09.04.05, Kaylor, Nokes, eds., Global Perspectives

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Richard F. Johnson

The Medieval Review baj9928.0904.005


Kaylor, Noel Harold and Richard Scott Nokes, eds.. Global Perspectives on Medieval English Literature, Language, and Culture. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2007. Pp. xv, 310. ISBN: 978-1-58044-120-9.

Reviewed by:
Richard F. Johnson
Harper College

Noel Harold Kaylor and Richard Scott Nokes, both of the Department of English at Troy University, have assembled a collection of twelve essays by scholars from Asia, Europe, and North America in honor of Paul Szarmach, who, as Director of the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University, has fostered an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration among medievalists from across the globe. Collectively, the essays celebrate the global cooperation of medieval scholars, and individually they represent a standard of scholarship to which we might all aspire.

In the first essay, "Medieval Echoes in C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia with a Special Emphasis on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," Andrezj Wicher, Professor in the Institute of English Studies of Lod-University (Lod, Poland), explores Lewis's use of medieval cosmology, especially that of Dante and Chaucer, in his Narnia epic fantasy series. Focusing on Lewis's third novel in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wicher uncovers parallels between King Caspian's journey to find the seven lords who were banished when the false-king Miraz took over the throne of Narnia and Dante the Pilgrim's ascension through the heavenly spheres of Paradiso guided by Beatrice.

In her essay "Writing a New Morality Play: The Court as the World in John Skelton's Magnyfycence and John Redford's Wit and Science," Liliana Sikorska, Professor of English in the School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznam, Poland), argues that these two plays transform the pieties and conventions of medieval morality dramas into a new secular and courtly drama. Using the backdrop of the court, both plays extend the archetypal allegory of temptation and fall found in medieval morality plays to the courtly vices of flattery and deception. In a close reading of each play, Sikorska demonstrates that both plays are calculated reworkings of the pattern of innocence, sin, redemption, and salvation found in the early morality plays but aimed at entertaining and instructing a courtly audience.

The next two essays examine aspects of medieval piety. Professor Ji- Soo Kang of the Department of English Language and Literature at Inha University (South Korea) analyzes The Book of Margery Kempe in light of anti-Lollard sentiment of the Church in her essay "Clerical Anxiety, Margery's Crying, and Her Book." Through her preaching and teaching, Margery frequently faced accusations of being a heretic and particularly a Lollard. Kang demonstrates that there is little in The Book that would suggest that Margery was indeed a Lollard. Instead, she argues that it was Margery's affective piety, especially her self-proclaimed unmediated relationship with God, that provoked considerable ecclesiastical anxiety. Nothing was perhaps so disconcerting to ecclesiastical authority as Margery's "gift of tears," her public and vociferous sobbing. Kang argues, however, that it is precisely her tears that afford her the authority to speak on theological issues. In the end, the fact that Margery's priest-scribe is effectively assimilated to her practice of affective piety is evidence of her victory: the strumpet, Lollard, and false deceiver of the people is vindicated by a representative of the male ecclesiastical hierarchy. In his essay, "The blood I souke of his feet": The Christocentric Heritage of Medieval Affective Piety--A Historical Overview," Wladyslaw Witalisz, Adjunct Professor at the Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland), provides a cogent description of the origins and development of the concept of Christ's humanity and its significance in medieval religious practice. Witalisz argues that the affective christocentric piety of the late Middle Ages is related to a shift in approaches to preaching in this period. As the size and character of their audiences changed, preachers altered their rhetorical approaches to include a more affective perception of Christ's suffering on the cross.

Gregorz A. Kleparski, Professor at the Institute of English Studies at Universytet Rzeszowski (Rzeszow, Poland), examines the pejorative reference of animal metaphors to women in his essay, "Despotic Mares, Dirty Sows, and Angry Bitches: On Middle English Zooseemy and Beyond." Using concepts derived from cognitive linguistics, Kleparski analyzes the historical zoosemic developments of the words bitch, stot, yaud, mare, sow, and shrew. Following the work of Rawson, Kleparski demonstrates that Middle English assigned different values to zoosemic terms when they were applied metaphorically to men and women. Once a term achieved a connotation of opprobrium, it no longer came to be applied to men in a metaphorically pejorative sense.

