians is his insistence on the necessity of conversion, but Minnis finds in Langland's poetry "no middle English terms which point to...the distinction between the absolute and ordained powers of God and the problematics of condign and congruent merit as found in the thought of...Ockham and Holcot." (177)

Richard Firth Green, "Ricardian 'Trouthe': A Legal Perspective."

Green's aim in this essay is to shed greater understanding on the Ricardian poets' frequent--even "obsessive", he argues--use of the word, "trouthe". He builds on existing linguistic scholarship of the word and studies examples of late medieval social and legal contexts of the word's use. Local custom, Green demonstrates, provides especially rich evidence for the social premises "implicit in vernacular literature". Green quotes A. J. Gurevich (Categories of Medieval Culture, London, 1985, p. 178) to introduce the early medieval way of thinking legally about "trouthe". Gurevich calls "anthropomorphous truth" that legal perspective which corresponds to ideal norms: "truth could not have a value independent of the concrete interests of the group" (the family, kindred, lord etc.). (180)

Green's interest is how this "anthropomorphous truth" influenced late medieval lawsuits and the poets' use of the word, "trouthe". Anglo-Saxon law was driven by the concept of proof by oath: the accused is evaluated according to his "oathworthiness", his moral character, since God is the ultimate dispenser of justice. Langland provides the earliest example of how the word came to be associated with the facts of an accusation. Green argues, the "appearance of this new factual sense in the late fourteenth century attests to a fundamental change in cultural attitudes towards evidence and verification, and one that underlies the prominence of "trouth" in the work of the major Ricardian poets." (185) For literary evidence of this progression of the concept, Green examines Marie de France's description of the trial in Lanval and compares this twelfth-century lai with the fourteenth-century English translation, Sir Landevale. Next, he turns to four different accounts of a trial: Robert Mannyng's, Brunne's Handlyng Synne (early fourteenth century); the prose translation of the Anglo-Norman Manuel des peches called Shrifte and Penance (late fourteenth-century); and Peter Idley's Instructions to his Son (mid-fifteenth century) Finally, Green discusses the appeal of Constance for the murder of Hermengild from Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale and Gower's Confessio amantis.

Nicolas Jacobs, "Ricardian Romance? Critiques and Vindication."

Jacobs examines the relationship between the major Ricardian poets and the tradition of verse romance. (204) Is there, he asks, something that modern readers can identify as "Ricardian Romance"? The first problem, Jacobs observes, is that "no fourteenth-century author would have regarded what we call romance as a genre". (204) Jacobs first looks at the less sophisticated, more popular tradition of English romances (Havelok, Athelson, Guy of Warwick, Sir Orfeo) to determine if these pose any "serious moral questions" either at the social or personal level--questions that would "provide a stepping stone between conventional complacency and Ricardian irony". (205) Next Jacobs examines selections from Chaucer, whose parodies are "types" of romances that tell us that "triviality and complacency are elements of some romances." According to Jacobs, Chaucer shows "little sign" that romance themes and conventions raise issues that are of "central importance" to his creativity (214), but that his poetry does present us with "perhaps the most varied evidence of a 'Ricardian' critique of romance". (214)

Jacobs examines Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Stanzaic Morte, two romances in which "the hero to some extent...fails". (215) He describes the Morte as a display of "soiled idealism" and the "waste of human potential". (215) Alternatively, "no allowance whatsoever is made for secular idealism" in La Queste del Saint Graal- -where "[w]orldy chivalry gives place to celestial". (215-6)-- and also in the Mort le Roi Artu (the source for the English stanzaic Morte), another display of a "tarnished image of secular chivalry". It is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, however, that "asserts the "necessary connection between spiritual ideals and earthly chivalry". (217) The Gawain poet redefines, says Jacobs, the term, "cortaysye". Gawain's "crucial test takes place...in the apparently civilized surroundings of the castle" so that "the true threat to the Round Table comes not from the...world outside but from within...courtly society itself". (220) The Gawain poet is a "traditionalist" who attempts to redefine values of chivalry and defend them against the critique of the earlier thirteenth-century works.

Chaucer and the Gawain poet present "antithetical" responses to romance themes and conventions; therefore, Jacobs concludes, the term, "Ricardian," cannot "accommodate" both poets' accomplishments within this narrative tradition. (221) For Jacobs, the Gawain poet's "seriousness with respect to romance is something which seems to belong to a pre- Ricardian generation". (221) One must question, however, whether Chaucer 's poetry best represents the aesthetic attitude of the Richard's Court. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe Chaucer's treatment of romance as "post- Ricardian", since the alliterative poet (presumably) from the northwest midlands consistently displays in his poetry the kind of conservative religious and artistic sensibilities that would have appealed to King Richard.

