Families, Fictions, and Seeing Through Things: Re-Reading Langland, Chaucer, and the Pearl-Poet by Noëlle Phillips B.A. (Honours), University of Victoria, 2003 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in The Faculty of Graduate Studies (English) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) April 2011 © Noëlle Phillips, 2011 ii ABSTRACT This dissertation explores the generation of meaning in medieval texts and suggests ways in which we can regenerate that meaning by deploying medieval hermeneutic models. Unlike previous scholarship in this particular area, much of which focuses upon how scholasticism and the classical inheritance influenced medieval reading practices, this project brings together two relatively new theoretical models in order to re-evaluate our understanding of some well-trodden ground: the work of William Langland, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Pearl-Poet. These two models are genealogy and thing theory – two perspectives which seem very different but which both resonate with medieval forms of understanding. This dual theoretical paradigm complicates our assumptions about how linear models functioned in the Middle Ages and highlights how the absence of meaning can be just as significant as its presence. The “thing,” both as concrete object and divine unknown, is an integral part of genealogy, in that the linear genealogical model is constantly on the edge of dissolution as its hidden histories threaten to disrupt its stability. In each of the four “case studies” in this dissertation I apply these models to my readings of different forms of textuality: literary tradition, the physical manuscript, and literary analysis. Langland’s poem Piers Plowman is a central component in each case study, largely because it refuses conclusions and resolutions. Its apparent transgression of genre, its unexpected turns, and its ability to be aligned with opposing ideologies make it a puzzle to the modern reader. It is, in many ways, an indefinable “thing.” Much of this project looks for such moments of “thingness” in order to explore alternate models of signification, and therefore Piers Plowman is ideal as the common thread connecting the different parts of my argument. Applying thing theory and the genealogical paradigm to the various works in this dissertation facilitates an exploration of issues such as authorship, community, individuality, and alterity and the role they play in medieval textuality. Increasing our awareness of how medieval reading practices diverge from modern ones surely enhances our understanding of how literature shaped medieval English culture – a culture which, in turn, shaped our own. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract........................................................................................................................................ ii Table of Contents ....................................................................................................................... iii List of Tables ............................................................................................................................... v List of Figures............................................................................................................................. vi Acknowledgements ...................................................................................................................vii Dedication .................................................................................................................................viii Chapter 1: Introduction .......................................................................................................... 1 1.1 Theoretical Perspectives ............................................................................ 4 1.1.1 Identity and Origins ............................................................................. 6 1.2 Case Studies ............................................................................................... 9 Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework ...................................................................................... 15 2.1 Genealogy ................................................................................................ 19 2.1.1 Medieval and Modern: The Nature of Genealogy ............................. 20 2.1.2 Medieval Manifestations of Genealogy ............................................. 24 2.1.3 Kynde................................................................................................. 33 2.2 Thing Theory and Material Culture ......................................................... 36 2.2.1 Critical Interest: Things, Objects, and Signification.......................... 37 2.2.2 Medieval Things ................................................................................ 44 2.2.3 Thingness as the Alternate Order: The Carnival and the Divine ....... 45 2.2.4 The Modern Mind and the Medieval Thing....................................... 50 2.3 Blood, Text, and Thing: Connecting Perspectives................................... 52 Chapter 3: (Re)Reading Tradition: the Chaucerian Tradition........................................... 58 3.1 Tradition and Genealogy.......................................................................... 63 3.2 Chaucer’s Family Tree............................................................................. 66 3.2.1 Defining the Chaucerian Tradition .................................................... 71 3.3 Redefining the Chaucerian Tradition: A “Supplemental” Genealogy ..... 77 3.3.1 Social Authorship............................................................................... 82 3.3.2 The Chaucerian Canon and “Dyuers other workes” ......................... 85 Chapter 4: (Re)Reading Tradition: the Piers Plowman Tradition.................................... 103 4.1 Critical Consensus on the Piers Plowman Tradition ............................. 107 iv 4.2 Redefining the Plowman: The Tradition’s Texts and a Traditional Piers........................................................................................................ 119 4.3 Chaucer and Langland: Reproducing Tradition..................................... 131 Chapter 5: Traditions Intersect: Confusing Compilations ............................................... 136 5.1 Traditions Intersect: HM 114 and HM 143............................................ 138 5.2 Huntington Library MS HM 114 ........................................................... 144 5.2.1 Production, Collation, and Compilation .......................................... 146 5.2.2 Textual Contents and Mise en Page: Booklets or a Book? ............. 150 5.3 Huntington Library MS HM 143 ........................................................... 172 5.3.1 A Book in Progress: The Troilus Fragment ..................................... 178 5.4 Conclusions: Rereading Tradition ......................................................... 184 Chapter 6: Long-Lost Family: Identity and Origin in Piers Plowman and Pearl .......... 193 6.1 Choice of Texts ...................................................................................... 197 6.2 Professional Readers and Paratexts ....................................................... 198 6.3 Piers Plowman and Pearl: Literary Siblings ......................................... 209 6.3.1 “Sellies and Selkouthe Thynges”: Object, Subject, and Identity..... 212 6.3.2 Desiring An Other: the Pearl Maiden and Piers Plowman .............. 227 6.3.3 Beginning Again: Genealogy and Kynde......................................... 235 6.4 Conclusion ............................................................................................. 247 Chapter 7: Conclusion.......................................................................................................... 250 Bibliography ............................................................................................................................ 253 vLIST OF TABLES Table 1: Contents of the Oxford Group Manuscripts ................................................................. 91 vi LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1: “The Progenie of Geffrey Chaucer” ........................................................................... 68 Figure 2: Dreamer gazing at the Pearl Maiden ........................................................................ 206 Figure 3: Dreamer gazing at Maiden in celestial city .............................................................. 206 Figure 4: Dreamer sleeping by the river .................................................................................. 207 vii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Much like the bumbling Will in Piers Plowman, I was guided and encouraged throughout this long process by the wisdom, humour, experience, and patience of many people. First and foremost, my deepest thanks are owed to my supervisor, Dr. Siân Echard, whose timely and constructive feedback was invaluable and whose thoughtful conversations helped me refine my ideas into something useful. That I greatly appreciate Dr. Echard’s understanding attitude toward my chaotic combination of motherhood and academia is an understatement. I would also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Robert Rouse and Dr. Stephen Partridge, both of whom have offered thought-provoking commentary on my work and proposed important suggestions for revision. I owe much to the generosity of scholars I have met over the past several years, whether at conferences or through email correspondence, who have provided various forms of assistance to me. These people include Dr. Lawrence Warner, Dr. Simon Horobin, Dr. Traugott Lawler, Dr. Fiona Somerset, Dr. Wendy Scase, Dr. Michael Calabrese, Dr. Alexandra Gillespie, Dr. Patricia Bart, and Dr. Christopher de Hamel. Thank you also to the British Library and the Huntington Library for granting me the necessary image-use permissions for this project. I offer my thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, UBC, and the UBC Department of English for the funding provided throughout the course of my studies. I must also thank the English Department staff, particularly Louise Soga, for their help in negotiating the logistical hurdles of graduate student life. Finally, my heartfelt love and appreciation go to my family: my parents, who encouraged me in all my varied pursuits over the years; my children Riley and Isabella, whose sticky hands and big smiles make everything better; and my husband Rich, whose never-ending support and patience has meant the world to me. viii For Rich, who believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself 1Chapter 1 Introduction “Piers,” quod a preest thoo, “thi pardon moste I rede; For I shal construe ech clause and kenne it thee on Englissh.”… In two lynes it lay, and noght a lettre moore, And was writen right thus in witnesse of truthe: Et qui bona egerunt ibunt in vitam eternam. Qui vero mala, in ignem eternum. “Peter!” quod the preest thoo, “I kan no pardon fynde But ‘Do wel and have wel. and God shal have thi soule,’ And ‘Do yvel and have yvel, and hope thow noon oother That after thi deeth day the devel shal have thi soule!’” And Piers for pure tene pulled it atweyne (Piers Plowman B:VII:105-117) Genealogy is gray, meticulous, and patiently documentary. It operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times. (Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” 76) Medievalists are continually caught up in a web of documents, of texts whose origin, genealogy and function are often unclear. The reconstruction of a culture that thrived a half millennium or more ago requires us to be, in Michel Foucault’s words, “patiently documentary” as we sift through thousands of textual remnants, classifying them in order to make visible the connections between them and establish an overall sense of coherence. In other words, nearly all of our encounters with medieval records require us to unearth textual genealogies – a task that is as daunting as Foucault’s quotation above suggests. Many of these genealogies are indeed “tangled and confused” since they rely upon texts that have been “recopied many times” but in 2seemingly infinite variations. Our sense of what a logical textual genealogy looks like (shaped by modern ideas of genre and authorship) frequently does not resonate with the medieval sense. To forget the “surprising otherness” (Jauss and Bahti 182), the alterity, of medieval textual culture is to see fragmentation instead of unity, and then to feel the need to excuse or dismiss that fragmentation. To use a simple metaphor, it is as if we are attempting to assemble a jigsaw puzzle using the wrong picture as a reference; the pieces will not fit together in the way we expect. This project is an effort to identify a better picture to use as we put together this medieval textual puzzle. How can we adjust our own paradigms in a way that enables us to read medieval texts – literary texts in particular – more effectively? I am interested in examining failures of signification in Middle English literature in order to see whether the text’s sense of unity and its cultural meaning can be understood by focusing on other literary characteristics or different reader expectations. As subsequent chapters will discuss, applying our accustomed categories of genre and literary tradition to medieval texts in order to make them fit into a comfortable hermeneutic framework prevents us from seeing some of the meaning and value latent in otherwise fragmentary, confusing, or arbitrary works. Because the late fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman functions as a literary touchstone in each of the following chapters, one of its most baffling passages is quoted above as an example of where signification fails – both for us as readers and for the actual characters in the poem. In this chapter’s epigraph, Piers Plowman, a figure of wisdom and authority even as he works as a simple plowman, has just organized the community to work together to plow a half- acre of land before they set off to follow Piers to the tower of Truth. However, this goal of a pilgrimage gradually fades and is replaced by the physical labour of the people – the plowing becomes the pilgrimage. To reward Piers and his “heirs” for their work, Truth sends a pardon. 3The contents of the pardon are summarized at great length, but in the excerpt above it is discovered to be not a pardon at all but simply a statement about living well. In anger, Piers tears it apart and vows to live by prayers and penance instead of by plowing.1 This is a key scene in the poem because it is at this point that Piers fades as a presence in the text and Will the Dreamer takes up the quest for spiritual knowledge that both Piers and the pardon espouse. It is not my intent here to delve into my own reading of the B-Text’s Plowing of the Half Acre and Pardon scenes (Passus 6 and 7), which are complex moments in the poem and still subject to critical debate. Rather, they are highlighted as an example of Piers Plowman’s repeated tendency to disrupt our expectations of it. Firstly, Piers’ command over the community reinforces the importance of social hierarchy while simultaneously turning it on its head; why is a plowman Latinate, and how does he have authority over a knight? Secondly, Piers’ decision to labour through prayers instead of through physical work is an uncomfortable echo of the excuses of both the narrator and the Passus 6 wasters regarding why they do not work with their hands. Finally, the destruction of a document originating with Truth and the failure of that document to conform to its textual category suggests the ultimate inadequacy of textuality. This suggestion has the secondary effect of subverting the validity of the poetic effort itself, thereby paradoxically undermining the truth of the poem. The angry tearing apart of a document meant to embody truth is the most explosive manifestation of a pattern that runs throughout Piers Plowman: meaning fails to be where we expect it, leaving us with the choice of either ascribing sloppiness to the poet or deploying different models of understanding. Finding a different model of understanding is exactly what Piers Plowman does in the poem when he turns away from the promised stability of documents and of physical labour and towards a contemplative lifestyle. The pardon scene represents a failure of signification both for 1 In the C-text, the explosiveness of the pardon-tearing is avoided by having Piers and the priest lapse into an argument about the pardon rather than destroying it. 4the readers and for the characters in the poem, since Piers’ turn towards spiritual labour is confusing in light of his earlier reprimand against the wasters who promised to pray because they could not work. However, he has found a new model for “Dowel” – for living the Christian life – and Will and the reader are meant to follow his lead. Indeed, it becomes more than following: because Piers disappears from the poetic action at this point, Will essentially takes up Piers’ quest himself. In this sense, Will becomes the true heir of Piers, just as Truth suggested when the pardon was first passed down to the community. The poem’s moral paradigm shifts in order to reconcile the failure of the pardon with the ultimate truth of Truth, and the character of Piers provides cues to the readers regarding how to understand this shift. The pardon scene is therefore not ultimately a failure in signification, but an important turn to a new model of signification. 1.1 Theoretical Perspectives Finding a new model of signification is, in part, my objective here. In order to explore alternate ways of reading Middle English literature and close the gap between medieval and modern practices, this project employs two theoretical models throughout: the genealogical paradigm and material culture/thing theory. Because Chapter Two provides an in-depth discussion of these two theoretical models and their utility, they are only briefly introduced here. Using genealogy as a theoretical lens is appropriate when analyzing a society in which morality and bloodlines were intertwined and precedent and origin were more highly valued than individualism or innovation. Inheritance, legitimacy, and sexuality are also issues integral to genealogy, and an understanding of genealogy’s importance aids our reading of any medieval text that engages with these ideas. Thing theory and material culture, on the other hand, evaluate the production of meaning, whether such production occurs through objects or through 5vocabulary.2 Thing theory focuses on those moments in which an object fails to do what we expect and thus becomes something unclassifiable – a thing – to us. Truth’s pardon is an example of such thingness: as a document, it does not adhere to its own generic category nor does it function in the community as expected. In contrast to the failure of meaning that thing theory explores, material culture analysis attempts to evaluate how a clear relationship to a human subject generates meaning in an object. Such objects are much easier to classify and understand. The movement of a physical item from a thing to an object or vice versa is about more than our own perspective on that item; it also speaks to how we identify ourselves as human subjects. As Ian Woodward states in his book Understanding Material Culture, “people talk about objects as a way of talking about their lives, values and experiences....It is stories and narratives that hold an object together, giving it cultural meaning” (152). The choice of genealogy and thing theory as paths into re-reading medieval texts may at first appear arbitrary – neither is a mainstream form of literary theory, and they seem to have little relation to one another. However, both appeal to our desire for concreteness and linearity and then disrupt those expectations. The stability of the genealogical line and the physical thing can always be undermined. The fluidity that made genealogical connections valuable – the ease with which genealogies could be fictionalized in order to legitimate anything from a legal claim to a romance – also made them highly unstable. In a similar way, the importance of figurative typology and symbolism in the Middle Ages meant that objects were never fully invested in one category or definition. The Host wafer was at once Christ’s body and a physical wafer, the Dreamer’s jewel in Pearl was at once a physical pearl, a lost daughter/lover, and a bride of Christ. Exploring how we as modern readers understand objects is therefore a valuable exercise 2 My discussions of this theoretical model(s) here and throughout sometimes conflate both aspects by referring to it as “thing theory” only. This is done purely to avoid awkwardness in phrasing, and should not be taken to mean that the material culture aspect of object analysis has been overlooked. 6and may complicate our assumptions about the relative importance of form and content as we read medieval texts. 1.1.1 Identity and Origins One of the important concepts which is informed by both the genealogical and thing- theory models is identity – individual, communal, physical, textual, and spiritual. Much of the analysis in the follow chapters asks when and how identity should be circumscribed or defined, and particularly how medieval readers understood identity, whether that identity be their own, their community’s, or a literary text’s. While thing-theory highlights slippages in identity, places in which a name or a category does not fit, genealogy pinpoints it, locating a person or a text within webs of kinship or constructing identity by drawing a single line back to a speculative or fictional origin. England’s emergent sense of national self-identity was informed in part by this kind of fictionalized, linear genealogy. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century chronicle The History of the Kings of Britain and fourteenth- and fifteenth-century popular historical poetry such as the Destruction of Troy, the Laud Troy Book, and Lydgate’s Troy Book were premised on a genealogy that stretched back to Brutus (founder of Britain), who was the descendant of Aeneas, the founder of Troy. Indeed, the very existence of these kinds of texts is an example of a textual microcosm of genealogy: the three Troy narratives were English translations of Guido delle Colonne's very popularly thirteenth-century Historia destructionis Troiae, and therefore, in their own way, were a documentary version of a largely ideological genealogical line. This kind of linear model had the power to consolidate a sense of community identity for the British people, thereby creating open and receptive audiences for texts that employed the Trojan genealogy. Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, for example, appealed to readers in part because it was thought to be a historically-grounded tale and therefore one that was relevant to the British people (Ingledew 134-6). Conversely, genealogy’s hidden histories, those that are 7effaced by the linear construction of a family line, can redefine or disrupt the stability of identity. A modern example of this is the status of manuscript fragments, which frequently do not fit clearly into the manuscript stemma and therefore do not have a place in the textual genealogy.3 In a medieval context, the disruptive potential of a fragmented or distended genealogy is most often manifested in a literal form: illegitimate sexual unions and bastard children. Langland expresses anxiety about this issue throughout Piers Plowman and, in the somewhat problematic voice of Will,4 ascribes to such genealogical illegitimacy serious social problems: For sholde no clerke be crouned but yf he come were Of frankeleynes and fre men and of folke ywedded. Bondemen and bastardus and beggares children, Thyse bylongeth to labory, and lords kyn to serue Ac sythe bondemen barnes haen be mad bisshopes And barones bastardus haen be erchedekenes And soutares and here sones for suluer han be knythes… Popes and patrones pore gentel blood refused And taken Symondes sones seyntwarie to kepe Piers Plowman, C:V:66-73 It is suggested here that only those born of legitimate unions (“gentel blood”) should hold privileged and powerful positions such as bishops, archdeacons, and knights, and that social disorder is the result of bastards and bondsmen – the former being illegitimate and the latter being born into a lifelong legal obligation to another family5 – taking on social identities that contradict their genealogical identities. This is one manifestation of the medieval sense of thingness, as I discuss in the following chapter – the inversion of social order, the collapse of hierarchy and the loss of classification. Genealogy was one of the most fundamental 3 In Chapter Four I discuss one such fragment and the difficulty of defining it. 4 Will makes this statement in the C:V apologia, the passage in which he justifies his questionable way of life. His statements about who should serve in what capacity therefore appear somewhat hypocritical. Langland’s view on bastardy is largely negative, but passages such as this one and the earlier dispute over Meed’s parentage show that his position is more complex than Will’s words here would suggest. 5 Rasmussen defines bondsmen as having an inherited legal status that “meant that one was bound in service to the household of another lord (who might be free or servile himself)…[with] legal restrictions on, among other things, one’s choice of marriage partner and one’s right to sell inherited land” (186). 8determinants of identity in the Middle Ages, and therefore the moments in which it shifts call to mind the confusing opacity of Things and the character of thingness itself. Genealogy sits on the boundary between the individual and the communal, mediating between the two. One’s genealogical position is individual and unique, but it can only be defined within the context of the larger genealogical line. As I discuss in Chapter Two, this is very similar to the medieval understanding of literature: a literary text was defined by its network of affiliations and influences, rather than by its innovation or uniqueness. This balance between the individual and the communal that genealogy negotiates was critical in the medieval understanding of the self. Since Jacob Burckhardt’s 1860 book The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, the idea of individualism and selfhood has been closely tied to the Renaissance, with many critics since that time operating under the general assumption that these ideas were not truly conceptualized (in the way we now understand them) until after the Middle Ages.6 I suggest in the following chapters (particularly Chapters Two and Five) that interest in these ideas was developing in the late medieval period in England. It is perhaps not coincidental that as English became a language to be respected towards the end of the fourteenth century and the kingdom of Britain was becoming more self-consciously a nation, the genealogical trope in literature increasingly turned readers towards the individual as opposed to the communal while emphasizing the constant tension between the two. In Pearl, for example, the Pearl Maiden is transposed from one genealogical position – that of a daughter – into another (the divine bride of 6 Although Burckhardt’s theories regarding individualism have been subject to considerable debate over the past century or so, they have still coloured modern perceptions of Renaissance humanism. In an article written in 1930, Philip Furlong stated that the Renaissance “had as its driving force a philosophy, the philosophy of humanism” (318). However, even at this time such assumptions were questioned. In 1933, Norman Nelson discussed at length the fuzziness of the boundaries between medieval and Renaissance ideologies, asking why there was so much controversy over the truth of Burckhardt’s assertions. According to Nelson, the contradicting critical opinions of whether ‘individualism’ solely belonged to the Renaissance “is due not only to the ambiguous use of the term ‘individualism’, but also...to the mistake of regarding the Renaissance as a homogeneous whole” (326). The issue of definitions is of critical importance. Lee Patterson much more recently argued that our continued tendency to assign modern values to the Renaissance not only shores up the stability of our own culture, but safely distances us from the alterity of the Middle Ages (“Critical Historicism” 2). 9Christ). The changeability of genealogy in this context encourages readers to focus not on the instability of the Maiden, but on how her shift changes the Dreamer’s own position and acts as a catalyst for his own personal and spiritual growth. In Piers Plowman, the Lady Meed’s shifting genealogical location (ie, the dispute over whom she is to marry and over her own legitimacy) demonstrates how malleable genealogy and, by extension, individual identity can be; her marriage partner will circumscribe her moral/spiritual identity. Meed’s own identity is subject to that of the community or family around her. The medieval sense of selfhood as suggested in these texts was therefore not one that privileged the notion of an unchanging internal sense of personal identity, but one that recognized how the vacillations of communal identity automatically affect the individual. It was important not that one resist such vacillations in order to preserve a stable sense of self, but that one use these opportunities for individual spiritual growth without disrupting the appropriate social hierarchies that comprise the larger community. The individual became increasingly important towards the end of the medieval period, as is suggested by literary trends such as the self-conscious narrator, a sense of literary ownership by authors, and highly personalized works such as Pearl, but it was still closely aligned with the communal. In the same way, the individuality or uniqueness of a literary text was only valuable if that text also acknowledged its debt to its ancestors and its place in the current literary network. 1.2 Case Studies This dissertation comprises four comprehensive case studies prefaced by a chapter that discusses in detail the theoretical paradigms employed. These case studies illustrate different manifestations of the genealogical paradigm and how it infuses textual and personal identity: literary tradition (the two streams of literature we have now termed the Chaucerian and the Piers Plowman traditions), textual relationships (the apparent randomness of manuscript 10 compilations), and the literary trope of genealogy (as evidenced in Piers Plowman and Pearl). While the genealogical model is deployed in order to re-read these texts and their relationship to one another, each chapter also highlight moments in which the “thing” obscures our understanding of the text – for either the medieval or the modern reader. As I discuss in more detail in Chapter Two, thingness is, at its essence, characterized not by the fact that it is a physical object but by its lack of a stable identity. Thingness can therefore be a literary quality as well, which is why some of my analyses explore how medieval writers used the vocabulary of thingness and to what effect. Chapters Three and Four are “partner” case studies, taking as their respective subjects two of the most widely recognized and prolific Middle English literary traditions: the Chaucerian tradition and the Piers Plowman tradition. The critical conversation surrounding these traditions indicates that neither of them is as cohesive as the term “tradition” would suggest, nor are they as different as we have perhaps assumed. As Chapter Three reiterates, the modern academic Chaucer is a hegemonic figure whose courtly affiliations and popularity resulted in his work overshadowing that of other writers. Langland, on the other hand, has often been viewed as an outsider, a subversive writer whose intent was to provide an avenue for a communal voice – the vox populi – to be heard. This perspective is not universally accepted nor is it often explicitly stated, but as the discussion in Chapter Four illustrates, it has retained its traction in academic discussion for many years.7 The idea of Langland as a symbol of British identity and a herald of future democracy is, unsurprisingly, an anachronistic notion. Langland was an orthodox writer 7 Thomas Whitaker’s 1813 edition of Piers Plowman was the first since Crowley’s 1550 printings, and Whitaker’s romanticization of Langland as an underdog likely coloured later critical treatment by such scholars as Skeat and Furnivall. In his edition, Whitaker refers to Langland as an “obscure country priest” who spoke out against the leaders of the Church, who “were as vindictive as they were corrupt” (qtd in Matthews 172). His notion of Langland as an isolated intellectual reinforces these ideas: “I can conceive him...to have been sometimes occupied in contemplative wanderings on the Malvern Hills, and dozing away a summer's noon among the bushes, while his waking thoughts were distorted into all the misshapen forms created by a dreaming fancy. Sometimes I can descry him taking his staff, and roaming far and wide in search of manners and characters....I next pursue him to his study, sedate and thoughtful, yet wildly inventive, digesting the first rude drafts of his Visions” (173). 11 whose work – or whose famous plowman character – was hijacked into the service of a very different cause. Chapter Three suggests that the characterization of the plowman texts as a “Piers Plowman tradition” lends a constructed sense of coherence to these texts in order to establish a counter-tradition to rise up against the hegemonic Chaucerian tradition. The appeal of subversion, of the underdog, is part of the appeal of having a Piers Plowman tradition, but these works do not express the voice of the people in the way we might expect given the entrenched idea of Langland as a non-institutional author. In contrast to our received ideas about how these traditions were circumscribed, this chapter suggests that the Chaucerian tradition enabled a truly “public voice” or common identity among English writers, while the Piers Plowman “tradition” was spawned by a largely orthodox author and then appropriated into the reformist causes of minority groups. Chaucerian writers worked according to a model of filiation, treating Chaucer as a paternal origin that legitimized their own work. However, rather than simply reproducing his work, these writers used the Chaucerian “stamp” in their own writing in order to raise the status of the English writing community as a whole. This was only possible because Chaucer was not the perfect, untouchable author that we now think of him as being; other writers in this period felt comfortable finishing his texts, changing them, and using his themes or characters to different ends. I have characterized this activity as a form of what Jacques Derrida calls the supplement: But the supplement supplements. It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of; it fills, as if one fills a void. If it represents and makes an image, it is by the anterior default of a presence. (Of Grammatology 145) A perceived lack in the Chaucerian corpus opened opportunities for supplementation, for the reproduction or perpetuation of the tradition. This lack, as well as the texts that filled it, is discussed in greater detail in Chapter Three, and is contrasted to Chapter Four’s model of how the Piers tradition rejected or transformed its own literary “Father.” 