contributor.author: Michael Calabrese

title.none: Green and Mooney, eds., Interstices (Michael Calabrese)

identifier.other: baj9928.0601.017 06.01.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Calabrese, California State University, petrusa@pacbell.net

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Green, Richard Firth, and Linne R. Monney, eds. Interstices: Studies in Middle English and Anglo-Latin Texts in Honour of A.G. Rigg. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. xxii, 219. $50.00 0-8020-8743-4. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.01.17

Green, Richard Firth, and Linne R. Monney, eds. Interstices: Studies in Middle English and Anglo-Latin Texts in Honour of A.G. Rigg. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. xxii, 219. $50.00 0-8020-8743-4. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Michael Calabrese
California State University
petrusa@pacbell.net

Students and colleagues of Professor A. George Rigg, on the occasion of his retirement from the University of Toronto, have gathered together to honor him with a collection of markedly varied essays, editions and acts of scholarly archeology that are designed to represent the majestic sweep of Rigg's own scholarly output. The book both discusses and chronicles Rigg's 40 years of criticism and editing in Middle English and Anglo- Latin, and at least one of the essays, that of Anne Hudson, points to new work that the Professor might approach in retirement.

The work of the contributors is often quite personal, though never sentimental, and the essays are short, dynamic and, though varied, somewhat complementary. Little of the Latin and less of the Greek (in only one essay) is translated, so the book demands some chops to get through in places, but the focus and accomplishment of each essay is clear and direct. The first offering is one of the collection's two editions, Alexandra Baratt's discussion and edition of a confessional formula from the early 15th-century Bolton Hours (York Minster, MS Additional 2). Baratt examines the hand and authorship (likely Franciscan) of the formula and studies its curious distribution, split between the opening and the final folios of the manuscript: "this 'enveloping,' alpha-and-omega position occupied by the text as we have it today neatly (if serendipitously) epitomizes the pervasive penitential mentality of the late Middle Ages, and the importance of the sacrament of penance in medieval life" (5). Books of Hours do not commonly feature such formulae in this position, and Baratt argues that the formula, which is in a different hand from the main text, was added later, on pages where more miniatures were perhaps planned but never executed. The formula is "unusual," writes Baratt, for a number of reasons including its careful gender inclusivity, which suggests family use, though she acknowledges that the comprehensiveness of the coverage of sin, including issues of both ordination and marriage, may indicate that "the persona of the penitent is entirely fictive and this is really a broad-spectrum, all-purpose formula" (6). Baratt is adjusting the evaluation of Pamela King who had argued that the formula was "clearly male and lay in focus" (4-5). The formula itself is also interesting, Baratt writes, because the voice of the penitent, as it tried to cover not only the seven deadly sins but also the Commandments, is often confused and garbled, omitting two commandments for example, and therefore revealing something about the ragged state of lay spiritual education in the 15th century in the north of England. The edition itself is glossed with linguistic and doctrinal notes.

Charlotte Brewer's "Critical, Scientific, and Eclectic Editing of Chaucer" recounts the feisty drama and infighting among 19th-century editors of Chaucer, exploring the controversy over the meaning of such terms as "critical" and "scientific." Brewer is trying to deepen our understanding of the major modern editions of Chaucer (and Langland as well) by examining the 19th-century debate that laid the groundwork for them. The debate, involving mostly English and German scholars and often storming around Skeat, is a complex and sometimes nasty one, and throughout it, Brewer notes, "a good deal of effort was being expended on theoretical aspects of editing, very little of which bore any clearly identifiable relation to the question of which variants an editor in practice choose to print in his text" (29). In this history, best text, editorial judgment, stemmas, and human subjectivity all come into play, and the ultimate effect of such controversy, Brewer writes, was that the "intellectual energy behind the debate" was "curiously enough...siphoned off into Langland rather than Chaucer studies" (31) with Manly and Rickert, for example, settling into the background behind the celebrity and convenience of Robinson. The debate about scientific method, of course, comes to a head in Kane and Donaldson's rejection of recention as an "ultimate absurdity" (32). Among the lessons drawn from the entire, sometimes competitive and surly history, concludes Brewer, is that "the aim of a successful editor must be to produce, like Skeat and Robinson, a user-friendly and readable text before all else" (35).

