Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
13.05.12, Hodder & O'Connell, eds., Transmission and Generation

13.05.12, Hodder & O'Connell, eds., Transmission and Generation

This volume is a second Festschrift that pays tribute to a prolific and well-known Irish scholar, the first having been edited by Alan J. Fletcher and Anne Marie D'Arcy in 2005 under the title Studies in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Texts in Honour of John Scattergood. In this new arrival, ten essays by Scattergood's former students and other academics are arranged chronologically, beginning with Francis Leneghan's study of the Scyld Scefing episode in Beowulf. Like the other studies in the volume, Leneghan's contribution is an excursus into the historical basis of this episode, about which I and my fellow students first puzzled a half century ago when we read Beowulf in the classroom of Robert Diamond, who in turn had been a student of Francis Magoun.

Leneghan approaches Beowulf as a work incorporating traditions positioned between the older oral culture and the new written culture that had developed in Anglo-Saxon England. This is quite conventional. But then he gives close attention to the crucial role of the scop in blending and transforming older traditions and legends, folk tale motifs, newly imported themes from the Bible, and Danish genealogy. In so doing, he argues that the Scyld Scefing episode is a key passage in the poem that unlocks the most important aspects of the poet's organizational technique. Beowulf, Leneghan points out, would have been ideal for reading aloud in monasteries, at that time centers of literacy where manuscripts were copied, preserved, and read. Monks were known to enjoy hearing stories of Germanic heroes, if Alcuin, who chided the religious of Lindisfarne for such tastes, is to be believed. The introduction of Scyld Scefing, according to Leneghan, involved a fragment of narrative seemingly exterior to the story of the hero but which nevertheless in context established for contemporary audiences a convincing context for the poem as a whole.

Erik Kooper, treating the twelfth-century English kings Henry I, Stephen, and Henry II, offers a comparative treatment of the histories presented in the chronicles. He sees the development of a kind of historical writing very different from Bede's Ecclesiastical History, for the writers now placed kingship at the center of national history and developed very individualized accounts of their subjects. If the clergy come into the story, they are not included on account of their spirituality but because of their role in national politics. Thomas Becket was a player in the high affairs of state such as the controversy in 1164 over the Statutes of Clarendon, to which he initially agreed before his refusal to abide by them. Kooper is incorrect in saying, however, that Becket was murdered in 1170 "while celebrating mass in Canterbury Cathedral" (46), though he was represented wearing mass vestments from the earliest depictions of him as a saint. The murder did not take place at the high altar, and occurred during vespers, as the eyewitness account by Edward Grim reports. Among the chronicles that are compared, only Robert of Gloucester and the Polychronicon take note of Henry II's long- time mistress, the fair Rosamond Clifford.

Complementing Kooper's essay is Brendan O'Connell's commentary on Richard FitzNigel's Dialogus de Scaccario. FitzNigel (a.k.a. FitzNeal) was royal treasurer to Henry II and a significant figure in establishing procedures of the Exchequer that would survive until 1832. The Dialogus was regarded by M. T. Clanchy to be an important document in the development of literacy [1], but O'Connell examines the work from a different perspective, stressing the "analogy between legitimate monarchic succession and the steady transmission of knowledge from generation to generation" (53). In the process of transmission, FitzNigel is insistent on the importance not only of continuity but also of productive conflict, both essential ingredients in academic debate. Integrity in writing and handling accounts as well as in preparing historical description must be respected, for, as the Dialogus explains, such documents "are symbols of the strict accounting that will be revealed when the books of all are opened and the door shut" at the Last Day (62).

The formal structure of debate in The Parlement of the Thre Ages and medieval expectations concerning the accepted rules are examined by Darragh Greene. He discusses the argument among the allegorical triad of dream figures, Youthe, Medill Elde, and Elde, in terms of Aristotelian rhetoric. Aristotle's Rhetoric was a standard school text and also coincidentally one source of the notion of the Three Ages of Man that was one form of the common Ages iconography (Ars Rhetorica 2:12-14). The fun of the argument in the poem is clearly that it violates the rules. All culminates in a final put-down by the joyless Elde, who has the last word with an explicit warning that death is the end of life and that no one should be heedless of this throughout all stages of one's existence--a common enough warning in the arts in the period, especially following the appearance of the Black Death in 1348-49. The long section on the Nine Worthies confirms the aphorism Sic transit gloria mundi.

Niamh Pattwell's reinterpretation of the life of Isabella, wife of Edward II (and, infamously, the lover of Roger Mortimer), verifies a comfortable lifestyle after her arrest and release from confinement rather than the deprivation usually suggested by historians. Such a re-evaluation of her later years is possible on the basis of the previously neglected household accounts in London, British Library, MS Cotton Galba E.14. Especially of interest are her continuing involvement in high culture (especially French) and patronage of music and minstrels. Fifteen months in 1357-58 reveal English and French minstrels performing on numerous occasions, including the feasts of Corpus Christi, All Saints, Pentecost, John the Baptist, and Midsummer, as well as during the Easter season. Some instrumentalists are identified, and in other cases musicians' patrons are named. As for book production, there is frequent mention in the accounts of a scribe, William de Taterford, "a married cleric of the diocese of Norwich" (86).

The Franklin's Tale is considered by the Chaucer scholar Cliodhna Carney against the concept of Christian gentilesse independent of possessioun, that is, generositas virtus, non sanguis. This frequently debated adage had long before been identified influentially by Boethius in the Consolation of Philosophy (2:6, 3:3, 6), but it finds expression going forward into the Renaissance, for example, in humanist-inspired work such as Henry Medwall's Fulgens and Lucres and the writings of the Thomas More circle. The adage was particularly valued by Erasmus. The story of Arveragus and Dorigen hinges on personal integrity, which suffers a crisis for both husband and wife as well as for the would-be lover Aurelius when it clashes with a complicated social reality-- indeed, the game of life itself. In the preceding link, the Franklin's profligate son falls short; living in the real world, he is generous, but lacks virtus.