12 Chapter Five delves more deeply into the question of how the Chaucerian and Piers Plowman traditions relate to one another and whether they are, as John Bowers describes them in his recent book, antagonistic traditions. These issues are explored via an analysis of the only two manuscripts in which Piers Plowman and a work by Chaucer are compiled together: Huntington Library, San Marino MS HM 143 and HM 114. HM 114 contains six texts – Piers Plowman, Mandeville’s Travels, Susannah, an excerpt from The Legend of the Three Kings, Troilus and Criseyde, and an English translation of Peter Ceffon’s Epistola Luciferi ad Cleros – while HM 143 contains only Piers Plowman prefaced by two leaves of Troilus and Criseyde. These manuscripts caught my interest because of the pairing of Troilus and Piers in both of them; not only are these two poems from (allegedly) vastly divergent literary traditions, but they are also very different in terms of genre, theme, and style. This spurred me to ask whether the Chaucerian and Piers traditions are indeed as different as we take them to be, and whether our modern criteria for evaluating literary relationships are not adequate for assessing medieval texts. We tend to assign these kinds of compilations to the realm of the thing – they are random, incoherent, unclassifiable. In the case of HM 143 in particular, the Troilus leaves are often dismissed as not possessing any kind of value, for either the modern scholar or the medieval reader. They are simply fragmentary things appended to the “real” text – the HM 143 Piers, which is an excellent copy of the C version of the poem. Chapter Five offers some alternate ways in which to understand these manuscripts and the texts they contain. Chapters Three to Five all use the genealogical model and the implications of thing theory to assess what we might call the external forms of literature – the “traditions” texts belong in, the compilatio of their manuscripts, the ordinatio of the page. Chapter Six applies these ideas to the literature itself by comparing Piers to another poem with which it seems to have little in common: Pearl. The analysis begins by discussing how the physical survival and editorial or 13 scribal paratexts of Pearl and Piers have influenced the modern and medieval reception of both poems by making them appear more divergent from one another than they actually are. This chapter uses the genealogical and material models to demonstrate how Piers and Pearl are, in fact, very similar. Family relationships are, for example, one of the key tools each writer uses to convey moral messages. Furthermore, the notion of individual identity is particularly important in both poems, and they both use similar techniques to highlight identity. In order to illuminate such connections, I employ Jacques Lacan’s theory of identity formation and his related idea of thingness – das Ding. Notions of otherness, desire, and the unclassifiable are all critical aspects of both poems while also being central tenets of Lacanian theory. In both poems the development of the Dreamer’s individual identity is dependent upon his interaction with an external figure who represents difference – Piers Plowman and the Pearl Maiden. Through these case studies, this project seeks to use medieval models of signification in order to re-evaluate our understanding of medieval literary texts and their relationship to one another. I have used Piers Plowman as the central text throughout because it is, in so many ways, confusing: it was owned by orthodox clerics as well as heretics; it was compiled with a wide variety of literary, political, and religious texts; it turns in on itself unexpectedly. While it is appealing to see Piers Plowman as subversive – the literary underdog, rising up against “the man” – I believe that this notion owes more to our modern attraction to this idea rather than to the medieval understanding of Piers Plowman itself.8 Indeed, this project demonstrates that Piers Plowman is aligned more closely to “safe” texts such as Pearl and Troilus and Criseyde than it is to reformist literature. However, it is difficult to see these connections if we use our usual 8 Indeed, it is clear from the reformist appropriations of the poem that many of the reformers realized that Piers Plowman was not particularly radical and instead used its memorable and accessible plowman character as a kind of mouthpiece for their own views. 14 categories of literary classification, such as genre, formal structure, or style. The manuscript form and the deployment of genealogy as a foundational paradigm structuring the moral landscape of the text are both key interpretive tools in any encounter with Middle English literature. While these tools may not be exhaustive in their applicability, they certainly enrich our understanding of how such texts may have been read six hundred years ago. 15 Chapter 2 Theoretical Framework In the sculpture garden outside the National Gallery in Washington D.C., Claes Oldenberg’s large-scale piece Typewriter Eraser stands, a testament to an earlier time and perplexing to those of us raised in the age of computers. Bill Brown uses the obsolete strangeness of the sculpture to illustrate how we encounter and are influenced by things: [T]his abandoned object attains a new stature precisely because it has no life outside the boundary of art – no life, that is, within our everyday lives. Released from the bond of being equipment, sustained outside the irreversibility of technological history, the object becomes something else…It is an object that helps to dramatize a basic disjunction, a human condition in which things inevitably seem too late – belated, in fact, because we want things to come before ideas, before theory, before the word, whereas they seem to persist in coming after: as the alternative to ideas, the limit to theory, victims of the word. (Things 15-16) Brown is suggesting that we desire raw immediacy, for truth to be conveyed via the tactile, speechless nature of things, outside the boundaries of language, signification, and classification. In reality, of course, things do not speak such truth to us: in fact, the quality of “thingness” is only clear within the context of linguistic signification. The study of things is not merely “a theory about the cultural significance of objects” (Plotz 110); it is an exploration of those moments in which signification or classification fail. To analyze failures of meaning, however, also requires analysis of how and when physical objects do generate meaning. The choice between defining a physical item as an object that carries significance or as a “thing” which does not is under continual negotiation in the study of medieval literature, in which the manuscript, the text, and the edition call us to reconcile the physical with the textual. What we perceive as the thingness – the randomness or incoherence – of some manuscripts is, I argue, a sign that we need to approach the manuscript using different hermeneutic models; one such model may be 16 genealogy. When we re-read the manuscript in such a way, the thingness becomes a source of meaning and cultural significance. At the same time, however, this process may reinforce the thingness of other aspects of the manuscript or the literary text – a thingness that resonates with the medieval sense of the divine unknown. The dual perspective of thing theory and material culture analysis forms one branch of the theoretical framework of this project. The other branch is the historico-literary trope of genealogy, from its most literal to its most widely paradigmatic. Gabrielle Spiegel, Raluca Radulescu, Lesley Coote, Edward Donald Kennedy, and Francis Ingledew are among the scholars who have demonstrated how genealogy operated as a structural and thematic device in medieval historical narratives, whether those narratives are “fact,” such as chronicles, or “fiction,” such as romance.1 Indeed, notions of inheritance, true bloodlines, parent-child relationships and rebellion, and the acquiring of skill and knowledge through not just blood- letting but also family blood itself, are all crucial elements in both medieval historical romance and chronicle entries. The genealogical imperative is explicit in these kinds of texts, as these lines from the thirteenth-century King Horn demonstrate: We beoth of Suddene, Icome of gode kenne Of Cristene blode And kynges swthe gode l.179-182 Horn’s first statement to a foreign king is one that alleges the purity of his blood and his identification with a legitimate genealogical line. Horn’s “gode kenne,” “Cristene blode,” his origin in the geographically-vague land of “Suddene” and relation to “kynges swthe gode” gives him a kind of cross-cultural legitimacy. Indeed, in many romances this principle holds true, with 1 The boundary between romance and history in the Middle Ages, and particularly for Middle English romances, is blurred and contested, at least for modern readers (Cooper, “Romance in Time” 10). Rosalind Field explains why such generic fluidity is problematic for us: the “factual inaccuracies [of medieval historical romances] irritate the historically minded reader, while their deviation from the norms of the genre disappoint the reader whose expectations are set by the courtly romances of France” (163). 17 genealogy being a determinant of truth and character. However, the analyses in the following chapters demonstrate that the power of genealogy underpins many questions of origin, inheritance, and legitimacy inherent to texts beyond the chronicle or romance genres that genealogically-oriented studies generally focus upon. Furthermore, the genealogical trope is not limited to the manifestations of bloodline-based plot points in literary texts; it also informs the medieval understanding of literary precedent, authorship, and textual relationships generally. In this sense, it is, as Zrinka Stahuljak puts it, bloodless (2). Genealogy possesses this power and comprehensive applicability because, in all its different manifestations, it is a central component of identity – individual, communal, and even textual. David Aers states that in the Middle Ages, “individual experience cannot be understood apart from the social relations of a specific community, its organizations of power manifest in the prevailing arrangements of class, gender, political rule, religion, armed force, and, not infrequently, race” (4). Race, as one facet of genealogy, defines a person through both internal and external criteria: internal because genetics influence one’s physical and physiological characteristics, and external because one’s genealogical or family position is also socially constructed. Genealogy therefore operates on the boundary between the individual and the communal in terms of its influence upon identity. Indeed, the changing sense of individual identity in the late-medieval period and its relationship to communal identity are issues very much intertwined with the notion of genealogy. Finally, the identity of manuscripts (their place in relation to the authorial text) and literary texts (the tradition to which they belong) are also premised on the genealogical paradigm. I argue that it is a wide-reaching ideological framework that influenced medieval reading practices and still informs our own. Although these two theoretical branches seem at first glance to be unrelated, at their most basic level they are both rooted in the physical, the experiential, even the visceral – all of which 18 are inherent to the practice of reading, and particularly reading medieval manuscripts. The differences in the physical experience of reading a manuscript and reading a book surely influence our reception of the text at hand. Andrew Taylor, for example, argues that a manuscript’s physical form encourages us to read more slowly, pay more attention, and become more emotionally involved with the text (Textual Situations 201). John Dagenais, after working with print for many years, encountered a completely different text when he began studying manuscripts: these texts “had rough edges, not the clean, carefully pruned lines of critical editions… edges…filled with dialogue about the text – glosses, marginal notes, pointing hands, illuminations….activities by which medieval people transformed one manuscript into another” (qtd in Sherman 7). The physical practice of early readers leaves its imprint on the experience of later readers. Like the engraved Anglo-Saxon artifacts analyzed by Daniel Tiffany, manuscripts are objects that “speak” not just as commodities but as evidence of individual production and ownership (Tiffany 73). Current interest in the book or manuscript as a physical object corresponds with the development of the larger philosophical interest in objects and things. Objects and things are terms that are often used interchangeably, but theorists interested in our physical encounters with objects/things carefully distinguish one from the other. An object is something that is understood by and works for a human subject, while a thing defies all such expectations and is essentially useless (Brown, Sense of Things 4; Plotz 110). Bill Brown argues that things appeal to us because they offer “some place of origin unmediated by the sign, some stable alternative to the instabilities and uncertainties, the ambiguities and anxieties, forever fetishized by theory” (“Thing Theory” 1). Things can provide a sense of comfort, in that their undeniable physicality manifests itself to us as a kind of truth unspoiled by language and, like genealogy, appear to provide an origin and place us in what D. Vance Smith calls a cycle of loss and hope. In Smith’s 19 discussion of genealogy in Piers Plowman, he states that each beginning in the poem is a recollection of a previous loss and a hope of that loss's restoration, while John Plotz, a proponent of thing theory, argues that an object becomes a thing when its meaning escapes us, when we are unable to classify or name it (Smith, Incipit 122; Plotz 110). Contextualizing thing theory with genealogy, we can understand a thing to be at once a site of loss and a potential source of truth wherein that loss is restored. Before exploring the way in which these two theoretical perspectives may be used in tandem, I will introduce each in more depth. 2.1 Genealogy Although genealogy's power over medieval narratives suggests that medieval readers subscribed to the myth of origin that genealogy posits, use of the word itself during the Middle Ages indicates that there was also some awareness of its instability. For example, the Cursor Mundi (c. 1300) and the York Mystery Plays (c. 1400) employ the term “genealogy” as an indicator of truth and origin: readers are encouraged to “herken” to the genealogy of David and Abraham in the Cursor Mundi and the York plays’ reference to a Christological prophecy is substantiated by emphasizing that “genolagye beres witnesse” to the prophecy's fulfillment. However, the Wycliffite translation of 1 Timothy 1:4 encourages readers to refuse to listen to “fablis and genologies withouten endes,” thus linking genealogy with fables and fictions and rendering problematic its ability to circumscribe identity. Genealogy was therefore a contested term: it asked readers to accept the legitimacy of a bloodline, but such legitimacy could always be subject to suspicion if its parameters were not clearly defined – the “genologies withouten endes” suggest genealogies without limits and without origin, unsubstantiated bloodlines and fictionalized family tales. Defining such boundaries was important to the medieval reader and it remains important now, despite our cautious skepticism about the accuracy or reality of linear 20 models. Genealogy defined family or communal identity, but also provided textual space for individual identity. 2.1.1 Medieval and Modern: the Nature of Genealogy Although royal genealogies flourished in the early medieval period under the Anglo- Saxon and Carolingian kings, genealogy as a more literary, rather than purely historical, genre became popular in the twelfth century, when aristocratic families began documenting their own family histories (fictionalized or not) to reinforce their ties to the land they owned.2 This same time period saw the creation of one of the first French romances, Benoit de Saint-Maure’s Roman de Troie, a long poem rooted in the Trojan historical accounts of Dares and Dictys which emphasized France’s genealogical connection to the heroes of Troy (Benson, History of Troy 4).3 The twelfth century was when Geoffrey of Monmouth produced his famous History of the Kings of Britain, which located England’s origins in Troy and provided much material for later historical and romance texts (Cooper, English Romance 23-24). The expansion and amplification of genealogical lines during this period allowed the more linear form of genealogy to develop narrative pattern and momentum: “the profile of the family tree became a skeleton of aristocratic society, revealing the multiple threads which crossed and recrossed, binding regional nobilities into every more integrated congeries of family relations” (Spiegel, “Form and Function” 47). In other words, genealogies became stories that not only legitimized land ownership, but also consolidated community identity by closely associating people with the land.4 2 Gabrielle Spiegel argues that this happens in France (“Form and Function” 47) while Francis Ingledew makes the same case for England (668-669). Rosalind Field argues even more strongly that in medieval England tenuous genealogical claims were supported or even replaced by land claims: “With no solid claims to national identity possible on the grounds of birth, ancestry, or language, the claim of place became paramount” (165). 3 Benoit’s work was translated in the thirteenth century by Guido delle Colonne, whose Historia Destructionis Troiae later functioned as an important source for Chaucer, Lydgate, and others. 4 Stephen Harris describes how Anglo-Saxon historians used their genealogies to a similar end, but he 21 Although genealogy enabled the growth of “an aristocratic textual culture” that functioned as an alternative to the monastic textual model, it also moved beyond individual aristocratic use to become the structuring principle of wider historical and national narratives, particularly those narratives that identified Troy as a prefiguration of Britain (Ingledew 669).5 Spiegel argues that genealogy, in this wider application, “restored the linear consciousness of history” and “fashion[ed] history as a linear narrative” (“Form and Function” 51). Instead of viewing contemporary events strictly through the lens of figurative typology, in which past historical events and figures also function as symbols representing future events and figures,6 people of the later Middle Ages were beginning to see themselves and the world around them as part of a genealogical lineage rooted in the ancient past.7 The development of what Ingledew terms the “Book of Troy” or the historico-literary tradition of Troy myths was a manifestation of this emerging sense of historical origin; the growth of the Troy tradition offered stability, in that Troy was the archetype of aristocratic origins (Ingledew 676). Genealogy, and the Trojan genealogy in particular, provided a stabilizing framework for conceptualizing history and one's place in history. However, the very essence of genealogy's reassuring stability – its assertion of an origin – indicates that such community identities were formed not through the development of literary narratives based upon genealogy, but through the fusion of Christian and Germanic ethnic communities by means of tracing them back to common ancestors (Harris 489-491). 5 “England” and “Britain” are ideologically-laden terms, and have been since the early Middle Ages. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain was, according to Alan MacColl, adopted by the English and the Welsh as their defining historical narrative, thereby encouraging a cultural investment in the term “Britain” (249). Throughout the Middle Ages, “England” became increasingly identified with “Britain”, to the extent that they were often used synonymously. MacColl quotes the beginning of Henry of Huntington’s Historia Anglorum: “This, the most celebrated of islands, first called Albion, then England, and now Britain” (249). I have chosen “Britain” here because of its association with the Brutus foundation story – its gesture to the nation’s own genealogy. 6 Auerbach, in his seminal article on medieval typology, defines it as follows: “the figurative interpretation combines two events, causally and chronologically remote from each other, by attributing to them a meaning common to both. Instead of a continuous development, the direction and ultimate result of which is unknown to us, the figurative interpreter purports to know the significance and ultimate result of human history” (5). 7 I use the word “strictly” because I do not mean to imply that typological interpretation was replaced by genealogy. Both hermeneutic models co-existed and reinforced one another. For example, in Piers Plowman Liberum Arbitrium looks upon the Tree of Charity (itself a genealogical metaphor in the poem) and tells Will that “Adam was as tre and we aren as his apples /Somme of us soethfaste and some variable” (C:XVIII:68-9). Adam is construed as a genealogical “root” or foundation for humanity, while at the same time he and his family (his sons in particular) are “types” that dictate the future types of human beings (“Somme of us soethfaste and some variable”). 22 also compromises its stability. An origin is always, to some extent, a work of fiction, a mythology. Our expectations of an origin are never fully met, and so ultimate meaning (or ultimate origination) is continually deferred in a process of Derridean play.8 Michel Foucault’s theoretical perspective is one of the better known modern readings of the genealogical model, and I believe his views can be fruitfully interpolated into the medieval paradigm. According to Foucault, the idea of an origin corresponds with the idea of something's pure essence, rather like Plato's forms; it is always enticing, but always unreachable. Derrida’s notion of presence, which is discussed briefly in Chapter Three, is not unlike Foucault’s origin in that it is a post- structuralist recasting of the Platonic ideal. Foucault expands on the mythologized origin: The origin always precedes the Fall. It comes before the body, before the world and time; it is associated with the gods, and its story is always sung as a theogony. But historical beginnings are lowly; not in the sense of modest or discreet like the steps of a dove, but derisive and ironic, capable of undoing every infatuation. (“Nietzsche, Genealogy” 79). Foucault here suggests that genealogy is the site of contesting significations: one is the divine origin and one is fallible and disappointing. Medieval genealogical records, taking Biblical genealogies as a model,9 tended to lean upon the former and avoid the latter. The Foucauldian genealogy, in contrast, explores the confusion of textual relationships, rather than establishing a continuous, unbroken historical chain. It traces accidents, deviations, and errors in events. In sum, “it disturbs what was previously considered immobile; it fragments what was thought unified” (81). It is characterized, in other words, by thingness. However, Foucault’s notion of fractured genealogy and the linear, stabilizing sense that 8 Jacques Derrida’s notions of deferred meaning (difference) and the supplement inform part of my discussion in Chapter Three. See Chapter 10 (“Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”) of Derrida’s Writing and Difference for his discussion of the role of play in relation to signification. 9 Ernest Wilkins argues that Boccaccio’s autograph manuscript of the De Genealogia Deorum Gentilium, a lengthy work which includes thirteen family trees of the gods, contains “the first non-biblical genealogical charts in which stems, branches, and leaves appear….their antecedents are the arbor iuris of medieval law, the circle-and-line genealogical charts found in historical and biblical manuscripts, and the Jesse-trees found in biblical manuscripts and elsewhere” (61). 23 informs many medieval genealogical records are not mutually exclusive; indeed, neither one can really be sustained without the other. Using Foucault’s perspective in her analysis of genealogy and medieval history, Lesley Coote argues that historical narratives were formed and sustained through a process of forgetting, in particular forgetting foreign or unwanted influences in royal genealogies (33). For example, in fifteenth-century royal genealogies the underlying threat of disintegration and the need for royal legitimacy during an era of great uncertainty forced chroniclers to insist upon the stability of the king’s bloodlines; the more clear the fractured genealogy below the surface, the stronger the insistence upon stability (Grandsen 326). 10 However, Foucault’s reading of genealogy cannot stand on its own either: genealogy’s mythologized origin and its fractured character are only meaningful observations if we acknowledge our own prior investment in the origin and our automatic reliance upon the stability that genealogical path offers. The search for origin is an attempt to recover (or rewrite) truth, but the ultimate recovery of that truth is constantly deferred: the mythologized origin “lies at a place of inevitable loss....the site of a fleeting articulation that discourse has obscured and finally lost” (Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy” 79). Therefore, a genealogical paradigm that relies on the ability of genealogy to provide an origin is already dependent upon its own fiction. The common genealogical metaphor of a family tree is built around the idea of origin and assumptions of causality and linearity – the tree begins with a single trunk and the varied branches that grow from it can all be traced back to that one origin. All the branches belong to that particular tree and there is no connection established with a different tree.11 Foucault replaces the metaphor of a tree with that of a web: instead of branches springing from a single root, the threads of this web extend in all directions with no discernible source, exposing flaws 10 See also Radulescu (2003) for her discussion regarding the fictionalization of royal genealogies in the fifteenth century. 11 In Chapter Three I discuss the implications of one Chaucerian family tree drawn for Speght’s edition of Chaucer’s Works. Note 9 above refers to Wilkins’ argument that the divine genealogical trees created by Boccaccio were the first instance of the tree metaphor being used as a genealogical chart, outside of Biblical antecedents. 24 and fissures, and connecting with other trees. The genealogical web is “gray” and “meticulous”, and “operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times” – a palimpsest, in other words (“Nietzsche, Genealogy” 76). The metaphor of a palimpsest is particularly apt when we consider the medieval models of genealogy. Because of the economic and material constraints surrounding the production and preparation of parchment, palimpsests were common throughout the Middle Ages (van Peer 42). However, palimpsests also belong to a long history of literary mutilations in which the subversion and destruction of linguistic signs cause us to forget, to alter our perceptions, to bow to new “facts.” Willie van Peer argues that “the violence to which these [literary] mutilations testify is inscribed deeply in culture, albeit in a largely forgotten, hidden, or repressed way...it draws attention to the material conditions and foundations of our cultural world” (34). As stated earlier, genealogical stability itself often relies upon hiddenness, forgetting, and repression of one of the most basic material conditions: blood and bloodlines.12 Such forgetting, the rejection of material reality, can indeed draw attention to what has been effaced. A conscious forgetting is often required, as medieval forms of genealogy make clear. 2.1.2 Medieval Manifestations of Genealogy The previous section introduced two broad models of genealogy, paying particular attention to how one model tends to conform to the medieval understanding and the other to the modern and identifying how Foucault’s modern reading of genealogy can help us understand the subtext of the medieval forms. This section will explore in more detail three different ways genealogy is manifested in medieval texts in order to explore not only how genealogy influenced 12As Stahuljak points out, many of these repressed histories were those of women, particularly from the twelfth century onwards: “the representation of the line in secular genealogies departs from the actual practice of families that often resorted to manipulations of biological givens. The result is that, while medieval practice is not, medieval representation is exclusive of women” (117). 25 medieval reading practices, but how we as modern scholars are still significantly affected by the genealogical paradigm and even the myth of origin. The first manifestation of the genealogical paradigm is, of course, the literal genealogy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines genealogy as “an account of one's descent from an ancestor or ancestors, by enumeration of the intermediate persons,” citing its earliest English usage in 1300, in the Cursor Mundi. This is the clearest and most stable form of genealogy; instead of exploring the relationships held among different people, it traces familial connections along one chosen line of “intermediate persons” between the founder and the last person, whoever that may be. In The Siege of Thebes, John Lydgate refers readers to Boccaccio’s De Genealogia Deorum Gentilium (see Note 9 above) if they wish to learn the whole truth about Lycurgus, whose life he has just summarized: “But the trouth, yif ye lyst verryfie / Rede Of Goddes the Genologye / Lynealy her kynrede be degrees” (3537-3539). I would argue that it is immaterial whether Lydgate actually believed the Genealogia to be factual; his gesture to its veracity as a source, even if such a gesture was rhetorical, indicates the authority of a genealogical record within his literary framework.13 Genealogical records sometimes used the roll format to reinforce the ideas of lineage and continuity. In the thirteenth century, for example, histories of the kings of England were often produced as rolls. Their illustrated roundels and brief commentaries suggested that they were intended for a semi- or non-literate audience who would have used visual cues and material form to interpret the text. Michael Clanchy emphasizes the impact that this physical layout would have on a viewer: “when the roll is fully unfurled, the whole history of England, from its mythical foundation by the Trojans down to the reign of Edward I, is displayed as a continuous line” (142). The commissioning of genealogical rolls was particularly popular in the fifteenth century, 13 Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate likely used the material in the Genealogia for their own stories. See, for example, Dilts and Child. 26 which was a time characterized by political instability and questions of rightful inheritance (Kauffman 210). Wealthy aristocrats as well as less affluent patrons wanted to possess such genealogical documents in order to showcase the family’s bloodlines and consolidate a sense of family identity. To reinforce the legitimacy of their family line, nobles often “had their family descent pictured alongside the genealogy of the kings of England…[or] commissioned pedigrees that depicted the royal descent and their own family line side by side” (Radulescu, “Yorkist Propaganda” 408). As I discuss in Chapter Three, Thomas Speght’s printed edition of Chaucer’s works includes a family tree very like those Radulescu describes: Chaucer’s genealogy is aligned with that of the King, thus presenting Chaucer as symbolically as well as biologically integrated into the very fabric of Britain. A genealogy was thus “at once historical and symbolic”; although it appeared to be purely literal, its deployment carried significant symbolic weight in terms of royal or aristocratic rights to hold land (Spiegel, “Foucault” 3). Moreover, such histories often distanced themselves from the literal by fictionalizing the lineage, tracing it back to a mythical hero-founder, which resulted in the family ignoring or rejecting its real genealogy for the valorized one.14 This conscious fictionalization of genealogy – and the forgetting of alternate genealogical lines – allowed these histories to transition easily into a literary genre in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, thus establishing the family’s consciousness of itself as a coherent group with a distinct identity (3-4). I refer to this more literary form of genealogy as intratextual: it operates within discrete texts, as a grid upon which the narrative is patterned and through which narrative obtains 14 The less comfortable aspects of the fictionalized founder-hero narrative are also, in a sense, rejected. In her analysis of twenty medieval French genealogical histories, Spiegel notes that although the genealogy is traced through the male line, the founder-hero or origin of the tree is socially inferior to his female partner, “so that the social capital of the family resides, ultimately, on the maternal side.” This fact is then effaced as the genealogy follows father to son so that “the family appears to be organized as a vertical structure based on agnatic consanguinity” (“Foucault” 3). The process of conscious forgetting – of ignoring the physiological aspects of genealogy – allows for the linear construction of the genealogical tree. 27 coherence. Included in this category is medieval romance, which is essentially the outgrowth of the literary manifestation of genealogy in that it is often predicated upon notions of legitimacy or rightful inheritance.15 Earlier Middle English romances, such as Guy of Warwick, Bevis of Hampton, King Horn, etc., served to “exalt a noble house” (Cooper, “After 1400” 706) or reinforce current aristocratic rights, both of which were certainly functions of the genealogical genre. By the fifteenth century these uses expanded: David Wallace argues that “narratives purveying time-honored values within stable generic parameters might promise stabilization” to other forms of writing (Wallace 638). The tensions surrounding religious writing in this period meant that romance was a safe genre because romance narratives tended to reinforce the status quo and because they were patronized largely by the aristocracy (Diamond 66). However, intratextual genealogical structures operated far beyond romance, as I will argue in Chapter Six. The second manifestation of genealogy is the form and pattern of textual production in the Middle Ages. This seems like another fairly obvious connection to make since, after all, a stemma is essentially a manuscript family tree and scribes show their debts to their exemplar (the textual “father”) in each copy they create. However, the way we interpret the function of genealogy in textual relations may reveal a great deal about our own assumptions about origin and causality in textual production. Despite John Bowers' assertion that “we [as modern scholars] recognize that literary genealogies necessarily depend upon stable origins that are not always fixed....or even factually real” (Antagonistic Tradition 2), in fields such as paleography and codicology the search for stability – the desire to find the “root” of the stemma – is often the impetus for scholarship. To discover or establish the authorial text16 is certainly one of the main goals of textual studies. While I do not suggest that such a goal is invalid or inappropriate (after 15 See Chapter 7 (“Restoring the Rightful Heir”) in Cooper (2004) for an extended discussion of the links between romance and descent, genealogy, and inheritance. 16 I use the term “authorial text” throughout, rather than “best text”, since this chapter is not intended to be a discussion of editorial theory. The use of “best text” rather than “authorial text” (or vice versa) in modern editorial scholarship alone could serve as the subject of another paper. 28 all, most medieval scholars are interested in the question of authorship), I would point out that this is another manifestation of the linear genealogical paradigm. Many scholars have, of course, already questioned the utility of scholarship that seeks only to establish the authorial text.17 My intent is not to repeat the work that has already been done on examining the sustained academic interest in the authorial text, but to highlight this interest as another example of the power that the linear genealogical model still holds today. Thomas Prendergast’s summary of David Greetham’s perspective on modern textual editing and the genealogical model emphasizes the importance of moving away from the purely linear editorial genealogy and toward a weblike model that more closely reflects medieval paradigms. Prendergast states that Greetham “interrogates the very notion of textual descent, offering instead ‘a hypertextual model of free- floating links [as] a better simulacrum of medieval textuality than the fixed critical text of the codex ever was” (Prendergast 2; Greetham 123). Even in the wake of the “new philology” which rejected Lachmannian stemmatic analysis and did not privilege the authorial text,18 the concern for roots and origins is still there, only reconfigured into attention on the individual manuscripts. Stephen Nichols argues that “it is that manuscript culture [the focus on the text, margins, ink, etc of the individual manuscript] that the ‘new’ philology sets out to explore in a postmodern return to the origins of medieval studies” (7). Nichols sees the incoherence and confusion of medieval manuscripts as an opportunity for insight, suggesting that “the manuscript space contains gaps through which the unconscious may be glimpsed” (8). The choice of words here is interesting: he refers to the physical “manuscript space” as something to look through rather than at. This is very close to Andrew Taylor’s notion of the manuscript as fetish. A fetish is, in its most basic definition, a substitution for something, and in the case of the manuscript Taylor characterizes the substituted item as origin, childhood, 17 Chapter 1 (“Authorship”) in Dalrymple provides a useful overview of the changes in the critical position on medieval authorship through the past century or so of scholarship. 