Stephen Medcalf, "The World and Heart of Thomas Usk."

In this essay, Medcalf demonstrates how Usk's political career influenced not only his treatment of love in The Testament of Love but also that work's structure. The Testament is, Medcalf argues, at once the confession of a lover and a personal, political allegory. Medcalf provides key biographical information on Usk. He had been a loyal clerk of John Comberton (Northhampton), the politically aggressive leader of the Drapers and mayor of London from 1381- 83. Usk eventually turned against Northhampton, however, accusing him and his followers of "intending to establish absolute control over London". (226) In his Testament, Usk explains that his accusation stemmed from his commitment to the peace of the city and his allegiance to King Richard II. Northhampton and his followers were sentenced to ten years in prison and were exiled from London, but through the support of John of Gaunt, who was Northhampton's patron, the group received full pardon in December 1391. (226-7) Usk's devotion to the King earned a new post as under-sheriff of Middlesex; however, Medcalf points out, it also "implemented him deeply" on the side of Richard during the political crisis with the magnates. Usk was subsequently imprisoned and executed by the King's enemies (227)

Medcalf argues that Usk's Testament of Love reflects his personal involvement in these events. The work "shows evidence of having been written under two sets of circumstances, the first in the period leading to his under-sheriffship, the second, when he was aware of the risk that his life was forfeit"(232) The first part, for example, from the Prologue into Book II is "predominantly a political apologia." Moreover, Usk himself requests that the work be read on several levels of meaning. The lover's confession is, according to Medcalf, political allegory, linking "his political acts and hopes and the experiences of a lover". (232) The work is dedicated to Margaret, an allegorical figure, Usk explains, signifying a pearl, an actual woman, grace, learning, wisdom of God, and holy church (Test. III. ix). Medcalf advocates two additional meanings for Margaret, both political: the peace of London and "King Richard as the object of loyalty". (229) The lover's relations with Margaret, therefore, correspond to Usk's decision to remain loyal to the King's service. During his imprisonment by the Lords Appellant, Medcalf proposes that "he was driven to those profound considerations of value, vocation, commitment and the analogy between human and divine love which are the intellectual glory of the Testament". (237) This would partly explain Usk's motivation to make substantive use of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae (perhaps through Chaucer's translation) and St. Anselm's treatise, De concordia praescientiae et praedestinationis necnon gratiae Dei cum libro arbitrio. (234) His treatment of these sources, particularly his interest in the "ascetic unworldliness" they promote, "might all be consequences of a shift of interest from earthly and extrinsic to heavenly and intrinsic rewards". (235) The inconsistencies within the work went unrevised, Medcalf suggests, because Usk was executed. (237)

Medcalf discusses Usk's admiration for and use of the four major Ricardian poets and their works. In terms of Usk's philosophical temperament, Medcalf finds Usk more of a Platonist than an Aristotelian.

Gerald Morgan, "The Perfection of the Pentangle and of Sir Gawain in 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.'"

Morgan observes that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight lacks an apparent theoretical context for the pentangle--the poem's structural and thematic centerpiece--and that this lack makes interpretation of the pentangle difficult. Morgan argues, however, that the moral philosophy of Aristotle, Cicero, and Aquinas offers readers interpretive guidance. Morgan's purpose in this essay is "to show how absolute and relative values are coordinated in the presentation of the pentangle and in its reference to Gawain, and how these values are derived from their original formulation by Aristotle in the text of the De anima". (225) Morgan hopes his interpretation will "restore to the romance a more positive and sustained expression of Gawain's excellence," since, he believes, "the romance is not darkened by failure, but is uplifted by achievement, and it is to Gawain's achievement that his fellow knights...are so responsive". (225)

Aquinas' classification of the five moral virtues in the Summa theologiae is an interpretation based upon Cicero's ideal of Justice (253) But the Gawain poet's interest in the moral virtues moves beyond Ciceronian justice; he is interested in the human desire for the perfection of self. (254) Aquinas' moral philosophy also derives from Aristotle's De anima, and, Morgan argues, the symbolic image of the pentangle in Sir Gawain is ultimately derived from Aristotle's exposition of the different kinds of soul in De anima (2.3414b 19-32). The Gawain poet presents the moral virtues hierarchically, not unlike Dante's method: the whole of the Commedia, writes Morgan, "is a monument to the love of schematization that is so apparent on a smaller scale in the pentangle passage". (257) Both poets wish to find a means of expressing in language the paradoxical concept of unity in multiplicity--or, perhaps more precisely, unity in correspondence with hierarchy. The Gawain poet's pentangle image "is certainly a unified whole," but "this unity is expressed in terms proper to the pentangle...of lines, points, and angles...[so that] the whole forms an endless knot". (258) Morgan cites Aquinas' understanding of the parts of the soul (sensory, intellectual, nutritive) and the soul's relation to the body in order to further demonstrate this "principle of unity in multiplicity". In Aquinas, who is following Aristotle (De anima), "the conception of hierarchy in no way impairs or violates the conception of unity". (259)

