Juris G. Lidaka

title.none: Powell and Smith, eds, New Perspectives on Middle English Texts (Juris G. Lidaka)

identifier.other: baj9928.0207.013 02.07.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Juris G. Lidaka, WVSC,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Powell, Susan and Jeremy Smith, eds. New Perspectives on Middle English Texts. Rochester: Boydell & Brewer, 2000. Pp.. 75.00. ISBN: 0-859-91590-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.07.13

Powell, Susan and Jeremy Smith, eds. New Perspectives on Middle English Texts. Rochester: Boydell & Brewer, 2000. Pp.. 75.00. ISBN: 0-859-91590-5.

Reviewed by:

Juris G. Lidaka

The festschrift is a growth industry these last few decades, it seems, and its roots lie in the desire of former students and close colleagues to honour the dedicatee. This one, instigated by Derek Pearsall--who tells a wondrous story of teaching in Waldron's Dickensian cupboard--is no different and is designed to reflect Waldron's own emphases and eclecticism. Divided into roughly two parts, it contains seven essays by divers hands on alliterative verse (three on Gawain or that poet's works) and six on other Middle English materials, mostly verse.

The first piece in the first part is Malcolm Andrew's "Setting and Context in the Works of the Gawain-Poet", which discusses the import of three locations apiece in Pearl and Patience, briefly scans those in Cleanness and closes with the three principal ones in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with an observation on the contrast between the private intimacy where the attempted seductions take place and the noisy outdoors of the hunt. In "Performance and Structure of The Alliterative Morte Arthure", Rosamund Allen approaches the realistic problem of how that work might have been performed and offers a solution: if performed in serial presentations, a seven-part structure can be identified, in which dealing with the Roman Emperor functions as a symmetrical climax between mirrored halves. The episodes rising to that climax and those falling from it range from about five to seven hundred lines each, but the climactic one is the shortest, only four hundred and twenty-three; this variation is easily explained as one aspect of an old idea, that the work was still in progress.

Licking his metaphorical chops, Ralph Hanna whips us up some fast "Feasting in Middle English Alliterative Poetry", with it a small serving of Old English. While a banquet might be intended to signify public display of communal solidarity and celebration, too often feasts portend less desirable events. George Kane prefers to nibble at isolated tidbits, picking at words whose interpretation has been troublesome but which really are just homographs where previously the wrong choice was made. His "Word Games: Glossing Piers Plowman" begins with a few unrelated words, then moves on to a larger group consisting of lo + 2 minims + e, and closes with four rare Middle English words. In "Untying the Knot: Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", the volume's longest article, Susan Powell--one of the editors--explores the puzzle and pentangle of the "knot", so often mentioned in the poem. She ranges in several directions, even illustrating what contemporaries might have thought Solomon's knot looked like, with chivalric significance. The knot appears in several guises in the poem, with various thematic echoes, leading Powell to conclude that she has probably raised more questions than she has answered.

Following Kane's example, but more fulsomely, Jane Roberts' "Two Notes on Layamon's Brut" looks at "alothede" and "yiueles" (ll. 14966 and 11280, my modernisation) afresh to see their Old English roots. Her lesson is that--though Layamon was chronologically positioned in a lexical shift towards French borrowings--his lexicon seems almost deliberately native, whatever political implications that may have; to understand him better, we should be more careful to employ lexicographic and semantic tools and methods from Old English. The last article in this section is the second-longest (no doubt by virtue of its appendix of sl-words) and is by the other editor: "Semantics and Metrical Form in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" by Jeremy J. Smith. He begins with some lines alliterating on sl- near each other and moves into words and collocations involving sl- words. This ends up in a consideration of sound-symbolism or phonaesthesia, with an eye on sl- words.

Part II opens with "The Links in the Canterbury Tales," where Norman Blake (ever the iconoclast) ponders a simple question: if the Tales circulated independently and in various authorial forms, why have we assumed the Links had only one authorial form? We may be relying too much on our desire to have a fixed order of tales, now lost, and he spends some time discussing a number of links, particularly the Man of Law's Endlink, to show that Chaucer could have changed his mind about the frame over the years. Blake ties into this scheme the possibility that some of the earliest extant manuscripts could predate 1400, but this possibility is hypothetical and not even necessary to the argument as a whole.

Julia Boffey and A. S. G. Edwards swiftly survey materials pertaining to one specific kind of poem that needed to be considered carefully in their work on the New Index of Middle English Verse: "Middle English Verse in Chronicles". One of the problems with such verse is that it could be recorded as prose, so any prose text would have to be read carefully to catch this kind of hidden verse. Their article is short, but filled with much interesting material and is highly useful for its bibliographic references. Focusing instead on a single text is Janet Cowen's "An English Reading of Boccaccio: A Selective Middle English Version of Boccaccio's De Mulieribus Claris in British Library MS Additional 10304," where the translator used only 21 of the original 106 chapters. Cowen covers the thematic nature of the selection, the reason why the translation no doubt came from the Latin not French, and the apparent knowledge of Lydgate's work in this mid- century product.

Rober Dahood brings us back to manuscript texts with "Abbreviations, Otiose Strokes and Editorial Practice: The Case of Southwell Minster MS 7", a manuscript from c. 1500 with Mirk's Festial and a number of saints' lives, using a Shropshire dialect. Closely analyzing the forms of final with and without<-e>or a loop that might indicate an intended <-e>, and applying this analysis to the scribe's careful distinction of <-or>vs. ore, Dahood find cause to believe that final e might in this text already being used as a diacritic. Returning Chaucer, Elton D. Higgs re-examines in current form "Temporal and Spiritual Indebtedness in the Canterbury Tales". His tales of preference are the Wife of Bath's, the Shipman's, the Pardoner's, and the Franklin's, all of which misunderstand, pervert, or ignore obligations, especially with respect to God. Finally, Derek Pearsall (who opened the volume with a personal memoir) closes with "'Quha wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew?': Henryson's Testament of Cresseid", in which he contrasts reading the Testament as a poem with reading it through particular theoretical spectacles, some of which are dimmer than others.

Every review has an obligatory section on proofreading. There are a few problems here with copy-editing, from minor slips like capitalisation in titles to double-spacing within a paragraph, but most of these are of no real concern. However, did Hanna really write "the Dominican Bartholomew the Englishman" (p. 36)? Since he was one of the editors of Trevisa's translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum, this seems decidedly peculiar. Similarly, Norman Blake, the editors, and any copy editors seem to have missed an obvious goof: "no extant manuscript [of the Canterbury Tales] dates from before Chaucer's lifetime". (108). Well, yes, logically, but....

I found some of these essays more engaging and valuable than others not simply because of my particular leanings but also because quite a few seemed unfinished or hurried. A curious feature of almost all the essays is that conclusions--if any-- are brief and often noncommittal. This reflects the essays, which strike me as learneder than they are. Many seem to force a connection to Waldron's work, but this need not have been so if we simply recall that a festchrift is a collection in someone's honor, not one investigating the ramifications of someone's work. Perhaps for this reason I found the second part more interesting than the first, while the whole seemed somewhat lacking in substantial "new perspectives". Yet I believe that Waldron was honored by it, as would anyone receiving such a tribute from old students and colleagues, whose names carry substantial weight in the same field. Most of us would be humbled if such honors were even possible, much less realized.