18 See the “New Philology” issue of Speculum (65:1, 1990). 29 and desire for the real. By fetishizing the physical manuscript, we are “projecting into the Middle Ages for a lost childhood” and for an objective, measurable reality (Textual Situations 197-199). The “irreducibly material” nature of the fetish (203) invites us to perceive it as somehow more real, which Taylor argues is “intellectual naivete.” He asks whether this connection of the physical with reality makes us assume that we are simply observers of manuscripts, writing down their “sites of conflict” without being affected by them ourselves (200). Taylor’s comments resonate with those of Plotz, who makes a similar point about our approach to “things”: he criticizes “scholarship that ardently desires things qua things to speak to us, in some kind of mysterious yet comprehensible outsiders’ language” (110). Despite Western culture’s secularization, our ostensible rejection of one God as a source of pure truth, we are still seeking the same end through a different means: materiality as origin, as the real. The third manifestation of genealogy is intertextual. This is distinct from both the intratextual form identified in the first manifestation (literal genealogy itself as a text, a plot point in a work of literature, or a paradigm through which a text’s moral concerns are filtered) and the physical manuscript relationships identified in the second. My discussion operates on the premise that intertextual genealogy is another way of conceptualizing literary tradition. “Texts” in this particular usage refers not to the individual copies of works, but to the work as a coherent whole; in this context, for example, I would refer to the Piers Plowman C Text rather than HM 143. Alexandra Gillespie suggests that the “author function”19 in late medieval manuscript and book culture allows us to describe and classify groups of texts in relation to one another. She uses the “Oxford Group”20 of Chaucerian manuscripts as an example: although these fifteenth- 19 Gillespie specifies the difference between the medieval author and Foucault’s author function: it is “the difference between a reductive category – one that manages, controls, and answers – and a category that is also productive, that proliferates, energizes, and changes” (16). Such proliferation is particularly true for the author function associated with Chaucer, as the productive Father of English Literature and the named Father of the medieval and early modern Chaucerian tradition, as Chapter Three discusses. 20 “Oxford Group” is in reference to the three anthologies at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, containing, among other texts, many of Chaucer’s minor poems: Fairfax 16, Bodley 638, and Tanner 346. 30 century collections of courtly love poetry, dream visions, and misogynist tracts are not all by Chaucer, their label as “Oxford Group” allows us to conceptualize and discuss these texts as Chaucerian. In distinguishing these later compilations of “Chaucerian” texts and the treatment of these same texts by medieval readers, Gillespie argues that medieval sensibilities deferred textual or authorial stability, or did not seek it, while reformist and early modern sensibilities wanted “the most stable, centralized, humanist…meanings for language, literature, and books” (118). This desire for authorial authenticity is particularly characteristic of the Renaissance through the Victorian periods. Medieval reading paradigms, in contrast, focused not upon the authenticity of authorial attribution or the reality of history, but upon precedence. Medieval readers’ investment in genealogy often manifested itself as an interest in precedence or origin: what came before? How do we treat the thing or person or text that preceded us? Past precedent legitimized present practice, whether in the legal or literary spheres, and thus functioned as a thread connecting older texts to newer ones – or, as the fourteenth century drew to a close, connected contemporary texts to one another. C.S. Lewis argues that we do not now appreciate how important it was that textual genealogies were tight-knit and that new material was not easily interpolated into those genealogies: One is tempted to say that almost the typical activity of the medieval author consists in touching up something that was already there…We are inclined to wonder how men could be at once so original that they handled no predecessor without pouring new life into him, and so unoriginal that they seldom did anything completely new….If you had asked Laȝamon or Chaucer, ‘Why do you not make up a brand-new story of your own?’ I think they might have replied (in effect) ‘Surely we are not yet reduced to that?’ …The originality which we regard as a sign of wealth might have seemed to them a confession of poverty. Why make things for oneself like the lonely Robinson Crusoe when there is riches [sic] all about you to be had for the taking? (209-211) Lewis expands the issue of medieval un-originality beyond the importance of precedence in authorizing a writer to write; he argues here that precedence authorized the literary material 31 itself, apart from the author(s). In the case of literal genealogies, the idea of textual precedence was more important than the proven existence of the actual manuscripts or rolls or charters. The statement they did indeed exist, often asserted through the “As others have said” trope, was sufficient to legitimize the current position of the family heir. Imaginary textuality usurped physical, visceral evidence, just as the imagined genealogy usurped the biological reality (Spiegel, “Foucault” 7). In the literary arena, for example, Chaucer did not need to provide evidence of the life and writings of Lollius, the fictional source for Troilus and Criseyde; he simply needed to state that he was following some sort of precedent, even if it was a rather self- consciously shallow gesture to such precedent.21 Indeed, the shallowness of this gesture is evidence that the significance of ancient precedent was changing as the late medieval period drew to a close, but intertextual genealogies were still important. A text needed to fit into a network of other texts, demonstrating its affinities and its debts – its kin. In other words, texts needed to demonstrate how they were traditional. The importance of such textual networking was unquestioned in the Middle Ages, but is something that we now, in an age that privileges originality, tend to dismiss or ignore. In his famous essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T.S. Eliot argues that this is a mistake – that we need to understand and appreciate textual genealogies in order to understand literature. He points out that when we praise a poet now, we erroneously focus upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else....we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet's difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors. (1092) 21 Chapter Three discusses Chaucer’s own role in setting literary precedent. As a contemporary rather than ancient auctor, his function as an authorial precedent for writers such as Lydgate and Hoccleve helped to usher in a new kind of writing culture – a self-referential authorial community rather than one that was constantly required to bow to ancient sources. Chaucer’s stated debt to the fictional Lollius rather than his well-known contemporary writer Boccaccio may therefore be somewhat tongue in cheek; an acknowledgement of the changing literary scene. The similarity between “Lollius” and “lollar” (which, during Chaucer’s lifetime, referred generally to a lazy vagabond rather than a heretic) may also be part of the joke. 32 Eliot emphasizes the importance of balancing textual tradition with originality, urging us not to discard the medieval model of textual genealogies. Jacques Derrida makes a similar point in his own discussion of tradition; he argues that “the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself, after a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system” (Of Grammatology 158). Both Eliot and Derrida understand literary tradition as a large genealogy in which total individualism or total originality – being a branch disconnected from the tree, so to speak – is essentially impossible. In our reading of modern texts we certainly may be guilty of over-privileging originality, but even in our reading of medieval texts the genealogical chain is often useful to us only as a way of reaching the original author and assessing the author’s originality. In this way, the focus on origin may sometimes blind us to the information we could glean from the textual genealogy itself – the relationships between manuscripts as assessed separately from their relationship to the archetype. As David Greetham suggests, “if the grail of intention and origins is not the focus of our editorial ministrations, then ironically it may well be that the lower, better-attested, even more ‘corrupt’ witnesses....could become more culturally significant than the single, lone exemplar with no relatives and no descendants” (103). This section outlined different genealogical forms that we see evident in Middle English literature. However, in order to understand the medieval manifestation of genealogy its fullest sense, it is important to take into account other Middle English words besides “genealogy” that connote ideas such as inheritance, bloodlines, origins, and succession. Kinship names such as father, son, etc, are of course always worth paying attention to, but for the purposes of this project I would like to address a less obviously related term: kynde. 33 2.1.3 Kynde The concept of kynde, which is particularly important to Langland as well as other writers, is a complex subject that could merit its own book. However, because it does not form the focus of this project I will be addressing it only insofar as it contributes to an understanding of the main theoretical paradigms I am using. Defining kynde is a complicated undertaking in and of itself. The Middle English Dictionary (MED) has numerous entries for the noun kynde, approximately half of which focus on the idea of the natural (natural form, natural desire, essential character, moral instinct) and half of which relate to kinship and ancestry (to which the word “kin” is etymologically related). Kyndenesse has three entries, two of which focus on courtesy and benevolence and one of which combines the senses of kynde described in the noun’s definition: “Natural affection due to kinship.” The MED cites many diverse sources in its definition of kynde and kyndenesse, thus supporting Andrew Galloway’s argument that kynde (and its variants) was one of the important “keywords” used by poets, preachers, and other writers in order “to think about and indeed to give structure to social and religious ties” (“Social Ethic” 365). The natural is consistently aligned with the good in Middle English usage,22 as opposed to the Biblical notion of man’s sinful nature, an association that Galloway indicates generated a significant amount of interest: “Exploring the double-entendre of both the ‘natural’ and the ‘moral’ meanings of ‘kyndenesse’ must rank among the favorite verbal games of Middle English religious writers” (373). Galloway’s article focuses on one of the neglected meanings of kynde: the idea of gratitude or reciprocity, which conflates both the moral and natural aspects of the term.23 22 Mary-Clemente Davlin points out that in Piers Plowman, “Kynde is a conventional figure and usually called by the Latin name Natura” (“Kynde Knowyng” 3). 23 The Middle English Dictionary cites “gratitude” as a secondary meaning of the unusual word “kindship,” but the entries for “kynde” and “kyndeness” do not include it. However, Galloway indicates that kynde and unkynde are the usual Middle English translation of the Latin gratus and ingratus and provides several clear examples of how gratitude and kynde were aligned. These examples include John of Gaunt’s complaint to Parliament of his treatment at the hands of Henry Percy during the Peasants’ Revolt and Johannes de Bromyard’s 34 An examination of kynde is important not only because it informs so much late medieval English discourse regarding nature, origin, and ancestry, but because it is particularly ubiquitous in Piers Plowman, which is the touchstone text throughout the following chapters. Will’s desire for kynde knowyng, his encounter with Kynde Wit, and the overall emphasis on kynde knowledge and teaching are scholarly knots; there is no clear and definite consensus on exactly what Langland means by kynde. Britton Harwood briefly reviews some of the major critics’ conclusions about kynde in Piers Plowman, and they all refer to interiority or immediacy in some way: kynde as intuition, as inner knowledge, as unmediated experiential wisdom (“Kynde Knowyng” 246).24 Mary-Clemente Davlin and Harwood, who are among the small number of critics who have addressed Langland’s sense of kynde in greater depth, explore additional meanings of the term that tend to complicate our understanding of it. For example, Harwood expands on Randolph Quirk’s 1953 article on the subject by arguing that Langland’s use of kynde knowyng owes a debt to medieval scholasticism in that it is linked to vis cogitativa, which is the ability to perceive material benefit, to see the overall good (“Kynde Wit” 332). As C:XIV:72ff indicates, 25 this kind of kynde knowyng can be passed on from father to son and therefore is a teachable knowledge. It is a knowledge of the natural sciences, however, and not the same sort of spiritual kynde wit that the poem elsewhere espouses: we are told that “No more can a kynde-witted man, but clerkes hym teche / Come for al his kynde wit thorw christendoem to be saued” (C:XIV:52-3). Davlin sees Langland’s use of kynde together with his character of Kynde Wit to be a synthesis of the natural and divine aspects of kynde. She argues that before Kynde Wit appears, kynde knowyng is associated with nature, with intuitive understanding and wisdom: it is “the natural, the innate, experiential, practical, biological, or basically human” Summa Praedicantium in which ingratitude is connected to the unnatural (371-376). 24 Harwood summarizes this scholarship in a long footnote. The key critics he cites are J.A. Burrow, David Fowler, Edward Vasta, Neville Coghill, Willi Erzgraber, and Elizabeth Kirk. 25 “Kynde-witted men han a clergie by hemsulue....And of the selcouthes that thei sye, here sones therof thei taughten / For they helden hit for an hey science here sotiltees to knowe.” 35 (“Kynde Knowyng” 4). Wisdom and experiential knowledge are key to Davlin’s understanding of kynde in Piers Plowman. Harwood’s and Davlin’s perspectives on kynde provide a much-needed balance to the broader range of critical perspectives that focus on the intuitive aspect of kynde. In this type of interpretation, which is essentially a branch of the kynde-as-nature theory, kynde is seen as unmediated and primal – an inner knowledge whose expression and understanding somehow bypass linguistic and social constraints. However, in focusing on this sense of kynde without balancing it with other aspects highlighted by Harwood and Davlin (such as experience and material benefit), we run the risk of ignoring the external factors that inform Langland’s concept of kynde. Experience and material benefit are certainly included in those external factors, as are the ideas of gratitude and reciprocity that Galloway argues are so closely tied in with kynde in Middle English discourse. This connection highlights the common thread weaving among kynde, genealogy, and the socially constructed nature of identity formation: By blending nature with reciprocation, Middle English ‘kyndenesse’ shifts religious and social bonds away from hierarchy and toward affinity, and the exploitation of these lexical possibilities may easily be aligned with the many distinctive late- medieval forms of community or corporate identity. (“Social Ethic” 374) Using this understanding, kynde is not just an internal intuition but a social practice that cements bonds between people, thereby solidifying a communal identity in which individual identity can be rooted. The manifestation of kyndenesse that focuses on affinity rather than hierarchy is akin to weblike rather than the linear construction of genealogy. While many medieval writers and historians tended to focus on the linear form of genealogy,26 I would argue that the social sense 26 By linear I mean the basic genealogical rolls and chronicles that follow the single paternal line in the manner of Biblical genealogies. 36 of kynde functions as the other side of the coin – genealogy as a web, based on affinity rather than origin. At the same time kynde, in its definition as blood connection, is an expression of the most material, visceral form of genealogy in a time in which the biological basis of genealogy was often effaced in favour of political and social considerations (Harris 489). Kynde is therefore an important medieval manifestation of the genealogical paradigm that demonstrates genealogy’s non-linear and implicit formulations and infuses a wide variety of texts and genres. 2.2 Thing Theory and Material Culture27 In the thirteenth century, the English Franciscan Bartholomeus Anglicus wrote his famous encyclopedic work, De Proprietatibus Rerum (“On the Properties of Things”).28 John Trevisa translated it into Middle English in the fourteenth century, which suggests that there was a market for such a wide-ranging and miscellaneous work.29 The title itself not only indicates the text’s classificatory fluidity, but nicely captures what is appealing about the term “thing”: it encompasses all we want to say but cannot express. Bartholomeus’ encyclopedia purports to give meaning and definition to everything around us, yet the title itself somehow suggests that our definitions and taxonomies are never quite sufficient: we must still resort to calling them “things.” My exploration of thingness in this project addresses both the signifying power of objects (what we might call material culture analysis) and the lapses in meaning when we encounter things and thingness itself, therefore expanding upon the various critical positions on 27 Daniel Miller defines material culture as the philosophy that is premised on the assumption that “what makes us what we are exists, not through our consciousness or body, but as an exterior environment that habituates and prompts us” (51). 28 The idea of classifying “things” (“rerum”) was obviously not an innovation of Bartholomeus; scholars such as Bede and Isidore of Seville (both in the seventh and eighth centuries) wrote about de natura rerum and of course philosophical questions about the nature of things have been posed since Plato and Aristotle. Bartholomeus is used as example here because of his temporal and linguistic proximity to the time period in which I am interested (although he wrote in Latin, his work was the subject of Trevisa’s later English translation). 29 Excluding fragments, there are eight extant manuscripts of Trevisa’s translation – a significant number given general survival rates of Middle English manuscripts. One of these was copied by Scribe D, who copied other Middle English “best-sellers” by Chaucer, Gower, and Langland. Bartholomeus’ original Latin text was, of course, very popular; over 100 manuscripts survive (Edwards, “Translation” 85, 88). 37 objects and things that scholars have taken over the years. 2.2.1 Critical Interest: Things, Objects, and Signification Objects and materiality have been the subject of academic inquiry in a number of different fields – literary theory, philosophy, history and anthropology being just a few examples. Many theoretical or critical schools of thought incorporate materiality into their paradigms, with some of them, such as Marxism and post-structuralism, identifying the nature of the material world as central to their philosophies. Because the interest in objects and their relationship to the human condition is pertinent to so many fields, this section does not attempt to provide any sort of critical review of the relevant scholarship. Rather, it focuses on key criticism in material culture studies which helps to articulate the nature of thingness within the wider world of objects and materiality. Martin Heidegger’s 1935 book What is a Thing?, in which he explores our approach to the thing first as foundational to philosophical inquiry30 and then in connection to Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, opens with a question that he asserts cannot be answered (but which he then goes on to answer): what is a thing? On the one hand, a thing is something about which we are unsure, which does not fit easily into any particular category, and which may indeed be unclassifiable. To use the term “thing” is to acknowledge that we cannot insert it into our regular taxonomies – it stands alone. As Heidegger puts it, it is “anything else that is a something and not nothing” (6). On the other hand, a thing is concrete – tactile, physical, able to be directly experienced: “a rock, a piece of wood, a pair of pliers, a watch, an apple, and a piece of bread” (6). Heidegger explains that his question is impossible to answer because “within what boundaries we determine the meanings of the term ‘thing’ always remains arbitrary” (6). Two of 30As Eugene Gendlin’s appendix to Heidegger’s book states, “[e]ven what we ask, the questions with which we begin (as well as every subsequent step and finding), is already a result of, and is formulated within, a certain context and a certain way of conceptualizing things” (249). 38 Heidegger’s broad definitions of “thingness” are opposed to one another: one means the indefinable, and one means the concretely defined.31 His philosophy therefore encompasses ideas of thingness as well as physical things themselves. Post-structuralist theorists such as Jacques Lacan and, to a lesser extent, Jacques Derrida, have used the thing as a trope for the unknowable rather than the physical “bearer of properties” described by Heidegger (Heidegger 32). Lacan uses the two German words for thing – das Ding and die Sache – to describe his philosophy of thingness. He argues that the French word for thing (la chose) is insufficient for his purposes because of its etymological limitations: it “presents itself as the wrapping and designation of the concrete” (Ethics 43). Die Sache is similar to la chose in that is “a product of industry and of human action as governed by language” (45). This kind of thing is “always on the surface, always within range of an explanation” (45). Das Ding, however, refers to thingness in its manifestation as the unknowable but the ultimately desirable: The whole progress of the subject is then oriented around the Ding . . . the first outside. It is clearly a probing form of progress that seeks points of reference, but with relation to what? — with the world of desires. (…) This object, das Ding, [is] the absolute Other of the subject, that one is supposed to find again. It is to be found at the most as something missed. One doesn't find it, but only its pleasurable associations. It is in this state of wishing for it and waiting for it that, in the name of the pleasure principle, the optimum tension will be sought. (Ethics 52) As Chapter Six explores in more detail, das Ding is the unknowable Other that is part of what constitutes identity or subjecthood. Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage is predicated on the idea that the individual desires something outside him- or herself (the Other) and this desire is key to identity formation; das Ding is the ultimate and unattainable Other, one that is primal, 31 He does include a third category, in which “thing” is used to describe abstractions: “Thing in the sense in which it means whatever is named but which includes also plans, decisions, reflections, loyalties, actions, historical things” (6). 39 unknowable, and ungoverned by what Lacan calls the realm of the symbolic.32 Jacques Derrida’s notion of presence or meaning deferred through the endless chain of signification (the supplement, which is discussed in further detail in Chapter Three) bears important similarities to Lacan’s Other: Through this sequence of supplements a necessity is announced: that of an infinite chain, ineluctably multiplying the supplementary mediations that produce the sense of the very thing they defer: the mirage of the thing itself, of immediate presence, of originary perception. Immediacy is derived. (Of Grammatology 157) The deferred “thing” that Derrida describes is characterized by the immediacy, the primal nature, that is inherent to Lacan’s das Ding. Both Derrida and Lacan highlight an important aspect of thingness, which is not only its unknowability, its deferment of meaning, but its desirability. Lacan’s philosophy is useful not only because of his specific interest in das Ding but because his theories regarding the development of personal identity are pertinent to discourses of thingness more generally. He is interested in how identity aligns with subjectivity – how we become human subjects, and how that role defines us individually. However, in order to be subjects we must determine what objects are, and what it means to objectify something or someone. Although “thing” and “object” are terms that are often used interchangeably, there are key differences in both their meanings and their uses. Plotz points out that in critical discourse we are generally much more comfortable with the term “object,” since “object” is defined by its relation to a subject while the status of “thing” is unclear (111).33 He gives the example of the Rorschach blot test: it seems at first to be a “thing” of apparently non-human design which 32 Lacan (1975) identified three realms or orders that individuals experience during the formation of human identity: the Real (fulfilled desire, unmediated by language), the Imaginary (a place of imagined self completion, correlating to the mirror stage), and the Symbolic (what we would think of as the real world, governed by social law and language). These were first introduced in his seminars of 1954. 33 I would also suggest that our discomfort with the word “thing” is its association with childishness – take, for example, juvenile jokes about genitalia (a “thingie”) or the over-casual use of the word “thing”, as if the speaker’s vocabulary was not sufficient to describe the “thing” in question. Bill Brown discusses how children transform objects into things by infusing them with what he calls “misuse value”, meaning the “misappropriation” of objects for uses for which they were not intended. In such “sensuous practice,” a surplus is produced “into which the ‘character of things as things’ irrupts” (“Toy Story” 953). 40 allows a person to identify their own feelings and thoughts. Because of this, the Rorschach test is therefore an object that “speaks” because it is defined by a human subject; it is not a thing. Distinguishing between objects and things is, Plotz argues, important in any consideration of human identity: [I]t is crucial to historicize the seemingly immutable boundaries that are visibly drawn between thing and person. That is, deliberating what counts as an object....and what counts as human attention to that object is not a metaphysical project but a genealogical one, and the shifting boundaries turn out to reveal shifting ideas about the location of selfhood and subjectivity. (114) The study of things and objects, both in a physical (as in the manuscript, for example) and a literary sense, can therefore shed light on how identity was understood in medieval society. This is particularly useful because individuality and subjectivity are generally not explored specifically in medieval texts; communal identity and spiritual roles were considered far more important than personal development for its own sake. However, an exploration of how texts treat the relationship between human subjects, objects, and things may reveal attitudes and assumptions about identity that the text does not verbalize explicitly. Bill Brown championed the literary appropriation of thing theory in a special 2001 issue of the journal Critical Inquiry, a collection whose spirit followed Brown’s 1999 article on Virginia Woolf (“The Secret Life of Things”) and his 1998 article “How to Do Things with Things (A Toy Story).” Brown continued to expand his work on the thing in his 2003 book A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature and a 2004 collection of essays entitled Things. Brown’s work acknowledges his critical debts to Marxist-leaning scholars such as Walter Benjamin and Daniel Miller, psychoanalytic critics such as Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein, postmodernists like Jean Baudrillard, and Gaston Bachelard, whose work on epistemology is rooted in his work on physics, history, and philosophy. Heidegger’s work, which informs most 41 of the other scholars Brown references, is also a significant influence on Brown. Brown’s perspective on things and thingness is closer to Heidegger than to Lacan, in that he is more interested in the relationship between things and ideas (how things contribute to or inhibit our ability to formulate more abstract concepts) than in the relationship between things and identity. He notes that “we look through objects” to obtain social, scientific, or cultural information, but we cannot do this with things; they are opaque, they are just there (“Thing Theory” 4). Things therefore inhabit a liminal place between the nameable and the unnameable; on the one hand, a thing is something concrete, something suddenly and “baldly encountered,” but on the other it is also “some thing not quite apprehended” (5). Brown argues that much of the appeal of things is located in their concreteness, since they seem to offer “some place of origin unmediated by the sign” (1) but that their apparent tangibility and clarity are ultimately found to be opacity. Unlike objects, we cannot interpret things using our accustomed frames of reference. John Plotz, Charity Scribner, Peter Schwenger, Peter Stallybrass, Ann Rosalind, Daniel Tiffany, and other scholars cited throughout this dissertation align themselves with Brown on most of his major points regarding things, objects, and ideas. In his articles “The Secret Life of Things,” “How to Do Things with Things,” and his 2003 book A Sense of Things, Brown applies his ideas of thingness to American consumer culture, arguing that in America, things possess the consumer rather than the other way around (Sense of Things 5). He integrates his sociocultural understanding of things into literary criticism when he argues that certain texts ask why and how we use objects to make meaning, to make or re- make ourselves, to organize our anxieties and affections, to sublimate our fears and shape our fantasies. They are texts that describe and enact an imaginative possession of things that amounts to a labour of infusing manufactured objects with a metaphysical dimension. (4) This “imaginative possession of things” is just that – imaginative rather than factual. Brown 42 suggests that we ignore the unnamable, uncontrollable, or uncomfortable characteristics of things in order to force them into comprehensibility and usefulness; we transform them into objects.34 However, thingness is itself the “excess” of objects – it is something beyond those taxonomies or frames in which objects fit nicely (Brown, “Thing Theory” 5; Scribner 334). When objects are broken, transformed, disintegrated, turned around – these are moments in which the object surrenders to thingness. Brown uses excerpts from nineteenth-century psychologist William James’ book Principles of Psychology to illustrate this turn from object to thing and how it affects us on a basic sensory level – on the level of the thing: [James] tells the story of what happens when our habits are broken, when for instance we look at a landscape with our head upside down or when we turn a painting bottom upward: “the colors grow richer and more varied, we don't understand the meaning of the painting, but, to compensate for the loss, we feel more freshly the value of the mere tints and shadings”…[I]n James the difference between [the thing’s]…. objecthood, and the experience of the thing…its thinghood, emerges in the moment (and no doubt only as a moment) of reobjectification that is a kind of misuse – turning the picture bottom up, standing on one's head. The point may be less that “sensation is one thing and perception another,” and more that the experience of sensation depends on disorientation, both habit and its disruption. (“Secret Life” 6-7) This excerpt was quoted at length because it perfectly encapsulates one of the core characteristics of things: their ability to be at once knowable (the recognizable picture just turned upside-down) and a jumble of unclassified sensory data (what Brown calls “some thing not quite apprehended”). When the picture is turned upside-down, it is still the same picture but our perception of it transforms it into something beyond itself; the failure of our usual taxonomies defers meaning but also rejuvenates our senses. One of the most recent works related to this field is Daniel Miller’s 2010 book Stuff. 34 The connection between objects, signification, and identity (particularly social identity), while useful in literary analysis, has been thoroughly explored in seminal post-structuralist works such as Roland Barthes’ Mythologies and Jean Baudrillard’s The System of Objects. The study of things, and the difference between things and objects, is a relatively new critical field – or at least, it is a new perspective on materialism. 43 Miller, an anthropologist interested in the study of material culture, argues that the objects or “stuff” we accumulate (which influence the way we think and behave) can be understood from a perspective distinct from Levi-Strauss’s anthropological structuralism.35 He urges us to look beyond the function of objects and instead note their visibility – whether and how their function is obscured. Although he does not distinguish between objects and things (a distinction which I believe is important), he does provide an interesting definition of thingness that is different from and yet not fully contradictory to Brown’s: It is not that things are tangible stuff that we can stub our toes against. It is not that they are firm, clear foundations that are opposed to the fluffiness of the images of the mind or abstract ideas. They work by being invisible and unremarked upon, a state they usually achieve by being familiar and taken for granted. (50) Like Brown and Plotz, Miller emphasizes that the concreteness of things does not mean they reveal unmediated truth. Miller’s things are like objects in that they are in a clear relationship with human subjects that make use of them, but they are also “things” in Brown’s sense because their utility is so assumed and obvious that it is never expressed or acknowledged. These kinds of “things” are never really defined; they are just experienced and used, without conscious thought or interest. Like Brown’s earlier articles regarding thingness and American consumerism, much of Miller’s analysis here focuses on commodity items, particularly clothing, and therefore he gives clothing as an example of these forgotten “things”: “One of the problems we have in persuading people that the study of blue denim is so significant is that its ubiquity seems to make people regard it as less of interest, rather than more of interest” (51). While Miller’s perspective demonstrates a Marxian influence and thus focuses on objects and functionality more than “things” per se, his work nevertheless helps us to further understand thingness. 35 Levi-Strauss emphasized the importance of both function and comparison in defining objects. Miller gives the example of a dining room table, which is defined by features that are only meaningful if one knows what a kitchen table or a coffee table are characterized by (51-52). Miller argues that “structuralism focused on the relationship between things rather than things themselves” (52). 