"Lollard" (derived from Middle Dutch lollaert, "mumbler"; cf. the OED) was a common term of derogation, involving a charge of unorthodoxy in Chaucer's time and thereafter, when the word acquired the taint of political subversion. Indeed, by 1409 Archbishop Arundel's Constitutions had come down hard on Lollards and any "fellow travelers" (to use an anachronistic term from the twentieth- century Cold War). While being popularly associated with Wyclif, Lollards and their sympathizers were actually spread across a broad spectrum, from hot-eyed iconoclasts to conforming clergy and laypersons. Certainly there is little about Sir John Clanvowe's The Two Ways to distinguish it as anything but orthodox. Unlike a considerable amount of Lollard writing, it is not a polemical treatise. There is even an injunction to worship "gostly moodir chirche" as one ought. [2] Clanvowe lays out the "two ways," the narrow road leading to salvation and the broad one terminating in the punishments of hell, in a conventional manner, though to be sure the institutional Church is nearly erased in the emphasis on personal salvation, in which grace is extended by a personal God directly to the individual. In her discussion, Francis McCormack sees the author to be representing salvation in an "essentializing manner" (110-11), but the implied Lollard categories of inclusion (those who are obedient and good, with whom the writer identifies) and exclusion (others, who are disobedient and bad) simply involve a classic case of "splitting" as usefully defined by psychoanalysis. The dividing line for Clanvowe and for Lollards generally was the teaching and keeping of the Ten Commandments, as Margaret Aston has emphasized. [3] Clanvowe is more complex than this might suggest, since he draws on the traditional iconography of the World, Flesh, and Devil triad, incorporating the Seven Deadly Sins, as an organizational structure to define the nature of the profane life that is to be avoided.

The question of the responsibility of Richard III for the death of the princes in the Tower still vexes scholars, and this tends to be colored by the attitude of the individual writer toward the monarch. Tudor historians, followed by Shakespeare, creatively demonized this king by equating the deformity due to scoliosis (verified by his skeleton, recently exhumed at Leicester) with extreme moral deformity. [4] Yet in the North of England, where the Tudors were very unpopular, Richard III was viewed favorably, while many today would still argue that at least he was no worse than other kings of the period. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin avoids the controversy and wisely focuses instead on Sir Thomas More and Shakespeare, who establish and maintain, from different points of view to be sure, the Tudor story of the death of the young Prince Edward and his brother Richard after they were removed from sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. She looks at the account in More's History of Richard III, his use of perspective drawn from Roman history, and the ongoing historical debate about sanctuary. Then in Shakespeare's Richard III, heavily dependent on More, it is not the sanctuary question any longer that is dominant but rather the "radiant innocence" of the children that chillingly serves to affect even the hearts of the hard-hearted murderers. Nevertheless, as Ni Chuilleanáin comments, the violation of sanctuary still "gives the princes a residual aura of the ecclesiastical sacred, which utterly fails to protect them from the malice of their uncle" (127). A broader perspective perhaps might have been achieved by comparison with the dramatist's later use of Kindermord in Macbeth, where the murder of children also will be pivotal to the plot.

In an essay entitled "The 'English Brut Tradition' in an Irish and Welsh Context," John J. Thompson attempts to "'coax into presence' the voices of the past" and thus to forge a new, if speculative, interpretation of the provenance and history of Dublin, Trinity College, MS 505. His emphasis is on the reception and ownership of a manuscript that had a special appeal, especially on account of its "mythic" aspect, to the series of owners and readers who possessed or consulted it in the years after its completion initially, apparently in the 1470s or thereabouts. These are traced so far as possible, sometimes by means of admittedly imaginative guesswork, up to the manuscript's appearance in Belfast before its acquisition in 1741 by the Trinity College Library. It would seem that Archbishop James Ussher was one of those who possessed it along the way. Unfortunately, while citing illuminations and genealogical diagrams in the manuscript, the essay includes no illustrations.

Professor Scattergood's interest in medievalism is acknowledged in the final study, Karen Hodder's review of William Wordsworth's contribution to Chaucer translation in the nineteenth century. Wordsworth had little trouble understanding Chaucer's language, in part perhaps because he had experience with deciphering a range of "difficult" dialects in the North of England both in his Cumbrian childhood at Cockermouth, Penrith, and Hawkshead and again in later life at Grasmere. He deeply admired Chaucer, whom he considered English literature's "Morning Star" (141). But his translation of The Manciple's Tale was never published in his lifetime. The tale hardly seemed to fit Victorian standards of propriety, and, in considering allowing his translation to be published, the line "For on thy bed thy wife I saugh hym swyve" was found especially troubling. But in the end Wordsworth's Manciple's Tale, in a bowdlerized translation, escaped inclusion in the ill-fated anthology being prepared by a certain Thomas Powell, who would be revealed to be a fraud "who only escaped prison by feigning insanity and decamping to New York" (152).

Transmission and Generation in Medieval and Renaissance Literature is prefaced by a bibliography of the dedicatee's scholarly publications. Dating from 1964 to 2010, this listing of books and articles represents the activity of a vigorous and influential scholar. The Festschrift also has an index, a feature not always not always present in collections of this kind.



1. M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

2. Sir John Clanvowe, Works, ed. V. J. Scattergood (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1975), 74.

3. Margaret Aston, Lollards and Reformers (London: Continuum, 1984), 144.

4. Sarah Knight and Mary Ann Lund, "Richard Crookback," Times Literary Supplement, 8 February 2013, 14-15.