John Burrow contributes a short essay, related to his book Gestures and Looks in Medieval Narrative, entitled "Nonverbal Communication in Medieval England," exploring, in close philological study, the potential range of meaning in words denoting laughter, smiles and winks. Addressing the complexity of this challenging and under-studied subject, Burrow writes that "if modern scholars could be transported back, say, to fourteenth-century London, I guess that they would find themselves somewhat less prepared for the gestures they encountered than for the words they heard" (51). James Carley then examines the varied sources and legendary material that John of Glastonbury employed in composing his chronicle. Carley pieces together the chronology and provenance of texts in Latin, French, and Welsh as an archeologist restores a shattered piece of ancient pottery. The notes fill out even further details of the textual history and are longer than the essay, which, though rigorous, is highly specialized and seem targeted to those who have been participating with Carley in an ongoing assessment of the methods and resources of the monastic historian, whose chief contribution, it is generally agreed, "is his description of Joseph of Arimathea's mission and his linking of Joseph to the later Arthurian world" (55).

David Carlson's "Greeks in England, 1400" fascinatingly recounts a royal visit to London and to Henry IV by the Greek Emperor, Manual II Palaeologus, appending to the essay excerpts from contemporary English chronicles. The brevity of these sources reveals a general indifference to the visit, certainly subordinating it to more pressing domestic issues. The visit itself, Carley nonetheless reveals, was used to political and economic advantage by both rulers; the Emperor wanted cash, and Henry wanted to display his majesty in an uneasy time of Lollard rebellion, Welsh and Scots wars, and the fragile establishment of his own position after the usurpation of the throne and killing of Richard. Carlson contextualizes the event in the history of cultural relations between east and west, showing how the relative poverty and unimportance of the Emperor represents a profound shift in status of the two cultures, a diminishment from the days of Grosseteste, where studies of Greek matters reach their height in England. Yet the decline of the Greeks, as evidenced in the 1400 visit, also signals the coming cultural renaissance of things Greek in the West: as Carlson explains, "Only when the Greek East had ceased to figure in contemporary Western political calculations, with the reduction of the Emperor to itinerant beggary by 1400, and eventually with its obliteration as a political entity upon the fall of Constantinople in 1453, was the West in a position to articulate its relative ascendance over this other part of the world by appropriating it ancient (dead) culture" (87). This essay thus not only brings to life a relatively obscure royal visit but also tracks larger political, historical factors that inform the history of European classicism and the translatio studii.

In "Last Words: Latin at the End of the Confessio Amantis," Sian Echard examines how the various extant endings of Gower's Confessio and Vox Clamantis (including the Ricardian and Henrican invocations in the former) have been presented in both manuscripts and by modern editors, revealing that "Gower's status is differently manufactured by different production contexts" (107). In addition to assessing which "final" words appear in which manuscripts, Echard explores spacing, framework, text size, and other elements of scribal production that contribute to or construct Gower's self-presentation as a poet. "Gower's eye seems to have been on more than one kind of afterlife" (100), writes Echard, and the various medieval and modern manipulations of English and Latin matter at the end of the Confessio bespeak a variety of assessments of what kind of poet Gower was and where his greatest achievement might lie. Was it in mastering the vernacular? In rivaling Virgil in Latin? It is well known that the fall of Richard occasioned new dedicatory final matter, and Echard explores how editors tailor the material, in particular Macaulay, whose privileging presentation of the Henrican material "gives greater weight to political shifts than in warranted by the manuscript evidence" (105). "It is not Gower who is managing his posterity here: rather, it is his editor," concludes Echard, arguing that such overemphasis on political allegiance can obscure other issues of poetic identity and legacy, such as Gower's view of the "linguistic aspect of his poetic identity," "which actually looms large or larger in the manuscript tradition than do his political allegiances" (106). Echard appends a flow chart of the Confessio and the Vox Clamantis detailing which Latin (and English) end matter appears where. The final effect of her essay is to complicate any convenient understanding of what the poet's "last words" about his poem, about himself, and about his times, actually were.