44 2.2.2 Medieval Things The current critical understanding of thingness is strongly informed by the word’s day-to- day usage – things as concrete, things as vague, things as alternately frightening and rejuvenating. The medieval use of the word “thing” is often in reference to the excessive in ourselves or the world around us: the divine, the evil, the sexually taboo, the inexpressible or unknowable. The Middle English Dictionary has numerous and wide-ranging definitions of “thing.” It is a word used to describe abstractions, activities, that which happened or which was heard, genitalia, dependent or weak people (such as women or children), powerful figures such as God, angels, or demons, and that which exists in and of itself, a concrete, inanimate object. At the same time, it is a word used “with imprecise semantic content” or “with weakened or no semantic content” (“Thing”). In linguistic as well as physical terms, the “thing” is largely devoid of clear signification. While the use of the word “thing” may strike us now as somewhat childish, unprofessional, or just awkward (see Note 33 above), in medieval usage it does not seem to carry this same connotation. This at first appears counterintuitive; Western medieval philosophical and religious paradigms were grounded in a system of hierarchies, and the notion of thingness as value derived from William James’ metaphorical picture being turned upside down (see page 42 above) seems to contradict hierarchical order. However, Brown’s related idea of misuse value may shed some light on how things were integrated into the medieval understanding of the world: Misuse frees objects from the systems to which they've been beholden. Common sense may tell us that the thing exists anterior to (the corresponding) object, that the thing is the substance out of which the subject, discourse, or the economic system constitutes an object. But we might instead imagine the thing (its very thingness, its ‘substantial character,’ its ‘individuality,’ its ‘autonomy’) as a kind of remainder - what's left over after a routinized objectification has taken place.” (“Toy Story” 953-4) 45 The misuse value achieved when objects are reappropriated and manifest themselves as things (something that Brown and others suggest occurs during children’s play) does not deny order and hierarchy, but instead acknowledges (and indeed, requires) that hierarchy and then reveals something extraneous to it. The misuse of objects temporarily extricates them from their accustomed order and inserts them into another, unknown order. 2.2.3 Thingness as the Alternate Order: The Carnival and the Divine In medieval texts this unknown order often manifests itself as either the wild carnivalesque or as the divine – a complete absence of order, or an order so perfected it is unrecognizable to humanity. The term “carnivalesque” was initially coined by M. M. Bakhtin in his 1965 book Rabelais and his World to describe the abolition of hierarchy characteristic of many medieval folk celebrations. While Bakhtin saw the carnivalesque as a method of social resistance, some scholars of medieval history have argued that such inversions of order actually reinforced official culture, functioning more as a temporary and harmless escape than a sustained rebellion: “games and rituals of inversion played during periods of misrule were ways of defining and preserving the status quo” (French 392; see also Taylor, “Margins” 27 and McQuillan 62). In manuscripts such as the Luttrell Psalter and the Smithfield Decretals the monstrous things in the margins – strange combinations of man and beast, or living things and objects – embody the inversion of the social and divine hierarchies sanctioned in the accompanying text (this is particularly true in the case of the Luttrell Psalter, which is, of course, a book of biblical Psalms). Andrew Taylor describes the carnivalesque nature of these two manuscripts (the Psalter and the Decretals): It is a world of street theater, crowded with jugglers, stilt-walkers, musicians, and wrestlers; a world of exotic animals, elephants, unicorns, a camel; of deer hunts and boar hunts; of dirty jokes, when a monk sprinkles a lord and lady with urine instead of holy water or a miller catches his wife and a monk in flagrante delicto. Above all, it is a topsy-turvy world, where animals mimic human 46 actions and humans and animals mingle forms; a world of metamorphosized grotesques, centaurs, mermaids and mermen, wild men, and monsters, and of preaching foxes and hunting rabbits. (23) The animal-human crossovers are particularly characteristic of the Luttrell Psalter’s grotesques. However, the Psalter also includes illustrations, such as the scenes of peasant labour and the depictions of the lord’s family, which reinforce the status quo and thus contradict the strange inversions in the grotesques. It is telling that much of the scholarship on the Psalter tends to focus on the standard illustrations despite the plethora of other strange “things” depicted; we do not really know what these things are or why they are in these books, and therefore we focus on the objects that we do know. Michael Camille argues that the critical focus on the apparently straight-forward illustrations (the labourers, the arming of Lord Geoffrey Luttrell, the Luttrell family feast) has resulted in the Psalter’s “transform[ation] from a family heirloom to something of a mass commodity fetish representing ‘Merry Olde England’”(12). However, the marginal grotesques, most of which are unique (238), speak to the illustrators’ interest in how things relate to the normal social order – how disruptive they are, and how they should be defined in relationship to that order. Camille suggests that these monsters “constantly evade being through becoming”; they are rarely one kind of creature, but hybrids in which the space of transformation is concealed by human clothing (245). They do not have to commit to one particular identity because they are always becoming something else. The elements of the carnivalesque included in Taylor’s list are also characteristic of burlesque parody or fabliaux, which we find in such English works as The Tournament of Tottenham, Dame Sirith, and several of the stories in The Canterbury Tales, such as The Miller’s Tale, The Reeve’s Tale, and The Summoner’s Tale. The repulsive humour of a key moment in The Miller’s Tale, for example, would not have been accomplished without the vile vagueness of the 47 word thyng to describe the location of Absolom’s naïve kiss: “He felte a thyng al rogh and long yherd” (3738). A similar effect is achieved in the Middle English romance Octavian, which describes the fearsome giant as “so foulle a thynge” (880); “thynge” here manages to infuse the reader with both the sense of the unknown and the distaste of a vaguely sexual allusion.36 Whether such parodic inversions are actually intended to be subversive is highly questionable, however; some critics suggest that fabliau as a genre is rooted in moral exempla and that these kinds of tales were created to provide both entertainment and education (Furrow 6). The other side of the medieval thyng is the Godly. Admittedly, the notion of a perfected divine order that is incomprehensible to man seems far away from thingness – from the physical things we encounter and touch and puzzle over. Indeed, such metaphysical perfection appears to be the antithesis of thingness. However, it is important to integrate some of the modern critical work on objects, thingness, and signification into our understanding of how “things” (as both a word itself and physical objects) functioned on a metaphysical or divine level in medieval texts. Caroline Walker Bynum, in her analysis of the function of wonder to medieval theorists, argues that instead of being “merely a physiological response, wonder was a recognition of the singularity and significance of the thing encountered” (39). To wonder at an incomprehensible thing was to be in awe of the divine. I noted above that Brown characterizes thingness as the “excess” of objects, “as a kind of remainder - what's left over after a routinized objectification has taken place” (“Toy Story” 953-4; “Thing Theory” 5). In other words, the thing may constantly defer ultimate signification, but its excess, its remainder, means that its potential for significance is much greater than the object – even if the thing and the object are the same physical item, such as the upside-down picture used in the example above. This is similar to Lacan’s notion of das Ding, something which is ever desired, yet never understood; it is a veiled, 36 The introduction to the Southern version of Octavian uses the word thyng to castigate those who enjoy listening to fabliaux: “And fele of hem casteð a cry / Of thyng Þat fallyð to rybaudy” (13-14) 48 alluring hint at the real, at truth and pleasure, but it can never be truly reached or touched. The thing is, as John Frow puts it, “at once full and inaccessible...that’s why the vision of thingness so quickly becomes a vision of God” (348-9). Function and use alone cannot define it, as they can define objects. The host wafer, for example, was physically a piece of bread to be ingested, but also functioned as an annual religious experience for individuals, a sign of a unified community,37 and the earthly manifestation of Christ himself. The unease felt at the host’s unclear status – its thingness – is demonstrated in the fact that in regular Mass, a bell was rung during the sacring38 and the Elevation of the Host. The bell was intended to make aurally “visible” an invisible moment: the transformation of the host from earthly object to divine presence. The sacring, the elevation, and the bell all made this transformation more tangible, more real, by signalling the moment of invisible divine presence via the “thing” that was the host. As Jennifer Garrison states, “mass is a ritual that demands that the worshipper accept God's simultaneous presence and absence, a moment in which the divine is almost tangible but impossible to grasp” (Garrison 295). The host is thus a reassuring physical presence but also a confusing thing whose true status or identity can never be completely understood. Recent work in sacramental theology and the medieval Eucharist corresponds with this paradoxical idea.39 As Chapter Six discusses, the thingness of the host is echoed in Pearl when the Dreamer asks the Maiden, who is accompanied by Christ as the Lamb of God, “Quat kyn Þyng may be Þat Lambe” (line 771). The word kyn here allows the reader to interpret the line as both “What kind 37 Most individuals would take communion only once a year, at Easter. During the regular Mass, the congregation would watch the celebrant raise the Host and take communion on their behalf (Duffy 93-6). Duffy emphasizes how important participation in communion was to each individual’s sense of belonging; to be excluded was tantamount to social ostracism (94). 38 The sacring is the recitation of the words “Hoc est enim corpus meum,” a mystical moment which transformed the host from bread to Christ’s body. 39 For examples of such work, see Rubin (especially Chapters 1 and 5) and Beckwith. Beckwith highlights the contradictory nature of the Eucharist: “if Christ's body in the form of the Eucharist was where the integrity of an entire culture was most celebrated...if belief in transubstantiation could literally define your bona fide membership of that ‘imaginary community,’ then Christ's body as it was violated, eaten, transgressed and otherwise played with, was also the symbol which suffered from the most extreme degree of inner contestation and self-difference” (3). 49 of thing is that Lamb?” and “What kin-thing is that Lamb [what relationship is the Lamb to you?]?” Chapter Six therefore argues that the Lamb is the embodiment of the divine thing: it has an unclear relationship with the human subjects around it because its “kind” – its classification or status – is unknown. However, the Lamb also plainly exhibits its essential physicality – the blood that marks it: “Bot a wounde ful wyde and weete con wyse / Anende Hys hert, Þurȝ hyde torent / Of His quyte side His blod outsprent” (1135-7). The use of “thing” as a marker of the divine in medieval texts is also evident in Troilus and Criseyde, a poem discussed in Chapter 4. The narrator tells us that Criseyde seemed “lyk a thing immortal” (I:103). Troilus’ lament about fate in Book IV:995-1078 uses the word “thyng” throughout in reference to events that are fated or foreshadowed and questions the nature and divine origin of such “thynges”: I mene as though I laboured me in this To enqueren which thyng cause of which thyng be: As wheither that the prescience of God is The certeyn cause of the necessite Of thynges that to comen ben, parde, Or if necessite of thyng comynge Be cause certeyn of the purveyninge (1008-1015) However, Troilus and Criseyde also uses “thyng” to describe linguistic dissonance and the confusion that erupts when categories are not clearly circumscribed, as when Pandarus warns Troilus not to mix the vocabulary and behavior of love with anything else: Ne jompre ek no discordant thyng yfeere, As thus, to usen termes of phisik In loves termes; hold of thi matere The forme alwey, and do that it be lik; For if a peyntour wolde peynte a pyk With asses feet, and hedde it as an ape, It cordeth naught, so were it but a jape. (II:1037-43) Pandarus’ statement here emphasizes how form should be aligned with content in order to 50 achieve linguistic signification (“hold of thi matere / The forme alwey, and do that it be lik”) and draws attention to the chaos that erupts when the boundaries between such categories disappear. This boundary-blurring transforms both linguistic and physical objects into “discordant thyng(s).” Like the divine “thyng,” these chaotic things cannot be defined. 2.2.4 The Modern Mind and the Medieval Thing Seth Lerer, while not specifically addressing the implications of thing theory, nevertheless makes an useful statement when he argues that the literary text “exists not as some individuated and empirically recoverable ‘thing’ but as one element in the process between author, audience and publisher,” that texts are socially collaborative and function as a nexus between author and reader to produce meaning (Chaucer 9). Manuscripts – alien objects to modern readers, who are used to books produced identically and en masse – may be considered, in some respects, to be “things” rather than objects.40 The moment at which the thing (the manuscript in this case) reveals something unexpected or wrong is the moment at which we realize that we have not been seeking “truth” in the thing, but we have been looking to the thing to reinforce what we already believe to be true. Plotz suggests that when exploring the “thingness” of things, instead of asking what meaning a culture intended an object to have, we should examine sites of failed or lost meaning – the discrepancy that exists between the intended meaning and the substance of the thing itself (110). Such moments of thingness, which are highlighted throughout the analyses in the following chapters, often indicate areas where modern modes of reading have taken precedence over medieval modes. In many cases, examining the presence of the genealogical paradigm in 40 To a medieval reader, the manuscript was certainly a familiar object but also a thing whose physical constitution seemed to vie against its metaphysical value. Books were made of stretched and treated sheepskin – the end product of shepherds and tanners and parchment-makers – and yet could contain the loftiest spiritual ideas. Like the Host, the lowly material nature of the book was opposed by its social and spiritual value. As Chapter 5 discusses, the opening of Piers Plowman seems to hint at these two sides of the book when his narrator, Will, “shopes” himself into “shrouds / As y a shep were.” These opening lines are suggestive of the author shaping himself into the sheepskin pages of his own text. 51 such literary moments restores the medieval mode and allows us to reframe our question. A key question in any analysis of things is whether the thing is a sign, in the Saussurian sense: does it signify something? Does it signify nothing? Or does it signify something we were not expecting? The relationship between signifier and signified is a strained one within the parameters of thing theory, as demonstrated by Plotz's discussion of Brownell's 1857 painting “The Charter Oak” in which the object depicted is framed within oak itself (Plotz 112). A similar confusion of signification is identified in Chapter Six, in which I analyze the way in which the opening lines of Piers Plowman trouble the sign/signified relation, particularly when we consider the physical composition of the manuscript itself. A consideration of the composition, production, intended function, and use of a manuscript resonates with Daniel Miller’s alternate perspective on thingness, which was cited above. Miller sees thingness as manifesting itself at the moment in which an object’s use or appearance is so obvious that it becomes invisible to us. When we think of Piers Plowman’s Will wandering in the Malvern Hills, shrouded as a sheep, we may also think of how the manuscript itself (also shrouded as a sheep, or in sheepskin) wanders. Medieval books were highly migratory, partly because they were very expensive and therefore less disposable and more likely to be shared among others or left in wills, and partly because there was no sense that a book had to be complete in order to be disseminated. For example, it was common for manuscripts to be circulated in booklet form before they were bound together in one book, and many texts, such as Piers Plowman and the Canterbury Tales, were “published” in unfinished or fragmentary versions. Textual fragments often receive little or no sustained critical attention because of their incomplete nature; we desire the whole book, complete and accurate, and errors are useful only insofar as they direct us to the truth of the original text.41 The seeds of this desire for truth, 41 The discussion of the HM 143 fragment of Troilus and Criseyde explores this issue in more depth. My observations about fragments are, of course, general in nature and do not reflect the treatment of all fragments. I 52 accuracy, and completion are seen in Robert Crowley’s effort to confirm and circumscribe the authenticity of Piers Plowman and in the efforts of other editors to define the boundaries of the Chaucerian canon (see Chapters Three and Four). Will’s shrouded journey in Piers Plowman, which often confuses modern readers with its twists, turns, regressions, and shifts between waking and sleeping, parallels the fluidity of a manuscript’s life. This is not to suggest that scribes (or Langland) made a conscious decision to compare the two, but merely that our own frustration with the seemingly chaotic pattern of Will’s journey may mirror our resistance to or misunderstanding of the manuscript’s form and function. Our interest in creating streamlined editions and technical manuscript descriptions, while practical for scholarly purposes, obscures some of the uncomfortable thingness inherent to a pile of parchment created five centuries ago. As Peter Schwenger says, “a description is a denegation of the thing described in the very act of translating it into words” (141). Such descriptions have the effect of circumscribing what the manuscript is or can be to the reader. 2.3 Blood, Text, and Thing: Connecting Perspectives These two theoretical models of thing theory and genealogy were chosen because in their various manifestations they each highlight important differences between medieval and modern modes of reading. Understanding such differences allows us to understand alternate ways of classifying texts and to acknowledge the impact that material form has on our approach to would maintain, however, that any interest in fragments tends to be cursory, often, for example, focusing upon the characteristics of the scribe’s hand. Certainly, such paleographic analysis provides important evidence for additional scholarship, but the remaining implications of the fragment itself often are ignored as a result. For example, when Doyle identified the scribe of a Prick of Conscience fragment as the same scribe who penned a Piers Plowman manuscript, his analysis focused primarily on the paleographical features of the scribe’s hand rather than on the nature of the fragment (“Ushaw College” 43-50). Similarly, Simon Horobin’s recent discovery of the HM 143 Troilus hand’s identity as the Piers “M” manuscript scribe (and his further discovery of the M corrector as being Adam Pinkhurst) focuses largely on the paleographic connections between HM 143 and M. In saying this, I am certainly not criticizing the valuable work done by Horobin and Doyle – their use of their respective fragments served a larger purpose, and a digression into the fragments themselves would have resulted in long, unwieldy articles. I only point out that textual fragments may provide an interesting window into medieval reading habits that we have not yet opened. 53 meaning and truth. By using these paradigms to reframe what we perceive to be moments of randomness and incomprehensibility in medieval texts, we cease to see medieval readers and writers as simply less sophisticated than us and instead locate them within taxonomies that are closer to those in which they actually lived and wrote. As this chapter concludes I will highlight the important threads that connect these two theoretical frameworks. Neither thing theory nor genealogy is restricted to either the modern or the medieval sphere; utility of these paradigms is partly based on the fact that both have influenced thought then and still do now, although in different forms. Although these two theories at first appear to have little relation to one another, they do share some key features, as this chapter has periodically highlighted. Both models are characterized by a kind of epistemological duality: they appeal to our desire for linearity, completion, and concreteness, but immediately deny that desire as they reveal their inherent instability and fragmentation. For example, as was discussed earlier, genealogy at its most basic physical level betrays its own fragmentary nature; it is not the tree we imagine it to be – the editor’s manuscript stemma – but a tangled web in which meaning is generated primarily through affinity rather than hierarchy. As Foucault says, “the true historical sense [offered by genealogy] confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or point of reference” (89). It does not provide the stable identity that we desire. Genealogy, therefore, disintegrates (or reconfigures itself) when we take it from the philosophical to the physical, while “things” fall apart when we move away from the physical and into the philosophical and/or linguistic. When we look for simple and concrete truth in things we encounter – when we “desire things qua things to speak to us” in an unmediated form (Plotz 110) – we discover that the encounter itself is not sufficient. We need to draw the thing into the realm of language in order to understand it, and it is in this linguistic realm that the thing’s lack of classification becomes clear. In other words, both paradigms appear to offer us some sort of 54 interpretative control, but we end up being forced to relinquish that control. In his analysis of the genealogical paradigm in Piers Plowman, D. Vance Smith emphasizes this desire for control when he points out that “it is not the dead who construct genealogies, of course: it is those who want to stake a claim over the living” (Incipit 113). The deployment of genealogy in any of its manifestations is premised on the assumption of control, on genealogy’s influence on the determination of origin, on what is “natural,” and on land ownership and legal status (Radulescu and Kennedy 1). Genealogy, in other words, was an ordering framework that placed disparate elements in relation to one another. The “genealogical imagination [was] an important medieval model of historical understanding” (Smith, Incipit 116), and I would suggest literary understanding as well, since the genealogical model itself traverses the boundary between fact and fiction. However, the philosophical and historical paradigm of genealogy tended to efface its own physical roots: the chaos of blood and sex. The moments in which the ordering framework of genealogy clashes with its disorderly visceral reality destabilize the genealogical paradigm, leaving it open to contestation even as it asserts its own immovability.42 Like genealogy, thing theory balances on the edge of order and disorder (or an alternate order), physical and philosophical. Both are rooted in basic physical elements but instead of providing concrete certainty, these physical elements render both theoretical paradigms unstable – although often more interesting because of it. Thing theory and genealogy therefore both balance coherence and chaos, and my use of these ideas throughout the following chapters is intended to explore how our perception of chaos often parallels the medieval sense of coherence. In other words, by articulating those sites in which meaning escapes us we can reconfigure our paradigms and practices along medieval lines, thereby understanding the significance of what 42 One example of such a clash is the treatment of genealogical lines in Piers Plowman: the awkwardly allegorical family of Piers Plowman, whose roles seem to be a rather forced example of order, versus Langland’s more realistic references to the disruptive influence of bastardy. 55 appears to us as illegibility, randomness, or incoherence. In her discussion of wonder and marvels in medieval texts, Caroline Walker Bynum emphasizes that the random or inexplicable was often a source of signification because of those very qualities: “if to theologians, chroniclers, and preachers, the wonderful was indeed often the strange, the rare, and the inexplicable, it was never the merely strange or the simply inexplicable. It was a strange that mattered, that pointed beyond itself to meaning” (71-2). The thing troubles us because it is an empty and opaque signifier – a physical remnant that is illegible to us – but its very opacity is what infused it with significance, whether divine or indescribable, to a medieval audience. The paradigms of thingness and genealogy are both manifest in the manuscript, an object which is at once an economic commodity, a sign of social status, a “carrier bag” for the intellect (Le Guin 152-3), an animal product,43 and part of a literary family. Plotz describes a thing as “an object that is troubling because it is perched on the boundary between sign and substance” (112), and this particular description is characteristic of manuscripts themselves, which, like Will shrouded in his sheepskin, inhabit that border between sign and substance. Andrew Taylor's notion of the fetishized manuscript corresponds to Plotz's understanding of things: Taylor defines the fetish as “a single material object that exists at the point of intersection of diverse ideologies” (205), a definition which suggests a manuscript is some “thing” upon which meaning is at once inscribed and deferred, a site of contesting ideas in which the signifier and the signified are not distinct entities.44 The force that this thingness has upon readers is, perhaps, one impetus behind the recent digitization projects. Manuscripts of all types – literary, legal, theological – are currently being 43 Holsinger, both in his 2009 article “Of Pigs and Parchment” and in his presentation “Membrane Aesthetics” at the New Chaucer Society Conference in Siena (2010), draws attention to the corporeal, bloody roots of medieval literature, reducing it to “millions of stains on animal parts” (“Pigs” 619). His article contrasts this mass slaughter with the strange concurrent movement to moralize animals themselves by putting them on trial. 44 I would note here that fetishizing a thing denies “thingness” by imbuing the Thing with meaning and desire; the fetish is our way of coping with the unclassifiable or unknowable nature of the thing. 56 produced in digital facsimile so the reader can approach them in as unmediated a form as possible. Peter Robinson, who has been working on the digitization of The Canterbury Tales manuscripts, testifies to the appeal of manuscripts-as-things. The digital publishing program he and his colleagues are using to digitize Hengwrt is, he states, intended to “do justice to the eccentric beauty of the manuscript itself…giving an impression of Hengwrt as a physical object, stains, rat chewings and all; and give too a sense of the many discontinuities in the inscription of the text in the manuscript” (Robinson 136).45 Robinson’s comments regarding the “discontinuities” and ugliness of the manuscript participate in a similar discourse as thing theory and indicate an interest in the implications of reading the manuscript itself – implications beyond paleographical and codicological analysis. The increased popularity of manuscript digitization has highlighted even more starkly the question of whether the critical edition or the “real” manuscript should take precedence. Do we desire the shadow of the authorial text evidenced in a critical edition, or the scraped-up manuscript that reflects just one scribe’s work? Which is closer to an “original” text, and which is more complete? Robert Meyer-Lee highlights the tension inherent to these questions when he refers to our conflicting desire for the Riverside Chaucer to be “at once an object of artistic excellence and an object of historical authenticity” (3). Textual genealogies that deviate from our expectations of how medieval literature should or did function leave us not with manuscripts as Texts (objects with which we are comfortable working) but manuscripts as Things: they are, in Brown’s words, “objects asserting themselves as Things” (“Thing Theory” 4). The incorporation of both thing theory and genealogy into our interpretation of medieval texts therefore offers a method of distancing ourselves from our own assumptions and reconfiguring our modes of reading. These models encourage us to develop an increased 45 Van Peer and Sherman are other examples of this wider interest in deformed, dirty, or otherwise abnormal texts. 57 awareness of what we assume literature to be, and to acknowledge the vastly different assumptions of an earlier culture. The wide range of these approaches also allows for useful connections to other theories, such as post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, and even New Criticism and New Historicism. As I hope the analyses in the following chapters will demonstrate, the models of thingness and genealogy force us to ask important questions not only about the nature of medieval literature, but about what we have constructed it to be. 58 Chapter 3 (Re)Reading Tradition: the Chaucerian Tradition Christopher Cannon, in exploring the radical difference of Middle English literature in the late fourteenth century, argues that it is due to the “poverty of our categories” that we are unable to understand the literary logic of Middle English texts and compilations (Grounds 11). Our usual taxonomies, in other words, are often insufficient to the task of reading the medieval text. Cannon insists that we must reconfigure our own modern methods of classification in order to understand how Middle English texts generated meaning for their readers; he states that they must be read “apart from all…familiar categories” (3). In this chapter and the next, I examine the familiar categories of the Chaucerian and the Piers Plowman traditions and explore some alternate ways in which to understand the character of these traditions (and the texts that comprise them) and our own role in reinforcing their stability. In setting the boundaries of “tradition” around textual groupings we construct a linear genealogy that may be convenient and at times useful, but may also diminish the importance of other textual connections that do not fit within these boundaries. In discussing medieval historiography, Gabrielle Spiegel defines genealogy as “a symbolic form which governs the very shape and significance of the past”; it is conceptual and metaphorical, providing a pattern for medieval accounts of history and a “perceptual grid” for the relationships between texts, authors, and manuscripts (“Genealogy” 48). The emergence of genealogy as a distinct genre – something beyond brief annal entries – restored to historical writing a linear narrative that had been subsumed by typological modes of interpretation which saw historical events and people as figurations (51). The narrative production of history enabled 59 by the genealogical form highlights the close formal connections between medieval representations of fact and fiction; medieval boundaries between romance, ballad, allegory, and non-fictional history were “highly permeable” (Cooper, English Romance 10). As a powerful medieval paradigm, genealogy is a rich yet largely untapped theoretical resource for understanding medieval modes of thought.1 In this chapter and the next, my exploration of textual classification and the construction of Middle English literary tradition will focus largely upon how the idea of genealogy influenced (and influences) the formation of literary tradition. The development and awareness of literary tradition in the Middle Ages is a complex issue that has been somewhat oversimplified in modern scholarship, since our own sense of genre colours our perception of how medieval readers construed textual relationships. The intent of this discussion is not simply to pull apart our own reading paradigms, but to reconstruct as far as possible medieval reading paradigms. The practical manifestation of this theoretical foundation will be an examination first of the development and reception of the Chaucerian tradition and then, in Chapter Four, of the Piers Plowman tradition. The formation of these traditions in the Middle Ages and their modern reception are phenomena that testify to key cultural values characteristic of each era: the medieval understanding of authorship, which shifted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the modern privileging of subversions of power. The previous chapter outlined the history of the term genealogy, the contested use of the term in the Middle Ages, and the two opposing meanings it has inherited. The first meaning encompasses the linear, medieval sense of continuous growth which is less a progression and more a reinvented inheritance of what came before, and the second deploys post-structuralism in 1 This is not meant to imply that this is a completely untouched critical field. Building upon Spiegel’s research into genealogical narratives (discussed briefly in Chapter Two) are scholars such as Zrinka Stahuljak whose recent book takes as its point of departure the essentially metaphorical nature of genealogy in medieval French literature. In pointing out the “discrepancy between the ‘cultural’ construct [of genealogy] and a would-be natural grounding in blood,” Stahuljak “argues for a new way of reading medieval genealogy, one that is not based in blood but...[in the] condition of bloodlessness….[and] the act of linguistic alliance” (1-2). See also Ganim, Chapter 2, for his discussion regarding how the Western medieval world “orientalized” its own genealogy and the influence of this on early modern historiographic representations of medieval culture. 60 its understanding of genealogy as a decentered web of connections that, in Foucault’s words, “operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times” (“Genealogy” 76). These two models of genealogy – Spiegel's linear history and Foucault's muddle of palimpsests – are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, given the rewriting that characterizes the development of medieval genealogical histories,2 these stories are perhaps closer to the Foucauldian palimpsests than they may first appear.3 Both models can be of use to medievalists now. Genealogy did indeed function as an ordering principle in and between medieval texts, but such order required the reader’s acceptance of an essentially fictionalized origin. This fiction was closely tied to a powerful sense of precedence which located authority not in literary creativity but in the work’s reliance upon much earlier texts. Foucault’s genealogical palimpsest model is particularly apt here: just as palimpsests display a new work while still retaining traces of the words originally written on the parchment, the metaphorical literary palimpsest (constituted through literary tradition) allows us to see the older words underneath the newer poem. Medieval authors wishing to lay claim to literary authority needed to balance the two levels of this “palimpsest” but their success at doing so remained a source of deep anxiety, 4 particularly as the issue of authorship became an increasingly vexed one. David Wallace suggests that fifteenth-century writers, many of whom were wrestling with the political implications of royal usurpation and the consequent questions of true 2 See, for example, Radulescu (2003) and Allan regarding the connection between political propaganda and royal genealogies in the fifteenth century. 