The sixth and seventh essays in this volume focus on Chaucer's courtly epic "Troilus and Criseyde." In his essay, "No Greater Pain: The Ironies of Bliss in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde," An Sonjae (Brother Anthony of Taize), Professor Emeritus of English at Sogang University (Seoul, South Korea), uncovers the extent of Chaucer's debt to Boethius. From Boethius, Chaucer adopts the themes of the impermanence and fragility of human happiness, and the figure of Fortuna as the embodiment of human mutability. An Sonjae argues that the ironic patternings evident in the text suggest an implicit commentary on the lengths to which Troilus goes in the pursuit of his own happiness. Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr. sets out to chart the differences in frames-of-reference in Dante and Chaucer's fictions in his essay, "Re-examining Geoffrey Chaucer's Work in an Age of Globalization: Troilus and Criseyde and Chaucer's Global Perspective." Although Kaylor does not identify the actual moment of the shift, he establishes the nature of these differences and discusses how they are significant in the globalized world of the twenty-first century. Referring to Barbara Tuchman's monumental work on the fourteenth century, Kaylor points to a number of "calamitous" events that occurred between Dante's completion of The Divine Comedy in the late thirteenth century and Chaucer's composition of Troilus in the late-fourteenth century. Events such as the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1348 had a profoundly sobering effect on the outlook of Europeans in the mid-fourteenth century. Kaylor concludes that our own age of globalization owes much to the authorial mentality of Chaucer's late medieval mind for turning his audience's attention toward the world at large and its problems, and toward the immense diversity of humankind and its potential.

The next essay analyzes the historical context of the Old English translation of Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae. In "King Alfred the Great and the Victorian Translations of His Anglo- Saxon Boethius," Philip Edward Phillips, Associate Professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University, explores the multi- layered transmission of an originally Latin text through Old English to Modern English. Against the backdrop of the millenary celebrations of King Alfred, Phillips examines the Victorian translations of Alfred's Anglo-Saxon adaptation of Boethius's text. Phillips demonstrates that the Victorian translations by Cardale, Fox, Tupper, and Sedgefield each not only reflected the late-nineteenth century national obsession with King Alfred but also served to preserve the text in accessible Modern English translations.

Professor Sung-Il Lee of the English Literature faculty at Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea) offers a new translation and comparative analysis of "The Wife's Lament" in his essay, "The Identity of 'Geong Mon' (line 42) in 'The Wife's Lament' (or, 'The Lament of an Outcast')." Lee argues that the conventional identification of the speaker's voice as that of a woman has limited interpretations of the poem. Lee offers his own translation of the poem and argues that the question of the identity of the "young man" of line 42 is open to scrutiny. Through his original translation and discussion of a sixteenth-century Korean poem, Lee offers a comparative reading of "The Wife's Lament." Lee argues that the speaker of the poem ought to be understood metaphorically as a sort of Anglo-Saxon Everythane who suffers the ignominy and pain of being excluded from his lord's company and favor.

In his essay, "Origin and Supplement: Marvels and Miracles in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede's Ecclesiastical History," Minwoo Yoon, Associate Professor of English at Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea), examines closely the textual contexts of the preternatural events narrated in these two texts. Yoon's analysis of these events in each text offers a glimpse of the ostensible purpose of each text. Yoon argues that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles preserve an essentially "pagan" fascination with and understanding of these events even though they were compiled at dates later than the composition of the History. Yoon suggests that this characteristic of the Chronicles is an aspect of their purpose to memorialize the Germanic ancestral roots of King Alfred's dynasty. In Bede, Yoon demonstrates that a process of conversion occurs, a process by which the merely "marvelous" are transformed into the "miraculous." Yoon argues that these literary conversions of marvels into miracles are an explicit attempt by Bede to legitimize these events as authentic experiences worthy of spiritual contemplation and moral interpretation.

In perhaps one of the most daunting essays in the volume, "Diagramming Old English Sentences," Robert Stevick, Professor Emeritus of English at University of Washington, demonstrates just how instructors of Old English language and literature might use this bastion of old-school grammar instruction in order to teach students how to better understand the language they are studying. Stevick convincingly argues that diagramming Old English sentences can be an effective way of teaching Old English as a language to be read (as opposed to recited in stentorian tones). He also suggests that this method of instruction instills a more profound appreciation of the linguistic craft and understanding of the complex web of themes of the greatest Anglo-Saxon literary texts.

In the final essay in this volume, "Global Literature, Medieval Literature, and the Popul Vuh," Richard Scott Nokes proposes a more inclusive approach to the study of medieval literature through the study of a variety of manuscript literatures from across the globe. Through a brief introduction to the Mayan epic, The Popul Voh, Nokes argues that a study of texts from seemingly antithetical cultural traditions can serve to dismantle the artificial boundaries of literary specializations, which in the end serve only to proscribe knowledge and understanding.

The editors of this volume, Noel Harold Kaylor and Richard Scott Nokes, are to be commended for the high standard the essays in this collection set for future studies in the ever-widening circle of medieval studies. My only complaint is that the "global perspective" of the volume is not as "global" as it might be. The three continents mentioned in the Introduction are represented by scholars from only one country each: Asia is represented by South Korea; Europe by Poland; North America by the US. As a whole, however, the essays draw on an impressive range of scholarly expertise and represent an exemplary achievement in interdisciplinary studies of medieval English literature, language, and culture. The essays maintain a sophistication of approach to the problems and issues of comparative literary analysis and historical source study. This collection will be a welcome addition to the shelves of anyone interested in interdisciplinary medieval studies from a global perspective.

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Richard F. Johnson

Harper College