One of the Gawain poet's primary interests, then, is the relation between the geometrical, crafted object and the intellectual soul (260)--between the world of distinct, measured space and the intelligible world. The perfect craftsmanship of the object symbolizes human perfection. The moments in the poem when the image of perfection corresponds with actual perfection is when Gawain is purified "as golde", and this purification comes about by means of God's grace, which he receives through the sacraments of Eucharist and penance. (264-5) The presence of sin--of Gawain's human imperfection--is not ruled out, but it is his participation in the sacraments that "restores the radiance of virtue". (275)

Thorlac Turville-Petre, "The 'Pearl'-Poet in his 'Fayre Regioun.'"

Turville-Petre revisits the long-standing debate over the seemingly "provincial" nature of the Pearl poet. To what extent, Turville-Petre asks, ought the Pearl poet be viewed as the "poor country-cousin" of the metropolitan Ricardian poets, "without even a name to call his own?". (282) Was John Burrow justified in calling this poet "Ricardian"? Turville-Petre begins his exploration of this problem by providing his own working definition of the term, "Ricardian": "[t]he term...emphasizes the centrality of the metropolis and makes an association with the court in its widest sense, even if the personal involvement of Richard II is explicitly denied". (276-7) According to Turville-Petre, Chaucer, Gower, and Langland were thought of (and thought themselves to be) "national" poets, while the language and dialect of the Pearl poet seem to assign him a place "outside the national literary scene." Although the poet is "one of the finest literary artists of the Age, he seems to belong more to a regional culture or tradition than the London metropolitan tradition".(277)

Taking up the matter of audience, Turville-Petre studies late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century writings, and concludes that "[i]t is the implied audience that makes a poem regional, not the actual audience." Further, "[t]he implied audience constructed by the poet may differ sharply from the actual audience that read the work in the extant manuscripts". (270- 280) Turville-Petre offers Robert Mannyng's, Handlyng Synne (completed after 1317), as an example of a work that enjoyed national popular appeal "despite its many details directed towards a Lincolnshire audience". (280)

Turville-Petre cites Michael J. Bennett and John M. Bowers' recent attempts to place the Pearl poet more precisely within the court culture of Richard II, but he questions again if there is any evidence to suggest a London readership for the poet. If there were court Londoners who took an "interest" in the seemingly "foreign" verse, there were certainly others of the "fashionable London circles" who would have found it too difficult (and old fashioned) to respond warmly. (285) Although the Pearl poet does not, like the other Ricardian poets, make specific connections with "London life", Turville-Petre believes that he is "as anxious as Langland to gain for his work a place within the cultural life of the nation, and to distinguish his art from that which is narrowly and unambitiously regional". (286) Turville-Petre supports this position by calling attention to the poet's creation of "an anxious southerner" in his depiction of Gawain crossing the wintry northern lands beyond the Wirral. (287) Also, Arthur's court in Sir Gawain is located not in the north, at Carlisle, but in the non-localized, national "Logrian" territory. The "castel" is "a second Camelot, following the international code of courtly behavior". (289) On the matter of poetic style, Turville-Petre argues that the Pearl poet's meter is neither "metropolitan" nor "confined to any one region". (291) Finally, the poet has created a "universal figure" in his Dreamer, whose vision is not grounded "in some waking reality". (292) We are justified, then, in recognizing this poet as a member of the court culture of Richard II, since this culture was not limited to London but was a national phenomenon.

John Scattergood, "'Patience' and Authority."

John Scattergood's essay also focuses on the work of the anonymous alliterative master of late fourteenth-century English poetry. Scattergood explores the poet's treatment of the concept of "patience" in the poem known as Patience, (or Cleanness) and in doing so contributes further to our understanding of this poet's intellectual training. Scattergood asserts, "[t]he poet's relationship to the exegetical tradition is...rather more complex than has been supposed." Indeed, his familiarity with medieval exegesis informs his sophisticated understanding of the concept of "patience". According to Scattergood "the concept of patience is at the center of a whole nexus of virtues and vices: not only does it relate significantly to the cardinal virtue of fortitude, but in medieval penitential schemes it is seen as a countervailing moral virtue against the sin of sloth (in both its aspects of tristitia and accidia) as well as more traditionally against anger." (298) Scattergood is interested in the poet's presentation of "patience" in relation to what is "more commonly termed obedience...why and how an obedient action is performed". (299) He argues that the poet reads the Book of Jonah as an "exemplum about a recalcitrant servant who is brought back to obedience to his master's commands through suffering." This interpretation is, according to Scattergood, the poet's response to Jerome's commentary on Jonah 1:9. Although this interpretation was never a dominant one in exegetical practice, the poet has chosen to place it "at the centre of his poem" in addition to his use of "other patristic approaches". (303-4, 308)

Charlotte C. Morse, "From 'Ricardian Poetry' to Ricardian Studies."