3 Spiegel wrestles with the divide between Foucauldian and medieval genealogical formations and questions whether the former can illuminate the latter, given the fact that Foucault’s notion of genealogy relies upon disciplinary mechanisms that arose in the early modern period (“Genealogy” 10). She sees medieval genealogical formations as fundamentally opposed to the “anti-foundational and anti-identitarian” genealogy of Foucault yet nevertheless closes her article somewhat inconclusively. 4. In The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom identifies six ways writers manifest the anxiety of influence: clinamen, tessera, kenosis, daemonization, akesis, and apophrades. The palimpsest model is perhaps closest to the notion of kenosis, which Bloom identifies as a sort of Freudian uncanny in its simultaneous repetition of and discontinuity from a precursor. 61 inheritance, were interested in exploring the contested nature of genealogy: how was “true patrilineage” to be distinguished from “repudiated origins” (638)? Post-structuralist thought embraces such sites of contestation. Indeed, John Bowers argues that post-structuralism has influenced modern scholarship in such a way that allows us to “recognize that literary genealogies necessarily depend upon stable origins that are not always fixed, unitary, or even factually real” (Antagonistic Tradition 2). While Bowers’ point is accurate, I would emphasize that the fictional nature of the constructed origin does not make it any less effective or important, nor does our cognizance of such a fiction ensure our immunity to it. The construction of literary tradition as genealogy, emphasizing origin and inheritance, transposes the social power of the genealogical form into the literary sphere. The fiction of origin can be quite powerful: it certainly influenced past readers and, as a result, our reception of past texts. In the case of Chaucer, with his reputation as the Father of English Literature, “the myth of origin actually made itself true” (Cannon, “Myth” 649). Cannon argues that Chaucer's status in the English literary canon is the result of a strange tautology. In the Middle Ages he acquired his position as a literary father because of the quality of his writing, but after 1600 the quality of his writing was acceptable because he was “Father Chaucer” – he was perceived as inhabiting a space of linguistic origin and the very fact that he was there legitimated his position. D. Vance Smith points out that “medieval writers often used the figure of the father as an abstract principle of beginning, an image of both authority and precedence” (Incipit 125). In other words, the medieval construction of Chaucer in genealogical terms imbued him with paternal authority as well as legitimized other writers’ participation in his authority. However, unlike medieval readers and writers, who used the father-origin to historicize texts and set precedent, modern readers tend to cast the origin forward anachronistically. Edward Said says that “when the search for a beginning is pursued within a moral and imaginative 62 framework [which organizes disparate elements according to a legible pattern], the beginning implies the end” (Beginnings 41). Our investment in Chaucer as our literary father – indeed, our investment in a literary origin at all – reinforces the legitimacy of our own critical and literary endeavours, the modern ending forecast by the medieval beginning. A similar pattern influences our reception of Langland: by identifying Langland as the beginning of a tradition opposing Chaucer’s hegemony, we see the Reformation and the triumph of the public voice as the final result. Indeed, as discussed in Chapter Four, this sentiment influences on our own sense of a coherent Piers Plowman tradition. This type of revisionist historiography is addressed by Sarah Stanbury in her article about The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (CHMEL), which argues that the CHMEL constructs England’s literary history as a rise narrative privileging resistance and independence: “English vernacular writing emerges in resistance and opposition to forms of textual tyranny imposed through structures of political or clerical power” (96). Stanbury highlights Langland’s role in this narrative, arguing that the CHMEL “present[s] Langland as something of a linguistic Robin Hood, a folk-hero appropriating Latin texts and distributing them, in English, to the general populace” (96). While Stanbury is referring mainly to the English/Latin opposition, this chapter will apply these principles to the reception of Langland and Chaucer by arguing that the modern assumptions about these two literary traditions indicate our own investment in the linear literary genealogy and the fiction of origin. This chapter’s analyses will be extended and concluded at the end of Chapter Four, in which I suggest that the Chaucerian tradition and its writers were much closer than the Piers Plowman tradition to constituting a vox populi – a people’s voice. 63 3.1 Tradition and Genealogy The mythical Chaucerian origin of literature5 and Bowers’ “literary genealogies” move this discussion of genealogy away from the theoretical into the practical. In the previous chapter I discussed several manifestations of genealogy (literal, intertextual, intratextual, codicological) in order to explore not only how this model influenced medieval reading practices, but how we are still affected by the genealogical paradigm and the myth of origin. I am therefore interested in complicating the notion of tradition and exploring how the different manifestations of genealogy can broaden our understanding of the Chaucerian and Piers Plowman traditions in the late medieval period. These two traditions are particularly well-suited to this task because they are the only eponymously named Middle English literary traditions.6 This naming sharpens one's awareness of origin and therefore manifests the genealogical paradigm particularly well.7 Of course, because the naming was done by later critics and not medieval readers, these traditions may shed more light on our own investment in genealogy. Before discussing the Chaucerian and Langlandian traditions, it is important to establish what the word “tradition” and the idea of literary tradition meant for medieval readers and how we understand tradition now. Certainly the idea of literary tradition was not described as “literary tradition” during the Middle Ages: what we know as the English literary tradition was conceptualized in filial (that is, genealogical), rather than literary terms. A named literary tradition automatically identifies its own point of origin, thus aligning itself with Spiegel's linear definition of genealogy. Although late medieval readers did not think of these two textual 5 See Cannon (1996) and Lerer (1993).6 There is also the Arthurian tradition, which, like the Piers tradition, takes its name from its central character. However, unlike the Arthurian tradition the names of the Chaucerian and Piers (or “Langlandian”) traditions are each closely linked with one author. In the case of the Piers tradition, we know that while Piers Plowman was not an author of the poem, he was often mistaken for such by readers (see Note 8 below). 7 Although I have referred to these traditions as the only eponymously named medieval literary traditions, I have come across the term “Lydgatiana.” H.N. McCracken used this term in 1912, in the Index of Middle English Verse (qtd in Schaer 27, n41). Stephen Reimer also uses “Lydgatiana” in his introduction to the online “The Canon of Lydgate” project, but he does not define it. 64 streams as the “Chaucerian Tradition” or the “Piers Plowman Tradition,” they nevertheless associated groups of texts with a name pinpointing origin: Chaucer (often referred to in paternal terms) and Piers Plowman.8 By highlighting connections between texts, a literary tradition functions as a family tree – a metanarrative linking a variety of works. According to Hayden White, a narrative representation of events provides “the illusion of a centered consciousness capable of looking out on the world, apprehending its structure and processes, and representing them to itself as having all the formal coherency of narrativity itself” (Content of the Form 36). Literary tradition allows us to conceive of a group of texts as forming a progression; it tells a story. When we engage in this metatextual storyline, we automatically seek out a beginning and we anticipate an end – or at least, we anticipate movement in a certain direction. This process of seeking and anticipating engages readers’ participation in the ideology of the text; art, literature, or historiography does not have to explicitly present an argument to convince readers. Far more effective is “the projection of a kind of subjectivity that its viewers or readers must take on in order to experience it as art, as literature, or as historiography” (87). One’s investment in the narrative underlying the literary tradition establishes this subjectivity, and connects genealogy to the concept of individual identity that is negotiated in the subject/object relationship.9 Like the term “genealogy,” the meaning of the word “tradition” was somewhat contested in medieval England. The Middle English Dictionary identifies the first use of the word in Mark 7:3 of the Wycliffite Bible: “Pharisees waisschen ofte her hondis, holdinge the tradiciouns or statutis of eldere men.” Colossians 2:8 construes tradition in a similar way, by comparing 8 The confusion of Piers with Will the narrator and William Langland the poet (and the erroneous assumption that Piers was a real person) was common (Hudson, “Legacy” 251-2). The name Piers is often a criterion for including a text in what critics have described as the Piers Plowman tradition, although Hudson points out that Piers was also a proverbial and generic labourer’s name (258). The confusion of the generic plowman with Piers Plowman is demonstrated by John Leland, who, in his 1540 list of Chaucer’s works, conflated the apocryphal “Plowman’s Tale” with Piers Plowman: “But the Tale of Piers Plowman, which by common consent of the learned is attributed to Chaucer as its true author, has been suppressed in each edition, because it vigorously inveighed against the bad morals of the priest” (qtd in Bowers, “Police” 42). 9 See Chapter Two for a more extensive discussion on how genealogy, subjectivity and identity are connected. 65 traditions of men to the elements of the world, and the Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of the term in 1380 by Wycliffe, who refers to people who are bound by “a tradycion þat þai han hem sijlfe made.” Bowers compares these kinds of passages, which demonstrate that the earliest English use of the term tradition “came loaded with a sense of fictitious origins” (Antagonistic Tradition 5), to Lydgate's more positive use of “tradition” in his Troy Book. Lydgate's assertion that “holy doctrine and traditions” (II:5831) will help the Church defeat its opponents associates tradition not with man-made rules but with divine origins. In both the Biblical sense and in Lydgate’s text, “tradition” is more akin to practice than to the notion of relationship or similarity inherent to the concept of literary tradition. However, both senses of the word are linked by the importance of origin, which surfaces in literary tradition as precedence.10 While a traditional practice in the usages cited above was legitimized (or condemned) by its original inception by God or man, a tradition of literature was legitimized not by the “original” author per se but by literary precedent. Moreover, texts in the same tradition would supplement one another, providing additional information or an alternate perspective by highlighting their stylistic or thematic commonalities.11 Bowers argues that Chaucer “was being promoted as traditional within two decades of his death” (Antagonistic Tradition 7), not because of his originality but because he appropriated older French, Italian, and Latin precedents into the English milieu. According to Bowers, tradition functions on a basic level by “transmitting something to the next generation” (6), a definition which again demonstrates the debt that tradition owes to the concept of genealogy. This notion of continuity with subsequent generations is one that can mediate between the use of the word “tradition” in a social sense and its use in a literary – and specifically Chaucerian – sense. A modern scholarly perspective, informed by post-structuralism, 10 The OED does give some interesting and lesser known meanings of “tradition” dating from the later Middle Ages: “The action of handing over (something material) to another; delivery, transfer (sixteenth century); A giving up, surrender; betrayal (late fifteenth century); oral delivery of information or instruction.” 11The analysis of HM 114 in Chapter Five gives an example of how medieval literary tradition could be reframed in this way. 66 would encourage us to focus not on the continuity that a literary tradition supplies, but on the places where tradition fails, where textual genealogies dissolve or contradict one another. Elizabeth Clark indicates that we should “look less to historical continuity (and hence to the nostalgia for the past that such histories often encourage) than to discontinuity, noting both breaks in the larger historical order and the gaps, absences, aporias and contradictions in texts. [This perspective] eschews ‘grand narratives’ that often mask ideological presuppositions” (7). Clark’s perspective provides a useful framework in which to read our own reading of medieval literature. I am interested not only in problematizing the coherence of the Chaucerian and Piers Plowman traditions, but in examining how moments of fragmentation actually lead us to understanding literary tradition differently. While we are aware that our categories of genre and tradition are to some extent convenient fictions, employed for practical reasons, the ongoing use of these categories certainly affects our understanding of the texts because they circumscribe both context and definition. When we fail to acknowledge the influence of the genealogical model on medieval textuality (and on our own perception of medieval texts), we leave ourselves susceptible to discounting important commonalities among texts of different “traditions,” rather than asking ourselves how these traditions were actually read and understood in the Middle Ages. The Chaucerian tradition and the Piers Plowman tradition are examples of how such deconstruction and reconstruction can occur. 3.2 Chaucer’s Family Tree With the enhanced sense of origin that corresponds with a named tradition such as Chaucer's12 comes the clear deployment of the first genealogical manifestation identified above: the literal genealogy, or the family tree. A family tree is in many ways a fictional construct, but it 12The fact that the Piers Plowman tradition is named after a character in the poem rather than the author has implications for the function of the genealogical model in this poem's reception, as discussed in Chapter Four. 67 provides comfort, a sense of stability and direction, and a point of origin. In his late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century editions of Geoffrey Chaucer's works, Thomas Speght capitalized on that sense of comfort and permanence by prefacing the text with a full-page illustration of “The Progenie of Geffrey Chaucer” (Figure 1). Speght’s editions were the first to refer to Chaucer as “Antient” and “Learned” (Pearsall, “Thomas Speght” 75), and Speght’s prefatory material and textual inclusions also constructed Chaucer as not only an auctor like Homer or Virgil, but as a literary courtier – a figure to be respected in Speght’s time.13 Since Chaucer, as Speght’s 1598 preface to his readers states, was from “most vnlearned times and greatest ignorance” compared to the seventeenth century “wherein Learning and riper iudgement so much flourisheth” (Speght, “Preface”), there was a certain amount of anxiety regarding how his medieval origins could be reconciled with his high literary status (Machan, “Speght’s ‘Works’” 159). For this reason, Speght’s editions of 1598 and 1602 reinforce Chaucer’s courtly associations, to the extent that he presented Chaucer’s family tree in such a way that aligned Chaucer’s non-aristocratic lineage with the aristocracy. Even though the title of Speght’s Chaucerian genealogy indicates that we are looking at Chaucer’s sons and daughters, Chaucer's own line is actually a relatively minor branch of the tree.14 As Figure 1 shows, Chaucer's father-in-law Sir Payne Roet forms the tree’s “root,” and on both sides of that root, a series of heraldic crests descend down the page. Chaucer and John of Gaunt hold the same genealogical position on Sir Payne's right and left side, respectively, with John of Gaunt’s line ending with the Tudor heir of the Lancastrian line, King Henry VII, and Chaucer's ending with the Yorkist Edmund de la Pole. In the centre, between the two lineages, 13 As this chapter will later suggest, Speght’s impulse to distance Chaucer from other medieval authors was completely counter to Chaucer’s actual medieval function. 14 Martha Driver refers to the chain of crests as “all the alliances of the Chaucer family” (232), but does not discuss the discrepancy between the title of the tree (“The Progenie of Geffrey Chaucer”) and how the tree itself is constituted. 68 Figure 1: “The Progenie of Geffrey Chaucer,” from Speght’s The Workes of our Antient and Learned Poet, Geffrey Chaucer, Newly Printed, 1598. By permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 69 there is a large portrait of Chaucer standing on his son's grave, thus giving the impression that the family tree pictured does indeed represent Chaucer’s, and not Payne Roet's, progeny. Moreover, Chaucer’s central position suggests his power to unify the Yorkists and the Lancastrians under the banner of “English”; even in Speght’s time, Chaucer was representative of national solidarity. The chronological inversion indicated by Chaucer’s position on his own son’s grave also indicates that Chaucer is somehow outside of time, someone beyond the aristocratic genealogy.15 This is a Chaucer who seems to surpass or, perhaps, define the limits of the family tree mapped out for him. Everyone else on the page – including the small crest labeled “Chaucer” on the tree itself – is defined in relation to the large figure of Chaucer the Author inhabiting the centre. This hierarchy is characteristic of family trees in general (certain histories – often female or illicit histories – must be ignored in order to create a coherent genealogy) and is also characteristic of other “family trees” I will be discussing: specifically, the Chaucerian literary tradition, whose members are circumscribed, built up, or reduced by their relation to Chaucer, and manuscript stemmata, which trace manuscripts back to a hypothetical lost archetype and tend to ignore fragmented representations of texts. Fragments, such as the one discussed in Chapter Five,16 are briefly noted but not discussed in manuscript genealogies. This neglect is certainly pragmatic (and perhaps necessary) from an editorial point of view, but it also testifies to our ongoing interest in completeness, coherence, and origin – none of which are represented in isolated fragments of text. The following sections propose a new way of understanding the Chaucerian tradition and what it meant to be a Chaucerian writer, one based on what I have termed social and supplemental forms of authorship (defined and discussed below). Chaucer may not truly have originated social authorship, but in practice he certainly popularized it. The practice of 15 This is a convenient representation of Chaucer, since his connection to the royal genealogy is rather peripheral and tenuous.16 Section 5.3.1 in Chapter Five discusses the Troilus and Criseyde fragment in HM 143. 70 supplemental authorship, which defined the medieval and early modern Chaucerian canon, used Chaucer as a kind of catalyst to solidify the position of other authors, thereby consolidating a self-referential community of vernacular writers who integrated, rather than were controlled by, classical precedent. The way in which social authorship fostered a sense of communal intimacy among writers of Middle English texts, and Chaucer’s central position in that community, enabled other writers to use Chaucer as a contemporary precedent as they expanded and re- imagined his texts in ongoing acts of Derridean supplementation. Chaucer’s role in establishing English literature as a legitimate product went far beyond his literary skill; his social position among authors, clerks, and (as Speght’s title page emphasizes) the aristocracy allowed him to be used as the first contemporary literary precedent, which in turn consolidated a self-legitimizing community of Middle English authors. Rather than relying on ancient precedent in order to market their texts, they authorized themselves and their community as auctores. Chaucer therefore functioned as both contemporary and as precedent for a community of writers – he was a Father requiring reproduction of heirs, and also a colleague who participated in that community. Speght’s over-emphasis of Chaucer’s royal connections two hundred years later draws attention to the former role rather than the latter. As Machan notes, it was imperative that Chaucer be aligned with courtly circles in order to accord with the values of Speght’s time and the impetus for the edition: Speght indicates that “certaine Gentlemen…[his] neere friends, who loued Chaucer as he well deserveth” had asked Speght to restore Chaucer from the “iniurie of time, ignorance of writers, and negligence of Printers” (Speght, “Preface”; qtd in“Speght’s ‘Works’” 155). It was only appropriate that these literary gentlemen should love and admire another gentleman. With England’s emergent sense of both national and international identity,17 17 Turville-Petre (1996) is one of the seminal studies in the field of medieval English nationalism. John Bowers’ chapter (“Chaucer After Smithfield”) in Cohen’s The Postcolonial Middle Ages elaborates upon Chaucer’s own literary consolidation of English national identity, a “nationalism based on claims of ancient historical origins, a distinct language, and a deep antagonism toward its more powerful neighbours” (57). 71 it was crucial that “Speght’s Chaucer, ‘our English Poet’ in the editor’s words, [was] above all quintessentially English” (156). Speght’s edition, with its visual presentation of Chaucer as the link between England’s aristocratic families, cemented Chaucer’s position as England’s literary father. Alexandra Gillespie suggests that in the absence of Chaucer’s own assertion of authority, “we are left with the Chaucer ‘effect,’ the author who is a ‘function’ of the creation, circulation, and interpretation of his texts, paratext, and others’ texts about his work” (19). The medieval Chaucerian tradition in some respects superseded the “authentic” Chaucer canon;18 this is an important distinction to make if we are to re-evaluate what constitutes “Chaucerianness” and the nature of the Chaucerian tradition itself. Before embarking on a consideration of these concepts, however, it is necessary to review how past criticism defined the medieval Chaucerians. 3.2.1 Defining the Chaucerian Tradition The term “Chaucerian” is often used casually, but how carefully do we consider what we mean when we use it to describe or define something? Our own understanding of Chaucerian almost certainly differs from the medieval one. In general, scholarship on the Chaucerian tradition treats Chaucer as a stable and unified central object around which other texts and writers circulate or a root from which they grow. 19 The modern handling of the Chaucerian literary tradition is therefore a manifestation of the intertextual genealogical model: it is based upon a notion of filiation, in which Chaucer is the Father – the root, or origin of the family tree – and his successors (and their works) are sons. In this genealogical impulse we are following the 18 The use of the term “authentic” here may raise questions and concerns, particularly since there is not a clear medieval equivalent. However, the imbalance between the medieval and modern understanding of authenticity is entirely the point: it is what we now use to determine the Chaucerian canon, but had no significance to a medieval readership. Although they were certainly interested in the Chaucerian canon, in grouping together works authored by Chaucer, the actual determination of “true” authorship and the exclusion of other writers were not priorities. “Chaucerian” compilations such as CUL Gg.4.27, Pepys 2006, Tanner 346, Bodley 638, and Fairfax 16 exemplify this seemingly contradictory impulse to gather together Chaucer’s canon without being concerned about whether Chaucer authored all the texts. 19 Most of these writers are not described as stable in terms of skill and career; Derek Pearsall, for example, urges readers to discern between the good and the bad in Lydgate’s works, stating that while many of them are “worthless,” some are quite good (“English Chaucerians” 204). 72 path first laid down by the Chaucerian imitators that we now tend to deprecate. However, even though these authors first cast the mold that shapes our sense of “Chaucerian,” they themselves essentially broke that mold as they constructed it. Our tendency to label a text or a writer as “Chaucerian” somewhat discounts the value of the author or work by assigning it to this monolithic category. By redefining the medieval development and function of “Chaucerianness,” we can give more credit for agency and innovation to these other writers. On the face of it, Chaucerian authors present themselves as simply imitating Chaucer rather than reinventing him. Like T.S. Eliot, whose famous essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” was briefly touched upon in the previous chapter, Harold Bloom’s influential understanding of literary precedent in The Anxiety of Influence should be acknowledged here. His perspective may shed light on the way in which Chaucerian writers attempted to balance imitation and competition as Chaucer’s “inheritors.” Bloom claims that poetic influence was described in filial terms (poets as sons of their literary fathers) for centuries before the term “influence” was used.20 This movement from the genealogical paradigm of paternity to a more objective word like “influence” parallels what James Simpson describes as the process of Chaucerian reception in the late Middle Ages, in which Chaucer’s influence moved from that of personal presence into philological absence.21 I part ways with Bloom, however, when he contends that there is no significant sense of literary anxiety – whether described as influence or as filiation – before Shakespeare.22 His own description of how poetic influence manifests itself in poets resonates strongly when we consider the Chaucerian tradition (and perhaps even the Piers tradition): he states that major poets have “the persistence to wrestle with their strong 20 Bloom argues that the shift from filiation to influence occurred during the Enlightenment, this filial role and need for “parental” approval was termed “influence” during the Enlightenment (26-27). 21 Note 23 and Section 3.3.2 below discuss Simpson’s views in further detail. 22 His reason for this claim is that Shakespeare is essentially the first “great” Father-poet – there was no precursor with which he needed to wrestle. Bloom therefore considers poetic anxiety to post-date the Elizabethan age (Bloom 5, 11). 73 precursors, even to the death. Weaker talents idealize; figures of capable imagination appropriate for themselves” (5). While not judging whether medieval Chaucerian writers did or did not have “capable imagination,” one could argue that their works show evidence of all three poetic responses: wrestling with Chaucer, idealizing him, and appropriating him. Although earlier scholarship – particularly that of the nineteenth and early twentieth century – tended to accept the self-deprecation of Chaucer’s followers, thereby aligning itself with the linear genealogical understanding of Chaucer’s influence, more recent work indicates that the medieval understanding of “Chaucerianness” was more complex than those humility topoi would lead us to believe.23 A primary question is whether Chaucer actually functioned as the stable authorial figure we treat him as now. Kathleen Forni wrestles with this issue and with the definition of Chaucerian: “Like the Chaucerian voice, the Chaucerian canon is fundamentally diverse, ambiguous, and unstable” (Chaucerian Apocrypha 20). This connection between Chaucer’s textual voice and the Chaucerian canon is an important one because it indicates that we are not viewing a unified, stable figure on the one side and a tangle of texts and genres on the other; the multiplicity of Chaucer’s narrative voice is echoed in the diversity of his followers’ works. Similarly, David Lawton argues that it is not just the spurious Chaucerian tales and imitations that are “apocryphal,” but the instability of Chaucer’s own narrative voice: This is what heteroglossia does: Chaucer’s voice…has been reduced to parity with other voices, the other languages of the text… All of these voices are equally alienated from their ostensible, presumed or possible source. They are apocryphal voices. (Chaucer’s Narrators 4) 23 See Lerer (1993) and Simpson for examples of some of this work. Lerer’s focus on the creation of a “literary system” (4) in the fifteenth century focuses heavily on the nature of Chaucer’s “paternal” relationship to his successors. Simpson proposes a presence/absence model of Chaucerian reception: his reception shifted from presence (or personal connection) in the fifteenth century to absence (the objective, empirical, academic treatment of Chaucer) in the early modern period. 74 Lawton cites the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of apocrypha and apocryphal, noting that the majority of them refer to fiction, fable, objects or texts of spurious origin and doubtful authenticity, etc (14). These definitions are often applied to misattributed texts of the Chaucerian tradition, but Lawton sees Chaucer’s own narrative voice, and not just the voices of his followers, as apocryphal: “Narrators are always concealments, bookish secrets: apocrypha” (14). The appropriation of Chaucer’s voice by Chaucerian writers was not the destruction of something unified, but a continuation of the instability that Chaucer himself wrote into his texts. The notion of Chaucer as a stable centre imitated by others is therefore an incomplete understanding of his role in the Middle English writing community. A brief survey of the critical treatment of the term “Chaucerian” by major scholars over the past several decades demonstrates how often we return to this assumption of unchanging centrality. Derek Pearsall, A.C. Spearing, Julia Boffey have all made important arguments about what “Chaucerian” means (and meant), but we can extrapolate from some of these definitions our own investment in Chaucerianness. Spearing’s distinction between Chaucerian writers who truly understood Chaucer and those who did not is an example of the academic tendency both to view Chaucer as the “original” root of Middle English literary talent, and to judge Chaucerian writers on their skills of imitation. The latter, he says, “imitated only the external forms of his poems without responding to their inner spirit”; Lydgate is included in this unfortunate group (171). Spearing uses a vocabulary of interiority to articulate these differing responses to Chaucer: depth and shallowness, penetration and surface imitation, hidden qualities and external appearance. Derek Pearsall, too, characterizes Chaucer as having “penetrating awareness” while Lydgate conforms to formulas and patterns (“English Chaucerians” 217). The lesser of the Chaucerian poets follow Chaucer in surface form – Lydgate’s formulas and patterns, for example – but show no comprehension of the true meanings hidden in his poetry. While it is true that more recent criticism (including 75 Pearsall’s own) questions these assumptions, the continuing traction of the Chaucerian tradition in academic discourse testifies to our ongoing investment in Chaucer as the master (deep) and his followers as inferior (shallow). Our inheritance of the Romantic period’s investment in interiority has surely reinforced the aesthetic judgments associated with “deep” and “shallow.”24 Despite the lukewarm modern reception of Chaucerian writers, there is general critical consensus that the Chaucerian tradition was largely defined by those writers who lived during Chaucer's lifetime or just afterward, and whose use of genre and style echo Chaucer's or who make direct allusion to him and his work. Pearsall argued in 1966 that the Chaucerian tradition continued only as long as poets imitated Chaucer in their use of literary convention as opposed to intentional and personal imitation: “When poets begin to imitate Chaucer consciously, as Spenser does, because they think him a great poet and worthy of imitation, the Chaucerian tradition...has ended, and the history of Chaucer criticism begins” (“English Chaucerians” 239). Pearsall focuses on the “English Chaucerians” and how their appropriation of Chaucer's tone, style, rhetoric, and use of genre identify them as participants in a Chaucerian tradition. However, if we see literary tradition as a genealogy in which writers construct themselves as children deploying the authority of a father, then it is clear that late medieval Chaucerian writers did indeed consciously imitate Chaucer. They constructed Chaucer as a literary father and themselves as inheritors – efforts that reveal these Chaucerians to be as much pragmatic self- promoters as literary purists. Indeed, these categories were certainly not mutually exclusive. Creating imitations of and additions to Chaucer’s texts was not merely an acknowledgment of Chaucer’s “paternity” but a technique by which a writer established his own authorial identity and legitimacy. This was made possible not just because these writers followed a literary model that had already been proven to work, but because social and supplemental authorial practices cemented Chaucer’s role as a contemporary precedent authorizing other writers. 24 See Duss, Klotz, and Chapter 3 of Aries and Duby. 76 Therefore, while I certainly agree with Pearsall that these writers often “imitated Chaucer by convention,” I would question his assertion that conscious, explicit imitation of Chaucer constitutes Chaucerian criticism rather than a Chaucerian tradition. Conscious imitation seems to be at the heart of how the Chaucerian tradition developed, although it was not limited by imitation. Furthermore, imitation by convention does not necessarily exclude conscious imitation. Helen Cooper points out that even though “conventional” now tends to be a pejorative work, “etymologically it derives from the idea of coming together, agreement, a shared understanding” (English Romance 14). Part of this shared understanding is between the Chaucerian writer and the reader, both of whom recognize the influence of Chaucer on the text at hand, but also recognize the Chaucerian text as adding to or substituting for (supplementing) the “authentic” text as written by Chaucer. The incomplete nature of The Canterbury Tales, for example, “marks a determined lack” and therefore invites supplementation25 that in turn works to define the authentic Chaucer: “there has never been anything but supplements…the ‘real’ supervening, and being added only while taking on meaning from a trace and from an invocation of the supplement” (Derrida, Of Grammatology 159).26 This brief glance at the supplement shows that while Derrida’s expression of this idea is highly philosophical and less than practical in some respects,27 it nevertheless emphasizes that these Chaucerian supplements have served to define and even make more valuable that which is “real(ly)” Chaucer – even if we have only a trace. As Pearsall says, Chaucerian writers – particularly Lydgate – “fixed the modes in which the fifteenth century was to understand and use Chaucer” (“English Chaucerians” 222). 