Douglas Gray's "'Lat be thyne olde ensaumples': Chaucer and Proverbs," akin to Burrow's essay on NVC in Chaucer, sensitizes us to an under-studied but dynamic aspect of Chaucer's poetry. Gray makes no exhaustive list, but he alerts us to texts, such as the Wife of Bath's Tale and the Troilus that contain "particularly interesting 'clusters' of proverbs" (127). His comment on the two male heroes of the Troilus, one gifted in proverbs, the other not, is particularly revealing about Chaucer's art in relation to later literary history: "Pandarus and Troilus become one of the great 'pairs' of literature--like that later more comic pair, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote" (129). Power and authority, including the illusion or lack thereof, are often expressed in the characters' uses of proverbs and near proverbs in Chaucer's poetry, and Chaucer is not above inventing or crafting proverbially sounding phrases to this same end.

The next essay is another edition, Richard Firth Green's "The Hermit and the Outlaw," a short late 14th or early 15th century poem preserved in a single late-15th-century paper manuscript in the British Library. Prior attempts to print the poem are variously flawed, being based on transcriptions and not the manuscript, and therefore, as Green writes "there is thus every reason to reedit the poem from the original copy text" (137). Green acknowledges that the folk tale of the reformed robber who drinks his own blood rather than break his penance to drink no water for a day (resulting is the disillusionment of his supposedly more saintly hermit brother) may boast of only "modest" literary merits (136). But Green remarks on its lively narrative and dramatic shifts and particularly savors (calling it, restrainedly, "noteworthy") an exciting scene where three "wenches" try to tempt our hero with drink. Green explores sources and analogues, discusses topical references, potential dates of composition, and the dialect of the author, which differs from that of the scribe (as many rhymes reveal). Both poet and scribe originate from the Midlands, though the scribe's dialect can be more precisely located to the West Midlands, "specifically, the western half of Gloucestershire and the northern half of Somerset, along with the adjacent borders of Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and Herfordshire" (144).

Anne Hudson contributes "Pater Pateshull: One-Time Friar and Poet?," tracking down works likely to have been written by the Augustinian friar, Peter Pateshul, who left and renounced the order as corrupt in 1387. Walsingham identified him as a Lollard, and the bibliographic historian John Bale attributed 14 works to him. The honorand of this volume is one of those who has expressed "incredulity" at this attribution (168), yet Hudson, examining closely the manuscript evidence and historical references and details of the text, is able to show that at least some of the works for which Bale had provided incipits may indeed be attributed to Pateshul, who offers the sort of historical specificity that goes "beyond the usual generalized satire to specific scandals of the period just before as well as after FitzRalph's public denunciations" (175). In a humble, personal address to Rigg, Hudson ends her essay by invoking the honorand as the scholar most "excellently qualified" to further this investigation" (176).

The final essay is Lynne R. Mooney's "Manuscript Evidence for the Use of Medieval English Scientific and Utilitarian Texts." Mooney examines, most often, the medieval equivalent of the Physician's Desk Reference Book (my analogy, not hers), with the difference that many of these texts were folded for travel and quick consultation. The very existence of these texts and their "rapid increase" in the late 14th and 15th centuries "is evidence for the growing acceptance of English as the language of instruction" and of the "growing vernacular literacy among the laity and minor clergy who could not read Latin" (185). The essay includes photos of the manuscripts in question, displaying in some the folding patters and on others the workaday stains of the trade--herbs and blood, a situation that Mooney pleasantly relates to a modern "recipe card for chocolate cake" that would have "a brown tinge to it" (193). Mooney's essay opens up inquiry and reveals that medieval manuscript study is not always about "ornate collections for the aristocracy's leisure reading" (199). She rightly notes that much cultural evidence about medicine, education, daily professional practice, and the medieval sciences can be learned from these compelling texts--and the stains on them, I would add.

The volume ends with biographical notes about the contributors and a short index. The overall tone of the volume is one of quiet vitality, humility, variety and respect. One would imagine that Professor Rigg was pleased to see his colleagues and students honoring the depth and breath of his own career with such innovative and detailed works of textual, cultural, and literary archeology.