In the final essay of this volume Charlotte Morse discusses a variety of scholarly efforts that have either encouraged or restricted a translation of John Burrow's concept of "Ricardian Poetry" to more comprehensive and more fully integrated programs of "Ricardian Studies". (343) Her method of exploring this question includes a study of "the effect--or lack of effect--of Burrow's idea of a Ricardian period under three categories: "institutional, stylistic and narratological, and historicist". (322)

Morse begins her discussion by reflecting upon Burrow's reasons for replacing the traditional phrase, the "Age of Chaucer," with the term "Ricardian." His reasons, she observes, were political in that he wished to identify late medieval English literature as a distinct artistic accomplishment worthy of serious scholarly treatment. In response to the too-common view that Chaucer's works alone best represent the literary achievements of the period, Burrow also wished to encourage comparative studies of the four major poets' works.

Morse notes that Burrow's focus upon medieval England, his formalist approach to literary texts, and his intellectual preference for "the high art tradition" can be limiting. Elizabeth Salter, for example, viewed Burrow's literary periodization as "nationalistic", "artificial", and "narrow". (320) M. W. Bloomfield, however, offered a positive response, arguing that Burrow's project is justified in so far as the group of poets he identifies as Ricardian represents a genuine flowering of literary art (a "literary manifestation of a kind of proto-Renaissance") during the years of Richard II's reign. (321) Bloomfield nonetheless encouraged a broader range of intellectual pursuits in order to understand this Ricardian "cultural upsurge". He viewed Burrow's project as a "first step" in an integrated exploration of the period's religion, philosophy, music, visual arts, history and language. (321)

Morse offers her view of the differences in critical approach and sympathies between American and British medieval literary scholars. She discusses the various academic societies that have intellectual connections with the Ricardian period, observing that these societies encourage study of individual, isolated authors--unlike the comparative and interdisciplinary aims of "Ricardian studies".

Some promising approaches Morse mentions include Penelope Doob's "labyrinthine aesthetic" as a means of defining Ricardian literary style (the fusion of both circular and linear plots); Larry Scanlon's study of how medieval exempla contribute to our understanding of authority and power in the later Middle Ages; and the projects of Wendy Scase and Anne Hudson, which demonstrate how the texts generated by Wycliffite controversies can "affect our reading of Ricardian poems". (338) Morse reminds medievalists that Julian of Norwich ought to be treated as one of the major Ricardian writers and that there remains much work to be done in comparative studies between Chaucer and Gower.

Morse discusses how--or to what extent--Burrow's Ricardian distinction depends upon our understanding of court patronage during the period. Unfortunately, the most important records for discerning court patronage are lost: chamber accounts, inventories of the royal library, and records for seigniorial households. Further, there is the special case of William Langland, who "seems to emanate from a position opposed to the court and markedly critical of the institutional church". (336)

Finally, Morse discusses the relatedness of Burrow's project to those of Lee Patterson and David Aers. She points out that Patterson's "alarm" over the marginalization of medieval literature is not "unrelated to Burrow's motivation in writing Ricardian Poetry". (342) Morse observes that David Aers, in his efforts to "thwart the early modernist plot to marginalize the medieval" challenges "the nostalgia of Marxist theory" and raises "larger and urgent issues about history". (372)

Morse concludes her essay with a message that serves as an appropriate conclusion to the volume as a whole: "We need manuscript studies, textual scholarship, linguistic studies, formal analysis of rhetoric and narrative, and cultural criticism. We need scholars and critics oriented to the articulation of medieval differences and others oriented to the contemporaneity of the medieval, and we need to maintain a conversation between the two." This conversation, Morse writes, should be carried out "under the rubric of Ricardian Studies." The fourteen essays in this volume form an impressive body of scholarship that demonstrates well the intellectual fruits of this kind of rigorous, comprehensive, and integrated approach to the study of Ricardian literature.

Included in the volume, after Charlotte Morse's essay, is a bibliographic listing of John Burrow's publications from 1957 though 1997 and an Index, five pages long. The book jacket illustration is a reproduction of a detail from the Wilton Diptych, 1395-99 (National Gallery, London) depicting the young Richard II kneeling before the Virgin and Child.