25 Pearsall expresses particular surprise at Lydgate’s imitation of the Tales in his Siege of Thebes because “within the then-current system of critical categories, The Canterbury Tales could not, for the most part, be taken seriously; and it is in terms of this adequation of critical response to the system of critical theory that the fifteenth- century attitude to Chaucer is best and most fruitfully understood” (203). Perhaps Lydgate’s imitation of The Canterbury Tales – his use of it as a precedent – actually enhanced the authority of Chaucer’s poem. 26 This notion of the supplement is an important one in our understanding of Chaucer and his followers, and therefore will be addressed in more detail in Section 3.3 below. 27 We cannot, for example, argue that Chaucer never “was” and there have only ever been Chaucerian supplements. 77 In 1986, Julia Boffey again asked the question at the heart of both Spearing’s and Pearsall’s discussions: what criteria do we use to deem a work “Chaucerian” (“Proverbial Chaucer” 38)? Boffey's use of the word “Chaucerian” was largely in reference to the canon of Chaucer's works rather than the writers themselves – a canon which, at different times throughout the centuries, has included numerous spurious works. However, her question points to the same issues that Pearsall raised: the determination of a Chaucerian style not only helps us to establish the authenticity of works attributed to Chaucer, but, in theory, allows us to decide which authors and texts should be included in a Chaucerian tradition. The early reception of pseudo-Chaucerian works within Chaucerian compilations suggests that “Chaucerian” as a stylistic and social category was more important than “written by Chaucer”; as Alexandra Gillespie suggests, “Chaucer is a category grand enough, and convenient enough, to accommodate the writings of other medieval authors” (135). “Chaucerian” became a kind of literary family name through which texts could circulate with legitimacy and by which textual reproduction was spurred on. A father is not a father unless he produces heirs. 3.3 Redefining the Chaucerian Tradition: A “Supplemental” Genealogy Perhaps because of the medieval interest in the Chaucerian textual family rather than Chaucerian “authenticity,” Chaucer-only miscellanies were not typical; it was more usual for his texts to be accompanied by Chaucerian poets such as Lydgate, Hoccleve, and Clanvowe (Edwards, “Author Collections” 103).28 In the previous section Jacques Derrida’s notion of supplementation was connected to what Helen Cooper describes as a shared understanding between reader and writer. I argue here that the idea of the supplement – a chain of substitutions 28 Indeed, Alexandra Gillespie points out that over fifty English texts now confirmed not to have been authored by Chaucer have been ascribed to him at some point, and “160 are still in the ‘Lydgate Canon’” (22). 78 in the pursuit of the real – can enhance our understanding and definition of the genealogical nature of the Chaucerian tradition. The idea of the supplement was itself born out of a familial relationship: in Derrida’s analysis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he notes that Rousseau’s reliance upon his lover Therese is a self-admitted substitution for Rousseau’s mother. However, Derrida expands this single moment of substitution outward by claiming that “Mamma herself was already the supplement of an unknown mother” (156-7). In other words, the act of supplementation, or seeking a substitute, is grounded in a desire for a genealogical origin. In Rousseau’s case this was a literal genealogical origin (his mother), but the genealogical metaphor applies to social, linguistic, and literary forms of supplementation as well. The textual phenomena we define as the Chaucerian tradition – the inclusion of early Chaucerian poets and pseudo-Chaucerian works in Chaucerian miscellanies, allusion to and imitation of Chaucer, and related practices – all supplement Chaucer the Author. Chaucer was the foundation, the lost origin whose influence was felt profoundly by writers in his circle and those writing after him. However, despite (or perhaps because of) this anxiety of influence29 these writers clearly desired to add to his corpus of writings, to fill it up with additional poets and texts, to make him into more than he was, while also emphasizing their own inadequacy to complete that task. This paradoxical desire is illuminated by Derrida’s discussion of the supplement in Of Grammatology, which focuses on the dual meanings of substitution and addition that are inherent in the term: But the supplement supplements. It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of; it fills, as if one fills a void. If it represents and makes an image, it is by the anterior default of a presence...Whether it adds or substitutes itself, the supplement is exterior, outside of the positivity to which it is super-added, alien to that which, in order to be replaced by it, must be other than it. (145) 29 I discuss Harold Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence above. 79 The position of the supplement here resonates with the paradoxical position of Chaucerian writers and their texts. The supplement operates at its most basic level in the signifying structure of language itself, but Derrida also identifies it in the epistemological issues that arise in the study of philosophy and literature. This deeply rooted “logic of the supplement”30 is a key characteristic of the Chaucerian tradition. Citation and allusion are characteristic of medieval literature, but the citing of Chaucer as a contemporary writer, rather than an ancient one, and the corresponding implicit or explicit assertion of one’s right to write with (or write for) Chaucer results in a curious ambiguity: Chaucer’s place of privilege over these other writers is compromised because of their very acknowledgement of his privilege. These Chaucerian writers, through allusion, citation, and direct address, claimed Chaucer as a superior and an origin, but in adding to and “completing” his corpus they were, in fact, also functioning as a substitute. Although fifteenth- century literature has been castigated for its lack of sophistication and poor imitation of Chaucerian brilliance, critics now recognize that there was aesthetically and socially valuable literature produced during the period, and that rather than simply being bad Chaucerian tribute artists, these writers were auctores themselves.31 This outpouring of Chaucerian-yet-not literature is an example of Derrida’s assertion that “what opens meaning and language is writing as the disappearance of natural presence” (159). The death of Chaucer, as the “original” presence, opened meaning in the supplemental literature that followed; this is in contrast to the texts that circulated in response to the anonymous Piers Plowman, many of which tended to narrow, rather than expand, the interpretive possibilities of Piers. Because these Chaucerian 30 In using the “logic of the supplement” in this discussion, I do not intend to discard Chaucer’s literary contributions or his skill. By using Derrida’s term “logic” I am referring to the ingrained patterns of thought that lie behind the complex motivations and desires of other writers for/about Chaucer. These patterns are separate from the social reality of Chaucer’s life and work. 31 For an overview of earlier scholarly attitudes to fifteenth-century literature and an argument against those attitudes, see Lawton (1987). For an example of how this earlier negativity began to shift, see Pearsall (1966). 80 writers are “other than” Chaucer, they can enact the logic of the supplement by creating his image within their texts. Within this logic, Chaucer himself, as presence, becomes the indefinable thing towards which the supplemental chain constantly reaches: Through this sequence of supplements a necessity is announced: that of an infinite chain, ineluctably multiplying the supplementary mediations that produce the sense of the very thing they defer: the mirage of the thing itself, of immediate presence, of originary perception. Immediacy is derived. (157) The use of the word “thing” suggests that the object desired does not have the coherence or clarity that we expect from it, that it represents rather than manifests an ideal. As Bill Brown says, the word itself “functions to overcome the loss of other words” (“Thing Theory” 5). Chaucer the Author is an apocryphal “thing” that by the fifteenth century was defined not just by his own works but by the response of others to him. This response was indeed, as the opening of this chapter suggested, a vox populi. The influence of Chaucer’s authorship and the nature of the “supplemental” authors he fathered afterwards are issues more easily analyzed several centuries later. At the time, authorship was a vexed and ambiguous category that included compiling, translating, borrowing, or (rarely) original composition. In his seminal book on medieval authorship, A.J. Minnis states that “no ‘modern’ writer could decently be called an auctor in a period in which men saw themselves as dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants” (12). Although we now consider Chaucer to be innovative in many ways, many critics emphasize that Chaucer’s writing was very much shaped by the character of what he was rewriting: he “chose deliberately not to emphasize the originality or invention of his compositions. Rather than the anxiety of influence, it was the anxiety of originality” (Machan, Textual Criticism 116, emphasis his). Similarly, A.S.G. Edwards argues that, despite the popularity of Chaucer’s poetry and his prolific following, a 81 distinct sense of the role and meaning of an author did not develop in late medieval England the way it had in France (“Author Collections” 102). The common practice of compiling “Chaucerian” texts with texts actually written by Chaucer supports Edwards’ position; as Sections 3.3.1 and 3.3.2 argue, the focus of such compilations is the literary community they reflect rather than Chaucer’s canon, per se. At the same time, however, Chaucer responded to this attitude: he attempted to circumscribe his canon by referring to his other works (a practice Lydgate and Hoccleve took up themselves) and to establish his own authority to write by citing authorial precedent.32 When he introduces The Parliament of Fowls by telling his readers that “out of olde bokes, in good feith / Cometh al this newe science that men lere” (lines 24-25) he pays respect to the notion of precedent while also authorizing the “newe science” that he himself is producing. In these moments, and particularly in his famous Retraction, his gesture to conventionality draws more attention to his corpus of work than to his sense of humility.33 There are therefore two very different senses of authorship at play in the Chaucerian tradition, one being an authorship premised on precedent, and the other being what we would consider a more modern definition, wherein the value of the writer’s works is based on their authenticity or their origin – their proximity to the writer. Mediating between these two poles and mitigating the tension between them is what I have argued is a distinctly “Chaucerian” sense of authorship: the authorial supplement. Within the logic of the supplement, Chaucer is not just the literary father who passes on his inheritance to others. As an ultimately unattainable origin or presence, he also functions as a catalyst whose absence (via incompletion and lack) compels 32 Gower was another medieval author who recognized the emerging importance of exerting increased control over one’s works, whether through design or circumscribing a canon. See, for example, Echard (1997).33 Chaucer clearly recognized the social and political benefits of paying lip-service to ancient precedent or origin. The source he cites for Troilus and Criseyde, for example, is the fictional writer Lollius, but he does not acknowledge his significant debt to Giovanni Boccaccio, a writer who was Chaucer’s contemporary, despite his earlier death. 82 supplementation and addition. The kinds of authorial posturing characteristic of this supplemental authorship consolidated a contemporary community of writers whose work was then able to be self-legitimizing. One of Chaucer’s most significant contributions to English literature was therefore his largely posthumous role as a contemporary auctorial precedent, rather than an ancient one. Chaucer’s references to others and their references to him helped to solidify the writing community, which developed not as a single, linear genealogy but as a network of connections and allusions to one another.34 3.3.1 Social Authorship The supplemental authorship this chapter has presented as characteristic of the Chaucerian tradition manifests itself on a more practical level in what I refer to as social authorship and embedded authorship. While formal and stylistic literary features will always be used to determine whether a given text is Chaucerian, I would suggest that another important way to evaluate a writer’s “Chaucerianness” is the writer’s deployment of the kind of authorial posturing that we now associate most strongly with Chaucer, and which is used in all of his larger works as well as his smaller, more personal poems.35 I touched upon supplemental authorship above, and here I align authorial posturing with this practice of supplementation. I am not, however, indicating the kind of rhetorical and literary posturing to which Machan refers when he discusses how Chaucer presents his own rewriting of a given work.36 The authorial posturing discussed here is very much authorial in a social sense, rather than rhetorical. Social and embedded authorship both involve the author mediating between the derivative, linear, and 34 These authorial posturings are discussed in more detail in the next two sections. 35 Chaucer’s Middle English translation of Le Roman de la Rose is generally considered to be earlier than The Book of the Duchess, but I would argue that it is in the latter that we first see evidence of the unique narrator and the gestures to other writers. See Lawton (1985) for a more in-depth treatment of Chaucer’s narratorial voice. 36 Page 80 above. 83 genealogical sense of authorship rooted in the older scholastic tradition37 and the sense of individual authorship that was developing in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Social authorship in my usage refers to the practice of acknowledging, and therefore solidifying and legitimatizing, one’s contemporary writing community. Part of this practice was rooted in Chaucer’s own courtly circle of friends who exchanged acknowledgements in the works they penned. When Paul Strohm argues that Chaucer “is neither particularly topical nor particularly historical, [but] in certain respects he is nevertheless profoundly social” (“Literary Scene” 14), he is gesturing in part to the close social circle that made up part of Chaucer’s immediate readership: men such as Scogan, Clifford, Bukton, Vache, Clanvowe, Strode and Gower, all of whom read Chaucer’s work and many of whom engaged in mutual poetic acknowledgments with Chaucer. These men did not present themselves as Chaucer’s heirs; rather, they behaved as his colleagues. As R.T. Lenaghan states, Chaucer’s own poems to Scogan and Bukton are really “joking exchanges between identifiable equals” (157). Even though their work does not show much (or any) direct influence from Chaucer, these writers are still “Chaucerian” in the sense that they participated in the system of social authorship that led to the consolidation of a writing community based upon contemporary precedent initiated by Chaucer. This is a “Chaucerian” system that uses Chaucer not really as an origin, but as an element of cohesion that connects the different parts. Mutual recognition of one another’s work allowed for the development of a writing community that valued the attachment of one writer to a text, a view of authorship that was very different from the earlier medieval model. Chaucer’s famous dedication of Troilus and Criseyde to Ralph Strode and to “moral Gower” is a well-known example of his own practice of social 37 See Minnis 1-12, 73-75 for his argument connecting the later medieval sense of authorship and auctoritee with the older scholastic tradition. 84 authorship, and we also see it in his envoys to Scogan and Bukton.38 Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Steven Justice argue that both Chaucer and Langland had a shared readership in London civic circles, and therefore subtle as well as explicit references to other writers would have been easily recognized (“Reading Circles” 76). Other authors such as Hoccleve and Lydgate also practiced this kind of social authorship, using gestures to Chaucer and occasionally to other writers in order to solidify their own position as author. The practice of social authorship was in some ways a variant of the modesty topos – a writer gave credit to a contemporary rather than claiming all skill for himself. However, there was a concurrent interest in writing oneself into one’s text, which was a way of claiming a sort of copyright without violating social convention. This embedding of the writer into the fabric of the literature he is producing is another method of asserting authorship and textual control – he is in the text as well as outside of it. Although Chaucer’s own deployment of this practice of embedded authorship has become the most well-known of his contemporaries,39 and while his fame allowed his use of this technique to legitimize others’, it is not clear that it is “Chaucerian” in the sense of being initiated by Chaucer. In the last two decades of the fourteenth century there certainly appeared to be a wide interest in incorporating the author into the text, so as to solidify the author’s association with it; Gower does this at the end of the Confessio Amantis; Hoccleve does it in The Regiment of Princes; Lydgate does it in the Siege of Thebes.40 Claiming authorship in any sense and legitimizing the English tradition by commending contemporary authors were both bold statements. Instead of relying on anonymity and tracing their literary genealogies to ancient sources, writers were establishing those literary genealogies 38 Troilus and Criseyde is also the text in which he credits the fictional “Lollius” as his source, rather than the contemporary Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. 39 The narrator in The Canterbury Tales being the most obvious example. 40 As Finlayson indicates, in the earlier French poem Roman de la Rose Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun play a similar authorial game with their readers. However, the practice as a whole is rarely seen before the later decades of the fourteenth century; anonymity characterizes much medieval writing. As Graham Caie quips, “’Anon’ was a very busy writer in the Middle Ages” (20). 85 among themselves, thus forming a network rather than a single line. In his analysis of how the genealogical paradigm can be mapped onto manuscript studies, linguistics, and biology, David Greetham distinguishes between the “tangle” of literary evidence that is at our fingertips and the linear and unified “tree” that we make out of that tangle by selecting evidence to fit our own hypotheses about textual relationships.41 In considering social authorship as “Chaucerian” but not necessarily originated by Chaucer, Greetham’s perspective may be useful: he points out that a linear, parental relationship assumes causality, but “convergent variation can produce the effects of causal relations without the substance” (113).42 In other words, these authorial postures may be part of wider social developments that were reconfiguring the position of the writer, but without locating “real” causality in Chaucer himself. The figure of Chaucer functions as a catalyst, providing a sense of precedent and therefore unity. 3.3.2 The Chaucerian Canon and “Dyuers other workes” Lydgate and Hoccleve are considered Chaucerian poets not only because they allude to Chaucer’s work or stake a claim as his successors, but because their texts are included in most fifteenth-century “Chaucerian” anthologies, both manuscript and print. My intent here is not to summarize the work already done on these texts but to identify the sense of Chaucerianness underlying the anthologizing impulse in manuscript codices, as distinct from how print editions 41 Greetham’s application of theoretical methods based in biology to the editing of medieval manuscripts is not unique; Peter Robinson and his colleagues used similar methods in their production of the digitized Canterbury Tales. In collaboration with specialists in molecular biology, Robinson’s team subjected several sections of The Canterbury Tales to phylogenetic analysis (P. Robinson 128). The University of California’s Museum of Paleontology defines phylogenetics as “the connections between all groups of organisms as understood by ancestor/descendant relationships” (“Introduction to Phylogeny”). 42 Editorial theory, of course, acknowledges this phenomenon, with the Piers Plowman editorial tangle being perhaps one of the best examples of its difficulties. As Kane and Donaldson state in their introduction to their edition of the Piers B Text, “even allowing for possible changes of exemplar these [variational groups among the B manuscripts] cannot all be genetic groups; some must be products of convergent variation, whether lateral transmission or coincident substitution. Our problem was to distinguish them” (19). However, the goal of recension, and certainly the goal of the Athlone editors, is to reconstruct the archetypal text and thus Kane and Donaldson state that they dismiss textual errors produced through convergent variation and focus instead on texts that demonstrate genetic relationships. To their credit, they do acknowledge the limitations of their method: “It seems right to emphasize that our procedures contain arguments which could nullify them; but the hard fact is that there is no more satisfactory alternative” (20). 86 define “Chaucerian.” Many printed Chaucerian anthologies use earlier compilations as sources while emphasizing that their printings are “authentically Chaucerian” in a way that the manuscripts do not (Erler, “Printers’ Copy” 225). For example, in Wynkyn de Worde’s 1530 printing of Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, Robert Copland’s preface describes the poor material condition of the source manuscript (Bodley 638) and the resurrection Chaucer’s poem experiences at the hands of a printer: Layde vpon shelfe in leues all to torne With letters dymme almost defaced clene Thy hyllynge rotte with wormes all to worne… Bounde with olde quayres for aege all hoore and grene Thy mater endormed for lacke of thy presence But nowe thou art losed go shewe forth thy sentence And where thou become so ordre thy language That in excuse thy printer loke thou haue Whiche hathe the kepte from ruynous domage In snowe wyte paper thy mater for to saue With thylke same langage that Chaucer to the gaue (qtd in Gillespie, Print Culture 123) The contrast Copland draws between the “dymme,” “defaced,” and rotting manuscript and the “snowe wyte paper” of de Worde’s saving edition highlights the power of material form on a text’s reception. The soul of Bodley 638 is now “losed” from its shackles of dirt and grime and can “shewe forth [its] sentence” once again; it has essentially been resurrected by the printer, in that its “mater” and its true Chaucerian language have been saved by the new, clean paper it is now preserved upon. 43 Copland presents the manuscript form as limited in its range and efficacy, as hampered by its own “mortality,” while his edition will be available to a wide audience and in a clear, long-lasting format. Although early modern printers looked to manuscript sources to authenticate their editions, their printings had the power to reveal the truth in the manuscript. 43 Mary Erler points out that in Bodley, the Parliament of Fowls, Lydgate's Complaint of a Lover's Life, The Chance of the Dice, and Ragman's Roll are all marked for printing, concluding that “it looks as though Bodley 638 was employed in printing circles for at least five years” in the sixteenth century (“Printer’s Copy” 224). 87 Printed editions of Chaucer often used “Chaucerian” manuscript compilations as sources to establish Chaucer’s true canon. However, as Copland’s preface suggests, the attitude toward Chaucerianness in printed anthologies was very different from manuscript anthologies; while many print editions advertise themselves as repositories of Chaucer’s complete works, the manuscripts rarely ascribe works to Chaucer (Edwards, “MS Arch. Selden” 59). The printed editions, in general, construct themselves as a reinvigoration of the manuscript compilations of supposedly “Chaucerian” poetry and thereby redefine those compilations as Chaucerian. Manuscript anthologies containing Chaucer’s works, although they sometimes are conflated with printed editions in discussions of Chaucerian anthologies, project a very different sense of textual identification. These anthologies include Cambridge University Library Gg.4.27 (the earliest Chaucerian compilation, and the first to pair Chaucer with Lydgate), Digby 181, Longleat 258, Arch. Selden B.24, Tanner 346, Bodley 638, Fairfax 16, Trinity College Cambridge R.3.19 and even, to an extent, John Shirley’s British Library Additional MS 16165.44 The most influential printed anthologies, many of which were produced within a century of the manuscripts, are those published by William Caxton, Richard Pynson, William Thynne, Thomas Speght and John Stow. Each of these editors added spurious works to the Chaucerian canon, a trend that did not cease until Tyrwhitt’s edition in 1775 (Edwards, “Manuscript to Print” 1). The printed editions’ revisionist declaration of the Chaucerian canon has, I suggest, made it easier for us to interpret the manuscripts listed above as Chaucerian compilations – simply as precursors to the printed editions – when in fact their use of Chaucer was quite different. In his facsimile edition of Fairfax 16, John Norton-Smith expresses the widely-held critical consensus that “the notion of a ‘Works of Chaucer’ did not arise until the advent of printing and the antiquarian impulses of the sixteenth century” (ix). Although there is general 44 Defining Shirley’s manuscript as Chaucerian may seem a stretch, but Pamela Robinson sees Shirley’s compilations as an influential factor in the popularity of “Chaucerian” anthologies (xxiv). See Hanna (1996) for an extensive discussion of the manuscript. 88 agreement on this point, scholars still frequently refer to the manuscript compilations listed above as “Chaucerian,”45 a label that may be convenient but which also frames any interpretive acts visited upon those texts. Despite the anthologistic impulse that we see in manuscripts like CUL Gg 4.27 and the Oxford Group (Tanner, Bodley and Fairfax), there is no clear evidence in these compilations of an interest in Chaucer’s centrality. Moreover, despite Chaucer’s own attempts to protect his work from interference,46 he himself was not particularly interested in presenting his corpus as a single body of work (Hanna, “Presenting Chaucer” 19). This phenomenon corresponds with the nature of the supplemental writing that attached itself to Chaucer in that Chaucer here is used to solidify the cultural position of a body of Middle English literature. These manuscript compilations were created not so much as “Chaucerian” canons but as Middle English canons; they are manifestations of the Chaucerian supplement, in that they are the practical outcome of a self-legitimizing writing community. Boffey and Thompson describe these anthologies as organized around “secular, usually amorous themes” and that they use Chaucer’s minor poems as a “nucleus” around which other popular poems were added (280). While the content of these compilations supports such a conclusion, the general argument still indicates that Chaucer as Author is their defining feature (a “nucleus”). I suggest that instead of being created as Chaucerian books in the traditional sense, these manuscripts consolidated a kind of Middle English literary canon using Chaucer as a catalyst. The works contained in the compilations use the tools of social authorship popularized by Chaucer in order to create a self- referential literary framework in which the English texts alluded to and complemented one 45 Norton-Smith’s choice of words to describe the Fairfax manuscript is revealing: soon after he acknowledges that Fairfax cannot be described as a Chaucerian anthology, he explains that “after item 24 [in Fairfax] we have the descent into additionalness” (viii), referring to the poems in the last three booklets, most of which are authored by Lydgate. The “descent into additionalness” suggests that the earlier “Chaucerian” sections are the primary materials of Fairfax, and that the Lydgatiana is inconsequential or supplemental. 46 His envoy at the end of Troilus, his Retractions and his poem to Adam Scriveyn are well-known examples of Chaucer’s sense of textual ownership. 89 another. While classical models of love are used in these compilations, they are appropriated in a way that highlights the English writing community’s ability to absorb and take interpretive control of those models. A brief analysis of one manuscript family – the Oxford Group – will demonstrate how such “Chaucerian” manuscripts functioned. Tanner 346 (T – 1440s), Fairfax 16 (F – 1450s) and Bodley 638 (B – 1475-1500) were famously dubbed the Oxford Group in 1908 by Eleanor Hammond, who argued that the similarities among these three manuscripts prove that they share a common ancestor (“Oxford” – see Table 1 for contents).47 Subsequent scholarship has countered Hammond’s conclusions, arguing instead for separate booklet transmission (Gradon 309; Robinson xxv).48 Bookleting was a popular technique in the fifteenth century because it allowed for a level of affordability and flexibility in the process of anthologizing texts that was not available to the consumers of printed editions.49 An examination of the contents, order and presentation of the Oxford Group manuscripts will therefore illuminate how medieval readers assimilated Chaucer into the larger pool of Middle English literature. Despite their similarity in contents, the Oxford manuscripts were not produced for similar customers. Even though F and B are textually closest to one another, materially F holds closer affiliations with T. While B is composed of cheaper paper booklets that use parchment only for the outer folia (much like HM 114, discussed in the next chapter), F and T are made completely of parchment and have a more sophisticated programme of ornamentation. Jessica Brantley 47 See Hammond (1908) for her full discussion. 48 Robinson does acknowledge, however, that “the close textual affiliation and the order of appearance” of The Temple of Glass, The Legend of Good Women, The Parliament of Fowls, and The Book of the Duchess in Bodley and Tanner indicate that there may have been one booklet containing these four texts and used as a common exemplar for both manuscripts (xxv). See Hanna (1996) and Mooney (2001) for their analyses of medieval bookleting practices in compilations. 49 Fascicular compilations “may have been shaped around the works of a single author or a theme, around the personal tastes of the reader-buyer, or around a specific set of historical or topical associations” (Lerer, “Idea of the Anthology” 1253). Readerly habits did not really influence printers’ choices; rather, the canonical presentation of Chaucer in printed editions was, Edwards argues, motivated largely by the printers’ anticipation of profit by creating a new market niche (“Manuscript to Print” 1). 90 asserts that the Fairfax frontispiece is “one of the most accomplished illuminations to be associated with any of Chaucer's works” and that it, like the manuscript itself, was probably a professional commission from its owner, John Stanley (171, 174). The production of T was somewhat less organized, but the fact that its three scribes seemed to have worked on it concurrently with exemplars shared among them indicates that it was probably not produced on speculation (A. Gillespie 47, Brantley 174). Unlike T and F, B was the product of continuous copying and was clearly made on a smaller budget. The similarity in textual contents among F, T, and B compared with their differences in quality and planning suggest that these types of anthologies held interest for readers across a wide social and financial spectrum (Boffey and Thompson 282). Since a thorough analysis of the contents of all three Oxford Group manuscripts could occupy its own chapter, I will limit this discussion to some observations about the first part of the manuscripts and what they reveal about medieval “Chaucerianness.” As Table 1 below makes clear, there are two textual groupings (meaning texts adjacent to one another) common to F, B, and T: the larger group contains Chaucer’s The Complaint of Mars, The Complaint of Venus, Anelida and Arcite, and Lydgate’s Complaint of a Lover’s Life (with Hoccleve’s The Letter of Cupid close to this group in all three manuscripts50); the second contains Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowls and The Book of the Duchess. Lydgate’s Temple of Glass, Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women and Clanvowe’s The Book of Cupid are also found (not grouped together) in all three manuscripts, while B and F share Ragman’s Roll, The Chance at the Dice (both anonymous gaming poems), Complaint to Hope, Complaint D’Amours (both anonymous), and Chaucer’s The House of Fame, The A.B.C., and Fortune. Although Chaucer’s 50 B and F also have Clanvowe’s The Book of Cupid in this grouping, but in T it does not appear until Booklet II. 91 works make up close to 50% of each manuscript individually,51 the pool of texts that the manuscripts hold in common is more equally diversified among Chaucer, Lydgate, Clanvowe, and anonymous authors (with Chaucer’s texts in a reduced majority). Table 1: Contents of Oxford Group Manuscripts (Red = Chaucer; Blue = Lydgate; Green = Hoccleve; Pink = Clanvowe; Black = Anonymous; Yellow Highlight = beginning of a new booklet) BODLEY 638 FAIRFAX 16 TANNER 346 Complaint of Mars Complaint of Mars Legend of Good Women Complaint of Venus Complaint of Venus Letter of Cupid Complaint of a Lover’s Life Complaint of a Lover’s Life Complaint of a Lover’s Life Anelida and Arcite Anelida and Arcite Anelida and Arcite Book of Cupid Book of Cupid Complaint of Mars Temple of Glass Truth Complaint of Venus Letter of Cupid Letter of Cupid Complaint unto Pity Complaint unto Pity Ragman’s Roll As oft as syghes ben… Legend of Good Women La Belle Dame Sans Mercy For lack of sight.. Parliament of Fowls Temple of Glass Temple of Glass Book of the Duchess Legend of Good Women Book of Cupid House of Fame Parliament of Fowls Envoy to Alison 51 In B, 42% of the poems (8 out of 19) are Chaucer’s; in Tanner, 50% (7 out of 14); and in Fairfax, 50% if one does not count the two short Lydgate fragments preceding The Mutability of Man’s Nature or the 20 short poems and ballads at the end of the manuscript (likely composed by Charles D’Orleans). If these other poems are included, Chaucer’s works only make up 30% of the manuscript. 92 BODLEY 638 FAIRFAX 16 TANNER 346 Chance of the Dice Book of the Duchess Book of the Duchess An ABC Envoy to Alison Parliament of Fowls Fortune Chance of the Dice Complaint Against Hope House of Fame Complaint D’amours Complaint unto Pity Ragman’s Roll An ABC Order of Folys (incomplete – possibly Lydgate?) Fortune Lenvoy to Scogan Complaynt of Chaucer to his purse Lenvoy to Bukton Lack of Steadfastness Against Women Unconstant Mutability of Man’s Nature (preceded by two Lydgate fragments from Fall of Princes and Four Things that Make a Man a Fool) Complaint Against Hope Complaint D’Amours Victorious King (a begging ballad to Henry V) 93 BODLEY 638 FAIRFAX 16 TANNER 346 Doubleness of Women Prayer for Royals and People Reason and Sensuality How a Lover Praiseth his Lady Venus Mass Collection of 20 short poems, mostly about love and lovers. Possibly by Charles D’Orleans. England’s royal genealogy Contemporary hands in these manuscripts generally do not ascribe texts to Chaucer,52 nor does their compilatio evidence an interest in privileging Chaucer’s works. If there was an interest in presenting Chaucer more prominently as the central auctor in these compilations, the logical choice for opening texts would be those works more widely acknowledged as Chaucer’s than the Complaints of Mars and Venus. The Book of the Duchess, composed for John of Gaunt on the death of his wife, was certainly one of Chaucer’s most well-known works and one to which his name may have been more clearly attached, at least in part because of Gaunt’s patronage.53 The 52 One exception is in Fairfax: Truth, Mutability, Scogan, Bukton, and the Complaynt to his Purse are all attributed to Chaucer in the table of contents and in the MS titles. A later hand in the margin of the table of contents also attributes the A.B.C. to him. 53 The Book of the Duchess survives only in T, B, and F, none of which contain a contemporary attribution of the poem to Chaucer; however, the poem’s use as a Chaucerian source by other writers like Lydgate, together with its association with the Duke of Lancaster’s patronage of Chaucer, indicates that this poem was generally known to be Chaucer’s. See Ellis for his discussion regarding the sixteenth-century debates about whether the true title of this text was The Book of the Duchess, The Death of Blanche, or Chaucer’s Dream. T, B, and F are the only manuscript in which Duchess survives, and Ellis points out that Tanner does name the text Chaucer’s Dream, acknowledging Robinson’s assertion that it was a seventeenth-century hand that added this title (250, P. Robinson xxiii). However, he suggests that Thynne’s edition, which uses the title The dreame of Chaucer, “has many unique readings that point to a lost manuscript source that may, presumably, have carried the title The dreame of Chaucer” since neither T, B, nor F contain a contemporary usage of this title (250). 94 Envoys to Bukton and Scogan, even though they employ rhetorical techniques intended to address a diverse readership (Horvath 176), nevertheless are based upon social relationships Chaucer cultivated with courtiers – relationships that would have been highly public. This group of poems deploys love and antiquity as vehicles for English literary endeavours. It opens with texts by Chaucer but not those most clearly associated with him,54 perhaps in order to highlight the ability of English writers – and the language itself – to integrate the classical heritage into English tales. F and B’s opening sequence of texts (from the Complaints to The Book of Cupid) historicizes and textualizes amorous love by highlighting the connection between the contemporary personal experience of love and classical antecedents.55 However, the final text in this series (Clanvowe’s Book of Cupid) diverges from the classical focus; instead of narrating the experience of love using classical antecedents, the Book of Cupid attempts to resolve, through the debate format, the tension between amorous pleasure and pain – a tension highlighted through the other poems’ references to the polemic roles of Mars and Venus in the experience of love. It is a particularly English debate poem, not only because of its indebtedness to the thirteenth-century English poem The Owl and the Nightingale but because it alludes to Chaucer in a clear, recognizable way (Justice, “Lollardy” 672). In other words, the most English of poems in this first group attempts to resolve the problems of love posed by the earlier ones. The ancient models are used to exhibit the sufficiency of Englishness itself to do this – not the sufficiency of Chaucer in particular, although Chaucer’s skilled deployment of such models is highlighted by placement in the compilations. 54 A Complaint of a Lover’s Life and The Book of Cupid (and The Temple of Glass a little further on) appropriate much more well-known works by Chaucer, such as The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, and The House of Fame, but those works themselves do not appear until much later in the compilation. 55 The distantly classical and the personally contemporary are interwoven throughout these texts. Mars speaks of his longing for Venus; Venus laments the power that love holds over her (and her poem concludes with Chaucer’s envoy to his readership and his acknowledgment of a contemporary source in Oton de Graunson). Lydgate’s Black Knight prefaces his tale of personal heartbreak with a catalogue of ancient tormented lovers, while the narrator introduces the scene with lengthy descriptions alluding to figures of myth and antiquity. F and B’s version of the classical tale of Anelida and Arcite opens with Anelida’s emotional Complaint rather than the poet’s less personal invocation to Mars. 95 Tanner, the earliest of the Oxford Group, also contains the grouping of Lover’s Life, Anelida and Arcite, and the Complaints of Mars and Venus, but these are preceded by Chaucer’s The Legend of Good Women and Hoccleve’s The Letter of Cupid. The focus on love and classicism is similar to that seen in B and F, but the Legend and the Letter, as the first texts in the manuscript, provide a different angle on these issues that transforms Tanner into an empowering defense of women.56 Both the Legend and the Letter are about not just past and present experiences of love, but about how women in particular are wronged in love by immoral men. The compilatio of T enables the Letter to function as a condensed version of the Legend, thus reinforcing their common themes. Just as Chaucer goes through a list of laudable women who lived good lives and were wronged by men, Hoccleve provides a vigorous defense of women throughout the ages whose names have been sullied.57 The next poem, A Complaint of a Lover’s Life, depicts a man in sorrow because of unrequited love but there is no indication that his lady’s actions are wrong. In fact, the knight’s inactive complaining, year after year, could be said to reflect more badly on himself than his lady. Anelida and the Complaint of Mars then follow: the former is about a good woman and a false man, and the second depicts a female figure (Venus) who holds absolute power over love and over all men she encounters. In Tanner, therefore, the placement of Chaucer’s Complaints to Mars and Venus transforms the interpretive context of these poems, making them function differently than they do in B and F. Finally, the placement of the second, smaller textual grouping in these manuscripts (The Book of the Duchess and The Parliament of Fowls) reinforces the idea that these compilations focus upon a self-referential literary community rather than Chaucer in particular. The 56 There is some sense to this when we consider that the Legend’s F prologue (which Tanner includes) dedicates the work to Queen Anne, wife to Richard II. 57 Hoccleve does not focus on classical figures, as Chaucer does; the poem is a response to bookish repudiations of women, including those found in the Bible. Much of Hoccleve’s poem uses Biblical stories as well as hagiographies to defend women rather than condemn them. Most surprising, perhaps, are his defense of Eve’s first sin and his condemnation of Christ’s male disciples in light of the loyalty of his female followers. 96 connections between Lydgate’s Complaint and Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, and between Clanvowe’s Cupid and Chaucer’s Parliament are particularly clear, and are made more so by the primary placement of Lydgate’s and Clanvowe’s poems and the pairing together of Chaucer’s. The emphasis is not on the antecedent texts, but on the works that extend those texts. The Temple of Glass, The Book of Cupid, and A Complaint of a Lover’s Life all allude to or imitate one or all of Duchess, the Parliament, and The House of Fame, but the first three precede the latter three in each manuscript. In Tanner, however, the placement of Chaucer’s The Legend of Good Women, which directly references Troilus and Criseyde, the Parliament, The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame, underscores Chaucer’s role in this literary community. The manuscript opens with a poem that catalogues several other poems by the same author which are then included in subsequent booklets, sprinkled among works by other writers. There was little apparent interest in actually attributing works to Chaucer or to anyone else; the focus was upon affiliating the texts with one another. In contrast, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century printed editions of Chaucer tended to assign this mixture of texts to the monolithic category of “Chaucerian” – meaning “written by Chaucer.” This marks the beginning of a transition from the medieval model of supplementation and community to the modern one of canonization. The aggregative impulse in these printed Chaucerian anthologies did not legitimize the works of the other medieval writers lumped in because their texts were simply subsumed into the larger category – a victim of Foucault’s “author function.”58 They therefore did not function as the Chaucerian supplement described earlier. Instead, syntactical vagueness in the title pages of these printed anthologies encouraged readers to assume Chaucerian attributions even when such attributions were uncertain or false. This vagueness is located a phrase that is common to several different editions “diverse additions” or “diverse other works.” Several examples from title pages are listed below: 58 See Foucault (2002) for his discussion regarding the value and use of the authorial name. 97 Pynson’s 1526 printing of the Book of Fame:59 “Here begynneth the boke of fame / made by Geffray Chaucer: with dyuers other of his workes.” Thynne’s 1532 Works (also used in Stow’s 1561 edition)60: “The workes of Geffray Chaucer newly printed with dyuers workes whiche were neuer in print before: As in the table more playnly dothe appere.” Speght’s 1598 Works: “The Workes of our Antient and Learned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer, newly Printed. In this Impression you shall find these Additions…” Lists the prefatory material plus “Two books of his, neuer before Printed.” Speght’s 1602 Works: “The Workes of our Ancient and learned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer, newly Printed. To that which was done in the former Impression, this much is now added…” List of prefatory material, including “The whole works by old Copies reformed” and “The treatise called Iacke Vpland, against friers: and Chaucers A.B.C. called La priere de nostre Dame, at this impression added.” Speght’s 1602 Works (second title page, after prefatory material): “The works of Geffrey Chaucer, newly Printed, with diuers additions. With the Siege and Destruction of the Worthie Citie of Thebes, compiled by Iohn Lidgate, Monke of Burie.” 1687 reissue of Speght: “The Works of our Ancient, Learned & Excellent English Poet, Jeffrey Chaucer: As they have lately been Compar’d with the best Manuscripts; and several things added, never before in Print. To which is adjoyn’d, The Story of the Siege of Thebes, by John Lidgate, Monk of Bury.” Out of these editors, Pynson is the only one who clearly claims that the additional works are by Chaucer; however, his edition includes two texts that are explicitly attributed to other writers (Christine de Pizan and Lydgate). Kathleen Forni suggests that the term “diverse” here could refer to “several” other works by Chaucer without claiming his authorship for all of them 59 Pynson technically printed his editions of the Book of Fame [sic], Troilus and Criseyde, and the Canterbury Tales separately, but all complete surviving copies are bound together in one volume, thus suggesting that they circulated together as a kind of compendium of Chaucer’s works. In this particular instance, the Book of Fame printing also included the Parliament of Fowls, Truth, La Belle Dame Sans Mercy, Moral Proverbs of Christyne [de Pizan], Lamentation of Mary Magdalen, Letter of Dido to Aeneas, and the Proverbs of Lydgate (Forni, “Pynson” 428).60 Stow’s edition also listed Lydgate as the author of the Siege of Thebes, something that Speght adds to the prefatory material of his 1602 Works. 98 (“Pynson” 429) – certainly a feasible explanation, since the term “diverse” holds several different meanings.61 Pynson does correctly attribute the works that are Chaucer’s own (with the exception of La Belle Dame) but does not claim Chaucer’s authorship for the spurious works. However, even given this caveat, the phrasing used allows the reader to assume attribution. In William Thynne’s edition of six years later, the language in the title page is equally vague: it is not clear whether the “dyuers workes which were never in print before” are included in the “Workes of Geffray Chaucer” or are a separate addition to them.62 The Speght title pages also employ syntactical vagueness and the appeal of novelty in order to attract interest in an expanded collection of Chaucer’s works. The 1598 and 1602 primary title pages both boast that the texts are “newly printed” with “additions” that are actually the prefatory material rather than additional works (Chaucer’s life, a glossary, etc).63 However, both pages also specifically refer to two new texts; the 1598 edition does not name the texts it adds64 while the 1602 edition specifies Jack Upland and the A.B.C. (the latter of which he attributes to Chaucer65). The secondary title page of the 1602 edition returns to the vague “diuers additions” phrasing, which could refer to non-Chaucerian works or to the newly revised versions of Chaucer’s works suggested by the phrase “by old Copies reformed” on the first title page. The specific reference to the inclusion of Lydgate’s Siege of Thebes gives the impression that the other works are by Chaucer himself. The 1687 reissue proudly declares that the texts therein “have lately been Compar’d with the best Manuscripts; and several things added,” with no 61 The term “diuers”/”diverse” deserves a brief note here. In both the Middle English Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, its late-medieval and early-modern usages conform to the modern meanings of “diverse” that could apply here (“Different or not alike in quality; not of the same kind; various, sundry, several”). Thus “diverse” in this context could mean other works by Chaucer or works by other authors and by Chaucer. However, the MED has an additional definition – used in Lydgate’s fifteenth-century Troy Book – not found in the OED: “unusual, strange, wonderful.” This definition resonates with the idea of the divine unknown discussed in Chapter 1. 62 Thynne’s edition adds 24 works not by Chaucer, and it was used as the basis of Stow’s 1561 edition, in which he added a further 18. Speght added three more (Forni, “Chaucer’s Dreame” 141). 63 See Machan (1995) for a discussion on the influence of Speght’s paratextual material. 64 The Isle of Ladies and The Flower and the Leaf 65 In the Fairfax table of contents, a later hand has attributed the “devoute ballade” to Chaucer by writing “The ABC of Chaucer” in the margin. 99 clarification of whether the added “things” are texts by other authors, paratextual material, or newly discovered or edited Chaucerian works. Lydgate’s Siege is once more “adjoyn’d,” again suggesting (without claiming) that the other works contained are Chaucer’s. James Simpson characterizes the difference between the handling of Chaucer by scribes and by printers/editors as one of presence versus absence, two models that he uses to describe Chaucerian reception in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: The ‘remembered presence’ is a figure without precise delineation: his texts are available as materials for new poetry which builds on accretively, in almost conversational manner, to Chaucer's poetry; Chaucer's name need not be cited when borrowing…The product of this model is a new literary work. The ‘buried absence’, or philological model, by contrast, delineates a textual corpus in very precise ways, excising accretion, and reconstituting exactly what the poet said. The master is, ostensibly, the poet himself. (255) Simpson’s distinction here is a helpful way of understanding the cultural function of Chaucerian manuscript anthologies versus printed editions of Chaucer’s works. However, in his description of this movement from a personal to an objective or scientific reception of Chaucer, Simpson acknowledges the role of Chaucer’s texts in manuscript compilations but not the overall effect achieved. The activity of compilers who insert Chaucer into their particular literary genealogies (ie, the anthology) without focusing on origin or attribution is an extension of the attitude of the medieval writers themselves. Simpson indicates that the impulse of Chaucerian writers to “build onto his achievement…reveal[s] a confident readiness to enter into often competitive and productive conversation with Chaucer, freely adding to his works” (257).66 The outcome of this productiveness is certainly new literary works, as I suggested earlier in this chapter, but it is also a network of writers who became self-referential; they absorbed into their literature not just classical antecedents, but one another’s work. Compilation choices in manuscripts such as 66 Simpson uses several examples from Lydgate’s work to demonstrate this sense of understated competition with Chaucer (258-9). 100 Tanner, Bodley and Fairfax highlight the consolidation of an English writing community for whom the vernacular was a vehicle able to integrate the classics, rather than be controlled by them. Instead of the linear genealogy suggested by translation of classical works (or translations of translations), this vernacular community functioned on the basis of mutual allusions and references, integrating the classical heritage into a developing English literary framework. In concluding this chapter, I would like to reiterate that a reconsideration of how we define “Chaucerian” does not require us simply to discard the criteria of style and theme that have been commonly used over the past century of scholarship. Instead, this discussion seeks to open an alternate way of understanding the Chaucerian tradition and by doing so, to open rather than close the definition, and to encourage increased engagement with and consideration of the term “Chaucerian.” I have used Derrida’s notion of the supplement to characterize the “Chaucerian” moment that allowed vernacular writers, who may have referred to themselves as compilers or translators, to enact the role of auctores – a role that was previously restricted to ancient and institutionally sanctioned authors. In evaluating how authority was construed in the late Middle Ages, Tim Machan describes the works of auctores as those that elicited the distinctive exegetical responses of glosses, commentaries, and discussion in university lectures…the existence of such institutional responses served to confirm the auctorial status of writers. There is thus something circular in this theoretical framework: Auctores were those known and named writers whose works had auctoritas, and auctoritas was identified as the characteristic quality of the work of an auctor. Such circularity reflects the….self-validating character of medieval views on authority, which made it difficult if not impossible for a contemporary writer to acquire auctorial status. (Textual Criticism 97) By consistently deploying the practices of social authorship – positioning himself among his contemporaries – Chaucer helped to create a self-referential writing community. Due to the fame Chaucer garnered through both his civic and literary successes, the community itself used 101 Chaucer as a contemporary precedent – an idea unthinkable in the older culture of authority that Machan describes. By claiming control over their own works by diversifying the narrative voice and embedding themselves in their texts in that particularly Chaucerian way, and by treating Chaucer’s texts as works that not only required completion and supplementation but were open to such completion by contemporary vernacular writers, these Chaucerian writers were not so much lauding Chaucer as using him to consolidate a community of vernacular authorship. Although I have characterized the medieval reception of Chaucer’s auctoritee as supplemental and self-promoting, and his later editorial treatment as more concerned with empirical authenticity and origin, editorial activity in general retains this medieval impulse to supplement and to gloss. The desire to recreate a family line for an imaginary lost object (the archetype or the autograph manuscript) rather than presenting the naked text is in large part motivated by pragmatic and pedagogical concerns, but there is an underlying assumption that the manuscript is not enough – it is not sufficient and therefore requires addition, supplementation. For both medieval readers and modern editors, the Chaucerian text begs for interventions. This reading of the Chaucerian tradition as an extended supplement to Chaucer is intended simply to point out the discrepancy between Chaucer’s entrenched position as the founder of English literature and the fluidity of his authorial status in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The remnants of this fluidity underpin editions of Chaucer, from Caxton to the Riverside. Rather than repeating the excellent work done by other scholars on Chaucer’s canonicity and reception,67 in the next chapter I will be exploring how our understanding of Chaucer and the Chaucerian tradition (his supplement) may be useful in re-evaluating and contextualizing the Piers Plowman tradition. Like the Chaucerian tradition, the Piers Plowman tradition is one that reflects back to us our own concern with origin while effacing the medieval concern with affiliation. Unlike the 67 Lerer (1993), Bowers (2007), and Cannon (1996) all present nuanced arguments concerning Chaucer’s role as author and as the founder of English literature. 102 Chaucerian tradition, however, which appropriates Chaucer in order to continue or reproduce him, the Piers tradition texts constitute a literary kidnapping of sorts: Langland’s “ownership” of his central character quickly fades as Piers Plowman is brought under the umbrella of divergent ideologies. Chapter Four explores how the Piers Plowman tradition, far from consolidating Langland’s authorial position, essentially dissolves and diversifies the author of the poem in order to redefine the poem itself. 103 Chapter 4 (Re)Reading Tradition: the Piers Plowman Tradition The Piers Plowman tradition, as the only other named literary tradition in Middle English literature, is usually thought to comprise works influenced or inspired by the famously anonymous poem, Piers Plowman.1 Unlike the writers of Chaucerian texts, who often completed, supplemented, or continued Chaucer’s tales, the writers of the Piers tradition (most of whom are also anonymous) often show little knowledge of the comprehensive content of Piers Plowman and instead appropriate isolated themes or characters to further their own interests – there is no sense of “completing” the text. Rather than using a known English author’s name as precedent to legitimize and market their own work in English, Piers tradition writers use a text whose origin cannot be pinpointed and whose main character (a Christian labourer) has a hold on the popular imagination in order to imbue their own works with that same cultural power. Unlike Chaucer’s work, much of Piers Plowman’s influence was due to its anonymity and its wide circulation, factors that resulted in an origin-less text whose popular roots seemed to run deep (perhaps because of its very lack of a specific origin), and which was therefore available for appropriation into a wide variety of discourses. The Piers Plowman tradition therefore seems to be the antithesis of the genealogically- oriented Chaucerian tradition2 in many ways, or at least it has been read this way since the birth of Middle English literary criticism in the nineteenth century. It is based upon a single 1 The identity of Piers Plowman’s author was a question for many years, and even now, when scholars generally accept that William Langland penned the poem, he is still a figure about whom we know very little about. He thus remains essentially anonymous to us. 2 Although modern scholarship has constructed the genealogy of the Chaucerian tradition along the linear model, I have suggested that it be viewed as a network instead. The overemphasis on the linearity of the Chaucerian tradition has consequently overstated the difference between it and the Piers Plowman tradition. 104 anonymous work, which was successively revised over many years, written in a shifting genre that was vaguely associated with an older form of English literature. While Piers itself expressed traditional anticlericalist views in a time where anticlericalism was becoming a potent and dangerous reformist cause, Piers tradition texts completely revised the poem’s conventional anticlericalism into political and/or religious subversion. In contrast, the Chaucerian tradition included a variety of literary genres, explicit authorial attributions and appropriation of known stories, and any potential subversion in its anticlerical gestures manifested itself as light satire. The Chaucerian tradition localized itself around an identifiable origin of contemporary precedent, whereas the prophetic and social power of the Piers tradition was derived from its absence of an origin, its ever-changing search for the presence of Piers Plowman, the laboring Christian. Langland’s poem is only vaguely and intermittently topical, and its explicit allusions are largely limited to the Bible and Cato; it is very inward-looking. Langland did not practice social authorship in the way that Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, and other writers did.3 His particular method of writing himself into his own text appears, in comparison to Chaucer, confusing and inconsistent,4 resulting in Langland exerting even less interpretive control over his poetry than Chaucer did. This lack of control allowed the Piers tradition to develop in a particularly political way. These two textual groups also treat the nature of writing and authorship quite differently. Unlike the Chaucerian tradition, in which Chaucer's literary inheritors follow Chaucer’s precedent in exploring what writing and authorship mean, the texts that constitute the Piers 3 Middleton (1989) famously argued that Langland encoded his own name into his poem for the benefit of an intimate group of readers and Kerby-Fulton and Justice note that Langland “was one of the first Middle English writers to present a sophisticated authorial persona...within his poetry” (“Reading Circles” 73). They present evidence suggesting that Langland may have had a small “coterie” readership among the civil service. However, these arguments do not suggest that Langland’s poetry (or his name) was well-known in the way that Chaucer’s was. 4 Will’s pattern of sleeping and dreaming and the slippage of allegorical characters into waking sequences leaves the reader constantly unclear about Will’s experiences. This lack of clarity is heightened by some of Langland’s other decisions, such as his choice to expand the role of Recklessness in C by having the character take over some of Will’s speech. The distinction between Recklessness the allegorical figure and recklessness as a quality of Will becomes very unclear. 105 Plowman tradition tend to be more polemic or didactic than self-reflexively literary. That is, their focus tends to be upon pressing political and social concerns rather than the nature of authorship. Piers Plowman itself, a poem which claims no author, reveals intense anxieties about the relationship between authorship and authority – a relationship made all the more vexed because these two words derive from the same Latin root: auctoritas. While Chaucerian writers such as Hoccleve and Lydgate exhibited some level of anxiety regarding their authorial position as Chaucer’s sons, colleagues, and substitutes, Piers tradition writers show no such anxiety despite Langland’s own concern about authorship. The Piers Plowman tradition, although a common and convenient scholarly category, is by no means a stable one. The parameters of the Chaucerian tradition, with its fixation on authorial naming and imitation, appear easy to define by comparison, although the discussion in Chapter Three indicated ways in which the definition can be opened. Bloom’s categorizing of authorial angst in The Anxiety of Influence may be useful here. In keeping with the analysis of the Chaucerian supplement, I would argue that authors such as Lydgate, Hoccleve, and Henryson enact Bloom’s notion of tessera – the antithetical completion of the authorial precursor, with the implication that the author had not gone far enough. However, these poets are constantly confronted with their own fear that they themselves did not go far enough in imitating Chaucer. The authorial anxiety manifested by the authors of Langlandian texts is more akin to Bloom’s daemonization, in which “the later poet opens himself to what he believes to be a power in the parent-poem that does not belong to the parent proper…he does this, in his poem, by so stationing its relation to the parent-poem as to generalize away the uniqueness of the earlier work” (16). The lack of a clearly identified author for Piers Plowman, even in the early years of its dissemination, allowed it to speak to a wider audience – both socially and temporally. The 106 location of authority within literary or allegorical characters5 rather than the author/narrator’s clear integration of himself into the text encouraged later readers to read the poem as timeless and prophetic, rather than historically contingent. This apparent misreading is akin to what Bloom calls the “power in the parent-poem that does not belong to the parent proper.” In other words, Piers Plowman became an influential text in part because its lack of an external origin shaped it into what seemed to be a universal poem. Piers tradition poetry appropriates this power of universality in two general ways: texts publicly participated in Piers Plowman by appropriating or drawing directly upon it, or texts participated in the same public discourse as Piers Plowman without necessarily drawing directly upon the poem itself. Rather than echo or imitate Piers Plowman explicitly, the texts in this tradition appropriate Piers for their own use. They do not seem interested in giving credit to the poem itself nor do they want their text directly associated with it. Unlike Chaucerian tradition writers, who usually make their debt to Chaucer unambiguous in order to solidify their own authorial position, Piers tradition texts tend to use themes that will attract the Piers Plowman readership (which was a wide one) without referring to the poem itself explicitly. In this way, the Piers tradition enacts what David Harlan describes as the journey of all literary works: “every text, at the very moment of its inception, has already been cast onto the waters...no text can ever hope to rejoin its father...it is the fate of every text to take up the wanderings of a prodigal son that does not return” (qtd in Clark 142). Given the hazy connection between Piers and the poems in its tradition, we must ask when the idea of a Piers Plowman tradition was first formulated and its function in modern scholarship. The issue that immediately arises is how we now determine the texts that belong in the tradition, and whether “tradition” is really the appropriate term for the connections among 5 In the “authorial” characters of Will and Piers in particular, but also in the figures of Holy Church, Reason, and Conscience. 107 these different works. These questions are central to my examination of the Piers tradition as well as the Chaucerian tradition. Even though we tend to see Chaucer as a writer of state- sanctioned (even politically-safe6) poetry and Langland as a writer whose following opened the way for the rising of a public literary voice, my argument here suggests the opposite. It was Chaucer who enabled the consolidation of a vernacular writing community – a public voice in a sense – while the Piers Plowman tradition and Piers Plowman itself in reality represented diverse groups (and perhaps “diuers other workes”), whether institutional or revolutionary. 4.1 Critical Consensus on the Piers Plowman Tradition In a paper given at the Fourth International Piers Plowman Conference (2007), Fiona Somerset questioned the utility of the term “Piers Plowman tradition” when the boundaries governing it are neither agreed upon nor consistent. John Bowers, in a similar line of inquiry, recently suggested that it was “never really a coherent ‘tradition’ since its contributors worked in isolation and never even knew the name of the founding author,” but that its existence was the catalyst in forming the self-conscious, author-focused Chaucerian tradition of the fifteenth century (Antagonistic Tradition 31).7 Bowers’ point is thought-provoking, but I would like to turn it around and examine the co-existence of the Chaucerian and Langlandian traditions from a different angle. While I agree with Bowers that the Piers tradition was “never really a coherent ‘tradition’” in the Middle Ages, I suggest that modern scholarship on Middle English poetry has imposed a certain unity upon this group of poems, linking them together in an intertextual narrative that allows us to conceive of them as a literary tradition. This constructed sense of 6 Chaucer could be bitingly satirical, but he was not generally openly critical about the governing monarchy.7 Most of the “tradition” was produced in the very late Middle Ages or early modern period – well after Langland’s lifetime, which is one of the ways it differs from the Chaucerian tradition. Kathy Cawsey, like Bowers, asks whether fifteenth- and sixteenth-century readers would have considered the plowman texts to be a unified group, and takes this question as the focal point of her article. However, her references to Langland’s poem as “the original plowman work” and the other plowmen poems as all “ultimately drawing on William Langland’s fourteenth-century poem” (189) suggests that she sees Piers Plowman as a unifying text. 108 coherence has two functions: first, it broadens the professional field of medieval literature by directing attention to minor literary works that would otherwise be largely ignored; and second, it sets up an independent tradition against which the hegemonic Chaucerian tradition can be read . Seeing these textual groups as distinct traditions in opposition to one another carries certain ideological imperatives; in particular, it secures our investment in the same type of resistance narrative (very appealing to readers in a Western democratic culture) that Sarah Stanbury sees in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature.8 I have sketched very briefly how we might define texts of the Piers Plowman tradition, and I would now like to touch upon how the boundaries of this category manifest themselves in scholarship. Nineteenth-century scholars of the poem did not, to my knowledge, ever refer to Piers-influenced works as part of a Piers Plowman tradition; this may be partly due to the fact that they often referred to the poem itself as “The Vision” or “The Book”9 rather than “Piers Plowman,” thus depersonalizing the poem to an extent.10 The early twentieth-century debates regarding single versus multiple authorship, pioneered by J. M. Manly, also contributed to the lack of interest by earlier scholars in seeing the plowman poems as a unified literary body inspired (or perhaps fathered) by Piers Plowman (C. Brewer 184-195). Having said that, early scholars did recognize that there was some sort of connection between Piers Plowman and other plowman writings, or poems that shared distinct thematic concerns with Piers. W.W. Skeat, for example, argued that Richard the Redeless was so stylistically and thematically close to Piers Plowman that the two poems must share an author (Piers the Ploughman xi-xii). He was concerned, however, that the more superficial similarities between Piers and Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede would lead readers to reach the same conclusion regarding these two poems 8 See page 62 above. This point is also discussed in this chapter’s conclusion. 9 Skeat preferred the latter, criticizing those who used “Vision” because the Visio only constitutes part of the poem (Skeat, Visio xiii). 10 As discussed in the opening of this chapter, a name provides an origin, and an origin supposedly provides continuity and coherence. By naming the poem according to its genre, the appeal to origins is removed. 109 – that Langland wrote both.11 He was adamant that these two texts – one superior, the other not – do not share an author: About the year 1394...some writer of unknown name and of narrower views wrote a short poem of 850 lines in alliterative verse, as a satire against the friars, to which he gave the name of Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, no doubt with the view of attracting attention. His conception of the Ploughman, however, is very different. (xiii) Skeat’s comment that the Crede’s author intended to attract attention by using the name of Piers Plowman indicates that Skeat recognized a distinct literary movement that used Piers Plowman to further its own objectives.12 J. J. Jusserand, one of Skeat’s contemporaries, likewise did not refer to a Piers tradition but did entitle one chapter of his book on Piers Plowman “Langland’s Fame – His Place in Mystic Literature.” Although in the book he spends some time (pages 192-219) highlighting commonalities between Langland and other writers, both continental and English, from the Anglo-Saxon period to post-Reformation, he does not claim any kind of causality or unity among these texts and writers. He does claim that many of them, especially the English authors, were aware of Langland’s poem, but in general he places Piers Plowman in a very wide literary context. When Jusserand does address the reformist English texts that are now considered part of the Piers Plowman tradition, he presents them simply as erroneous readings that insult Langland’s literary intentions (190). Jusserand suggests that the plainness of Piers manuscripts indicates that the poem was of “serious and practical character” and “transcribed to be read, and not looked at; scribes copied it, as it had been written, for the benefit of the simple and sincere, for men of good will” (187). These men of good will are not the reformers who appropriated the 11 Indeed, the author of one of Skeat’s boyhood lesson books (A History of England), Mrs. Markham, gave him an excerpt of the Crede to study and told him it was from Piers Plowman (C. Brewer 92-3). 12Skeat’s judgment of Richard and Crede seems to be at least partly based on his beliefs regarding Langland’s poetic skill; Richard is well-written and pointed but the Crede demonstrates “narrower” views, hence the former is much more likely to be written by Langland and the latter is probably a poor imitation. 110 name of Piers to gather popular support in the authentication of their own cause. Jusserand uses the example of John Ball’s letters to transform the 1381 rebels’ revolutionary activity into a metaphor characterizing the later writers of the plowman tracts: Sometimes Piers was entrusted with missions of which Langland would never have approved. At an early date, the meaning of the poem had been distorted by many, each being moved thereunto by the necessities of his cause. All the dissatisfied, all the protestors and reformers forcibly pulled the Plowman by his cloak, or seized it to place on their own shoulders. Nothing proves more clearly than this the renown and authority of the Visions. (189) Jusserand’s terminology casts the Piers tradition as a violent imposition upon the purity of Langland’s original poem, but one that paradoxically proves Piers’ “renown and authority.” The actual use of the term “Piers Plowman tradition” reframes the readings of these violent texts by aligning them with, rather than opposing them to, Piers Plowman. The first usage that I have been able to locate dates to 1944, in Helen White's book Social Criticism in Popular Religious Literature of the Sixteenth Century.13 The first chapter of White's book is entitled “The Piers Plowman Tradition,” although her ultimate assertion of such a tradition is somewhat hesitant. White argues that Langland's poem “expresses in a powerful way a central tradition of social criticism...[it] was actually in the main stream of a tradition of moral and social denunciation pouring from the pulpit itself” (12). Her suggestion that Piers is an expression of a “central tradition” – what we might now term a central discourse of reform or anticlericalism – stops short of claiming the kind of unity and coherence that “tradition” 13 While I cannot claim definitively that no other work refers to a Piers Plowman tradition prior to White’s book, a later comment by Robert Kelly may support such a statement. In his 1977 article “Hugh Latimer as Piers Plowman,” Kelly argues that Latimer’s 1548 Sermon of the Plow attempted to root the sixteenth-century reform movement in earlier precedent by “placing the sermon in the ‘Piers Plowman tradition,’ as Helen C. White has called the body of poetic and prose works in which Piers is the central figure”(14). His reference to White’s usage suggests that she created the term herself; it also suggests that the boundaries of the Piers tradition were not at all clear by 1977, which may be why Derek Pearsall’s book of that year discusses the idea in some detail. In later debates about what constitutes the tradition, scholars use the term itself freely and generally do not cite any earlier usage. One notable exception (which supports the argument for Helen White’s originality) is Charlotte Brewer’s Editing Piers Plowman, in which she cites White’s book and Anne Hudson’s “The Legacy of Piers Plowman” as the two sources that summarize and discuss plowman writings (9, note 9). 111 implies.14 White's discussion also suggests that Wycliffe's teaching was the catalyst for the development of a Piers tradition (24), again avoiding an overly confident commitment to the idea of a tradition rooted in Piers Plowman itself. This may be because the idea of a Piers tradition was novel for the time;15 not only did the term bypass the authorship question, but it framed Langland as an author analogous with Chaucer, whose own tradition and influence was well-established in scholarship by this point. For example, in Mary Louise Carlson’s 1944 review of White’s book, she refers to the support that later reformation activists “found in Langland and his successors” (61). In this light, Piers Plowman is no longer the passive, imposed-upon text seen by Jusserand and Skeat, but an active text that inspired other works – works that are not merely erroneous readings, but successors. Under the auspices of a Piers tradition Langland becomes, like Chaucer, a literary father of sorts.16 Derek Pearsall’s 1977 book Old English and Middle English Poetry considers Piers and the poems associated with it under the larger umbrella of alliterative poetry. As suggested in Note 13 above, by 1977 the idea of the Piers Plowman tradition seems to have been gaining scholarly momentum and Pearsall therefore presented for consideration at this time a taxonomy of texts that took this particular tradition into account. He divided poems of the alliterative revival into two groups, one of which was the Piers Plowman group, “consisting of poems in the political, didactic and complaint tradition (Piers Plowman itself, of course, transcends such a grouping) and characterized by a pragmatic and ‘unpoetic’ handling of alliterative verse” (153). This group includes Richard the Redeless, Mum and the Sothsegger, Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, The Crowned King, and Death and Life (153). The second group is Pearsall’s “classical 14 Scase's book Piers Plowman and the New Anti-clericalism takes a similar point of departure (that Piers is participating in a larger discourse) without a sustained engagement with the idea of a Piers tradition. She does note in the preface that “writings of the ‘Piers Plowman tradition’….suggest that anticlerical Wycliffite and Protestant reformers looked to the poem as…a viable way of writing in English about matters of church and state” (xi). 15 As Note 13 above indicates, Robert Kelly’s reference to White’s 1944 usage of “Piers Plowman tradition” suggests that even in 1977 the term was not quite in common use, but perhaps gaining popularity. 16 This paternal role was enhanced as scholars at this time began to move away from referring to “The Vision of Piers Plowman” or “The Vision” and instead favoured the use of Langland’s name. 112 corpus” and is marked by a sophisticated poetic style; it includes the poems in the Pearl manuscript, The Siege of Jerusalem, Morte Arthure, The Destruction of Troy, the Alexander poems, and The Parlement of the Thre Ages. Piers Plowman itself does not fit satisfactorily into these groupings; Pearsall admitted that the poem does not conform easily to any one genre, and that it tends to be associative and discontinuous rather than linear. He even suggested that “by any standards but its own, it is near to artistic breakdown” (178). However, Pearsall recognized that Piers’s generic fluidity is what allowed it to influence such a wide variety of texts, and in his comparison of those texts with Piers, the latter always receives the benefit. The idea of a Piers tradition is also critically addressed in David Lawton's 1981 article “Lollardy and the Piers Plowman Tradition.” Lawton opens his article with a definition of the Piers Plowman tradition: “Two later Middle English alliterative poems of satire and complaint are so indebted to Piers Plowman as to constitute a Piers Plowman tradition” (780). He identifies these poems as Pierce the Ploughman's Crede and Mum and the Sothsegger (both written circa 1400). Lawton clearly has a stronger sense than White of Piers as the root of this tradition, but he restricts the tradition drastically. Two years later, in 1983, Marie-Clare Uhart included a “select list of works of the ‘Piers Plowman tradition’” in her doctoral dissertation, a list that was far broader than Lawton’s (2-8).17 In 1993, Helen Barr found a happy medium between Lawton and Uhart: her book The Piers Plowman Tradition adds only Richard the Redeless and The Crowned King to Lawton's short list of Piers texts.18 While she does not limit the tradition to these four texts, she does argue that they “form the substantial part of what has been called the Piers Plowman tradition” and that “their literary indebtedness to Piers is shown in the recall of key 17 She includes Richard the Redeless, Mum and the Sothsegger, Jack Uplande, The Plowman’s Tale (both versions), How the Plowman lerned his Pater Noster, Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, God spede the plough, A godly dyalogue and dysputacyon betwene Pyers Plowman and a popysh preest, The praier and complaynte of the Ploweman until Christe, I playne Piers, and Pyers Plowmans exhortation unto the Lordes, Knightes and Burgoysses of the parlymenthouse. 18 Putter lists the Crede, Mum, Crowned King, and Richard as “the poems in the ‘Piers Plowman Tradition’” (29). Although he does not cite Barr as his source, his study was published only three years after her 1993 book, thus indicating that he was likely informed by her work. 113 words and phrases and in the reminiscence of important episodes” (5-6). Significantly, Barr characterizes the Piers tradition as marginalized and possibly subversive: “All the poems in the Piers legacy bear witness to the emergent voice of those literate members of society who may have been excluded from key positions of sacred or secular authority, but who were keen in this time of flux and unrest that their voices be heard” (7). In her 1994 book, Signes and Sothe: Language in the Piers Plowman Tradition, Barr continues to explore the nature of the Piers tradition. She defines the tradition as “poetry which looks back to Piers Plowman as a source of inspiration” and insists that “we must regard the corpus in a different light from the self-naming and self-fashioning literary tradition authored by Chaucer”(9). Barr echoes Elizabeth Salter in identifying the nature of the tradition as “more conceptual than literary, one of pursuing truth, a tradition which accepts the help of whatever texts and authors may be available” (9). In her concluding essay to John Alford's 1988 A Companion to Piers Plowman, Anne Hudson discusses what she calls the “legacy” of Piers Plowman. Her notion of the Piers tradition is quite broad and extends from the letters of John Ball to the sixteenth-century blackletter Protestant tracts. She is careful, however, in how she classifies the relationships between what we may consider Piers tradition texts and Piers itself: rather than referring to a “Piers Plowman tradition,” she uses words like “reminiscent,” “influence,” or “parallel” (252-255) to describe how certain texts were related to Piers. Hudson indicates that many texts believed by other (or earlier) critics to be inspired by Piers are, rather, what we might call a literary sibling to the poem: both Piers and Text X draw upon the same tradition or discourse (254). Andrew Galloway likewise avoids committing to a Piers tradition, but does suggest that “Middle English dream- vision poetry seems to have grown up around and perhaps in part in response to Piers Plowman,” thus aligning Piers not with political and polemical literature but with the relatively widespread and safe genre of the dream vision (Penn Commentary 9). 114 In her 2003 article “Expanding the Langlandian Canon,” Fiona Somerset approaches the Piers Plowman tradition somewhat differently; she embraces the idea of a Piers tradition but suggests that “Piers” references or stylistic similarities are insufficient measures to establish the boundaries of such a tradition.19 She sees subversive qualities in Langland's use of Latin and argues that Piers tradition texts contain the same kind of “radical Latin designed for a mass audience” and exemplify certain Langlandian concerns and themes (77).20 Kathryn Kerby-Fulton is another scholar who has suggested “non-traditional,” Latinate texts for the Piers tradition. In her recent book, she argues that the pro-Wycliffite poem Heu quanta desolacio is “perhaps the earliest known Piers Plowman tradition poem extant today….it contains several previously unnoticed allusions to or borrowings from Piers Plowman” (Books Under Suspicion 163, 174). Lawrence Warner, however, questions whether there is actual evidence of influence, since both Piers and Heu quanta share one particular phrase with Odo of Cheriton’s Fables and John Bromyard’s Summa Praedicantium. He argues that this indicates “mutual indebtedness to the homiletic tradition c.1380 rather than one’s reliance upon the other” (Lost History 8). It is clear from this brief survey of scholarship that the concept of a Piers Plowman tradition remains somewhat contested. However, its inclusion in impermanent documents such as course syllabi indicates that the idea has ongoing and institutionalized traction in academic discourse. Admittedly, university courses dedicated to Piers Plowman or the Piers tradition are relatively few and far between,21 partly because Arts faculties are providing fewer medieval 19 In this respect, her interest in expanding the Piers tradition corresponds to the discussion in Chapter Three regarding opening the definition of the Chaucerian tradition. 20 Somerset focuses on three Lollard texts that form the heart of this particular manifestation of the Piers tradition: The Lantern of Light, the sermon Omnis Plantacio, and the treatise De Oblacione Lugis Sacrificii. 21 I contacted (either through website exploration or email) what I felt to be a relatively representative sample of universities in North America and Britain regarding their syllabi: Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Birmingham, UC Berkeley, Toronto, University of York, Washington, Victoria, Oregon, New York University, Western Ontario, Duke University, and Sam Houston State University. Out of the information I gathered, I selected two examples with which to demonstrate the current pedagogy of Piers Plowman. 115 offerings in general22 and partly because Piers Plowman does not have the same public popularity as Chaucer’s works. A pedagogical presentation of the Piers tradition mitigates this problem by aligning Langland with Chaucer, thus making Piers Plowman itself, or a course about its tradition, more marketable to both students and university administration. A review of transitory scholarly sources such as university class syllabi does indeed suggest that there is some pedagogical utility in presenting a course as a study of a tradition rather than a single poem, since this gives Piers a depth of context, demonstrates it to be influential, and aligns it with Chaucer.23 Christopher Cannon's description of his 2008 course “The Piers Plowman Tradition” is an example of how the idea of the Piers tradition can be used to incite interest in Piers Plowman while also acknowledging the instability inherent in tradition: In this course we shall read, in depth, that tradition of texts which clearly led to the writing of Piers Plowman (The Parlement of the Three Ages, Winner and Waster, The Simonie, medieval complaint literature in general) as well as those texts that Piers Plowman is sometimes said to have 'produced' (Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, Mum and the Sothsegger and Richard the Redeless,). These two pursuits will bracket a careful reading of Piers Plowman itself (in the B-text, but with careful attention to the C-text revisions). The broadest aim of our work will be to come to some agreement about the defining characteristics of the 'Piers Plowman tradition', should, of course, we decide that such a tradition does indeed exist (that is, a body of work that would not exist, either at all or as a body, in the absence of this poem). But, since our work will also be guided by deep reading in the scholarship on Piers Plowman, we will also be trying to describe the extent to which knowledge of this surrounding material alters or fills in gaps in current understandings of Piers Plowman and the cultural work that it did (and/or does). (Cannon, “Piers Plowman Tradition” n.p.) 22 This trend is, however, counteracted by the increasingly close affiliation of medieval studies with emerging technology, such as the digitization of manuscripts. See Williams and Emmerson for their respective discussions about the impact that popular medievalism has had upon this declining field. 23 Fiona Somerset’s description of her proposed “Piers Plowman and its Tradition” course at the University of Western Ontario, for example, compares Langland (favourably) to Chaucer, as well as to Pound, Eliot, and Dickinson. Somerset indicated that she made these comparisons (the Chaucer one in particular) to attract students who had enjoyed an earlier and well-received “Chaucer and the Canon” course. The Piers course was cancelled due to Professor Somerset’s other commitments, not because of a lack of student interest. My thanks to Professor Somerset for sharing the latter points with me by email. 116 Cannon's course aims to provide a carefully nuanced introduction to the Piers literary tradition, but does not assume the coherent presence of such a tradition (“should, of course, we decide that such a tradition does indeed exist”). Nevertheless, this abstract does impose a type of narrative pattern upon the tradition: students will first study the texts that “clearly led to the writing of Piers Plowman,” then the texts “that Piers Plowman is sometimes said to have ‘produced’.” An assessment of these before-Piers and after-Piers works “will bracket a careful reading of Piers Plowman itself.” The development of the tradition is presented as a storyline: The Parlement, Winner and Waster, and The Simonie are the introduction and rising action, Piers is the climax, and the later Piers-inspired texts (which nearly always suffer by comparison to Piers) are the falling action and denouement. Miceal Vaughan at the University of Washington offered a course on the Piers tradition in 2004: Next to the works of Chaucer, the poems associated with the figure of Piers Plowman can claim an important and continuous place in the development of what we can call an English vernacular literary canon. The Piers tradition contains works that (primarily) focus on criticism and satire of contemporary secular and religious institutions and on the development of a morally reflective and personally engaged individual citizen of early modern England. We’ll start with…Piers Plowman…We will then read and discuss works which evidence the reception and development of this idealized figure of the plowman as he appears during the subsequent two centuries. (Vaughan, n.p.) Vaughan's course description aligns with Hudson's view of Piers and the Piers-tradition texts as all drawing upon a wide social tradition of satire or complaint. In this course, the Piers tradition is constituted by “the reception and development of [the] idealized figure of the plowman” in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century texts, rather than by imitations of the poem Piers Plowman. However, Vaughan's statement that “the poems associated with Piers Plowman can claim an important and continuous place in the development of what we can call an English vernacular 117 literary canon” gestures to one of the advantages of locating tradition, which is that we are able to establish a contextual framework in which to read texts that otherwise might be overlooked. Bowers argues that minor works that become associated with canonical authors “achieve new meaning in diachronic relationship with 'major' literary works such as Piers Plowman” (Antagonistic Tradition 26). This “new meaning” can be a fruitful area for scholarship, but its attraction may lead to the overstatement of a lesser-known work's connection to a canonic work. The differing scholarly consensus on what constitutes the Piers Plowman tradition is of particular interest to me, especially in light of the Chaucerian tradition. However, before proceeding to a discussion of the Piers Plowman tradition itself and how the two traditions contextualize one another, I would like to expand briefly on the distinction I made earlier between the two classifications within the Piers Plowman tradition and conclude this section by suggesting a very broad and flexible definition which aligns more with Hudson's view than with Lawton's or Barr's. As mentioned above, the Piers-related corpus can be divided into two large categories: texts that publicly participated in Piers Plowman by appropriating upon it, and texts that participated in the same public discourse as Piers Plowman, without drawing directly upon the poem itself.24 In general, the former category (texts that draw directly on Piers Plowman) includes Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, Mum and the Sothsegger, Richard the Redeless, and perhaps the letters of John Ball as recorded in Knighton and Walsingham’s chronicles.25 24These categories overlap in the sixteenth-century texts that use the name “Piers Plowman” but whose content does not reflect any knowledge of the poem other than that of the title character. As many scholars have pointed out, “Piers Plowman” was somewhat of a traditional folk name, so later writers who appropriated it were also drawing upon an older tradition of the iconic plowman as well making loose reference to the poem Piers Plowman. 25The connection between John Ball’s letters and Piers Plowman remains contested. Steven Justice’s book Writing and Rebellion makes a compelling case for “insurgent literacy” among the peasant rebels and how Piers Plowman was read as a model for revolution. The letters’ references to “do well and better” as well as to Piers Plowman himself may an indication that the writer had some knowledge of the poem, in particular the B text (Green 185). Lawrence Warner questions this assumption by pointing out that Ball could also be alluding to Chapter 7, verse 38 of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “both he that giveth his virgin in marriage, doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better” (Lost History 13). 118 The latter category is larger and more fluid, since the multivocality that characterizes Piers Plowman enabled its participation in a wide variety of discourses, including antifraternal satire, complaint, vernacular theology, dream vision poetry, and the alliterative tradition. Furthermore, the texts in this category often use the plowman figure (albeit a figure often named Piers) while demonstrating no knowledge of Langland’s poem, thus indicating that they are, alongside Piers Plowman, engaging in a wide-ranging discourse that valorized the humble layman. Although Piers Plowman itself is not unorthodox in nature, many of the texts in this latter category have strong reformist tendencies, some unorthodox. Langland's method of writing is associative and ruminative rather than narrative, and this circular process results in a poem that asks questions about truth instead of making statements about it; this is a key distinction between Piers and unorthodox or Lollard plowman texts, which tend to be morally or politically polemic (Bowers, Antagonistic Tradition 13). The works included in this broader category of the Piers tradition more or less correspond with the list that Uhart provides in her doctoral thesis: The Plowman’s Tale, The Prayer and Complaint of the Plowman, The Crowned King, Jack Upland, Friar Daw’s Reply, Upland’s Rejoinder, How the Plowman Learned his Pater Noster,26 The Scottish Field, Death and Life, The Lanterne of Liȝt, I playne Piers, A godly dyalogue and dysputacyon betwene Pyers plowman and a popysh preest, and Pyers plowmans exhortation unto the lordes, knightes and burgoysses of the parlyamenthouse.27 26 Anne Hudson claims that this early sixteenth century tract is working with a proverbial, rather than Langlandian, plowman, but I find this assertion questionable (Hudson 158). The plowman in this text is miserly, recalcitrant, and greedy: he reluctantly promises to learn his Pater Noster if the priest gives him some grain. It is interesting that this was one of the earliest plowman writings printed (by Wynkyn de Word in 1510), but it is a far cry from the “honest laborer” that Hudson earlier describes as the proverbial plowman. 27 To my knowledge, these latter three poems (all sixteenth century, and all brief) are not yet edited for publication. They are, however, available in scanned black-letter through the UBC Library’s Early English Books Online collection. 119 4.2 Redefining the Plowman: The Tradition’s Texts and a Traditional Piers This failure or forestalling of any linear narrative in Piers Plowman, which Anne Middleton argues is accomplished through a series of interrupted episodes in which the main action is halted or redirected,28 also opens the poem up to supplementation, but not in the sense that I identified in the Chaucerian tradition. The lack of narrative coherence and conclusion did not attract continuations or conclusions, as did Chaucer’s works, but new beginnings; the character of Piers was re-started, rewritten, and completely reframed in the later plowman poems. Rather than carrying on a Piers Plowman tradition, most of these Langlandian texts redefined Piers as a more “traditional” character who was used a vehicle for reformist ideology. The various Piers figures that appear in some of the Piers Plowman tradition poems29 are vastly different from the Piers of Piers Plowman whose physical presence is unstable and whose social role as a plowman is never literally enacted. Aside from one brief line suggesting he had done some plowing,30 Piers’ only non-metaphorical activity in the fields is to direct the work of others – a social role that clashes with a plowman’s historical reality but which fits nicely with Piers’ development into a Christ-figure.31 Piers’ very presence as a human plowman is slowly effaced in the B text’s Passus VI (Passus VII-VIII in C) as he becomes increasingly associated with Christ; like Christ, who mediates between God and humanity, Piers inhabits a liminal position between secular 28 See Middleton (1982). 29 The poems using the figure of Piers Plowman or a plowman figure that seems intended to recall Piers Plowman are: The Prayer and Complaynt of the Plowman, I playne Piers which cannot flatter, Piers the Plowman’s Creed, A godly dyalogue and dysputacyon betwene Pyers plowman and a popysh preest, Pyers plowmans exhortation unto the lordes, knightes and burgoysses of the parlyamenthouse, and How the Plowman Learned his Paternoster. 30 “At heiȝ prime Piers leet þe plowȝ stonde / To ouersen hem hymself; whoso best wroȝte / Sholde be hired þerafter whan heruest tyme come” (B:VI:112-114). 31 Howard Troyer argues that the figure of Piers draws ultimately upon Thomas Aquinas’ connection between Peter and Christ, and therefore “for man at his best [Langland] set the symbol of Piers, and then as he worked he allowed Piers to become plowman and overseer, pilgraim and prophet, secular king and holy see, the race of Adam or its redeemer as he saw in the various roles the truths he meant to convey. In the plowman was one truth, in the pope was another, and Piers was made to speak them in order for one and yet all.” (372) 120 subservience and spiritual authority. He moves gradually toward the latter throughout the poem, and B:VI is a key turning point. It is here that we are introduced to his highly (almost awkwardly) allegorical family32 and learn that Piers is preparing for his physical departure from the earth (or earthly life) by creating his will: For now I am old and hoor and haue of myne owene To penaunce and to pilgrimage I wol passe wiþ oþere; Forþi I wole er I wende do write my biqueste… The kirke shal haue my caroyne and kepe my bones For of my corn and my catel he craued þe tiþe I paide hym priestly for peril of my soule… For þou3 I deye today my dettes are quyte… I wol worshipe þerwiþ truþe by my lyue And ben his pilgrim atte plow for pouere mennes sake. My plowpote shal be my pik and putte at þe rotes And helpe my cultour to kerue and close þe furwes (B:VI:83-104) This document seems not to be a will in the usual sense; Piers vows to give away his possessions and his physical body (his bones) to the church, but this vow is followed by another vow to take up a pilgrimage of worship, thus indicating that he will not die before it is fulfilled. The tools of his material trade will be appropriated to his new spiritual walk, which is cast as a metaphoric plowing. However (in a rather circular progression), before embarking on this journey he asserts his spiritual and social authority by first trying to organize/force the community to work and then, when that is unsuccessful, by purchasing a pardon from Truth in recognition that physical labour will not save his companions just as it will not save him. After the famous tearing of the pardon, Piers returns to his original intent of departing earthly life: “’I shal cessen of my 32 The allegoricization of his family moves Piers further towards his spiritual role and away from his physical presence. His wife is Dame werch-whan-tyme-is, his daughter is do-riȝt-or-þi-dame-shal-þee-bete, and his son is Suffre-þi-Soueryns-to-hauen-hir-wille-deme-hem-noȝt-for-if-þow-doost-þow-shalt-it-deere-abugge-lat-god- yworþe-wiþ-al-for-so-his-word-techeþ. 121 sowing,’ quod Piers, ‘and swynke noȝt so harde / Ne aboute my bilyue [belly joy] so bisy be na moore / Of preires and of penaunce my plouȝ shal ben herafter’” (B:VII:122-124). 33 In Piers’ later manifestations as Anima, the Christ-Knight, and an allegorical plowman (his oxen are the four Gospels) he fulfills his social role in only spiritual terms; he never returns to physical labour and subservience yet his primary name is still Piers Plowman, thus providing a link between St. Peter who mediates between Christ and man, and the plowman who mediates between man and earth. Piers’ development throughout the poem is therefore very different from Will’s, who is the “I” that the reader follows and identifies with. Will’s development is rather recursive; he moves in and out of dream revelations and his learning is compromised by continual regression. Moreover, Will himself is much more closely associated with his own material presence: he covers himself in a hermit’s robes, he describes his own place of residence in Cornhill, and the progress of the visions themselves is dependent upon his very human tendency to collapse into sleep. In contrast to Piers Plowman itself, the eponymous Piers tradition poems such as Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, I Playne Piers That Cannot Flatter, Pyers plowmans exhortation unto the lordes, knightes and burgoysses of the parlyamenthouse, The Praier and Complaynt of the Plowman and A godly dyalogue and dysputacyon betwene Pyers plowman and a popysh preest tend to focus upon and exploit Piers’ social role as labourer, drawing attention to his rustic and accessible physical qualities in order to present the character as a kind of public voice. By using the term “public voice” here I am not claiming that these poems actually functioned this way; rather, I suggest that the strategic use of the plowman’s voice is intended to appear to represent widely-held public values. This is something that Langland’s Piers never does, even though Piers 33 The pardon-tearing scene is complex and has been read in many different, sometimes revolutionary, ways (which is one reason some critics believe Langland excised it from the C text). For some of these different readings please see Lawler, Frank, Baker, and Allen. 122 does seem designed to represent the “everyman” nature of Christ, which of course is ultimately a vehicle through which to express a divine rather than a populist perspective (Troyer 370). The Crede, one of the earliest Piers tradition texts,34 is the closest to Piers Plowman in that it exhibits an ongoing concern with learning, literacy and Scripture, as the title itself suggests. Although it does not participate in the wider documentary discourse of “legal, diplomatic, and historiographical practices” that Langland uses to such effect (Steiner, “Langland’s Documents” 95), it does follow the Piers Pardon scene in the way it authenticates personal and spiritual pursuits. There is some material evidence suggesting that the Crede was read as analogous to Piers Plowman, if not really a continuation of it. In one of the two extant Crede manuscripts, BL Royal 18 B xvii, the Crede immediately precedes a Piers text and both are copied in the same Chancery hand. In Rogers’ printing of 1561, the two texts are again partnered. Considering the fact that only four full Crede texts survive from the medieval/early modern period, the presence of Piers Plowman in two of those texts is significant. The Crede fragment (Harley 78) also provides evidence as to the poem’s audience: it was copied by the prolific Hammond scribe, whose résumé includes two copies of The Canterbury Tales, two copies of The Regiment of Princes, Fortescue’s Governance tract (which is also found with Piers Plowman), the English prose Merlin, medical treatises, and two Lydgate/Chaucer anthologies (Boffey and Thompson 287). This list suggests that the Crede likely circulated among the readership of Piers and that it was not necessarily considered a purely didactic work: it was also entertainment. In contrast to other plowman poems, the Crede appropriates the character of Piers in an unusually developed way; he “is much more than the symbol that he became in later works” 34 Using the reference on line 657 to the Lollard trial of Walter Brut in the 1390s, A. I. Doyle dated the Crede’s composition between 1393 and 1401, although its earliest surviving copies are a fifteenth-century fragment and two sixteenth-century paper manuscripts (Hudson, “Legacy” 255). 123 (Hudson, “Legacy” 255), although I will qualify this statement by suggesting that the Crede’s Piers served as a basic template for the Piers of later works. The Crede’s Piers is a character more easily identified and sympathetic than the increasingly ethereal and allegorical Piers of Piers Plowman itself. The brutal physical experience of the Crede’s Piers stands in contrast to the gradual effacement of Langland’s labourer: I seiȝ a sely man me by opon þe plow hongen His cote was of a cloute þat cary was y-called, His hod was full of holes & his heer oute, Wiþ his knopped schon clouted full þykke, His ton toteden out as he þe londe treddede, His hosen ouerhongen his hokschynes on eueriche a side, Al beslombred in fen as he þe plow folwede… His wijf walked him wiþ wiþ a longe gode, In a cutted cote cutted full heyȝe Wrapped in a wynwe schete to weren hire fro weders, Barfote on þe bare ijs þat þe blod foldwede. (Lines 421-434) This passage takes place after the narrator has questioned the four fraternal orders in his unsuccessful quest to learn the Apostle’s Creed. None of the friars know or care to know the Creed, but each offers to absolve the narrator for his lack of learning if they receive payment. The description of the physical condition of Piers and his family35 acts as a foil to the friars’ lavish lifestyle and clearly identifies
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Families, fictions, and seeing through things : re-reading Langland, Chaucer, and the Pearl-Poet Phillips, Noelle 2011
Notice for Google Chrome users:
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.
- 24-ubc_2011_spring_phillips_noelle.pdf [ 2.86MB ]
- JSON: 24-1.0071672.json
- JSON-LD: 24-1.0071672-ld.json
- RDF/XML (Pretty): 24-1.0071672-rdf.xml
- RDF/JSON: 24-1.0071672-rdf.json
- Turtle: 24-1.0071672-turtle.txt
- N-Triples: 24-1.0071672-rdf-ntriples.txt
- Original Record: 24-1.0071672-source.json
- Full Text